Today, the concept of hybrid is commonly associated with the automotive industry, where hybrid cars represent a brilliant example of combining two distinct worlds. These innovative vehicles seamlessly marry a traditional internal combustion engine with cutting-edge electric systems, combining the power and reliability of the traditional engine with the sustainability and efficiency of the electric system. The same concept has been applied within watchmaking industry, giving the birth to hybrid watches.
Just as the automotive industry has successfully embraced the concept of hybrid, now the world of horology is following the same path by skilfully merging mechanical elements with electronic or electrical components, giving rise to a new era of innovative watches. According to Juniper Research, this new concept of watchmaking could become a standard in the near future. Indeed, in a recent study, they analysed this rapidly expanding market and concluded that in 2022 more than half of the smartwatches sold, approximately 80 million units, could be classified as hybrid watches. Furthermore, this analysis shows that even those who desire more than a mechanical watch on their wrist still appreciate the design and classic hands of traditional watches.
As you might imagine, various brands have developed different concepts of hybridization over the years. In this article, we will analyse the three different approaches adopted so far, focusing on some revolutionary examples. The analyzed approaches distinguish themselves in terms of how the mechanical and electronic parts are integrated. Specifically:
Connecting an electronic component to the heart of the watch to ensure maximum precision. An example of this is Seiko’s Spring Drive system.
Linking certain smartwatch-like sensors to the mechanical movement of the watch, allowing wearers to obtain more information about themselves. This is seen in Frederique Constant’s approach.
Direct connection of the electronic components with the mechanical movement, giving the watch unprecedented functions. This is exemplified by Ressence’s Type 2.
Now let’s delve into the various interpretations of hybrid horology in more detail.
Seiko and Spring Drive Technology
The first brand to believe in hybrid watchmaking, albeit in a different shade than how we perceive it today, was Seiko, starting in the 1980s, with the introduction of Spring Drive technology, aiming to continuously improve the precision of its timepieces. Even today, this technology remains a hallmark of excellence for Seiko and Japanese watchmaking in general. It represents one of the most widely used calibres in the watches sold each year by the brand, thanks to its tremendous success over the past decades. The Spring Drive mechanism achieves an astonishing level of precision, with variations as low as a few seconds per month. This remarkable accuracy is made possible by the integration of a quartz oscillator, which serves as a reference for the timekeeping, alongside the traditional mainspring and mechanical components. The result is a timepiece that not only showcases the mastery of Seiko’s craftsmanship but also delivers unmatched precision that enthusiasts and watch collectors admire.
Grand Seiko Spring Drive – SBGY013 – photo courtesy of grand-seiko.com
Frederique Constant and their approach to Hybrid Watchmaking
One of the early successful attempts to blend classic design with the features of smartwatches was made by Frederique Constant. Since its inception in 1988, the brand has sought to establish itself through its high-quality craftsmanship, competitive pricing, and a dedication to innovation that sets their watches apart. In 2018, with the launch of the Classic Hybrid Manufacture, Frederique Constant entered the world of hybrid watchmaking, reaffirming their commitment to innovation, which has always been at the core of the brand. The hybrid watches produced by the brand are all powered by the FC-750 caliber, an automatic mechanical movement with a date complication, but it also incorporates two remarkable features within its mechanism. Integrated electronic components provide the watch with typical smartwatch functionalities. It is possible to monitor physical activity, track sleep, and conveniently view the time in any time zone through a sub-dial positioned at 12 o’clock. Most of these advanced functions can be controlled via a smartphone using the FC Hybrid application. Additionally, the mechanism includes FC’s Calibre Analytics system, an algorithm that measures Rate, Amplitude, and Beat error. The results of this system are shared in real-time with the Hybrid app through a Bluetooth connection, allowing the owner to view the collected data over time in the form of graphs. This feature enables monitoring of the watch’s performance and efficiency over time, providing notifications to the owner when a service or maintenance is required.
Frederique Constant – FC750 – photo courtesy of frederiqueconstant.com
Ressence Type 2: the independent approach to the Hybrid Concept
When it comes to the innovation that has always distinguished the world of independent watchmaking, it should come as no surprise that Benoît Mintiens, the founder of Ressence, wanted to create a hybrid watch: the Type 2. Aesthetically, the Type 2 retains the distinctive features of Ressence. The hours and minutes are indicated by rotating discs, and the crown, in this case called the E-Crown, is positioned on the case back, ensuring symmetry in the watch’s design and maximizing comfort. The Type 2 is powered by a traditional mechanical movement combined with Ressence’s developed technology, the E-Crown technology, which allows for additional features. After 12 hours of non-use, the watch enters an energy-saving mode, conserving enough power to return to the correct time once it is worn again. In addition, the brand’s technology caters to frequent travellers, enabling the watch to remember two different time zones, along with a third option for when the electronic part of the watch is discharged or if one wishes to use it in a normal mode. Changing time zones is incredibly simple and intuitive, with a few simple gestures to interact with the watch. A double tap wakes up the watch, and then a single touch allows for changing the displayed time. To confirm the commands, in addition to the repositioning of the hands, the watch will also perform a small movement of the minute hand. Alongside the watch, Ressence has developed a mobile application that allows easy control of the watch, including the ability to change preferred time zones and monitor various parameters and features of the watch.
Ressence Type 2 – photo courtesy of www.gphg.org
In conclusion, it can be affirmed that hybrid watchmaking represents, for the numerous brands that are embracing it, not only a means to satisfy a segment of consumers but also a motivation to persist in innovation, bringing forth remarkable ideas into fruition. The central point of this perspective is that ‘hybrid’ watchmaking can pave the way for the watchmaking of tomorrow, enabling the integration of a greater number of functions into the wristwatch. By combining traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology, hybrid watches offer a seamless blend of classic elegance and modern functionality. This evolution in watchmaking opens up exciting possibilities for watch enthusiasts, as timepieces become more than just instruments to measure time but also versatile companions that cater to a wide range of needs. As the horological landscape continues to evolve, the exploration and implementation of hybrid watchmaking concepts will undoubtedly shape the future of this timeless art form.