Thursday, July 2, 2020

Why should we care about preserving our horological past?

For a simple reason: there is not much left to be preserved. Every watch or pocket watch which bears unique Australian markings - regardless of how humble it may look- has a story to tell.

Here is a perfect example: a 1960 Peerless wrist watch imported for Victorian Railway. What makes this piece special: when Tasmanian Government Railways had a need to issue some wrist watches, they asked Victorian Rail for help. This particular piece was sent down to Tasmania, where it was numbered TGR A205. The VR W marks are still there as well.
This is the first and only 'double issued' piece I have seen so far.

The watch has been overhauled yesterday as 'an apprentice project'. The mechanism: an AS1900 which features a unique 'cannon pinion' assembly rarely seen in other calibres. The study of the click, click spring, and engagement with the ratchet wheel was bit of fun too.

The Peerless case is non-standard with 19mm spacing between the lugs, so we fitted on a 19mm NH leather strap(Italian leather) with our steel buckle. These are usually reserved for the Mark 1 line. Super handy!

Two points: if you ever come across an Australian Railway issued watch, snatch it. They are cheap as chips because "megabrand collectors" could not care less about our history. Second point: if you don't want it in your collection, drop me a note, I'll buy it. Much appreciated!

Finally, if you have a vintage watch which has 19mm non-standard lug spacing, we have black, brown, tan, and red leather straps in stock. These straps are in very limited supply (yes, we like to keep them for our Mark 1 customers). Strap price $50. Buckle side width: 18mm. NH Steel buckles are made of the finest surgical steel. Buckle price $50.

Reclaiming the Horological Grounds

Let's be brutally honest: mechanical watchmaking is a dying trade. The small pockets of activity are centred around mega brands who themselves go through cycles of boost and bust. Consequently the lack of interest from youngsters to join the trade and devote a decade or two in an exclusive but fast declining industry is quite understandable. The carcass has been decaying for a while - but thanks to the new world of fast communication and social media, we are witnessing an unusual development: horology being hijacked by vocal outsiders. Enthusiastic social media amateurs, watch forums, influencers financed by brands, startups, peddling the $20 Chinese watches while waving the banner of "new horology for the young,  modern man". The real watchmakers - the nerdy introverts - who actually sit behind the workbench, who make and repair watches and clocks - and invest a substantial amount of time training and passing their knowledge, are watching silently, slowly sliding into irrelevance.

Last night I spent nearly 3 hours conversing with Tommy Jobson, a thirty five years young English clockmaker. An hour and a bit of that conversation has been video recorded - for your enjoyment. Tommy is a down to earth, skilful and pedantic restorer trained in both watches and clocks. And we've discovered we have one thing in common: admiration to the best living clockmaker in the world - who nowadays, out of all places, resides in Australia!

The interview with Tommy is yet another attempt to reclaim horology by two students of horology, as we proudly call ourselves. It is yet another humble attempt to reverse the tide, to excite and re-focus your attention to things that matter. Ultimately, to lift your appreciation of horology to another level.

Next week we will surprise you with another guest so make sure to stay tuned in and to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Interview with Tommy Jobson, Bespoke Clockmaker: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMWU1xLbUlQ

Friday, June 26, 2020

There is a cure

This happens about once per year. And it happened last night. But I swear on George Daniels’ grave- it won't ever happen again.

The game is simple: a man in his late thirties calls to make an appointment. To a logical and very servile question "which watch is of interest?" he replies with a vague "I am not sure, what do you have in stock?" My assistant suggests a visit to our website where our entire (fairly modest) range of watches is listed in detail. Unfortunately, the caller refuses to take up the suggestion, determined to make an appointment to "discuss the matter in person" and inspect "whatever it is in stock".

Of course, in most cases that is not a problem, I am happy to help. But when that 'customer' arrives with a bunch of friends who are there to 'help', and when the crowd realizes that I am a small dealer who doesn't have any steel Daytonas, Hulks, or Batmans - or for that matter any watches on display - the buyer and his mates quickly become arrogant, agitated, and verbally abusive.

The mob is always of the same appearance: three white males, aged 30-40, wearing semi-designer clothes and Panerai, Hublot and Rolex watches. Big mouths, always in a pack, trying hard to insert their dominance, while faking disappointment.

Fruitless. Because trying to intimidate and frustrate a 57 year old, chubby, glasses-wearing watchmaker is as cowardly as it gets. It serves no purpose.

Over the decades I have had countless dealings with tens of thousands of men and women, of all ages, status and social backgrounds. From directors of multibillion dollar corporations, politicians, and bankers, to man who wears firearms for a living, and those who can settle any matter with one hit. With men of modest physique, but with great charm, a sense of humour and sense for fashion. Sophisticated alpha males. Great leaders. Decision makers. Tough men and women who work hard to make an honest living doing mundane jobs. Men of integrity and experts in their fields of activity - who all have one thing in common: a love for watches. And that dealing was and is always, without exception, based on mutual trust and mutual respect. Alpha males can achieve whatever they want (which is always a win-win outcome) without resorting to intimidation, abuse, aggression or cheating.

