Watch Out for Art. Startup Luxury Watchmaker Perfectly Renders $42,000 Timepiece.

XRby nails appearance of art watch with ANSYS SPEOS physics-based light simulation.

Photorealistically rendered image of XRby’s Rose Saneuil N°1 watch: The Quetzal. (Image courtesy of XRby.)

Photorealistically rendered image of XRby’s Rose Saneuil N°1 watch: The Quetzal. (Image courtesy of XRby.)

During the 1970s, baby boomers were quick to give up their traditional wind-up watches with mechanical movements and replace them with watches that featured batteries and quartz crystals. It was a no-brainer: the least expensive quartz watches were more accurate than the most expensive Swiss watches. The watch industry called it the quartz crisis. It got worse. Generation Xers, with smartphones always in hand that always showed the time, saw no need to duplicate the timekeeping functions on their wrists. By the new millennium, watches had practically gone out of style, seen only on the old, the rich or the status conscious. The comeback came from an unexpected watchmaker: Apple, with its smartwatch—a multifunction computer on the wrist for which timekeeping is merely incidental.

Several Swiss watch companies found a defensible, high ground with ultra-expensive watches. Luxury watch brands used exquisite craftsmanship and precise mechanical movement that literally moved on jewels (ruby or sapphire bearings) to create the necessary je ne sais quoi for a wealthy clientele that allowed them to stay in business. But with expensive smartwatches appearing on more and more of the wrists of the well-off, luxury watchmakers looked for a way to keep their vaunted positions.

Enter métiers d’art, literally “professionals of art,” a designation adopted by fashion houses (Chanel) and watchmakers (first by Vacheron Constantin and, in this case, newcomer XRby) to decorate their goods with art. By adding art to watch faces, where once exquisitely painted numbers and tick marks were sufficient, watchmakers hope the rich and fashionable will have more reason to wear luxury on their wrists.

These luxury watches incorporate distinctive materials, including enamel, scrimshaw, marquetry—and even feathers. Each one requires a level of detail and handwork that allows only a limited number to be crafted, adding further to their prestige.

Nestled in the Jura Mountains of the Swiss Alps, watchmaker XRby creates métiers d’art mechanical wristwatches using raw materials such as organic fibers and precious stones. Not only does it impart exclusivity to the watch but also aligns with a sustainability initiative of Xavier Rousset, founder at XRby, who strives to “produce only what is sold.”

However, each design requires a physical prototype that can be marketed to customers. But what if the design did not turn out exactly as intended? What if a new type of material does not give the expected look or feel? Iterations of development cost valuable time, the artisans waste costly materials, which runs counter to the company’s sustainability initiative.

XRby decided to do something innovative and turned to the Ansys Startup Program. The program was created to assist early-stage startups with full access to Ansys simulation software solutions so they can build virtual prototypes of their products.

Of particular interest to XRby was Ansys SPEOS, which uses high-performance computing (HPC) to simulate light interactions with different materials, generating physics-based renderings that come close to showing the product as it would appear in the real world.

XRby was able to simulate virtual prototypes that helped their engineers experiment with watch concepts, analyze light reflection, and rapidly test numerous aesthetic options to achieve their optimum design. In this process, they tried different sapphire thicknesses and edge angles in the watch crystal for aesthetics, tested several watch assemblies, and assessed more than 100 materials and elements to arrive at a final watch design.

A render of XRby’s wristwatch in SPEOS. (Video courtesy of Ansys.)

“Adopting an Industry 4.0 approach and using SPEOS helped our engineers design a beautiful canvas less than two inches wide, conserve natural resources and introduce a new luxury brand to targeted elite clientele in a purely virtual manner,” said Rousset. “With SPEOS, our engineers selected the optimal materials, shapes and decorations for the watch’s designs in mere hours, compared to traditional simulations, which may require days to deliver the same results.”

“SPEOS helps XRby perform accurate texture mapping to create next-generation optical simulations that demonstrate how their material choices will behave across numerous environments,” said Yvain Ballini, CEO at CADFEM France, XRby’s dedicated Ansys channel partner. “This helps them perfect the physical appearance of their extremely unique watch under practically any possible lighting scenario.”

“Using SPEOS through the Ansys Startup Program equips XRby with a state-of-the-art, Industry 4.0 method for simulating photons’ path across physical matter and creating an image just as it would be perceived by the human eye,” said Shane Emswiler, senior vice president at Ansys. “This helps slash development time, drives enhanced decision-making during the design phase and delivers unique product customizations for a highly discerning market.”

XRby, with the help of SPEOS, was able to understand how watch designs would appear in real-world lighting and usage conditions, bringing state-of-the-art technology into an industry that is hundreds of years old. We don’t know if the company will be successful in turning the tide against smartwatches, but at a cost of over $42,000 (for the N°1), turning the tide with a mass-produced watch is not what a startup luxury watch company is about.