Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Getting it right the Australian way


To fellow Watchmakers of Australia,
To fellow Watch enthusiasts,

We will win.

We will win because we fight the battle in which "getting it right" is the only acceptable outcome.

As the newly appointed Secretary of the newly formed association, it is my duty to assure you that Professional Watchmakers of Australia is on your side.

The 'getting it right' may take time and effort. But you already know that.

As a professional watchmaker who makes an honest living doing what you do best - repairing watches - you also know that no person, no corporation or  privately owned entity has the right to restrict your trade. No person, no corporation and no privately owned entity has any right to push you out of business, to prevent you from earning income, to limit you in any way or to impose restrictions which are not in your interest or in the interest of your customers.

As a professional watchmaker, you are responsible to the Australian Government who gave you the right to practice your trade. And you are responsible to your  customers who trust your expertise. No one else.

As a watch enthusiast and an owner of a fine timepiece, you know that no person, no corporation or privately owned entity has the right to restrict your enjoyment or freedom of choice.

You own the watch. It is your property.
Therefore, no person, no corporation or privately owned entity has the right to force you into any servicing agreement which is not approved or authorized by you, the owner. Nor to impose upon you, any repair or servicing arrangement which is not beneficial to YOU. Nor to restrict the supply of any spare part, bracelet - or even a simple watch bracelet link - that you request. Nor to limit your choice of repairer, confiscate your property or impose some imaginary standard of repair which you really don't need or are forced to accept.

The watch is yours. The freedom of choice is yours.

Don't let your consumer's rights slip away just because like us, you love your timepiece.

The only reason why we are forced to take this bold stand is for the unfortunate reason that some individuals, corporation and privately owned entities believe that Australians either don't care or don't understand the issue.

The truth is quite the opposite- we do care and we are ready to take a stand.

And yes, with your support we will win.
Nicholas Hacko, Watchmaker
Secretary of and Spokesperson for
Professional Watchmakers of Australia, Inc
Watchmakers: please join the Association and offer your support to PWA now.
Watch enthusiasts: please go to www.Save-the-Time.org
and sign your petition to ACCC.
Watch the video and tell your friends.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Smart watches vs. dumb watch manufacturers: the battle for the most precious piece of real-estate in the world!

You don't need to be a chart analyst to work this one out. Yes, it is a tragedy. I just hope you have not invested in this company or its products. Because if you have, you've just lost 94% of your investment. Gone forever!

The company we are talking about here is Nokia, the Rolls Royce of mobile phone manufacturing fame. A company which still builds high quality phones, well engineered, sold at very reasonable price. Now, it is fair to say that Nokia is still the world's second largest mobile phone manufacturer with annual revenue of 38 billion dollars. But Nokia's share market is shrinking and as such, the share value has dropped through the floor. For one reason: Nokia is no longer a cool phone maker. Or more precisely, Nokia makes dumb phones.

In just couple years time, the phone market has changed dramatically. We have entered the era of smart phones: phones which no longer look like mobile phones but are capable of almost anything your personal computer is. When we think smart and cool, we now think iPhone or Samsung.

Don't take my word for it: on your way home tonight, look around you. I bet you won't find ONE Nokia user playing with his phone. And this is precisely why Nokia shares are almost worthless.

Now let me give you a bit more of bad news.

As we speak today, right now, we are in the middle of another shift in technology:

the smart phones are evolving to the next level: they are becoming smart watches!

Here are the two major players in the smart watch industry: Pebble which is "compatible" with Apple's iPhone and Android and Sony, compatible with Android phones. No, these are not prototypes: Pebble will soon be available in a store near you, and Sony is already available - for as little as $149! Sony's resemblance to the iPhone is just amazingly familiar.

While smart watches are still dependent on your main mobile phone device (via Bluetooth connectivity) these watches allow you not just to tell the time, but to check your messages, twitter, control music devices - and much more.

Now if you think this is cool, let me just state the obvious: this is just the beginning - on an evolutionary scale, we are talking about amoeba. Give them a year or two - and watch this space!

