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Wigart & Co. SKF ROYO Med ball bearing yo-yo
Exhibit #3659
ConstructionMulti-piece plastic
Diameter57 mm
Width29 mm
Weight54 gm
OwnerRick Brough

The SKF (Svenska Kullagerfabriken) ROYO yo-yo with miniature ball bearing axle from the mid 1980s.

SKF of Gothenburg, Sweden is not known as a toy maker and never has been. In fact, they develop, design, and manufacture bearings, seals, and lubrication systems, among many other industrial products. In this particular case, SKF manufactured compact, high-performance miniature ball bearings that were ideal for various medical uses. In the mid-1980s, SKF introduced plastic and wooden yo-yos that had miniature SKF ball bearing axles in them. Why they did this is not entirely clear. Perhaps it was a clever way to advertise their miniature bearings. At any rate, the yo-yos were available only in Europe. Based on the instruction sheet that came with the yo-yo, it appears that Wigart AB of Helsingborg, Sweden, a long established toy and textile company, may have been the actual maker (and designer?) of the yo-yo itself. Wigart & Co. was number two in the toy industry, after Brio. The opposite side of the yo-yo is imprinted with ROYO in red. I'm still trying to track down what "royo" is. A yo-yo collector in Sweden did not know.

Whether these early ball bearing yo-yos were intended as advertising give-aways by SKF at places like conventions (medical?) and petrol stations, or sold in retail stores, is not known. The plastic version of their yo-yo (seen in this exhibit), had flat rims with a hockey puck profile. The inner face of each halve was hollowed out leaving the perimeter of the rims weighted, probably not for performance reasons but more to save weight/plastic on the bulky design. The yo-yo was not a take apart model either. Instead, a hollow brass axle tube was used to rivet the two halves together. The ball bearing was pre-installed over the hollow tube before riveting. The tube and ball bearing together functioned much like the transaxle system of a Yomega Fireball yo-yo. Both halves on the model in this exhibit can rotate clockwise and counter-clockwise on the axle, independently of each other. Whether this oddity is by design or, over time, the halves have just become slightly loose around the hollow axle, is unknown. It is more likely the latter. Regardless, the body remains snug on the axle with no wobbling of either halve from side to side.

To my knowledge, these SKF bearing yo-yos were never patented (neither was the Tom Kuhn SB-2). In terms of play performance, they were quite poor. Still, these long spinning yo-yos–compared to any other yo-yo–were very unique; there was nothing else like them at the time. Interestingly, SKF's History timeline makes no mention of these yo-yos, further suggesting that they were intended merely as a novelty rather than a true market disruptive toy.

While the SKF yo-yos are generally considered the first of their kind, all that would change approximately four to six years later with the introduction of the Tom Kuhn Turbo-Yo prototypes in July, 1990. And finally, the release of the Tom Kuhn SB-2 in November, 1990. Their take-apart design, optional weight rings, aircraft aluminum body, ball bearing axle, and adjustable string gap were truly disruptive in a world that had known wooden and plastic fixed axle yo-yos for more than 60 years. The SB-2 meant you could do both string tricks and looping with it which was not at all possible with the SKF bearing yo-yos.

SKF bearing yo-yos were released in numerous variations. Some were bagged with a header card and had a solid SKF-blue band going around the face, with "SKF" in yellow; some were made out of wood and painted in solid colors, then display boxed; some were imprinted with a gas station brand, and some were imprinted only with "SKF".

These yo-yos are not quite as hard to find as you might think, especially in the United States. In terms of value, a collector in Sweden said he bought one in new condition for the equivalent of $25 US, at a flea market.

The original instruction sheet that came with the yo-yo described how to install the string on the miniature bearing.

Original text in Swedish:
"Nya ROYO med

1 Tvinna upp snöret 1 den Ànda
som inte har nÄgon knut och
gör en stor ögla.

2 HÀll öglan hÄrt utspÀnd och
trÀd den över jo-jon.

3 SpÀnn snöret för att inga
knutar ska uppstÄ.

4 LÄt snöret spinna tillbaka av sig
sjÀlvt och strÀck det sedan hÄrt
en gÄng till.

Om jo-jon inte fungerar har du trots
allt fÄtt knutar pÄ snöret. Gör dÄ
om hela proceduren."

English translation:
"New ROYO med precision ball bearing. (perhaps 'med' meant 'medical'?)

1. Twist the string at the end which has no knot and makes a large loop.

2. Hold the loop taut and tree it over the yo-yo axle.

3. Tighten the string so that there are no knots.

4. Let the string spin back off yourself and then stretch it hard one more time.

If the yo-yo does not work, you likely have got knots in the string. Do the steps above again."

Of historical interest...
‱ First use of a ball bearing yo-yo, but enclosed by a doll.
‱ First true ball bearing yo-yo. While the patent was issued, the yo-yo was never put into actual production.
Other Views
Close-up of bearing and hollow axle
Side B, face
Instruction sheet

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