Friday, July 13, 2018

MK1 winding crown problem solved

It was clear: the 6mm crown was simply too small. And a number of you jumped in saying the 9mm crown on our current models was simply too large for your wrist, literally begging us not to go XL. I agree.  Well, it's either going to be 7mm or 8mm. And, then, after putting our thoughts on paper, it became obvious that there was no way for us to figure out which size is going to be perfect. Solution: we are now commissioning both sizes - 7mm AND 8mm - so MK1 owners will have the option to select the perfect size for their wrist. The overall cost increase to the project is $24 per watch which I believe is a small price to pay for such a brilliant solution.
We ask, we share, and, most importantly of all, we listen - and we do what you want us to do. And this is precisely what micro watch brands are all about.
And while we are still on the Mark1, I would like to share a photo of the calendar wheel cover plate just to demonstrate a simple point.  The mechanism that we will be fitting in Mark1 is custom-finished in Switzerland by one of the top movement manufacturers.  While the rotor side is as finely decorated as the movement that IWC uses in their watches, it is the reverse side that shows the attention to detail and the overall quality.  Our calendar wheel cover plate is hand-decorated with a perlage finish.  A small, but not unimportant, detail and certainly not something that anyone will ever see except the watchmaker who will assemble your watch.  And here is another detail which is actually very important.  Our movement is fitted with 25 jewels while IWC count is 21.  Plus our movement is adjusted to pass Swiss chronometer certification but the fact that the watch is going to be assembled in Australia, it won't come with a piece of paper saying so.  But you do know that and that is the only thing that matters.
Nevertheless, as an owner of an MK1 you can be proud of the fact that no-one can say that your watch is inferior to an IWC. In fact, the contrary. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

What a night

A mixed crowd of watchmakers, machinists and watch enthusiasts gathered together once again, this time in Brookvale, for a night of horological fun last night. And what fun it was! We started at 6:30 with dinner, then proceeded with 3 presentations - then mingled together, and finally enjoyed a CNC mill demonstration, with the last guests leaving close to midnight!  Actually we were so busy that none of us even thought of taking a photo or two. In one word: a success!
Since our intention is to keep our workshop doors open and continue with horological gatherings on a monthly basis, our next gathering will take place on a Sunday, at 11am (date to be confirmed, most likely the end of August).  Switching from Wednesday to Sunday will allow us to be more flexible with time. Obviously, we are proud of the fact that we can offer such a unique opportunity to colleagues and collectors - so if you are interested to join us next time, RSVP early. Email us directly for programme details and to RSVP your spot.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

New financial year - same goals

A small business is like a living organism: constantly changing, evolving, growing - or at times stagnating or shrinking.  For us, the past few months stretched our limited resources to maximum – and it was all about just two things: setting up the workshop and learning how to use machinery. The good news is that we are entering a new financial year feeling relieved, knowing that the workshop is (almost) completed.
On the other hand, the side of the business which suffered was the assembly of rebelde watches. Only 20 watches have been assembled in the past 6 months.  In some cases, the waiting time was 3 months rather than the 3 weeks promised, but rebelde owners were very sympathetic and supportive so delivery time was not an issue.
However, my intention is to spend more time behind the bench and increase output to at least 10 watches per month. As far as range is concerned: I am running low on cases for classic Pilots (ribbed bezel, $2,500) steel model so when the current batch is completed there will be at least a year before new cases will be manufactured and delivered. The time to order one is - now.
Our flagship model F ('fifty' $5,000) has been almost sold out. This piece is the only watch in the world guaranteed for 50 years where all servicing, labour and parts are included in the purchase price. Less than 10 pieces are still available and there are no immediate plans to offer another batch any time soon.
The situation is bit more 'comfortable' with W batch (steel, smooth bezel, $2,500). The latest Titanium batch is the only Titanium model D in production. It comes with black dial and red seconds hand at 9 o'clock. It is fitted with a 'premium Swiss movement, swan neck regulator and gold balance wheel - same as in the fifty model  - with a price tag of $3,500. There are plenty of available serial numbers! 
Finally, I am yet to assemble the last couple of 18K gold pieces. I’m definitely not in a hurry to get rid of them! When sold, there will be no more 18K gold watches any time soon: the minimum batch run is 20 watches which would require an investment of $148,000 in gold alone!   Price: $13,980 and your pick: rose or yellow gold.
To say that we are very proud of our rebelde project would be an understatement. Over 600 rebelde watches have been assembled in the past 4 years, and to my knowledge, each and every one is in good working order. As we proudly say: there is no such thing as a broken rebelde! So if you decide to invest in a masculine, robust, reliable and fully reparable watch, designed and assembled in Australia, then I can't think of any other watch that would fit your requirement than - rebelde. 
It has been 2 years since we've stopped selling Panerai watches. Today, we made one final, symbolic gesture: we have removed the Panerai category from our website. Instead, you will find in its place a permanent listing of 7 rebelde models we have on offer. While our watch is no substitute for Panerai, it has stood the test of time and deserves every right to stand on its own.
Click the link below to be taken directly to our Nicholas Hacko watches:

