Every horological enthusiast should be enthralled by Tohoku University of Art and Design student Suzuki Kango’s astounding hand-carved wooden automaton clock. With over 400 moving parts, Suzuki’s senior thesis exhibition project uses four magnetic stylus pens on a magnetic drawing board to mechanically write the full time every minute in 24-hour format – and it is a work of art.
Watching his viral Twitter video, you will see a beautifully complicated-looking mechanical contraption quietly ticking away, with “06:19” somewhat crudely scrawled on a white board in the center. A few seconds into the video, and the entire structure comes to life, the white board is cleared, and mechanical arms scratch out the time “06:20.” Then, in most likelihood, you restart the video to see it happen again, because it truly is that amazing.
— K / $uzuki (@BellTreeNursing) February 7, 2016
Suzuki Kango is a 22-year-old senior student in product design from Zao City, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, close to Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture, where the university is located. After he posted a 16-second video of his completed clock in action on Twitter only a few days ago, his project has been featured in local and Japanese national news and television with proclamations of “genius,” shared widely online, and his Twitter video has over 180,000 retweets and 220,000 likes, at time of writing. Suzuki says that he tweeted pictures and videos of his work just to show his friends and was totally surprised by the huge reaction online.
The project’s name is “Plock,” a portmanteau of the English words “plot” (as in, “to mark or draw”) and “clock” (he also refers to it as kakitokei, or “writing clock” in Japanese). The mechanism consists of a clock unit and a writing unit, set in motion by dangling weights that slowly lower. The two units remain separate until the minute changes, at which point, the writing unit’s lock is released, moving the arms programed to write the digits. The piece is still “incomplete,” its creator says according to Yamagata News Online (Japanese), and he is still in the stage of final adjustments for the smooth operation of the gears. Once set in motion with the weights fully wound, the clock will run for one to two hours. Timekeeping accuracy is not known, but that’s something we can easily forget about while watching this ingenious kinetic sculpture.
“It is easy for a person to write, but how difficult is it to make a machine do it?” Suzuki says of his concept behind the project. “Expressing the time by writing out the numbers would allow people a different sense of the time than they have previously experienced,” he said. The complete structure of Suzuki’s “Plock” project stands 58cm tall, 60cm wide, and 20cm deep, but it is easy to get a sense of the clock’s proportions from the pictures with its young creator standing beside it.
According to an interview in Natukusa (Japanese), “visibility,” the ability to see all the parts in motion, was also a central concept. He says he was inspired by seeing automatons that could write, such as the The Writer by Jaquet Droz that aBlogtoWatch saw in person here. “I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if there was one that wrote the time?” he says modestly. It is perhaps unsurprising that he is also a Japan MENSA member.
Asked what the most difficult part was, Suzuki gives a few answers between several interviews. There was the challenge of eliminating friction between the cams and the arms, he notes. But making the 407 parts individually and then making them work together correctly is a task difficult to even imagine. Suzuki formed the concept in April of 2015 and spent until August on making prototype writing structures, and then until October creating the design blueprints. Afterwards, it was everyday except Sunday, 8am-9pm using a coping saw and sandpaper on plywood to create each part by hand – a process he describes as mind-numbing.
Suzuki mentions that his professor did not even understand his idea at first until Suzuki actually made a writing mechanism and showed it to the professor. Suzuki says that although he used computer software for the design, the simulation of its motion was entirely in his head only, and that seeing it take shape was a major motivation. When the movement differed from his mental image or there was interference between the parts, he would return to the design and continue through a process of trial and error. Suzuki also mentions the difficulty encountered by wood’s tendency to warp.
Suzuki says that he does not have any plans to turn the clock into a commercial product, as it is still in the prototype stage. However, he says, the designs are solid, so there may be the possibility for mass production. He says that he chose wood because of its ease to work with as well as low cost, but due to the material’s properties such as hardness, the gears will be limited to a certain (larger) size. He adds that with metal, it would be possible to produce it on a much smaller scale, and that he thinks a table clock would be cool. Mr. Suzuki, we agree!
The new graduate currently has plans to begin work in Tokyo as a CAD engineer in April 2016. Suzuki says that he was motivated by the desire to surprise people, and that he thinks he has succeeded. While computer aided design (or CAD) is used in a wide range of industries, we feel safe in saying that the luxury watch industry would warmly welcome Suzuki – and regardless which field he ends up in, we hope to see more from this very talented young engineer! The Suzuki Kango “Plock” will be on display at the Tohoku University of Art and Design campus for the Senior Project Exhibition until February 14, 2016, but there are apparently plans to exhibit it at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum soon where more people will have the chance to see it. tuad.ac.jp