If you are not impressed, then here is a brief 'technical' introduction about this exciting technology.

For example, while the 3 watches on the left look like 3 different models, it is really the same watch. They look different because they run different applications. In other words, your smart watch is no longer just a piece of hardware, but anything you want it to be, controlled by a software application.

And here is another crucial bit: the software applications are not controlled - or even supported - by hardware manufacturers, nor in the case of SONY, not even by the operating system because the source code is FREELY available to all developers and users! Which means the smart watch will continue to get smarter and offer you even more functions and capabilities.

Now, if I am a Swiss watch manufacturer, I would be in a state of perpetual panic. Compared with what is coming, the watch war between the Japanese and Swiss fought in the 1970/80s is equivalent to that of WW1. The next war is going to be a full blast nuclear Star war!

While in the 80s Swiss manufacturers had all the hardware and know-how to at least produce decent watches and consequently offer some resistance to the Japanese, in 2012 the Swiss watch industry is armed with stone age technology, hoping to fight the Star War.

And here is my key point: the battle is not about the technology, or price, or even performance, this battle is all about that precious "piece of real-estate" - your wrist!

The smart technology is no longer happy to place your gadget in your bag, or back pocket. The smart watch wants to be placed on one and only one spot it deserves - YOUR WRIST. This is what the battle is all about.

You may have a bunch of watches, but you can wear only one at the time.

And you need not be clairvoyant to figure out which one will take that well deserved spot: a smart one, which represents free spirit, creativity, ever changing design, a watch which talks to you, and represents the new age of NO RESTRICTION; or the other one, which is a product of Swiss monopoly whose main concern is how to stop everyone else from entering the market (including fellow Swiss makers), restrictive to the extreme and arrogantly treat the most loyal supporters as ignorant, and whose only business model is this: "if it does not sell, double the price." A watch made by a company which refuses to sell you a spare part, spare bracelet, even a spare link! A maker so arrogant who can afford to upset even the most loyal customers and brand promoters.

Here is my message to the Swiss watch industry: myopic, narrow minded and restrictive policies are not going to work this time. Unless you change and open FAST, you will be out of the game. No one is too big to fall! (Ask Nokia!)

The 'luxury watch market' is no different from any other luxury goods market.

Customers buy luxury watches for many reasons, and value for money, ability to service watch at a reasonable cost and durability of the product are core reasons. Those who can afford your watches are not naive nor ignorant: they will only 'invest' in your watches if your watches are perceived as worth investing in.

There is only one way out, and if you don't want to take my advice, then watch this video: it is about the Porsche car manufacturer and the way Porsche treats its customers and their products.

It is about value for money, about respect and vision.

Mark every word and learn from those who got it right.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmG9LwzyS2A

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Preserving our dignity

Part 1.

I love my Holden Barina.

I got it new in 1997. Actually we had bought it just a few days after my wife brought home our baby boy from the hospital. On weekends, I would fit in a baby seat and we would drive along the coast. Monday to Friday, the Barina was used for business - if you lowered the front passenger seat and folded over back seat, you can fit in a full-length English long case clock!

Most customers would just shake their heads in disbelief. Yes, you can say I am sentimentally attached to my little Holden. Almost 15 years later, it still goes like a rocket.

Oh yes, it is soon due for new brake pads. The search for new pads started with a visit to the Holden website. From there I got the phone number of an authorized Holden parts supplier.

"Hi - do you still supply brake pads for a 1997 Barina manufactured in Spain? " "Sure do. In stock. $78". "$78 a piece?" "No, $78 for a set of four." "Fantastic. But just to make it clear, I am not in the car business..." "Sorry?" asked the salesman- "I said, I am not a car mechanic. Would you still sell the parts to me? "We sell parts to anyone!" "And I guess you want my old pads returned to you, right?" "No mate, just chuck 'em in the rubbish bin (laughing)" "...and do you need my car rego plates, or my drivers license?" "No, just your VISA numbers. That's all." "Great. But for your information, I intend to take my car to my next door neighbour, he is going to install the pads..." "That's fine, good for you. Now, can I get your card details so we can get this sale under way?"

