Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rubies and Watch Parts - When a Ruby is not a Ruby


Sometimes my self enlightening musings need to be posted here to dispel the unintentional deceit we have been privy to. This one in particular was due to lack of the technology back in the day when rubies were discovered. Rubies are nothing more then sapphires as they are both are corundum which is basically aluminum ions and oxygen, impurities there of create color. For example, what makes the ruby different has to do with minuscule amounts of chromium, in fact, only 1% of the aluminum is replaced with chromium making that highly sought after red color.

So what does this have to do with watch parts?
In 1704 the first union of watch movements and rubies came into conception with the advancements wrought by Peter Debaufre, Jacob Debaufre, and Nicolas Facio. The rubies (sapphires) are essentially the watch movement's bearings, and are present on the pallet, the piece which creates that time honored clicking noise against the escape wheel, these are referred to as jewels. When you see a watch that states "17 jewels" it essentially means the "bearings" are usually rubies (sapphires), but can also be garnets or in rare cases diamonds. These however are industrial grade and have very little value. Also around 1900 manufactured or synthetic rubies became the staple "jewel" present in watches. This was due to the efficiency of the process created by Auguste Victor Louis Verneuil, which affectionately called the Verneuil process and also referred to as flame fusion. Actually synthetic rubies (sapphires) were made even before Verneuil rained on the someone's scientific advancement parade, as they were the first on the market in the mid 1800's. Rubies (sapphires) are historically significant as they are actually the first gem stone to be synthetic or man made.
Who knew that rubies (sapphires) were so special!