Devon Steampunk Watch: all springs and belts and such and oh my

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you a brief moment during which I will fantasize in public about having an extra $25,000 lying around so I could pre-order one of these Devon Steampunk watches.

The Devon Tread watch is arguably the most cutting edge watch made today, a timepiece of striking visuals and technology. The Tread 1 Watch features four internal 2-micron thin belts that spin within the case to display the time. It’s powered by a lithium polymer rechargeable cell that is charged by wireless induction. This electric system runs the belts that are kept in tune with an optical technology. Add that all up, and you have one of the most technically advanced, visually stunning watches ever made. The Devon Works Tread 1 Watch was designed by a California aerospace company, a group that is quite comfortable with fitting square pegs through round holes. This watch is a prime example of their technical prowess.

Operating out of California, DEVON is the only American watch company using its own proprietary movement. In late 2010, the Tread 1 was nominated for the Gran Prix d’Horlogerie de Genéve in the category of Design and Concept Watch – the first American watch brand ever to receive this laudable recognition.

Devon Steampunk Limited Edition

(Disclosure: Watchismo, who retails this watch, is a Boing Boing advertiser. This post was not requested by them, nor did they compensate me or Boing Boing in any way for it)


  1. “This electric system runs the belts that are kept in tune with an optical technology.”


    1. I would guess it uses a sensor called a photo interrupter to read the small holes in the black bands as they move.  Same tech as an old ruber ball mouse.

      Also, seems like we’re only looking at a 3D model of the watch at this point.  Zoom in reeeal close.

      1. Possibly the belts are marked on the back with indexes.  With individually driven continuous belts there has to be some way to keep the hour and minute in correct phase for resetting when the power has run down.  A  conventional hands/face mechanical watch doesn’t have this problem because the hour and minute hands and date are all driven by the same gear train and they maintain the correct relationship to each other.

    2. See the trololo tremolo project article for an example of how a photo-interuptor could be used.

    3. I (obviously) don’t have access to the specifics of this mechanism; but I’d assume that they are using small electric motors to drive the belts, along with an optical linear encoder based on a pattern printed on the rear of each belt and picked up by an emitter/receiver package hidden from view by the belt.  
      That would allow the system to compensate for any belt slip by subtly altering the drive speed based on the measured position of the belt.(On the minus side, their explicit mention of the electrical and optical components makes me wonder if the visible mechanical stuff is just a very fancy watch face, rather than integrated with the movement…)

  2. Yep.  That’s pretty badass.  The belt concept has been tried before with success.  This is a good looking design that doesn’t present like a hacky prototype the way many atypical watches do.  Nice balance and symmetry.  Well done , Devon.

    1. The product page says $17K5 for a steel version.  The Steampunk special edition is $25K.  I used to sell high end watches and that’s really not an exceptional price.  All things are relative but you can buy some pretty mundane time pieces in the $10K – $20K range.  The Devon watches are unique and are certainly hand made. In that category they’re very reasonably priced.  For comparison, a popular Rolex stainless steel mechanical dive watch, the Sea Dweller retails for $10K MSRP. That’s a relatively common ‘mass produced’ consumer item.

  3. Why I can comment on some articles and can’t on others? What’s wrong with Disqus? It constantly gives me System Error. Argh

    1. Just for irony’s sake, it would be fun to see how high a price one could successfully command for a tarted-up version of a Chinese Standard Movement based watch…

      If you pulled it off well enough, the economic shockwave might travel back in time and cause Mao’s head to explode before the order of the timestream is restored by knockoffs hitting ebay.

      1. One among many, with Seagull – a former state owned firm leading the way. Trust…. the Chinese are coming.

  4. I thought it wasn’t steampunk if it couldn’t conceivably run on steam. I mean, come on. Why not just call it “steampunk themed”, since it doesn’t really conform to the actual concept of the word?

    1. This design, with its optical feedback system, isn’t a good candidate; but it would be rather interesting to see if you could build a heat engine that could power a watch off the temperature gradient between the user’s wrist and the surrounding environment….

      You can get low-temperature sterling engines that will sit on top of  a coffee mug and putter away for a couple hundred bucks. I have to imagine that 10K or more would pay for a bit of miniaturization and some fancy low-friction joint materials.

