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The golden 20s: exuberant, fast-paced and incredibly innovative

To this day, the Roaring Twenties epitomise pleasure and lust for life. At the beginning of the decade, however, the world lay in ruins. The First World War (1914–1918) was over; the 40 or so countries involved had suffered countless losses, deaths and casualties. A generation of young men had been either wiped out or left traumatized. Maybe it was the collective depression and the sense of being unable to lose anything more that created this phenomenal atmosphere of change and upheaval? The 20s were not only fast-paced, accompanied by a beguiling trumpet music – they were also a decade of remarkable invention.

Watches: Protecting a watch’s balance wheel against shocks

Back in 1790, Abraham Louis Breguet invented the pare-chute shock protection system. In this system, the balance wheel pivots were cone-shaped and held in place with a small cup in the same shape, mounted on a strip spring. The Perpétuelle watches were the first to be equipped with shock protection systems in around 1792, before the systems were gradually extended to the remaining Breguet models. In a watch, the purpose of a shock protection system is to prevent the wheel’s pivots, which are particularly vulnerable due to how delicate they are.
No further major progress was made during the 19th century. However, the problem of the shock protection system returned to the fore with the development of the wristwatch. Unlike the pocket watch, which was protected by the wearer’s clothing, the wristwatch was continually exposed to shocks. Many inventions were patented in the 1920s, with no one system standing out – that is, until Fritz Marti, technical director at the Porte-Echappement Universel SA factory (later renamed Portescap SA), invented the Incabloc® in 1933 (Swiss patent No. 168494), followed by a further two patents in 1937. This shock absorber is built around a microscopic steel spring in the shape of a lyre. Together with a double guide cone, this spring allows the balance wheel bearing to shift and the energy generated to be absorbed by the bearing block. The bearings return to their original positions when the impact is over, guided by the lyre. The pivot itself does not move relative to the jewel bearing – the whole bearing is free to move, controlled by the spring.
Produced in series since June 1933, the Incabloc® was introduced in watches created by the West End Watch Company from 1934. Today, the Incabloc® remains the gold standard.
Other shock protection systems also exist: «Etachoc», produced by ETA, «Kif» by KIF Parechoc SA, «Diashock» by Seiko and «Parashock» by Citizen.
These systems all provide anti-shock protection for wristwatches and conform to the SN 289 130, SN 289 320 and ISO 1413 standards.

Sources: Dominique Fléchon, The Mastery of Time, 2011; Wikipedia; www.incabloc.ch

Medicine: the discovery of peni­cillin

In September 1928, Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming happened to notice that a mould in his lab had had a growth-inhibiting effect on some staphylococcus cultures he had forgotten about. Further research later led to the antibiotic peni­cillin, which would go on to significantly increase the life expectancy of humans. For his discovery, Fleming, together with Howard Walter Florey and Ernst Boris Chain, who furthered his research, was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1945 «for the discovery of peni­cillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases».

Standardization is crucial for laboratory equipment and devices, firstly to ensure that instruments and materials are compatible, and thus to facilitate efficient processes. For example, the introduction of standardized colours and connectors for gases has ensured that anaesthetists do not confuse nitrous oxide, oxygen and nitrogen.

Physics: Albert Einstein wins a Nobel Prize

A young German Albert Einstein decided he wanted to study at what is now ETH Zurich, so he moved to Aarau at the age of 17. There, he completed his high school Matura examinations before going on to study a mathematics and physics teaching diploma. Could he ever have suspected that he would later come to be considered the world’s most famous scientist of the modern era? His path led him via research and publications to the Bern Federal Office for Intellectual Property, then on to teaching at a selection of universities. In December 1922, Albert Einstein was honoured with the Nobel Prize «for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect».

Sources: Wikipedia, Stern.de, The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum (Penicillin), ABB

Standardization helps inventions to make breakthroughs


Young women in short skirts happily dance the night away doing the Charleston.

Assembly lines

Standardized machine elements paved the way for mass production and assembly-line work.


Master saddler Guccio Gucci opens a small workshop for leather goods and luggage in Florence.

Charles Lindbergh

Charles Lindbergh gains international fame for crossing the Atlantic from New York to Paris.


The transmission of visual information is only possible thanks to standardized data exchange. Germany’s first television standard was introduced in 1929.


Riri launches the first mass-produced zips. Today, zips undergo consistent testing thanks to EN 16732.


BBC (now ABB) is contracted to build the world’s largest machine unit for the city of New York.

What do innovations have to do with standards?

Standards can serve as a catalyst for innovations and help in anchoring solutions more quickly on the market. Incorporating innovative aspects into standards can prove crucial for market success since the market is then best prepared for the product. In particular innovations that extend across industries and value chains are becoming increasingly important.

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