Introducing Logan Kuan Rao, a 21-Year Old Chinese Independent Watchmaker

And his hand-made Orca wristwatch.

On his way to completing an undergraduate degree in materials science at Imperial College London, Logan Kuan Rao has already finished his wristwatch prototype, several months before graduation. Named the Orca after the design of the movement, the watch was made almost entirely from scratch with traditional methods, save for the case, which was 3D printed in sterling silver.

Born in the city of Shantou in the coastal city of Guangdong, Rao’s path to independent watchmaking began with a childhood interest in the subject that later led him to become a moderator on a Chinese watch forum. While at university in London Rao set up a workshop to produce his first wristwatch, completing the first prototype in 2016. Now the second prototype has been finished – though the final product is still two years away – bringing Rao’s vision closer to reality.

An early Orca prototype (top), and the most recent

As with many other self taught watchmakers, George Daniels seminal Watchmaking was foundational, according to Rao, with trial and error as well as his engineering background providing the rest of his horological education. The culmination of that education is the Orca, a hand-wound wristwatch with a 50-hour power reserve.

With both of his parents architects, Rao’s goal with the Orca was to design a watch that would be as timeless as a well designed building. The result is a simple design ith intriguing details.

The robustly shaped keyless works, still undecorated

Inspired by the orca, the movement has the wheel train bridge shaped like the killer whale, with the Cotes de Geneve representing the ocean’s waves and the perlage the foam. The orca bridge is made of sterling silver, while the main plate and remaining bridges are in German silver.

Logan Kuan Rao Orca watch 4

Notably, much of the movement was hand-made with traditional techniques, without the aid of CNC machines. The jewels, hairspring, mainspring, wheels and shock absorbers were obtained from a watch manufacturer in northern China whose owner Rao is well acquainted with.

Logan Kuan Rao Orca watch 11

All of the components are decorated with traditional techniques, including polished, bevelled edges for the bridges, countersinks for the jewels and screws, and black polishing for certain steel parts. Pictured here is the second prototype, the finished product is expected to be significantly more refined.

Logan Kuan Rao Orca watch 2

Logan Kuan Rao Orca watch 5

Logan Kuan Rao Orca watch 3

The bridges and base plate were made with the techniques explained in the Daniels book: the holes were positioned by a depthing tool and then drilled, before the entire part was sawn out and then filed into shape.

The black polished click spring

The depthing tool used to position the holes in the plates

The lack of visible jewels was a design choice. Rao explains that the jewels are set deeply and the smallest diameter possible, leaving them almost invisible, so as not to detract from the overall shape of the bridges and orca.

The first Orca prototype

More unusual is the case, which is 37mm in diameter and 7.8mm high. It’s 3D printed sterling silver, a process inspired by his time as a student at Imperial College. After the raw case has been printed, Rao tempers it and then polishes it by hand. The case is made up of two pieces, a case middle with an integrated bezel and the case back, creating a seamless and simple style that was Rao’s objective with its design.

Logan Kuan Rao Orca watch 8

The dial is German silver with the hour markers being first shallowly engraved and then filled with black lacquer, while the hands are blued steel, and hand-made naturally.

Logan Kuan Rao Orca watch 7

With his recent graduation, Rao has moved his workshop back to Kunming, with plans to set up a larger facility in the manufacturing hub of Guangzhou in two years. The Orca is still a work in progress – only two prototypes have been completed to date – and Rao expects the first commercially available piece to be ready in 2019 or so. Planned as a limited edition of nine pieces, the Orca will be priced at approximately US$19,000.

Logan Kuan Rao can be reached via email.

Correction September 11, 2017: Logan Kuan Rao is still studying for his undergraduate degree, and has not yet graduated as previously stated. Also, he is from Shantou, and not Kunming.

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