Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Another Day in the Workshop

***Another Day in the Workshop


As Marc's return to Germany is nearing fast, Josh, Tyler and myself are now spending all our time trying to learn as much as possible. The complexity of the CNC lathe is amazing but the kids are soaking up the knowledge almost effortlessly. On the other hand, I am trying to look at the project from the Devil's advocate perspective, asking tough and tricky questions. Maybe I am just too critical or too cautious, but I am trying to predict all unpredictable scenarios.  The list of 'what we need' is endless: tools, materials, guide bushes, collets, cutters, measuring equipment... But then again, setting up a specialist micro-machining workshop is a lifelong journey so these things cannot be rushed.

Here are a couple of photos for fellow machinists: making small metal parts means your metal chips and swarf is miniature as well.
The finest we've produced now is just 16 microns in thickness. Fine, consistent and amazingly cool :-)

This morning, for the first time in 4 years, I am wearing my black 'Save The Time' t-shirt.  Life is so unpredictable and takes strange turns.  I feel like Alice's White Rabbit - "the hurrier I go, the behinder I get".  But we'll get there - for sure.

Stay tuned,
Nick




Australian Machining Fair - But Australian Manufacturing?

***Australian Machining Fair - But Australian Manufacturing? – by Josh

Two weeks ago I attended the Austech fair in Melbourne, an Australian Manufacturing Initiative to bring OEM's, subcontractors, hobbyists and the general public together to show off manufacturing in Australia. Although this description of the event is not an accurate way of describing the goal of Austech, it is quite easy to see that it is perceived this way. Machine tool suppliers, tooling manufacturers, auxiliary equipment suppliers (lubricant, cooling, dust collection, chip extraction etc) were all there en masse. 

It was interesting for me to go to a show with no specific goal, other than to see if there was anything that would be applicable to the watch industry. Looking back you could say that this was a little optimistic. Often the very difficult part of "setting yourself up" is buying the right things. Therefore, knowing what to buy can be just as hard, if not harder, than physically buying it. We did end up acquiring a few new items that will be living in the Brookvale facility, although I'd have to say the few industry connections that were formed at the fair are far more valuable than the purchased items themselves.



Meeting with a few Australian subcontract companies and talking to people who have been where we are and have experienced the difficulties of starting up a manufacturing process in Australia was a very exciting experience. Seeing them talk about their successes despite an incredibly challenging Australian engineering landscape was highly encouraging. For example, Mastercut, located on the Gold Coast who, against all odds, is doing export work as well as OEM work in Australia. Mastercut specialises in photochemical etching and laser-cutting thin metal sheets. Their minimum order? One piece or a thousand. Not directly in our industry, but they may be a perfect partner for our clock dials! (Stay tuned.)

It wasn't all rosy. The fact that in a hall of 300 exhibitors and only a handful represented true Australian manufacturing was disappointing. Seeing stall after stall of overseas subcontractors bidding for your part was a reality check. How much is actually made in Australia? At the risk of sounding Australia-centric and almost nationalistic, I feel very strongly that the little we endeavour to make should stay within our borders.
Sometimes we get what we pay for. Parts may be cheaper from all over the world, but will we really settle for a 90 day lead time, low quality control and in some cases blatant misinterpretation of engineering drawings and requirements?
 

Austech left me in a bittersweet place; excited by the small pockets of Australian technology but concerned about the larger issues surrounding a possibly struggling sector. How can we encourage the growth of high skill labour and trades? What can we do to make higher quality goods? Is there a possibility of "Australian Made" being a common and expected title?
The driving force is the consumer, your choice on where to spend your dollar. It might require a few more dollars to buy the Akubra hat, Maton guitar or rebelde watch but in the long term, those dollars will come back to you in one way or another. Another job created, another Australian supported.
Happy collecting,
Josh

Monday, May 22, 2017

*** How square is your square? - Polygon machining






Some watch components are more demanding than others. For example, a winding stem is one of those components: despite its relatively large size, it needs to be machined as close as possible to design values. The stem is threaded, round and it sits inside the main plate between two centres, it carries two wheels and is held in place with yet another component. Functionality wise, it does two things: time setting and winding. And one of the critical elements is the polygon section - a highly polished 'square' - a track for a sliding pinion. 
Making a component is one thing; but finding out the exact size of the machined part is the real moment of truth. And polygon cutting will not only tell you how good your machine is, but how good your raw materials, your tools, the rigidness of the machine, alignments- down to coolants, lubricants and room temperature are.



I am not going to bore you with details; briefly, the polygon is the result of 3 main actions: rotating cutting tool, traveling of the tool along the axis and the rotation of the material. All 3 movements are tightly coordinated (think of a juggler juggling 3 balls). The final tolerance is the sum of the errors of each movement (and many others!).
I am very pleased to report that our end result is amazingly 'tight'. The sides of the stem square are 891 and 892 microns so the difference is just 1 micron (1 thousands of a millimeter).








