Thursday, August 24, 2017

No Excuse Not To Get It Right

An essential part of watchmaking in the 21st century is Computer Aided Design (CAD). It combines elements of draughtsmanship, engineering and design to 3D model parts.

While watchmakers of old did it all on paper, and we're amazed at how they managed to full off such feats of engineering, there are certain insurmountable limitations inherent to this process that CAD allows us to overcome.

One of the main benefits is that CAD allows you to immediately detect any incorrect geometry in your drawings. The nature of a watch mechanism is that every part is closely connected with every other, which means that the design of each part is based on the previous part in the chain. If an angle is off by 1 degree somewhere in the watch, the error will compound throughout the mechanism. It's an all or nothing type deal.

However, even if all your dimensions are correct, there are other problems that could pop up that you'd have no way of detecting without CAD. With it, we're able to assemble all of the individual parts and creating a functioning 3D model. This allows you to check the tension of any springs, that the gears are meshing properly and whether any parts will collide - all before you've made the first part.

Pen and paper is still an indispensable part of the process; It's where ideas are first conceived and refined thereafter, but CAD is now an essential tool in the watchmaker's kit.

As we work towards making our first in-house rebelde mechanism, we're spending many long days carefully modelling each and every part used in our current watches and for our future pieces.

In the image above you can see just one of the components I've made over the last week.

What you're seeing is a part called a sliding pinion. The 'sliding' part of the name is owed to how it works. Depending on what position your crown is in, the sliding pinion slides back and forth to engage either the winding or setting mechanisms.

When your crown is in the winding position, it's part of the gear train that turns to wind the watch's mainspring. When it's in the setting position, it engages with the gears that turn to set your watch's hands.

It's a part you'll never see, but a critical one that's in every single mechanical and quartz watch regardless of make or model.

I feel privileged to be continuing the watchmaking tradition built up over the last few centuries, but it's an evolving art and requires the use of modern tools as with any other field of engineering. Here in our little workshop here in Sydney, we're using the exact same CAD software as Patek Philippe and many other top-notch watch brands, so we've got no excuse not to get it right.

Till next time,


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Take your time

Some things cannot be rushed.  This never-used Swiss watchmakers Boley lathe waited 54 years to be discovered, pulled out of storage and shipped to Sydney. It then took another 12 months for Josh to get around to designing and making a suitable clamp. And finally, last weekend, he made a base of fine Queensland maple. Assembled finally - but still not ready to run.  We now need to find a suitable motor of constant torque with a reversible direction and speed control unit…Something like a Bergeon 6800. However, the price tag of US$2000 plus delivery and GST for a motor means that our lathe will have to wait a bit longer.  

But watchmakers are not in a hurry and watchmaking cannot be rushed... 

For subscribers who are considering a similar manual Swiss lathe or are just curious to find out how much a lathe like this costs, then the following link will answer at least some of your questions,  You will love it.

Happy Collecting,

Monday, August 21, 2017

A tough trick to pull

Today I flicked through the local newspapers. There on the second page was a photo of a smiling face saying, "If you are in trouble, call me". And you can bet that this Monday morning his phone will be ringing off the hook; desperate people looking for solicitor’s advice and quick solutions to get them off the legal hook. 

The beauty of a well-organised society is this: no matter what kind of help you need, there is a professional out there ready to take that burden off your shoulders.

Except, it seems, if you have a watchmaking problem; in particular: which kind of collet is best suitable for a piece of machinery never before imported into Australia?

The reality is harsh and character building: an Australian watchmaker cannot count on anyone but himself. (By the way, my very first phone call this morning was from a person who wanted me to assess a clock he intends to buy on eBay from an American seller. He would not take 'impossible' as an answer. Eventually I had to ask him what he does for a living in order to find an analogy of 'impossible' in his area of expertise. He said he was a magician and illusionist, and he likes me, and we should at least be friends - at which time I hung up!

So back to collets.

A collet is a cylindrical metal holder designed to firmly hold a tool or material to be machined. Unlike other tools (a chuck, for example) a collet exhibits some amazingly important properties. It provides strong clamping, excellent resistance to unclamping, great centring and, above all, tight tolerances.  In other words, if you are to machine a watch part which requires micron precision, you need micron precision collets. Actually, not just one, but at least a dozen to accommodate for tools of various sizes.