Men who gain pleasure by abusing the weak, who waste time, who get 'upset' over invisible scratches, men who are on a constant quest for perfection - while so painfully obviously imperfect themselves - who start the conversation with 'so what is your best deal' and who send 10 emails to complain about delayed shipping - all those men have one thing in common: they 'act' tough because they are impotent. And there is nothing more pathetic than three impotent, anonymous, ignorant men trying hard to intimidate a watchmaker.

The bad news is that joining a Rolex Forum or visiting local dealers and watchmakers ‘doing rounds’ will not solve the problem. However, the good news is that nowadays, erectile dysfunction can be treated with non-surgical methods. Yes, it may cost a Hublot or two, or even a Hulk, but if this is the price to be paid to sort out frustrations - it would be worth it, for sure.

Until then: take your frustrations elsewhere, visit by appointment only, and if you show up in a group of three or more – sorry, no entry.

Nicholas Hacko,
Master Watchmaker

Sydney

The world is running out of watch gears!

Or more precisely - our need for small diameter precision gears is diminishing fast. Some of you surely remember tape recorders, turntables, cassette players and video recorders - all the electronic equipment which contained more mechanical moving parts - and especially gears of all kind- than electronic components. Not to mention billions of domestic alarm clocks, small desk clocks, travel clocks, parking meters, water and gas meters, kilowatt hours meters - all gone, replaced with their electronic or digital version which no longer contain any gears whatsoever.

Yes, ironically the only consumer product which still requires high precision small diameter wheels and pinions is a high grade mechanical watch. And consequently, what once was commonly made in high volume and high precision, built to last for hundreds of years - the watch wheel - has become rare and incredibly hard and expensive to manufacture.

Trying to not just restart but to start from scratch a whole industrial precision process of making watch gears in Australia is an enormous challenge. There is not a single Australian business even attempting to setup itself for such a niche task, and to state that our journey is unique would be an understatement.

In today's episode Josh, Andrew and myself are sharing with you the first steps of our quest for 'in-house watch gear making'. We talk about challenges, timelines, production costs and gear making equipment setup in our Brookvale workshop. The reason we talk about this is threefold: we want to keep you informed and excited; it is a diary of a rather special project where the focus on learning grossly overweighs the profit, and finally, we share our know-how with anyone who may one day face the same problems as we face today, so they can learn from our experience.

The video itself is not overly technical and if you love watches, you'll love the story of what makes your watch tick. I am sure you will find it interesting.

As you will find once again, our project is running on 'passion for precision and excitement for horology'. In order to continue further, to continue making and most importantly training young Australian kids, we need your support. Your support is absolutely essential and it could be as simple as clicking the like button on YouTube. Each like counts. And if you do like our video, make sure you subscribe as well. Subscription is just one more click, which will cost you nothing, yet it will mean a lot to keeping our channel active. Liking and subscribing is FREE and takes less than a second. Rolex and Omega don't make videos like we do, nor do they expect your support - nor do they care about Australian manufacturing like you and we do.

To watch the video, go to: https://youtu.be/pJkFtRbTqPw

Of course, buying a $9 mug or $35 shirt would be even better. Again, the benefit is purely yours - we sell mugs at cost and we only make a few dollars on shirts. We are not begging you to buy our watch - new or second hand - you'll buy it when you are ready, in your own time. That's fine.                           

Case polishing explained

Last week we published a photo of before and after of a Rolex case polishing job undertaken by Bobby, second year apprentice.
The polishing was done by hand using just various grades of emery paper and a wooden stick, with mirror finish achieved on a rotating buff wheel (cotton disc and polishing medium).
The end result speaks for itself. We posted the photos on Instagram inviting our followers to rate the job anywhere between 6 and 9 out of 10. As we expected, almost all marked the job with top grade.  What we didn't expect: this photo was one of the three most liked posts with over 600 likes.

Yet a couple of watch enthusiasts couldn't help but to offer rather strange opinions on the matter. There were two complaints:
1. Case polishing is bad because it removes patina
2. Hand polishing and especially buffing on the wheel is a 'bad' method. Watch cases should be lapped, not polished.
Yes, for some, case polishing is a controversial issue.  Allow me to defuse it for you and help you understand the fundamentals.
Once you understand those fundamentals then you will be able to make an educated decision.

What is patina?
Patina is a green or brown film on the surface of bronze or similar metals, produced by oxidation over a long period. Patina is also a gloss or sheen on a surface of antique furniture resulting from age or polishing.
Please note: we use same term to describe completely different effects created in different manner on two different surfaces: bronze and wood. Yet in both cases, it is the patina - whether it is the sign of natural ageing, polishing with shellac and oxidation- which gives an object the distinctive 'naturally aged' shine and colour.
It takes no expert to appreciate that a fine bronze sculpture should not be polished (only dusted!), neither should a fine French polished antique table be stripped down to bare wood or attacked with aggressive polishing agents. We leave bronze and wood alone- to age naturally.
Stainless steel which is used in modern watches is a different story altogether. Ideally, stainless steel does not oxidize - so it cannot develop any patina whatsoever. The oxidation process of steel is simply called rust. Pitting is actually worse than surface rust - it is a nasty corrosion which kills the water resistance of watch cases. Since almost all modern watch cases are nowadays made of stainless steel, titanium or precious metal, we don't associate the term 'patina' with watch cases.  To use the term 'patina' on any watch case except bronze, is grossly inappropriate.