I also wanted to tell him that my next door neighbour is not a car mechanic either but he was not really up for a chat. Anyway, I got my pads the next day in the mail.

While on Holden's website I also learned that Holden is in partnership with a third-party spare parts supplier which offers a range of parts to suit their vintage models. ("Restoration Parts are often made from the original tooling and are as close to the originals as possible.")

I happily left Holden's website under the impression that Holden is a business that cares for their customers.

If you are a young couple expecting baby and looking for a car, go Holden like we did. Good car, good memories.

Part 2.

Some of my long time subscribers are well aware that I am very passionate about my hobby. I LOVE my radios. After a long day behind a bench or in front of a computer, sanity is restored the moment I put headphones on and flick the switch of trustworthy ICOM.

This morning, I received an email from a fellow radio nutter. "The latest model of ICOM transceivers is now coming with newly designed transmitter amplifier. They will be using the most advanced gold metallized N-channel MOS field-effect RF power transistor".

Wow, that was cool news indeed.

But then I got worried - I love to repair my own radios, and while I rarely need to replace output transistors, the question was, would I be able to obtain such a very special component if I ever needed one? ICOM is Japanese radio manufacturer and amateur radios are just a part of a large Corporation which also supplies equipment to military, marine and avio users including the US Marine corp! Surely they would be very protective of their latest technology?

I was wrong once again.

A visit to ICOM's web page revealed that I have nothing to worry about: The Japanese were more than happy to tell everyone that the latest power amplifying device actually comes from STMicroelectronics, an Italian-French company, and that the component number is STAC2942. Another quick search revealed that while this component was only manufactured a couple of years ago, it is readily available from wholesalers everywhere - for just $120. Or for $90 on eBay!

If I ever needed replacement - or a truck load of them - I would have no problems fixing my latest model Japanese radio.

Yes I love my radios, and I will remain loyal to my favourite Japanese brand because my brand respects me and my hobby.

Part 3.

This Monday I need to deliver two sets of news. Both bad.

Right in front of me, on my work bench, I have two watches belonging to customers, which have been sitting there for some time now. One is a lady's gold and steel watch, the other is a gent's diver's timepiece. The first one belongs to a lovely lady who has been my good customer for many years. Her watch needs a new circuit. A fifteen minute job which requires removing 4 screws and fitting a new battery. The second watch belongs to a guy whom I have never met, but was described as a massive gym junkie. Another easy job - his watch needs a new winding crown and a rubber seal.

So here I am, staring at two "dead" watches, trying to solve an unsolvable problem: How to repair them without spare parts? Yes, you guessed right - both watches are Swiss made and no, I have no access to those parts. Both watches are over 20 years old. Both customers left them with me in good faith, expecting a hassle free, straight forward repair.

Yet the only thing I can deliver on Monday is "Sorry I cannot help you."

I really hate those phone calls:

"Aren't you a watchmaker? So you don't know how to fix them? You don't have parts? Why? So now I have to waste my time once again coming to your shop to pick up my watch? Where do I take them now? How much is THAT going to cost me? Why does it take 3 month to do a 15-minute job? Why can't you do it? Why can't YOU get parts?...."

Quite frankly I am sick of explaining how little I can do without access to Swiss 'brand name' spare parts. It is painful and humiliating. It is frustrating. I am losing time, money and reputation. I am losing my best customers. it is as simple as that: once you say NO to a customer, that customer will never come back to you. There will be no referral, no 'job well done' feedback, no income.

As my 14 year old boy said: "It sucks to be you, dad! "

Yes, it sucks to be a watchmaker.

It sucks to be an Australian watchmaker who pays tax to the Australian Government yet is unable to fix a watch for an Australian customer because someone out there, in Switzerland, has taken full control over our lives.

And what sucks the most is that I cannot even name the brands which are depriving Australian watchmakers of their basic right to earn income - without being sued in AUSTRALIAN Court!

Part 4.

