The Beauty of Imperfection ; A Handful of Designers Are Experimenting with 3-D Printing Processes

By Touchot, Arthur | International New York Times, February 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Beauty of Imperfection ; A Handful of Designers Are Experimenting with 3-D Printing Processes


Touchot, Arthur, International New York Times


3-D printers are not precise enough to print out mechanical watch movements, but a few designers are exploring the possibilities for other watch parts.

Although 3-D printers may be the coolest kids on the block, most watch brands do not want anything to do with them.

The machines are not precise enough, at least not yet, to print out mechanical watch movements, according to Iain Todd, a professor of metallurgy and materials processing at the University of Sheffield in Britain.

Yet other watch parts can, and should, be printed. "You can really do phenomenal things around what you put your movement in, especially with the cases," Mr. Todd said in a phone interview this month.

A handful of industrial designers are exploring those possibilities.

"I don't understand why the watch industry isn't employing 3-D printing," said Timur Pinar, who designed a stainless steel watch case last year using SolidWorks, a software tool developed by the French company Dassault..

"Engineers use it to design planes, so it's safe to say a watch case wasn't much of a problem," he said.

Drawing the 3-D model took a month, after which he sent the design to Materialise, a Belgian pioneer in additive manufacturing - - the technical name for 3-D printing -- to make the prototype.

Mr. Pinar said he designed a skeletonized case to exploit the properties of laser sintering, the 3-D printing technology that uses a computer-controlled laser beam to build complex forms by fusing successive layers of powdered metal into the desired shape.

"It's one of the best ways to make such parts," he said. "It helps us produce tangible models quickly."

Still, Mr. Pinar put an old ETA Swiss mechanical movement into the case. For clockwork precision, "there is a certain level of craftsmanship expected," he said. "3-D printing hasn't arrived at that point."

That is particularly true at the top end of the market, Mr. Todd said. "You'll always need to make your own old-fashioned mechanical movement if you want to be considered a high-end brand," he said.

Among the first brands to make watches with 3-D printed cases on a commercial scale is rvnDSGN, set up by Zach Raven, a designer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2011.

"It was my wife's idea," Mr. …

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