Stainless steel cases leave the watch factory with a variety of surfaces: polished, gloss, mirror finish, brushed, sand blasted. General expectations with modern watch servicing are to at least improve the condition of scratched cases, if not to return them to as close to original finish where possible. Again, not to preserve any patina - because there is no patina to be preserved.

"Please don't polish - I like my scratched case!"
Fair enough! If your wish is to have all the bruise marks, dents and scratches 'preserved' than who am I to argue with your choice? Indeed, some watch owners are very particular in this respect. However, it is important to point out the obvious:  a vast majority of MODERN watch owners would prefer polished cases and bracelets, restored it to 'like new condition'.  Scratches are bad and undesirable. Disagree? Would you intentionally scratch your new car? Or a brand-new laptop, mobile phone - or a brand-new watch? Removing scratches is DESIRABLE. It's good. It's fine. Removing scratches is difficult, and we don't do it just for fun or to impress you, so relax and enjoy your new polished surface!
However - there is an exception to this rule: unlike modern watches, rare, high value vintage watches SHOULD NOT BE POLISHED. Not because they are worth more when scratched, but because polishing - and in some cases even cleaning- could significantly reduce chances of assessing the originality of both external and internal parts. All the scratches, dings and dents help us to determinate if the watch is original or a Frankenstein put together from new and old parts, or a watch which has been restored correctly - or not.

Polishing is an inferior alternative to lapping
Yes, it is true that almost all modern stainless-steel watch cases and bracelets are polished with the help of modern multi-million-dollar CNC machinery, fully automated, in a process which no longer involves human touch. The final step of that polishing process is lapping. Lapping is a technique where a liquid polishing medium is applied between the work-piece (watch case) surface and a lapping plate. Due to the nature and geometry of those lapping plates, as well as highly controllable lapping action, this automated process produces very uniform surfaces which retain geometry. In other words, polished ‘edges’ are crisp, defined and 'sharp'. They look like they have been defined and polished by robots - which they are.
In other words, when it comes to case finishing, nothing beats machine lapping. Unfortunately, lapping is highly specialized process and your independent watchmaker is either not set for lapping, or when he is able to offer such service, it is only to a limited number of watch cases / shapes / brands. It is a trade in itself - and quite frankly, has nothing to do with watchmaking. To expect your independent small watchmaker to offer case refurbishment service equal to those of mega-brand is simply unrealistic: the same as expecting everyone to fly first class or drive a Ferrari.

"Oh NO! You've polished my watch and rounded the lug! I am devastated!!"
Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world, and we have to put up with compromise. Watch polishing is ALWAYS a compromise. At the end of the day, you have to answer this question for yourself: which one would I prefer - "before" or "after"? Because this is all we can offer. Polished cases could mean some very minor 'rounding'. This is just a nature of the polishing process, especially when done by hand. However, an experienced polisher is well aware of the process and will do everything possible to keep the wheel buffing action just for the final mirror finish. When we remove scratches, we use a range of abrasive papers and films, in various grades, which takes a majority of polishing time and this is why our results are as per photo.
Not good enough for you? Well, the best polished case is - case replaced. For that, you need to talk to your watch brand service department. We can consistently offer; 6, 7 or 8 out of 10. On a good day - even a solid nine. For perfection see our competition.

Conclusion
There is no such thing as patina on steel cases. Scratches are bad, so take a good care of your watch and you won't need frequent polishing. Polishing is time consuming, requires skills- therefore expensive. Learn to live with small imperfections -life is not perfect. Be happy with the end result - returning the watch case to 'brand new condition' is impossible!

The most abused horological masterpieces

are pocket watches. Butchered, slaughtered, molested then discarded. Being larger than wrist watches, pocket watches are simply a magnet for 'wannabe watchmakers'.
Here is a perfect example of a 1920 pocket watch made by Moser and Cie. Heinrich Moser was a famous watchmaker who set up his shop in St. Petersburg. His clients included Russian princes and members of the Imperial court. Lenin also owned a Moser watch.

The original click (ratchet locking lever) was most likely missing and while the intentions were good, the lack of skills and watchmaking tools is evident.

Yet bizarrely, this crude, oversized click functions - and the watch works!

I happen to have another Moser pocket watch in my collection, so you can see how the original click looks like.

But then again, perhaps, there could be another side of this 'less than perfect' restoration. What if the owner of the watch was positioned on a remote Siberian island? Or even worse - if he was a prisoner in Stalin's gulag, maybe an engineer who understood what the function of the click spring was, but had no tools - other than crude workshop tools - to make a sophisticated replacement?

We should be not too quick to judge and ridicule. And sometimes, trying to 'fix the wrong' could cause even more injustice to our appreciation of humanity and history.

My rule is simple: whatever it is - if you didn’t make it, you have no rights to destroy it. If you really feel compelled to destroy something, then here is a suggestion - start with destroying your own masterpieces.            
             

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

You are invited


I am a big believer in self promotion.

If you don't tell the world what you stand for or what you are capable of doing, or what specialist service you provide to make customer's life easier and better, then you will die as an old, lonely, poor man.

And if there ever was a self promoting business then it's Rolex. Without doubt, it was Rolex who figured out that even a modest, basic timepiece could be transformed into a luxury item when enough money is poured into advertising. To this day, Rolex advertises and self promotes mercilessly. Yet you will never hear a Rolex owner complaining about Rolex's self-promotion.