Perlage - the art of hand finishing

Perlage - a traditional watch part decorating technique - consists of small, overlapping circles, achieved with a rotating, grinding tip.
Yesterday, Josh designed and made a jig, and then had a first attempt at perlage on our own main plate. I say not a bad job - actually, much better than one found on mass-produced Swiss plates. There is something special going on here: a CNC machined part receiving the final touches by hand, in the old, traditional manner. Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Andrew's tool holder video receives 5000 views on Instagram

An ugly looking, hardened piece of steel transformed into a beautifully finished tool. The cut can only be described as black mirror finish. Cutting time: 5 hours. Andrew designed it, drew it, programmed it and then cut it on EDM. 
And this is exactly what we are trying to create here in Sydney: an opportunity for smart kids to express themselves in an amazing way. Make no mistake: no University workshop would offer such an opportunity, and no commercial enterprise would 'waste' thousands of dollars just for the sake of learning. But we have no choice but to invest in kids, to allow them to fully develop, so that one day they will be making some amazing timepieces.
Check out the video on our Instagram below:

Monday, June 25, 2018

It's all about workmanship

So what is the big deal with watchmaking and clockmaking, you may ask? In one word: it’s all about workmanship.  For hundreds of years makers not only made timepieces but worked insanely hard to 'outdo' each other. Finishes, shapes, metal work, design, functionality all intertwined together with one goal: to impress and showcase the maker’s genius.

My approach is less pompous - but there is no room for improvisation and cutting corners. Here is just one example.

Yesterday the plan was to turn four brass pillars for regulator mainplates. Since this is still a prototype the focus was on construction rather than beauty. However, it soon became obvious that the inexpensive Chinese die for thread forming was outputting a rather inferior thread. Surely, once the nut is fastened, no-one would see it - except, of course, me. And that would bug me. So I pulled out a German die - and what a difference!  Judge it for yourself: The first 5 turns were formed by a quality precision die, and the last 5 with an inferior one.

If you now wonder why I didn’t use 'the proper' die in the first place the answer is - Hahnreiter dies are expensive and should not be used on prototyping – and, further, the die holder for our Schaublin has not arrived yet. So I made one myself - which turned the 20 minute pillar job into a whole afternoon tool making project.  Time wasted? Absolutely not.
And while we are on Hahnreiter: the German precision  toolmaking company dates back to the mid 1800's. After the second World War the factory was flattened to dust but in 1947 the firm restarted its tool manufacturing business with just one employee.  Today, Hahnreiter is the leader in German tap and die engineering.  They have 2600 different die sizes  in stock  and an order placed by 3:30pm is shipped the same day. Talk about the power of one!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Major Milestone

Major milestone: we've planted the watch winding stem! 0.6 mm drill travelling 20mm down to create 1.2mm deep hole. The action is at half speed and quite frankly nerve wracking. Next step: dial feet fasteners then some fine tuning. Yes, out of all places- watch made in Australia!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Watchmaker's regulator update