Actually, since I am measuring distance between two planes, discrepancy per side is only half of the micron!
To put things in perspective: the thickness of a human hair is 50 microns, so half a micron means slicing the hair 100 times - along!
The bottom line: when it comes to precision, our new toy is exceeding our watch manufacturing requirements: the lathe and bar feeder are rigid, the material is spot on and the ambient temperature for sub-micron machining is just fine. The setup and the environment are not supplied by the machine maker - it is something we had to create ourselves, and judging by the first measurements, it looks like we've got it right. A small curiosity: the surface finish of the polygon is very close to mirror finish and the stem does not require any post machining finishing. Production time: 54 seconds.
We are now ready to find the answer to yet another burning question: what is the smallest watch component we can manufacture?



Thursday, May 18, 2017

rebelde Workshop Update

***rebelde workshop update


We are on day 2 of machinery setup. 
Good news first: the lathe and bar feeder survived the trip arriving in excellent condition. The electrical installation was straight-forward and our custom-made power supply works fine. The air compressor, air coolant and filtering are working great and are quiet. The hydraulics system is connected, lubricants are running; the brass machining is quiet and effortless. We do have one small set-back: the coolant for 316L steel that was supplied locally is of the 'wrong' viscosity. The new 200 litre drum is on its way so we'll have to wait until Tuesday to run 316L test parts. For those of you who appreciate details: one litre of low viscosity coolant costs twice the price of the finest cold pressed Greek olive oil! And it is not available in any quantity less than a 200 litre drum. This is just one of many unplanned 'investments', but not a show-stopper.

The second setback: Mark, the German engineer, is not a big fan of Vegemite! Luckily for him, we have two weeks to refine his fine taste.

The first, fully automated, Australian-made watch parts were manufactured today, at 10:45 in a quiet beach suburb of Sydney.  The life-long journey of learning, machining, improving and designing kicked in a second later...

My very special ' thank you' goes to each member of our tiny team: Josh, Laura, Tyler and Robyn. Without their help the rebelde project would be just a dream.

Stay tuned!

Nick



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Using the Right Tools

***Machinists say that if a job is too difficult then you are using the wrong tool.



And you don't have to be a machinist to agree.
Remember how much trouble you had that time trying to remove a screw using the wrong screwdriver, or drilling a hole with a worn-out drill bit. Not only was the end result pathetic, but you were left frustrated, swearing you'd never do it again. When it comes to micro-machining, and especially the manufacture of watch parts, then using the right tool is essential.

Going through the boxes of newly arrived tools from Switzerland, I was once again amazed by the beauty of the polygon cutter. This little baby is used for milling a square section of the winding stem and, if run at the appropriate speed and with the correct feed rate, it would not only cut the square but it would also leave the surface highly polished so that no further machining would be required.
The blades diameter is only 2mm and it was manufacured in Switzerland by DIXI Polytools, specialists in tungsten carbide and diamond cutting tools, who have been in the business since 1946.
Yes, the tool cost a small fortune but there is no substitute for it. If you want to end up with a component that is a piece of art, you have to start with a tool that is a work of art itself. Next time I will share a few photos of this end mill in action – stay tuned!


Happy collecting,
Nick

Monday, May 15, 2017

Day of Reckoning

***Fun, fun fun!


After 9 months of waiting, our CNC lathe has finally arrived. 

Two massive crates loaded with machinery, tools and raw material are being slowly unpacked. Not without difficulties - moving large and heavy pieces around such a tight place is a true challenge.  The rebelde workshop is now a busy place:  we have a compressor technician, a door installer and a painter working simultaneously, starting at 6am and working until 9pm. We are slowly running out of time - the German engineer is arriving tomorrow night.
 

Marc is here to setup the lathe, connect the bar feeder, do test runs and then spend another week with Josh and Tyler providing hands-on training. We are all very tired but the knowledge that in just a few days we will be manufacturing our first watch parts, here, in Sydney, keeps the spirit high. 


Happy collecting,
Nick





Thursday, May 11, 2017

The rebelde Regulator

***The rebelde Regulator


After the brief announcement of the rebelde Watchmaker's Regulator clock, a couple of subscribers got excited saying this is exactly what they'd planned to do themselves. I am not surprised: the regulator project is the pinnacle of every model engineer hobbyist. 
Having an extremely accurate clock running quietly on your wall is a magical experience - and the bragging rights of 'I made it myself' are simply priceless. Even those non-technical and most critical friends will simply remain silent while admiring your craftsmanship. And unlike model train engines, the clock will be final proof to your wife that your investment in lathes and mills was clearly a wise decision.

The design and drawings of the rebelde regulator are almost completed. Now, if you think that this is not a big deal – due to our CAD software and the abundance of information online surely the task is straightforward - then you are mistaken. For the past 400 years each and every clockmaker and watchmaker personalised the design to suit their own understanding of what the regulator really is - or more commonly, to design it in a way that could be manufactured in their own workshop using their own tools. The end result is always more of alchemy and witchcraft than a mechanical engineering 'recipe', which consequently makes the execution of the clock incomprehensible to engineers (yet so easy to true clockmakers!).

Indeed - I have already found reasons to modify and 'improve' - before I have even made the first component. I am blessed with no less than 3 books on regulators so at least I am not wasting time searching online, but even acclaimed authors make common mistakes: assuming the reader is familiar with a method or design just because they think it’s 'trivial'. And my goodness - imperial dimensions just drive me nuts!