On Sunday night Josh, Andrew, Bobby and myself spent a couple of hours in our Brookvale workshop recording a video. The plan was simple: not to advertise, but to share. To invite you to be part of our journey. We want to show you our excitement about what we do. Summed up in one word: watchmaking is hard. It's equally as hard for Swiss, German, American, Chinese and Japanese, as it is hard for a small Australian startup. On Sunday we watched 8 inspiring YouTube videos: Patek, Lange, Greubel Forcey, Leroy and we've felt encouraged to keep pressing on. We also felt compelled to recommend those videos to you, so your appreciation of watchmaking will continue to grow. These videos are not a mere brand advertisement but a journey 'deep down' to a very personal, human level, showing the real people who make real watch parts. You will be impressed with our selection.

Watch it here:
https://youtu.be/O-OdpHlrjUk

PS if you would like to tip us- just leave a friendly comment, like and subscribe. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Creating your own watch: Three mistakes we made that you should avoid



No script, no editing, raw from the camera. We've tried to answer the most common question asked by enthusiastic watchmakers / brand makers: how do you get your name on a watch dial? Where does one start? And this is a tough question to answer.

Do you start by making a watch George Daniels' way -a million dollar masterpiece- or by kick-starting a campaign selling $100 watches? Or perhaps there is something in-between? Neither Josh nor I are experts, but we've tried to attack the question by sharing some 'behind the scenes' details of our Mark One project. Who is to blame for the 3 major mistakes which resulted in a 12 month delay? What have we learned along the way? Was the project worth the trouble and have we achieved our goals?

If you are a Mark One owner then you will enjoy this video. And if you are considering a Mark One watch then this is a great opportunity to learn more, not just about the watch, but more importantly about the project itself- a project you will be proud to support. Yes, we do mention names but we search for answers- remaining brutally honest. 

Of course, make sure to subscribe, and if you do enjoy it, then please click the like button.

To watch our video click here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaHKjP3-bUM&feature=youtu.be


Friday, June 5, 2020

Freedom to Make, Right to Repair

Hello, 
Order received yesterday, thanks. I think that's the fastest delivery during this whole isolation thing, congratulations. 
The loupes are lovely. The gold polishing cloth is magic. The mug is awesome. I have attached a photo of E07 with it. 
Have a great day, 
Stephen from Melbourne


Timascus Update: No. 17

"The insane intensity of Timascus"

Yes, this is the actual nickname of the seventeenth piece in our Timascus series which was snatched up within minutes of being assembled. 

Currently, No. 18 which is predominantly a green plasma pattern, is assembled and I expect it to be completed by the end of June. Right now, the only two Timascus watches in stock and ready for delivery are J013, and J015. 


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Seiko. Since 1881


There is no greater way to end the week than on a high note. This morning I got a letter from a Seiko owner. The bracelet on his trustworthy Seiko Cal. 7A28, finally gave up the ghost. And who can blame the poor thing - it had lasted over 35 years! The owner had contacted the Seiko service centre in Sydney and they replied with the following:

"The calibre is 7A28-703B and unfortunately we are no longer able to assist with that watch due to the exhaustion of our original spare parts.

You may however find that a watchmaker who can be sourced through the WCA (Watch & Clockmakers of Australia Inc.) website can assist. The WCA website is http://www.wca.org.au.  Once in the website you may need to click on the small circle on the top right hand corner to gain access to the Repairer Locator  where you can find Seiko Service Specialists https://wca.tidyhq.com/public/pages/wca-member-seiko-specialists or watch and clock repairers https://wca.tidyhq.com/public/pages/member-locator

These businesses often have residual stock of original parts or generic parts which enables them to undertake work where we cannot.  We have in the past referred people to the Watch and Clockmakers of Australia Inc and they were able to get their watch repaired.

Disclaimer note: The WCA is not associated in any technical or commercial way with the Seiko Australia P/L and we accept no responsibility of any kind whatsoever for the outcome of work carried out by their members.

The WCA website is http://www.wca.org.au

Regards
Customer Service – Client Contact" 

How uplifting an example of great customer service this is. Whilst Seiko can't help this time, they are still able to provide hope. The appreciation of WCA (a professional body for independent Australian watchmakers) was more than just respectful but a logical possible solution. Even the suggestion that repairing a bracelet with generic parts should be an acceptable outcome is encouraging. While we personally have no stock of Seiko parts, there is a possibility that our colleagues might have, and might be able to help.

If I were the recipient of Seiko's letter and owner of a Seiko watch I would be so pleased with the way my query was handled and, without a doubt, would consider buying a new Seiko watch. There is something gratifying about being a part of a great brand who which still stands at the very forefront of horology.

And I hear what you’re saying: why do Swiss brands still arrogantly refuse to offer you the same level of service? Why do they not see independent watchmakers as an important link in the horological chain; and why are they preventing us watchmakers from doing what we are trained for by restricting the supply of spare parts?

We are expecting a delivery of our Freedom to Make, Right to Repair mugs on Monday, and the first mug will be sent to the Seiko service people as a recognition of mutual respect.  

