The oscillator is quite remarkable. The only thing I’ve seen that approaches it is the Senfine oscillator that Parmigiani Fleurier has been working on, which has some similar concepts; there are however significant differences between the two as well, and Zenith and LVMH have managed to produce a finished, small-series produced watch as well as a prototype. This is new territory for watchmaking; for the entire history of watchmaking, the physics of watchmaking has been dominated by the classical mechanics of rigid bodies, but the Zenith Defy Lab and caliber ZO 342 make use of the physics of compliant, or flexible, elements in a way never done before. The high frequency, low energy cost, and low mass of the oscillator system give it a number of theoretical advantages over a classic lever, balance, and balance spring watch and LVMH is clearly in a position to put those advantages on a practical footing as well.
Is it a total revolution in watchmaking? Not entirely. The basic principles are the same as for a conventional watch, insofar as you still have an oscillator, a driving force, a restoring force, and some means of counting the oscillations and impulsing the oscillator (the escapement). However in just about every other respect this really is a dramatic development. It’s also a challenge to the values of traditional watchmaking – the mechanism is obviously as much a triumph of high tech silicon fabrication and extremely sophisticated mathematical and computer modeling, as it is of watchmaking.
But insofar as it’s a mechanism that arose out of a true mathematical and theoretical grasp of the nature and behavior of harmonic oscillators, it’s genuinely intellectually exciting in the same way that the pendulum and balance spring were four and more centuries ago – cutting edge materials science married to the oldest and most fundamental principles in the art and science of timekeeping.