Home / Patents & Innovations / Private Label Trade Names on American Pocket Watches: The Non-Magnetic Watch Company: Part 3: The Oxidation Problem

Private Label Trade Names on American Pocket Watches: The Non-Magnetic Watch Company: Part 3: The Oxidation Problem

Rust on a Steel Hairspring
Pictured: Rust on a Steel Hairspring

At age seventeen, Charles-Auguste Paillard began an apprenticeship under his uncle to study the repair, service, and adjustment of marine chronometers.

Paillard quickly realized that maintaining marine chronometers introduced unique challenges. The moist and salty environment frequently caused the delicate steel hairspring to rust, permanently disrupting the precise timekeeping required for navigation. 

Rust is a product of oxidation and reduction when iron is exposed to an electrolyte. Because steel is an iron alloy, it is prone to developing iron oxide (rust) when moisture is introduced. This corrosion is accelerated in the presence of salt, resulting in a critical fragility for timepieces used at sea. The corrosive process of rust is destructive to the metal, and all integrity is lost as soon as iron oxide begins to develop. This affliction exists on all timepieces with steel parts, but the effect occurs at a much slower rate in normal environments.

When a steel hairspring develops rust, the spring no longer operates with the crucial predictability required for precise timekeeping.

To solve this inherent flaw in marine chronometers, Paillard became interested in developing a hairspring immune to rust. Using an alloy that maintained similar elastic properties without the propensity to develop rust would result in a marine chronometer that could be reliable in moist conditions.

Paillard worked on this unique alloy for over a decade before it was ready to be introduced to the trade in 1877. Another fortunate property of the alloy Paillard created would eventually propel the marketability of his invention – anti-magnetism.

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