The project is now on prototype iteration 14 and is fully functional, both the jump hours and linear minutes are running smoothly and are now in the process of fine tuning. Another difficulty with 3D-printing the mechanisms and complications was the great deal of friction that is attained from plastic to plastic contact. Having a smoothly running 3D-printed prototype indicates that both the accuracy and precision of the mechanisms will be greatly improved once a full-metal prototype is machined.
Once I had a fully functional prototype, it was time to see how it sat on the wrist. I wanted to ensure that the watch conformed nicely without the lugs extending way past the wrist as we see on many novelty watches. The timepiece itself is 44.5mm wide, but what really gives it a nice fit is the lug-to-lug distance. This is the distance from one spring bar to the other, and on most 44mm watches this distance is around 50-55mm due to the length the lugs need to extend out of the case for the strap to move freely. The lug distance on this timepiece, however, is only 44mm as the rear lug is embedded within the actual case. Thus, the watch sits similarly to a 38mm watch and a slight curvature follows the entire caseback adding to its comfort.
These lugs require a handmade custom strap which is when I contacted Arizona-based Stone Creek Straps. We discussed various options and opted for American Bison leather both for its aesthetics and 40% greater strength than cow hide. On top of this, we added custom steel lug inserts to prevent wear on the leather. The back of the strap is then lined with Alcantara, a suede-like material often found in exotic sports cars.
Another unique feature that is being developed on the Barrelhand Project 1 timepiece is the crown release system. To continue the retro-futuristic theme, I designed the crown to sit at the top of the watch, housed within a 10-piece rocket-thruster assembly. Instead of fumbling with the crown to pull it out, the crown-release system allows the wearer to adjust the time with the flick of a switch.
The concept is simple but gives the wearer functional interactions with the watch, which is personally one of the main attractions to mechanical timepieces for me. By sliding the lever out, the crown is disengaged and goes from winding mode to time setting mode. The entire crown release system is manufactured using the most modern Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) Steel 3D printers commercially available. These machines start out with a large bed full of ultra-fine steel powder. A laser then targets and binds this powder layer by layer until you have your final component. What you are left with is a finish unique to every piece. This component gives the wearer a unique tactile experience with an exterior mechanism fully 3D printed in stainless steel. Although it may seem like a brushed finish below, this is actually the print lines that were built up layer by layer. The only post process on this component is the beveling on the outer edges and the screw countersinks.
Another component on the watch that will be 3D-printed in stainless steel is the sideshield. This component adds a unique texture to the face of the watch straight out of the printer and creates more depth to the many layers that make up the dial.
Although this technology is relatively new, I see a lot of potential for its use in the watch industry as precision and selection of materials continue to grow. This method of manufacturing not only reduces waste material due to its additive process but reduces the overall cost of production. The technology is currently not up to par in 3D-printing more complex components, thus 95% of the watch is still going to be machined using traditional methods in 316L steel, aluminum, brass, etc., depending on the properties needed. The crown itself takes design cues from Mars rover wheels and will be machined in aluminum before being anodized in a sunburnt orange to represent the afterburner of the thruster assembly.
Unique time displays have long been reserved for the six-figure price range of watches due to the amount of time and funding required in creating new movements and complications. My background in engineering and self-teaching during the Urwerk project has allowed me to try out different methods of tackling common challenges in the industry. Research and development is one of the most costly and time-consuming phases of watchmaking, especially when developing new in-house complications.
For this reason, the entire project is being prototyped using the latest in UV-cured 3D-printing technology. This allows me to quickly prototype precision components at nearly a tenth of the cost of traditional manufacturing. After more than 10 iterations of prototyping, these savings add up substantially and ensure the best possible value for the collector. All the resources for this project go directly towards R&D, manufacturing, and testing, presenting value that I believe all companies should strive for. The Barrelhand Project 1 will fall in the US$15,000-25,000 range and will ultimately be dependent on my final costs in metal manufacturing and prototyping. As the project progresses, I will be able to update those interested on current price estimates. The watch is by no means inexpensive, but I hope that by documenting the process people will see all the value and work that goes into each piece. There are no fancy marketing tricks or brand ambassadors trying to sell you a lifestyle; the project was created as an enthusiast’s dream to create mechanical sculptures for the wrist with a story far removed from traditional watchmaking.
Once prototyping is completed, the project will be manufactured and hand-finished in the USA. Everything from the bison leather straps to the wooden boxes are handmade and individually sourced from talented artists across America. As many of you might imagine, US-based manufacturers are extremely rare, especially with the precision and technical skills needed for watchmaking. The only externally sourced component on the timepiece will be a heavily modified Swiss movement which helps power the in-house complications. As of writing this article, I am comparing two different but very reliable Swiss base movements to modify, a 6497 ETA vs. an Eterna 39. As I continue to document the project, more information on this will become available, and if you have input on the subject I would love to hear your thoughts. As the Barrelhand Project 1 nears completion, I will begin work on Barrelhand Project 2 to continue developing kinetic sculptures for the wrist.
During this project, I have tried to continue surrounding myself with the ’70s scifi theme. Whether it be old movie posters, lava lamps, or the records I listen to whenever I sit at my workbench, there is something exciting about having the project be a part of the atmosphere and era around me.
Open Project Documentation
The project process is being publicly documented from sketch to production on Instagram @Barrelhand and on the Barrelhand.com website. By documenting the project publicly, there are no smoke and mirrors, people know exactly what they are getting, and understand all the work that goes into each piece. This transparency gives the wearer a deeper understanding of their timepiece and prevents the watch from being subject to unjustified profit markups that we are all too familiar with in this industry. Documenting the process publicly has also allowed me to bring together watch enthusiasts from all over to collaborate, share ideas, and get feedback on what they enjoy most out of a timepiece. I am continually looking to improve the Barrelhand Project 1, and I encourage those interested to critique the timepiece and comment on what is most important to you in a mechanical watch.
I will be finalizing all the details in a follow up article once the project nears completion. Although the project is still in development and subject to change, these are the most current anticipated tech specs:
- 44mm 316L Steel case
- In-house Geneva jump Hour and linear minute complication
- 46-hour manual-wind movement
- Direct metal laser sintered (DMLS) steel crown release system
- Handmade American Bison leather strap
- Designed, prototyped, manufactured, and tested in the U.S.
- Limited to 100 pieces
- 15,000-25,000 USD
Barrelhand Project 1 is currently on prototype 14 of its research and development phase; the final timepiece is set to launch summer 2017 and will be limited to 100 pieces. Those interested in reserving one should sign up to the mailing list on the barrelhand.com website. This will provide you with updates, and key dates for reservations as the project progresses. Reservations will be made available through the website May 18, 2017, on a first-come-first-served basis, and the first 10 will have the opportunity to customize their piece. Each timepiece will be designed, prototyped, assembled, and tested by myself right here in sunny California before being sent off to their new home. barrelhand.com