Wempe Watch Blog

Wempe Watch Blog

The crystal of a watch — the clear cover that goes over the dial and protects it — can be made of a variety of materials. Generally, there are three types of crystals used in watchmaking: sapphire crystals; mineral crystals; and Plexiglas (often called plastic) or hesalite (acrylic) crystals.

Typically, in the luxury watch field, sapphire crystals are preferred. Sapphire is extremely strong and scratch resistant, making it the top choice for a fine timepiece. While sapphire is the most expensive of the three crystal choices, it has its advantages due to the scratch and shatter resistance.

The term sapphire for a watch crystal can be somewhat misleading, in that they are not typically made from natural corundum. Instead, sapphire crystals are usually created as a synthetic compound with the same properties as its natural counterpart. The process of producing sapphires synthetically was invented in 1893 by French chemist Auguste Victor Louis Verneuil, and shared with the world in 1902. Thus, it is called the Verneuil Process, but is more commonly referred to as flame fusion.

simplified drawing

Essentially, in flame fusion, a long column of sapphire is manufactured in a Verneuil furnace. Powder-sized aluminum oxide particles are sprinkled through an oxyhydrogen flame, and expected to melt at temperatures over 2000 degrees Celsius. They then fall below the melting point (or flame) and fuse with one another again to re-crystallize. Hence the name Flame Fusion. The column of crystallized synthetic sapphire is slowly lowered away from the flame, allowing more crystal to form on top. Eventually, the long cylindrical rod is complete and removed. It is then sliced (with diamond-tipped cutters) and polished to become a watch crystal.

In addition to being scratch resistant, a sapphire crystal has more ability to withstand cracks and breakage than glass or plastic. In fact, only a diamond or another sapphire can scratch the surface. Additionally, because it is so crystal clear, anti-reflective coatings can be added to both sides without any hazing or blurring of the crystal.


Mid-priced watches most often utilize the mineral glass crystal. The cost of these lies between the cost of sapphire crystals and the cost of plastic crystals. Generally, a mineral crystal is an ordinary glass crystal that has been heat treated or chemically treated to withstand scratches. While it is not as scratch-resistant as sapphire, it is more scratch-resistant than plastic. In extreme hot or cold conditions the glass can actually crack or shatter when hit bluntly on a certain angle. The main benefit of a mineral glass crystal lies in the price of the watch. It is  difficult by sight to tell if a crystal is mineral or sapphire.

Plastic crystals are often referred to as Plexiglas, acrylic or hesalite. Plastic is the least expensive option and is most commonly found on lower-priced wristwatches. Plastic will not shatter or crack, but it does scratch easily. These crystals are sometimes preferred in the field because of their shatter-resistant qualities.

 In 1821, Nicolas Rieussec patented his chronograph. It was housed in a box.

Chronograph watches are great functional timepieces that not only tell the time, but also actually time all of those outdoor activities you indulge in – swimming, jogging, rowing, and more. Here, we outline the basics about what exactly a chronograph watch is and how it functions. Keep in mind that entire books have been written about chronographs, so we take just a cursory glance so you can better understand their use.

Improvements_to_Chronograph_-_1822 Further improvements were made to chronographs in the 1820s.

Essentially, a chronograph is a watch that measures and records specific intervals of time, ranging from a fraction of a second to hours – such as a race, a test, dive times, etc. The Greek translation of chronograph is time writer, and the first patented chronograph watch was invented in 1821 by Nicolas Rieussec, although recent historical findings indicate that watchmaker Louis Moinet may have made his own version of a chronograph before Rieussec made and patented his. Either way, the patented Rieussec chronograph (generally credited as the first) used ink to measure dots on the dial at the stop of an event. His device consisted of two dials and was encased in a large box.

Portrait_2 Nicolas Rieussec

Today, we have come a long way in our mechanical prowess. Today’s watches feature small subdials on the full dial – and within each subdial, a different measurement is tracked: hours or minutes. Seconds are often run off of a main central seconds timer and the watch usually features a subdial for the continuous running of the seconds used in keeping time vs. tracking time intervals. The very distinctive look of a chronograph dial, with its harmoniously balanced subdials, is often much of the allure of these watches.

Chronographs generally feature stop, start and return-to-zero functions that are controlled by pushing the chronograph buttons. Some watches have these functions all working off of a single pusher (called single- or mono-pusher chronographs) while others have two pushers that are usually situated above and below the watch crown on the case side.

In these watches, the chronograph timing function is activated by pushing the start button at 2:00 to start recording the time and by pushing the same button again, to stop the recording of the timed event. Once the time is recorded and read by the wearer, he can return the tracking hands back to zero by pushing the button at 4:00, thereby resetting the mechanism. Some watches also offer a “fly-back function” (referred to as flyback chronographs), wherein, the hand flies back to zero automatically.

