A key benefit of using 3D printing is the ability to build objects with unique geometries. A watchstrap provides an excellent opportunity to explore geometries.
Embracing technology innovations and new materials led Uniform Wares, a company that creates watches that embody character and distinction through intelligent design, to work with Betatype, an additive manufacturing service provider.
“We were already using 3D printing to develop plastic – and some metal – prototypes,” said Michael Carr, creative director at Uniform Wares, “so when Betatype explained that they could help us to achieve more accurate and intricate designs [with 3D printing as the production method], we were interested.”
Uniform Wares had created a mesh bracelet for their watches using more traditional methods. “We used a huge, cumbersome machine to weave steel cable into the mesh pattern, which we then had to cut to size and weld working parts onto it.”
Betatype offered an approach that would allow them to print the ‘woven’ mesh bracelets in any texture or grain, which would not only simplify the process, but use less material. “The idea that Betatype was using a new technology that would mean less waste and new materials was hugely appealing,” said Michael. “We also liked that they were London-based and could produce the bracelets locally.”
Design collaboration – a new take on a traditional design
Betatype worked alongside Uniform Wares to design and develop the unique, lightweight ‘woven’ watchstrap for its new PreciDrive M-Line watch collection. Created using the metal additive manufacturing process, laser Powder Bed Fusion (PBF), the strap echoes the popular fabric-like NATO design. It includes a new type of directional clasp design, which interlocks with the weave of the strap itself – a design element that could not be practically or economically achieved using the more traditional methods of welding.
The watchstrap is made of more than 4000 links that interlock with each other to form a strong, lightweight structure, weighing in at 10.5 grams. Unlike traditional mesh straps, each link is asymmetric, which means each side of the strap has a differing bend radius. This allows the strap to easily fit over the hand, but to remain flexible enough to be secured with the microscopic ‘teeth’ integrated to the inside of the claps to hold it in place on the wearer’s wrist.
By working together to create a design for additive manufacturing (DfAM), Uniform Wares and Betatype blended the aesthetic requirements of the brand with a new approach to production using AM powered by Betatype’s technology portfolio.
Betatype applied its multi-scale approach to exert greater geometric control over the laser PBF process to create the strap. By controlling the laser’s scan path, exposure settings and material microstructure – down to the micron – of each link in the strap, Betatype achieved the best possible fit and mechanical performance of the watch strap.
“Every element of the [watch] bracelet has been engineered exactly as it needs to work,” said Michael. “The radius at which it curves, the flexibility and stiffness at each point – every link incorporates fine adjustments. It represents bespoke engineering at every point.”
Less waste and streamlined ordering
Betatype’s laser PBF process uses the least amount of material possible, producing little to no waste in the manufacturing of the T5 titanium strap. It also means that Uniform Wares no longer needs to order hundreds or thousands of watch straps five months in advance. “We can now place an order for 60 pieces and they can have them ready in under a week; this is a real game changer for us,” said Michael.
“We plan to incorporate what we’ve learned into other aspects of our products,” concluded Michael. “Whatever we decide to do next, we’ll start with the design based on the knowledge of the additive process.”