HOW OUR FIDGET SPINNER CAME ABOUT...
The current craze surrounding the fidget hand spinner is ubiquitous: the small, ball-bearing device that users can rotate between fingers, supposedly helping them to focus, has taken youngsters and adults alike by storm. And even we at IWC could not escape it. As we observed this fascinating phenomenon – or even played with our children’s spinners ourselves – we started realizing that these gadgets, which are engineering products at their core, deserve closer scrutiny. Certainly, however, the plastic and slap-dash metal finishing does not do the innovative engineering idea any justice. So we wondered what would happen if we were to develop and manufacture a fidget spinner from scratch the IWC way? Challenge accepted. And so we set to work …
CHAPTER 1: THE CONCEPT
IWC is known for its unparalleled pioneering spirit and its ambition for innovation. Here at IWC, we love challenges. And as our engineers are constantly driven by curiosity and the question “what if …?”, we broke the spinner down into its individual parts and components, asking ourselves what would happen if we redefined the heart of the fidget spinner? Or what the outcome would be if we used components that would make our IWC Fidget Spinner truly exceptional, at the same time taking into account IWC’s brand features and design codes?
“The centre of each fidget spinner consists of a ball bearing that holds the centre wheel. For that, we decided to use the centre wheel (“Minutenrad”) of the 89900 calibre, which is featured in the Da Vinci Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph. It is the most beautiful movement we have,” explains Debora Girsberger, IWC constructor and developer, who oversaw the project. “But we did not stop there. We wanted to bring our engineering expertise into play and make the spinner visually stunning, and so we decided to create a full gear train that would drive a total of ten wheels. To top it all off, we included in our concept some of the most sculptural, intricate and valuable components that we manufacture: the gilded second wheels featuring a double bridge, and the silicon anchor wheel with diamond coating – both components of the Da Vinci Tourbillon Rétrograde Chronograph and all references equipped with the 89 calibre.”
Girsberger involved one of her colleagues from the department of construction, Arvin Buechi, to conceptualize the first basic steps of this project. It was up to him to draw the initial sketches that helped him design the basic shape and define the positioning of the jewels. “In the beginning, we played with the idea of integrating the oscillating weight into our Custom Fidget Spinner or even installing an entire movement. But after some consideration, we changed our minds and focused on the right selection and positioning of the wheels and on the definition of the bearings,” Buechi explains. “To reduce friction with the centre wheel and make the entire mechanism move whilst spinning, we applied a ruby coating inside the ball bearing. Finally, I also assisted in defining the size, height and mounting of the upper and lower plates.”
Debora Girsberger summarizes, “While the design and the watch as a whole tend to be paramount, I actually believe that the fidget spinner generates greater acknowledgement and appreciation of the watch movement itself. It allows us to provide a better understanding of the core of the inner watch mechanism – and isn’t that a truly great opportunity?"
The first prototype of the IWC Fidget Spinner was ready to be presented to the IWC management. It was destined to grow into not just another challenging engineering task for the IWC engineering team, but into a project involving various different departments and creative minds. A project that would reveal the very essence of IWC: the collective and pioneering engineering spirit behind each and every IWC timepiece and movement handcrafted in Schaffhausen.
CHAPTER 2: THE PRODUCTION (PART I)
It’s one thing to make scientific calculations on paper, and another to actually implement them and bring these visions to life. In the case of the IWC Custom Fidget Spinner, a small team of engineers and developers precisely calculated the size, form, material, design, engraving and positioning of every single miniature component. Whether or not these calculations will be feasible in the end remain to be proven in the production process of a prototype.
Christian Stengele from the department of manufacturing movement components faced two challenges when he received Debora’s 3D-model containing the data and graphics: would the milling of the base plate exert such strain onto the material that it would be bent out of shape or even break? And would the final and much smaller than usual engraving of IWC’s signature emblem “Probus Scafusia” be possible with the available machines without leaving the emblem unreadable?
The IWC custom fidget spinner consists of a delicately designed base- and top plate. Four top plates are milled directly from a 50x50 mm brass slug with a height of 0.7 mm. Since the base plate features three integrated stick-like spacers (positioned on the far ends of the rotor-blade-shaped plate), each 3.8 mm high base-slug had to be milled down to 0.7 mm, except for those three hooks – a delicate and tricky process. “A constant correspondence with the colleagues from construction was absolutely essential to be able to adjust parameters right away,” Christian Stengele said. “After defining the miller’s cutting path, rotational speed and feed drive along with the clamping process, I set out to mill the first four plates. They turned out perfectly, so our initial wariness was ill-founded. The first and main challenge successfully mastered.”
