No Escape(ment): An Overview of Obtainable Watches with Silicon Components

With the recent release of the Longines Ultra-Chron, we couldn’t help but think “wow, silicon has come a long way in watches.” Sure, this fairly abundant element is used in far more sophisticated applications than in the manufacture of springs, gears, and other components that make our watches tick, but in the scheme of an anachronistic and stubborn industry, it’s still new and exciting. Loved for being amagnetic, light, hard, and not needing oil, silicon can lead to movements that are more durable, require less servicing, and depending on how it is used, more accurate. header image shows the silicon oscillator from the short-lived Zenith Defy Labs

But, you probably already knew all that. After all, it’s been over 20 years since silicon was introduced into watches by Ulysses Nardin in the Freak (a name that somehow doesn’t quite convey its historical significance). Omega also introduced the Si14 silicon hairspring in 2008, paving the way for their highly magnetic resistant and accurate Master Chronometer movements. What really has changed is accessibility. No longer do you have to invest in a piece of Haute horology to have the silicon experience. Rather, you can get started for under $1k. Perhaps even more interesting, however, are some of the recent applications of this material that truly feel like the future of watchmaking.

Before getting into our list below, it’s worth mentioning that due to patents, silicon hairsprings, in particular, are still fairly restricted to only a handful of companies including Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Swatch group. Unsurprisingly, the latter hasn’t put silicon into their already-hard-to-obtain ETA mechanical movements for sale to third parties. So, save a few notable exceptions, we aren’t seeing silicon for use by microbrands and other smaller independents. That said, this patent is set to become public domain in the Fall of 2022 (the year this post was written for those of you from the future) which means that in the coming years, we might see a true shift to silicon across the industry.

Tissot Powermatic Gentleman

Whenever I come across the Tissot Powermatic Gentleman, I’m always struck by the value the Swatch group brand is offering. Starting at $725, you not only get an undeniably handsome, vintage-inspired everyday/casual watch with a reasonable 40mm case, you get a Swiss-made 80-hour automatic movement with a silicon hairspring. Even without the latter (which admittedly is why we’re here) at $725 it’s still a great deal. Add in the Si, and it’s one of the best values out there.

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Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pioneer Mechanical Chrono

There are a few chronographs in Hamilton’s stable of historically inspired tool watches with silicon hairsprings, but the new Khaki Aviation Pioneer Mechanical stands out for being hand-wound and quite reasonably priced. Based on the Valjoux 775X movements, the H-51-Si is a two-register chronograph with 60-hours of power reserve, 27-jewels, a frequency of 28,800 bph, and a silicon hairspring. Between the vintage, military-inspired watch design and manual wound nature of the movement, this Hamilton is a curious mix of old and new. It’s also priced at $2,045, so there doesn’t seem to be a premium for the benefits of silicon.

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Horage Supersede

Horage is a curious company. When I first came across them in 2015, I was blown away by the fact that this little-known brand was producing in-house movements with silicon escapements for relatively affordable prices. In 2021 they announced a new movement, the K2, which might be one of the coolest movements currently in production. Not only does it feature a silicon hairspring and escapement, but it’s also a thin, micro-rotor automatic with 72 hours of power reserve.

For their first watch to feature the K2, Horage flexed even more by adding complications for a truly full-featured outdoors watch. The Supersede is a “true” GMT with an additional 24-hour indicator and a power reserve. It’s packed in a 904L steel case that is 39.5mm x 46.29mm and only 9.85mm thick. The watches themselves start shipping at the end of this year (perhaps because of that patent?) with final retail of around $7k, though discounts for early orders are available. While that isn’t inexpensive, Horage is still offering one heck of a value with the Supersede.

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Longines Ultra-Chron

The watch that triggered this little thought experiment of a guide, the Longines Ultra-Chron is impressive in many ways. While its accurate and pleasantly funky vintage styling is nothing to scoff at, what makes this watch truly special is the L836.6 caliber within. In addition to having a silicon hairspring (you probably guessed that), it’s a 36,600 bph hi-beat with a respectable 52-hour power reserve (hey, that’s more than a 2824). To make matters even cooler, TIMELAB, an independent company, puts these watches through a new battery of tests in accordance with ISO 3159:2009 to earn the “ultra-chronometer” certificate.

There’s quite a bit to unpack here. This is one of the only hi-beat movements in Swatch Group’s catalog (the 10hz Breguet, and Blancpain F385 come to mind), it’s the only three-hand 36,600 bph with a silicon hairspring (as far as I can tell), perhaps the only with an independent “chronometer” certification, and it’s the least expensive hi-beat currently available on the market. Starting at $3,500 (though going down to $3,200 without the “box set”) it’s a unique value, and clearly positioned to compete with the likes of Tudor and Oris (also on this list). Hi-beat movements are known for their wear and tear as well as power consumption, so this is truly a logical place for lightweight, ultra-durable silicon to shine.

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Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Original

If we’re going to have the Ultra-Chron, we’ve got to have an El Primero powered Chronomaster on this list. Famously one of (or THE depending on who you are talking to) the first automatic chronographs ever developed, the El Primero was fully integrated, and perhaps even more incredibly, hi-beat with a frequency of 36,000 bph. That was 1969, and today, the movement is still very closely based on the original.