Again, clock mechanisms have their own uniqueness so most engineers struggle with the different concepts of maintaining power, cycloidal gears and dead-beat escapement, and are overly concerned with tight tolerances in the wrong places. So as a repairman, I do have the small advantage of having seen so many clocks in repair and have seen various attempts to solve the various problems, where some were better than others. This is why I believe the rebelde clock would not only perform as it should, but my drawings and design assumes no previous knowledge - which would make them perfectly suitable to Josh and Tyler. And I would most likely make them available to general public. Nevertheless, I am not going to rush ahead here.

The next to do list: getting ready for pinion cutting! The cutters are here, but I need a precise indexing head. The commercially available indexers and chucks are abundant; however I want to build my own. Why? Because home-made indexers are cool. My indexing head will be driven by a stepper motor, controlled by an Arduino chip and will have an (almost!) unlimited number of indexing steps - you can cut a 1200 teeth wheel if you want to! I am already testing a bunch of NEMA motors, and while my coding is rusty they are already 'stepping' nicely.

Stay tuned for more!
Happy collecting,
Nick

Thursday, March 30, 2017

What is horology (and what is it not)?

***What is horology (and what is it not)?
 

To put it very simply, when we talk about horology, we talk about two things: 1. the chase for perfection in timekeeping and 2. the art of watchmaking. The quest for "the best timekeeper" is really a matter of progress, science, technical advancement and some extremely clever engineering.
Therefore, if you wish to enhance your appreciation for that first side of horology – the quest for PRECISION AND ACCURACY, you should sell your Rolex and Patek and buy a Japanese HAQ [High Accuracy Quartz] watch. My personal recommendation: Citizen CTQ57 Chronomaster or Grand Seiko 9F series. You can walk around knowing you have one of the most accurate wrist watches that still contains mechanical parts.



Here is the photo of the Citizen Chronomaster:


Now, you may rightly ask: well, if this is horology, why in the world don’t we just do that: get rid of the Swiss junk and invest in the most advanced Japanese stuff?

The problem is that accuracy is only half of horology. The other half is the "art of watchmaking"; and somehow, by art, we think of our ability to shape metal in a very traditional way, the very difficult way; the way it was done 200 years ago. And what we call art is really a combination of watchmaking skills, precision engineering, accuracy and artistic beauty.

Confused? You should be.

Because horology does not really make sense:  if modern mass-produced (yet super accurate) Citizen and Seiko watches are not artistic, why are the equally mass-produced, mechanically inferior Swiss wrist watches artistic enough to be considered worthy of horological importance?

Is a Swatch watch horology? Is it Rolex? Lange? Hublot? Rebelde? TAG? Surely Omega Moon watch is - at least, this is the watch mentioned in this newsletter almost daily! Would I be able, as a novice watch enthusiast, to ever figure out which one to buy and collect? Why is horology so confusing?

Before we go any further, let's spend a moment or two on a totally different subject. (I am simply trying to alleviate your pain).

If you ask me "What is cycling?" I can immediately think of four things: Tour de France - the fittest athletes with unbreakable stamina and strength pushing themselves beyond physical endurance while racing through the most picturesque French landscape. The second association: an overweight man on a training bicycle with a large bag of potato chips, gold chain around his neck, watching music videos at a $3,000-membership gym. The third picture: a kid pedalling like mad, down the paddock trying to reach 55km/hour on a homemade bike, ending up in hospital with a broken arm. Fourth: a lycra-clad, adrenaline-pumped Sydneysider, blocking peak hour traffic on the Spit Bridge in the bus lane.

Now, let's just not kid ourselves: the exercise bike is not cycling and the suicidal Sydneysider should be looked up in a mental institution. But the kid cycling down the paddock could be the next Cadel Evans, and the broken arm story is something he will be retelling for the rest of his life.

So here is my punch line: from now on, every watch you see, buy, or read about will fall in one of those 4 categories: Tour de France winners Cadel Evans and Chris Froome, the fatso with golden chain, the cool kid or the high-tech madman. Some of them you want as your friends, others you should avoid at any cost.

So, horology is really what YOU think it is; and your horology is surely different than mine. Often it does not make sense and it takes a bloody long time to work out what to keep and what to sell.

But if you do apply my 4-cyclist rule, you will have no problem working out who's who and what's what in the world of watches. Give it a go: Lange, Rolex, Rebelde and Hublot. I couldn't make it easier but do send me your answers. (Too easy? Then try this foursome: F P Journe, Oris, Panerai and Vacheron). Have fun!


Like in the Tour de France, the very top of artistic horology is all about performance, complexity (we call it 'complications') and traditional skills. The ‘top’ watch is the one that combines all of the above, and much more. If this helps - think of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra:


Think of the team work, perfection to detail, appearance, harmony, excitement. How much talent and painstaking practice is required to secure a place in the orchestra? Attending a performance is a feast for the ears, eyes and soul - and even if you are not 'into it', it doesn't take much to appreciate the seriousness of the performance.

So does the watch mechanism below look like the Symphonic Orchestra? You bet!



Note - it is the watch mechanism that gets us excited - not the watch case or even the dial; and definitely not the size or colour of the strap. When we are talking about the top of the top, we are looking for brands and manufacturers who are really good at making a complex mechanism in a very traditional style: the style of the 'old masters'.

