The Tourbillon: Anti-Gravity for Watch Movements

Do you know what time it is? Chances are good that you used a computer or a cell phone to answer that question. The time on your phone is about as accurate as chronometry gets these days. That’s because cell networks are timed from satellites, which are in turn timed from atomic clocks. And these days, it may be that atomic clocks are the only clocks that matter.

Before this modern era of quartz and atomic accuracy, though, timepieces were mechanical. Clocks were driven by heavy weights that made them impractical for travel. It wasn’t until the mainspring-driven movement came along that timekeeping could even begin to become portable.

But while the invention of the mainspring made portable timepieces possible, it hurt their accuracy. That’s because the driving force of a tightly wound spring isn’t constant like that of an inert, solid weight.  So pocket watches weren’t exactly an overnight success. Early pieces were largely ornamental, and only told the hour. Worst of all, they would slow down throughout the day as the mainspring unwound, becoming useless unless wound several times a day. The mainspring wasn’t the only problem plaguing pocket watches, but it was the among the most obvious.

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3D Printed Tourbillon Clock

3D printed clocks have been done before, but never something like this. It’s a 3D printed clock with a tourbillon, a creative way to drive an escapement developed around the year 1800. Instead of a pendulum, this type of clock uses a rotating cage powered by a spring. It’s commonly found in some very expensive modern watches, but never before has something like this been 3D printed.

3D Printed Clock[Christoph Lamier] designed this tourbillon clock in Autodesk Fusion 360, with 50 printable parts, and a handful of pins, screws, and washers. The most delicate parts – the hairspring, anchor, escapement wheel, and a few gears were printed at 0.06 layer height. Everything else was printed at a much more normal resolution with 0.1mm layer height.

Because nearly the entire clock is 3D printed, this means the spring is 3D printed as well. This enormous 2 meter-long spiral of printed plastic could not have been printed without altering a few settings on the printer. The setting in question is Cura’s ‘combing’ or the ‘avoid crossing perimeters’ setting. If you don’t disable this setting, the print time increases by 30%, and moving the print head causes the plastic to ooze out over the spring.

There’s a 26-minute long video of the 3D printed tourbillon clock in action that is horrendously boring. It does demonstrate this clock works, though. You can check out the more interesting videos below.

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