Friday, March 24, 2023

One done, one more to go


At 11 o'clock on Friday morning I was submitted and admitted to Mater hospital for a quick fix. Nothing spectacular - just a long overdue knee surgery, a routine 'day stay' procedure. This was my first encounter with the medical system in decades. In one word: impressive.

The welcoming sign: "Today, 17 surgeons will operate in 13 theatres and we will serve 73 patients". And they did, indeed. It was like being in the middle of a well executed military operation: admin staff, nurses and doctors flying around like bees, quietly, efficiently and skilfully handling patients all day long. Politeness overflowing, on every level of engagement. The ward was spotlessly clean. Not for a moment was I in doubt that I was in good hands; perhaps the best in Sydney.

Yes, there was a ton of administration, pages of questionnaires, and often, a ten-minute wait would turn into an hour. But this is understandable and to be expected; in a hospital things can not be rushed.

Truth be, I was a good patient too. I listened, cooperated, and waited patiently. It is tempting to crack a joke or throw a witty comeback, but such childishness would be completely inappropriate. Equally so, asking for predictions or outcomes, or discussing matters already discussed. You just do what you are told, to your best ability, regardless of how you feel about doing it. That's the deal. You leave your rights, entitlements, emotions and wallet before being wheeled into the operating theatre. You put your faith in Jesus and the surgeon - and pray for the best outcome. That's how hospitals work, and that's the end of it.

The anaesthesiologist wore a massive Omega Planet Ocean, blue dial and bezel, Titanium. Funny enough, that was actually the last thing I remember.

The parallel between hospitals and a watchmakers workshop is obvious. Our workshop is kind of an operating theatre. We pull things apart, we fix problems, and we put them together. Our role is to get your watch in the best possible condition, while remaining invisible. And like surgeons, we can only do our job when the customer is cooperative.

Repairing a complex mechanical timepiece requires skills, tools, and time. Plenty of experience as well. The job is best done when the watchmaker is allowed to work quietly and at their own pace. That is essential. "Is my watch ready yet?" will actually slow down the repair procedure. "Has the part arrived? It's been a month, no news?" followed by yet another follow-up email or phone call will sooner or later turn into a customer relationship nightmare.

The other problem encountered frequently is the unrealistic expectation that watchmakers can predict how many parts will need replacement, or how many of them are worn out or damaged before the repair job is completed. Cost of parts is never included, nor can a firm quote be provided before the watch is pulled apart. I didn't expect my surgeon to donate his own blood, neither should you expect that watchmakers provide free spare parts. Because we don't. We provide labour and expertise, as well as a promise to do our absolute best, but you provide everything else. That is the deal.

This should be painfully obvious: if you are in a hurry, or have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, then you better take your watch elsewhere. While we are more than happy to help you, the best outcome is only possible when we are left to work alone, unrestricted, free of pressure, and at liberty to serve you as true professionals.                          

Per Meritum

Monochrome is the world's second largest online watch magazine. Yesterday, Monochrome featured an interview with an independent Australian watchmaker. Titled 'Open up about Australian watchmaking,' the article focused on our early days, the progression to timascus, with culmination on the Curl Curl MK2 titanium guilloche project.

You can not call Monochrome and ask to be featured, nor can money buy the front page. We are happy with the fact that our project has picked the interest of watch aficionados, who closely follow independent makers. We are chosen because of our watch - by merit, not because we are Australian, small or exotic.

As said so many times: our time is yet to come. And we are not in a hurry - we are simply enjoying every little victory along the way, while getting tougher, more resilient and more determined with every battle scar and bruise. 'He who rides the sea of the Nile must have sails woven of patience'. It's not yet the time, but without any doubt or delay, our time will come. Thank you for being a part of our journey.

NH watches were featured in Hodinkee, the world's largest watch magazine last year.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Heading in the right direction


Smiling faces, excitement of starting a new job, happiness overflowing - yet make no mistake: some of the people you see today, at the beginning of 2023 will not be with us next January. This is just how it is: there is no such a thing as a 'job for life'. People come and go, business moves on. Who knows - as highly unlikely as it may be, it could be me that won't make it to the next company photo. 

One thing I have learned from the past five years is that I am no longer interested in taking up apprentices. That heart-warming idea of  putting hours of my precious time training a young, enthusiastic kid, the goal of 'passing on knowledge' to the next generation, is now well done and dusted.  I have neither time nor patience to explain why arriving on time is important, why having a mobile phone on the bench is forbidden, that hard work will pay off, and that being a part of a successful team is priceless. In a world full of opportunities and excitement coming from social media, in a world where traditional values are ridiculed, in a world where Government makes 'stay at home' orders and pay kids not to work, training apprentices simply makes no sense.