Louis_moinet Louis Moinet

There are also more complex and sophisticated chronographs, such as Split-Seconds Chronographs (also referred to as Rattrapantes). These watches have two second hands, one of which splits, or appears to divide, from the other so that they can act independently of one another. This technology allows the timing of several events that start at the same time, but have different durations, such as when timing multiple runners in a race. The more complex the chronograph, the more expensive it is.

In addition to regular chronograph watches, there are some high-precision mechanical chronographs referred to as column-wheel chronographs. Whereas in modern chronographs, the functions operate via a series of cams that are added to the base caliber, the mechanism inside a column-wheel chronograph is integrated into the watch and is configured differently. A column-wheel chronograph consists of a toothed mechanism that features notches on the side into which levers slide, engaging the different timing mechanisms. The raised portions of the notches are called columns (hence the name column-wheel chronograph).

Louis_Moinet_1815_Chronograph-back_560 The movement of the 1815 Louis Moinet chronograph.

A chronograph should not be confused with a Chronometer (a movement that is certified by an observatory to meet several very stringent conditions), though some chronographs can also be chronometers. We will cover the chronometer subject alter this summer. Meanwhile, stop in and see our myriad of quartz and mechanical chronographs and try them out for yourself.

quartzwatch Battery-powered quartz watch movement

First developed in the late 1970s, quartz watches are a relatively new phenomena in the centuries-old craft of watchmaking. Unlike watches with mechanical movements, quartz watches are a whole different breed.


Essentially, a quartz watch is battery powered. The watch uses a low-frequency, tiny piece of quartz crystal (silicon-dioxide) placed either like an integrated circuit and chemically etched into shape, or shaped like a tuning fork. That quartz crystal serves as the oscillator.

The battery sends electricity to the quartz crystal through an electronic circuit. The quartz oscillator vibrates quickly and with precise frequency (32,768 times/second) in response to the electronic charge. The circuit counts the vibrations and generates regular electric pulses of one per second. The pulses drive the small motor that spins the watch’s hands – offering accurate time measurement (until the battery slows and dies).


The first quartz watch put into production was the Astron by Seiko (1969) and, as a result, the Asian market swiftly cornered the watch business. However, in the early 1980s, Swatch Watch was unveiled and helped to recoup the Swiss watch business that had been ailing since quartz had been introduced due to the Swiss reluctance to embrace quartz technology. After Swatch, other Swiss brands embraced quartz technology, too, adding it to their repertoire of fine watchmaking.

GravesSuperComplication Patek Philippe, Graves Supercomplication watch going up for sale by Sotheby's

Ever wonder what your watch is worth or might be worth on the auction block? Collectors who have dozens of watches in their safes often ask this question, and the answer can be staggering. At the Christie’s Important Watches Auction in New York in June, the sales of watches yielded nearly $8.8 million — underscoring the thriving collector watch market.

The top lot in the auction was a 2008 Patek Philippe Reference 5033 platinum tonneau minute repeater with annual calendar, with original certificate, that sold to a private American collector for $401,000. Also at that sale, a 1994 limited-edition skeleton minute repeater from Vacheron Constantin fetched $233,000. Back in February, a Gruen 1923 World Series pocket watch, previously owned by Babe Ruth, sold for a whopping $717,000.

Lot-46-A Vacheron Constantin Minute Repeater sold in June for $233,000 by Christie's

This fall, a couple of hot-ticket watches are expected to garner millions when they come up for auction. Sotheby’s just announced that on November 14 in Geneva, it is selling what many refer to as the “Holy Grail” of watches: The Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication watch. This watch, often considered the most famous watch in the world, was made by Patek Philippe (which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year) in 1933 for highly prominent New York banker, Henry Graves. It is the most complicated watch ever made. This is the first time this watch will appear on the market since its record sale 15 years ago when it fetched $11 million. It is expected that the watch will now sell for way more than $16 million.

Graves commissioned Patek Philippe in 1925 to build him the most complicated watch in the world. It took the brand three years of research and five years of extraordinary watchmaking to complete the piece. Among its many functions: minute repeater chronograph with Westminster chimes, perpetual calendar, moonphase, sidereal time, indication of sunset and sunrise and the night sky over New York.

In fact, the watch boasts 24 horological complexities – and has remained the world’s most complicated watch built by hand without the aid of computer-assisted machines. The Graves Supercomplication watch has been written about in Stacy Perman’s book, A Grand Complication, wherein he outlines the race to build the world’s most legendary watch. In fact, in the early 1900s Henry Graves, Jr., regularly vied with entrepreneur and inventor James Ward Packard to press Patek Philippe for the most impressive and advanced watch ever made. Graves won with the famed Supercomplication watch.

rolex dd Rolex watch owned by Eisenhower to go up for sale this September by RR Auction

Another watch rumored to go up for auction (though not confirmed at the time of this posting) is a gold Rolex given to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. R R Auction, based in Boston, is expected to sell this watch – previously in a private collector’s possession – this fall. It should easily fetch more than $1 million. Eisenhower left the watch (via his will) to former colleague Sgt. John Moaney. It was later bought by famous White House collector Raleigh DeGeer Amyx, who, at 76 years old, is beginning to portion out some of his collection.

