3D Printers

Scientist Makes Atomic Pocket Watch but Says 3D Printed Gold Cases Are the Real Innovation

An Atomic Clock is a device that “measures time through a frequency standard based on an electronic transition frequency in the microwave, optical or ultraviolet of the electromagnetic spectrum of atoms.” Although this is pretty much how Wikipedia explains it, what we (who lack a degree in physics) do understand is that this is what makes them the most accurate time and frequency standards known. Just last January the JILA Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder made the news for building an atomic clock that could keep perfect time for 5 billion years, outlasting even the end of the our world.

3d printed gold watchYou would think that such a device would have to be enormous in size. Most people think so. Not Dr. Richard Hoptroff, the genius/mad scientist behind Hoptroff Watches. One day, around this time of the year, while he was on a date for Saint Valentine’s day, he decided he was going to build a portable atomic watch. The Hoptroff No 10 Atomic Pocket now is a reality. Like all other Hoptroff models it has a traditional appearance and a super hi-tech core. It is based on a round circuit board, covered in tiny stepping motors to drive a multitude of hands and a green LED blinking once a second.

It is practically a maker’s dream but the best part is that its heart is the SA.45s CSAC, a device created by Symmetricom. It is an atomic physics package with lasers to excite atoms and a microwave resonator to measure their atomic transitions. It was developed for the US Department of Defense and it is small enough (about 1 cm in height) to look like a battery.

Atomic Clock and CASC 2 3D Printing

“It keeps time with a precision that makes it good to within one and a half second every 1.000 years,” Hoptroff told website Theprodigalguide.com, which first reported the story, “this means it is the most precise watch in the world by a factor of 5,000”. You may be asking yourselves why we tell you about this on 3Dprintingindustry.com. Simple: because, although the No10 will not yet use it, Hoptroff believes that the real advanced technology he is implementing in his watchmaking activity is 3D printing, and specifically selective laser sintering of end use watch cases in gold.

IDr Richard Hoptroff Atomic Clock 3D PrintingFor Hoptroff it is not about prototyping as much as it is about local manufacturing of finished products made by laser sintering gold dust with the help of the Cookson Precious Metal company in Birmingham. Although implementation of 3D printing processes required an extra year of work, Hoptroff is convinced it is the only way to go for many reasons. “Critically for our little enterprise, 3D keeps batch sizes down,” he says. “You can change the design quickly, too, and do complicated shapes that would be impossible otherwise.” After all, making a pocket atomic clock, had proven too easy for him.