It is extremely difficult for a human being to carry out this job with a consistently high degree of reliability. “Gradual automation of the lubrication process has enabled us to improve the quality considerably,” explains Markus Bühler, who is responsible for Industrialization at IWC in Schaffhausen. A major step forward was achieved with the pneumatic oil dispenser, which makes it possible to apply drops of lubricant that are precisely the same size. Today, special robots apply oil to over 20 lubrication points simultaneously and guarantee consistently high quality standards. Today, even lubrication of the escapement, which is critical, is partly automated.
In future, it will be possible to shoot lubricant completely contact-free from short distances into the intended place. Most people will be familiar with the jet technology used here because it is the same as in their inkjet printers at home.
There are also high expectations for diamond-like carbon coatings: ultra-thin, extremely hard coatings on the surfaces of moving parts can reduce friction so dramatically that lubricants are no longer required. However, the process has failed to produce satisfactory results so far because of the tiny dimensions of the parts to be coated.
This means that today there is still no real alternative to torough lubrication. But even the best-quality watch oil comes to the end of its powers at some point. Tiny particles create impurities. So, like a sports car, a mechanical watch also needs a regular oil change. But while the car has to go the garage once a year, a wristwatch can go on functioning faultlessly for much longer. Only after five years will a watchmaker need to dismantle the movement and carefully clean the parts to remove particles of dirt and oil residues. Finally, he will reassemble the precision mechanism and lubricate it exactly as required, and thus ensure that it goes on performing faultlessly and showing the time reliably for the next five years.