Apparently, the key reason why most Swiss brands refuse to sell watch parts to independent Australian watchmakers (and American, British, Norwegian Italian, French and every one else) is this:

We, the independents, are not capable of handling Swiss watches.
We are somehow inferior, uneducated and inexperienced.
We are also unwilling to invest in modern tools and equipment.
Or something along those lines.

15, 35 or 40 years of repairing Swiss watches is still not good enough. The fact that we can actually repair far more complex watches than the majority of what they sell is irrelevant.

The fact that most of us are European trained, second, third or fourth generation watchmakers is also irrelevant.

My grandfather is now 92 years old and he still repairs clocks and watches. He was a master Watchmaker before WW2. One vivid memory from my earliest childhood is a pile of watch crowns, metal bracelets, plexi glasses and other spare parts which he used to bring in suitcases from Switzerland from his parts buying trips.

Back in the 60s, 70s and even the 80s getting a spare part for Swiss watches was as simple as getting brake pads for a Holden. The Swiss brands needed us, and they needed us desperately to service their millions of watches.

The independent watchmakers were in business a long time before the Swiss even got into watches!

The reason why Australian independent watchmakers are cut out, pushed away and left to "starve to death" is this: Swiss corporate greed. We all know that.

So please, Swiss brands, let us preserve some of our dignity. Don't call us incompetent. Stop telling your customers that "taking your watch to an independent watchmaker is risky because they can't fix it."

The only reason why we are unable to repair your watches is because you REFUSE to supply parts. It's as simple as that. Not the other way around.

Quite frankly, a battery or circuit replacement in a Swiss watch is something we don't even consider as watchmaking. Even an overhaul on your "super duper" automatic movement is something we can do while blindfolded. It's kids stuff to us.

When a customer brings a watch to you with a broken balance staff, you replace the balance wheel completely. We replace the balance staff only. When the watch is rendered by you as 'beyond repair, no parts available' we get our 60 or 100 years old lathe and we turn the staff. We make one from a steel rod, by hand, the old fashioned way. When you run into a problem you cannot solve (on your own watch!) you replace the entire mechanism. Instead, we look for the problem - yes this is time consuming, but extremely satisfying - and we solve it. We get a kick out of repairing stuff you cannot or don't know how to repair!

And this is just a beginning. Some of our members, the independent watchmakers of Australia are capable of much more. They can restore even the most complex Swiss timepieces ever manufactured. They can manufacture parts which are completely missing, cut wheels and pinions. They are capable of restoring some of the most magnificent timepieces ever manufactured: English and French clocks, American railroad pocket watches, ship chronometers.

Do your watchmakers know how to make a detent for a chronometer escapement by hand? Have YOU ever tried to make one? How many of your "in house trained repairers," whose job is to swap a quartz movement, have even seen the fusee chain? How many of them can explain what the difference between the tick and tock sound is, what a poise error is or even the relationship between amplitude and timekeeping?

Or let me be just a touch more personal: how many of your AD (Authorized dealers whom you also call 'authorized service centers' for your brand when in reality they are just administrative operators) have even the simplest timing machine on premise? How many of those who you have allowed and authorized to sell $50,000 or $500,000 watches would have the slightest clue about what makes those watches tick?

Once again, you are trying to pull out that old trick of Swiss corporate mastery. You know so well that refusal to sell spare parts to independent repairers is in breach of European competition rules and US anti-trust law. Australian consumer law is no different. But it looks like you simply don't care.

Either way, our message is simple: don't ever call us - the Australian watchmakers - incompetent or incapable. Because you may find out that one day when we are all gone, the table will turn around and the watch owners, YOUR customers, will say: it sucks to be you.

Mail bag

Hi Nick,

A little while ago you wrote an article about losing a Rolex watch; always a painful experience. I thought I'd tell you about the Rolex my father had for a number of years until it was lost (well, stolen is probably more accurate).

