Friday, September 16, 2016

Action from Stuttgart

***We knew pretty much what to expect: action and more action, excitement, glamour.

We knew we'd be overwhelmed and completely blown away. Yet when Josh and I entered the foyer of Stuttgart's international machining fair yesterday we realized that we would leave the event irreversibly changed forever.

AMB is the third largest machining event in the world. Over 1,500 exhibitors are spread through 9 massive halls, all keen to showcase their latest machinery, measuring equipment, tools and materials, the cutting edge technology, production robots and, simply, their market dominance and engineering superiority.

One can watch as many youtube videos as they like, but only when you actually see the action for REAL can you begin to comprehend and appreciate what mechanical engineering is all about. Standing next to a CNC lathe the size of a semitrailer machining 2,500kg steel while it's been flicked around on 5 axis and carved as if it is a piece of Swiss cheese is nothing but the utmost humbling experience.
The roaring sound of the tool digging into the material, flying blue steel chips, waterfalls of pressurized coolant - yet no vibration! Just millions of lines of code being executed with incredible precision.

In large, the event goes way beyond showcasing just individual corporations and makers - it showcases our ability, as humans, to overcome some of the most intriguing challenges. And as designers and builders, we humans came a very long way.

You may wonder what made Josh and I travel around the world to attend the fair.
To put it simply: we are here to learn. The AMB is an opportunity to see all the machinery we've been dreaming about since we've decided to get into watchmaking. We wanted to get the priceless first hand experience, to see the equipment in action, but also to meet the makers who built them.
To hear their story, to find out what made them excited and motivated enough to invest their resources in the watchmaking industry. And then to see if we can become part of their success by planting a small seed of horology somewhere on the other side of globe.

"So where are you from? Australia? AUSTRALIA? We didn't know there are watchmakers in Australia! Seriously??"
This was the most common reaction once we'd explained who we are and what we want to do. The technological and cultural shock was genuinely suffered by both parties, which made every introduction a unique and memorable event. But after the initial shock, and hearing the rebelde story, almost all equipment makers we've talked to were more than happy to share their story too.
And to see how they could possibly help us, or at least to point us in the right direction.
The common denominator was the same: the piece of equipment that was in front of us was developed over decades of painstaking work, sacrifices of more than one generation of engineers, featuring incredibly advanced technology. We wanted to know everything. "So who uses our mills? Rolex, of course. And Lange. Yes, IWC, and Breitling. Who else? Cartier..." The names were not mentioned as marketing points but as proof of longstanding relationships.

We've met not only machine makers, but those who make machines so they can make their own watch prototypes. This handful of makers are the Formula 1 of machining.
They not only brought the complete mills and lathes, but pulled them apart, so anyone can check the true rotation of spindles, and the way tools are held so it can cut metal with 0.1 of micron tolerance. These makers would not just sell you a ready-made machine, but would make one specifically to meet your production requirements.
For us, this was a world we didn't even know existed.

To be honest, some of our favourite Swiss pieces of equipment - those we were prepared to sacrifice our lifetime savings for - left us underimpressed.
We felt that we simply could not justify such an investment. We felt that something was not quite transparent and therefore we've simply moved on. Yet at the same time we've found hidden gems, like the Citizen R-4 lathe which looked far superior to some of their Swiss counterparts, more robust and more user-friendly. The R04 is now on our most wanted list and Josh and I feel that this is a piece of equipment we can learn how to use in 2-3 month's time, allowing us to produce the first in-house screws and winding stems, and later more complex parts like sliding pinions.

Of course, after talking to engineers and even machinists who operate watchmaking machinery, it has become clear that the machine itself is just one of the segments in the production process. Having the right tooling, measuring equipment and correct raw material was equally important. Not to mention readiness to put months into the trial and error phase. As strange as it may sound, most watchmaking technical materials and alloys are still the best kept secret. It is obvious that in order to make your own parts you need to cooperate with someone who is already making those parts themselves, and that comes with a price tag.

We've met the kings of watchmaking mills: Willemin and Macodel. We told them that we would be grateful for a photo opportunity and a catalogue because we would never be able to afford their mills (the basic 'naked' machine without any tooling starts at $700,000). But we got a very friendly handshake from their sales director and compliments for our efforts to travel so far just to say hello. We parted as friends.

