Thursday, January 22, 2015

Message from President of American Watch and Clock Institute

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

~John F. Kennedy

One day King Solomon summoned his goldsmith because he wanted a special ring made. Upon arrival, the goldsmith asked, “What can I do for you, old wise one?” The mighty king responded, “I want you to make me a grand ring, one like no one has ever seen before. Make it of the finest gold you can find. I want it engraved with the most prophetic statement you can think of.” What a charge to be given to the goldsmith. He thought, “Wow, what can I as a goldsmith do to honor such a mighty person as King Solomon?” He gave it a lot of thought. After hours of thinking, he came up with “THIS TOO SHALL PASS.”

In the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s, America was the premier watch manufacturer in the world. They made watches by the thousands from 1852 till 1957. American Waltham Watch Co. made 35 million watches from 1867 to 1956. Elgin produced 55 million. Hamilton, from 1893 to 1942, produced almost 4 million. After 1942, they changed their numbering system. They continued to make watches until 1969; their last model was the 992B. They stopped manufacturing at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and so ended the era of watch production in the US. “THIS TOO SHALL PASS.”

During the heyday of American watchmaking, the Swiss were getting on the bandwagon with watches whose names sounded American-made, such as Hampton Watch Company [not Hampden], Rockville Watch Co., H.W. Co., or W.W. Co. These fooled many customers into thinking they had bought an American watch. The Swiss started making better-quality pieces, and so they made an inroad into the US market. Bulova, Gruen, Omega, Font, Felsa, A. Schild, ETA, and many other brands and ebauches came into being during those years. Parts were readily available, both genuine and generic, from your local material houses. After World War II many people went to watchmaking School on the GI Bill. This produced a flood of watchmakers in the marketplace, and as a result, watchmakers cut their prices so drastically that it was hard to make a living.

In the 1960s the Accutron and the electric watch came out, and then the quartz watch made its debut. That was the end of watchmaking to many craftspeople, so they left the trade and sought other ways to make a living. Those who stayed with it found that the quartz watch needed repair, and there still was Uncle Joe who liked his watch that ticked, and the family heirloom that needed restoring. And they found that they could charge a fair price for their labor.

With the manufacture of so many cheap quartz watches, many people said it was the end of the mechanical watch. “THIS TOO HAS PASSED.” The mechanical watch has made a strong resurgence in the marketplace. Thus the need for a watchmaker who is qualified to work on these timepieces is stronger than ever. The parts issue will be with us until the demand from the customer is so loud that it starts to hurt the sale of watches. In time “THIS TOO SHALL COME TO PASS.”

This short overview demonstrates the challenges in the ever changing world of horology which we are all to face, watchmakers and collectors alike.

While our American colleagues are clearly disappointed with their loss in horological dominance, I doubt that they will ever rise back to their previous glory. The reason is not a lack of skill or enthusiasm, but the dramatic change in horology. It has been at almost a decade since we switched from mechanical timekeeping to smart phone clocks. To be dominant, you need to produce in volume. And that volume will come from Asia, not the US.

Of course, for watch owner, maker and repairer, a mechanical watch will remain a source of inspiration. We already see a number of micro watchmakers entering the market, especially in the US and Europe. Their challenge does not lie in their ability to capture market share, but to produce a quality watch. In any case, the next decade of horology will be the one to watch, and then, this too shall pass.

The Invisible Force

A couple of hours ago a parcel arrived at our workshop. It contained a rebelde watch from the very first batch, assembled on June 24 this year. The watch was performing fine until recently, when unexpectedly it started to gain 4 minutes per day. Obviously, everything else was put aside and I was extremely curious to find out what went wrong with this rebelde.

The watch was placed on the timing machine which detects the ‘heartbeat’ and measures its 3 vital parameters. It is an irreplaceable diagnostic tool, and yes, the watch was gaining a considerable amount of time and the amplitude was very low. To put it simply, it performed like a runner struggling to race while carrying 2 cement bags on his shoulders.

There are a number of causes which could translate to such a poor performance, but all of them point to the balance wheel assembly, which is the heart of the watch. A possible tangled hairspring, a cracked jewel, bent balance staff: all of them are shock-related issues.

I started disassembling the watch looking for an obvious mechanical problem, and to my surprise, I just couldn’t find any. Mechanically, the rebelde looked perfect.

And then something unexpected happened. After removing the hands, the hour and minute hands appeared to be stuck together held by an invisible force. The watch was possessed. MAGNETISM!

