In the watch industry, it’s crucial to be on the forefront of in-house research and development to stay competitive. One of the best ways to update a current model or debut a new one is to create a groundbreaking new movement that sets the bar for accuracy, precision, and functionality. Throughout the rich history of watchmaking, there are a number of brands that have led the way in the research and development of the most cutting-edge movements. These four are some of the most innovative and well-known.
The Zenith El Primero
Zenith began conceptualizing the El Primero movement in 1962 with the intention of creating the brand’s first automatic chronograph for their 100th anniversary in 1965. Although they fell short of completing the project within the original timeline, Zenith’s priority was to produce the most accurate chronograph on the market. They presented the first El Primero movement in January of 1969. (Read: History of the Chronograph) To this day, the El Primero is still one of the most precise chronographs on the market, with a frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour. It’s also the only chronograph capable of measuring time to the nearest tenth of a second.
The ETA Valjoux 7750
ETA SA created the Valjoux 7750 movement in the. Since then, the Valjoux 7750 became one of the most widely used chronograph movements in the watch industry.
The Valjoux 7750 is different from most other chronograph movements because it uses a three-plane cam system rather than a column wheel. The device, known as a coulisse-lever escapement, is composed of the main plate, calendar plate, and chronograph top plate. Levers push a cam back and forth, which drives the stopwatch mechanism of the movement.
The 7750’s cam system construction makes it easier to produce in high volumes. It can also be easily customized to add or eliminate features, like a date window or subdial. This versatility contributes to the Valjoux 7750’s popularity among watch brands like IWC, TAG Heuer, and OMEGA.
The Rolex 4130
Rolex originally developed its 4130 chronograph movement for the Daytona. Since then, it’s become the standard movement used for all Rolex chronographs. Before the Rolex 4130, the Daytona was equipped with the El Primero movement. In 2000, the brand decided to perfect their own in-house chronograph movement, and thus the Rolex 4130 was born. (Read: Rolex Movements)
The 4130 only contains 201 parts, which is far fewer than the average chronograph. One of the most impressive features is a blue Parachrom hairspring that is resistant to magnetic fields. It also has a 72-hour power reserve and 44-jewel movement. Another unique characteristic is the movement of the chronograph seconds hand, whose smooth start and motion are different than many other chronographs.
The Accutron 214
In October 1960, Bulova sold its first watch featuring the Accutron 214 movement. This revolutionary timepiece was created by Swiss inventor Max Hetzel. One of the movement’s most impressive attributes? Its use of a 360-hertz tuning fork to drive a mechanical gear train and turn the hands of the watch as opposed to using a balance wheel. The 214 Accutron movement was so accurate, it became the first timepiece precise enough to qualify for US railroad certification.
Luxury watch brands stay relevant in the world of horology partly by creating new and innovative movements. Many industry-leading brands devote resources to keeping their current movements up to date and developing new movements. There are plenty of incredible watch movements introduced over the past century. And as the field of watchmaking continues to evolve, there’s no telling what the future holds.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 25, 2013. We have updated it for clarity.