Meeting Recap: The Development of a Practical Watch Escapement

Roger W. Smith, Founder, Roger W. Smith Ltd., Isle of Man, British Isles
December 4, 2017

No one knows who invented the escapement, but it has been contributed to over the centuries by generations of talented watch and clock makers. Even so, only a few have ever been practical for daily use in a watch. On December 4, 2017, Roger W. Smith lectured at the Horological Society of New York and spoke on the practicality of the co-axial escapement.

In his lecture, Smith explained that he had been able to dramatically increase the service interval of his watches due to the efficiency of the co-axial escapement. He then extrapolated on his mentor George Daniels’s research in escapement development, which resulted in the publishing of The Practical Watch Escapement in 1994. 

Early escapements, like the cylinder, exhibited sliding friction while operating. Detached escapements reduced sliding friction, allowing the balance to run freely and reducing the stress on the already heavily taxed escapement lubrication. The more a balance is able to swing freely, the more accurately the watch can run, and with a longer service interval. Even modern detached escapements, like the lever, still exhibit a high amount of sliding friction.

There have been many escapement designs that have come close to eliminating sliding friction, but nearly all of them are limited by the higher complexity and therefore higher failure rate and cost to manufacture. Daniels' co-axial, and Smith's single wheel co-axial escapement provides power much more efficiently than a Swiss lever escapement, and has reduced reliance on lubrication in order to operate, all while being practical to implement in a wristwatch.

The Sunday before Smith's lecture at HSNY, he guest instructed a special horological education class for six lucky students. The class was an opportunity for students to learn from one of the world's leading watchmakers, over an afternoon in Brooklyn.

HSNY thanks Roger W. Smith for his fascinating lecture!

Submitted by Christa Chance, Recording Secretary, HSNY