Magnetism is a nightmare for watchmakers because it is the only problem you cannot see. The magnetized hands was not the problem in itself, but rather a symptom that the entire watch had become magnetic. Thankfully, there is an easy remedy – it just needed to be passed through the demagnetizer and once again it was performing perfectly.

The entire repair process took 60 minutes, and half of that time was spent looking for my demagnetizer, a tool for which I rarely have a need. What we can learn from this is that like any mechanical device, watches are sensitive to strong magnetic fields. Sources of that field could be large speakers, power supplies, large TVs or MRI machines. No watch, regardless of brand, is immune to a magnetic field.

Of course while this is not a manufacturer’s problem, I was more than happy to restore the rebelde free of charge. My reward is this opportunity to talk about the problem and educate our customers – which is priceless. Rebelde: robust and reliable, like many. Repairable like no other.

Rebelde has done it again

A few weeks ago we shared with you a story about the tannery/leather manufacturer from Chicago, the Horween company. It has been producing the finest leather for four generations and it’s now one of the last remaining tanneries in the USA. As you know, we are just days away from the delivery of the first Rebelde Horween straps.

While we are waiting for the straps, we continue to explore other materials for Rebelde and have come across Horween horse leather.

“Genuine Horween Shell Cordovan is the art of tanning at its finest. More than just a color, it is a very specific leather, from a particular part of a horsehide. The irregular oval shaped shells are tanned, stuffed, shaved, and then polished – a process taking at least six months. Each shell is slowly steeped in gentle vegetable liquors. The shells are genuine hot stuffed then slicked onto glass frames to dry. Each shell is hand curried and shaved by highly skilled artisans to expose the shell. Dyes are hand rubbed on for a deep aniline finish. Finally, the shells are hand glazed to achieve the rich, glossy look and feel prized by fine craftsmen.”

It is not only the process of tanning the leather that is special - it’s the fact that a leather strap made from horse can last for many years. The watch strap can be buffed and re-stitched so it looks and feels better with age. At the moment we only have four black and three brown straps. This is all that we were able to secure so far.

This leather strap is for those Rebelde owners who want nothing but the best. The price is $199 with buckle included.

At the moment the strap only comes in a Long size to fit 19-22cm wrists. We expect another delivery in about three months but the quantity will always remain as a few pieces per delivery.

Once again, we are extremely proud that we can offer our Rebelde customers unparalleled horological experience in Australia.

New arrival: Rebelde NH BlueJ leather strap

CODE: BlueJ XL

Top layer: stone washed blue jeans

Underlay: genuine Italian leather, black, stamped

Stitching: 3-way

Buckle: Rebelde

Size: XL [to fit 19 to 22 cm wrist]

Width: 22mm, to fit Control Tower and Pilots model

Strap: $88

Buckle: $15

IN STOCK!

A Piece Of Fame

We have landed a "piece of fame" in the December Jetstar magazine edition. If any of you subscribers happen to be on a Jetstar flight, please grab a copy and send it to me. The magazines will be carefully rewrapped and sent as Christmas presents to my non English-speaking overseas relatives! However, please refrain from taking the emergency landing sheet as they are integral to flight safety.

No hard feelings, but we wasted more than two weeks exchanging endless emails and hours talking over the phone for a piece that can be best described as light flight entertainment. I even had to provide photos! I was not allowed to see the article before it went to press. Apparently that is a standard rule in journalism, which is fine with me but if that's the case, I'm not doing any more interviews ever.

After all, those who care already know what needs to be known about rebelde. And for the rest, they will find out once they are ready to find out.

Rebelde Buckles

The Rebelde buckles have arrived today. If you are in the CBD, bring in your Rebelde and we will fit your free buckle, free of charge! For interstate customers: you will receive your buckle in the mail- plus your second strap (if you have not received one at the time of sale). Of course, delivery will also be free of charge.

In case you want to buy a spare buckle, they are $15 each. You will have to call us with your credit card details and indicate whether you would prefer brush or gloss finish.

The buckles are solid 316L surgical grade stainless steel, nickel free.

Of course the blue protection tape is just there to protect it from scratching before/during installation.

Congratulations to our manufacturer who produced and delivered them in exactly 4 months' time as per our original schedule.

Visitors

Yesterday I had two young visitors - men in their early twenties.

They represented a business which 'specialized' in watches. Namely, consignments. In essence, they needed someone who could provide valuations for the watches they accept for sale, verifying that the watches are genuine.

