Hamish Robertson, Dec 16 2022

Why does a watch need Shock Protection?

Why does a watch need Shock Protection?

Today we assume all modern watches will be reliable and accurate during daily wear. Watchmakers have spent a long time working to achieve this, especially for the tiny mechanical movements that drive wristwatches. One of the key design problems watchmakers face is how to protect the movement from shocks, bangs and blows to the case, or episodes of shaking or vibration. This week's Blog Post will explain how this is done.

What is Shock Protection?

Shock protection for watch movements is a system of components designed to protect the delicate parts of a watch movement from the effects of impact and vibrations. This includes things like shock absorbers, springs, and shock protection plates. Shock protection helps to keep the watch running accurately and prevent potential damage to the movement.

A vintage Rolex from the 1950s advertising its shock protection features on the dial.

A vintage Rolex from the 1950s advertising its shock protection features on the dial.

Protecting the whole Movement

Some forms of shock protection protect the whole movement by carefully designing the parts holding the movement so they absorb the impact. This can be done with metal case surrounds, or in the case of some watches, with rubber parts. The goal is for any knocks to the case edges or sides not to be transmitted to the movement.

Protecting the most important and fragile part, the Balance

The most fragile part of a mechanical wristwatch is the balance that sites within the escapement and ensures the watch keeps time. The small balance wheel turns around a pinion, or post, called a balance staff. This balance staff is held top and bottom by enclosures and usually a synthetic jewel is used to ensure it does not wear out too quickly. When watches are knocked or dropped, this balance staff can be knocked out of place, bend, or break. If this happens the watch will not run accurately. A solution invented in 1934 and patented as "Incabloc" was the first to be able to absorb blows from each different side and return the balance staff to the right position afterwards. It used a combination of a spring and a conical mounting design.

While incabloc was a huge technical success, eventually many other competitors emerged. By the 1950s most mechanical watches incorporated a balance staff shock protection system such as this.

The different parts of the Incabloc unit. It is still in use in many watches today. Image source: incabloc.ch

The different parts of the Incabloc unit. It is still in use in many watches today. Image source: incabloc.ch

Modern Shock Protection

The modern watch world is full of watches that offer great shock protection for everyday use, plus some watches boast features that will protect them even under extreme uses, such as mountaineering, diving, and adventure sports. We've written about these unbreakable watches before, and a particular favourite is the Casio G-Shock, designed by someone who was fed up with his specialty diving watch not being tough enough.

There are all kinds of modern materials watch makers use to provide shock protection, including rubber, plastic and carbon fibre. The additional metal movement rings in watches such as the Bremont Martin Baker or the Rolex DeepSea also provide immense strength and protection.

Even modern dress watches have some shock protection within the movement to protect the balance staff, as detailed above. They use different designs; Rolex has Paraflex, Omega use Nivachoc, and there are many more. As well as these spring based protection systems, many of the parts of high-end and luxury watch movements are now made of specialty materials to make them stronger and more impact resistant.

The Bremont Martin Baker Case and movement holder parts, which include a shock-protection device which surrounds the movement within the case.

The Bremont Martin Baker Case and movement holder parts, which include a shock-protection device which surrounds the movement within the case.

Watches without Shock-Protection

Almost all modern watches will have some kind of shock protection designed into the balance and other parts of the movement. If you have a vintage watch from before the 1950s when Shock-Protection became widely available, it is crucial to take great care of it, but given your watch is already nearly 70 years old we are sure you already do!

Conclusion

Shock-protection is necessary for all mechanical watch movements to protect many of the parts and especially the Balance and Balance Staff. There are many interesting technological aspects of shock-protection, and you can rest assured all modern watch movements use at least some of them. The Watch Collectors' Club is here to help you learn more about the watch world, so if there are any further watch parts or technologies you'd like to hear about, please let us know!

A Casio G-Shock with high levels of shock protection. Safe to wear even while doing DIY!

A Casio G-Shock with high levels of shock protection. Safe to wear even while doing DIY!

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