On Sunday, six hours were spent behind the Schaublin turning the barrel. The end result: about half done. I needed the grooving insert and boring bar to continue further, and, quite frankly, after standing for six hours my legs were just killing me. Josh quickly placed an order for tools and on Thursday a small packet arrived from Sumitomo, Japan.
Sumitomo was founded in 1907 and today is one of the fine-tuned, multi-industry corporations which span from automotive to energy, electronics, semi-conductors to toolmaking.  The cutting tools division was founded in 1927 with the development of cement carbide inserts. To say that they know how to make an excellent cutter would be an understatement. As expected, the small parcel on the bench was every bit you would expect from the land of the rising sun: a piece of art itself.
There is no guesswork figuring out the cutting speed or misunderstanding the other important parameters. Each insert is individually bar coded and traceable - indicating that a tool like this is used to make components that will later fit into devices of the most importance - think of airplanes and submarines, satellites and super fast trains - where mistake is not an option. Certainly an overkill for a humble Australian handmade clock – but, to be perfectly honest, being exposed to perfection is not a bad thing.
One thing is certain - if you can't turn a 17th century clock part on a Swiss Schaublin using the most advanced Japanese cutter then you have no-one to blame but yourself.

Friday, June 1, 2018

A bizarre conversation in the factory fires up our most important tool – our imagination

To be perfectly honest with you, the novelty of making the most perfect regulator gear wore off pretty quickly. While the machining process is painfully slow - and painfully expensive - the end result is predictable:  each wheel is identical to the previous one down to a couple of microns. Yes, we are dreaming the dream of every horologist who has lived in the past 500 years.  But perfection, without imagination, is simply boring.
On Wednesday Andrew and myself were just about to cut the last spoke, and we started thinking about how to design a recess which will accept a power maintaining spring. Traditionally, the spring itself is just an unattractive steel wire hidden behind the gear.
"I am sure we can do better than that, my boy" was enough to kick the young apprentice’s mind into gear.
"What if we make the spring out of brass?  What if we design it to become an integral part of the wheel itself?" He asked. 
"Sure - but why stop there?" I replied. "Let’s make it in the shape of a little sea monster who will hold the return pin in his mouth".
We argued a bit whether the sea monster had ears, does our mystical creature look more like a worm or a caterpillar, while Josh poured cold water on the idea by pointing out that brass has a very poor elasticity memory and our spring is not going to work at all. 
But it did.
It worked brilliantly: it fired up the most important tool we have - our imagination.
We can all clearly see that every regulator clock we are going to make will have a small, imperfect hand-filed and hand-finished "living" mystical creature in it; a dragon or a rabbit, perhaps a snake or a lizard, which will live inside the perfect mechanism like a little clock guardian. 
As crazy as it sounds, I wonder why in 500 years of gear cutting has no-one thought of this?

Monday, May 28, 2018

A quick update on the watchmaker's regulator

It's coming up alright.  The drawings are pretty much done and, with a bit of luck, we will start machining the first parts on Wednesday so stay tuned.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Watchmaking: From mill to EDM and back (making the balance wheel cock)

For those of you who are following the progress of the workshop, after about a week of not making any measurable progress whatsoever, Josh and Andrew programmed and machined the balance cock.  What makes this project special is that for the first time we are able to directly transfer a machined component from the mill to EDM wire cutter and then back to mill without loss of accuracy.  In other words, you can use Machine A, Machine B and then go back to Machine A all on the same component. We are also able to prototype components of a thickness below 0.3 of a millimetre, which is the thickness of the balance wheel cock at the point where it receives the incabloc jewel.  Stay tuned for more updates.
If you missed the video we talked about last week that NYC CNC recorded while setting up the workshop a few months ago, here is the link:

Monday, May 21, 2018

NYC CNC in Sydney

Earlier this year, while we were literally unpacking and setting up our newly-arrived machinery, Josh and Andrew got a knock on the door from a young American who happened to be in Sydney. His name is John. About 10 years ago, he got excited about CNC machining and bought a tiny mill which he then installed in his even tinier New York apartment. He started video recording his journey and sharing it on YouTube. Today, he is probably the most influential CNC YouTuber with a quarter of a million subscribers. John now runs his own CNC workshop but continues to tour the US visiting various manufacturers and sharing their stories.

Josh simply could not say no to John - so he invited him into our small workshop.   The video itself is an amazing story of what happens when two young people, crazy about precision machining, bump into each other.

