we discussed in the last installments, the MK2 dial is a complex
assembly of small individual elements. All made one by one, finished one
by one and assembled and fixed one by one. In this installment of the "behind the scenes" we will show you the process of how the dial elements are made and finished, and how the base dial is anodised to our "topaz blue".
First: the end result:
The hour markers, or as we call them "batons" as well as all three hands are faceted.
The facet is at 4 degrees, a very small angle, but the effect is
massive. In person, the facets on the dial and hands not only dance in
the light, but also give a strong visual line down the centre of the
The keen eyed of you will have noticed
another interesting feature- the 2nd "grain" angle within the facet.
We call this technique feathering.
The grinding finish that we apply on the hands is angled at 45 degrees
to mimic the shape of a feather. The inspiration comes from the coastal
birds you see on the Sydney's Northern beaches- seagulls, sea eagles,
even sulfur crested cockatoos and lorikeets!
There is a massive technical challenge in making this decorative pattern. If the facets are off centre by more than 10 microns or so, your eye begins to pick up the lack of symmetry,
so it becomes very important that all the jigs, and raw hand dimensions
are checked and kept to a tight tolerance Secondly, the angle of the
"feathering" creates a complex compound angle that we have to hold the
part on, which calls for a very complex jig-making exercise.
But without getting ahead of ourselves, we still have to make all the
other parts! The numerals, batons, and hands all start in the same way.
Raw material of 0.8mm titanium is glued down to a special pallet. The
material itself has been stress relieved and flattened in prior
Here you can see the progression of the
batons and numerals being milled out. The hands are done in a very
similar way. A special high strength glue is used to hold the parts to
the pallet, allowing us to profile the outside and inside shapes.
The tools we use to cut these parts are so
small that the tip of the tool can get lost in the space between the
lines of your finger print!
A drop of oil on the 0.2mm drill.
The batons and the numerals are not simple
2D shapes, they actually have two little "feet" on the backside. These
feet fit inside the holes we drill on the base dial. The diameter of the
foot is 0.19mm with a tolerance band for the diameter of +0 microns ,
-10 microns. The thickness of the batons and numerals is also important,
If they are too thin they will distort and twist when assembled on the
Quality control - Measuring the thickness of the numeral and baton.
Measuring the diameter of the baton pin.
Measuring the thickness of the parts we make
is quite tricky. The probe tip we use had to be custom made for us in
Germany! Standard probe tips available as off the shelf items are too
large and would not allow us to get to the small areas between the pins
of the numerals and batons. This custom probe tip is one of the many
thousands of dollars of custom equipment we had to either make
ourselves, or in this case commission from gauge making specialists.
After all this care, time, attention and
patience we are left with our raw, ready to be finished parts!
The next step is feathering. There
are a couple of challenges in this process. The first one is how to hold
such a small part. This leads to a complex exercise in jig-making. The
jigs used to hold our parts take weeks to design and make. They go
through many iterations to land on the right approach.
The feathering is done on a machine called a
surface grinder. Surface grinding is an extremely accurate method of
removing small amounts of material in a very controlled way. It takes
years of expertise to master this machine by tradespeople called
"toolmakers". James, our in-house toolmaker is an expert and only after
nearly 20 years of experience, is he comfortable with this type of work.
The type of abrasive wheel used is a critical part of achieving the
right finish. In fact we tried numerous different combinations of wheel
and coolant to arrive at our own "titanium feathering recipe".
The base dial is now cleaned and prepared for anodising. Funnily enough
your fingertips are some of the best cleaning implements available! The
textured surface of your fingers allows for dirt to be trapped and taken
away from the surfaces you clean. In combination with soap and
detergents we manually clean each base dial. It's imperative that the
dials are free from any residual oils, so 99.9% Isopropyl alcohol bath
in an ultrasonic cleaner is the final cleaning step.
