Friday, May 29, 2009

A tribute to Frankenstein

Here is a rare beauty that you won’t see often: a stunning IWC Portugueser, dating back to the early 1930s. The 48mm steel case seems like it has been manufactured only yesterday – a timeless design!

This impressive watch is fitted with an 8-day power reserve, manual wind movement.

1930's IWC Portugueser

1930's IWC Portugueser

1930's IWC Portugueser

Before you rush to click on my email button to ask the proverbial "how much for cash" question, allow me to disclose one minor detail: this watch is unfortunately fake!

Yes, the watch’s movement is indeed a genuine IWC movement from the 1930s; but it is designed and manufactured for a pocket watch! In addition, the completely fake dial is accompanied with original hands and the stainless steel case has been recently manufactured either in India or China.

Some sophisticated con artist might call this a tribute to IWC watches or a marriage but to me, this is nothing but fraud because it was produced to deceive.

For a watch to be a genuine piece, all of the components need to be created under the same workshop by the same maker at the same time. Unscrupulous "watchmakers" who assemble watches from new, old, inappropriate of after-market parts remind me of Dr. Frankenstein, the man who created a monster.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Australia's Greatest Art Fraud

A criminal investigation is under way into the art dealer's affairs after he vanished with at least $30 million in artworks and money.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, three customers "bought the piece (the above paint) from (dealer) and are adamant they own it. Yet none is in possession of it and collectively they are missing $120,000".
You must read the entire article - it is definitely and eye opener into murky inner workings of Australian art trade.

You might ask yourself, "how can someone scam so many people with just one single painting?". Well, nobody knows for sure, but my first guess would be abuse of trust and accountability as a plausible factor that could induce people in being conned.

Almost every day, I receive phone calls from prospective customers who wish to sell their watches. In essence, this type of transaction is a straight-forward one - upon inspection, I would make an offer to purchase the watch for a certain amount of money. If the offer is accepted, the personal details of the customer as well as the serial number of the watch are recorded and filed, and a cash-cheque, payable at the Bank across the road, is issued.

Nevertheless, clients sometimes ask me if I would agree to take a watch on consignment. The answer is always NO. And I have more than one reason for not wanting to be involved with consignments.

A consignment is an agreement between the seller and the dealer, where the title of the goods (ownership of the watch) remains with the seller, yet the watch is physically in the dealer's possession. The dealer is entitled to sell the watch on behalf of the seller, keep a profit margin from the final sale amount and pay the rest to the seller.

For laypersons, it would seem that consignment is indeed an advantageous agreement for the dealer: the latter does not need to spend a cent in the process and if the watch does not find an owner, he can always return the unsold item to the seller.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case: When entering into a consignment agreement, the dealer takes on full responsibility for the watch in case of loss or theft, accepts to undertake any eventual repair or restoration and provides a guarantee on performance to the buyer. Being 'locked in price' and 'left at the mercy' of the seller, who can at any time opt out of the consignment contract for any reason whatsoever, is like walking on thin ice. And if I didn't have enough money to buy that watch in the first place, then obviously I cannot afford it (and obviously should not be trusted to take care of it!)

But there is still one more fundamental reason why I would never consider consignment:I do not want to be trusted unconditionally. Taking care of other people's goods is nothing but a burden.

So here is my advice to sellers and fellow dealers that could help everyone save time, money and headaches:
limit your level of trust to an absolute minimum - or even better: trust no one! Always exchange your goods for a real and tangible asset - cash.

"I owe you" is as bad as "you owe me".

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Number One Watch Enemy - Water (again)

I have dealt with numerous cases of watches with severe water damage and I have to admit by experience that this is by far the most frustrating part of running a watch repair business.
The photos below show the extent of water damage penetrating to the case of this poorly-treated Swiss beauty.

Water Damage to watch
Water Damage to watch
Water Damage to watch
Water Damage to watch
Water Damage to watch

The watch owner swore on stacks of Bibles that he always locks the winding crown before washing his hands. From the amount of rust in the case, I seriously doubted the veracity of his words.

According to him, the authorised service quoted $6,500 for repair (I did believe in this part of his confession), but I am afraid I do not have good news either...

Will keep you posted on this one. Stay tuned.

Time keepers and Time wasters

All watches and clocks in my workshop, including the most expensive mechanical timepieces worth many thousands of dollars, are set to correct time by my master clock - an inexpensive battery-operated Swiss junket carriage clock in a rather ugly case. This unattractive little quartz clock amazingly keeps excellent time - I only have to reset it twice a year when daylight savings kick in.