Here is another example of perfect harmony:


... and one more:



There are hundreds of watchmakers who call themselves 'watch manufacturers' and that may be the case, however, when it comes to the Crème de la crème, in my opinion, the true engineering brands which deserves that top spot are:
Lange and Sohne, Jaeger Le Coultre, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe - the Masters of Grand Complication.


So when you are assessing a watch, the first question should be this: what is the complexity and workmanship of the mechanism?

grand complication is a watch with several complications, the most complex achievements of haute horlogerie, or fine watchmaking. Although there is no 'official' definition,, one common definition is a watch that contains at least three complications, with at least one coming from each of the groups listed below:
 

Timing complications Astronomical complications Striking complications
Simple chronograph Simple calendar Alarm
Counter chronograph Annual calendar Quarter repeater
Split-second flyback chronograph Perpetual calendar Half-quarter repeater
Independent second-hand chronograph Equation of time Five-minute repeater
Jumping second-hand chronograph Moon phases Minute repeater










Currently, the most complex watch on the market comes with no less than 57 ‘complications’, containing 2,826 individual components – with an assembly time of 8 years.


To be continued…

Happy collecting,
Nick

Landfill or Lifetime

***The choice is yours!
 

In February, we lost our washing machine. After 7 years of service, the poor thing just died. And last week we lost the mighty Fisher and Paykel fridge. The death was slow and painful - and for a couple of days we thought we could save it. "I am calling the repairman" - Tanya was determined. But then common sense prevailed: the technician’s quote and the cost of parts and labour would only extend the life of the poor fridge for a year or two. Beyond that, the fridge would simply become too old, non-repairable, a burdensome machine. Not to mention all the inconvenience which goes with such a repair job: the waiting time on a service phone line, mid-day appointments which would require one of us taking a day off just to babysit the fridge, awaiting the serviceman. And that would be the best case scenario: what if the required parts are simply no longer available or not in stock? More scheduling, more hassle and more wasted time.

Australia is the fifth highest waste producer per capita in the world. Each Australian family contributes enough rubbish each year to fill a three-bedroom house from floor to ceiling. Yes it is true - we are getting better at recycling stuff. But here is a shocking statistic: only 1% of all items purchased are still in use 6 months later! Somehow, we got really good at both over-consumption and excessive production of short-lived, disposable items.

However, there are a handful of businesses who still take pride in making goods which will last 'forever'. I've googled three - in Texas!  A Texas Instruments graphing calculator would easily last you 15 years. No wonder they hold a 93% share of the graphic calculator market - they are built to last. I had one as a kid, and you had one too. A leather Saddleback wallet can last decades and it is fully 'repairable'.  Velvet Forge offers a solid straight razor that's made out of stainless steel and is resistant to rust and wear. The razor comes with a leather carrying case, and the company has your back for a lifetime of resharpening. Guaranteed for a lifetime!

And then there is that crazy watchmaker in Australia who designs his own watches, assembles each timepiece by hand - one at a time - and offers a 50 year guarantee on performance and 50 year free parts and labour servicing with each watch. The watch requires no power source other than old-fashioned winding, it is fully waterproof and has a little mechanical heart.

Landfill or lifetime? As always, the choice is yours.

Happy collecting,
Nick


Intriguing History of the Reverso

***The Intriguing History of the Reverso - by Tyler

What is a Reverso? In a nutshell, it's a watch made by Jaeger-LeCoultre that can be flipped around so that the dial is facing downwards. As the story goes, the purpose of this was to protect the glass while polo players stormed across the field, but it has since taken on an entirely different function.


Along with the Cartier Tank and Rolex Prince, it’s my favourite piece of all (notice any similarities?). I won’t delve into my reasoning; I’ve done enough preaching on the topic lately but I’ll suffice it to say that it’s a watch with one of the most iconic designs ever and a rich history few other pieces can match. And though I spend countless hours researching it, I’m constantly coming across interesting facts that turn what I thought I knew on its head, and this week I discovered something very interesting indeed.

As it turns out, Jaeger-LeCoultre isn’t the only brand to have made a Reverso. In a recent article by watch news site Le Monde Edmond, a very curious Patek Philippe is highlighted. Save for the words Reverso printed along the dial, it bears all of the characteristics of the Reverso:



Source: www.le-monde-edmond.com 

Don’t mistake it for a rip-off though (as if Patek would sink so low), it’s a genuine Reverso in both name and appearance. In 1930, Cesar de Trey, a Swiss businessman who was responsible for initiating the discussion of the Reverso and who went on to own the Reverso brand name along with the grandson of the founder of JLC, Jacques Davide Le Coultre, who incidentally also sat on the board of Patek Philippe, decided to license out the Reverso name. But it wasn’t just Patek that made a Reverso, the pair also licensed it to great brands such as Vacheron Constantin and Cartier:


Source: www.thehourlounge.com



Source: www.collectorsquare.com 

I haven’t been able to find out how many pieces Cartier made, but the fact that I could only find auction listings of them tells me they don’t pop up often. The Patek and Vacheron however, numbering at only 8 and 3 respectively, are true grail pieces. They’re all in private collections and to even see a picture of them is a real privilege. The stuff watch-dreams are made of.

