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Using laser to carve art into time-Vacheron Constantin watchmaking process innovation

February 24, 2021

  • Vacheron Constantin, a traditional watchmaker founded in 1755, began working in 2016 with engineers at EPFL Galaatea to bring the art of clock engraving into the 21st century, allowing artisans to use lasers instead of engraving machines, scissors or cutters to carve crystals on watches."We want to bring innovation to a traditional approach that we have been honing for more than 265 years," said Paul Bertusi, Vacheron Constantin's engineering and innovation program manager.
  • The project is led by Yves Bellouard. Bellouard's team used chirped pulse amplification (CPA) technology, whose inventor won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2018."Before that, it was impossible to work inside the material," Bellouard said. I had a discussion with Richemont [which acquired Vacheron Vacheron in 1996] about how we could combine this technology with craft technology and apply it to watch engravings."
  • At this point, the different people working on the project began to try and learn hard. Sculptors must get used to using high-tech tools and helping improve the system in the process. Engineers, on the other hand, must put on the craftsman's hat and find a way to restore the physical connection and the sense of resistance. "With lasers, you will lose the mechanical connection, which is a big problem for artisans" Bellouard adds. Because they rely on touch to work, and the loss of the mechanical connection causes them to only see what they're doing, and there's no tactile feedback, so we have to recreate that feedback virtually."
  • So Galatea engineers contacted Force Dimension, a subsidiary of EPFL that mainly develops surgical robotics but also involves precision tabulating. Experts at Force Dimension designed a device that recreates the physical drag that Maridat lacks. They created a digital pen attached to a robotic arm that uses haptic technology to give users a tactile sensation as they virtually sculpt material. Force Dimension co-founder Francois Conti said, "the programmer feeds data on the Force and position of the required movement into the machine, which then reproduces it on the arm. In that way, the craftsmen can get the right amount of resistance, just as if they were actually touching the object."
  • "Being able to frame a watch crystal in 3D, and work anywhere within a crystal, and create a true 3D sculpture within a crystal opens up extremely interesting possibilities for us," said Bertusi. It is reported that the project is not over yet, let us wait and see what kind of final form will be presented in the end.

(Article source: Chinese edition from ofWeek)