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Atmos 566 - A Perpetually Powered Watch?

by Johann Johanson

How many ways of powered are there?  Solar powered, battery powered, fuel powered, electricity powered, wind powered... did I miss any?

Those are all fine ways of powering something, although all of those probably do not power something for a human lifetime. 

It is here where I would like to share another way of powering a clock that I recently ran into:

In 1928, in France, a Neuchatel engineer called Jean-Leon Reutter built a clock driven quite literally by air.  This clock could run for several centuries without wearing out or requiring any winding, battery power or electricity. 

It took the Jaeger-LeCoultre workshop a few more years to convert this idea into a technical form that could be patented. And to perfect it to such a degree that the Atmos practically achieved perpetual motion. In 1936 production of the Atmos began.

The technical principle is a beguiling one: inside a hermetically sealed capsule is a mixture of gas and liquid (ethyl chloride) which expands as the temperature rises and contracts as it falls, making the capsule move like a concertina. This motion constantly winds the mainspring, a variation in temperature of only one degree in the range between 15 and 30 degrees centigrade being sufficient for two days' operation.

Atmos clocks, as they would later be known, are made entirely by hand. 

In late 1983, LeCoultre totally resigned the Atmos and came up with the 540 caliber. They also stopped the practice of labeling the models numerically (Atmos 0 - Atmos VIII). These serial numbers start with 600,000 and is still being made today under various caliber numbers and model names.

To commemmorate over 80 years of Atmos clocks, the Swiss manufacturer Jaeger-Lecoultre approached Australian-born designer Marc Newson to imagine a new incarnation of the Atmos.  Newson brought his biomorphic signaturte to the clock's aesthetic. 

His design smoothes out the traditional cubic form.  The clock's hours and minutes revolve on a face depicting a sky chart of the northern hemisphere with cardinal points and constellations.  Months are displayed on a rotating disk at six o'clock. 

The name of this new design is the Atmos 566.

It is available in two versions, a limited series of 28 in blue, and another 48-piece translucent edition.

Interesting facts about Atmos watches:

- A one-degree temperature difference supplies the Atmos with enough energy to run for 48 hours.   

- 60 million Atmos clocks would use as much energy as a 15-watt electric bulb. 

- The moon phase mechanism is so accurate that it will display a mere 1 day discrepancy after 3,821 years.

- The clock's hermetically sealed case is filled with ethyl chloride gas.

To conclude with, here is another really beautiful Atmos clock:


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