My father enlisted in the Australian army (2/5th Field Regiment) in 1940. Just prior to sailing off to the Middle East on the Queen Mary, his mother gave him a Rolex watch. I'm not sure of the model but I believe it was a gold Rolex. Having an accurate timepiece was very helpful during the war (not much point having an attack commence at 0500 if your watch is running slow!) and my grandmother thought it would not only assist him but it would be a bond with his mother whilst he was on active service.

My grandmother was not a rich woman and the Rolex had been a very large investment for her. Accordingly my father took great care of it and was also very attached to it.

Posted to Syria as a forward observation officer in the artillery (25 pounders), my father was soon heavily involved in fighting the French Foreign Legion who were aligned with the Vichy government. As a forward observation officer, my father had to be at the front line and sometimes he had to advance past the line so he could spot for the artillery.

At Merdjayoun on the 19 June 1941 the Australian infantry attack was checked after suffering heavy casualties from an enemy counter attack with tanks. Enemy machine gun fire swept the ground but my father with another artillery officer and a small party pushed on ahead of the infantry and established an outpost in a house. The telephone line was cut and he went out and mended this line under machine gun fire and returned to the house, from which enemy posts and a battery were successfully engaged.

The enemy then attacked this outpost with infantry and tanks, killing the Bren gunner and mortally wounding the other officer. My father and another manned the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun and fought back driving the enemy infantry away. The tanks continued the attack, but under constant fire from the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun eventually withdrew. My father then personally supervised the evacuation of the wounded members of his party.

What is not mentioned in this description (which is paraphrased from my father's citation) is that when the enemy attacked the hut, my father had taken his Rolex off (I suspect he didn't want to have it scratched during the attack) and that when he retreated (carrying a mortally wounded officer on his back) he forget to take the Rolex with him. When he got back to the front line he realised he'd left his watch behind!

What happened next was an example of my father's determination and courage; he went back and got it! Not a simple task as this entailed crossing the front line once again and crawling around enemy positions in the twilight. But he got his watch back! For the remainder of his war service the watch remained firmly on his wrist.

The watch was later replaced as his day to day watch in the late 1950s by a gold Omega constellation. In 1966 my father moved from the Netherlands back to Australia and all our possessions were shipped out. The Rolex was put in a suitcase and taken as excess baggage. The very sad thing is that the suitcase vanished en route to Sydney (I suspect it was stolen) and much to my father's great regret the Rolex was never seen again! For your information, my father was Roden Cutler.

Much is known about him but I doubt very few people know about the watch incident!

Yours,
Mark Cutler


Dear Mark,

Thank you kindly for sharing such an exciting story. For all of us who are 'adopted Australians' and fellow overseas subscribers, I recommend further research on the exciting life of your dad.

Sir Roden Cutler, VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE (24 May 1916 – 22 February 2002) was an Australian diplomat, the longest serving Governor of New South Wales and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth armed forces.

If Sir Roden was still around, I am sure two of us will be on the next plane to Geneva to serve our Letter of Demand :-)

The most amazing detail to me (apart form the fact that he battled a shark to save a swimmer at Manly beach) is that he was the Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand at the age of 29!

Beat that!

-Nick

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tough times ahead for collectors of vintage Rolex watches

As most of you know, I am not really a watch collector per se. However I do have a few vintage 'keepers', mainly of Rolex Sports fame. There is something special about old Submariners and Explorers - not to mention the always popular Daytonas from the seventies. Over the years I have collected a few of those and this is something I am really proud of.

However, I am worried that the next few years are going to be extremely challenging for the Rolex vintage watch market.

A brief introduction to those of you who are not really into vintage stuff: the value of any vintage timepiece is largely determined by two factors: originality and overall condition.

Watches which contain a mix of original and non-original components are called 'frankenstein' watches. Despite their good appearance, these watches have very low collectors' value.

On the contrary, all-original watches with good provenance are highly sought after and fetch premium price.

And here is the key point: the single most important component is the watch dial.

The watch dial alone could make thousands of dollars of difference! For example, if you are to 'convert' a standard vintage Submariner into a more sought after 'red line' Sub, you can easily make a profit of $2. If you are smart enough (and this is really an easy job for a scammer) you can create even more exotic models like military, COMEX, double red Seadweller - pieces worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Yes, it is as simple as that.