Titanium anodisation is an extremely complex electrochemical process, but in essence a Titanium dioxide (Titania, which is a ceramic!) film is grown on the surface of the material. The thickness and the structure of this film layer is responsible for diffracting light, which gives colour.
Titanium can be anodised within a well defined spectrum, but achieving
bright vibrant colours that are not "dull" is a strongly guarded trade
secret. This is a function of the electrical voltage and current applied
during the anodisation process, the temperature of the bath, the
quality of the bath, the room humidity, how the raw surfaces have been
chemically prepared and the overall process cleanliness... basically
chemical magic. Unfortunately this is not something we can share.
The faceted and feathered parts as well as
the numerals are then assembled onto the freshly anodised dial by very
lightly pressing the feet of the parts into the holes in the base dial.
These dial feet are then laser welded from behind to ensure that they are secured strongly onto the dial. More on that process in a future installment!
Next... Pad Printing (to be continued).
NOTE: We have received a number of inquires in regards to the pricing of the MK2.
It is obvious that the price will depend on the number of
watches produced in a batch. Based on your pre-sale interest, we expect
that the production run would be 50 watches at price of $6,900 (plus box
and strap). Producing fewer watches would result in a higher price;
making any more will choke our manufacturing capacity.
If you wish to register your interest, please send us an email to email@example.com
Unfortunately we are not taking deposits or partial payments. Once your
watch is ready for delivery, you will be notified with sufficient time
to make a full payment.
More technical details will be provided next week, but for now: the MK2
is based on a Swiss made Soprod automatic movement, 40mm stainless steel
case, on a leather strap. Titanium guilloche dial, markers and hands,
as well as complete assembly is done 'in house'. Manufactured in
A completely assembled MK2 "Curl Curl" topaz blue is available for viewing at our Sydney showroom. To check it out and try the watch on, please make an appointment.
Last week we left you at the point where the
CAM files were uploaded to the mill, the cutting tools loaded, and we
were ready for action.
However, before we hit the start button, we need to step back in time for a moment.
Making a watch dial out of Grade 5 Titanium is a complex but well defined process. The end result is not a mystery.
However the guilloche 'scribing' in the centre of the dial is something
that is rarely done in Titanium. Actually there are only two other
watchmakers who have released Titanium guilloche dials in the past.
The challenges are numerous. Guilloche is a scribing process - the tool
does not rotate, like a drill or an endmill might. Obtaining a perfect
cut is difficult even in soft materials like brass or gold. At the
beginning of our project, we really had no idea if making a Titanium
guilloche dial was even possible on our mill. Also, not every guilloche
pattern produces an eye pleasing dial. The depth of the scribed line,
the 'modulation' of the waves, the surface finish of the cut, and
especially 'generation of the chip' are just some of the known
There was only way to figure it all out: to start doing test runs and test cuts, then to tune the process and learn as you go.
The very first step: the making of our own scribing tool.
The tool 'holder' is made from tool steel
and the cutting edge of our tool is a detachable tungsten carbide tip.
What you are seeing is a bunch of tools, making a tool to hold a tool to
make a dial. The tool is made on the same milling machine that makes
all the dials (the Kern!), starting from a sketch, design drawings, CAD
and CAM files. But there is a twist: while the tool itself is made on a
CNC machine, the tungsten carbide cutting tip, the part that actually
does all the work, is sharped by hand and lapped on ceramic disc with a
diamond slurry. Guilloche tools are definitely not off the shelf items,
and this is not something we could order from Switzerland. If you can't
make your tool, hand profile the cutter, make your own slurry, and
sharpen it, no one else will do it for you.
As an even more technical aside: The surface finish and edge sharpness
of the tool itself directly correlate, 1 to 1, to the final surface
finish of the guilloche. If you can sharpen and polish your tungsten
carbide cutting tip to a mirror, then your guilloche will also be a
mirror. Lapping the tool on a ceramic disc is the only way to do this.