In recent years, I have found myself setting watches against my personal computer(PC) clock. I am obviously aware that my PC clock is not a standard benchmark for this purpose as it is often many seconds away from the exact time (sometimes even a minute or two) but for customers, this is rarely a problem. A small portion of picky customers would set their watches to radio signal time; nevertheless, the rest could not care less.

Today, my assistant Denis arrived late for work and blamed my computer, giving me a "it's your fault" excuse. He also pointed out that all the 3 PCs in the office set are on different time, as well as his watch and two mobile phones. Obviously, it was time to get our clocks on time.
A quick google search for 'atomic clock' lead to the World Timeserver. According to the website description, "Atomic Clock Synchronisation is the best way to make this happen". Sounds just right! So I clicked on the link

The Atomic Clock Sync v3.0 has a very intuitive and smooth installation process and a few seconds later, I was ready to press the Sync Now button.
Atomic Clock

However, this seemed too good to be true and I got the following error message on my screen:
"Unable to connect to RPC server".
What a bummer!

So, until we get a grasp of what the RPC server is, we will continue to set our timepieces against our trustworthy Swiss junket clock. And Denis has been asked to set his watch 5 minutes fast, just in case.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Make it a Rolexmas!

- The Marvelous ROLEX Wrist Watch

The Worlds Best by Every Test

Extract from the front page advert in Daily Mail dated November 24, 1927.

" A lifetime Gift for Christmastime - Because it is the best! The Rolex has emerged from every recognised test as the best time keeper in the world, a fact that is vouched for by Twenty World Records." And not to mention that obviously "...ALL GOOD JEWELLERS throughout the British empire stock Rolex Watches. Genuine Rolex watches have the name on the dial, or on the movement or under the case."

Not much has changed for the past 80 years - some Swiss makers are still living in their fantasy watch world, fabricating exaggerated claims and fighting endless battle against counterfeiters.

Daily Mail 1927 - Rolexmas

What caught my attention in this Rolex advertisement was the price range of Rolex watches, from "3 to 100 pound", which was a little fortune for a watch from a relatively unknown maker at that time. Clearly, Rolex had been an ambitious maker from their very early days and to their credit, Rolex understood the power and importance of marketing, way before their competitors.

Pendule de Voyage

The reasons why carriage clocks are so popular amongst horologists are many: they are decorative, old and interesting, entirely practical as timekeepers with a reasonable degree of accuracy (some keeping better time than your modern Rolex watches!) With charm and fascination of their own, fine examples are becoming more valuable with every year that passes.

After the last post and recommendation on a watch book referred by me as 'Watch Bible', a number of subscribers asked if there was a similar book about carriage clocks.

Before answering this question, let me just say that it is important to understand that unlike wrist watches which are produced for less than 100 years, domestic clocks have been around for at least 600 years. Although modern carriage clocks became fashionable in the early 1800s, the history of carriage clocks is far from being fully documented. Therefore, a proper reference book on the subject is yet to be written.

However, a keen student of Horology should make every effort to acquire the book by Charles Allix and Peter Bonnert "Carriage Clocks - their history and development". This rare and hard-to-find book was published in 1974.

Pendule de Voyage

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to receive Allix's book from a fellow horologist, Mr. Doug. Not only is he a keen collector, but also a true gentleman. Doug personalised my copy in a manner that truly reflects his kindness:

"Dear Nick - here, at last, is the carriage clock book. Charles Allix only published one edition. I sincerely trust that you will get as much pleasure and add to your store of knowledge as did I over the 25 years that I collected carriage clocks. Regards, D W."

With the book, I also received letters that Doug exchanged with Allix which provided further insight about the fascinating world of collecting. I take the liberty to quote just one paragraph from Doug's letter below:

"...whilst there (London, 1978) I bought two miniatures (carriage clocks) from Charles Frodhsam On the day I was leaving to return to Sydney I saw your book in a book store and a whole new world opened to me, thanks to you. Over the next 9 years I acquired 22 clocks including quarter strike by Leroy, a Jacot, a Margaine and Drocourt... I can't stress enough the pleasure and education that you have brought to me and countless others over the years..."

As A.G. Randalll wrote, "all who can recognise a labour of love when they see one will find in the Axells book clear evidence of more hard work, devotion to detail and sheer love of the subject than they have come across for a long time."

And that's what horology should be all about!