I am sure you will enjoy it.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Made In Australia Project Update

Another busy and productive week. The current 'release' is 2.01 which means we have now moved to top movement layer:
- train / barrel bridge designed and milled
- bridge adjusted to height and jewelled
- successful test run, correct amplitude and timekeeping
In this phase we are slowly moving away from Unitas 6498 design and away from direct compatibility. In other words, we are no longer cloning but also 'genetically modifying'. 
There is still more to be done at the top layer: drilling and tapping for the crown wheel and click /click spring, as well as milling the channel for the sliding pinion. We expect to continue further as soon as we receive a few more tools and tool holders from the land of Heidi.
Obviously we are not focusing on finishes - the mechanism is still in its 'raw' form.
Very pleased to note that our project is generating a considerable amount of interest primarily from fellow European watchmakers and machinists. Can't ask for more!
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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Schaublin 102 - finally

This is probably the third or even fourth post on 102 - the most agonising tool acquisition since we decided to get into watch manufacturing. Full credit goes to a handful of subscribers who, despite my own doubts, remained stubbornly supportive and pointed out the obvious: while 102 costs more than a mid-class European sedan, it will not only pay itself off  but it will outlast 5 cars.

Yet it was only after we unpacked the lathe that we were blown away with its beauty.

And I am not talking here merely about the quality of workmanship, the lack of backlash, or the way various attachments fit perfectly into each other.  It is the very maturity of the Schaublin lathe that will impress any keen machinist: after 100 years of development, 102 has reached the stage where
there is really nothing that could have been done better, simpler, more accurate or more beautiful. We could hear its voice: "I, the tool, was here decades before your grandfather, making watch and clock parts. And I am here to stay, to outlive you and your apprentices. Respect me, take good care of me, learn how to play me and play with me -  and you will be amazed."

In a way, my mission is accomplished. We got the Stradivarius - and we are now ready for an Aussie Paganini to play on it.

Thinking of becoming a watchmaker's apprentice? More than ever, we are looking for enthusiastic, keen and talented kids to join our project in January 2019. Time to apply - is now.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Seeing is believing

Watchmaking is all about precision - and taking accurate measurements during the design and manufacturing process is essential. However, when it comes to the art of horology, often the relationship between arbours, bearings and gear meshing is a matter of 'how if feels' rather then how it should be engineered. As strange as it may seem, often the 'ideal' fit is not the most desired one; theoretical shapes and tolerances are not the most perfect. Why? Because tight tolerances do not necessary translate into long-term reliability or the best timekeeping under stress, changes in temperature and gravity. There is a saying that engineers are poor watchmakers which is equally true the other way around.
Some of you may remember the acquisition of a microscope for our workshop. I certainly do - we  sacrificed a really fine watch in order to acquire this lovely instrument. But it was worth it!  When it comes to the inspection of surfaces, part geometry, and the inspection of cutting tools, a microscope is worth its weight in gold. Trying to make a watch without being able to understand how the Swiss have done it would be impossible. So we observe, learn and try to replicate.
Here are just two examples. The first photo shows the mesh in a high grade Swiss watch. The second one is our attempt to copy the Swiss. A person with a keen eye could clearly see the difference in the meshing depth between the two examples. Without any doubt, our mesh is far tighter, more precise, and follows the 'ideal' calculated point of contact. However, we soon discovered that the sloppier Swiss way was actually more desirable. The winding action was actually smoother than ours! Lesson learned.
The second example: a short video showing the very tip of the balance staff inside the shock absorbing jewel. This is an actual recording of a high grade Swiss watch still in brand new condition. I have no doubt that any engineer (or car mechanic) would be horrified. But this is how it is, and this is how it's done. Check it out: Of course, do keep in mind that you are observing an arbour with 100 microns diameter under 240 x magnification.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Main plate holder [watchmaking]

