September 14, 2023
T-07: Airlock Crown
The crown serves as the primary point of interaction between an owner and their watch. This article explores the complexities of interacting with tools in the challenging environment of space. From specially designed tools for gloved hands to the significance of "International Orange" in aerospace applications, we dive into the evolving landscape of human-machine harmony in space exploration.

Operating equipment in space

In previous articles of our launch sequence, we touched on various design philosophies and explored the unique challenges that come with expanding life beyond our home planet's atmosphere. These philosophies revolve around principles of simplicity, standardization, reliability, and redundancy. 

However, it's not just about engineering; it's also about how we operate and interact with equipment in space. This inquiry extends into the realm of ergonomics, user interfaces, and the intricate harmony between humans and machines. Astronauts, who stand at the forefront of this exploration, consistently demonstrate their adaptability and innovative spirit when facing the challenges of space.

Making traditional earth-bound tools and mechanisms suitable for space often demands thoughtful adjustments. For example, tools like wrenches would typically rely on gravity to stay in place, but in space, they can easily float away. Cameras designed for stable handheld use on Earth need modifications for steady imaging in the weightless environment. Even seemingly trivial items require careful consideration: in the early days of space travel, standard pens did not work due to the lack of gravity to pull ink down. To address this unprecedented engineering challenge, American inventor Paul C. Fisher therefore developed the Fisher Space Pen, which used a pressurized cartridge to allow astronauts to write in zero gravity, underwater, and in extreme temperatures.

Astronauts have also tackled the intricacies of working with tools while wearing bulky space gloves. Specially designed ergonomic handles, switches, and knobs have been crafted to facilitate manipulation with gloved hands, ensuring that essential tasks can be carried out during spacewalks. As space becomes a more frequently visited destination, the relevance of space-ready gear is growing. This applies to essential life-supporting equipment as well as lifestyle products that enhance general comfort.

Official crew portrait for the Artemis II mission, from left: NASA Astronauts Christina Koch, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman, Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Jeremy Hansen.

International Orange: bridging technical and spiritual realms

"International Orange" is a specific shade of bright reddish-orange color, widely used in aerospace and engineering for its high visibility. This visibility makes critical tools easier to locate and identify, particularly in emergency situations. Aircraft evacuation slides, life vests, and emergency locator beacons often feature International Orange to ensure passengers and rescue teams can quickly spot and access them. Space-related equipment, such as astronaut suits and capsules, may also incorporate it for safety and visibility in space missions. One of the most famous examples of International Orange is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, whose paint enhances visibility for ships through the thick “Karl” fog.

Aside from technical and aerospace applications, the color orange also has a “cosmic” dimension in the domain of spirituality. In Hinduism, orange (traditionally made from saffron) is considered a sacred color and is often associated with fire and the purity of the soul. Similarly in Buddhism, monks and nuns often wear saffron-colored robes, which symbolizes renunciation and humility.

In some spiritual contexts, the changing colors of the natural world are seen as reflections of deeper spiritual truths; in the fall, when leaves turn orange, this color might symbolize transformation, change, and the cyclical nature of life and death. From a psychological standpoint, orange is often considered an energetic and vibrant color that can evoke feelings of warmth, enthusiasm, and vitality. 

For us at Barrelhand, International Orange has become our signature color both for its technical and personal meaning.

Our Co-Founder Michael during a spiritual retreat in Hampi, India. The color orange has a long tradition in Hinduism and is traditionally made from saffron.

The Airlock Crown

Between an owner and their watch, the crown is the primary point of interaction. It directly connects you to the intricate mechanics and heart of the watch. Continuing with the Barrelhand tradition established in Project One, the airlock crown of Monolith features a vibrant shade of International Orange. This is achieved through hard anodizing to enhance the crown both visually and functionally.

Hard anodizing, also known as Type III anodizing, is an electrochemical process used to create a thick and durable oxide layer on the surface of certain metals, most commonly aluminum. Unlike regular anodizing, which produces a thinner and more decorative oxide layer, hard anodizing is primarily employed to enhance the material's hardness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance.

Made of 6061 aluminum, the airlock crown stands out not only visually but also in size. At a diameter of 8mm, it is much larger than traditional crowns to allow for better grip when using thick gloves or during difficult conditions. Skeletonized crown guards provide extra protection against impact and accidental release when the crown is not in use. 

While it’s been common for most tool watches to feature a screw down crown, Monolith has a simple airlock crown system that allows the watch to be wound or even set in any environment. For dive watches, in particular, the screw-down crown is meant to protect against an accidental release under water, which would result in flooding the movement. In contrast, the airlock crown allows you to wind and set the time in a wide range of pressure conditions - whether you're below the sea or out in space.

The unique system of gaskets allow the Airlock Crown to be popped out during various pressure conditions. This allows the crown to be operated even while fully submerged under water.
To provide optimal security during a wide range of pressure and temperature conditions, we are researching the application of a silicone elastomer, based on Parker Seal's S0383-70 material, which is approved for use on the International Space Station (ISS). We already use this material for the Monolith Caseback and are now exploring its feasibility for dynamic seal applications, like a rotating crown.
The color of the Golden Gate Bridge, known as "International Orange," was chosen not only for its striking appearance but also for its visibility in the frequent fog that envelops San Francisco Bay.
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