And now back to the original question: How do I know which collets are best suited for our machine, for the tools we intend to use and for the parts we would like to produce? 

It is clear that without the help of an expert I wouldn't be able to figure this out. So the most obvious solution to my problem is to delegate the job to Josh. To his credit, after 3 months of research and 3 deliveries (of which two were successful) we have finally got our set of precision collets to fit our Citizen R04 lathe. 

Now if you are wondering why am I sharing this information with you, the answer is to save someone 3 months of their life and frustration. The collet maker is ALPS TOOLS. Now, if you think Alps and tools, you surely are thinking Switzerland. Alps Tools is actually a precision toolmaker located in Nagano, Japan! The collets are AR11-d and the collet holder is SSH 5/8-ECH 7S-70 from the series called "Nice Mill". Nice would be a typical Japanese understatement: these collects are out of this world! 

I am a strong believer in sharing. Actually my plan is to get in touch with fellow owners of Citizen R04s around the world so we can share information and learn from each other. While large corporations have all the time (and resources) in the world and can be secretive, a small independent watchmaker does not have that luxury. Life is short and if you are to figure out everything by yourself, then the only thing you will be remembered for is your tombstone epitaph: "Could have been a great watchmaker, but ran out of time!".

Happy Collecting,


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Who said watchmakers don't party hard?

*** Who said watchmakers don't party hard?

Well, at least once a year…at the Annual meeting of The Watch and Clockmaker Association of Australia. Last Tuesday night Josh, Tyler and myself attended the WCA AGM held at the Ryde RSL. And boy, did we have a ball!  The meeting was an opportunity for kids to meet the 'Who's Who' of Sydney Watchmaking. For me, it was an opportunity to snatch some bargains at the tools and parts auction. 

Before I brag a bit about my hunt…believe it or not, there are still around 800 watchmakers repairing watches in Australia. Unfortunately, most of them do not offer their skills directly to you - watch owners and collectors – but, rather, work as subcontractors for established jewellers, do the trade work from home or simply live as hermits. Many work on a casual basis, awaiting retirement. Watchmakers like ourselves, who deal directly with public, are quite rare beasts.  The reason for keeping the 'low profile' is not for lack of skills, but restriction on supply of spare parts by major Swiss brands which is killing our trade. Of course, most watchmakers are either too proud or too blind to admit that, but a 'small guy with a loupe' is almost extinct, especially in Australia. Yet, only a few decades ago, even the smallest country town would have not one but two or three watchmakers.  

About 200 watchmakers are members of The National WCA. They are hardened veterans who have decided that they will not quit, no matter what, and for that reason alone they deserve our respect. However, most of them are in their late 70s. No matter which angle you take, the fact that there are only five watchmaker students who attend Sydney TAFE (and that is FIVE from the entire Australia!) speaks a lot about the future of the watchmaking trade in our country. On Tuesday night, a faithful bunch of 50 or so watchmakers packed a rather small room, keen to elect Officers who will run the organisation for the next 12 months and tackle issues that bother them - of which the most important one is: How to attract young blood and pass the baton on to the next generation?  

Luckily for us, we have solved that problem. We took our destiny in our own hands by cutting off the reliance on big brands, and starting our own. The only reason why Josh and Tyler are now firmly into watchmaking is because they figured out that hard work, skills building and creativity will eventually pay off. Investing in your own future is risky but exciting and there is nothing more rewarding than being the master of your own destiny.  Independent and free; no longer a Swiss slave but an equal partner.   

At the meeting I was pleased to notice a couple more young apprentices who were radiating enthusiasm. While small in number, the WCA is loaded with tradition and experience; a fertile ground for young watchmaker. By the way, if you are considering watchmaking as a career or if you do repairs as a hobbyist, you should definitely join the WCA.  

Back to the auction:

The moment I laid my eyes on her, I knew she was going to be mine! 

Yes, I already have two jewelling tools, but both are incomplete and well-used. But this baby is not only a complete set but also in like-new condition! The jewelling tool or press is an essential watchmaking tool used to replace cracked or worn jewels. It also comes with a number of reamers which are used to prepare the hole to 'accept' the new jewel and face plates to hold and position bridges and main plates. And the tiny 4.5mm collets are just so amazingly machined, to perfection!   

