Gems in watches refer to those found within a watch mechanism rather than ornamental items. Gems can be found in mechanical, automatic, and quartz watches. The number of gems in a watch relates to how complicated the moving parts are.
Gems are used in mechanical watches to remove friction between surfaces of moving metal parts. Gems help keep a watch’s wheel train bearings and its escapement operating accurately and effortlessly because these parts can wear quite quickly.
The gems in watches serve as bearings; they increase the lifespan of the bearings and the watch’s accuracy and reduce friction. Real diamonds, rubies, and sapphires are included in some watches; they are usually only found in the most exclusive brands and cost a fortune. Most of the jewels found in watches today, however, are synthetic.
Types Of Gems In Watches
Several types of gems are found in watches. The four categories are hole gems, pallet gems, cap gems, and impulse gems.
Hole gems are used in standard gear train wheels; these are fitted tightly into prefabricated holes in the gear shaft. The hole in the gear shaft is also known as the arbor; the gem is curved inward and fits inside. The donut-shaped jewels
Cap gems are also known as capstones or end stones; they have a second outer gem on the tip of the gear shaft. These tiny disks of gems cover the hole gem and are always found in pairs together. A miniature oil well can build up between the two layers, allowing uninterrupted lubrication.
The shape of the cap gems also stops the oil from running down the arbor. As well as stopping the gear shaft from rubbing against the gem, the cap gems assist in preventing the up and down movement of the gear shaft during rotation. Capped gems on the escapement of a watch allow more consistent performance by allowing a wider range of positions; if watchmaker’s used only one hole gem, this would not be the case.
Pallet gems are angle-faceted and are attached to the pallet fork; the pallet fork is a component of the lever escapement of a mechanical watch. The two pallet gems are known as the entry and exit gems. The entry and exit gems alternate in securing the watch’s gear train.
The gear train is a collection of toothed wheels which transmit power and motion. Impulse power (which occurs through the impulse gem) is that transmitted; the function of the pallet gem is to transfer impulses to the balance.
This process of transmitting takes place around five times per second in watches made before 1970, with 18,000 beats per hour. Modern watches have quicker beats-per-hour of 21,600, 28,800, and some as fast as 36,000.
Impulse gems, also known as roller gems, are shaped like the letter D; a watch will have one impulse gem. The impulse gem connects the escape wheel and the pallets located inside the pallet fork. The balance turns as the impulse gem sways back and forth and touches the pallet fork on each sway. This procedure results in the escape wheel moving by one tooth.
How Many Gems Does A Watch Have?
Watches will, on average, have about 17 gems. A watch with between 15 and 17 jewels or gems is fully jeweled; it will use gem bearings in the mechanical movement. Before World War II, a fully jeweled watch had 15 gems, whereas, after World War II, a fully jeweled watch had to have at least 17-gem.
Some watches have a few additional capstones, usually in the more expensive watches; they have 21 gems. Self-winding or automatic watches will typically contain 25 – 27 gems each. Gems are found in the following areas:
1. The Oscillator
A balance Wheel or balance is a weighted device that swings back and forth inside a watch mechanism. Every swing will lead to a tick; it moves the gear and the watch hands in one position. The balance wheel is an important determinant of accuracy in a mechanical watch. One impulse gem in the assembly is where the escapement level hits the pallet fork.
Balance Staff pivots have two pairs of gems consisting of one hole gem and one cap gem; they are the most important bearings in a watch as the quality of timekeeping depends on the balance oscillating with as little energy loss as possible. Balance staffs are purposefully kept very small in diameter and can break easily.
2. The Escapement
The escapement keeps the balance oscillating; it is a mechanism whereby energy is transmitted to the balance. Most modern watches use the Swiss lever escapement, but one problem it faces is friction. The co-axial escapement is now considered a better design as it removes this friction.
The three gems in the escapement are the impulse or roller gem on the balance and two pallet gems from the escape wheel. Invented by English clockmaker Thomas Mudge in 1754, the lever escapement is a small, forked lever between the escape wheel and the balance.
The pallet gems located in the pallet fork are also known as rectangular gems; they use a sliding movement that changes the rotating energy of the escape wheel into a back-and-forth movement. This change in movement allows the balance wheel to be pushed when the fork hits the impulse gem.
3. The Gear Train
The gems in the gear train are all similar; the bottom of the gem is flat with a hole drilled into it and an oil sink at the top. The train wheels may have capped gems like those found in the balance, but normally they only have one gem on each side. There are two gems for each of the four wheels.
Center Wheel one hole gem and one cap gems are in the pivot bearing of the center wheel. The center wheel rotates fully every hour; it powers the watch’s minute hand
The fourth wheel drives the escape wheel, and several other components drive the balance. Two gems consisting of one hole gem and one cap gem are used as a pivot bearing.
The third wheel connects the center wheel to the fourth wheel; it rotates once a minute and powers the second hand.
Escape Wheel contains two gems, one hole gem, and one cap gem. They are used as pivot bearing in the escape wheel.