Until next time,
Tyler

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Your New Smile

***Your new smile


About 10 years ago, at the time when our shop was located in Mosman, I went to see a local dentist for a minor 'dental repair'.
“Really a minor problem”, he said, “painful never the less, but while you here, I would like to share some good news”, he said.
Good news in a dental chair? “Have they finally invented a painless drill”, I naively asked.
“Well, the good news is, that in just a week or so, you can leave this practice with a brand new smile!”
It was obvious that I didn't need a new smile but I couldn't resist asking how much that new smile would cost.
“Only $32,000” he said cheerfully. “We will start with the lower jaw then move up, left, right and centre - and you will have the smile of a news presenter!”
Needless to say, I got the tooth fixed for $120 across the road.


You see, there are plenty of idiots out there happy to take advantage of you. Watchmakers are as bad as everyone else, so keep reading. 

About once a week I receive a service report from a subscriber who just submitted their watch to a "reputable" Swiss brand service centre. And most of them appear to be prepared by the “you'll have a new smile” watchmaker: your watch needs a battery replacement, but it is also scratched. We recommend case polishing. While we are polishing the case, we will also do a complete movement overhaul (your watch is due for one!). We also noticed that your dial is oxidised, as well as hands, so we will replace them. The total repair cost is $1,100.

So you took the watch for battery replacement only to find out that your watch is a piece of crap which can be brought to former glory for a mere $1,100.

Before I go any further: please do not send me your service report estimates! All of them come with a disclaimer clearly stipulating that you are NOT ALLOWED to share this information with anyone. So legally, you are breaking confidentiality law. (Sorry legal people, you know what I mean).
Equally I am not allowed to comment on reports or to mention names. Also, even if your watch does not need any of above, it would take lots of money and time to fight such reports. Now, it goes without saying that since 'the reputable brand' is not going to supply any spare parts to me, in most cases, I won’t be able to help you. This is the beauty of a monopoly: it kicks you in the guts and then robs you of the opportunity to source a service from a non-authorized third party. 


One of the trademarks of sophisticated thieving is the use of scary terms which are not commonly understood. Oxidation is a perfect example. Your apple turns brown in matter of minutes when sliced; steel rusts in rain in a matter of days and a silver watch dial does the same - coated or not, protected or not - over the period of a few years. In other words, oxidation is just a very natural process, and the end result - as on the watch dial and hands - is more of a cosmetic nature than of any functional concern. And here is my punch line: if you magnify any surface enough, you will see that discoloration, so technically and legally, it's there. But if you are happy with your smile and with your micro-oxidized dial, which you cannot even notice with a naked eye, then you should tell your Swiss brand that you don't want them replaced. This is your consumer's RIGHT and don't let it be taken away from you.

The final question is the one in relation to servicing. Does your watch needs a complete overhaul when in reality you just want a battery replacement? Well this one is easy to work out.

If your car runs out of petrol and you take it to the "brand" car maker service (without telling them that you've just run out of petrol!), then you can bet your last dollar that the service report would take the opportunity to list a number of parts which would require immediate replacement: filters, maybe a clutch, surely brake pads, right down to the rubber wipers. They will have no problem claiming that your 10 year old car is no longer performing "as when it was brand new" (which is obviously true) so legally, they are not breaking any law trying to sell you that new smile. The only reason why such reports are rare is because your Government knows that you need your car to get to work (so you can pay your tax) and therefore protects you from predators and monopolists.

But your government could not care less about your fancy watch so your only protection is to stand up and rebel against unwanted and unnecessary watch repairs yourself. Tell them to go to hell and just replace the darn battery or otherwise you'll take it to someone else who will.

Happy collecting,
Nick

The Most Boring Job in the World

***The Most Boring Job in the World


Being a rebelde service person has to be the most boring job in the world.
They’re simply not coming back. No broken crystals, no missing winders, not even a torn strap. 542 rebelde watches simply refuse to stop ticking. Which can be a bit disappointing if your only job is to turn up for work, waiting for a broken watch to arrive into the rebelde workshop for servicing. You might think this is a joke, but it’s not. It’s a serious problem we have – if the watches are not breaking how can we improve them?
 

You too can become a happy watch owner - order your rebelde today.
Available styles: www.nickhacko.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/rebelde-2017-production.html
Delivery time: 4-6 weeks


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Introduction to Quantum Physics and your watch

***Quantum Physics and your watch - by Tyler

Continuing on from our introduction of Michael Biercuk, Professor of Quantum Physics and Quantum Technology at the University of Sydney and our rebelde ambassador, I thought I’d take this chance to introduce you a little more to the incredible field of Quantum Physics.

Why does it matter to you? Why might you, as a watch enthusiast, find it interesting? For one, as I’ve learnt, watch enthusiasts tend to have a constant hunger for learning. Yes, we can be a nostalgic bunch, but we’re often design and technically minded, always interested in what the future holds. The subjective nature of watches creates an inherent understanding amongst us that though perfection isn’t possible we’ll constantly strive for it regardless.

So, if you’re wondering where technology is headed, then you needn’t look any further - the future is Quantum Physics, so powerful are the potential applications of it. Already, your mobile phone, laptop, GPS system and WiFi network all work because of our (still rudimentary) grasp on the quantum world.