After some fierce bidding, the jewelling tool was secured, so I've moved to my next favourite thing: the Omega plexi glass removing tool. This set of 7 collet sizes is almost impossible to find - and when it does appear online it is often snatched up not by watchmakers but Omega memorabilia collectors. It is an essential piece of equipment for removing watch movements which are fitted in one-piece-case like Dynamic and Seamaster.  Again, the bidding was nerve-racking but, in all fairness, I just wanted it more than any of my colleagues.   

I also managed to secure more hand tools, case openers (Including an original unused Bergeon milled set for Rolex). Tyler scored a pile of books and a cabinet of watch parts. Josh restrained himself completely (while trying to restrain both Tyler and myself from bidding on more items!). However, the icing on the cake was the very last lot: a vintage valve- operated timing machine kindly donated by Martin Foster FBHI. Martin is without a doubt the most eloquent horologist who regularly contributes to a number of publications. While most of his WCA colleagues find his sense of humour rather annoying, I just can't have enough of him. To win his 60 year old valve tickoprint was a matter of honour. And to Martin's credit, the darn thing still WORKS. I have no idea what am I going to do with it, but I just love the glow of old tubes so I couldn't be happier with this little gem.  

All in all, great fun and, yes, we are looking forward to the next AGM. As I've said so many times: watchmaking is cool and yes, we are still looking for one more apprentice to join us. 

Do YOU have what it takes? 

Happy collecting,

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Man Who Had It All

***The Man Who Had It All

What does someone who has it all do with their time? What are their pursuits? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I know of what at least one of them did.
He was an Englishman residing in Sydney who’d had great success in business and was finally looking to settle down, in a sense. He’d been a keen sailor throughout his life and had a custom built yacht commissioned for him, which was made into something resembling a floating 5-star hotel. Everything about the boat displayed class and sophistication, but it wasn’t extravagant, representative of the good taste he had himself.
He could’ve had it gilded in gold and fitted out with all sorts of expensive curiosities, but the finishing touch that he felt it needed most came from one of his other passions. As is so common with sailors, he was also a lifelong enthusiast of horology. Accordingly, he needed a marine chronometer.

Marine chronometers were originally made to aid with navigation while at sea, but he didn’t need it for this. Regardless, he felt it absolutely necessary to have one on board. The boat just wouldn’t be complete without it.

The chronometer was made by J.G. Fay and Co, a company who, funnily enough, also appears to have made yachts, and who worked with a number of other makers to produce their chronometers. It’s housed in a beautiful mahogany wood case with brass linings. The Maker’s mark on the front of the case is set in real ivory (as was tradition in the day, judge away), and the chronometer housed inside is a timelessly beautiful mechanism that displays many of the achievements made in horology in recent centuries.

Having flicked through our copy of “Chronometer Makers of the World”, this piece in fact predates all J.G. Fay and Co’s known chronometers, indicating it’s a very early piece indeed.

If you find it hard to understand why he was so set on having it made, it might help to understand the nature of a chronometer and the dedication required to make one.

Chronometers were, above all, functional instruments. They were the most critical piece of equipment on board a ship and the lives of all of those aboard depended on it. Disaster was imminent if it ever erred in its timekeeping or malfunctioned. This meant that the makers had to work to the highest standards possible; anything less than perfection wouldn’t cut it.

He was forever reading about horological topics, and this passion and appreciation for so fine a craft translated over into his other work and was a big factor in his success. The loud tick of the chronometer is what made him tick. It’s no coincidence that successful people tend to be horology enthusiasts.

After he passed away the chronometer was handed on to a close friend of his who, as luck would have it, became acquainted with Nick some years later. Just ask Nick and he’ll be more than happy to tell you that he loves chronometers more than watches, so when the opportunity to grab it came up, he obviously jumped on it straight away. Nick’s small collection of chronometers is his pride and joy, and they’re the only things he’d never consider selling. Have a chat with a few watchmakers and you’ll find it’s not uncommon for them to be chronometer enthusiasts over all else, and with good reason. Though the man’s yacht is no more, fortunately his chronometer lives on.