Well done comrade Hattori! 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Timascus Update: cutting the timascus with a diamond tool



Long story short, as Josh reports from Brookvale:

"No-one has ever cut timascus with a diamond, and that's what we are doing here- using diamond tools to make timascus perfectly flat. How flat? Below 1 micron over the length of 45mm flat bar. When we first reported this to machining community, some struggled to comprehend and accept or results. That was quickly 'sorted out' once the flatness of the machined bar was confirmed with digital measuring probe with resolution of 0.1 micron."

We have three videos on the link below, each just a few seconds in length, of measuring, light reflection on a lapped Timascus 3/4 bridge, and actual diamond cutting.

Check it out, and make sure you like it!
https://www.instagram.com/p/CAeI9QmJneF/

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Too old, too dumb, unwilling to invest - YouTube Live

Mark your diary, and set a reminder on your YouTube account for
Sunday 17th May, 10am AEST LIVE on YouTube.

Celebrating the 8th birthday of our Australian watchmaking project.
- 3 reasons why makers cannot quit.
- Freedom to make, Right to repair.
- Tour of our manufacturing facility
- Answering your questions: Live

*** UPDATE





Again, thank you to all those that tuned in yesterday for our live broadcast on YouTube. I have to say, I feel liberated for getting it off my chest. Our project started when I was 50 and Josh was not even 15, in desperation to prove a point and to make a firm stand. "Too old, too dumb and unwilling to invest" was an insult I could not live with. In this video, we talked about events and people who have helped us on our journey; the most heart breaking moment that almost crushed our spirit; and the small and major victories along the way. Of course, we are not there yet, but we are now finally FREE to peruse our dreams.

A big thank you goes to Rolex and other Swiss brands. Without you, this story could not be told.

Unscripted, raw, told as it is.

Watch the video by following the link here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn_vuUbMWLM

Preserving Australian railway watches- one Pronto at a time


It is always great to start the week on a high note. We have discovered a second Pronto Quartz SRANSW watch (model ref #612-714-31). What a find! Full credit for this discovery goes to Bobby who found it on eBay.

There are three main differences between the #622-639 (on a brown strap), and the only other known model that we currently have is #612-714-31 (on a black strap).

- Both have very different case styles.
- The width of the hands on the 622 model are slightly thinner than the 612 model.
- The red print on the dial is bolder on the 622 model. 



There is no greater joy than preserving our horological history, one watch at a time. My dear subscribers I beg you to look for Australian Railway issued watches. If you see one, snatch it! Send me a photo so we can put it in our catalogue, and if you don't want to keep it for yourself let me know.                           

From Apprentice Corner: Brian Loomes

Brian Loomes is a horological historian, genealogist, and a prolific author and best-known expert on British clocks. As Britain's longest-established clock dealer, his name is known by everyone connected with antique clocks.

Through his own original research in ancient records into the life and work of clockmakers he has compiled thirty reference books and hundreds of articles about antique British clocks and their makers. Several of them have become definitive texts and are used as standard reference books by museums, libraries, auction houses and collectors the world over. So much so that even many of the terms today in general use to describe certain types of clock features were first coined in these books.

Brian Loomes is not a watchmaker by trade, but our young apprentices are expected to immerse themselves into the work of Loomes, discover his style, methodology, attention to detail, and relentless pursuit of penning down horological history which would otherwise remain unpreserved.

This week we are studying ‘The Concise Guide to British Clocks’, and our apprentices are required to write down technical words and terms they have not heard before. We discuss them the following day, and we learn together.

The first four words we discussed yesterday were:

Fusee
Hood pillar
Spandrels
Foliot


(These were Chloe's picks)

Do you know what these terms refer to, without looking them up? I have to admit, I tripped up on 'spandrels' and had to ask Bobby to look it up for us. Not to make any excuses, but if the word had been in context, I am sure I would have worked it out. If you too are struggling to work it out then here is a tip- there are four on the dial of a traditional English long case clock.                          

From Apprentice Corner: Book Review

Longitude by Dava Sobel

Longitude, by Dava Sobel is a short but no less fascinating read. The history revealed and timeline constructed, outline the trials and tribulations of mariners, scientists and astronomers alike in their quest to accurately measure longitude.

The concept of using a grid like system of coordinates to plot and chart any spot on the earth’s surface is owed in part to Ptolemy in his work Geographica of the 2nd century. These lines, latitude and longitude respectively, thereby can be used to not only chart but also navigate the open ocean with no landfall in sight. Latitude, the lines circling the girth of the earth, is calculated simply with skyward indicators in the positioning of the stars or sun. Longitude however began to be calculated utilising time comparison, given the angular nature of the lines as they circle the earth pole to pole. The mariners must have two ’times’ for their calculations, that of their current location (native time) and that of the pre-determined port of known longitudinal location. They needed a watch that they could carry on the boat and accurately and consistently tell the time of their destination port. Cue one of the greatest problems that persisted over almost 16 centuries to stump even the greatest minds, and the man who triumphed in creating a solution to which there was no contest and the ramifications that we still use today.

The catalyst that formed the tipping point for the longitude problem was the 1707 tragedy. Admiral Sir Clowdesley Shovel was the head of a British fleet that, due to miscalculations that were prevalent at the time, dashed and sunk four warships against the rock of Scilly Isles and lost more than 1600 lives to the mistake. In response a parliamentary committee was formed and the parliament in 1714 passed the 'Longitude Act' offering £20,000 for a viable solution. The wining solution was one that had accuracy within a singular half degree, approximately 30miles, on a journey from England to the West Indies.