Now this is not a new issue. But what is new is the shocking state of affairs where in conversion dials, hands and components are now not just readily available from eBay and online, but the variety of choices has exploded - and the prices of fake dials are getting lower and lower.

Here is just one example from the webpage I've bumped into yesterday morning

By the way, apart form fake dials for sale, this entrepreneur will supply other components which would allow you to convert an ordinary model into a sports model.

Below is a 'testimonial' picture - form the same website- from a happy customer who converted his Air king into an Explorer I.

I chose not to attach images of other models, like a double red Seadweller, which are just too painfully graphic for public display.

Bottom line: the vintage Rolex market has been polluted to such a level that telling fake from real is now almost impossible for even advance collectors. As a consequence, prices of vintage Rolex watches will drop significantly. It is no longer safe to buy any exotic Rolex model without thorough inspection which basically means pulling the entire watch apart and checking every individual casing / dial component. Something only a watchmaker can do.

I have never bought a vintage Rolex watch from eBay - as a watchmaker, I know too well that most likely I will end up with either a frankenstein watch or an original that's a worn out piece in need of expensive restoration.

But thanks to current developments, I am now not even interested in privately owned vintage Rolex stock which was traded in the past 20 years. Which means if you have bought a vintage Submariner 5 years ago and you wish to sell it, I am not your man. Take it to your supplier, or put it back on eBay. I don't want it.

I am not sugar coating this issue. Passing on a put-together watch is CRIMINAL activity. And I invite my fellow dealers to REJECT any vintage Rolex stock which has been recently traded.

To preserve integrity and reputation, we need to draw the line somewhere.

For me, that means no trading in vintage Rolex watches, except for pieces which I can personally guarantee as 100% genuine. Pieces like "one owner's watch" - watches acquired from ORIGINAL owners who bought them new back in the 60s/70s. Watches with dubious provenance must be rejected straight away. Yes, some dealers and collectors would do anything to make a quick profit, but there are still a few 'good ones' out there who have the expertise to tell the difference.

The only permanent solution to this problem - a solution which will restore the collector's confidence and stop the erosion of watch value - lies in the hands of Rolex Switzerland.

If Rolex Switzerland decides to set up a validation and verification service for their own vintage watches, I would be the first one to send my entire PRIVATE collection for validation. I would be more than happy to pay whatever it costs to have my watches inspected and verified to be 100% genuine. Such a certificate will significantly increase the value of my vintage Rolex watches. And your too.

Regrettably, this service is not available. While few other reputable Swiss companies like Patek Philppe for example do offer validation service for any watch they've ever sold, Rolex is still not interested in providing a similar service.

We can only hope that this situation will change soon, for the common benefit to the Rolex brand, watch dealers and watch collectors.

That would be a day to celebrate!

Until that day, the only qualified and authoritative expert in the area is your independent watchmaker - the guy who has been handling, repairing and restoring Rolex watches for decades; who know them 'inside out'.

If you have opinion on subject, feel free to write.

Of course, as always, this newsletter is open to Rolex for official comment. We would love to hear from Rolex directly because this is a burning issue which can no longer be ignored.

I have emailed a link of the shoddy website to Rolex for their investigation. Hopefully, the site will be shut down soon.

NOTE: the above article is in relation to VINTAGE SPORTS ROLEX models only. These watches were sold in 1950-1970.

Watches sold from 1980s-today are not considered vintage or collectable. As such, these watches are not significantly affected by the proliferation of fake VINTAGE spare parts. Modern fakes are easy to detect!


As always, deal with people you can trust.

For more Rolex buying tips, see
"TEN THINGS TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING A ROLEX WATCH"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Save The Time in the Sydney Morning Herald


Last week Alexandra Smith from the Sydney Morning Herald came to interview us and another Sydney resident watchmaker Max Schweizer, regarding the restrictions on spare parts set by the major Swiss Watch brands. Here's the result in Saturday's paper. Click here to read online.