Guy Sémon, CEO of the TAG Heuer Institute has an important agenda- to improve fundamental physics for watchmaking. A little over a year ago, the Watch Division of LVMH Group established the TAG Heuer Institute, which carries out extensive research, looking into new materials and technologies that can confer advancement. In January 2019, TAG Heuer unveiled its new Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph, equipped with a carbon-composite hairspring developed by the TAG Heuer Institute. This patented technology confers numerous benefits including high shock resistance, perfect isochronism and ‘optimal thermal behavior’ to name a few. Karishma Karer talks to him about what innovation means today…
Tell us about the TAG Heuer Institute and your role therein.
The TAG Heuer Institute is a new entity and it has been a little over a year now. It is a sister company of TAG Heuer. As CEO of this Scientific Laboratory, we look at innovations. It is key to mention here that at the institute, we barely have one watchmaker, instead we have employed people from diverse fields such as Mathematics and Physics. The objective here is to improve the fundamental physics of watchmaking.
You have been at the helm of many innovations at TAG Heuer. What’s next?
Well this year are presenting the new Isograph wherein we have used a new material for the hairspring. In a mechanical watch the most complicated and attractive component is the regulator. If you analyze the market today, you will basically find two types of material – steel and silicon for the hairsprings. The former has the issue of magnetism and the latter is fragile. To solve both these problems a new material had to be invented. Over the last three years we at the TAG Heuer Institute we have invested a substantial amount of time and resources to research this new material, which we have used in the Autavia this year. It provides the required sensitivity and a relatively good shock-absorption capacity of 5000gz.
Are these innovations shared across all the brands?
Well, personally I would really like for that to happen, but it is not my decision. The watch division is responsible to spread the innovations and allot them where necessary.
Can you point out to any trend in terms of materials? For instance, we are seeing a lot of carbon watches.
Don’t consider the material use for case as innovation. That’s mostly marketing! It is the use of the different materials in the very structure of the internal mechanisms of the watch, that are the innovations. You find different forms and structures of the same element. Let’s take Carbon for example. The same material can have two extremes- one of which could be very strong and the other fragile. We have done a lot of research into the Carbon atoms and structures for uncovering the varied properties. Sometimes, when we transfer the properties of a material on a different scale we lose the properties. This is something that requires a lot of minute research, which may lead to composites. The material Isograph has many properties that can be harnessed not only for watchmaking but also outside it.
Do you have machines at the institute that are exclusive to TAG?
Yes, we have two machines that are only exclusive to us. There is a lot of science that goes into this- the kind of gasses used and extracted, the properties of the materials and how they interact, the role of the catalysts and so on. It is after the intense experimentation that we develop the perfect change. It is a cooking process really, if you look at it! Once we’ve perfected the technique, you can see how we produce absolutely perfect pieces (the spiral used for the watch) without the use of human hands. We have the ability to customize beautifully. We can calculate the perfect design for your spiral on the computer. We can get you your personal spiral for your watch! There is a choice.
Watchmaking is an art and a science. How does the TAG Heuer Institute see the role of a watch scientist? How do you blend it with that of a watchmaker?
If you look around and compare various watch brands, you will see that it is all a question of design, finishing and price. Can you imagine if the spiral had been re-invented like this about 350 years back? During the last 20 years watchmaking was a beautiful world and you knew about it. In twenty years, we have seen the business of mechanical watches multiply, and quartz demand decreased. We are one of the top brands that share in this growth. It is challenging to grow. We have to fight, and our weapons are marketing, digital marketing, quality, finishing, distribution and above all innovation. We have improved and reinvented mechanical watches for 21st century. It is not easy, but with the kind of technology we have it is possible. It is an advanced art. Watchmaking and science are not opposites, but they are absolutely connected. We need good watchmakers but to improve the watches we need scientists. It is all a balance!
This beautiful mélange of the art and science of watchmaking, spearheaded by cutting-edge innovation is what makes the TAG Heuer Institute really special and relevant in the realm of watchmaking, as the industry moves towards the future.