But, we’re not talking vintage watches, or even hi-beat specifically here, we’re talking silicon. So, as you might have guessed it Zenith, part of LVMH, utilizes silicon components in their modern El Primero calibers. There are many watches one could choose from, but the fairly recently released Chronomaster Originals get the highlight here. Not only do they look very similar to their forefathers from the 60s, but they feature a new variation on the El Primero which displays 1/10th second increments on the center hand (it makes a full dial rotation once every 10 seconds).

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Omega Railmaster Co-Axial

This list obviously wouldn’t be complete without an Omega Co-Axial Master Chronometer. Why the not-new-anymore Railmaster? Well, I still have a soft spot for this one after reviewing it a few years ago, and it’s still one of the best-priced Co-Axial Master Chronometers in Omega’s collection (even if the price has increased a bit over the years). TBH, there’s almost too much to cover with this movement, so check out that review for a breakdown, but here’s the TL;DR: in addition to the Si14 silicon hairspring, this watch features a co-axial escapement, invented by George Daniels, and is METAS-certified as a Master Chronometer meaning not only is it a chronometer, it’s highly resistant to magnetism and has been put through a battery of tests. That’s an incredible oversimplification, but what it leads to is a highly accurate and tough watch that hopefully won’t need servicing any day soon. Then, on top of that, it’s nice looking, IMHO.

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Tudor Black Bay 58

This seems like another given, but when Tudor started making in-house movements (MTXXXX), they went straight to silicon for their hairspring. Considering that Rolex is one of the brands that is most invested in the tech (and has the right to use it as such), this isn’t really that surprising. There is more to the movements that make them impressive as well, such as featuring a free-sprung balance (maybe the only at this price point?), a 70-hour power reserve, and a chronometer certification, all in watches that start under $4k.

While the Black Bay 58 wasn’t the first with a Tudor in-house movement, it’s still likely the most popular watch with one, and for good reason. The 39mm wunderkind scratched the collective itch for a vintage-styled “submariner” by one of only two brands with the “authority” to make one. Not only did it have the branding, it had the looks, the size, the style, and the price – if you could get one. Though there are still only two versions in steel, and neither with a date, the appeal is hard to argue with. Oh yeah, and silicon!

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Oris Big Crown Pointer Date Cal 403

The Oris Caliber 400 was a big development for the historic brand, giving them an in-house option with a 5-day power reserve that boasted its anti-magnetism, and gave them the confidence to offer a 10-year warranty and 10-year service interval. Part of how they achieved this was by “using more than 30 non-ferrous and anti-magnetic components, including a silicon escape wheel and a silicon anchor.” No hairspring (see the patent), but the use of silicon in the escapement clearly plays a roll in one of the best warranties out there.

As for the watch… Well, there are a few with caliber 40X movements in their catalog, but the Big Crown Pointer Date is my personal favorite, so it gets the spotlight. In addition to the specs above, the BCPD has a small seconds at six (which I always like), and pointer date (uncommon), and is beautifully sized at 38mm x 45.7mm x 12.2mm. Considering the 5-days of power reserve, that seems all the more impressive. It also just looks great, with a bold typeface and inky blue dial.

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Frederique Constant Slimline Monolithic

Saving the best for last… Well, “best” I’ll leave up to you, but certainly the most different. The Frederique Constant gets around that patent above by replacing the majority of the escapement (27 parts) with a single piece of silicon called the Monolithic Oscillator (similar but different than the Zenith in the header image). So no hairspring to even speak of. It flutters at 40hz, for the fastest-sweeping-seconds hand you ever didn’t see, has an 80-hour power reserve, and, well, has the other benefits from silicon as well. Needless to say, the Monolithic shows us more than any other watch on this list just what silicon is capable of. And, it does so at under $5k.

The first watches utilizing the Monolithic Oscillator (fun to say) are in a neo-classical style that sort of conceptually contrasts with the hyper-modern movement. Or, perhaps it perfectly celebrates a sort of leap forward in traditional mechanical watchmaking. I can’t tell, tbh, but what I do know is that it’s pretty handsome, if formal, and measures 40mm, so reasonably sized. To be honest, you’ll be so distracted by the oscillator, which is visible at six, you might not notice the rest.

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Honorable Mention: Damasko’s in-house Silicon Hair Springs

I’ll start this with the caveat that at the time of publishing, there are no watches available on Damasko’s main website featuring in-house silicon hairsprings, but they were way ahead of the curve with our star material. You might be asking yourself how a small German independent brand had silicon hairsprings given the patent, and that’s a fair question. You see, Damasko, the savvy engineers they are, developed their own formulation of silicon for their EPS® springs. The hairsprings above are monocrystalline, but Damasko’s are polycrystalline, which allows them a greater amount of elasticity. I actually saw with my own eyes as one of their watchmakers stretched a hairspring out several inches for it to return right back to its original shape.

Before disappearing, there were several watches in their collection with these springs, notably the DC56 Si. This ultra-rugged tool pilot’s chrono featured a modified Valjoux 7750 that not only had the aforementioned hairspring, but also a reinforced barrel, and ceramic rotor bearing. The combination of these components and their proprietary (and too long to list) case techs earned it the honor of being the official watch of the German Eurofighter pilots… in 2007.

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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