The great many ideas for solutions across the centuries were either mechanical (clock) or astronomical. Ranging from celestial patterns, tracking the moon's path across the sky in relation to stars, or the four known moons of Jupiter. The mechanical clock method relied on the time difference equation with a clock bearing the destination port time and the local time noted at noon, thereby calculating for every hour apart, there is 15 degrees of longitude between the ship and destination.

Newton himself noted a small watch would be ideal however he saw the possibility of an astronomical solution as more giving. It wasn't until 1727 when a self-educated village man of carpentry and watchmaking skills caught wind of the prize potential. By 1730 this man, named John Harrison, already had substance enough plans to share them with Edmund Halley, a board member who encouraged Harrison and connected him with another Society member who specialised in clockmaking. Five years later Harrison had a clock (H1) that tested well on its maiden voyage of Lisbon. Harrison, taken by the possibilities of his own idea built another chronometer, namely H2, in just 5 years. His second clock was given more accolades than the first however Harrison being a man of not science but watchmaking and carpentry, was self-driven to achieve not the best but his best, and this he took twenty years to build another chronometer, H3.

As Harrison's instruments became more accurate and reliably more suitable, so did the contending astronomical solutions,  just as the intrigue did for with more scientific minds wanted their idea not Harrison's to succeed. Chiefly against Harrison was Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, and he pursued testing on Harrison's clocks and at each point attempted to thwart his efforts in the name of having a more scientific solution despite the brilliance of Harrison's chronometers. Despite this after completion of the third watch and receiving of the Copley Gold Medal (1749), a fourth pocket version was completed, tested and proven on the West Indies trip that was requirement. Despite this board did not immediately award the prize as they had in Harrison's absence of making, become focused on other methods that proved not as accurate but still viable. 1765 was when they finally awarded only half the total prize and moved the goal posts again for Harrison, and demanded he create duplicates to prove the replicability of his watches, as well as ordering a secondary watchmaker to produce a duplicate. Harrison would not receive the final prize amount until 1773. The true prize More than 5,000 ship chronometers would be used by 1815.

Marine chronometers are now regarded and appreciated worldwide as priceless collectors items. After reading Longitude, I got to see a marine chronometer from 1841. The craftsmanship behind the chronometer really made me want to develop the skills so that I can one day sit in front of a historical timepiece not just in admiration, but know how to disassemble, adjust, reassemble, and if needed make a replacement part. This is a watchmaker's dream.   
                     

Doing it the Wright way



Sheffield has been home to England's blade-making industry since the 14th century and is where stainless steel was originally invented in 1912. In the 1970's, there were 150 small-scale scissor workshops in Sheffield but now there are just two, one of which is Ernest Wright and Sons.

The Wright family have been involved in the boring, hardening and tempering of scissors since at least the 1800’s. As far back as records go, Walter Wright – a renowned ‘Little Mester’ of Sheffield – specialised in finishing scissor blades as an outworker and was also referred to as ‘Master Scissor Putter-togetherer’.

A scissor putter-togetherer is the title given to the holder of a five-year-to-fully-apprenticed skill set and trade, known and still used by our craftsmen today.

Since Walter Wright moved into the scissors industry, successive generations joined the trade. Walter’s son, Ernest, followed in his father’s footsteps to ultimately found the company in 1902. After him, Ernest Wright Jr and his sons Graham and Philip Wright all took their turn in running this family business. Finally, fifth generation scissor maker Nick Wright stepped in.

Cliff Denton is one of just two master putter-togetherers left. Both in their 70s, the masters are the only ones skilled enough to undertake the final delicate part of the process: the assembly of these scissors, or putting together.

However, after a short film called 'The Putter' featuring Cliff went viral in 2014, the business that had once been so slow that staff were only working two days a week, received two years’ worth of orders in a single day. Two years later in June 2016, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign for a throwback pair of kitchen scissors and ended up making four times their goal from more than 3600 backers.

Tragically, Nick Wright, the last of the Ernest Wright family, took his own life in February 2018, and wrote in a parting message “I tried so hard, this was no scam, I just could not make it happen. Too much pressure, not enough resource or time. I am so very genuinely sorry to you all.”

The light in the dark is that a pair of Dutch entrepreneurs have purchased and invested in the company, releasing this statement regarding their goal to 'Keep the Heritage Alive.'

When we acquired the assets of the company, there had been decades of decline and recent tragedy. The machinery was in neglect and although the workers had done all they could to keep the ship afloat, the heritage was slipping away.

To make sure that Ernest Wright continues to manufacture quality, handmade scissors, we’ve invested heavily in the workshop. By researching how to improve production, new machinery has been introduced that salutes the heritage and skill of our Putters. We’re working hard to keep the craft alive. Cliff Denton and Eric Stones, each with over 60 years’ worth of experience, are currently passing on their knowledge to new apprentices.

The runaway apprentice



APPRENTICE RAN AWAY. Penrith 24th of 12th month 1790. Whereas John Thompson (son of John Thompson of Wigton, Clockmaker) an indentured apprentice to William Wilkinson (late of Wigton) Clockmaker, ran away from his said Master some time ago...Notice is hereby given that whoever harbours or employs the said Apprentice, shall be prosecuted as the law directs...William W.