I have no regrets. My apprentices were showered with kindness, overseas training trips, access to cutting edge machinery and tools, while literally being worshipped by you - watch collectors and our supporters. Not to mention the obvious: they were paid to learn, not paid to work.

Our new team consists of young individuals who have been with us for a number of years and have demonstrated commitment to us and to horology, as well as professionals with years of experience in the industry. They are not my family nor my pets. They are hard working professionals paid well above the industry standard. Paid to work. And they are all replaceable. Free to go at any time to join a company which will offer more, or better. I hope they'll all stay, but if they chose to go, then there would be no hard feelings and definitely no tears.

Most importantly, I got my time back. Working with professionals means less responsibility on my shoulders, better customer service, more time to focus on business, and ultimately, more time to enjoy life.                         



Surely you remember the Straight-Line Guilloche machine fundraiser from late last year. Yes, thanks to your generous donations we have managed to keep the Guilloche machine in Australia. The machine has finally arrived to our factory from Adelaide in a massive crate, well protected and undamaged in transport. We are ready for the next step: cleaning, assembling, and fine-tuning.

The excitement doesn't stop there. I have personally appointed a guardian who will supervise the project on your behalf. His name is Matt Howe, a subscriber to this mailing list. Why Matt? Because he is physically located around the corner from our Brookvale factory and he is also the nicest guy ever. I am convinced that Matt will protect your interests diligently. His duty is to report to you once a year that the machine is insured and in good working order. Stay tuned for more.


Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Super special


There is a big difference between retail business and manufacturing business. In retail, only one in a hundred happy customers would take the care to leave feedback. Why bother? A smooth transaction and the watch arriving 'as described' is expected. But when you are manufacturing a part for an engineer, you can be assured that feedback is guaranteed. Typical feedback is: "Part arrived, tested and fitted into assembly, works. Now, we are redesigning, see attached drawing for changes." The engineer's job is simply to keep improving, making it better and making it (whatever that is) more efficient. For them, NH Micro is seen as a crucial and valuable partner in a complex project which involves a number of participants.

 Apart from making watches, we offer our high-precision contract manufacturing capabilities to companies that make satellites, in-space propulsion systems, medical devices, optical and mechanical scientific instruments, quantum computers. Smart people, on the cutting edge in their field.

A couple of weeks ago, we delivered an assembly to the Institute for Astronomy, Hawaii. IfA employs over 150 astronomers and support staff. IfA astronomers perform research into Solar System objects, stars, galaxies and cosmology. Our client was the department that builds instrumentation for telescopes. The parts they had for us to manufacture were extremely difficult, and presented a large technical challenge for us to execute. Simply, the assembly that we were making is an opto-mechanical filter, which was to work within the spectrum analysing equipment of their telescope. Light from stars that had travelled across the galaxy would hit the mirrors of the telescope, through fibre optic cables and would pass through our device, before being recorded and analysed in a computer. Small physical imperfections in the parts that we were making would present large problems further down the chain, and therefore the parts had to be held to incredibly tight tolerances!

 Here is a drawing we can share with you:
The filter is made from Grade 5 titanium (the same material as the MK2 dial!). The shape of the parts was crucial. We made multiple discs, only 2mm thick, featuring some rather crazy tolerances. The angular tolerance was +-0.01degrees, and the thickness of the rings needed to be within +-5 microns! The combination of both of these geometric tolerances was the real difficulty.

The feedback arrived promptly:

“Hi Josh

We’ve had the tube for about a few days now and I’ve put a few hours in the lab getting it set up with our testbed; it's been great! I’ve attached a PDF of the results I have so far in the lab. ... Thank you and your team for the excellent workmanship on these parts; this will be a key piece in the upgraded instrument design, improving our efficiency on the telescope by a factor of ~4. We’re really impressed... “

We also got attached a little slideshow of our parts in action, as well as an image of a star passing through the filter we had made.

If you are an engineer yourself, then you would fully appreciate how challenging this project was. You would also appreciate that most machinists would simply reject to get involved in the first place; when it comes to making a part for scientific instruments of this calibre, the results can not be faked. And not only did we get it right, we’ve managed to get it so right, so close to the theoretical calculation, that the efficiency of the telescope was improved by factor of 4! Manufactured in Brookvale, Australia.

Our books are open: the next batch of Mark II watches should be ready for delivery in May. Your order is welcome: join the small and exclusive club, become an ambassador, wear a watch made by a small team of Australian watchmakers and machinists who are pushing the limits of what is physically possible.

The Seiko 'Star Taker'


The long anticipated 'new 62MAS' is here. Freshly arrived from Japan, this is possibly the most exciting watch of 2023.

But before we go further: this is a limited edition piece with only 1,300 watches delivered to boutiques and hand picked premium Seiko dealers. 

