Monday, June 26, 2017

Breeding kangaroos at the top of the Mont Blanc

***Breeding kangaroos at the top of the Mont Blanc

After spending a week in Geneva, I am now heading north towards Neuchâtel and La Chaux-de-Fonds; regions that specialise in the production of just a handful of components, supplying the 'brand names'. While the watch industry is the core, finely-machined components are supplied to the medical, electronic and military industries as well.

So what makes the Swiss
 swiss? Apart from the obvious - the know-how and super precision equipment - it is the tradition, persistence and unique mindset that makes the Swiss business model so resilient, practically with no competition.

The business model has been unchanged for hundreds of years: from father to son. The small factories are passed on - and with them, the capital, knowledge and connections. But 'passed on' does not mean mere inheritance. Rather, the sons are expected to purchase the business from their fathers, then work hard to pay off the loan while continuing to invest in new technologies. Taking into account that the 'product' must remain price competitive, this is a huge challenge for the new generation. But the kids are doing fine - and so far I have met at least a dozen businesses where I am dealing with 20 or 30-something CEOs who are 'on fire'. Yes, the fathers and grandfathers are quietly watching from a distance, keeping an eye on the deals and transactions but the 'next generation' of Swiss entrepreneurs are firmly seated and in charge.

"Established" is the key word. To be taken seriously and considered as a potential customer, I am expected to be established and have a proven track record. My introduction is brief, and to the point: "a third-generation watch repairer, and the owner of the smallest watch brand in the world with 660 watches sold, all working." "Is this your watch?” - is the first question I am asked. And without exception, it is the rebelde watch itself that opens the doors. Humble, but obviously robust, traditional yet raw. "So which components do you actually make?" is the second question. 
"At this stage, cylindrical components under the radius of 4mm, however we will be soon making the main plates and bridges. This year we intend to acquire a gear hobbing machine and pivot burnisher, and this is why I am here."
The mention of these two highly specialized pieces of equipment often results in a rather puzzled look. "Wouldn't be easier to subcontract those operations to wheel specialists?" And from then on, I go on to explain in length that there are no watch gear-cutting specialists in Sydney, nor in Australia. Actually, we are the only watchmakers in Australia trying to make movement components and our journey to our own in-house movement will be long, unpredictable and bumpy. But we are determined and we will get there, sooner or later.

I am sure that some of my subscribers will question next my statement, but I am taking the risk of being misunderstood:
‘Swiss made’ is so easy - if you are in Switzerland. There are countless numbers of specialists who will be more than happy to manufacture any component you want or need, even in a quantity of one. If I were to relocate to Geneva, I would have my own designed "Swiss Made" watch movement in less than 12 months. But “Made in Australia” is extremely difficult. Not only because of the enormous financial commitment, but because we are attempting something that is next to impossible. We are pioneering an entire micro industry in our own backyard. And this realization is unbearably painful. Making watches in Australia is more difficult than breeding kangaroos at the top of the Mont Blanc. The challenge which borders on the insane, a useless task destined to fail.

At the same time, and for that very same reason, even the little that we manufacture right now is truly very special and impressive; probably more so to the Swiss than Aussies. But our time is yet to come...

I will leave you now with just two mind-bending thoughts:  I have met a Swiss spring-maker who manufactures one type of spring. He is so sub-specialized that one of his machines has been making that very same spring for 13 years, 24 hours per day, seven days per week. One spring, one machine, 13 years, non-stop.
The second case: I meet the20-something CEO of a stem-making company. After learning that we have a CNC machine capable of full industrial production, he asked how many watch stems I make. A dozen a day, if that, I told him. Which material do I use? Stainless steel, 316L. "Fine", he said. "We make 1,200,000 stems per month and sell them for 17 cents apiece.” “This is crazy,” - I replied – “the cost of the material alone is twice that much! How can a Swiss-made stem be cheaper than one made in China?" He laughed - his family has been making watch stems for over 70 years, they have hundreds of stem making machines ranging from the old manual and CAM machines to the latest CNC ones, all working, all paid off. They are using the steel they have had in stock since the watch manufacturing crisis of the 70s. And yes, more than half of their output goes to China – because the Chinese are happy to pay less for more.