Rolex Case Polishing

Restoring or refinishing a stainless steel watch case is not as difficult as may be thought. Unfortunately most watchmakers are either not interested in doing it properly or were never taught how to do it. Those few who have mastered the skill of hand-polishing would rather die than to reveal their secret of the trade! The trick in obtaining mirror-like finish is simple : a/ to use correct polishing medium and b/ to master polishing skills by following the correct procedure.

This tutorial is aimed not only at watchmakers, but also at watch dealers and collectors wanting to familiarize themselves with the process of hand-polishing. The procedure shown below was passed to me by my father (and to him by his brother Mihajlo Hacko, Master Watchmaker since 1948. who still does his own watch repairs!)

Rolex Case polishing

Guinea pig: 15 years old Explorer II Ref 16570, long overdue for decent case re-polishing.

Rolex Case polishing

I prefer to do all case polishing by hand.

Step 1:
To get rid of scratches, start with coarse sand paper, grade 220.

Rolex Case polishing

Keep it parallel and keep polishing until you remove ALL scratches, no matter how deep. This step is very important.

Rolex Case polishing

All scratches are gone, but the surface is very coarse and dull. That's OK. The most important thing here is to remove ALL scratches and to have the grain lines parallel with the case.

Rolex Case polishing

Step 2: Switch to dry paper grade 800. I use German made, but most sand papers of similar quality will do the trick. You can buy this grade at any automotive shop supplier.

Rolex Case polishing

Don't rush - take your time (at least 5 minutes per side). The surface is still dull but we are heading in the right direction.(note how more light is now reflected from the steel surface)

Rolex Case polishing

Same surface, magnified. Keep it parallel! If I can do it, you can do it too :-)

Rolex Case polishing

Step 3: very much the same, now with finer grade dry paper - here I use Swiss made 1600 powder coated jewellers paper available from jewellers suppliers. This is jewellers stuff, so they prefer to call it 4/0

Rolex Case polishing

Take your time, don't rush - 5 min. per side

Rolex Case polishing

The steel surface now reflects even more light and looks fairly smooth.

Rolex Case polishing

Step 4: More of the same. Medium: 3M Film sheet polishing (plastic)grade 60 microns and 10 microns (2-3 minutes each).

Available from jewellery suppliers only. 3M film feels like ordinary plastic sheet, definitely not your ordinary sand paper :-)

Rolex Case polishing

If there are still any visible imperfections go back to Step 3.


Rolex Case polishing

Step 5: polishing on buffing wheel

Rolex Case polishing

There are far too many different polishing cotton wheels available; go for medium soft cotton disk, 10cm diameter.
Apply some chromium oxide rouge (known as Green Steel Rouge)

Rolex Case polishing

Keep polishing. Be careful not to over-buff edges!

Rolex Case polishing

Once you achieve mirror-like finish, clean in ultrasonic.

Rolex Case polishing

piece of cake!

Rolex Case polishing

one more shot

Rolex Case polishing

Cheers !

Rolex Case polishing

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How To Kill a $11,000 Watch in Two Easy Steps

Step 1: wear it for 10 years without servicing
Step 2: unlock the winding crown and jump into the pool

The reason for the state of the Rolex Submariner, as depicted above, is simple.
The watch owner failed to overhaul his watch when the watch was due for service.

Consequently, the delicate rubber crown seal wore off and water got into the watch through the winding crown.

As a matter of fact, all of this trouble, including a $6,000 repair bill, could have been avoided by simply replacing the rubber seal, at the cost of $10.

To blame Rolex for those shocking pictures is ridiculous.
Owners should take their responsibilities and respect overhaul service when the watch is due.
However, I am afraid that we will see those same horrific pictures for the years to come, as there is no cure for stupidity.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Curse of the White Towel

Early morning breakfast without reading the daily papers is inconceivable. Having nothing better to do, my attention was caught by a small label sticking out from a cotton towel laying on the kitchen table:

"Wash separately before use. Wash dark colours separately. Warm gentle machine wash at max temp 40C. Do not use oxidizing/chlorine based bleaching agents. Avoid excessive use of fabric softeners and detergents containing optical brighteners. Warm tumble dry.
Do not iron or dry-clean. 100% cotton..."

Before you stop reading and conclude that I'm going cuckoo, I just want to make a point out of this random, ordinary observation. Isn't it amazing how much information the $5 dollar towel manufacturer provided on the label concerning "duty of care", required to keep the towel in top condition for the years to come?

Yet, how many high grade, elaborated and expensive watches come with any information such as "How to care" manual, service papers, or even technical information?

Here is an example of an International Guarantee card, enclosed with a $2,500 high-grade mechanical Swiss watch:

"This ... watch has been manufactured at Bienne Switzerland with choice materials only. For two years from date of sale, this watch is guaranteed against all defects, except those resulting from willful neglect."

How pathetic!

Believe it or not, the most common factor that cause the premature death of watches is not poor design, bad engineering or inferior parts used in production... The real 'cause of death' is simply a lack of regular maintenance and basic understanding of the watch's functionality.

It is a common mistake from all watch manufacturers to spend too little time (if any) in educating new owners upon acquiring their precious products. Instead, more effort and money are invested in advertising brand names, less on how to care for the watch.

Obviously, watch manufacturers are not very keen to tell you the truth:
Your mechanical watch is NOT capable of keeping flawless time,
it is most likely NOT water or shock resistant
and it requires maintenance on a regular basis, performed by an expert watchmaker.

If your watch would come with a label, like the ones produced by Caninngvale Australia, it would read something along those lines:

"Your watch is miracle of mechanical engineering. Although beautiful and expensive, it is very fragile so extra care is needed to assure proper performance. It is built to last for ever, as long as you take care of it -so complete overhaul on a regular basis is absolutely essential. Do not wear it while showering, surfing, swimming, being in the sauna, playing golf or sailing.
Do not wear it while operating electrical tools, bungee jumping or on public transport after midnight. If you do so, then you'll get what you deserve, or more precisely you'll lose what you don't deserve in the first place.

Branding is nothing. Your watch is not of investment value because watches in general are poor investment. However if you look after it like you should, it will have enormous sentimental value to your kids - until the day they run out of cash."

So there you go - I can't help but help.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What to Collect?

"What should I collect?" is question often asked by both novice watch enthusiast and seasoned collector.

With so many attractive watches to be collected settling for a single brand or style is always difficult. To put things in perspective, let me just say that wrist watch collecting is still a relative novelty. For at least 300 years of timepiece collecting, collectors were predominately fascinated by mechanical aspects of timekeeping and their inner beauty and to lesser degree by a maker itself. Since late 1800s to 1970s a "true horologist" would have in his possession mainly pocket watches and fine carriage clocks.

With very little information available to the general public, one would spend countless hours investigating, reading and researching specific topics but for many, the piece in itself was of lesser importance compared to the knowledge. Joining a collectors' club, traveling around the country and establishing relationships with dealers and auctioneers was essential part of collecting.

With the introduction of battery-operated watches, mechanical watches became less and less popular and eventually, many collectors dropped the hobby of collecting them. With no new entrants into the game, prices dropped and those who heavily invested in watch collecting suffered unrecoverable losses. The next 20 years were the dark era of Horology.

A new age of watch collecting begun in mid 1990s, thanks to the Internet. All of a sudden, we stepped into the most exciting period of human history - an era of Free Knowledge. For the first time, many discovered the fascinating world of mechanical watches.

Online communities of collectors and auctioneers like eBay quickly shaped up the market. For the first time since the 1950s, mechanical Swiss watches were not just a technical curiosity but a sign of refinement, status and potential investment. Swiss manufacturers re-entered the mechanical watch market with the introduction of "new-old" models. The feeding frenzy was so massive that some manufacturers not only reproduced old mechanical movements but also entire watch brands. In order to sell, a handful of them even re-wrote history to suit their advertising needs.

Which bring us back to our original question: "what to collect in 2009?" I believe the new renaissance will result in more than one trend in watch collecting. Some will prefer investing in 'blue chip' watches like vintage sports Rolex or military watches. Others might specialise in one brand, like Omega or Patek. Some might go back to the roots of horology: quality vintage pocket watches and fine carriage clocks. And the remaining lot might buy whatever they personally find intriguing and beautiful

Investing time and effort for the purpose of developing knowledge is the most fundamental aspect of watch collecting, regardless of which paths and ways you personally undertake. During your journey, you can expect fellow collectors to criticise your appreciation on your preferred style or brand and you might find yourself on a solitary and isolated path but anyhow, you will develop a better understanding and appreciation for inner-beauty, which is quite normal. After some time, the small, external imperfections will not be the only factors that will grab your attention as you will then definitely pay more (attention and money!) to factors that are not easily spotted or appreciated.

Stay focused - a pile of watches does not make a good collection, regardless of how much you originally paid for them. The rule-of-thumb is not to rush as there is always a "good deal" coming up and those who possess patience and knowledge would be consequently rewarded.

If you are new to collecting, you should stay away from unreasonable eBay bargains and restoration projects. Do not fall into the trap of over-commitment such as borrowing money to invest in watches, unless your ultimate goal is to provide quality stock at discounted price to fellow collectors!