"So you are licensed second hand dealers, right?" I asked. "Yes" said the one on the left. "No" said the one on the right. "And you collect, record and submit the details of the customers and of the watches to the Police, every day, as per your requirement as second hand dealers?

This time the man on the left said 'no' and the other one said 'yes'.

The situation was seriously comical. At least for me.

"We can pay you for your service" said both, in unison.

But dealing in second hand watches is not just about money. It has lot to do with responsibility, expertise, building your own reputation and above all - doing it right way. I tried to explain that having a second hand dealers licence is an absolute must. Licensing and record keeping is not optional. It is the way how the NSW Government keeps the bastards honest - me included.

Somehow, my words got lost in translation. Based on their facial expressions I think they thought I was not interested because I fear competition - or something along those lines.

I grew up in a city of 50,000. And the city was cursed with no less than 7 watchmakers, each of them trying his best to make an honest living, heavily competing with each other. Competition is good. Actually competition is the best thing that could ever happen to a watchmaker or a watch dealer. I wish there are not 3 but 30 dealers in Sydney. Thirty registered experts that is.

"So you can not do valuations?" asked the smart one.

Yes I can. But doing a valuation for the competition does not make sense.

When you pay money to watch Nadal playing Federer, you don't expect to see Novak Djokovic serving of behalf of Nadal. That just does not make sense. People buy watches from the Rolex Boutique because they love Rolex boutique. They buy watches from NH because they trust NH. And they will buy watches from YOU because they will trust you. It's simple as that.

Learn, struggle, sweat and make mistakes. Learn fast and become an expert. Life is not a Hollywood show where you can call in an expert or friend to verify and tell you how much it is worth and what to do. That is YOUR job. And whatever you do, and before you do it, register yourself properly.

They left empty-handed and disappointed. But they are young, and hopefully one day, they will get it.

Western Electric and Jaeger LeCoultre

Western Electric was the manufacturing arm for AT&T during the 1920s and 30s, producing some of the finest, most authentic sound gear for cinemas and recording use. W.E. was AT&T’s “Black op” equivalent for the CIA, they manned hundreds of top-graduate engineers in discrete teams with the goal to produce the highest quality audio reproduction systems. Their laboratories were said to be the most advanced in the world at that time. W.E.’s golden years, the same years that Henry Ford invented the production line and optical and disk tapes were becoming popularised in cinema audio, are widely acknowledged to be the peak in research and development for audio gear. Western Electric developed incredible horn-based drivers and low frequency bass drivers, but sadly the effort was not recognised until nearly 80 years later.

It is a sad story, one of massive waste and disappointment. To set the scene. Early cinemas had just experienced their first taste of music in film, and consumer demand for sound in motion pictures was very high. Everyone wanted to hear the latest jazz standard alongside the lead actor’s usually silent performance. Cinema owners jumped at the opportunity to advertise their theatres as being: “equipped in-exhaustible live band”, or “Phono-ready!” These early systems were developed by telephone engineers who used earpiece technologies that were enlarged. These systems had poor frequency response and lacked clarity, but to the casual cinema goer and business savvy theatre owner, that did not matter. They had SOUND!

The story develops. By 1926 the first Western Electric speaker systems, labelled as the Westrex (Western Electric Export), were released to the public. Years of research and development went into creating hi fidelity drivers, amplifiers and horns. Very high quality audio reproduction. And no one bought them.

The already existing systems in cinemas were performing to everyone’s expectations and the new, vastly improved, systems were far too expensive to be justifiable replacements. People were content with mediocrity, yet audio nirvana was just around the corner. However, W.E.’s speakers were not a complete failure. They released nearly 6 more publicly available systems, the most notable ones being the Mirrophonic 1, 2 and 3. By the mid 1940’s AT&T realised the massive research, development costs and low consumer expectations for audio systems meant that the market for hi-fidelity audio gear was not profitable. W.E. stopped producing the cinema systems on large scales by 1941 and stopped all audio production by the mid-1950s.

The crux. Audiophiles are a strange breed, not unlike watch collectors. Both are crazy, irrational creatures who thrive on scarcity and the idea of being unique. Both love the idea of being separate from the masses, having something no one else has. Both have a very keen eye in regards to quality and accuracy. The small production runs, combined with the fact that many systems were destroyed or irreversibly damaged over the decades, means that W.E. cinema speakers are extremely rare to the point where complete systems stretch far into the six figure range. The speakers are rare, unique, no one has them and are widely regarded to lie on top of the pile in terms of quality. In a paradoxical shift in supply and demand, rare objects like our aforementioned W.E. speakers or a vintage time-piece experience massive jumps in price because they are good. Simply good.

