Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Putting things into perspective

***Putting things into perspective

This morning we talked about the size of watch components we routinely handle in our workshop.
Any craftsman - a violin maker for example - would have no problem cutting and measuring a piece 1 millimetre thick. But our watch components are much finer and smaller. For example, the escape wheel pivot is 15 times thinner than a millimetre. And a hair spring is just 20 microns thick (one micron is one thousands part of a millimetre).

To put things into perspective, we took a photo of micrometre jaws holding the hairspring.
We shone the light from behind the instrument so you can see the gap between the 'jaws'.
Without the light, the gap is not visible to the naked eye.

The majority of vintage watches suffer from poor handling so hair spring alignment is often part of the service. To make the coils perfectly concentric is an art form - this job is done by hand using fine tip tweezers and without any special magnification, except the eye-glass. And this is what you learn to do in the third year of a watchmaker apprenticeship.

A 20 micron part is literally the cutting edge of fine mechanical engineering and it is obvious why watchmakers are so proud of their skills. A person trained to handle such fine work is a priceless asset to society - and if you know how to repair watches then you can be easily trained to handle any 'larger' components in the medical, optical or electronics industries.

Sydney TAFE is the last remaining teaching faculty for aspiring Australian watchmakers. Only 12 watchmakers enrol in the 3 year course each year because Australian watchmakers are not taking up the apprentices. 

And the main reason why knowledge and skills are not passed on is simple: the calculated and precisely executed restriction of the supply of spare parts to independent watchmakers by big Swiss brands is causing devastating effects. Yesterday I had a conversation with a Swiss colleague who said that even Swiss watchmakers are very upset by the restrictions and corporate greed which is causing loss of jobs in Switzerland.

But the small rebelde team keeps marching on - and we are looking for another young and talented person to join us. If you wish to become a watchmakers apprentice or know someone who is excited about practical micro-engineering then spread the word.

Happy collecting,

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