Our final visit was to a German mill maker. I am not going to mention their name - not yet - but they are considered the Porsche of watchmaking machinery.
For an hour we listened to their story which was honest and stripped of any marketing pitch. And they listened to ours. While it was clear that we cannot afford Porsche, it was equally clear that Porsche was interested in a small rebel from down under. Immediately, on the spot, Josh was offered training - not only how to operate machine but training in their German factory in equipment maintenance, diagnostic and repair. They were interested in building a long term relationship and extended an offer for a factory tour.
To us, this was something worth the money and something worth sacrificing for.

To be continued...

Introducing The Newsletter Archive

We often have requests from subscribers of this newsletter for old newsletters. Either so they can pass the information on to friends or for their own interest or research.

It also happens occasionally that an email can be missed, or one might be too busy that day to read it.

We have a solution: from today we will post up all our newsletters to an archive page on our website.

It will be a great way to stay up to date with the newsletters. Even if you're having temporary issues with your emails you can still keep up to date with all our news.

Why not bookmark the link or create a shortcut so you can always have the latest information and news at your fingertips?

rebelde caps

***We have had a very exciting delivery here at rebelde HQ: the long-awaited rebelde caps have arrived!

There is a choice of three colours: red, black and navy. All are priced at $25.
We can also ship these for $10, Australia-wide.

All the proceeds from these caps will go straight back into helping take the next step with the rebelde project; investing in all the new tools and machinery we will need to buy in order to get our new Northern Beaches workshop off the ground.

Since our announcement of the acquirement of the new unit, we have been inundated with words of support and the encouragement. Thank you so much for this support and taking the time to get in touch with us.

The first caps have already left the office and are causing much excitement for their new owners. We can take credit card so make sure you don't miss out!

Get your order in today at or call 02 9232 0500.

Book Review: Omega Watches - by John Goldberger

***Apprentice Corner

This week, I'm reviewing 'Omega Watches' by John Goldberger. The book is a simple one - the title says it all really. There's no story to be had. Over 240 watches are featured, each with their own page spread accompanied by a short description. If you're looking for the history behind the brand and pieces you'll have to look elsewhere.

Then what makes it so special?: The author himself.

John Goldberger is an author of five books on watches and one of the most accomplished watch collectors on the planet. In fact, I'm at a loss to think of any other on his level.
He's been at it for over 40 years now and has established himself as the go-to guy for the experts themselves. There are precious few people with a watch-IQ that even remotely comes close to his.

Extraordinary effort went into the curation of the beautiful photos used; all watches shown are from private collections, many from the collection of Mr. Goldberger himself. Some pieces are so rare they aren't even in the Omega museum.

(Early chronographs: the Ref. OJ2393 and CK2393)

The pieces featured are diverse yet focused: pocket watches, Seamasters, Constellations, Speedmasters and everything in between are presented, but the author has selected only the finest examples from each category.

I find the omission of the Omega 30I - the first tourbillon wristwatch - rather odd, but what I'd remove to make space for it is a hard question indeed, such is the high quality of the curation.

(Seamaster Ref. OT2520 with Neptune Chariot enamelled dial)

The book is an essential addition to any Omega enthusiast's collection. It'll almost certainly find a permanent home on your coffee table or desk as you continue to flick through it over many years.

Two of Omega's earliest, most adventurous designs: a tonneau shaped + circle watch)

A quick search online for the book leads to some very expensive listings ($477 on Amazon). The book was produced in limited numbers and books of this nature tend to be quite pricey so this isn't surprising. There appears to be a copy on for under $100 but you'd be wise to first ask to seller if it's an English version as the book was also published in Italian (John Goldberger's mother language).

Past the Point of No Return

Some of you surely remember an email that was sent about 6 months ago that was titled 'The Point of No Return'. It was about the decision to acquire a very fine piece of machinery which will allow us to manufacture some extremely delicate watch parts. A major investment, a venture into a completely new field of micro engineering without any real understanding of how such a piece of machinery will be operated and how long it would take to learn how to use it. A leap of faith.

