Metal nanocrystals offer new concepts for the design of nanodevices with a range of potential applications. Currently the formation of metal nanocrystals cannot be controlled at the level of individual atoms. Here we describe a new general method for the fabrication of multi-heteroatom-doped graphitic matrices decorated with very small, ångström-sized, three-dimensional (3D)-metal crystals of defined size. We irradiate boron-rich precious-metal-encapsulated self-spreading polymer micelles with electrons and produce, in real time, a doped graphitic support on which individual osmium atoms hop and migrate to form 3D-nanocrystals, as small as 15 Å in diameter, within 1 h. Crystal growth can be observed, quantified and controlled in real time. We also synthesize the first examples of mixed ruthenium–osmium 3D-nanocrystals. This technology not only allows the production of ångström-sized homo- and hetero-crystals, but also provides new experimental insight into the dynamics of nanocrystals and pathways for their assembly from single atoms.