Watch shock protection systems

Last Updated on June 15, 2024 by Jason

Watch shock protection systems are designed to protect the delicate components of a watch movement, in particular the balance wheel, from damage due to physical shocks or impacts. These systems are critical for maintaining the accuracy, reliability and longevity of a watch, as even minor shocks can cause damage to the movement’s intricate parts.

The earliest shock protection system was developed around 1790 by Abraham Louis Breguet. It was known as the pare-chute and was designed to protect the delicate pivots of the balance wheel from sudden impacts. The pare-chute system consisted of a spring-mounted jewel setting that allowed the jewel to move slightly in response to impacts. By allowing this small movement, the pare-chute absorbed the energy from shocks, thereby preventing the balance staff from breaking or becoming misaligned. Although the system worked, Breguet’s pare-chute system was not widely adopted because of its complexity, cost, technical challenges and protection by patents. It was to be over a century before a comparable system was available.

The concept of shock protection in wristwatches dates back to the early 20th century. This was a time when the increasing popularity of wristwatches exposed them to more frequent impacts compared to pocket watches. Early attempts at shock protection were unsatisfactory. However, significant advancements were made with the development of more sophisticated systems in the mid-20th century. The first commercially viable shock protection systems for watches arrived during the mid-1930s. However, it was not until the 1950s that anti-shock systems became widespread.

Incaflex

One of the earliest wristwatch shock protection systems was Incaflex. It was developed by Paul Wyler of the Wyler Watch Company in 1927. The Incaflex system distinguishes itself from other shock protection mechanisms by incorporating the protection into the balance wheel. Unlike later systems that protected the balance staff by cushioning the jewel settings, Incaflex employs a balance wheel designed with flexible, curved arms. These arms are capable of absorbing and dissipating the energy from shocks directly. When the watch experiences a sudden impact, the flexible arms bend slightly and then return to their original shape. This reduces the stress transmitted to the balance staff and pivots.

The simplicity and robustness of Incaflex made it particularly suitable for daily use. This proved to be a significant advantage as wristwatches became more common and exposed to a greater variety of physical activities. Wyler capitalised on the effectiveness of the Incaflex system through dramatic demonstrations to showcase its durability. One of the most famous publicity stunts occurred in 1956 when Wyler dropped watches equipped with Incaflex shock protection from the Eiffel Tower. These watches continued to function correctly after the fall, providing compelling evidence of the system’s effectiveness.

Incabloc

The Incabloc shock protection system, introduced in 1933 by Georges Braunschweig and patented by his company Portescap, was a significant advancement in horology. It provided a reliable and cost-effective means to protect delicate watch components from damage due to shocks. This system, still in use today, is one of the most widely used shock protection mechanisms in the watchmaking industry.

The Incabloc system uses a spring-mounted jewel setting that allows the jewel to move slightly in response to an impact. When the watch experiences a shock, the lye-shaped spring absorbs the energy, allowing the jewel to displace momentarily. This displacement prevents the force of the impact from being transmitted directly to the balance staff, thereby protecting it from bending or breaking. After the shock, the spring returns the jewel to its original position, ensuring that the balance wheel continues to function accurately.

Incablock shock protection.
Incablock shock protection.

One of the reasons for the widespread adoption of the Incabloc system is its effectiveness combined with simplicity. The system can be easily integrated into a wide range of watch movements, from affordable mass-produced watches to luxury timepieces. Additionally, the low cost of manufacturing and maintaining the Incabloc system has contributed to its popularity among watchmakers.

KIF shock protection

The KIF shock protection system, developed by Universal Escapements Ltd. (now known as KIF Parechoc SA), is another widely used and respected shock protection mechanism in the watchmaking industry. It was introduced in the 1930s, around the same time as other pioneering shock protection systems like Incabloc. It is still in use today and is the primary competitor for Incabloc.

The KIF system operates on a principle similar to that of Incabloc. They both use a spring-mounted jewel setting to absorb and dissipate the energy from shocks. This protects the delicate balance staff and ensures the accurate operation of the watch. However, the KIF system employs a different design for the spring and setting, offering unique advantages and features.

KIF shock protection.
KIF shock protection.

The KIF shock protection system uses a distinctive spiral-shaped spring known as the “Duofix” or “Elastor.” This spiral spring is designed to cushion impacts effectively from multiple directions, providing robust protection for the balance staff. The spiral shape allows for a controlled displacement of the jewel setting during a shock, minimizing the force transmitted to the balance staff. The jewel setting in the KIF system is designed to move slightly within its mounting. This absorbs the impact and returns the jewel setting to its original position.

Over the decades, KIF has been adopted by numerous watch brands, especially those known for producing high-quality mechanical watches. Its reputation for reliability and effectiveness has made it a standard in the industry, much like Incabloc.

Cymaflex

The Cymaflex shock protection system was introduced by the Swiss watch company Cyma in 1937. Unlike some other shock protection systems that focus primarily on cushioning impacts in specific directions, the Cymaflex system is designed to provide comprehensive protection. Using a flexible mounting for the balance wheel jewel, the Cymaflex system allows it to absorb shocks from various directions. The system was engineered to withstand the rigours of daily use, ensuring long-term durability and reliability for the watch wearer.

Cymaflex shock protection.
Cymaflex shock protection.

In summary, while Cymaflex was an important development in the history of watch shock protection, it remained largely exclusive to Cyma’s range of watches. The combination of proprietary control, brand strategy, and the availability of other shock protection systems prevented its adoption by other watchmakers.

Helvetia Shock-Resist

In the 1940s, Helvetia (often also known as General Watch Co.) introduced the Helvetia Shock-Resist system. The Helvetia Shock-Resist system, like other contemporary shock protection systems, was designed to protect the delicate balance wheel and balance staff from damage due to physical shocks and impacts. This system typically involved a spring mechanism that allowed the jewel settings to absorb and cushion the impact. This prevented the transmission of shock forces to the balance staff.

Compared to systems like Incabloc and KIF, which became the industry standards due to their effectiveness and ease of integration, the Helvetia Shock-Resist system remained more of a distinctive feature of Helvetia watches. While effective, it did not achieve the same level of widespread adoption or become a universal standard in the watchmaking industry.

Related content

Incabloc SA official website.

KIF Parechoc official website.

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