Many responded with letters of support but a cautious few pointed out the obvious. Even if I'm able to acquire such equipment (let alone being able to afford it) where would I place it? In other words, such piece of equipment would be simply too large to be fitted in our office. Not to mention that it would require a 3 phase electricity outlet, extremely rigid concrete floor, air conditioned environment, a compressor, coolant pumps and fluids and a secure operational environment.
To put it simply, before I can even dream of such a machine I would need to acquire an adequate industrial unit, which will be transformed into a proper machining workshop.

The realisation was painful. But I had no choice. To cut a long story short, after a few months of searching for suitable industrial units I am happy to report that, as of last week, we are proud owners of what we call the rebelde Northern Beaches Horological Workshop.

Yes, it is a fancy word for premises which require a complete strip down and refitting but we are very proud of the fact that in just a few weeks we will commence the building works.

And hopefully by February/March next year our workshop will be ready to see the first piece of CNC equipment moving in. Yes, this job will require a lot of man power but as said before, we have no other option but to keep going forward.

One thing that we're very proud of is that we will be taking on the full financial risk and so there will no pressure from a third party for us to start making a profit immediately. A project like this cannot be embarked on under pressure so we will at least have the liberty to grow at our own pace.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Tool of the Week: Elma Ultrasonic Cleaning Machine

***Apprentice Corner

There’s been a lot of talk recently about all the manufacturing machinery we’re acquiring for the rebelde project. But as it continues to grow and we prepare for the first batch of servicing to come to us in two years time, we’re also slowly improving our servicing capabilities. This week’s tool is, once again, not really a ‘tool’, but rather a serious piece of machinery that will help us provide the highest level of service to our loyal customers, whilst making our lives a whole lot easier.

Repairing watches is a very time consuming process and though it has served Nick, and its previous owner before him, well for over 30 years, our old cleaning machine has begun to show its age. One must sit by the cleaning machine for the duration of the process to regulate the speed, manually moving the cleaning basket between stages before drying it at the end.
It does the job, and does it well, but the machine can be a bit precarious to use and our time could be better spent elsewhere.

Shipped all the way from Germany, the Elma Ultrasonic cleaning machine has been “going to arrive next week” for the last few months. It was on its way before I even started and I was beginning to think it would never get here.

Every step of the process, including drying, can be individually regulated and is performed automatically by the machine. Short of it gathering up the pieces, cleaning them and then placing them back on the bench for you, it does everything one could ever ask for from a watch cleaning machine. Used by all the large Swiss brand manufacturers, this is the pinnacle of cleaning equipment.

That said, it isn’t the machine itself that cleans the parts, but the solution. Luckily, the hard work on that front has been done for us as well.  The cleaning solution must be of a very particular composition in order to effectively strip the various lubricants and grime that attaches to watch mechanisms.

We buy our solution from Chemwell, a Melbourne based company that has been producing cleaning products for kitchen, automotive, watchmaking and other industries for over 25 years. Though they produced nearly 900 litres of watch cleaning solutions last year, only 5% of their business is for the watchmaking trade. We’re very grateful for their service – acquiring watch-specific cleaning liquids can be a bit of a hassle, especially here in Australia.

So once again, we’re here to serve you, our loyal rebelde comrades. This is another snippet of our excitement and preparation of the servicing for the 450+ rebelde watches that are now with their owners. We can’t wait.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Apprentice betrayed and let down

***One thing I hate is when politics interferes with watchmaking. 

The two should be kept as far apart as possible and both parties should mind their own business. We let politicians do whatever they are good at and we focus on making watches.

However, yesterday, we felt the full blast of an unfulfilled promise made by the Government.

When I saw the look of disbelief on Tyler's face while reading that letter, I knew that something was not quite right. The offer of a $20,000 loan, promised to him when he signed up for the apprenticeship only 3 months ago, was simply withdrawn.

The loan was supposed to help him get through the hardship of working at minimum wage while learning the trade, to assist him with accommodation, and if anything was left of it after 3 years, to assist him with acquisition of some very basic watchmaking tools.
$128 per week is not a huge amount - and please do remember - this is not a gift, but money to be repaid back to the Government. But the Government changed its mind.
"The Department of Industry have advised your application for the Trade Support Loan has not been approved as they have removed the Watch and Clockmaker Occupational Outcome from the official National Skills Needs List."