The best way to describe my Swiss trip would be a roller-coaster ride. And I am yet to share with you some of the truly life changing encounters.
Stay tuned! 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Fasten Your Seatbelts

***Fasten Your Seatbelts

A rebelde T-clamp for a mill vice, machined in Sydney.

This is hardly a surprise: manufacturing contributes just 7 percent of Australian gross domestic products. What is scary is this: manufacturing has shrunk 20% since 2015. While as a nation and as individuals we are still amongst the 12 wealthiest nations in the world, the wealth comes from services, not from making physical goods. Even mining contributes just 9% of our GDP.

Unless the trend is reversed, the consequences will be tragic: we are raising a generation of smart kids waiting for their inheritance, yet kids who possess no product-making skills.For a nation to grow healthy, a good balance of manufacturing, servicing, mining and yes, even agricultural activities, is essential. 

What are the reasons for the decline in Australian manufacturing? I am not an expert in this field, so instead of offering my 'rebellious leftist socialist' opinion, let me quote the Australian industry experts:

"The reasons for the long-term decline of manufacturing in Australia are many. Particularly significant is a long-standing policy indifference to the manufacturing sector, bordering on hostility from central economic agencies such as the Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the Productivity Commission. This flows from a colonial cringe, the commitment to a neoliberal 'free market' ideology and continued adherence to the orthodox economic doctrine of 'comparative advantage' - the belief that a nation should produce only those things for which it has a 'natural' or innate advantage over other countries."

Again, this is scary. The snowball is melting and regardless of which side you take, and how you see the future of Australia, you should be concerned. Because without people who know how to actually MAKE things, we would not be able to technically advance. We will not be able to stop the boats, build submarines, or hospitals, or do advanced research, or combat climate change - not even fix broken bones. We must re-learn how to shape metals or we will remain colonized, and soon become a foreign-owned and foreign run nation.

Yesterday, Josh and I spent all day visiting metal merchants and machining shop suppliers. To say that we are disappointed would be an understatement. The snowball is melting fast: after the closure of automotive industry manufacturing plants, it is obvious that demand for precision machining is no longer there. Almost 100% of hand tools, measuring equipment, lathes, mills and accessories are cheap Chinese imports. The product range would hardly satisfy the needs of an advanced machining shop which specializes in the repair of large field machinery. The hobbyists are gone too. Your typical Englishman looking for a strip of brass or a small diameter rod for his clock or steam model engine is dead and buried, and his Myford lathe is either exported to China or rusting fast in his garage. His son is a well-to-do banker or an accountant or a business consultant and he has no interest in his dad's lathe.  Yet just a bunch of old hobbyists would generate enough of a 'butterfly effect' to keep the steel merchants interested in offering small cuts and off-cuts, so dearly important for prototyping.

Sandvik, the world largest special-metal and cutting tool supplier has basically closed its Australian office. While their website still lists a Smithfield-based business as its sales representative, this is just an error, to be fixed with their next website update. And who can blame them?  Why bother doing business with a colony on the other side of the world?

Last night Josh spent a good half an hour talking to a sales representative of a German precision instrument maker, based in Australia and specializing in mills. In the ten years since he started promoting the high-end machine, he has failed to sell even ONE single unit. At one stage, he thought that he finally made a sale but after 4 years dealing with one Australian Government-owned business, the sale contract failed.

Now, we are not talking about a mega million dollars investment: the machine is no more expensive than a high performance sports car. But ten years without a sale is a long time to be patient, even for a German salesman. I can only imagine how many German machines he could have sold if he was based in China, Russia, Brazil - or even Indonesia; in countries where people actually make things.

The butterfly effect - a sale of just one high precision machine to a Government-run plant would mean the whole world of difference. Once the machine arrives, we would have a whole bunch of Australians trained to use it; and a few more who would learn how to maintain it. There would be an immediate requirement for exotic materials and very specialist tools which would attract the attention of Australian tool and material suppliers. Once the machine was set up and production commenced, it would become a talking point and would attract media attention. It would then attract the attention of small private businesses. A few more machines would be imported and businesses would be able to share their know-how, innovate and improve, and offer a high-tech product for both the domestic and export markets.

The road ahead of us is bumpy and unpredictable. We have fastened our seatbelts and so should you.


Happy collecting,

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Playboy, PH Horn and Industrie 4.0

***Playboy, PH Horn and Industrie 4.0

If you wonder what the above 3 have in common then bear with me for a second.
(By the way - you cannot even imagine how difficult is to find a subscriber-friendly cover of the Playboy magazine, especially when you’re doing research on crowded Sydney public transport!)