      (In general, though, ‘steampunk’ seems pretty weakly associated with ‘things that you could actually run on steam’. In particular, there is a lot of hedging when it comes to the available power densities and the ease of distributing power mechanically)

      1. ” it would be rather interesting to see if you could build a heat engine that could power a watch off the temperature gradient between the user’s wrist and the surrounding environment…. “There have been electric watches that do that for decades.  They use stacked thermoelectric modules to generate a few picowatts to charge a capacitor and run the ‘movement’.  They’re rare, though.  Solar provides orders of magnitude more power.  Sterling engines will develop enough power to overcome their own friction and move but the temperature gradient between skin and air is too small to do much useful work.

  5. Cory, you posted this about six months ago:

    Of course, back then it cost $17,500. Don’t know if it’s the gold-looking metal that made it jump $7,500 in price.

    1. Maybe Cory keeps reposting this so that a certain someone gets one for him for his birthday, or Christmas, or whatever.  It’s what the rest of us would do, right…right?

  6. This is cool except for the big curved plastic (polycarbonate) cover on top of it all. It’s even more visible in some of the pictures on the product page, and reflects a big glare.
    It takes a cool, tactile piece and makes it look like a plastic toy.

  7. Boing Boing – sponsored by a company that proudly serves the outlandishly priced accessory needs of the 1%

    (If I had $25,000 I’d quit my 9-5 and start a business)

      1. if it werent for the 99% the 1% wouldn’t know whats ‘good’. that is to say thoes with money never have fashionable style until after the 99% create it. so even without the 1% the same amount of jobs will be created. ‘job creators’ = two legs better.

      2. Nothing… except what does Watchismo do but perpetuate the status quo? What does it do but draw yet another line between the haves and the have-nots? Do they give to charity, fund a hackspace, award grants… no, they’re just in it to get rich like everyone else. Boing Boing could have better sponsors.

        1. Okay, a Google later, they do give to charity. I still say they perpetuate classism. Carry on, nothing to see here!

        2. “Nothing… except what does Watchismo do but perpetuate the status quo?”  Struggling here to find a context for that question.  Are the only acceptable retailers those which daily endeavor to overthrow the existing order?

          1. I never said overthrow, I’d settle for subvert. I just see Boing Boing as a place where some pretty cool subversive dialogs take place, and see it as disappointing that they shill for a luxury watch company. There’s nothing wrong with selling expensive watches, and Boing Boing needs to pay the bills, I get it, but why does Boing Boing, a place of subversive dialog, need to be sponsored by a company that sells toys to people who, instead of buying a watch, could use that money for so much more good? Why can’t Boing Boing’s financial politics match its editorial politics?

            I acknowledge that there are probably many things I don’t know, and even that I could be dead wrong about all of this. I’m just expressing my personal emotions when I see yet another Boing Boing post that’s basically just a thinly veiled ad for watches. 

            It encourages irresponsible consumption, it promotes wants over needs…  and it just feels sleazy to me. I like Boing Boing, so I don’t like the emotions I get when I see the watch posts, that’s all.

          2. I don’t like the emotions I get when I see the watch posts, that’s all.

            Then see a therapist, but stop telling us what to post.

          1. My problem is with the $25,000 Watches, not the 100$ ones. If you’re going to buy a $25,000 dollar watch, give that money to a young couple so they can make a down payment on a house, instead of buying a toy/status symbol. 

          2. @boingboing-50cce8f9d38eee7b6f71a6d51c071e4c:disqus What about the $100 watch? Wouldn’t that money be better feeding 50 kids in africa? Or a $15k car? Wouldn’t you do better buying a used $5k car and giving that $10k you save to an orphanage?
            There’s a chance that people with $25k watches might give far more than that to charity.

    1. Boing Boing – sponsored by a company that proudly serves the outlandishly priced accessory needs of the 1%

      Just wait until you see the expensive decorative shit that they’ve got in the Louvre or the Prado. Those 1%er McPalaces are filled to the gills with useless multimillion dollar gewgaws like paintings of their own ancestors.

      1. Gotcha, emotions have no place here and Watchismo is as culturally significant as The Louvre. Good sir, my hat goes off to you. You have shown me the error of my ways.

  8. I agree it looks cool.  However, it’s *electric*.  I love love love high end watches…really, for the mechanical brilliance involved to make things that small actually work.  But ask around… electric motors/sensors/microprocessors are just “cheating”.   There are watches from Urwerk and Richard Mille that are far more technically advanced and still run on spring power!   Check out “the Freak” by Ulysse Nardin, too.   Sure, they are more than 17K…but no way 17K for a electric motor driving belts watch. Ho Hum.  

