It’s important to understand that the use of 3D printing, particularly in the watch business, is not exactly new. For quite some time many traditional watch brands have been using 3D printing to create renderings and samples to then send to the case makers. But for the most part, 3D printing was seen as more of a means to an end product rather than the product itself. Well, if the watches produced by Holthinrichs Watches and Montfort Watches are anything to go by, I suspect that is about to change.
Watchmaking has attracted a wonderfully diverse group over the years. Small brand owners are oftentimes traditionally trained, yet many others come from some seemingly unlikely fields. Architecture, it seems, continues to attract a growing number of new members of the watchmaking world, and it is a Dutch-based architect who has developed and brought to market one of the best-kept secrets of the past few years, Michiel Holthinrichs.
It was his study of architecture that drove the adoption of 3D printing in the Holthinrichs collections. Every case, crown, and even the strap buckle is created using 3D printing.
As Holthinrichs explains, “This actually started during my studies. 3D printing was really becoming a popular topic in my faculty (the Architecture faculty at the University of Delft in the Netherlands), and it seemed very clear to me that there were very real opportunities to adopt the technology.
I wanted to have full control over the process, so I needed to find a case producer nearby. However, the numerous details of the design, and the low quantities that would be produced made it practically impossible to use conventional methods. As 3D printing provides a lot of opportunities for design, it was the way to make the details I desired, and the best thing is that it permits production in low quantities or even unique pieces.”
He adds that it took four and a half years from idea through prototyping and development. The final prototype was completed two and a half years ago.
The results truly speak for themselves. The skeletonized 3D printed case is made of 316L stainless steel (gold and platinum are also available upon request) and measures 38 mm in diameter. The exterior surfaces are hand polished with contrasting raw/rough interior surfaces.
The Holthinrichs collection uses the ETA 7001 (Peseux) hand-wound movement.
Holthinrichs currently offer three standard versions of its watches: The Ornament 1 Ruthenium, the Ornament 1 Satin Silver and, my favorite, the Ornament 1 Delft Blue.
The latter is a truly special piece, made to honor the home of Holthinrichs. The dial is reminiscent of the world-renowned Delftware or Delft pottery for which the city is known. The movement is hand engraved and finished. It can be customized to the customer’s wishes. Price: Starting at €4479, or about $5,050.
Holthinrichs watches are currently only sold direct to customers, and this personal touch extends all the way to the atelier, where you can visit the watchmaker in person.
Montfort was founded in Switzerland a few years back with the goal of creating an all-around watch that might hope to survive a day of real life without acquiring a ton of scratches on the case. Montfort’s watchcases are perhaps some of the most durable, and scratch resistant available. This is thanks to their use of something they describe as Super Stainless Steel, which was developed in conjunction with AIM SA of Switzerland and Expanite A/S of Denmark, two custom materials makers.
This was not exactly an “off the shelf” solution as it was originally developed for use offshore and in the aerospace industry. Using a gaseos-carbo-nitriding process, the end result is perhaps the ultimate stainless-steel watchcase on the market today.
So how does it work? Montfort explains:
“By diffusing at low temperature both nitrogen and carbon into the surface of the material, a layer is formed with a case depth of approximately 0.04mm (0.0016 in) with a surface hardness around 1200 HV (Hardness Vickers scale). The treated steel is eight times harder than standard steel improving drastically the resistance to scratches.”
But the real stars of the Montfort collection are the dials. How many Swiss made brands produce watches with 3D-printed dials? Montfort was by most accounts the first. The company partners with Swedish firm Digital Metal to create their uniquely textured complicated dials. These intricate dials are only possible to achieve through 3D printing.
Montfort now offers a standard collection known as Strata, as well as a handful of limited editions. Three models comprise the Strata collection include the James ($2,015), the Frank ($2,378) and the Bruce ($2,622). In addition, Montfort makes two limited editions called the Jack and the Vador. All watches measure 44mm in diameter and are crafted from Montfort’s Super Stainless Steel. The movement is Sellita’s SW200 automatic. Montfort watches are available direct from the company or at WatchGauge.com.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of About Time.