However, the apprentice's father was not content to let it pass at that, but took an advertisement himself shortly after. 

TO THE PUBLIC. Whereas an advertisement appeared in the Cumberland Pacquet of the 29th Ult (previous month) under signature of WILLIAM WILKINSON of Penrith, Clockmaker, charging his apprentice John Thompson... with having some time ago deserted his apprenticeship, The said apprentice;s father will give a sufficient indemnity to any person who may employ or harbour his son and take every method to chastise Wilkinson's insolence; and that the public may not be deceived by his fictitious advertisement, the following facts are laid before them, viz. The young man in March 1787 under necessity of leaving his master, for want of victuals and other bad treatment and about that time a Magistrate (the late Dr Dunn of Lowther) on hearing both parties, ordered him home to his parents with a severe reprimand to Wilkinson ho has ever since known where the said apprentice was, and whose term elapsed the 5th of April last and shortly after Wilkinson directed the gentleman who had the custody of the indentures to cancel them, without (before or since) making any demand of the young man as his apprentice, till very lately, when he saw him at work with Mr Lough, watchmaker, in Penrith when a jealous and malevolent disposition instigated his insolent advertisement. John Thompson Senr. Wigton. Jan 8th 1791.

Extract from 'The Concise Guide to British Clocks' by Brian Loomes

Timascus Update: The Rise of the Titans

After a few months of waiting, today we received a delivery of special titanium bars. The alloy known as 6Al4V contains aluminium and vanadium. Usage: prototypes for the racing and aerospace industries. In particular, 6Al4V is used extensively for the Boeing 787 aircraft.

Titanium was originally discovered by amateur scientist William Gregor in 1791 as a reddish brown clay he could not identify. In 1795, Austrian chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth identified titanium as an entirely new element and named it Titanium after the Greek Gods known as Titans. The Titans were strong and giant deities in Greek mythology and is the root of many words, such as titanic, associated with great size and strength.

Titanium is 30% stronger than steel, but is nearly 50% lighter. It is 60% heavier than aluminium, but twice as strong. In horology, high corrosion resistance is a valuable characteristic. After anodising, it’s tenacious oxide film resists many corrosive materials, particularly salt water.

Our intention is to use 6Al4V to make watch screws for NH2 Timascus. Green, gold, pink, blue, and purple screws coming to your NH2 soon!

Monday, May 11, 2020

A bit of good news...actually two! (Timascus Project)



Firstly, over the weekend a photo of Timascus NH2 J14 received over 500 likes on our Instagram page (as of 11th May 2020). This is a huge compliment, especially so because the majority of our Instagram followers are machinists, watchmakers, and makers in general - those who make things with their hands. The Timascus project is generating interest for a number of reasons, but clearly the irresistible colours of the three-component alloy have real pulling power.

The second bit of good news: after a rather long wait we received our delivery of a diamond flycutter - a special, one-off tool made for our Kern mill. After installation, we recorded a video of the laser calibration of the tool and sent it to the German manufacturers. To our surprise, they posted our video to their Instagram page - a massive tick of approval.

Here is the link to the Kern page: https://www.instagram.com/p/B__VaE3Jyvz/
Watch the laser beam measuring the height of the rotating tool.         
               

Go and buy a Dufour!


Image from : https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/fashion/watches-philippe-dufour.html

If you haven't heard of Philippe Dufour then you are not really into horology. A Swiss master watchmaker since 1967, who started his own brand in the 1978, is regarded as one of the best ‘finishers’ in Switzerland- and indeed the world. A finisher is a craftsman who shapes and polishes material to perfection using simple hand tools - really nothing more than files and diamond powder with the help of a wooden polishing stick. But Dufour also makes almost all of his watch components in his farmhouse atelier by hand.

I have been following his work for a number of years and remember seeing Simplicity in watch dealer’s displays in Japan. Yet Dufour is the kind of master that both attracts me and repels me at the same time. There are some aspects of Dufour that I simply do not understand.

Here are the things that I admire: He is absolutely spot-on when he talks about the restoration work of vintage pocket watches as an excitingly unavoidable step of personal development. Of course, attention to detail and countless hours behind the workbench are another mark of a true craftsman. The courage it took to take his destiny into his own hands, and tell the big Swiss brands “screw you” is simply inspirational and yes, he is not afraid of saying that ultra complex watches are not for idiots.

However, there are other facets of Dufour that lose me: his failure to retain his most valuable employee- his daughter, a master watchmaker herself who now works for Patek Philippe. The omission to recognise that watchmaking is no longer exclusively a Swiss thing and that there are brilliant independent watchmakers outside of Switzerland. He is rather surprised that nowadays AHCI members are mostly non-Swiss yet it was the brilliance of the Dutch, English, and French who centuries before the Swiss set the bar of haute horology. This, combined with the enthusiasm of Americans allowed Switzerland to build on that knowledge and turn watchmaking into a global industry. This is pretty much what Japan is doing today.

However, what really gets my blood boiling is when he brags about his flirting with Rolex. How he went in to the Rolex shop, had his name put down on a waiting list on a GMT Master but only waited 2 months. What about being put on a waiting list for a mass produced watch brings celebratory excitement? That’s like Eric Clapton secretly watching Nicki Minaj videos then publicly bragging about her bum! A complete disconnection. "My advice to watch collectors- Go and buy Rolex, you will not lose money on it!” says Dufour. Seriously? My advice: "Go and buy Dufour".