If there is one horological timepiece wherein we can draw a parallel to the W.E. story, it would the Atmos clock, engineered and developed by Jaeger Le Coultre.

The beauty of an Atmos clock is that it runs on minimal external energy input. Unlike many clocks, which need to be wound by hand, the Atmos clock uses the idea that changes in barometric pressure affect how much space a gas occupies. A gas is hermetically sealed in a chamber with a set of “bellows” on one end, and as it expands and contracts due to changes in ambient pressure, it winds a mainspring via a small mechanism. The real genius lies in how little energy the clock uses to operate. Instead of 18,000 or 28,800 beats per hour (normally associated with wrist watch mechanisms), the Atmos averages around 120 bph! It is an incredible feat of engineering to have such little energy consumption and such accurate time keeping.

The Atmos clock as we see it today is not quite the original design. A barometrically operated clock was developed by a Dutch inventor, Cornelis Drebel, in the early 1600s. The design developed over the next 300 years, ultimately culminating into a very close prototype to the clock we see today. Jean Leon Reutter, a Swiss engineer developed the first “Atmos” prototype, and started to commercially produce the mechanism under a French company, Compagnie Générale de Radio. Jaeger-LeCoultre overtook production on 27 July 1935. Simultaneously JLC developed a far more efficient design, using ethyl chloride as a substitute for mercury and ammonia vapour, which made the Atmos clock one of the finest horological instruments of its time.

Over the next five decades the Atmos clock was not a commercial success as simpler , more reliable mechanisms existed, and high quality, scientifically accurate devices were not necessarily desired. Much like the W.E. cinema speakers, the Atmos clock was by no means a failure (over 500,000 were manufactured), but its true brilliance and raw potential as an incredible instrument simply flew under the radar. People were content with mediocrity.

Of course both the cinema speakers and the Atmos have their draw-backs: they are both very difficult to service and maintain, they are very expensive and have been superseded by cheaper alternatives, yet for a true a collector and for someone who appreciates fine engineering and intricate mechanics, there is no substitute. We do not settle for mediocrity.

Water for Life

East Timor is one of the poorest countries in the Asian region, and Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita. Among our closest neighbors, it goes without saying that East Timor deserves and needs our assistance. As you know, we are in a partnership with the Timor Leste Health Fund based in the University of Sydney, but we are still looking for another project.

Being a mechanically minded person, I was searching for a scheme that would incorporate some kind of engineering aspect to its plan. After doing some research, I found that ADRA, an International Humanitarian organisation, is working on a project called ‘Clean Water’.

Basically, they target increasing the fresh water supply to the East Timor communities by digging wells and installing hand pumps. The ADRA East Timor Team is young and enthusiastic, and I’m really in favor of what they do. I called ADRA’s head office in Dili and you can imagine my surprise when the project manager who answered my call turned out to be a young man called Ben from Adelaide. Naturally, we clicked straight away, and in a few weeks from now, Rebelde will have its own well and pump installed in Viqueque.

There are a number of challenges associated with this project, the main one being well-digging. Ben explains what it's all about:

“In regards to our proposed plan, we are planning on constructing our own low cost, locally made, and easily used drilling rig that can be used to drill bore wells from at least 15-25 meters deep. The benefit of this system is that we don't have to use the expensive drilling companies which charge from $5000 - $20000 for just one bore well. Also, community members can help in the process, and if the drill bits break, we can easily fix them, or make others as we've found a welding company that can make the necessary parts. In terms of the hand pump, casing and filter, we can purchase the widely used dragon hand pump. Just yesterday at my house there was no power for the day, so all the electric bore wells couldn't function, however, just down the road the people were using the dragon hand pump (or at least a similar model) manually so that they could wash and use the water for latrines, etc, another benefit. These are very easily repairable as the pump is above the ground level, so no need to spend lots of time pulling the whole thing out of the ground, etc, and the spare parts (rubber / leather and washers) used can be found almost anyway."

Ben also enclosed a few photos of the pumps ADRA installed just recently.

Geneva Waves

For the first time in many months, I am speechless. The Geneva Waves finish, also known as Côtes de Genève, is characterized by a series of arc-grained bars etched lightly onto a highly polished surface, creating a wave-like effect. This particular finish, which is purely for aesthetic purposes, was historically reserved only for the embellishment of high-grade movements.

