Friday, July 17, 2015

Dumb vs. Smart

On the left side of this picture is a Rolex link screw. A piece of stainless steel wire with a slot on one end and a thread on the other.

On the right are two electronic components.

The top one is a Silicon Labs Si570 "any frequency oscillator".

Basically a clock. Or to be precise, a super clever, super smart and super accurate clock featuring proprietary DSPLL technology. A fully programmable oscillator with tuning frequency resolution better than 80 parts per trillion.

The component below is a Michrochip microcontroller PIC18F4550. Like the Silabs component it is state of the art, a nanoWatt interface with programmable memory.

The two electronic components on the right paired together can do a miracle: their usage and application are only limited by your imagination and programming capabilities. You can build equipment which will allow you to communicate, measure, time, process and do unimaginable things; allow you to unleash your genius and creativity.

The two components on the right cost $4.50 each and they are available by the truck load from manufacturers, wholesalers and even hobbyists who sell them online. SiliconLabs and Microchip invested countless hours designing them yet they really don't care who can use them and for what application. They have no desire to restrict their supply.

Why would they? They want you to buy those components, learn, build, engineer, have fun and develop gadgets which you can play with or sell for profit.

Rolex didn't invented the screw. Rolex didn't invent the screw making tools.

Rolex didn't make one single improvement in functionality or design of the screw. Actually, the Rolex screw is the same as any other screw out there, like any other link screw manufactured by any other screw manufacturer in the past 50 years. It takes no brain to screw that screw into a link. I can train you to screw it in 5 seconds. Actually, you already know how to screw it.

Yet somehow, Rolex refuses to supply that STUPID screw to you. You can not buy a Rolex screw. It does not have a price because it is simply not available for sale. Sure, Rolex will install that screw for you (and charge you $40) but they will not supply it to me or to any other Australian watchmaker. Why? Because apparently I am not qualified to screw a screw.

According to Rolex I am dumb and untrainable.

When I approached Silicon Labs and Microchip to place an order for the two above components, neither company asked what I intend to do with them. I was not required to provide proof that I am smart enough to install them as per their specification or to prove that I possess programming knowledge.

Neither corporation restricted access to parts or access to instruction manuals, charts, operational parameters, evaluation boards. All the technical information are available online and the only restricting factor is my ability and capacity to learn. I am free to buy their components and engineer equipment, sell that equipment and make profit. They simply don't care.

This morning I've asked my assistant to make a call to Rolex to see if we can buy a link screw for a Submariner. A dumb piece of steel wire with a slot and thread. The answer? We can not give you a price, we can not sell you the screw, you have to bring the watch in. He insisted to be provided with the estimate on how much would screw cost, and Rolex refused to answer. "Bring the watch in, bring the watch in" was the only answer.

But what if I am located in a country town somewhere in the middle of Australia? What if I can not physically bring my watch in, even if I want to? Do I really need to ship my $8000 watch to Rolex just to have one screw installed?

I am a watchmaker. I can even design some of my own watch components and have them manufactured per my specification. I have proven to you, and to anyone else who cares to listen that I am good at what I do. I am not stupid nor unqualified. I can build complex electronic equipment despite a lack of formal engineering education. I AM NOT STUPID.

So why does ROLEX refuse to supply watch parts to watchmakers? According to Rolex, Australian watchmakers can not perform.

The general manager for Rolex said that Rolex wants to "control the quality of repairs". But who gives Rolex the right to CONTROL anything if that control breaches our right to practice our trade? There is a huge difference between controlling the quality of workmanship and imposing a total ban on the supply of parts.

Mr General Manager: have you actually assessed my skills or for that matter the skills of ANY AUSTRALIAN watchmaker? And would you at least disclose to us what your standards are?

Do we at least have the right to know what make us unqualified to work on Rolex watches?

