Monday, July 18, 2016

Book and Tool Review: The Watch & Clock Makers’ Handbook, Dictionary and Guide

***Apprentice Corner

As promised, here is my review of the book and tool we added to the workshop this past week.

For my first book I decided to pick up The Watch & Clock Makers’ Handbook, Dictionary and Guide.
First published in 1907, by F.J. Britten who served as Secretary of the British Horological Institute for 33 years. The book is a classic reference that has been used by watchmakers over many generations. Having undergone numerous revisions over the years, the book’s content remains just as relevant today as it did when it was first published.

You needn’t even be interested in watches to be fascinated by it - the book’s beautiful illustrations and diverse range of topics could hold anyone’s attention. Not just a reference for tools and parts, it also references some of the important figures in the field and their contributions, such as Robert Hooke, an extraordinary scientist who spent much time trying to solve the horological problems of his day, and Abraham-Louis Breguet; arguably the greatest horologist ever.

Despite the huge breadth of topics, the author still finds time to cover some topics in great depth. Indeed, its entry on repeating watches (a watch that chimes the current hour and minute at the press of a button) spans some eight pages.

Of course, more could be said about repeating watches than could possibly fit on eight pages, but the intention of the book is to condense difficult topics into understandable short passages that encourage one to enquire further. An example of the author’s ability to do just this is its entry on astronomical clocks. Watches that map the motion of the moons and planets have always captivated me. The ingenuity required to make them cannot be overstated, and their development spurred on advances in many other fields, including one that is of particular interest to me: computer science. Though incredibly complex, the book does an excellent job of summarising the workings of such a complication, giving one a basic idea of how the gears interplay to produce the magic.

It’s a book I’ve already found myself referring to multiple times a day and it’ll have a permanent place on my desk for years to come. I’ve only scratched the surface; one post simply isn’t enough to do it justice, so I’ll likely write about it again sometime.

***This week’s tool is a set of five Horotec Precitec pliers that were recommended to us that we bought for $95. Unfortunately, our experience with them has been rather unsatisfactory. They aren’t of the best quality, something not becoming of a brand such as Horotec, a brand that usually produces the finest quality tools. They’ll have their place, but won’t be used for some of the finer work we do.

Pliers may not seem overly exciting, I know, but what’s interesting is just how many odd ways we’ve put them to use. When they first arrived on my bench I thought I’d only use them when I needed to adjust a bracelet or cut a stem. They’ve certainly been used a lot for bracelet adjustment, but we use a much more precise power-tool for stem cutting.

The tool is an odd one in that you might struggle to name any uses beyond the two aforementioned, and yet you find yourself reaching for them multiple times throughout the day. Most of the time they’re just used to hold a part while you do something to it with another tool, but occasionally they serve a very specific purpose.

Nick demonstrated a neat little technique of tightening the cannon pinion (on a tester watch of course!). This is done by tightening the cannon pinion by ‘squeezing’ it. The cannon pinion is held perpendicular to the teeth of the end-cutting pliers and downward force is applied by lightly tapping the handles using a watchmaker’s hammer.

It’s a very risky thing to do - an old-school watchmaker’s trick. Not something I would yet attempt on someone else’s watch! Too much force and you’ll split it in two or put an indent so deep that it becomes useless.

Cannon pinion tightening is normally done with other tools (unsurprisingly, there are tools made specifically for this job), but this served as a good lesson nonetheless. Here’s hoping it never comes to that.

Until next time,

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