It is the first time this 1950s 18-karat gold watch will be seen at auction. It is believed it was given to Eisenhower for his service in WWII. The case back is inscribed with his initials, the five stars of a general and the date Eisenhower was named NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, December 19, 1950. This auction is supposed to take place in Boston on September 17.


Sailing, RN

Earlier in the week, we reported on how sports timing, especially in the sailing and regatta world, has advanced. For today’s avid sailor, a watch exists with all the functions you need to help ease the stress of navigating the seas.

The true sailor – especially the sailor engaged in regatta racing — may desire a watch with a regatta countdown ability. Today’s top regatta timepieces offer the countdown of the last 10 minutes or 5 minutes before the race starts – the time needed to get the boat into starting position. Some offer audible signals, while others generate visual indications, such as moving from blue flags to red in the final minutes.

All are, quite naturally, water resistant and typically made of steel or titanium with bracelets or straps built to weather the elements. Whatever your choice, we’ve got the perfect regatta watch for you. Stop in and get some wind in your sails.

pam00526_front Panerai Luminor 1950 Regatta 3 Days Chrono Flyback Automatic Titanio
Oracle-Team-USA3 New Oracle Team USA wristwatch technology designed with TAG Heuer.

With summer in full swing and water sports happening in all their glory, it's a good time to talk about how some watch brands keep pace — continually creating new technology to time sports.

Such is the case with TAG Heuer, which last summer — for the 34th America’s Cup —unveiled some new professional timing for Oracle Team USA in its continual efforts to improve technology and offer cutting-edge timepieces.  That particular technology was the result of the brand's R&D department working side by side with Oracle Team USA to co-invent onboard connectivity equipment and intelligent smart watches so each crew member could have instant access to crucial race data in real time.

tagaquaracer1 The specially developed watch gives each sailor exactly what he needs on board the ship.

The system uses special editions of the commercial Aquaracer 500M Calibre 72 Countdown chronograph, customized for each sailor’s specific tasks and wirelessly linked directly to the boat’s onboard computers. The optimized high-contrast LED screen displays constantly updated information on the boat, such as speed, foil balance, sail pressure, true wind speed, true wind direction and true wind angle.

Connected to captors and computers located at the home base of Oracle Team USA and throughout the boat, the real-time data stream allowed for strong and swift reactions. Easy to read with a wide-open 51mm face, it weighs only 108 g and is impact resistant to 5000 G.


TAG Heuer drew technical inspiration from its watch, eyewear and other divisions. The Aquaracer 72 used patented splashproof technology, first used in TAG Heuer eyewear. The data processing equipment on board the 72-foot catamaran was waterproofed using technology developed for the TAG Heuer Monaco chrono.

For the watches worn by Oracle Team USA’s grinders — the sailors who man the boat’s winches during the crucial pre-start and tacking duels — the brand developed a special “heads-up display” with polarizing lens based on TAG Heuer Eyewear-developed photochromic technology. Jimmy Spithill, the team’s skipper, communicated with his crew on a waterproof phone, the Racer Sub Nano, strapped to his forearm, and outfitted with TAG Heuer Meridiist mobile telephony technology.

Only 50 of this special Aquaracer 72 were produced to equip the team (though TAG Heuer created a limited-edition version: the AQUARACER 500M Calibre 72 Countdown Automatic Chronograph 43mm for the outside world). The true glory of this project was to improve technology in sports timing and lay the groundwork for new inventions.

Oracle Team USA in San Francisco for America's Cup 2013
Oracle Team USA in San Francisco for America’s Cup 2013

Earlier this year, A. Lange & Sohne – top German watchmakers – released its incredible Grand Lange 1 Moonphase watch that accurately tracks the lunar cycles for 122.6 years. This is longer than a lifespan, meaning the simple adjustment of the moonphase in 122.6 years will likely be up to your great-grandchildren to handle.

Making the watch even more remarkable is that the moonphase indication and the nocturnal sky — prominently displayed on the left side of the dial — are incredible attractive thanks to a patented coating process for the solid gold lunar disc. A laser is used to cut out more than 300 stars of different sizes with extremely sharp contours, producing a miniaturized image of the galaxy.


In the past, A. Lange & Sohne has created a dozen different moonphase displays, but this one is visually and technically advanced.  The display, connected with the hour-wheel, is constantly in motion, though the movement is barely visible to the eye. The display indicates the time that elapses from new moon to new moon with an accuracy of 99.9978%.

The watch houses the Lange manufacture caliber L095.3, with 72 hours of power reserve, a balance spring developed and manufactured in-house, a three-quarter plate made of untreated German silver, and Lange’s renowned hand finishing. There is a lot more complexity to this watch than meets the eye — but then that is a hallmark of A. Lange & Sohne.


Stop in to see not just this A. Lange & Sohne watch, but also many others that will definitely wow you with their technical prowess and elegant appeal.