In conclusion, here is an example of what, in my opinion, is a perfect watch to collect - especially if you are on a tight budget.

The New South Wales Government Railways (NSWGR) was the department in charge of the NSW Government's railways from 1855 to 1972. After a major railway incident that occurred in the US, the NSW Government ordered that every train driver and station master to be issued with a precision time-keeper - a pocket watch. Batches of railroad watches were ordered from the American Watch Company - Waltham, Massachusetts as the NSWGR expected only the best railroad watch money can buy for their staff.

Every issued pocket watch in NSW had its individual number engraved on the case back and some examples also had the owner's name. In addition, train drivers were also issued with a gun, bearing the same number as one engraved on their watch. Indeed, those times were turbulent.

Here is a photo of the NSWGR pocket watch from the year 1901.

Since my arrival in Australia in 1994 I have personally worked on not more than 3 or 4 examples of the NSW issued railroad watches for overhaul purposes. As you might imagine, those time pieces are fairly rare nowadays, but those who know what they are looking for can still find good working examples of the NSW issues railroad watches.

But that is not all: If luck is on your side, you might even find one NSW GR watch for under $500! So what more could you ask for? A great watch with a great history, fitted with a superbly manufactured mechanism at a bargain price! And enjoyment and satisfaction of doing research on such a fascinating subject is a priceless experience in itself.

If you are ready to immerse yourself into fascinating world of vintage timepieces then you MUST have good reference guide. Although plenty of information is already available on the Internet, nothing come close to learning from the real watch Bible: Complete Price Guide to Watches by Shugart, Engle and Gilbert.

There is no need to buy the latest 2009. edition: basically any post-1990 edition will do the trick and you can find one online for US$5 - $20.

Happy collecting!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Omega Railmaster 2503.52 Vs. Rolex Explorer 114270

Enclosed below are some technical notes and my highly opinionated comments on two legendary watches (or more precisely their current versions): Omega Railmaster and Rolex Explorer. I hope this article will be helpful to those who are considering buying either of the two watches.

The original Omega Railmaster was first launched in 1957 as the successor to a watch created for the British Air Force in 1953. It was designed specifically for scientists, technicians, electricians and railway workers as it had a special double anti-magnetic case to protect the movement from harmful effects of strong magnetic fields.

Created in 1953, the Rolex Explorer was intended for rugged expedition use. It was issued for use on many notable expeditions - including the one led by Sir John Hunt which successfully ascended Mount Everest in May 1953.

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Railmaster
Ref. 2503.52
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer
Ref. 114270
Case Steel, high-polish and brush finish Steel, high-polish and brush finish
Bracelet brush finish, 3piece link brush finish Oyster style
Clasp hidden, fold-over, hidden lock Oyster, flip lock
Micro adjustment NO YES
Half link YES NO
Bracelet durability 6/10 7/10
Solid end link YES YES
Case diameter mm 39.5 36.0
Case thickness mm 11.00 11.35
Bracelet width mm 20 20
Crown screw-lock YES YES
Water resistance 150 m 100 m
Dial diameter 31. 8 28.5

See-thru case back YES NO
Crystal profile domed flat
Crystal Sapphire Sapphire
Antireflective coating inner only NO
Luminous material Super Luminova Luminova
Movement caliber Omega 2403


Base movement Omega Cal 2500

Rolex Cal. 3000
Chronometer Certified YES YES
Jewels 27 27
Power reserve 48 hours 42 hours
Auto rotor ball-bearing YES NO
Beat per hour 28,800 28,800
List price [ Australian RRP ] $A 3,725 $A 5,980
Pre-owned in 10/10 condition $A 2,700 $A 4,700
Resale value 5/10 6/10
Maintenance 5 years 5 years
Manufacturers guarantee (new) 3 years 2 years
Service costs $350 $500
Supply of spare parts to independent repairers


restricted restricted
Supply of spare parts to independent repairers

– case and bracelet

limited restricted
Bracelet replacement cost $400 $900
Timekeeping under normal wear very good good, may require tune-up adjustment
Known mechanical issues bracelet requires re-pinning auto rotor post and jewel prone to wear
Other issues low to medium ‘brand exclusivity’ commonly perceived as being ‘too small’
Collectors value 4/10 6/10
Investment value low moderate
In-style / fashion 8/10 6/10
Value-for-money 7/10 6/10
Strengths easy to read, excellent luminescence, fashionable strong brand name, comfortable for small to medium wrist, classic look