Star Chart Watch is a Romantic Tragedy

It’s becoming abundantly clear that [Colin Merkel] doesn’t know the definition of “good enough”. Not only has he recently completed his third (and most impressive) wristwatch build, but he also managed to put together one of the most ridiculously romantic gifts ever conceived. While some of us are giving our significant others a gift card to Starbucks, he made his girlfriend a watch with a chart on the face representing the position of the stars at the time and place of their first meeting.

As per his usual style, the documentation on this build is phenomenal. If paging through his gallery of build images doesn’t make you want to get a lathe and start learning metal working, nothing will. A chunk of stainless steel rod miraculously becomes a gorgeous wrist watch over the course of a few dozen images, perfectly encapsulating that old adage of “making it look easy”.

All you have to do is turn this into that. Easy.

Certainly the highlight of this build is the star chart on the face. To make it, he used PyEphem to plot the position of the brightest stars that were visible at the time and place of their first meeting. He then wrote a script to take those stars and convert their positions to G-Code the CNC could use to drill holes in the appropriate locations. The depth of the hole even corresponds to the magnitude (brightness) of each star, giving the chart a subtle 3D effect.

Unfortunately, [Colin] made a couple of mistakes during this build, to the point that he’s not exactly sure how to proceed. He mentions he might even be forced to start over from scratch. It’s hard to imagine how something that looks this good could ever end up being a failure, but the world of watch making is unkind.

To start with, he used 304 stainless instead of 303. This made machining the case much more difficult, and from his very first cut he realized it was going to be a problem. While it was an annoyance he mentions a couple times during the build log, he was at least was able to work through it.

The real problem came at the end, when he put the watch together. He originally made his designs assuming a front glass which was 0.5 mm thick, but in actuality used a piece that is 0.8 mm thick. This slight difference is just enough to cause the seconds hand to rub up on the glass, putting drag on the movement. The end result is that the battery dies extremely quickly, effectively rendering the watch useless.

We can’t imagine the heartbreak [Colin] felt when he realized what happened; we felt bad just reading about it. But given his track record, we have no doubt he’ll get the issue sorted out. It would be a shame to start over completely, but there’s some consolation in knowing it’s part of the learning process: you don’t become a master of your craft without making a couple mistakes along the way.

The predecessor to this watch was covered here at Hackaday last year, and made quite an impression. It’s interesting to see the improvements made between the two, and we’re certainly excited to see his next build.

37 thoughts on “Star Chart Watch is a Romantic Tragedy

  1. Agreed, remove the second hand completely. A lot of high end watches don’t have second hands. In fact, I like the look better without the red second hand. Also, remember that the 304 stainless is harder to machine but is way more corrosion resistant than 303 stainless. At the cost of more difficult machining you got a permanently more corrosion resistant watch.

    1. Yes. Trivially.

      You just need silicon carbide abrasive powder, a flat surface, a block of wood and hot glue, and some time. Grinding off 0.3mm shouldn’t take long, but you could also go a bit fancier and raise the glass by the amount, then fillet the edges.

  2. I for one am not fond of the red second hand that is in contrast to the rest of an otherwise beautiful build. I doubt anyone would miss it. Now with less mass in the movement the battery should last longer as well as not rubbing.

    Or if your an OCD perfectionist like several people I know, there is only one solution, start over and do it right.

  3. Just wow. I doubt I will ever make something that cool. Great job even if it isn’t “perfect”. Is there any particular reason he cannot just order another glass piece to the particular original specs? I hope he finds a solution.

  4. Simple solution for you. Contact Jules Borel watchmaker’s supply, and order either the correct crystal, or one custom ground to the spec you need. They can do that. I am a trained watchmaker- so when I say you will ruin the movement (the actual watch) you are dropping in there if the seconds hand rubs under friction of the crystal, I mean it. That kind of drag and friction will destroy the bearing seats for the pinions on that watch- and if it’s a quartz watch (ie battery/cell powered)- it operates on far less torque through the geartrain than a mechanical, meaning the friction will do far more damage.

    It is possible to grind sapphire or mineral glass crystals, but you need a special machine to do so. Getting them optically clear again requires special polishing compounds and lapping machines. Just call Borel and send them your specs- they can help you.

    For the record, I am not affiliated with Jules Borel, I just deal with them a lot and know they have a crystal cutting service for people who run into things like this.

      1. “Website is not mobile friendly but great resource.”

        No kidding…
        I’m using FireFox on a full size monitor.
        When I clicked through Products>Crystals>Brand Specific Crystals>Bulova
        It displayed two icons Bulova-Generic and Bulova-Genuine.
        But when I hovered over Bulova-Genuine, a drop down menu from above appeared and prevented me from clicking that icon!

      2. Yeah, watchmaker supply houses are often behind the times on stuff like websites. Part of the anachronisity of the business I guess never wears off in certain areas. I don’t know of anything in my field that actually has a good mobile website, and many desktop sites are lacking too. Including currently the main website for the AWCI- our professional organization. It’s not the best. Really, we need some skilled coders working for the AWCI. They try though, but I do cringe at our main site, and have for years. Young tech savvy coder-capable guys are gradually trying to update things, but it’s fair to say most watchmakers and their suppliers are by definition behind the times. Don’t judge us for our websites- the tech we stay up to date on is off the charts. Look up Lecureux electronic torque vaccum assist screwdrivers if you don’t believe me.

        Borel and other watch supply houses, like Otto Frei, Gaber & Co., all carry some very cool stuff that you don’t have to be a watchmaker to make use of. Lots of specialty stuff, much of it expensive, but much affordable too, that would be of great use to hackers. I was with this crowd reading HaD before I got professional watchmaker’s training, so I get the best of all worlds… Again, not affiliated with any supply house, I just buy stuff from them myself.

        If he had case polishing training, he could use some Menzerna or Menard compound and an artifex wheel, to make the case look like a mirror, but it’s a lot of work.

      1. There are other places out there that do custom crystals, but many are overseas. Borel do offer it last I heard, but I dunno how much it costs. They are super nice to talk to on the phone and in person though. Not many people have crystal grinding and lapping machines laying around! I wonder if an optometrist might be capable of doing this too…

        1. No one makes crystal eyeglass lenses anymore. It’s all polycarbonate or other plastics.
          Doesn’t mean they look as nice, just safer.

          I’ve got an old 1924 Elgin 345 17jewel 12s pocket watch my dad gave me. Any good resources to learn how to clean and maintain that watch? I’m going to talk to the Borel people to get a new crystal. The current one is plastic and I don’t like it.

  5. I an age where men are the new evil I would just like to highlight….

    “with a chart on the face representing the position of the stars at the time and place of their first meeting”
    Women keep repeating the same old meme that men are not romantic. I don’t think you can get anything more romantic than this.

    Great job :) I’m sure you’ll get it fixed.

  6. “We can’t imagine the heartbreak [Colin] felt when he realized what happened;”

    HaD – Is this what you add to the post to justify the “Romantic” tag in the click-bait header? Or is there something really “Romantic” I missed in the post?

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