Let's start with Industry 4.0 - or more correctly - Industrie 4.0.
The term 4.0 is obvious: we have just entered the fourth industrial revolution. However the exact meaning is still something hard to describe.Put simply, the first industrial revolution was the one when humans started using steam machines; the second one was mass production with the help of electricity, while the third revolution was computerization and robotization. But the 4.0 is something more exciting: the factory of the future where every machine, robot and humans are interconnected to the 'internet of things'. The advantages of such massive interconnectivity is 'product on demand'; manufacturing plants which think and predict combined with product distribution systems like no other in the history of human kind.
The push behind 4.0 comes from one of the most industrialized nations: Germany. And quite frankly, if your job has got anything to do with industry and manufacturing then Germany is the place to be and the place to learn about exciting times ahead. 
The 'thinking and predicting' robots are not your ordinary machines. For example, when it comes to metal machining, there is a new requirement for specialist, precision tools like never before. Such tools are no longer made by humans but by robots and for robots.
After 60 years of publishing, the Playboy has finally dropped its famous tag-line "Entertainment for Men'. But this very tag-line perfectly describes the German PH Horn magazine - the catalogue for micromachining tools for the Fourth Industrial revolution. For a young watchmaker, this is eye-opening, eye-popping stuff and a must read.



I am not going to bore you with details of each and every tool listed; but here is just one for the fellow machinists and engineers: the boring bar designed to drill 'any size hole' starting with diameter of just 170 micron and a depth of 0 to 1000 microns. The geometry of the tool is simply mind-bending.
A famous Lange and Sohne quote goes: "You cannot master your watch parts until you master your watch tools'.  
In just a couple of weeks, I will be visiting PH Horn in Switzerland to place a 'rebelde' order for some very, very sexy tools. Stay tuned!

Happy collecting,

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Another Act of Rebellion

***Another Act of Rebellion

If there is one thing about the rebelde project that I would change in a heartbeat, it would be the word 'rebelde' itself. 
If you're from an English-speaking background then you will have a hard time pronouncing this Spanish word properly. Because in English that 'e' at the end of rebelde is silent, yet in Spanish it is the last tone that gives the word its unmistakable meaning; an on-going battle, a rebellion against mighty forces that want to enslave you.

But then again perhaps there is no better substitute, no better word that could describe the struggle of a small independent watchmaker that is trying to break free of Swiss shackles. And today is another of those small victory days; a break-away day from Swiss jewel suppliers.

A quick introduction into watch jewelling: a watch jewel is a synthetic bearing which holds (hugs?) the pivots of the watch wheels. The quality of the watch and its ability to keep time is directly related to the quality of its jewels. The watch jewels are incredibly small yet polished to perfection. There are only a handful of watch jewel manufacturers in the world and most of them are either Swiss or use Swiss materials.

The dependency of Swiss-made jewels in the watch industry is such that even the most famous watchmakers (both large and small) would not even consider making jewels in-house. The technology, knowledge and expertise required in jewel making is simply beyond their reach.

If you're a small watchmaker trying to create your own watch mechanism, then the gear-train design would be a catch-22. Before you can design the wheels you would need to know the size of your jewels. But there is no such a thing as a standard jewel size because jewels are made to specific requirements. In other words, you cannot go to a jewel manufacturer and say that you would like the same jewels as they make and supply for Rolex. The jewel manufacturer would ask you to provide your own specific measurements. What makes things more complex is that even a simple mechanism would require 10 different jewel sizes. Multiply that figure by the minimum order quantity requirement and then by the price per jewel and you will come up with a figure of around $60,000 - for just one calibre.

This is a scary figure. But if rebelde is to become known as a maker of its own in-house, Australian-made movement, then this investment is unavoidable. Today we received samples of a Japanese jewel manufacturer, a leader in their field, who is interested in our order. The good news: we will have our own jewels and they won't be made in Switzerland. While we haven't even commenced the design of our in-house movement, we believe that we can have a working prototype in less than 5 years. It will take many small victories like this one to get there, and this is why we count on your continued support.

Viva la revolution!   

Happy collecting,

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,

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,

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!


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,

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,

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,

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,

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,

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:


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:



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,