Scientists use 3D printing on the International Space Station to print unique tools. Doctors can print a jawbone for a guy who had his removed during surgery for cancer. 3D additive printing is becoming widespread, and Vortic Watch Company use titanium to print watch cases that hold vintage pocket watch movements.
Vortic’s founders, R.T. Custer and Tyler Wolfe, recently gave watch and clockmakers an update on their company and its 3D process at the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors web site www.nawcc.org.
When I met Custer at a recent watch get together and then heard him on this webinar, I was struck with the vision he and Wolfe have for their company. This vision is part passion for the vintage movements they recue and part of engineering geekery fueled by a curiosity to see, understand and improve their processes and the objects they create.
These passions (and their supply chain backgrounds) fuel their desire to meet and see every supplier in the process from the 3D printer, the Gorilla glass crystal maker, the manufacturers of the crown, the leather strap maker and even the buckle’s blacksmith who lives in the country’s Rust Belt.
Customized or small production volumes make 3D printing an interesting option with endless possibilities, and both Custer and Wolfe recognized that potential a few years ago when they crowd-funded their idea to highlight the best of the past and present American production. Like many of those starting out, they did it all from their Fort Collins, Colorado-based garage.
You may remember Matt’s review on his Vortic watch here.
“We had this idea while in college at Penn State,” Custer said during the webinar. “We wanted to determine if we could make a watch in the U.S. and when we started digging into it, we got really passionate about these pocket watch movements that were being discarded for the case silver.”
Custer’s company is not a high-tech wristwatch company. At the heart of this idea are vintage American movements from Waltham, Elgin and Hamilton repackaged for a 21st Century wrist.
Vortic started with their “version one” design after many prototypes. “We wanted to make it simple to accommodate any vintage pocket watch movement and we came up with a two piece design,” Custer said. “Our engineering approach was to standardize the metal case and then customize a plastic insert that accommodated each watch size.”
The version one of their American Artisan Series used a clever stem and sleeve system that would standardize how each crown engaged the varying sizes of movements. “We had to reverse engineer this and are very proud of this approach,” Wolfe said.
“We took all our feedback and made improvements to the new version of the American Artisan,” Wolfe said. “This case is printed in titanium with a screw down stainless steel back. We have a similar stem and sleeve system, and it’s printed by a direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process at Imperial Machine and Tool in New Jersey.”
The DMLS process fires a laser into a bed of powdered metal at a specific dimensions defined by a 3D model. The laser welds the powder at a point to create a solid structure.
“The cases come off the printer very coarse and then we tumble them with ceramic and stainless steel,” Wolfe said. “Then we mill off all the support structure and use an Epilog laser for our engraving.”
There are several ways to get watches from Vortic. You can buy a prefabricated watch with various case colors, movements and dial designs. They range in size from 41mm to 51mm case dimensions.
They also have a watch builder on their site and you can choose the size and type of movement. Pick from one of dozens of vintage dials and then decide if you want the case to be raw or blackened and then select a strap. It’s like Undone Watches meets Antique Archaeology, and it all starts at their web site. vorticwatches.com
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