Cover Hublot’s MP-05 LaFerrari Sapphire (Photo: Courtesy of Hublot)

Providing extended periods of fuss-free operation, mechanical watches with formidable power reserves both save time and tell it

Do those magical, mystical crystals the so-called ‘new age’ folk swear by actually work? Who knows. The quartz crystals used in low-cost watchmaking, however, have well and truly proven their efficacy. In a quartz watch movement, a battery sends an electrical signal through a piece of crystal, driving the watch’s hands and functions. They’ll keep perfect time for three or four years, the life of the battery.

A mechanical watch’s energy, meanwhile, is stored in a coiled mainspring, and is released as this gradually unwinds, powering the watch’s timekeeping functions and other complications. The number of hours of energy the mainspring provides before it needs winding—or, in the case of an automatic watch, a decent wearing or a thorough shake—is known as power reserve.

We won’t go into greater detail about the science of mainsprings, because the minutiae of watch engineering are rather technical and unsexy. If you’re curious to learn more, google ‘How does a mainspring work?’ and you’ll soon discover reams of reading as dry as a good martini and equally as stupefying. The important thing to know is, mechanical watches generally need powering up every couple of days—most quality mechanical watches have a power reserve of at least 42 hours. Some, however, far exceed that figure.

See also: May 2020: What's New In Watches

Size Matters

Panerai is known for its oversized watches, many of which boast large power reserves. The brand isn’t bashful about it, often boasting of the length of their mainsprings on watches’ dials or in their names—for instance, a few of our favourites from their current range include the Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Bronzo, Luminor Marina 8 Days Acciaio and the formidable Radiomir 10 Days GMT Platinum. Panerai also produces pocket watches in white and pink gold with three-day reserves, should you be looking to put more power in your palm.

Large cases can be helpful when building a lengthy power reserve into a watch. IWC’s 46mm-cased Big Pilot’s watches, for example, boast 168 hours (seven days) of power reserve. The Schaffhausen-based company also produces an array of watches with eight-day power reserves, equipped with hand-wound movements from the Calibre 59000 family, including iterations of iconic IWC models the Portofino, Portugieser, and the Big Pilot’s watch.

Measuring a hefty 64mm across, the first timepiece issued by the mech-art mad scientists at MB&F, 2007’s Horological Machine No 1, packed in seven days’ power. The ‘Melchior’ robot-shaped desk clock Max Büsser dreamt up in partnership with clockmakers L’Epée used five mainspring barrels to offer 40 days without a wind-up.

See also: Watches & Wonders 2020: 5 Classic Watches You Should Have In Your Collection

High Tech

Grand Seiko’s master watchmakers at its Micro Artist Studio in Shio-jiri, in the mountains of central Japan, devised an eight-day power reserve hybrid Spring Drive movement (dubbed Calibre 9R01) that, while battery-free and powered by a conventional mechanical mainspring, integrates elements of electronic watchmaking.

In the Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve, accuracy is controlled by a microelectronic quartz mechanism (charged by a rotor powered by gears connected to the mainspring), while the hands are driven by the traditional unwinding of the mainspring. Producing them in elegant platinum or rose-gold cases, the company’s goal was to create a refined mechanical watch with accuracy and convenience comparable to that of quartz. 

Hublot’s mission in creating the MP-05 LaFerrari was to echo the high-octane V12 engine of the supercar that inspired it. “The idea was to put the engine in the watch. So, like if you had a 12-cylinder engine in a watch,” CEO Ricardo Guadalupe told reporters. “Of course there’s no horsepower in a watch, so we said instead we could create a long power reserve.” The longest ever, in fact. In the audacious, cobra-shaped LaFerrari, “we have 50 days of power reserve, which is also a historical world record for a mechanical watch”.

This epic 1,200 hours of stored energy is delivered by 11 centrally mounted and coupled mainspring barrels. A power drill-like tool is provided to speed up the task of winding this beast—a job the owner fortunately need only undertake five or six times a year. So make like a mainspring: relax and unwind.

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