The Whille Unitas movement that we use in the Rebelde watch is more of a robust and reliable workhorse than a show pony; our Swiss supplier is working hard to impress us. All the movements used so far have 9 stripes, with the central stripe being positioned over the middle (centre) minute wheel.

I also have a few more movements with 18 stripes. But it is not the number of stripes that matter: it is the overall precision of polishing and arc 'grain' that makes the finish attractive. A detail like this is what separates Rebelde from many other Swiss-made watches.

Like No Other

A truly unique artwork that caught our attention emerged at the Gallery of New South Wales' exhibition "European Prints and Drawings 1500-1900" a couple of weeks ago. It's hard to believe such a print was produced in 1649.

The title of the work is aptly named "Like no Other" which is a fantastic play on words, with a triple meaning. Firstly it depicts Jesus who was a man like no other. It was created by a technique never seen before so the artwork is also like no other. Finally the artist, Claude Mellan, believed that nobody would ever be able to recreate the masterpiece in the same style, making himself 'like no other'.

What does this have to do with watches? The answer is that here lies a piece of exceptional workmanship. It took Mellan years to make, and is more a thing of dedication and precision than creative freedom. Consisting of a single spiral varying in thickness to form the features of the print, parallels are drawn to the coiled "heart" of the mechanical watch. Thus of course any watch enthusiast would be attracted to a piece like this.

Irreducible Complexity

*** Word of thoughts ***

The concept of irreducible complexity is not a new one, but I can’t get enough of it.

What is it all about? In three words, it is: “brilliance of simplicity” or designing and manufacturing products which are just complex enough to do what they are engineered to do and nothing more than that.

Your Rebelde is a perfect example of a timepiece which consists of exactly as many components as it needs to have to function. If you take one component out of it, it will no longer become a watch. Of course you can add as many bells and whistles as you want, but the more you add the further you stray away from irreducible complexity.

Our life is cluttered with unwanted and unnecessary things.

Why is it that every new version of an email client comes with 50 new tabs and buttons that you don’t really want? Why does my microwave need to tell me the weather forecast for the next week? Why does my fridge need to be able to browse the web? Why is 4.0 better than 3.0?

The fact remains that my 1965 Olympia typewriter, with all its short-comings, still provides me with far greater pleasure than any Microsoft word processor.

Back to your Rebelde.

There is actually one component which can be removed, and that is the seconds hand. However this will come at a price. If I remove the seconds hand, you would no longer be able to read seconds.

So here is my question-If I remove the seconds hand would your Rebelde become less precise or less accurate?

We tackle the subject regarding precision and accuracy at our watch talk night nights, and the discussion ensues is always an interesting one.

So what is your answer? Without the seconds hand, have we lost precision or accuracy?

Unique Oysterquartz

Originally the first battery-operated Rolex watches issued before the 70s used the Beta 21 movement. Finding this unreliable and difficult to service, Rolex began to develop their own proprietary movement. After 5 years of research and development, Rolex issued one of the most "over-engineered" quartz movements ever to be made, the calibre 5053.

Quartz movements are affected greatly by shifts in temperature, which alter the oscillating frequency of the crystal. Rolex overcame this problem by introducing a thermistor to the circuit which detected the ambient temperature of the movement and its case, and altered the voltage supplied to the crystal. Furthermore, a series of sensors accommodated for gradual shifts in frequency response of the crystal over time, which greatly increased accuracy. Think of this movement as today's electric cars, the Tesla of watches.

The Oysterquartz we have for sale today is a strange beast. It is not only a gold and steel combination, (which at the time was significantly more expensive than the stainless steel version) but it is also fitted with a custom made sapphire-studded bezel. Now I need to state something obvious: the bezel was not made by Rolex. In general I don’t deal with watches which have non-Rolex components, but reverting this Oysterquartz into its original condition (finding original plain bezel) is just impossible.

See beyond expectation.

Rolex and speed never go together well

Is this the pride and joy of a Ducati or a Vespa rider? We have no idea but anyway, we wish him a speedy recovery. Whatever the story behind its sorry state, the owner must be kicking themselves. The crystal, bezel and entire middle case are a write-off, which is half of the watch.

Think of this whenever you find a scratch or tarnish on your beloved timepiece.

Our Bright Assistant

***The easiest job in the world has to be Mark’s new assignment.***

Believe it or not, we actually pay him to wear our Rebelde for six hours a day. Mark is our new assistant and Rebelde test driver. Welcome to our team, mate.