London-based luxury watchmaker Uniform Wares recently introduced its latest collection of wristwatches, PreciDrive M-Line. What we’ve just learnt is that the sleek watch collection was actually made possible thanks to additive manufacturing. Working in collaboration with London-based manufacturer Betatype, Uniform Wares was able to design and develop a unique strap for its watch collection 3D printed from a T5 titanium alloy.
Founded in 2009, Uniform Wares has committed itself to designing and producing luxury wristwatches that are at once classically inspired and fully contemporary. As part of its mission, the London-based company has collaborated with various local and international partners to ensure its watches are at the cutting-edge of design and technology.
“While we are always taking prompts from heritage and traditional processes in the watch and other industries,” Michael Carr, creative director at Uniform Wares, explained, “We also like to push things forward.”
Pushing forward is exactly what the watch brand has done with its latest collection, which saw it integrate 3D printing into its production process more than ever before.
“We were already using 3D printing to develop plastic—and some metal—prototypes,” Carr added. “So when Betatype explained that they could help us to achieve more accurate and intricate designs [with 3D printing], we were interested.”
Working with Betatype, Uniform Wares was able to reinvent a mesh-like bracelet it has used for its previous watch bands. Before 3D printing, the company relied on a traditional process which wove steel cables into a mesh pattern. This technique, which required a “cumbersome machine” also required extensive post-processing in the form of cutting and welding.
Betatype won Uniform Wares over by proposing that is use its Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) process to 3D print the woven mesh for the watch bands which would offer more design flexibility and would use less material overall.
“The idea that Betatype was using a new technology that would mean less waste and new materials was hugely appealing,” Carr added. “We also like that they were London-based and could produce the bracelets locally.”
The 3D printed watch strap was 3D printed out of titanium using PBF and is made up of over 4,000 interlocking links. Weighing only 10.5 grams, the sleek band is comfortable and lightweight. Betatype and Uniform Wares also took advantage of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) by integrating an asymmetric design into each of the links. This novel feature allows for a different bend radius, letting users easily slip the watch over the hand without having to worry about it slipping off.
The 3D printed watchband also integrates a new type of clasp design that interlocks with the weave of the strap—something that could not have been achieved with traditional manufacturing processes.
In the manufacturing process itself, Betatype says it used its multi-scale approach to maintain better geometric control over the PBF process. This entailed controlling the laser’s path, exposure settings and material microstructure for each link in the strap.
“Every element of the [watch] bracelet has been engineered exactly as it needs to work,” explained Carr. “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.”
Two other key benefits of using additive manufacturing for the watch strap’s production are less material usage and waste (the PBF process results in minimal T5 titanium waste) and faster, more flexible turnaround times. As Carr elaborated, the company can now order 60 pieces and have them delivered in under a week rather than order hundreds or even thousands ahead of time.
Uniform Wares has just released its first collection featuring the 3D printed bands (available in a natural matt finish), and it plans to continue working with Betatype to leverage 3D printing for future projects. “We plan to incorporate what we’ve learned into other aspects of our products,” concluded Carr. “Whatever we decide to do next, we’ll start with the design based on the knowledge of the additive process.”