Our cutting-edge methods for working with and machining silicon have led to the development of a number of watch components that are already making timepieces more precise and reliable—contributing in the process to mechanical watchmaking’s greatest renaissance in the last 50 years. And our long-standing expertise in wearable technologies and microelectronics is at the origins of the smartwatch industry, for which CSEM is a one of the key technology providers.
Just as quartz crystal resonators revolutionized timepiece design half a century ago, silicon micro-components produced by wafer-level fabrication are distinguishing a new generation of high-performance mechanical watches and giving the Swiss watchmaking industry a significant boost. And the most challenging of these elements have been invented, developed, and fabricated by CSEM. Our expertise in handing silicon—traditionally used in microelectronics and micro-devices—has enabled us to develop new components such as the balance spring, the heart of the timekeeping mechanism. With their new architectures, which can’t be made from traditional materials, watches incorporating these silicon components require less maintenance and outperform their rivals for accuracy. And they no longer lose precision through exposure to magnetic fields, temperature extremes, shocks, or lubricant deterioration.
Our work has allowed watchmakers to come up with a new generation of micro-components, in the process bringing to timekeeping mechanisms qualities that had previously been virtually impossible to realize. In this way, CSEM is helping watchmakers continue a quest—the development of ever-more accurate models—that they have pursued since timekeeping was first developed. Gears and springs are never going to compete with quartz for market share, let alone surpass quartz’s precision. But with new concepts such as the Genequand escapement—invented at CSEM—mechanical watchmaking finds itself in a phase of groundbreaking innovation, 50 years after the quartz revolution.
Our technologies are also critical to the development of smartwatches. CSEM's research activities in microelectronics, microsystems, and systems form the key building blocks for low-power, wireless, embedded, and wearable sensing systems on the wrist. Looking ahead, our work in energy-harvesting solutions such as flexible, thin-film silicon PV will—in the future—address a major drawback of currently available smartwatches: their limitations in terms of autonomy.