As for the “Probus Scafusia” engraving on the fidget spinner, Christian programmed a special software and chose a specific milling tool with a tiny diamond top of 0.03 mm in diameter. The diamond ensured not only meticulously precise milling, but also a luxurious lustre and perfect readability of the engraving itself. With a rotation of 40,000 per minute, the 0.05 mm-deep engraving gets milled into the slug with a feed drive (Vorschub) of 200 mm per minute. For Christian, being involved in this project was something different: “I was not simply working on the manufacturing of a toy as I had previously assumed when I learned about the IWC fidget spinner,” he said. “But I was part of an exciting and fun engineering project that probably not many other watch manufacturers would pull off. It was a truly enjoyable, welcome challenge.”
The IWC Custom Fidget Spinner is manufactured in extremely limited editions and is, unfortunately, not available for sale.
Be sure to return to this page in the upcoming weeks for more insights into the various departments involved and the development of the IWC Custom Fidget Spinner.
Components of the fidget spinner
Click on the button below to see all components
of the IWC Custom Fidget Spinner
CHAPTER 3: THE PRODUCTION (PART II)
In the previous production step, the top and base plates of our unique fidget spinner were milled from a brass slug and engraved with IWC’s signature emblem “Probus Scafusia”. They will eventually become its heart and soul, tightly holding together its delicate 10 gears.
In the following production step, décor specialists polish the pieces on a grinding plate in order to eliminate scratches and irregularities – a possible result from the milling of the soft brass. A welcome side effect of this process is the decorative, fine surface finishing, “Längsschliff” (or “longitudinal polish”), which imparts a special radiance to the components. After thorough inspection, the plates are ready to be galvanized.
Twenty different dipping sessions now turn the raw brass components into their final state in the galvanization room. Here, main plates, bridges and oscillating weights of IWC’s men’s and women’s watches usually receive their final coating. For IWC’s 10 gear fidget hand spinner, the top and base plates are dipped into five electrolyte-, four alkali- and acid-, and eleven rinsing baths.
For a total of twenty minutes, the components remain in each bath from 30 seconds for the pickling process and up to three minutes for the electrolytes bath. But it is only the last electrolytes-bath containing rhodium – a metal similar to platinum – where the components receive their final 0.005 mm-thick coating, changing the plates from a brassy-gold to their final rhodium-silver colour. Dried and inspected one last time, the top- and base plates are now ready for assemblage.
CHAPTER 4: THE ASSEMBLY
Peter-Michael Högg has worked with IWC for nearly thirteen years, five of which he has spent working as a prototype engineer in IWC’s Research and Development department. During this time, the certified master watchmaker was involved in the prototype-building of some of IWC’s flagship in-house mechanisms, such as the 52 calibre, the 59 calibre of the Portofino Hand-Wound Monopusher (Ref. IW515103, -04), and the 89 calibre of the Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph (Ref. IW395001).
This time, he had the task of building the prototype for the IWC Custom Fidget Spinner. “Once the concept stood and all components were ready, it was my job to construct a prototype. To see if a function works in practice – and not just in theory – I measured, for example, the distance between the axes, or I examined height distribution in between the wheels. If needed, I would recommend adjustments of up to 100th of a millimetre,” Peter-Michael Hoegg said.
But the calculations were spot-on, with no adjustments needed. The brass wheels and stainless-steel shafts provided the ideal friction ratio, similar to within a watch movement. Additionally, the bearings of the artificial rubies perfectly facilitated the spinning – which naturally slows down the more wheels and gears are integrated. A 10-gear fidget spinner thus rotates slower than one with just 4 gears.
Fully assembled and examined once again, the fidget hand spinner underwent the last check with Stefan Ihnen and Thomas Gäumann, associate director technics and head of the Research and Development movement department, respectively. “The development of this unique fidget spinner from beginning to end boasts all elements and stages that are regularly part of our more sophisticated projects: research, conception, design, mechanics, production, and assembly,” Gäumann said. “I think it is a great opportunity for our department to illustrate the filigree work of a watch movement. There is something about the fidget spinner that truly touches and fascinates people.”
In sum, the IWC fidget spinner is the result of extraordinary teamwork of people who make complex things possible – all working perfectly in sync with one another. The project exemplifies the collective engineering mindset behind projects where every single member enjoys the engineering challenge behind it. That is our spirit and how we approach every task, every project, every idea. We do this as stringently for a novelty toy as we would for a column wheel chronograph mechanism. It is in every one of us – it is who we are.
SUMMARY: IWC FIDGET SPINNER FACTS & FIGURES
- Weight: 2.76 g
- Length: 95.5 mm
- Height: 4.2 mm
- Diameter of top and base plates: 35 mm
- Diameter of “Probus Scafusia” emblem: ca. 3 mm
- Number of components: 77
- Materials of components: Stainless steel, copper beryllium, nitrile rubber, ruby (synthetic), zirconium oxide, brass
- Diameter and weight of wheels: Second wheel (7.93 mm / 0.038 g); Third wheel (7.74 mm / 0.046 g); Escape wheel (4.83 mm / 0.005 g)
- Lightest component (ring jewel): 0.0005 g with a diameter of 1 mm and a height of 0.22 mm)
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