When in 2012 Rolex Australia closed the last two parts accounts, they simply informed those two last watchmakers that their account will be closed. There was no explanation why Rolex made that decision. The decision was not based on any performance review. Those two watchmakers didn't fail any accreditation test or any skill/performance test. They were just discarded after 50 years of loyal service to the brand.

The door was slammed in their face. The door has been slammed into the face of all other watchmakers who aspired to learn, be trained and repair Rolex. This issue is driving me nuts. I am unable to focus on my business because I feel insulted. This injustice is irritating and I can't stop thinking about it. I can not accept that Rolex can get away with it.

But what makes the things even worse is the fact that almost every other Swiss watch manufacturer is now following the trend. Even the crappiest brand out there feels powerful enough to follow Rolex's practice.

Three years ago, we predicted that if the trend continues, Australian watchmakers will be out of business. Not because we are lazy, unqualified or stupid. I know that some of you have watched this video but I invite you to watch it again: then ask yourself does the watchmaker in this video look unqualified, lazy and stupid to you?

Today, it is easy to predict that 3 years from now, you, the watch owner, will have absolutely no say or no rights whatsoever in making the decision over who can repair your watch. Like in the case of Rolex, there will be only one point of call, only one service centre to take your watch for repair. The monopolistic grip will be unbearable and you will ask yourself: what the hell just happen?

Today, we are just weeks away from another major development: Swatch group (the owner of Omega, Longines and number of other brands and the owner of ETA movements) will completely stop supply of parts to watch wholesalers and parts distributors.

Hundreds of small watchmakers who make their living repairing low and mid-range Swiss brands and who source parts through those wholesalers are facing uncertainty. Any watch fitted with ETA movement will be affected in some way- whether it is an IWC, Breitling, TAG or Tissot. Modern or vintage - the ban will be universal and complete. You local watchmaker will have no say, and most likely as of January 1 2016 he won't be able to help you anymore. Swatch Group is mysteriously quiet on the issue but I doubt that their solicitors are drafting a Set Of Standards for accreditation of independent watchmakers. Like in the case of Rolex, they will just assume that we are all stupid and unqualified and incapable of repairing the watches we have been repairing for the past 50 years.

Right now, ACCC believe that Swatch Group will do the right thing in spite of all the evidence and precedents set by other Swiss brands. Make no mistake - right now, this issue is not just an issue of independent watchmakers vs. big brands.

We are out, discarded and written off. It is not an issue between you and the brand because as an individual watch owner you have no say or power over the Swiss brands.

This is the issue between YOU and YOUR GOVERNMENT because only the ACCC has the power to prevent further deterioration and degradation of your consumers rights.

And remember: you are not asking for MORE rights, you are just asking that your existing rights are not taken away from you completely. Many of you have suggested that I should reinvigorate the Save-the-time campaign, to start an online petition or lead some sort of action. As I said before, I am out. I am not interested and I don't want to stick my neck out.

If you want a change, then YOU, a consumer and watch owner, must take action. If you feel that you have something to say on a matter then say it. The ACCC is set up to listen to you. Let the ACCC know how YOU feel. Regardless what you say, make sure that you introduce yourself properly:

"Dear ACCC my name is [.]and I am an owner of [1,2,3,5,30] Swiss watches with the total estimated value of [$]."

The rest is up to you.

Be polite and factual and don't send multiple emails. One email CCed to all should be sufficient. Do use your influence and expertise to word the letter professionally.

The ACCC directory is here:

For those who care, here is the photo of my project incorporating both Silabs and Microchip components. The two boards contain around 900 additional parts and the total cost of the lot is under $200 or the equivalent of two stainless steel bracelet links. All those components are soldered by hand, and they do exactly what they are designed for. And I am doing this for fun. When I play with electronics, I feel smart, but when I am restricted to obtain a screw, I feel dumb.

So Rolex and all other Swiss corporations: do you seriously believe that we, Australian watchmakers could not pass your 'quality control' test if we were only given the opportunity?

Bring it on- we are ready!


No comments: