We’ve seen 3D printing applied to many wondrous, and sometimes absurd, things, from toys, to confectionery, to replacement dog limbs, and even to car parts. One thing we rarely see is 3D printing applied to watches. Not smartwatches, but plain timepieces. Sure, there may have been times when watch parts are 3D printed, but Swiss engineer Christoph Laimer might have earned the distinction of having made what is possibly the world’s first working 3D printed pocket watch. Sure, it’s not going to compete with a TAG Heuer or even a Swatch, not by a long shot, but it’s still a manufacturing achievement worth bragging about.
Unlike smartwatches, traditional watches, especially the more luxurious ones, are as much a product of art as they are of manufacturing. The effort needed to craft the pieces and assemble them together requires painstaking precision. Which is why 3D printing and actually working watch is no small matter. Especially since it even has a tourbillon.
Although somewhat debated today in terms of practicality, the tourbillon is probably one of the most iconic and most mesmerizing parts of a mechanical watch. It is also one that is hard to replicate via 3D printing. Making it actually work together to form a watch is even harder. And yet that is exactly what Laimer accomplished, which could be the start of increasing interest in using this relatively new printing technology for making watches.
Of course, the end product we see now isn’t going to be a practical timepiece. It is huge in comparison to a wrist watch and even a pocket watch. It also needs to be wound up every 30 minutes or it stops working. But these just the first baby steps in a new direction.
Fortunately, Laimer has provided the source files for the 3D printout for free, allowing anyone to follow in his footsteps and maybe even refine it. The finished watch isn’t completely 3D printed, as it needs some non-printed metal pins, screws and washers. But 3D printing might soon arrive at a point where even those can be printed as well.