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Charles Frodsham & Co., established in 1834, are Britain’s oldest established chronometer, watch and clock makers who plan to introduce an innovative new men’s wristwatch in 2009, developed with the help of highly accurate System 3R machining and workholding technology. 

With a tradition going back over 175 years, Charles Frodsham are one of the bastions of Britain’s watchmaking heritage and after over 5 years of research and development they are planning to produce their first new wristwatch since 1947.

But it is no ordinary wristwatch as it incorporates the hitherto unexploited oil-free double impulse chronometer escapement invented by arguably the world’s greatest living watchmaker, George Daniels. Now over 80 years of age, and currently living on the Isle of Man, he became the first watchmaker in 200 years to invent a successful new watch escapement – in fact he invented two.

Espousing the benefits of mechanical horology shared with George Daniels, Charles Frodsham took on the challenge of miniaturising his double impulse chronometer escapement to fit into a new wristwatch that would combine the company’s specialist traditions with his inventive genius.

“We recognised, that if we could miniaturise this escapement we should have a time keeper of the finest quality and performance” said Philip Whyte, one of the Directors of Charles Frodsham & Co.

“ Dr. George Daniels’ other main escapement, the  coaxial, had been championed by Omega, but we suspect that even they had to tighten up their manufacturing tolerances much more than they were used to, in order to effectively incorporate it into their models”

This is where System 3R were able to provide the machining accuracy and stability to help Charles Frodsham rise to this challenge, when manufacturing parts on their Kern HSPC precision mill. It is very much micro-machining at its best, with required tolerances down to 2-5 microns, so repeatable accuracy is a must.

“ We could not afford to lose any time in set-up by continually checking parts, “ said watchmaker, Martin Dorsch. “ In fact, the Macro system performed even better than was guaranteed by System 3R - with a ‘worse jump’ of only 0.8 micron.”

The development of the new wristwatch not only required smaller parts to be machined but also metals needed to be used that were inherently difficult to machine to the extremely high tolerances required. And, in the case of relatively larger parts like the watch case itself, where thread milling is required, the stability of the cutting process was vital.

“The watch movement has a mix of materials as certain properties are achieved with one metal and not others, “ continued Martin Dorsch. “ These included modern copper alloys, titanium and carbon steels as well as special stainless steels for the cases and bezels.
This combination of metallurgical and highly accurate machining expertise was the key to provide the solution to miniaturisation, especially as the escapement is oil-free.”

Fortunately System 3R had the ideal solution in their new VDP system – delivering Vibration Damped Palletisation – in the milling process. VDP not only reduces vibration,  but also reduces noise at high-speed cutting as well as vastly improving the surface finish of the parts. It also helps to reduce tool wear and is less stressful on the machine spindle.

A VDP chuck was fitted on to the Kern in trials and performed beyond expectations. “The finish is far better, especially on the cases, where the contours are sharper and the angles nice and crisp,” said Martin Dorsch. Also, there is no need for a sub-plate with the Macro system, whose reference elements save us time in tool making and deliver the repeatable accuracy we need, even when cutting at critical angles.

“Tool making gets more complicated the more intricate are the parts – especially when machining both sides. In making the numerous parts for our new wristwatch – which will be manufactured in very small numbers – the faster set-up of workpieces on the Macro holders gave us fantastic time savings. Mix and match is also easier whether producing one-offs for prototyping or batches with up to 81 parts in a jig.

“ It’s the last few microns that have made all the difference to the performance of the new watch – easily achievable with System 3R technology – and the repeatable accuracy allows for assured interchangeability of parts when servicing or repair is carried out.” 

The new wristwatch, available in a choice of case and dial materials, will be made in batches of 9 and is set to become very collectable. It will be sold through Charles Frodsham’s prestigious London premises at 32, Bury Street, St. James’s in the near future.

Charles Frodsham have also used another System 3R workholding system for many years, to cut electrodes for their Acu-rite Concept mini sink erosion machine, which gave them confidence in initially seeking the solution from the company.

“We have had excellent support from System 3R throughout the lengthy R & D stage of our new wristwatch programme,” said Philip Whyte. “ Their help and technology has been invaluable in producing what we believe will be a major landmark in British watchmaking history.”

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