The purpose of this quick report is just that - to provide an update to those who follow our watchmaking progress. Also, we feel that sharing our trials and tribulations may one day help someone on their own watchmaking journey.
Last week we started to prototype the main plate. The main focus was on positional tolerances and working out the 'perfect' press fit for the main train jewels. But it wasn't long until we figured out that we are wasting too much material; precisely over 60%. In addition, our work holding method was excellent in relation to rigidity, however, our solution would be very inefficient for mass production - even a quantity of just a dozen pieces at a time.
We had two options: To continue with prototyping or to pause and find a better clamping solution before we go any further. I voted for the first option: to keep learning and not to worry about waste. However, I was quickly outvoted by Josh (who already had Andrew on his side). The final straw was a video which clearly shows a very effective mainplate holding solution on Willemin Macodel CNC, as demonstrated at Baselworld in 2015.  Here is the link to it.  Definitely worth watching:
In just 3 working days, putting in a solid 50 hours of work, Josh and Andrew designed, coded and manufactured our new 'clamp'. The benefits are already paying off: 
- we can use a smaller blank than before, while there is no compromise on rigidity;
- the brass waste is now below 50%
- the new work-holding piece allows for both sides milling plus 90 deg side cut without having to re-clamp the piece;
- and, most importantly, the new blanks could be clamped directly without pre-machining preparation which saves 25 minutes per piece!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

4-Jaw Chuck

Some hobbyist machinists love it - and others hate it. And, I guess, it is fair to say that those who hate it have actually never got around to learning how to centre it properly. Which is rather a shame because there are countless YouTube videos out there dealing with the subject. 
Our Schaublin 102 is still somewhere south of Suez, but the 4-jaw chuck arrived separately this week. It was a 'non-catalogue' accessory supplied by Rohm. This was a bit of surprise - after all, Schaublin is a work-holding specialist themselves. However, the 4-jaw chucks are a much different beast than collets.  
Rohm is a German family business which specialises in chucks. They've been making lathe chucks since 1909 and they are regarded as the world's leading chuck manufacturer. And that's all they do. (Have you noticed that the O in Rohm is actually a chuck?). This German company is very proud of the fact that they can manufacture work-holding pieces up to 4 metres in diameter and weighing 25 tons! When it comes to production capacity: Rohm can assemble 92,000 chucks in 5 days. 
There is something mighty powerful about German manufacturing - and we are proud to have a piece of it in our Sydney workshop.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Baby steps

The inner bearing surface of the watch jewel is one of the most 'perfect' surfaces on Earth! Made of synthetic ruby, jewels are laser-drilled, then polished with tungsten wire and diamond paste. Both the inner and outer diameter are perfect as well. This one is R=0.500 mm and the inner radius is just 50 microns. However, the modern jewels are still the pale shade of jewels used in the finest 1800's marine chronometers which were made of real diamonds, hand-drilled and hand-polished - and still perfectly functional today!

Last week we started machining our first watch main plate. The challenge: to figure out both jewel hole sizes and the distances/angles between the jewels in the main train. These are watchmaking machining fundamentals - and yet another of the many best kept secrets in the watchmaking industry. While you can tell your mill where to create a hole, and while you know what the outside diameter of the jewel is, finding the 'perfect' friction fit between ruby and brass is something you can only figure out after a number of attempts. No machine or software can tell you how 'just right' feels like; it is the years behind the watchmaker's bench which ultimately determines the outcome.

The bottom line is this:  If your shaft is the size of a hair, how much off centre can you afford to be?

After last week's exercise, Josh started making a bold prediction how soon we could potentially have our in-house movement. I am still very cautious and conservative, and reluctant to be drawn into speculation, but there isn't the slightest doubt in my mind that one day we will have a true made in Australia calibre. Exciting days ahead!

Friday, March 23, 2018

What others call fine-gloss finish we call roughing

Yesterday we undertook a practical exercise; the roughing of a piece of 316L steel.  Roughing simply means removing the top layer of material rapidly in order to prepare a surface for machining.  In other words, think of it as levelling your block before starting the build of a house.  

The tool of choice was a 4mm end mill.  The machining was done in the Kern Pyramid Nano and it was Andrew and Josh's first job in the workshop.

After the milling operation the surface finish was so smooth and even that it left them speechless.  Actually it's so good that the process can be applied straight away to watch bridges and finish.  
We can only imagine what kind of surface we will achieve with a diamond or ceramic tool.  

Certainly the credit goes to the hydro-static guides of the Pyramid Nano.