But getting a basic grasp on the field may well prove to be humanity's greatest collective individual challenge to date. Whilst concepts like Einstein’s general relativity, Hawking’s light-swallowing black holes and the expansion of our universe at a rate faster than the speed of light, have pushed us to the limits of our comprehension ability, still many concepts in Quantum Physics defy comprehension entirely.

Try quantum entanglement, for example, wherein two particles are ‘entangled’, such that if you touch one, the other one responds instantly - regardless of the distance between them. The length of the universe or one metre, it makes no difference.

I’m sure you can think up all sorts of incredible applications for this, but let’s talk about how this might be useful for timekeeping. As it turns out, the importance of keeping track of time spans far beyond the need for us to stay punctual.

I’ve spoken previously about how sailors of old relied on marine chronometers (such as those made by famed clockmaker John Harrison) to stay on course at sea, and time plays just as big a part today.
Keeping our instruments updated with accurate readings is the job of the vast network of satellites hurtling around our planet. Many of these satellites now carry atomic clocks, the ticks of which are regulated by atoms vibrating billions of times a second. They’re the modern day sea-clocks. While we’ve been lead to believe that quartz watches that use a resonating crystal to regulate time are accurate, they’re not even in the same league as an atomic one. Whilst a quartz watch might only lose five seconds a year, an atomic clock might lose a second every five million years.

In order for these satellites to provide accurate coordinate data, the clocks on them must all be carefully synced. The slightest variance can cause all sorts of problems, and engineers and scientists alike have developed complex systems to try to solve it. But, with quantum entanglement, we may be able to ‘sync’ the atoms in the clocks, effectively making them all tick at exactly the same time.

Here on Earth, quantum timekeeping may help us predict earthquakes and other natural phenomena resulting from shifts in the Earth’s crust.

As you may have heard, the continents are shifting, and Australia, moving towards Indonesia at a rate of 7cm a year (0.1mm a day) is the fastest moving continent of all. As small as this may seem, most movement in the Earth’s crust is many magnitudes smaller, and picking up on these minute shifts requires extremely precise and coordinated timekeeping - a level only a quantum timekeeper could provide.

Detecting these shifts would also help us solve the previous problem I mentioned - that of maintaining an accurate coordinate system. The Geoscience Australia foundation recently stated that Australia’s latitude and longitude coordinates are off by almost 1.5 metres, and being able to detect these shifts doesn’t just help us guard against natural disaster but is also the key to an accurate coordinate system.

In a world where we, and devices small and large, are increasingly dependent on having a perfect coordinate system, quantum timekeeping is the key that’ll allow us to take our technology to the next level.

It’s with this wrestle with time that you begin to notice some similarities between our fields. A mechanical watch can never be completely accurate. No rebelde will ever be a perfect timekeeping instrument. We’re locked in a never-ending improvement of timekeeping by the smallest of fractions. But none of that matters: even if your watch loses 10 seconds a day, it’s still 99.99% accurate. If the few seconds your watch gains/loses a day is the supposed cause of your lack of punctuality, you’ve got bigger problems. We persist, regardless.

And in quantum physics it’s much the same – the scientists need to content themselves that they’ll never really get a hold of time. I’m not sure if ‘perfect’ timekeeping is theoretically possible, but my layman’s guess is that it isn’t due some more fundamental laws of nature such as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (we can never know a particle's momentum AND position at any moment) and the observer effect (we can’t observe certain systems without altering the system itself). Maybe I’m completely wrong and it’s possible, or maybe I’m right but the reasons are very different. Either way, it’s something I’ll be sure to ask Professor Biercuk next time. For now though, it seems that perfect timekeeping is a fiction that we use in our calculations but which can never actually be achieved.

Watchmaking isn’t a science that’ll change the world, but the goals of watchmaking and quantum physics are much the same. Watchmakers spend their days ‘chasing the micron’, quantum physicists chase the...whatever unit of measure a subatomic particle is. I don’t mean to say the two are equally complex, but the goals are the same even though the methodology is completely different.


It’s these parallels that drew Professor Biercuk into watches and it’s what makes me so interested in his work. As I continue to talk about his research and how it relates to timekeeping I’m sure you’ll find it just as interesting too.


Professor Michael Biercuk's rebelde in the midst of ion-trapping hardware, in which Michael and his team at the University of Sydney can trap and manipulate individual atoms.

Until next time,
Tyler

Monday, March 6, 2017

False Dreams

***False Dreams


Probably the most common question we get asked: is the watch I intend to buy a good investment?

The question is not just a regular reoccurrence but also a very important one. I do my best to address this subject every now and then - yet somehow there are many subscribers who simply struggle with the whole 'investment' concept.

I'll keep it brief, but please try to digest it at your leisure: if busy, save and read later.

The first question you need to answer for yourself (and I can't answer it for you): are you an investor, collector, enthusiast or just a happy watch owner?

Of course, you can be all of the above at the same time, but here is the catch: unless you have an excess amount of cash you are willing to invest, then you are not an investor. Unfortunately we live in a world where many are sold a false dream called "borrow to invest". You can actually call yourself an investor without even having any money! The financial institutions are happy to lend money so you can "invest" in shares or buy your fifth "investment" property. Imagine a world where any 18 year old kid could obtain a law or medical diploma and start his own practice today - just by promising that one day, in 5 or 10 years, he will actually complete the studies. As ridiculous as it sounds, this is precisely what you can do if you wish to enter the speculative world of quasi-investing with money you don't actually have.

