Traditional Escapement vs Co-Axial Escapement

If you are a watch lover, I’m sure you have heard about the Co-Axial escapement which was developed by the English watchmaker George Daniels.

Omega launched their first Co-Axial mechanical movement in 1999. Today it is used in a large percentage of their watches. Omega is currently the largest watch company to have adopted this type of escapement.

But what is a Co-Axial escapement? And what makes it different from a traditional escapement used in almost all other mechanical watches?

Traditional Lever Escapement

The components of the traditional Lever Escapement
Standard Escape wheel and Pallet
This animation shows how the traditional escapement functions
Traditional Escapement and Co-Axial Escapement

 

Considering the escapement as a unit, it can be seen that the escape wheel supplies the power, whereas the pallet transfers the rotary motion of the escape wheel into a back and forth motion of the pallet.  The pallet in turn imparts motion to the jewel pin (roller jewel) which causes a vibrating motion of the balance wheel.

Co-Axial Escapement

The components in the Co-Axial escapement differs considerably from those of the traditional Swiss lever escapement, which had long been the industry’s mainstay. The Co-Axial escapement consists of a balance roller carrying a pallet and an impulse pin, an anchor with three pallets, and a three-level co-axial escapement wheel comprising the co-axial wheel, the co-axial pinion and the transmission pinion, with which it is connected to the intermediary wheel and the gear train.

This animation shows how the co-axial escapement functions

Here is a great video explaining how the co-axial escapement works.

My Conclusion

The traditional escapement uses the tried and tested lever escapement that has been around for more than 100 years. It has been tested in virtually every type of watch movement and has proven itself to be a sound and a true work horse of the watch industry.  In recent years, Omega has chosen to go with the Co-Axial escapement. I have not used or seen nearly as many watches that use this design, since it is relatively new and only 1 brand (Omega) uses them. What I can tell you is that the Co-Axial escapement works well. In my opinion, Omega was looking for some sort of marketing approach that would set itself apart from its main rivals, Rolex and Breitling. They have committed themselves to this new design in almost all their high-end watches as a way of trying to keep and expand their market share. I am still a skeptic about the co-axial movements, because they are still relatively new. Traditional escapements have been around for hundreds of years, but co-axial has only been available in the mainstream since 1999.

I try and evaluate watch movements from the prospective of a watchmaker as to how easily they can be repaired and serviced.

The Co-Axial is a new and unique design, but it is going to be virtually impossible to make any repairs to these small and precise pallet stones in the future.

Trying to adjust a pallet stone in any watch is one of the most difficult repairs that any watchmaker can attempt. Try to imagine, moving the stone in or out just about the thickness of a human hair, and that is how precise the adjustment needs to be in the pallet in order for it to work correctly. The pallet stones are held in place by shellac (a type of glue), which needs to be heated in order to move the stones. The pallet is held in a special tool, then heated over an alcohol lamp flame until the shellac softens. You then have a few seconds to push or pull the stone (without losing it) before the shellac hardens. Most watchmakers need to attempt this 5 – 10 times before they get it right.

On the Co-Axial escapement, you have twice the number of stones to deal with, I don’t even want to think about trying to adjust them. If there is a problem with the wheels or levers, most watchmakers would just replace them instead of attempting to repair them, so the cost will be higher.

This is a long-winded answer to the question, but my vote is a big thumbs up for the traditional escapement.

 

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