1972 Omega f300 Electronic Constellation (Reference 198.002)

Omega f300 Feature

A few months back I wrote about the famous Bulova Accutron and the bitter rivalry between Bulova and Omega. What I love so much about this watch is that it is a piece of historical irony on your wrist. After their bitter rivalry, Omega went on to use the very technology they fought against in the Horological Space Race. It is more or less an Accutron in Omega clothing. If nothing else, it really speaks to the advanced technological feat that Bulova achieved with their tuning fork movements. Omega swallowed their pride and put a Bulova movement in their Chronometers. To be fair it was not technically a Bulova movement but was a movement made by ESA with technology licensed from Bulova. It is in tiny wording on the inside of the case back, but Omega did pay homage to the Accutron movement and its creator in the way any Swiss watch company would (secretly and in a way that most customers wouldn’t know they borrowed the technology from an American company.)

Omega f300 Caseback

The more detailed story behind the movement in this piece is that in 1970 an ex-Bulova developer named Max Hetzel licensed the tuning for technology from Bulova and improved it to make it more robust and reliable. Nicknamed the Mosaba (Montres Sans Balanciers) the ESA tuning fork movement improved on the positional fix of the tuning forks allowing for little to no deviation in time keeping due to slight positional errors. Additionally, they greatly decreased the length of the index finger (which anyone who has ever worked on an Accutron can tell you is a blessing.) This fragile tendril on an Accutron could easily be knocked out of alignment by a shock making them particularly fragile.

Omega f300 Movement 1 Omega f300 movement 2

The f300 tuning for Omegas are fantastic pieces that provide the great styling of a 70s Omega with the seductive hum of an Accutron. It’s a perfect watch for someone who wants the innovation of the Accutron with the name of an Omega.

I got this watch in relatively rough external shape and was unsure of its running ability. The gasket was melted, and the crystal was incredibly scratched and unoriginal, but I knew that with enough care it could be a great looking 70s showpiece. That it was on the original band was a huge bonus. I figured that if I could get the right parts and clean it up enough I would have a great complete and original piece.

Sure enough with a cleaning, a genuine Omega crystal, and a fresh battery this chronometer is humming once again. It has a few scratches, but is in unpolished condition, and is a fantastic piece of Constellation history.

A great source for more information about this movement can be found at: http://members.iinet.net.au/~fotoplot/acctechesa.htm

Omega f300 Leaned Omega f300 Band  Omega f300 Front

Omega f300 Side


3D Printed Horology (The 1000% Tourbillon)

NM Tourbillon Feature 2

Horology and 3D printing share one of the same common misconceptions: neither of these activities is as easy as they may appear from the surface. We are led to believe that all you need is a 3D printer and your child will never need a new toy. The reality, like the gears or electronics behind the watch dial, is far more complex. 3D printing does however come with very significant advantages. Bottom up manufacturing means that once the hugely time consuming design and manufacturing phase is complete, you transfer the file over to your printer and the rest is no-waste, automated manufacturing requiring little to no human intervention.

Given the amazing ingenuity of watch and clock mechanics it was only a matter of time until someone took the time to engineer and reproduce watch complications in huge magnification so that their innovation can be fully appreciated. Huge tourbillions for educational purposes are ironically much more rare than the actual tourbillions in breathtakingly expensive watches, and are a sight usually seen only in watch schools after hours upon hours upon hours of hard and precise manual labor. Someone finally took the time to combine two difficult skills and is now making 3D printed horological models has shattered this status quo of hard to obtain educational/entertainment models for horology.

To explain what a tourbillon does is far easier than explaining how. It is not a far-fetched claim to say many people who buy them do not fully comprehend the mechanical intricacy of the complication that is on their wrist. For one thing, it’s incredibly hard to see in its entirety by virtue of its size. Fortunately, with scale, complexity becomes understandable, it just took someone with the skills to put it all together; an engineer/watchmaker.

Nicholas Manousos has used 3D printing to create the awe-inspiring Tourbillon 1000% model. More than just any tourbillon he has created a Daniel’s (co-axial) Symmetrical Tourbillon. It is truly a sight to behold. Seeing a Tourbillon at 1000% scale in motion really puts into perspective the complication involved with horological innovation and fabrication.

Originally educated as an engineer, Nick decided to take the plunge and go to Watchmaking School. After that, he dropped his tweezers, metal movements, and bench and started his lab where he now devotes his full time to designing and building 3D printed complications.

I had the chance to have coffee with Nicholas to talk about his perspective on horology, 3D printing, and to see the model in person. All three were fascinating. It took him 3 years of design, prototyping, and improvements to land where he is today, but he still sees it as an ever-evolving innovative process. The advantage of 3D printing is that you modify, print, try, and repeat until its right. I am pretty sure that since we had coffee he has made several tweaks to the design. The result is a stunning model that very quickly rekindled the mechanical fascination that got me into watchmaking in the first place. Rarely does one think of such beautiful innovations coming in plastic, but it is truly awe-inspiring.

Because of its size and construction, I was able to disassemble it (at Nick’s encouragement) easily and look at the various components, and reassemble it. It seems strange, but it was easier to assemble the 1000% Tourbillon than it is to assemble many simple clocks. It seems so simple, but there was so much that went into it. One can only imagine what Nick’s graveyard of gears must look like this far into his work. Fortunately, unlike physical fabrication, the reproducibility of 3D printed objects is far easier, and all one has to do is print. Therein lies the promise of this combination of technology with horology, but it is a double-edged sword.

