Tourbillons don’t grace the pages of worn&wound often as they are typically found in watches that cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s not a matter of not wanting to discuss them, it’s a matter of not having the chance. Yes, there are some “affordable” ones on the market, but they are one of those things that is tied so closely with the skill, craft and expertise of seasoned watchmaking, that inexpensive alternatives just don’t really make sense. Well, the other day I got to experience a tourbillon like no other, one that I am very excited to present to you.
The Tourbillon 1000% doesn’t exist in a watch movement, rather it’s a 3D printed scale model of the complication. Designed, engineered and made by Nicholas Manousos, it’s the result of 3 years of engineering and design, stands several inches tall, with large parts all clearly demonstrating the actions of the escapement and tourbillon carriage. It’s fun and colorful, like a child’s toy, but shows a very complicated piece of horology in action.
Nicholas is an interesting guy who, after working in California in the tech world for 15 years, decided to shift gears after a chance meeting with Peter Speake-Marin and go to watch making school. He attended the WOSTEP program in Miami, where he learned the ins and outs of watchmaking. Now, with his mix of experiences and skills, Nicholas is looking at horology from a different perspective, one that applies new technology to this old craft. Currently working out of his NYC apartment, he is designing, engineering and making strives in his pursuits, as is clearly seen in this first work.
There’s a lot going on with the Tourbillon 1000%, so it’s worth taking a step back for a second and looking at an overview. First, there is the tourbillon. For those new to the world of watches, or those who want a brief refresher, this complication was designed by Abraham Louis Breguet in 1795. After becoming aware of the inaccuracy that occurred in watches (pocket watches at the time) in different positions he discovered that gravity was effecting the escapement. His solution was to rotate the escapement in a carriage at a fixed rate, thus the effect of gravity would be spread out over time, counter-acting the negative effects. Thus the tourbillon or “whirlwind” was born. 210 years later, it’s still one of the most revered complications, often used to demonstrate a brand’s manufacturing skills.
Second, also on the horological front, is the co-axial escapement. Invented by George Daniels, and currently employed by Omega, the co-axial design minimizes friction in the escapement, eliminating the need for lubrication and prolonging servicing intervals. The mechanics get complicated, but Nicholas, using the Tourbillon 1000% as a guide, explained the advantages to me. Essentially, lever escapements (the kind typically found in a movement) employ sliding friction to operate, where as the co-axial is a direct impulse. In his design, this is critical, as the lever escapement, even at this scale and in plastic, would have required lubrication. (For a great refresher on how a watch works and an easy visualization of a lever escapement, check out the video below, relevant material starts at 5:18)
Lastly, there is the emerging technology of 3d-printing or rapid prototyping. Though it has been a round for a while (I actually worked in a 3D-printing center in grad school, several years ago) with the advent of smaller, less expensive printers, like the Makerbot, and services like Shapeways, 3D-printing went from a tool for designers and engineers to a public fascination. There are various forms of 3D printing, from ones that use lasers to bond powders together, to UV printers that catalyze liquid plastics by using UV light, to the more common rapid deposition variety, where molten plastic is layered to form a solid, all of which offering benefits and negatives, from resolution to cost. Nicholas uses a printer of the last variety, which prints at a resolution of 200 microns, allowing for precise tolerances.
Everything but the jewels are 3D-printed from PLA, a biodegradable plastic, in the Tourbillon 1000%, where he uses skateboard bearings to get the job done. As an abundant, functional and easily obtainable stand-in, the bearings make a lot of sense for his design. The Tourbillon itself is big and chunky in a fun way. It’s also colorful, with each component standing out for easy recognition. This is perhaps my favorite thing about the 1000%. It demystifies something quite complex in a fashion that is neither pretentious or arrogant.
The construction of the 1000% clearly indicates this with the use of large, easily manipulated screws. In a few seconds you can take the whole thing apart, look at the individual components, and then reassemble it again. In fact, I had the pleasure of doing this very task, and through seeing it come together, gained a new understanding of how parts interwork…
Of course, as with a watch movement, the real magic occurs when it comes to life. Standing upright, on the carriage, one can simply place a finger on a tooth of the fourth gear, which is on the opposite side from the balance, and let the weight of their hand act as the power source, and then… click, click, click, it instantly is in motion. The balance spring beats before your eyes as the balance wheel slowly, hypnotically swings back and forth at 1hz. Within, you can see the roller engage the pallet, which receives pulses from the escapement, all meshing seamlessly together. To see the Tourbillon effect more clearly, one holds the fourth wheel in hand, and pushes on the carriage (the grey frame) which then slowly rotates around the balance, moving a small distance per beat.
It’s really quite a remarkable thing to behold. It’s almost surreal how something that, while completely inert and made of materials that are perceived of as “cheap” can, with just a bit of added energy, perform a set of complex tasks. Not the least of which is beat at regular intervals. Though I don’t need a reminder as to why I love wearing a watch, seeing this brings that sense of awe over what is really going on at the micro level in that funny object strapped to my wrist to the surface.
Anyway, the Tourbillon 1000%, if you haven’t gotten the gist yet, is a really cool thing. As an object it’s alluring and as a teaching tool it’s effective. It’s just a very exciting development from an up and coming watchmakers who clearly is going about things in his own way. The 1000% is actually a part of his research, more than it is a final product, so you know great things are to come. As far as purchasing goes, Nicholas didn’t make this to be a mass produced product, so availability is limited. If you are interested, head to www.nicholasmanousos.com and contact him directly.
by Zach Weiss