So if you are putting a watch on a credit card then you don’t have to worry about its "investment potential" because such a transaction is not an investment. By the time you pay that watch off, any potential investment return will be long gone, your bank will have made a nice profit on their loan and ironically, it won't even send you a thank you email.

Now the reality is that many of my customers actually do have a solid disposal income, including a significant amount of cash which could be potentiality invested. However, watches are not an income-generating asset. You cannot milk it; skin it; the watch cannot employ or educate people; it cannot be lived in, leased or rented out. Your watch will never find a cure for cancer, develop an app or figure out an algorithm to speed up the data flow. Actually, the amount of income they generate over time is precisely zero. So watches are an extremely poor income generating asset and, if anything, you would want to avoid them as an investment all together, at any cost.

If you are bit confused then you are actually paying attention. How come, then, that watches are always sold for more than what they were worth new, a decade ago? Surely, some of them are a great asset?

Unfortunately, based on my lifetime dealing in watches, such phenomenon is a myth. Only a fraction of watches in circulation actually increase in value. The majority don't. And picking a winner is like predicting the future - the outcome is highly unpredictable and often surprising.

There is however a clear pattern: those rare winners which have increased in value over time would tick most of these boxes:
- they are ‘locked in time’ (a unique design, discontinued, or of a certain size or shape)
- they have a GREAT STORY (provenience, past ownership)
- fantastic condition (all original components, good working order, cosmetically near mint)
- well-documented and well-researched pieces (i.e. there is a book or numerous articles about the watch)
- limited production run (only a few pieces made)
- feature a unique horological innovation, or was a trend-changer
- made by a famous, reputable maker

It goes without saying that collectors who have made money on watches have done that for a reason. They invested their time rather than their money doing the research, closely following the market trends and buying at the right time, snatching the pieces that do not often appear on the market. But it is clearly obvious that their motive was not only the monetary gain. They didn’t do it for money but for pleasure.

Someone said that luxury yacht owners are happiest twice in their lifetime: first, on the day they buy the yacht, and then again on the day they sell it. The same goes for most watch owners. But it shouldn’t be like that – you, as a watch owner can be perfectly happy with your choice every day of the week, for the rest of your life. Simply, follow the above guidelines, do plenty of research, take your time and learn how to say ‘no’. Instead of volume, focus on quality. Collect thematically – rather than just stockpiling the watches, build your collection in a meaningful and organized way (for example: focus on a particular brand, style or model – more about that some other time).

Over the years I have had countless opportunities to add more pieces to my modest private collection, but I restrict myself to no more than 2 watches per year. Actually, in 2015 and 2016, I only bought one watch each year and I could not be happier with my choices.

In my next newsletter I will be pleased to tell you which watches I bought and why. And then, I will also tell you which watch I regret selling – and which one is on my ‘to buy’ list for 2017.

To subscribe to Nick's free newsletter click here:
www.clockmaker.com.au/free_newsletter

Report from Europe

***The Report from Europe - by Tyler

The watchmaking road trip that Josh and I just went on has come and gone so I thought I’d write a small overview of our little adventure. To keep it brief as I can I’ll just hit on the main parts of the trip.

It only lasted 16 days, but we’d been planning the trip for some time and had a packed schedule. Notwithstanding the struggle to adjust to the time difference, we barely slept for the duration simply because we had so much on our plate.

The first part of the trip involved training at the Citizen Machinery Europe factory in Esslingen, just a few stops from Stuttgart. The factory surpassed all of our expectations; it’s filled with their entire range of lathes, prototype machines and a huge range of old school machinery, much of it still in use today. But the real kicker is that the site of the factory used to belong to Boley, a company established in 1870 who made some of the finest high precision machinery and watchmaking tools ever. I’m not quite sure what happened, but it’s as if Boley never really moved out; Citizen just moved in and decided to keep everything. And why wouldn’t you? Though it’d take a lot of work to make some of the machinery functional again, its educational value can’t be understated. And it looks awesome.
Going into the training I hadn’t a clue what we were in for -  I’ve got zero background in machining and had only started looking into the subject 3 months ago, so it was an almost absurd proposition that I’d turn my first part on a 6-axis CNC machine. I was outwardly confident that I’d be able to keep up with everything but admittedly, I still had some lingering doubts going into it. We’re a small team, and a trip like this is a big investment for us so I wanted to be sure it was worth it. Thankfully, with our trainer Marc’s help and Josh who is well versed in all things machining, I was able digest it all in the end.

The training began with a crash course in the theory of programming the G-code that runs the machine. While neither of us have experience writing G-code, this part wasn’t overly challenging - it all seemed easy - on paper, at least.

This was followed by an entire day simply learning how to navigate the machine’s interface. Despite being a modern machine, the interface on even the most advanced CNC lathe resembles MS-DOS from the 1990’s with only marginally better usability. How naive I was to have expected a touch screen of sorts!

