The Clockwerk 3D-Printed Triple-Axis Tourbillon by Adam Wrigley

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Triple-axis tourbillon. These are not words we have had much chance to use on worn&wound. Relegated to the highest of the haute, triple-axis tourbillons are as rare as they are difficult to produce, leaving only a small amount of some of the most revered brands capable of making them. An act which requires a perfect storm of engineering, machining and patience with each finished unit representing hundreds if not thousands of man hours to complete. Those that are out there are exalted by many and owned by few, with price tags easily into the six-figure range. Well, today we get to break that trend with a project that is as fun to behold as it is interesting to hear about: the Clockwerk by Adam Wrigley.

CLOCKWERK_11A mechanical engineer at Frog Design, Adam Wrigley has long been fascinated by mechanical watches. In the last couple of years, one watch in particular caught his attention–the Vianney Halter Deep Space Tourbillon. Inspired by Star Trek, the watch is a futuristic display case for a massive triple-axis tourbillon that sits dead center, spinning around in a spectacular fashion. Hand-made by master watchmakers to order, there are but a handful in existence, each with a price tag nearing $200,000.

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Adam was taken with its design and beauty, but, as is the case with 99.9% of us, couldn’t obtain the watch for himself. So, he did something that most non-engineers would consider to be impossible–he made his own. Well, not a tourbillon watch, rather a large scale 3D printed, triple-axis tourbillon, following in the foot steps of Nicholas Manousos’ Tourbillon 1000% and Christoph Laimer’s 3D Printed Watch with Tourbillon.

Adam wanted to bring this technology into his home, and make it accessible to others who aren’t dropping 200k on a watch anytime soon too. It’s worth noting at the outset that while Adam is a talented engineer, he is not a watchmaker, nor does he have any training. He designed and created this triple-axis tourbillon with a working Swiss lever escapement through research and by simply watching the Deep Space in action on YouTube.

So, over the course of several months, Adam went about backwards-engineering a triple-axis tourbillon and designing it to be large-scale and 3D printable. There was a lot of trial and error, beginning with getting the screw balance escapement to work. As Adam put it, the first 95% was actually fairly easy (I imagine for an engineer), but the last five took a while. He worked to improve every little detail to make the whole thing more stable and efficient. One thing that might be apparent to the savvy out there is that there is no immediately visible power source (barrel) for the tourbillon. Instead, hanging via a fishing line is a 2.5lb weight. Initially, it took 30lbs to drive it, which is the kind of detail that through refining gear ratios, etc, Adam was able to achieve.

To make things even more challenging, he also designed it so it could be printed with an affordable, desktop printer. To put that into perspective, imagine the extremely fine tolerances needed to make a tourbillon work. There are gears meshing, an escapement with a hairspring beating, power transferring from one thing to the next. It all requires a heck of a lot of precision, even at the desktop scale. There are plenty 3D printers out there with incredibly high precision, printing parts with the finest detailing, but they cost a lot of money. They are meant for industrial use, not for use at home. The one that Adam used, while remarkably precise compared to the 3D-printers of just a few years ago, costs under $1000 and is available on Amazon.

The final design consists of 99 parts: 34 printed parts, eight ball bearings, three metal shafts, two barbell plates, one meter of fishing line, and 51 screws. It’s a marvel to behold. There is a white bowl with a toothed edge that the mechanism slowly rotates around; this is axis one. The mechanism then consists of an array of bridges and gears attached to a bowing armature, which then connects to the bowl via a large blue gear, spinning on axis two. Within the armature is then the escapement complete with a hairspring and screw-balance, which ticks away spinning on the third axis providing motion to the object as a whole. Seeing it all at scale, the complexity of the three axes and how they connect is far more apparent and understandable than it would be at watch scale, where you need a loupe just to see the gears.

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Of course, the Clockwerk is just a tourbillon escapement and not a clock, so in the end it’s more of a kinetic sculpture. One could measure time via the lowering of the weight that drives the watch, though that would really only give you elapsed intervals and would have to be reset periodically.

I’m sure many of you are wondering where and how you can get the Clockwerk. In one final cool move, Adam made it free, if you can build it, that is. He’s made the model open source and available on Thingiverse. Obviously, you’ll need access to a 3D printer, ideally the same one he used. Then, you’ll need a lot of time and know how. This isn’t for beginners, but for those of you with the skills and ambition needed, it’s all there for the taking. Adam also encourages experimentation and modification based on the design, hoping that other people will continue to push it forward. So, if you’re looking for a good DIY project, be sure to check it out. And should you pull it off, be sure to post your pictures below for everyone to see!

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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  • JP. Coqueran

    Wish I had a 3D printer, and nice Speedy on his wrist as well!

  • sygyzy

    I have a 3D printer and still won’t attempt this. It’s not just the shear number of pieces, each of which can have problems, but all the extra items needed for assembly plus the assembly time itself.

  • Reprobus Marmaritarum

    He has no background in watchmaking yet reverse-engineered a triple axis tourbillon by watching Youtube. Let that sink in for a minute. Salute that man, it’s an unbelievable feat.

    • mkay

      wish my brain absorbed information like his

  • Duncan Fisher

    Fantastic, truly inspiring.

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