Why 3D print a mechanical watch? Because you can.

tourbillon
CC BY 2.0 Christof Laimer via Thingaverse

In 1772 John Harrison was finally recognized for making a watch that kept accurate enough time to navigate by; it had taken him 42 years to get there. Watches are among the most complicated mechanical devices ever made. That’s one of the reasons they are still valuable, even though a cheap Swatch keeps better time.

It’s also why I find Christoph Laimer’s 3D printed watch with tourbillon so fascinating. According to Wikipedia, “Originally an attempt to improve accuracy, tourbillons are still included in some expensive modern watches as a novelty and demonstration of watchmaking virtuosity.”

It is also a demonstration of 3D printing virtuosity. Have a look at one of my first posts on 3D printing back in 2007; the people behind the first home machine thought they might “sell three-dimensional designs over the Internet. This would allow people to print out replacements for a dishwasher rack at home.” And here we are, just eight years later, and people can print out tourbillons at home. Laimer explains why in an interview with Nicholas Manousous:

watchfrom video by Christof Laimer/Screen capture

When I bought my first 3D printer, I realized, that many people were designing “stupid” decoration pieces. I wanted something useful, and so I started experimenting with custom LEGO-gears for my children. Some iterations later I had designed and printed the gear-train with hollow shafts for the 3 clock-hands, “only” the escapement was missing. That was the moment when I realized, that a clock is THE living creature, which finally made (it make) sense to own a 3D printer.

It is never going to win the Longitude Prize for accuracy, but it might some day be a chapter in a book by Dava Sobel that looks at the history of 3D printing. Nicholas Manousous, a watchmaker, notes the importance:

This is an actual watch, with a tourbillon that is almost entirely 3D printed. Think about it: the tourbillon – a 200+ year old invention designed by one of the greatest watchmakers to ever live, which for most of its history has been practically synonymous with hand-craftsmanship and high end watchmaking, has been produced in a working watch with a 3D printer.

parts of watchChristof Laimer via Thingaverse/CC BY 2.0

Of course it also begs the question, why would you? If you want to have accuracy from a watch built by a computer, my Apple Watch beats it hands down with its crystal temperature-control oscillator and its checks against 15 “Stratum One”-level Network Time Servers (NTP) that run the GPS satellites. Why build a silly plastic tourbillon?

Because you can. And that is just amazing.

Back in 2007 we wrote a lot about the possibility of what I called Downloadable designs (I hated the term 3D printing, thinking it limited the idea to one technology. Still do.)

…we will download design on demand. It is like the music for our iPod; dematerialized bits and bytes put together again where we need it, without the waste of a physical intermediary.

And now you can download a masterpiece of engineering and build it yourself on your home 3D printer. Perhaps that time has come.

Here is a longer video explaining how it is made:

And if you are into Andy Warhol movies, or are having trouble falling asleep, here is the classic 3D printed watch with tourbillon: 6,240 Ticks of deadly Dullness

All of the related links are from our earliest posts, to show how far we have come in such a short time.

Tags: 3D printing | Dematerialization | Downloadable Design

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