Gem Placement In Watches
The more gems found in a watch, the higher its quality grade. A watch mechanism with more gems can operate more efficiently and accurately. Although there are variations amongst the different watch brands, gem placement generally comes in the following formats:
7-gem watch: one impulse jewel, two pallet jewels, two hole gems in the balance staff, and two balance staff cap gems.
9-gem watch: like the 7-gem watch plus two extra hole gems for the escape wheel.
11-gem watch: like the 7-gem watch plus extra gems on the upper pivots of the third wheel, fourth wheel, escape wheel, and pallet.
15-gem watch: like a 9-gem watch but with two extra hole gems on the third and fourth wheel and the pallet.
17-gem watch: like a 15-gem watch but with two extra hole gems on the center wheel.
19-gem watch: like a 17-gem watch but with hole gems in the mainspring barrel-arbor.
21-jewel watch: like a 17-gem watch but includes four cap gems on the escape wheel and pallet.
23-jewel watch: like a 21-gem watch but includes two mainspring barrel gems.
24 – 26 jewel watch: extra cap gems are included, which add to a watch’s reputation rather than its function in the movement. Commonly, prestigious watch buyers look for watches with more gems.
Watches often had asymmetrically placed gems to make it look like they had a higher gem count than they did. Asymmetry is achieved by placing the gem on the visible side of the watch movement and the non-visible side on only a brass bushing.
Do Automatic Watches Have Gems?
An automatic or self-winding watch is one where the mainspring is wound automatically; the energy to do this is produced by the natural motion of the arm of a watch wearer. The average automatic watch requires about 30 hours of wound-up energy to function properly throughout its lifespan; this energy is enough for 35 – 45 hours of use.
An automatic watch uses the same principle as a mechanical manual wind watch; a rotor is attached to the back of the movement, which spins inside the watch. The need for winding is eliminated because the wearer moves their arms; if an automatic watch has stopped, it will need to be wound up approximately 30 – 40 times.
Modern automatic watches typically also have 17 gems in their base movements and extra gems in their automatic mechanism. There are often two or more gems in the winding train, and if there is an oscillating weight with an axle, there will be two more gems.
Do Quartz Watches Have Gems?
Although quartz watches don’t need gems to make them accurate, some do feature gems. Quartz watches have moving parts like mechanical watches, but not all use watch gems. Around 1970 battery-powered quartz watches were introduced; these types of quartz watches, therefore, do not use gems. Before 1970, however, all watches were mechanical and used between five and seven gems.
What Gems Are Best In Watches?
Since the invention of the jewel bearings in 1704, precious stones like diamonds, sapphire, ruby, and garnet have been used in watch movements. Instead of Some watch faces also contain sapphire crystals; they are highly resistant to scratches.
Most modern watches use synthetic gems, but more expensive watches contain real gems such as emeralds; these watches can cost as much or more than a car. Although emeralds look fantastic, they are not used often and are not as efficient as other gems.
Emeralds will often be used as embellishments in watches. The Piccadilly Princess Royal African emerald green watch is worth over two million dollars. The watch, created by the world’s oldest diamond company, is the third in a series of five unique timepieces to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Backes & Strauss.
The watch boasts 245 Zambian emeralds cut in ten ways, totaling 31.91 carats. The emerald gems, mined sustainably from the Gemfields’ Kagem Mine in Zambia, were then meticulously crafted for placement onto the watch.
The synthetic ruby is the most popular gem used inside watches. Sapphires are as good as rubies, but the watch industry prefers rubies more. These synthetic rubies are not worth much; replacement gems cost between $5 and $20.
Rubies have been incorporated into watches for over 300 years. Three watchmakers used jeweled bearings in watches around the same time. Nicolas Fatio de Duillier patented a method of drilling holes into gems in 1704, Peter and Jacob de Beaufre used rubies for the first time in watches in 1704, and Auguste Verneuil developed synthetic corundum, a combination of rubies and sapphires, in 1892.
Over 100 years after Verneuil developed this technique, synthetic corundum is still used in the watchmaking industry. Before synthetic rubies were used in watches, the gems were real and much more expensive.
Gems are an important feature of watches; they are essential in reducing friction and increasing accuracy. The use of real gems in watches became passee with the advent of synthetic gems. Synthetic gems, known as corundum, have been used predominantly since the early twentieth century.
Modern manual wind wristwatches will use around 17 gems; an automatic watch can have 25 gems and complicated watches. Some quartz watches also have gems; in the early twentieth century, pocket watches had up to 25 gems.
Most cheap, so-called ‘dollar watches’ don’t have any gems, while cheaper pocket watches have 7 gems. A good quality watch usually has between 15 and 17 gems; high-end watches will have between 19 – 23 gems. The extra gems in better quality watches mean that more surfaces are protected from wear, and less energy is lost with friction.
Reduction in friction means that watches are more accurate. The number of gems in a watch often correlates with the number of complications a watch has. Swiss watches tend to have the most gems as they are more complicated.