I hope I haven’t spoiled it too much for you, but this interview is an absolute must.

Interview with Philippe Dufour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bMin3cQkKA

Monday, May 4, 2020

The flooded Rolex



A customer knocked on my door at 4pm on Friday. "Can you help? My Rolex is full of water!"

"Of course I can - but how did you find me? I am not authorised to repair Rolex watches and I have no access to Rolex parts. And why didn’t you take it to the Rolex service centre? "

"Because Rolex is closed and because I am desperate” she said.

And she was. The watch had flooded on Monday, and there were already signs of rust at the edge of the dial. We were running out of time- fast.

A couple of weeks ago, the Rolex service centre in Sydney shut their doors "until further notice" due to the pandemic crisis. Watch repair is not an essential service and no one can argue with their decision.  But in the case of the flooded Datejust, that decision meant that by the time service would be back up and running, the watch would be a complete write-off. I can't even guess how much a new mechanism would cost - perhaps $4,000 or even more. Throw in a new dial and hands- a cool $5,000.

Of course, I had to stay after hours on Friday, but the damage to the flooded Rolex was contained and minimised, and as I type this, it is ticking cheerfully. Repair cost: $1100+GST.

I am not expecting a thank you note from Rolex. 'Thank you for helping our customer out in a time when we could not. Thank you for servicing our product and keeping our business’ reputation. Thank you for saving thousands of dollars for our customers.'

"We will never again supply spare parts to Australian independent watchmakers" said Rolex eight years ago, and to their credit, they've kept their word.

Of course, I know what you are going to say: in a few weeks from now, things are going to be ‘back to normal’. What guarantee do you have as a Rolex owner that the Rolex service centre will ever reopen? At a time of recession, 20% unemployment, when millions of Australians depend on Government handouts? At a time when even the Rolex factory in Switzerland has been closed? When sports events worldwide have been cancelled and Swiss brands no longer spend money on advertising?

I don't think that Rolex will shut down their Australian operation, but it is quite possible that two service centres (Melbourne and Sydney) could combine into one. Or if sales drop significantly, that Hong Kong could take care of all Australian customers. Rolex production was severely cut in 2018 and this is now the third year of empty displays. It's not all rosy in the country of cheese and chocolate.

And Rolex is the strongest of all Swiss brands.

Make no mistake: I would love to see the return of the good old days when Rolex was manufacturing millions of watches per year; when there was no waiting list for any model, when independent watchmakers were an integral part of their business and had access to spare parts, and when the second hand market was overflowing with stock. A co-operation between brands, watchmakers, and watch owners based on mutual respect. Is it too much to ask?

Our new "8th anniversary" logo has been freshly redesigned. The fist of resistance holding the spanner pays tribute to all makers, and especially so to machinists. The escape wheel is the symbol of watchmaking.

And together, we stand: no mega-brand, or monopolist, or institution or even Government can take away our freedom to be creative, inventive, to design and make, to repair or service, to trade and advertise for the benefit of our own and that of our customers. 
                     

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Global Revolution (or just a storm in a teacup?)



As I look back on the past eight years since we decided to start our own brand, there is an overwhelming feeling of failure. Sure, we have achieved our own goals, and in many ways we could never have predicted that in just a few short years we would be making our own watch parts and training machinists in Australia, but when it comes to revolution- or educating watch owners and the general public about injustice in watch the industry- our voices are silent.

There are a number of reasons why we have failed to keep the momentum going:

1. Being an activist and standing for something costs money and time. Lobbying is expensive.

2. We lack the very specific legal skills needed to help us shape our voice in the right direction.

3. We failed to see the bigger picture. Whilst the watchmaking industry is a perfect example of mega-brand oppression, there are a number of other industries far more important to the general public and Australian consumers. Being united is an absolute must.

4. We put all our money on one horse. Naively we mistakenly placed all our hopes on the ACCC (the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) and when they reacted impotently and disinterestedly and diluted the issue, overwhelmed- we quit, and we quit too soon.

So, what’s new, and what’s next?

All the pressure from big businesses and mega-brands is constantly increasing and our basic rights have been eroded. Eight years ago we talked about the right to repair, now we are talking about the freedom to make; freedom to advertise, design, and manufacture; and the right to compete fairly.

Even when the issues are not directly affecting us we are shocked with the arrogance of multinational corporations like Google and Facebook that now make open threats to the Australian Government and Australian consumers if they are not left alone to run their business in a way that suits only their needs.

At a time where we are about to lose local and metropolitan newspapers - unable to compete with online media which is practically stealing their content and making a profit from their hard labour - there is serious concern that the ACCC’s efforts to curb those mega enterprises plans will ultimately fail at both Federal Court and High Court. We don’t have to guess what the future will look like anymore. In the United States, Google and Facebook have already devastated print media, leading to the closure of companies across the US after collapsing advertising revenues, rapid circulation declines, dramatically depleting local coverage, and wiping out thousands of media industry jobs.

Eight years ago, no one would have predicted this as even a remote possibility.

For that reason alone, we should not sit tight. Your industry might be next.

The fist of resistance is your fist holding your tool. Your slogan might be different to ours but our goals are the same.