Your questions answered about luxury watch jewels

Your questions answered about luxury watch jewels

Now, we should clarify something right off the bat. When we talk about jewels in luxury watches, in this particular instance we’re not talking about the precious, naturally occurring gemstones. In other words, this isn’t a post about watches like the Graff Diamonds Hallucination. Instead, we’re talking about their synthetic counterparts.

Now, in comparison to the dizzying prices fetched by most naturally occurring gemstones, synthetic jewellery is worth very little in strictly financial terms, sometimes as low as a couple of pence per unit, largely because of its man-made nature. But while they might not be a much-trumpeted aspect of a luxury watch, they play an integral part in its overall function.

So with that in mind, we’re taking a moment to answer some of your most common questions about jewels in luxury watches.

What do synthetic jewels do in a mechanical watch?

In short, they’re used as bearings.

If you want a little more detail: by definition, every mechanical watch comprises a series of interlinking systems and mechanisms that interact with each other in very intricate or complex ways. Almost every single one of them involves moving or rotating parts. The movement of these is regulated by bearings, which keep their motion within specified ranges to ensure continued smooth functioning, while also reducing friction between any parts in contact with each other, such as the escapement lever and impulse jewel.

All mechanical watches use bearings (and surprisingly enough, even some quartz watches make limited use of them too). The bearings in higher-end automatic and manual watches are made out of jewels. Synthetic jewels make for the perfect bearings because their hard, smooth surface doesn’t allow much friction, which enables metal components like the wheel train to rotate freely.

These jewels weren’t always synthetic, either. In decades gone by, some watchmakers were known to use genuine rubies to serve as bearings. In recent years however, manufacturers have understandably preferred to use lab-made rubies or sapphires.

patek philippe

How many types of jewel are there?

According to general consensus, there are four main types of jewel – hole, cap, pallet and roller. Let’s look at each of them in turn.

Hole

Otherwise known as a pierced jewel, this type of jewel is named for the hole that’s been bored into it so that it can be mounted on the wheel’s axle, or various pivots. It can often be distinguished by its slightly rounded top, or flat bottom. When combined with a cap jewel, it creates what’s referred to as a pivot bearing, which allows an axle to spin. It can also be used to provide extra shock absorption on the balance staff.

Cap

Cap jewels are used to minimise the movement of the balance staff. Often utilised alongside a pivot jewel, they generally have some form of shock absorption, such as a spring at each end.

Pallet

Pallet jewels are regularly shaped jewels that are installed on the end of each arm on the pallet fork, effectively improving the operational lifespan of the mechanism.

Roller

A semi-cylindrical jewel that sits inside the pallet fork in the escapement mechanism, and serves as the connection point between the escape wheel and pallets.

How many jewels are in each luxury watch, and where?

Most jewelled watches have in the region of 17 jewels. These are spread across multiple parts of the watch, including:

  • The balance wheel
  • Staff pivot
  • Centre wheel
  • Escape lever pallet
  • Escape lever
  • Fourth wheel
  • Third wheel
  • Escape wheel

A mechanical watch with a full complement of 17 jewels is often referred to as a ‘fully jewelled’ watch. However, some of the more sophisticated luxury watches may utilise considerably more than this, such as those with complications like perpetual calendars and chronographs. The general rule of thumb is that the more complications and supplementary features a watch possesses, the more jewels that it will contain. That’s largely because all these different features involve their fair share of moving parts, and so additional jewels are required to keep friction to a minimum and keep everything functioning smoothly.

The world’s most complicated watch had a staggering 242 jewels incorporated into its movement. If you’re curious, you can find out more about the Vacheron Constantin 57260 here!

Or, if you’re looking for a more affordable luxury watch to add to your collection, we’ve got an extensive range for sale right here at Leonard Dews. You can browse them right here on our website, or at our expansive Blackpool showroom, choosing your favourites from a number of world-renowned manufacturers such as Patek PhilippeTAG HeuerOMEGA, and Longines – just to name a few! If you’ve got any questions, or you’re searching for a specific model, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on on 01253 754 940, emailing us on enquiries@leonarddews.co.uk, or simply asking one of our showroom staff. We’re always happy to help!