There is really not a long queue of smart young people lining up to take on these apprenticeships. Especially not who already have a university degree and who could easily find a better paid job. 

According to Sydney TAFE, there are only 12 watchmaker apprentices in the entire of Australia who will commence the course next year. But the Government concluded loud and clear, in black and white, that in Australia watchmaking skills are not needed. The young people keen to develop the finest of all mechanical micro engineering skills are simply not wanted.

As said before, I mind my own business and I don't take sides in politics. But it is obvious that all the fancy talk about the "smart nation" we hear today are just empty words. In reality, the Abbot-Turnbull Government has cut more than $2.8 billion from skills and training and that cut just hit my business, today, right now, in very nasty way.

Tyler had been counting on that money. It was firmly promised to him. I have no doubt that he would have taken up watchmaking even if the Government hadn't made that offer, but the fact is, his faith in watchmaking has now been tested. And the fact is, I will be the one who is going to have to explain to him that he cannot count on the Government to help him become a watchmaker.

In a way, this could be good thing. Figuring out very early on in your career that you can only count on your own strength, determination and perseverance will make you tough and resilient. After all it is not the government’s job to turn you into a rebel; when someone kicks you in the guts, you pick yourself up and kick back.

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward" – said Martin Luther King Jr. Why? Because making your mark on the world of horology is bloody hard. If it was easy, everybody would do it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Curious Shapes of Watches

***From Apprentice Corner: Week in Review

Today I’m talking about watches of the non-circular kind and why I think they’re the coolest of all. This is not a book review, but some of the pictures used come from the “The Classic Watch” by Michael Balfour which is filled with many beautiful examples of oddly shaped watches. It’s a fantastic book that chronicles the history of a range of brands and the classic pieces that were to define them early on.

The days of a watch being an absolute necessity to stay organised throughout the day have long since sailed (though if you’re anything like me, you feel lost without one). But a wristwatch has importance far beyond its ability to tell the time (preaching to the choir here, I know).
Though we’re now constantly surrounded by devices that tell us the time, it’s with this shift away from necessity that watches are becoming an ever more important way for people to make a statement and show off their personality.
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the variety of watches that attempt to satisfy a certain aesthetic, with crowdfunding campaigns abound trying to make the most minimal watch possible. There are literally watches out there with completely blank dials and no hands, while others attempt to produce a watch so bulky they make the Omega PloProf look like a woman’s evening dress piece.
One trend that has yet to catch on is watches with asymmetrical and square/rectangular designs. The flourishing art deco scene in the 1920’s and 1930’s was the first time that many watch brands tried to break away from the traditionally circular case design. Designers experimented with lines and curves with no clear purpose in mind. Watches begun to emerge that were decidedly different from their predecessors.

Photo from “The Classic Watch”

The entire watch became the focus, the strap itself considered an integral part of the design. Cases were shaped so as to accentuate the lines of the strap and merge it as part of the whole. No longer were watches simply utilitarian objects strapped to the wrist by any means necessary.
The odd shapes and smaller case sizes also posed a great engineering challenge. Not made simply for design’s sake, they were an opportunity for the top companies to showcase their technical prowess; movements had to be redesigned so as to fit in a completely different housing while the individual parts had to be machined with more precision than ever before.
The rectangular Rolex Prince, my favourite watch of all, was to emerge in this period and was something of a sensation in its day.

Photo from “The Classic Watch”

Many of the early Rolex Princes were certified chronometers and had a power reserve of over 2 days. How were such incredibly small, accurate and durable mechanisms produced in a time far before computer measuring equipment and CNC machines? I haven’t a clue. It is in this question that lays the secret as to why collectors in the know really, really like them. They’re undercover marvels. While the Prince and its ilk may look relatively simple in comparison to some of today’s more complex pieces, I’d argue it’s the equal of any of them. Seriously, as some of you might know, getting Nick to admit liking a watch is no easy task, but I was able to pry an admission from him when I pressed him on his opinion of the Prince!
(It’s worth noting that the movements used in the early Prince were actually made by Aegler and Alpina Gruen, not Rolex. Long since defunct, they were two pioneering companies that produced calibres used by many companies, similar to ETA today, just much better.)
After World War II the popularity of the style began to wane with non-circular watches being few and far between. Patek Philippe, always unafraid of the avant-garde, was one of the few manufacture’s to continue producing them, with the Reference 3412 designed by famed Swiss jeweller Gilbert Albert in 1961 being an amazing example.