NM Tourbillon Screws NM Tourbillon Balance NM Tourbillon Escape Wheel NM Tourbillon Escape wheel Close UP

What makes complicated watches so expensive is a combination of marketing, rarity, and difficulty of manufacture and assembly. Mechanical innovations come at very steep prices (think about the GP Constant Force Escapement or the Patek Philippe Advanced Research pieces.) The reproducibility of pieces like Grande Complications are very difficult and each new one must start from pieces of metal that are shaped by incredible machines and more incredible humans. Design and prototyping takes a very long time because after something is conceptualized, it must be fabricated by machine and hand and tested. Finally, rarity is maintained because of the various different set of expertise involved with creating these masterpieces. 3D printing jumps over these manufacturing steps and potentially allows for anyone with a printer to manufacture their own (or someone else’s) creations with some plastic and the push of a button and for just the cost of the polymer and whatever extras there may be. While the technology is still very far from being able to let people print even the simplest wristwatch, it should not be too long. It will take a huge increase in the resolution of the printer, but it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Given the speed of the rendering relative to the old-school manufacturing process, one can easily reproduce and improve on designs. The improvements that may be recognized by this process and by being able to have a nearly infinite amount of horologists and engineers print, analyze, and improve designs. Unfortunately this means that the dollar value of innovation is drastically decreased, and the value of being a first-mover can be nil. Nick is acutely aware of the potential and the dilemma he is creating by being able to prototype, build, and share his innovation so rapidly and at such a large scale.

At the end of the day to really make a difference will require more people like Nick, who have the skills to push the bounds of horology with this new method of manufacture, and a nurturing group of experts to help would be innovators over the steep learning curves of both horology and 3D printing expertise.

In the meantime, I am fully content to watch Nicholas’ tourbillon oscillate while I wait for his next creation.

(I am also getting a printer…….)

I encourage you to visit his site to see more about his process and his lab at www.nicholasmanousos.com and if you are interested, drop him a line about purchasing one.

NM Tourbillon Cased NM Tourbillon Printer NM Tourbillon Printing NM Tourbillon Case

1964 Rolex Tru-Beat (Caliber 1040)

Rolex Tru-Beat Side-Angle

One of the best things about watchmaking is that when people realize it is something you do, they always have a watch that needs fixing. Usually it’s a non-working sentimental heirloom piece that has sat in a drawer for years. Unfortunately, the world of watch repair can be so opaque that many people are scared to approach it unless they know someone. It’s not hard to either get taken advantage of or to wind up with a bill that far outstrips the value of the piece. Furthermore, watchmakers usually can’t give a price until they have put in a significant amount of work, making it very hard to back out. All of these issues make people very comfortable with coming to me with a watch that needs fixing. Most of the time it is a relatively simple watch, but occasionally it is an unbelievable rarity, and a privilege to work on. This Rolex Tru-Beat was certainly one of the most exceptional rarities I have yet had the pleasure to work on.

I was handed this watch in non-running condition and although it needed a huge amount of work, it was worth every bit of it. I am personally a bit wary of the Rolex collector market for several reasons. One of the major reasons being that what seems to determine the value of the pieces is not mechanical but purely aesthetic. It’s all about the dial, or the bezel, or the crown. To me that’s all well and good, but I like interesting content not a $60,000 price tag for a bake-lite bezel. This fact in Rolex collecting also makes it much easier to fake things (change a dial and the price goes up 10x.) This makes it all the more important that you go to a trusted vintage dealer like Matthew Bain, etc. For evidence of just how big the sums can be, see the current lawsuit between John Mayer and vintage dealer Bob Maron.

The Tru-Beat is a little different than typical Rolex, and that is what I love about it. It has a dead-second complication, meaning the second hand “ticks” rather than flows. It was only produced for a very short period, and it is rare for its guts more than its dial (the dial however is nice too.) The caliber is a 1040. This is based off of a 1030 but has some additional height issues to accommodate the delicate and beautiful dead-second components. Watching it in motion it amazing. Fortunately for me (and more so for its owner) the dead-second components were totally fine and functional, so getting parts from a 1030 would be no problem. The only 1040-specific part I needed was the higher transfer wheel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Rolex Tru-Beat Movement 2 Rolex Tru-Beat Movement 3

After a thorough cleaning and inspection I found the things that were in dire need of replacement. Years of sitting in a box and running without oil undoubtedly cause wear. In the end I needed a new mainspring, transfer wheel, escape wheel, and automatic gear train. Even if an automatic watch doesn’t run, the rotor still does. Fortunately, all these parts were obtainable and the final repair bill was less than just about any modern Rolex service. Additionally I put a new crystal on it do the near perfect condition of the dial and hands could be fully showcased.

Back together, the “tick” of the dead-second is incredible to see. It was a pleasure to work on. I continue to be amazed by the phenomenal variety of pieces people bring to me and that I get to work on, but this one was Tru-ly special.

Rolex Tru-Beat Feature Rolex Tru-Beat Side 2 Rolex Tru-Beat Side