Buying a mechanical watch with a finely-crafted tourbillon movement can set you back tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, but if you don’t mind one made out of plastic and a bit larger than usual, 3D printing may be the answer. Computer scientist and watchmaking enthusiast Nicholas Manousos has created a printable version of the famous watch movement called Tourbillon 1000%. Fabricated from thermoplastic and ball bearings, it may not be practical, but it's certainly eye catching.
The tourbillon movement was invented by French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1795 and patented in 1801. It counters the effects of gravity by encasing the balance wheel and escapement in a rotating cage, and is frequently shows up in upmarket mechanical watches – often designed to let the wearer admire the mechanism in action.
The 3D-printed version gets its name because it’s a 1000 percent scale model. The Tourbillon 1000% is a model of just the escapement rather than the entire watch movement, but needless to say, a plastic watch ten feet across is not exactly practical.
The result of three years work, the Tourbillon 1000% isn’t a practical time keeper either, because of plastic’s poor thermal properties. Instead, Manousos says that the purpose of the model is educational. “It allows people to hold the usually too delicate tourbillon in their hands, see clearly every single part at work, and therefore fully comprehend the mechanics.”
The Tourbillon 1000% was printed using a Delta Kinematics Robot with a 200-micron resolution. It’s made of additive layers of Polylactic acid (PLA), which is a biodegradable thermoplastic filament made from a cornstarch base. The only parts of the mechanism that aren’t printed are the ball bearings used instead of the jewels found in proper watch movements. Manousos says that he experimented with printed bearings using high-strength polymers, but concluded that ball bearings worked better.
The Tourbillon 1000% is available in a limited run with each bespoke piece made to order. Price is available on request from Manousos.
The video below introduces the Tourbillon 1000%.