Thursday, July 7, 2011

A five minute job

A couple of weeks ago we've advertised a nice Girard-Perregaux Classic Elegance '1966' watch in 18K gold case, set with diamonds. A very fine, elegant slim-line piece. The watch went to a good home - and I had the privilege of meeting both the owner and his wife - we spent almost two hours chatting. Very nice people, both over the moon about the purchase.

A few weeks later, the owner came to tell me that he is still very much in love with the watch and wonder if I can adjust the time keeping because watch was gaining a bit of time. Of course - this is just a five minute job - so I suggested that I can do it while he waited.

The five minute time frame to accomplish the task was a bit of an overkill. It really just takes a few seconds to pop up the case back, slide the micro regulator, and snap the case back on. Two minutes at most.

The watch arrived yesterday around lunch time, as scheduled. As predicted, the regulation was a piece of cake - it was oscillating gently within -1/+1 sec per day. Perfect! But getting the case back on was impossible! No matter how hard I was trying to push it on, it just would not click back! After 10 minutes, both my thumbs were sore, purple, red and green in color. But the physical pain was the least of my worries - it was the overwhelming sense of failure combined with nonchalant underestimation for time required to accomplish this simple task!

I excused myself to the owner and asked if he can leave the watch overnight.

An hour later, I've decided to give it another go. I cannot even estimate how many case backs I've snapped back on in my life - this really IS a stupidly simple task. But this one just would not budge!

Now, there are two ways of getting the case back in place: one - to place the watch in a press and snap it on, and two: to do it by hand, as I was doing. This second one is actually a preferable way, especially for solid gold cases which are thin and soft. And the ONLY way for diamond bezel watches with concave crystals. Unless of course you have at hand a factory made case holder, manufactured for this particular model.

Applying too much pressure with the wrong tool could lead to a catastrophic outcome: bent case, broken lugs, smashed crystal, scratched dial, bent hands, and crushed diamonds. Plus most likely a beyond repair movement. In this particular case we are talking about a $18,000 damage. A true watchmaker's nightmare.

Taking the watch to Girard-Perregaux's service center would be both embarrassing and useless because they would not be able to help - the watch would go back to Switzerland because there is no casing tool for the '1966' Elegance in Sydney. And this is exactly what any smart, sensible Swiss trained watchmaker would do.

But not me...

With no obvious and immediate solution, I've decided to take a few minutes rest and clear my mind. And then came the EUREKA moment! A piece of PVC tubing bought recently for a domestic plumbing job was almost ideal to turn into a custom made casing tool!

There are multiple challenges in making the holder: the material must be soft enough not to mark the gold case, yet strong enough to withstand pressure. The watch must perfectly sit, resting only on lugs, with the point of rest as close to the bezel as possible - yet not on the bezel itself. It goes without saying that glass and diamonds must remain "free" at all times, and the same goes for the winding crown.

Turning a piece of PVC into a holder is not a big deal and I was happy to put the old trustworthy Mayford lathe into good use. The lathe was too heavy to lift onto a bench from the floor so all the turning was done on the ground!


Recess for winding stem and crown.

Finally the moment of truth: pushing the press down.

To my relief, with just the right amount of pressure, the case back clicked on in one go.

Not quite a five minute job - but definitely one less thing to worry about. As a wise man once said: nothing is impossible for those willing to improvise :-)

1 comment:

crazyfingers said...

Good job! I can relate to this as I too have watch at home thats a lil large for the press holder. Unfortunately I don't have the tools or the know how to make a new holder so will have to take it to a watchmaker.