Next, we finally got to get our hands dirty: changing the guide bush, collets and cutting tools.
Our greatest fear (Nick has had many a nightmare about it) with the project was of crashing the machine. It’s not your regular computer - if something goes wrong while cutting a part spinning at 5000rpm there’s no reset button. Damage to the machine can be severe and any repairs would be extremely costly. It probably didn’t help that we’d all been watching youtube videos of CNC machine crashes prior to even purchasing the machine, so Josh and I were initially hesitant to press the start button even with Marc’s assurances.

That said, our fears were somewhat allayed after we saw the machine in action and spoke with our trainer. Whilst old CNC machines had very little crash detection capability, the modern Citizen R04 lathe carries out an extensive range of checks before executing a cut. It’ll automatically detect whether one tool will crash into another tool, the part or the spindle, and won’t run until it’s certain there’ll be no conflict. In fact, it’s so overzealous in its checking that we actually had to turn off the crash detection later on because the machine was being too careful.

As we discovered, the real danger lies in the setup process. The machine doesn’t have a clue where the exact cutting edge of each tool is. It has a default offset, but every single turning tool, milling tool or drilling tool has a different width and length, so you’ve got to manually adjust each one into position, program its offset into the machine and then do a test cut to see if you’ve aligned it correctly. It is so critical to the machines operation that we ended up spending two whole days on the setup process alone.

The final two days of training were spent putting what we’ve learnt to the test: outlining the program, setting up the machine, setting up the material, writing the code, executing the cut and measuring the results.  With Marc’s help, we were able to produce our very first screws and stems. To see months of work finally produce something tangible was a special moment.

After training in Esslingen, we made our way down to Switzerland. The schedule for Switzerland was more relaxed, but we still had plenty to do. We’re in the market for a CNC milling machine and finishing tools, so our main reason for going was to visit a machine dealer in La Chaux-de-Fonds. For those that don’t know, La Chaux-de-Fonds could be called the heart of the entire Swiss watch industry. It’s a small town, but the amount of watchmakers that call it home is staggering - Patek Philippe, Cartier, Breitling, Greubel Forsey, Tag Heuer, Girard Perregaux, Jacquet Droz and many other larger brands all have manufacturing facilities here.

  
Nick had told me of how huge the dealer’s place was before going but I could never have imagined the true extent of it. Seriously - there’s a football field of space packed with all sorts of machines. You could spend weeks browsing through it and still not get through it all.



The dealer, as it turns out, is a 32 year old Swiss guy that bought the business from his father. He’s a funny guy with an obsession for fast cars and fine drink, and you’d never guess that he’s one of the most knowledgeable guys around when it comes to machinery. Despite having thousands of machines on the premises (all of which are in fantastic condition), he knows the history and how to operate each and every one. Show him a drawing of something you need machined and he’ll light up with suggestions as to how to get it done. We spent almost 5 hours browsing through everything, found all sorts of machinery that’d be perfect for us and learnt a ton whilst doing so.



When we were back in Zurich, Josh ended up doing a last minute trip to Munich to visit KERN Microtechnik, a manufacturer of the most advanced CNC machinery in the world (an experience that he said was one of the most rewarding ever), while I spent a day wandering around the city. I decided to visit the Beyer Clock and Watch museum. The museum is really just one big room, but then again, watches don’t take up much space, and the amount of stuff they managed to pack in is staggering. If you’re a horology fan like I am, you’ll find it fascinating. Most people spend about fifteen minutes there, but I ended up spending two hours looking over everything, relooking, noticing things I hadn’t seen the first time and talking with the passionate museum director.

Nestled amongst the vast assortment of ancient Chinese time measuring instruments, Breguet masterpieces and clock automaton’s are some (relatively) modern masterpieces and watches of extreme significance. The Rolex Explorer worn by Edmund Hillary on the first ever ascent of Everest? Check. Patek Philippe Grand Complication pocket watch? Check. Not one, but two George Daniels pocket watches? And one of his wristwatches to boot? Yep. An astonishing collection, especially when you consider that George Daniels, arguably the greatest watchmaker ever, only ever made 23 pocket watches and 4 wristwatches in his lifetime. I had no idea what I was in for going into the museum, so it’s fair to say I was completely floored by what I saw. It’s a must see if you ever visit Zurich.


I’ll wrap it up here, I couldn’t possibly talk about everything that happened and my hands are tied at the moment - there are things that can’t be discussed yet, but we discovered some very promising machinery that, should things pan out well, I’ll be able to talk about very soon. In the end, the trip didn’t just go well, it went far better than expected and was extremely rewarding for both Josh and I. We can’t wait to put what we’ve learnt to the test as we continue to take the rebelde project to the next level.

Happy collecting,
Tyler

rebelde 2017 production

***Rebelde 2017 update




Pleased to report that the first 11 rebelde FIFTY watches have been assembled and delivered to their new proud owners. Shortly I will commence the assembly of the Pilots Chocolate dial, V batch. Those on the waiting list should receive their watch by the end of March. The rebelde W Control Tower is now scheduled for April 1. Pretty much as planned with no hiccups or major delays.

We still have some cool serial numbers available for all three models and your orders are welcome. Call Robyn or Laura on 02 9232 0500 for further inquiries.

For more information, go to our rebelde homepage: www.rebelde.com.au


Happy collecting,
Nick