Architect by training, for Michiel Holthinrichs, creator of Holthinrichs watches, the story begins with a keen interest in design, clothing … and beauty. The ability to conceive things, acquired throughout his education, allows him to create and 3D print his watches, which have become a real brand within range of connoisseurs.

Today in the Opinion of the Week, he wants to share “the how and the why” but also explain the key role of 3D printing in this industry.

Tell us more about you and how you came to 3D printing

During my studies in architecture in Delft (The Netherlands), my interest in design and clothing was growing so much that I wanted to become a designer. Then, I convinced myself that the first step was to have a nice watch. So, I bought a pocket watch that was beautiful, then I collected up to 200 watches.

Throughout my education, a particular emphasis has been laid on the ability to conceive things. I decided to create my own design, which took me about a year. When I was looking for a producer in the Netherlands, companies told me that it was too precise, too complex or too quantitative.

I almost gave up when I realized that in Amsterdam in 2014, the first house was 3D printed. So, I asked myself, why not 3D print my watch?

I was then recommended to an expert who works today at materialise, hence my collaboration with the giant of 3D printing. Thanks to this expert, I was able to decide the type of 3D printing I wanted. I had to choose between plastic, mold and SLM. I needed SLM for its accuracy and its capacity to print steel. It was the only option for me.

Why did you choose to 3D print watches?

I think that’s the result of some frustration in architecture…I collected old watches because I found them very beautiful. For me, the watch is the nicest jewelry a man can wear…and he does not already have a lot.

With 3D printing, you can make something which is technical and very beautiful.

And yet, in architecture, (especially in my faculty, you can’t even use the word “beautiful”) you cannot really talk about beauty. It is an abstract notion and when you want to design, something, you have to fulfill a long process …. In architecture, it’s always about money.

With a watch, I can do all things I would like to do in architecture but at a small scale.

What is important to me, is the ability to combine both the knowledge acquired in architecture and materials to manufacture a very beautiful and functional ornament.

That’s the reason why I needed to design watches… to make something beautiful.

Are you going to proceed to mass production or will it always be on order?

No, I would like to make it reproducible. It is the greatest challenge in this process. Make 3D printed watches, that will appear to be exactly the same each time I will 3D print.

What are the advantages and inconvenients of 3D printing in the manufacturing of watches?

That’s quite difficult because when you print something, it’s porous and always a little bit different.

The post-processing is very difficult and very expensive also but 3D printing is cheap only if you look at it as a production process.

It has some great functions: the possibility to personalize every object…you can customize in a way that no one has ever seen in the watch industry before.

3D printing also offers a lot of design options… I could wipe out unnecessary mass and replace it by ornaments that are not possible to achieve conventionally.

The next watch will be more functional and more aesthetic.

You are preparing the launch of your first public atelier. Could you give me more information about that?

It’s not yet finished. This is a great chance to be present in a beautiful and historical building in the Centre of Delft.

You know, when you are competing with very big companies of the watch industry, you need to further customize your service to the public. A shop turned into an atelier will enable people to see how I design the objects, and to understand the price. They could also experience the personal touch of my product.

I am still building right now, but it already has a very large local effect.

Talking about the “price”, how is your market doing as a young startup?

I started a year ago and I already sold 18 watches…That’s pretty good considering their price (€ 3749,00).

Furthermore, there is some kind of trust on the clients’ side (from all over the world) who are willing to pay a lot or a deposit while they do not yet know me. That’s impressive but I can’t expect everyone to do it

So with the atelier, I could invite people to see what they actually pay for.

Apart from the atelier, what are your prospect of development for Holthinrichs watches? Are there any other projects you will achieve using 3D printing?

I would like to be a producer of parts or a consultant in that sense. It would be interesting…but I don’t exclude jewelry as a whole, especially women’s jewelry which I find very fascinating; especially the aesthetic on which you can work on.

3D printing is very often used in the architecture sector. Do you think this technology will become an essential tool for architects?

I think it already is. Architects are people who are always looking outside the box. They can make something spectacular with it. A lot of things can already be seen in construction and the adoption of the process might go very fast.

Last word?

Yes, I know a lot of people who invest in SLM technologies but there are not a lot of clients who are making profit of it. The adoption of metal printing is very slow in the industry and this is probably because a lot of industries see in 3D printing a prototyping process.

3D printing’s goal is not to produce 3D printing machines in my opinion, but rather to make machines which manufacture a product quickly adaptable to another machine which can do the post-processing, therefore, would make it eventually suitable for reproduction. That was also the great challenge in the manufacturing of my watch.

If we can convince the industry that 3D printing is a really good option within the production, as a part and not as a goal, then it would be easily adapted in the industry.

And regarding, the watch industry, a lot of watchmakers see this technology as a threat because they could lose their craft… that’s the way they look at it and they are wrong…they did not realize the different shapes that can be done with it. They have to look at it that way to expect new shapes and new models in the future.

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