Guy Semon joined TAG Heuer in 2004 A mathematician by training, he is the creator of some of the major innovations of the avante-garde watch brand, such as the Monaco V4, the outstandingly precise chronographs capable of 1/1,000th to 5/10,000th of a second accuracy, or more recently, the famous TAG Heuer Connected Modular, the first luxury smartwatch developed by TAG Heuer in cooperation with Intel and Google. A few months ago, we sat down with the creative genius, to understand a little more about the scientific institute he runs, and the company’s recent work on carbon-composite hairsprings.
Could you tell us about the TAG Heuer Institute and your role therein.
The TAG Heuer Institute is a new entity and it has been a little over a year now. It is a sister company of TAG Heuer. As CEO of this Scientific Laboratory, we look at innovations. We have employed people from diverse fields such as Mathematics and Science. We are trying to improve fundamental physics for watchmaking. This is the objective.
You’ve been at the helm of many innovations at TAG Heuer. What’s next?
We are presenting the new Isograph this year. We have used a new material for the hairspring. In a mechanical watch the most complicated and attractive component is the regulator. Steel and silicon have been used for hairsprings. The former has the issue of magnetism and the latter is fragile. We have invested in research into a new material, and we have used this in the Autavia. It provides the required sensitivity and shock-absorption capacity.
Are these innovations shared across all the LVMH brands? Or do you plan to?
The watch division is responsible to spread the innovations and allot them where necessary.
Never consider the material used for cases as innovation. That’s mostly marketing! It is the use of different materials in the very structure of the internal mechanisms of the watch, that are the innovations. You find different forms and structures of the same element. Let’s take Carbon for example. The same material can have two extremes- one of which could be very strong and the other fragile. We have done a lot of research into the Carbon atoms and structures for uncovering the varied properties. Sometimes, when we transfer the properties of a particular material on a different scale we lose the properties. This is something that requires significant research, which may lead to composites. The material Isograph has many properties that can be harnessed not only for watchmaking but also outside it.
Do you have machines at the institute that are exclusive to TAG?
Yes, we have two machines that are only exclusive to us. There is a lot of science that goes into this- the kind of gasses used and extracted, the properties of the materials and how they interact, the role of the catalysts and so on. It is after intense experimentation that we develop the perfect change. It is a cooking process really, if you look at it! Once we’ve perfected the technique, you can see how we produce absolutely perfect pieces (the spiral used for the watch) without the use of human hands. We have the ability to customize beautifully. We can calculate the perfect design for your spiral on the computer. We can get you your personal spiral for your watch! There is a choice.
Watchmaking is an art and a science. How does the TAG Heuer Institute see the role of a watch scientist? How do you blend it with that of a watchmaker?
If you look at Baselworld, and compare the watches, you will see that it is all a question of design, finishing and price. Can you imagine if the spiral had been re-invented like this about 350 years back? During the last 20 years watchmaking was a beautiful world and you knew about it. In twenty years, we have seen the business of mechanical watches multiply, and quartz demand decreased. We are one of the top brands that share in this growth. It is challenging to grow. We have to fight and our weapons are marketing, digital marketing, quality, finishing, distribution and above all innovation. We have improved and reinvented mechanical watches for 21st century. It is not easy, but with the kind of technology we have it is possible. It is an advanced art. Watchmaking and science are not opposites but they are absolutely connected. We need good watchmakers but to improve the watches we need scientists. It is all a balance!