And here are the 5 reasons why you should snatch it.
1. Great diver's story
Introduced in 1965, 62MAS was the first Japanese divers watch. If you are not familiar with it's history, here is the link to follow:

Highly revered and equally highly collectable, this is the kind of watch that any watch collector would want in his collection. And I am not talking just about the very first 1965 issue, but a later modern interpretation as well. 
However, the SLA065J is even more special than its predecessors: it features a unique dial dedicated to an early marine navigation instrument know as an astrolabe. Invented by Greek mathematicians and astronomers, this navigational instrument was in use for centuries, helping seafarers to find their location. Essentially, it was "a handheld model of the universe". Its various functions also make it an elaborate inclinometer and an analog calculation device capable of working out several kinds of problems in astronomy. I just love the marine story, so cleverly integrated in the Seiko dial, hidden to the unsophisticated, yet obvious to the enlightened. For further reading:
2. The finish is the best you can expect from modern horology. The undistorted mirror finish of Zaratsu coupled with a perfect grain of brush is something rarely seen nowadays even in top end Swiss watches. High class. 

3. SLA065J is now fitted with an 8L35 movement. Again, this calibre is reserved to only the very top Seiko models. Reliable and accurate, decorated and fully repairable. 
4. Made in Japan. Perfect.

5. There is no other watch in this price range that would offer such great value for money. For $4,500 you can't buy even a second hand Omega Seamaster. A brand new 'next generation' Seiko for less than a twenty year old mass-produced ETA watch with aluminium bezel insert? How is this even competition? 

I will leave you with this thought: it's been two and a half years now since I've started selling Seiko watches. Apart from investing in our own manufacturing capabilities and making our own watches, joining the Seiko family was one of the best decisions ever. Seiko is just getting better and better, more exciting, more special. Every time a Swiss megabrand puts their prices up, Seiko gets more room to breathe, to innovate, to offer better value, to be more competitive. To offer YOU a better product and even better service. And make no mistake: it is just a matter of time before Seiko watches will receive the recognition they rightly deserve. Like ours, Seiko's time is yet to come. 

Don't just take my word for it: invest in Seiko and you will have a watch you'll wear with pride and joy for decades. 

SLA065J is priced at $4,500. One watch only.
Case size 41.3mm. Stainless steel case and silicon strap. Sapphire crystal. Blue dial. Automatic movement. Water resistance 200 metres. Limited edition - 1,300 pieces worldwide. 
For more information about SLA065J go to:

Making a mark


"Nick and Josh you are both truly the finest ambassadors for not only proudly Australian made product but also the finest craftsmanship. Well done." - Glenn Rundell, Master Chairmaker, Victoria.

As much as I would like to claim all the credit for myself, the Mark II has been a team effort.

To complete a project of this importance, in any year, would be worth highlighting. To complete it in a year where we've still struggled with COVID for the best part of it, is little miracle worth celebrating.

This year, we lost three staff members. We counted on them. Yet the Mark II has been completed, on time, as promised.

As you followed our progress, you would have realised that the Mark II is not just a slightly better version of our Mark I; it is a watch that challenged us to do our absolute best. To learn. To perfect. To be humble. To invest more. And above all, to work long hours. 

For most of the year, Josh started his work day well before 6 am, and stayed machining well past midnight. I would go to bed, wake up in the middle of the night, tune in to the security camera, only to find him still working. 
We are not smarter than our fellow watchmakers; we just work much harder. And we are proud of it.

Our time is yet to come. We have reached this point thanks to your support. But we will get where we want to be, supported or not. Because watchmaking is a life quest and, as we say, you don't pick watchmaking; watchmaking picks you. 

Ironically, our biggest challenge this year was finding enough time to allocate to the Mark II project. Ultra-precision machining is still not something Australia is known for. And yet, there are a number of industries that require our services: medical, aerospace, optical, quantum computing. These are our customers who, this year, expected a great deal of our machining hours for their projects. 

With each of these customers, we migrated from the prototype stage (making one offs) to the production stage (making multiple parts and assemblies). And please, be assured, these customers are under significant pressure to deliver their final products successfully, and on time. That pressure has also fallen on us. 

Should you invest in the Mark II? Not if you think there is a better Australian-made watch out there. Or a more perfect watch by a small, independent watchmaking team, who actually make components in their own workshop. And definitely not if you believe that you can get better customer service elsewhere. 

Our watch is intended for those who appreciate what we can offer, a this point in time, in a country so far away to be of any horological importance at all.

The Mark II is a watch that will make you proud to be an Australian. What price tag can you put on that privilege?

We are here to serve you.

Did someone say macro?