    1. I more or less agree.  I prefer mechanicals unless there’s something I need on my wrist that requires a quartz movement.  Designing a new watch with an electric movement is sort of like designing a new car and using a crate motor instead of developing a new engine.  However in this case it’s a completely unique design and they’re not using off-the-shelf tech for the movement.  I’d prefer spring-driven mechanisms but I can give them a pass on using battery/motors because the movement is an in house design.

        1. It has been done that way.  Mille or someone has a tourbillon with the numbers on the edges of wheels.  Too lazy to Google it up. It’s at least 10X the price of the Devon and harder to read. The problem is power requirement.  A traditional hands/face mechanical has vanishingly small frictional losses.  This belt display and associated gear business would be very lossy and require a ton of power to drive.  All that friction also makes rate regulation difficult.  The owner of a $25K watch isn’t going to settle for 1min/day accuracy.  The book Watchmaking by George Daniels does a great job of covering these issues.

      1. Did you know that Babbage distrusted springs, and took care that he didn’t include any in his Difference and Analytical Engine designs? Of course, his Engines were designed to run on steam engines, not winding springs. Still.

    2. Call the battery a “Miniaturized Voltaic Pile”, use a charge pump (sorry — an “Amperic Conveyor System”) to boost the voltage a few thousand times and don’t ground anything. That’s steampunk, too!

  9. I haven’t paid that much for anything other than parts of my higher education. Yikes. For 25K, I’d better be able to either drive it or live in it.

  10. Interesting and good-looking. Steampunk, though? I don’t know if I’d call it that.

    For one thing, as “the lurch” says, it’s electric. And as others pointed out, it’s way too expensive; Steampunk is DIY, not buying ultra-expensive mass-produced gadgets. Gangnam Steampunk maybe?

    But I think a “steampunk watch” is missing the point like a “steampunk t-shirt”, because one of the symbols of Steampunk is the pocket watch. This… I don’t know. Steampunk-inspired, at best?

    1.  The style reminds me more of bauhaus Chicago styles (like the movie “metropolis”)… so more early 1920’s.. I know the 30’s to the jet age are “diesel punk” .. so maybe “flapper punk”?

  11. As for the price, it’s easy to spend 17K on a piece of jewelry that’s nothing more than some shiny rocks stuck in a piece of shiny metal.  At least this does something.  As for steampunk, I think the display reads more like a cold-war aircraft radio than anything neovictorian. Put this in a black wrinkle-finish case and it would look amazing. 

      1.  Yes, exactly.  What ever kind of ___punk that look is,  I ‘m one of those punks. 

          1. If we give it a name, then it becomes  “a thing”, and the next thing you know all the good mechanical calculators get turned into clocks and sold on Etsy.  But yeah, I can’t think of a good one, if we were were to give it a name.  Stranglovepunk is the right idea,  but it’s hard to say.  and it kinda sounds dirty.

          2. only the broken ones. and they’ll get turned into functionless jewelry. I’d be half-impressed if a curta were turned into a working clock BUT ALSO SAD

          3. I can dig it. IMAGINE: a marvelous alternate world of atom power, internal combustion and gears even tinier than any imagined by H.G. Welles or Jules Verne. THIS IS CURTAPUNK.

            Bakelite and dymo labels replace brass filigree. Bomber jackets replace pirate capes. And we can still have airships, but they’ll be powered by turboprops. Or they’ll be B-52s.

  12. Ok, now who is going to make plans for a giant, wall-sized replica utilizing a ton of 3d printed components?

    I’ll get on it.

  13. Man an I truly enamored by this… but I don’t think I’d spend the money even if I had it.

    But building an 18 inch high steam powered version… maybe a fun winter project.

  14. I put one of these on my wrist once and it makes a wonderfully pleasing humming sound as it ticks.  It also has a “quiet mode” that moves the belts less often.  It’s a fun watch and a neat ad.

  15. This was looking mildly familar to me.  Just remembered why.  In the 70’s I had a handheld game, “Digital Derby”.  Truth is, it was not at all digital.  The cars were simply printed on plastic belts.  The speed of the belts was controlled by the gear switch.  There were cutouts in the belts where contacts touched to denote a crash.  So, make the belts smaller, drive them at a clock frequency, and there is your watch.  Have a gander  …

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