Patek Philippe 3412 - image courtesy of

The watch is just so very different. The unusual shape and rose-coloured dial might lead one to think it’s a woman’s piece. Not so. It’s a watch that exudes class to the highest degree. In my opinion, anyway.
An enormous amount of forethought and care usually goes into every watch purchase. It is part of what makes them so very special and treasured when received as a gift or inheritance. Not that I speak from experience, but I imagine that if one were to purchase a watch like the Rolex Prince or Patek 3412 it’d require a lot more consideration than usual. It’s not a safe bet. A bold one, for sure, but are the chances it’ll go well with one’s getup? What will others think of it?
Or you might simply not give a flying what others think - the most admirable quality a watch collector can possibly possess, and something I try to emphasise every time I’m asked “what do you think of…?”. On a purely anecdotal level, the most interesting collections I’ve seen have belonged to those that own such watches, the collectors indeed displaying an air of nonchalance towards the opinions of others.
Asymmetrical and rectangular watches are already popular amongst top collectors, but I’m still holding out for the day when they become prevalent amongst every day collectors.
Here’s hoping more people start to think outside the circle.

Now today we would like to highlight two non-circular watches from our collection:
The Franck Muller is an impressive example of fine case making where Genta Mickey Mouse would push the boundaries of even the most flamboyant watch collector. 

For more information on the Franck Muller, please see 

For more information on the Genta, please see 

Until next time,

For Nicholas Hacko Fine Watches
Suite 403, Level 4, Culwulla Chambers
67 Castlereagh St. Sydney 2000 NSW
Phone: (02) 9232 0500 | Fax: (02) 9233 2273
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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Warm Up Session

***We are slowly getting into it. The very first component the boys are designing today is a yoke, a lever that sits in winding/time setting assembly.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Mitutoyo Optical Comparator

***Tool of the week: horology here we come!

How we managed to bring up the 300kg pallet up to the fourth floor is still a mystery - but we managed.

The arrival of the box was a long anticipated event: it travelled across seas, and we watched the ship's position daily as it made its voyage from Japan to Australia. The Mitutoyo Optical Comparator finally arrived on Friday.

For those of you who wonder what the comparator is and what it does: it is a high precision measuring instrument which allows us to measure even the smallest watch components with extremely high accuracy. Without it, it would be simply impossible to design and make a watch part. It is a giant microscope, but also a computer which calculates distances, angles, radius and complex shapes, and work out tolerances. 
In other words, it allows us to see the very "DNA" of the watch mechanism and to measure at sub-micron level.

Tyler and Josh couldn't wait a second longer so while the tool was still on the floor they started playing with it. I was watching them from the distance, having a hard time to contain my excitement. Every few minutes they would joyously proclaim: "wow, look at what I've just found - it can measure in polar coordinates" or "hey, there is a motorized auto focus" or "gee, there are even more functions than are mentioned in the user's manual!".

Our comparator is made by Mitutoyo - the Rolls Royce of measuring equipment. And the boys are over the moon! This unique instrument will provide them endless opportunities to learn and design. We have now reached another important milestone in Australian horology, and proudly, we can say that we have a tool that no other watchmaker in Australia has. Of course, we would be more than happy to open our doors and make the comparator available to fellow watchmakers and keen students of watchmaking: I believe that fun is multiplied when shared!

I know this is not necessary to underline but allow me to say it again: every time you spend money with us, a great portion of that money goes straight into the acquisition of watchmaking equipment and tools. These assets are brought into Australia and are here to stay. And this is just the beginning of what we intend to do. With your help and support, in a few years from now, we will be able to do things which will make us all proud. 

