The Project 1 from Barrelhand: Haute Horology from San Francisco

Share this story:

Some of the most innovative watchmaking today comes from the ranks of independent artisanal brands like Urwerk, MB&F, Christophe Claret, and HYT— the “new guard” that demonstrate the most cutting edge of horology (many of these independents formed the “Carré des Horlogers” represented at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH).

Undeniably, many of the watches are a bit over the top aesthetically, employing hydro-mechanical liquids, rotating prisms, and unique complications to tell the time. Some look as though they’ve been pulled off the dashboard of an exotic super car, while others look like they’re straight out of a comic book. I wouldn’t blame you if you mistook HYT’s Skull Watch for Tony Stark’s Iron Man arsenal. But design and personal preferences aside, you cannot deny the technical prowess of these brands and their creations. These watches will take your breath away and often require a mortgage to acquire. Starting at $80,000, they’re not for the faint of heart—or wallet.

I recently had a chance to meet an individual who may be the next generation of these artisans. Allow me to introduce Karel Bachand, the “newest” new guard. Bachand is a young man (some might even say he’s still a kid) working out of his home. He has no industry experience, just a background in engineering and 3D printing. And while many of the new guard hail from Switzerland with rich horological pedigrees, Bachand is from the high-tech San Francisco Bay Area. I recently spent some time with Bachand to discuss his brand, Barrelhand, and his latest project, the Project 1.

Advertisement

Bachand may be a familiar name to some of you. Two years ago, he reverse-engineered a working homage to the Urwerk UR-202. The UR-202 is an engineering masterpiece utilizing rotating blocks using shock-absorbing turbines to tell the time. Bachand’s homage was an incredible feat of perseverance and ingenuity, especially for someone without a horological background. Impressed with Bachand’s work, Urwerk founders Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei invited the young maker to join them at SIHH. With some validation from his heroes and now his peers, Bachand continued on his horological journey.

Project 1

Since that fateful meeting, Bachand has been designing, developing, and prototyping a watch of his own design. During our encounter, I was immediately impressed by this young man’s ambition. A mechanical engineering student at San Jose State University, Bachand is fueled by a healthy dose of out-of-the-box ingenuity and patience. As of this writing, he is on his 23rd iteration.

The Project 1 employs tactical use of DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) fabrication. DMLS, analogous to 3D resin printing, employs a high-burst Ytterbium fiber laser to form complex geometric shapes of stainless steel from metal powder. Parts and form are made additively, layer-by-layer. DMLS, in short, is a new way of 3D printing metals. It is currently revolutionizing aerospace engineering and not typically associated with watchmaking. Seeing it here is a first for me. The future looks promising.

 

I spent an hour handling the Project 1. It is still in the R&D phase, but even handling a 3D-printed case with a mix of laser-shaped metals and plastic you get a feel for the effort put into it. There is a lot of design and craft involved. Everything is custom built and the case is entirely driven by mechanical engineering challenges. The case is a two-layer design that allows for a clever use of contrasting metals. The exposed screws hint at Gerald Genta. The lugs swoop like the curves of a proverbial sci-fi spaceship, and the “bullhead” crown is reminiscent of the exhaust port on a Star Wars X-Wing starship. The watch is definitely different than your traditional three-handed timepiece. It’s by no means finished, but it shows promise, and it’s clearly a labor of love.

Cam path that guides the rails.

At 44mm wide, the watch is big without being overtly in your face. The compactness is due to the short 44mm lug-to-lug length of the case. At 14mm thick, the watch houses an Eterna Caliber 39 which has been heavily modified to suit its unique time display capabilities—a jump hour with a linear minute display. Inspired by the tracking of a vinyl record, Bachand designed a cam path cutout with the help of two rails. The two rails glide up and down, indicating 0-30 minutes on its way down and 30-60 minutes on its way back up.

Linear minutes with rails.
Advertisement

The unique implementation of the jump hour complication, which can be set backwards here, presented its own engineering challenge. Typical jump hours are composed of multiple components and many cannot be set backwards. To get around this, Bachand employed a revised Geneva gear. Typically used for date complications, most Geneva gears have four or five points. But here, he needed 12 for each hour. As components got smaller and thinner, Bachand also had to refine the design to make things work.

12-point Geneva gears.

From what I’ve seen, Barrelhand and the mind behind the brand are marching toward a bright future. For the time being, Bachand will take a reserved approach, iterating until all the details are right. The final product will be limited to 100 units.

The challenges in designing a completely new watch can be quite lengthy to discuss here. Rather than deluge you with all the details, interested readers can follow Bachand’s progress as he documents his process on his website and Instagram.

Images from this post:
As a collector who splurged during the glorious dotcom 1.0 days, Hung acquired a sizable collection of Swiss watches. Now married with two kids and a mortgage, his watch tastes and pursuits are more down-to-earth. His other interests involve design history, technology, and collecting Star Wars Action figures. He brings a seasoned perspective to the Worn & Wound team. Hung grew up and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Categories:
Article / Featured

Introducing w&w’s Four Newest Contributors!

By
A few months ago, we put a call out for …
Article / Crowdfunding

Oblako Watches Stratus Project

By
There are a handful of options available for those who …