This is actually an incredibly difficult process to automate, and the
fine feel and constant visual checks of a talented (human!) operator are
the only way to achieve perfection. For example, the slurry on the
ceramic disc needs to be constantly monitored- too much slurry, and the
hydrodynamic forces take over and you end up "skating" over the lap, too
little slurry and you run the risk of chipping the ceramic, or the
tungsten carbide! Our toolmaker James is an expert at this process now,
and after lapping many many cutting edges it takes about 30 minutes for
him to achieve a perfect mirror on the tool.
Once we had made the cutting tool, the first step was to cut a simple,
straight line in a Titanium blank. If this was possible, and if we could
achieve a good surface finish in just a straight line, then it would be
highly likely that the next steps would be feasible! Below, you can see
the first ever cut, and chip, of Titanium grade 5 made through a
scribing process in our workshop, and I think it would be safe to say in
all of Australia!
With the know how of Titanium scribing safely in our pocket, we could
start experimenting with guilloche patterns- to save prematurely wearing
out the tool we did many of these tests in brass. Not every guilloche
pattern is beautiful, in fact it's quite easy to make rubbish! But once
we saw what we are calling "Curl Curl waves", maybe 20 or 30 test
coupons in, it became clear that we had found our pattern!
Scraping: ready to cut test patterns in brass
As said before, not every pattern is
eye-pleasing. The good patterns are those which are mysterious; patterns
where the tool path is 'hidden' and difficult to work out. A pattern
which makes the viewer wonder how in the world such pattern is even
possible to make!
We settled for a wave pattern, which we
immediately named 'Curl Curl waves'. Curl Curl is the closest beach to
our workshop; and the name is said to come from an Aboriginal word
meaning "river of life".
The moment of truth
The next phase we were ready to move to Titanium.
The preparation starts with creation of dial blanks. A round bar stock
is sliced in discs 4mm thick and 50mm in diameter on our Makino EDM wire
cutting machine. Makin is 'the cutting edge of cutting': each cut
provides the higher levels of precision and surface finish.
The blanks undergo a heat treatment cycle to relieve the stress in the
material. The exact parameters are something we constantly tweak, but in
essence that material sits at 600 deg C for the better part of a day,
slowly being brought back to room temperature.
Here is the shot of the first scribed line
under the microscope. And even more important than the line itself is
the chip: it's length, shape and surface finish tell us if our scribing
tool is shaped and lapped correctly and whether the speed and depth of
the cut are optimized for Titanium. Yay!
The machining of the watch dial starts from the back side.
One very special feature of the MK2 dials is that we make integral, or
monolithic dial feet. Traditionally, dials are made from thin sheet, and
have dial feet that are soldered onto the back. Having integral dial
feet is a far superior method of making a dial: the feet are stronger,
more rigid, and more accurately located. The trade off is that it's far
more difficult to make a dial like this without it warping like a potato
chip, and it's quite time consuming since you have to mill off quite a
large amount of material.
Broken dial feet are a common problem for watchmakers and there is no
practical way to solder back on a broken dial foot. Not with the MK2!
Our feet will stay on the dial forever!
In this photo you can see the back sides of the dial blanks being
processed. Lots of material gets removed! Oil in the machine serves
three purposes: to lubricate the cutting tool, to keep the workpiece and
tool cool and stable in temperature, and to flush away the removed
We make six dials at the time. The plate
which holds Titanium discs is called a 'jig'. Yes, we design and make
our own jigs, in our workshop, specifically for the MK2 dials. Note that
this particular jig is called 'number 7'.
When the back side is completed, the dials are now transferred to
another jig for top side machining. In this step, we work on one dial at
a time by milling away all but the raised section for the guilloche and
the recess for the nameplate. The 0.2mm holes that will accept the
numerals and hour markers are drilled as well.
After glass bead blasting to get a super
smooth, even surface, the dial is then brought to the Kern Micro HD to
do the ultraprecise, CNC guilloche of Titanium.
Part 3: Topaz blue, Curl Curl waves. Manufactured in Australia.