No, it isn't a modern painting or a mural. It is the guilloche of our Curl Curl dial as seen under a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) under 100x magnification. The image is taken by Tim Murphy, who works for NewSpec, a microscope specialist.

Note how clean and burr-free our individual cuts are! We are shaving that titanium like cheese. This is testament not just to the shaping of the diamond cutter (which we actually do in-house, remember the slurry?) but also to Kern's hydrostatic guides and the rigidity of the machine itself. I reckon we should turn this image into a wall poster!

The tiny area which looks like the moon's surface is actually a micro-particle-blasted dial surface. Still not impressed? The 100 times magnification of the SEM is actually set to 'low'. 
It won't be long now - as I type this, 45 Curl Curl dials are now completed, and we are assembling MK2. If you are on the list, but haven't received your invoice yet: check your email on Wednesday. 

The Mk2 Curl Curl caseback


One of our goals for this year was to start the journey into case manufacturing. Having made the investment in our new Kern 5 axis milling machine, the capability for making larger components from tougher materials opened up.

Case-making is its own profession, its own trade. Just like there are artisans who specialise in dial making, and companies that only manufacture movements, case-making is a discipline that requires a specific skill set, specific know-how and a different kind of attention to detail. To illustrate: dial making is a discipline that is nearly totally focused on the aesthetic qualities of the time display, a small smudge, a discoloration, a scratch can all render a dial useless. From a functional perspective, however, a dial is a flat disk with some holes in it! The mechanical demands on a dial are very small, there isn't much that can go wrong, and if something does go wrong, the overall risk to the watch is very low.

A case on the other hand has those priorities reversed! Anyone who wears a watch daily knows that the "factory finish" lasts about all of 2 minutes, but the "factory fit" of a watch case should last a lifetime! The role of watch-case components, first and foremost is for PROTECTION. So, when going down the rabbit hole of case manufacturing, this was the primary goal for us. Form, aesthetics, finish are all secondary- still important, but no watch collector would ever want a beautiful, perfectly finished case that welcomes water to readily flow inside!

So, with that small introduction, here is the process of how we have been manufacturing the caseback for the MK2 Curl Curl.

Step 1. Raw material

Stainless steel 316 blanks are turned on a CNC lathe. This step is quite important as it establishes solid datums/references for all the subsequent machining operations, but also removes many of the internal stresses in the material from the raw, rolled state.
Step 2. Internal caseback machining

The blank is then held in our Micro HD and the inside of the caseback is roughed out. This is actually the most important step in the manufacturing process as the sealing surfaces for the o-rings and the threads are made in this operation. These are the two areas of the case that provide all of the mechanical functionality. If the threads are too tight or loose, then the caseback is either impossible to install onto the mid-case, or the threads are not fully engaged which can present issues with cross threading, and the overall longevity of the case. Further, if the sealing surface (the area that compresses and seals against the o-ring) is not flat enough, or if the surface finish is too rough, the watch simply won't be waterproof!
Step 3. Service table engraving

This feature is something we are really proud of- the service table. Many watchmakers scribe their initials and the service date into the back of the watch, this acts as the best form of solid paperwork for the service history of the watch! Providing a little table for watchmakers to scribe the date and their initials is a little nod to the future.
Step 4. External caseback machining

In this step, the outside of the caseback is milled and engraved. My favourite part about this step is the stylised Curl Curl waves pattern that we engrave on the back-side! This is the same pattern that is on the dial of the MK2, but is zoomed in.
Step 5. Glass bead blasting and graining

After machining, the caseback is blasted with extremely fine glass beads that provide a very even, matte finish over the entire surface. To provide contrast to the Curl Curl waves pattern, the caseback is then grained by hand on an abrasive paper adhered to a granite surface plate.
Step 6. Water pressure testing

After all these steps, the most crucial QC step is water pressure testing!
Getting into case manufacturing is an important step towards our fully in-house manufactured NH watch. In the near future, we will be able to design and machine a case of any shape, size or profile, from literally any material. The capability is already here, but before we can embark on this exciting journey, we need more human hands - in-house trained technicians and machinists. This is our biggest challenge: people willing to work, to be trained and to become part of an exciting project.

As always, optimistically, looking ahead!

Room for expansion? Plenty! The logical step would be an investment in a Swiss-made, Swiss grade case polishing and finishing CNC machine. Like the one made by Crevosier SA. Here is a short video of this machine in action, finishing Richard Mille cases:

I have seen this very machine in action, in Geneva; and I can't tell you what is more impressive, the technology behind the machine, polishing action or the finished product. Absolute cutting edge.

How much? It's a scary number. Let me put it this way: if we sell the entire stock of watches we have currently listed on our website, we will just make it. And then we would still have to sell all our Seiko just to pay GST on import. LOL.

As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day. Our time is yet to come... one step at a time!