Happy collecting,

Friday, August 26, 2016

Worth the Investment

***Right now, I have 3 watches on my workbench: a 30 year old Rolex Datejust which needs major restoration, an Omega Moon watch with a broken pusher and winding crown and a five years young Panerai Submersible due for its first service. The Panerai also needs a new rotor ball bearing which, in its short lifespan, has worn itself to death. To complete these 3 repair jobs would take weeks: sourcing the spare parts is both unpredictable and a time-consuming task. The parts will be arriving from all over the world at snail-speed.

However getting back into repair business was necessary: this is the price we have to pay in order to train Josh and Tyler. Before they can call themselves “rebelde watchmakers” they need to master general horological skills.

Yet every time I work on a customer’s watch I cannot help but to note the obvious: how easy it will be for Tyler and Josh to one day service, repair and restore rebelde watches! They will have at their disposal thousands of spare parts, ready to be installed. They will be able to complete servicing in a matter of hours, not weeks. Not to mention the most obvious of all: their customers, rebelde owners, will be more than happy once they see the repair bill: a fraction of what Rolex, Panerai or even Omega owners have to pay to keep their watches running.

And that in itself should be the most important reason to invest in rebelde: a watch designed, assembled, adjusted and maintained by your local watchmaker who cares about your business.

I am both proud and humbled: there are now 450 rebelde watches out there, ticking and keeping time. Most of them are worn daily by their owners. And out of 450, not one has been back with a broken winding crown, or with a crystal which popped out. Not one suffered water related damage or ‘leaked’. Running a rebelde service department has to be the most boring job in the world: there is simply nothing to do because there is simple nothing to repair. Maybe I am just lucky that I got the design right in the first go. Maybe I am just lucky that my component manufacturers got the tolerances and finishes ‘spot on’ in the first go. Or perhaps, maybe, after 3 years of development, I can say that maybe, after all, rebelde IS what I’ve promised you: a robust and reliable timepiece worth investing in. 

Happy collecting,

Tool of the Week: Moebius FIXODROP

***From Apprentice Corner

Today, I’d like to share with you a short story of one Hermann Moebius. Haven’t heard of him? That’s okay – few have. But despite his relative obscurity, he’s a man whose lifetime pursuits helped solve one of the greatest issues faced by watchmakers. These innovations have proved to be of use in a wide range of micromechanical and electronic applications.

His story ties in to this week’s ‘tool’ of the week. It isn’t really a tool at all, but rather something you use to help ward off the devilish force that plagues all things mechanical – friction.

Watchmakers knew of the importance of lubrication early on, but none had the time nor the necessary background to solve the problems associated with the oils used. The first oils used were a mixture of animal, vegetable and mineral oils. Such oils have very good lubrication properties but suffer from poor oxidisation stability. That is, they tend to thicken and gum up in a short period of time. Stabilisers were developed to help prolong the decay process but not enough to be sufficient to be used in a watch.

In large mechanisms, parts tend to operate at a relatively slow speed and high pressures prevail throughout.  The parts are usually bathed in oil which is replaced at regular intervals. The spread of oil isn’t usually a problem.

Watches have almost the exact opposite properties: they operate at extremely fast speeds; low pressures prevail throughout; oil spread is a problem; they’re serviced at long, irregular intervals.

A watchmaker himself, Hermann Moebius was acutely aware of the need for a lubricant specific to micro-mechanisms. In 1855 he founded his company ‘Moebius’ and set about developing the perfect oil, systematically testing oils with a multitude of different properties and selling them on to other watchmakers.

His efforts didn’t go unnoticed and he quickly acquired a strong following. The product of his research solved many of the problems of classic oils and remains in use to this day. From a chemical point of view, the ‘oil’ he developed doesn’t have anything in common with classic oils – it’s a type of synthetic oil.

Today’s ‘tool’ helps solve the problem of spread. Getting oil to stay put when the surface area is small or geometrically awkward can be a real challenge. Developed by the company Hermann Moebius founded over 150 years ago, this liquid is a surface coating, a type of liquid plastic that acts as a glue for oil.

We use it on parts which “work hard”:  pallets jewels, auto rotor wheels and rotor bearings.
Its use is simple: the part need only be dipped in the solution, leaving an invisible film over the part which helps retain oil at these critical points.

And every time we use Fixodrop, we honour the legacy of Hermann Mobeius, the man who solved one of the most challenging problems of modern horology.