Though the perfection required to make a chronometer is clear, an equally fascinating part of the story is how horology advanced to such a pinnacle in the first place. The competition was fierce, with some of the finest and most ingenious craftsmen to have ever lived battling it out over three centuries to produce a chronometer capable of surviving all the wild knocks and temperature fluctuations it’d experience at sea; a battle won by a genius clockmaker by the name of John Harrison whose first trade was carpentry. (Another must read is the book “Longitude” by Dava Sobel which tells the story of John Harrison’s extraordinary achievement.)

In all the history of timekeeping, I think it’s fair to say that the race to develop the perfect chronometer led to more advancements in the field of horology within a relatively short period of time than throughout the rest of human history.

Though chronometers are now a rare site (a conservative estimate of the number of chronometers ever made hovers around 100k, compare that with the millions of watches made every year), the word ‘chronometer is still common in the watch world, and is used to refer to a watch that falls within strict timing guidelines. Brands including Rolex, Omega and Breitling now seek to have most of their watches certified as chronometers and often proudly display the fact with a line of text on the dials of such pieces. It’s a nice salute to what’s come before, but not a totally fitting one; the required accuracy of an actual chronometer is far stricter than a ‘certified-chronometer’ watch!
For those that have ever tried to understand the development of the mechanics of modern watches and why they look the way they do, an understanding of chronometers is mandatory education, and a copy of ‘Chronometer Makers of the World’ is a great place to start.

The first half of the book speaks of the catalyst that launched the frenzied development and of the history of chronometers thereafter. The second half of the book is a directory of all the known chronometer makers along with the reference numbers of some of their pieces and occasionally with a short blurb about their significance.
This second section mightn’t sound that exciting, but if you give it a chance I think you’ll find it’s a highlight of the book. I’ve spent hours googling names at random from it and have fallen into many a rabbit hole filled with interesting stories. You’d never know it otherwise, but every single watch brand is in some way tied to these chronometer makers of days gone by.

Modern watchmaking isn’t resting on its laurels; there’s rapid innovation taking place and the ways of old are constantly being challenged, but there’s no way to properly understand it all without knowing what it’s all based on. I’ll go as far as to say that if you consider yourself a true horologist in any sense of the word, you must buy this book. It can be had for around $60 online and would be a welcome addition to any horological book collection.

The story of chronometers enthralled our man who had it all, and it’s sure to do the same to you too.

Until next time,

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The first U32j soon to arrive to Australia

Makino Japan is the world leader in advanced CNC machining centres and provides a wide range of high-precision metal-cutting and EDM machinery.  

The Makino U32j wire EDM machine is ideal for machining complex items that require extensive and intricate machining; especially high-accuracy precision parts, progressive dies and highly-engineered plastic molds for semiconductor devices, as well as medical components.

With touch-sensing accuracy to +/- 2 micron and an optical scale feedback of 0.05 microns for the X- and Y-axis and cutting wire of 50 microns, the U32j is Makino's ultra-precision flagship EDM model.

Rebelde (Sydney Watches Pty Ltd) is proud to announce acquisition of a U32j machine for production and manufacturing of watch parts. The expected delivery, installation and training is scheduled for February 2018. The purchase was made through Makino's Australian representative, HEADLAND Machinery, and U32j is the first EDM machine of such accuracy to be delivered to Australia.

Happy collecting,

Monday, August 7, 2017

It's good to be back home

The 6 week trip to Switzerland is finally over…And I am ready for a holiday…which, of course, is not going to happen any time soon. Actually, the next 12 to 18 months is going to be the most challenging and busiest time of my life!

Where do I start?

Firstly, we have two very exciting pieces of machinery coming in from Switzerland; soon to be packed and shipped to our workshop (the expected delivery time is around Christmas). I am not going to talk about specifics until the machinery is delivered and installed. However, let me just say that both of the watch part making machines are amazingly precise and amazingly complex and nothing like them has ever been imported into Australia…ever.

This is a huge undertaking which will require months - if not years - of training and practice. Quite frankly, we cannot even imagine what lies ahead, but we are ready to buckle up for an adventure of a lifetime.

Secondly, I have brought with me a sample mechanism for rebelde Mark 1. The case, dial and hands design will start this week and in 3 month’s time we should have the first computer-generated images of the new watch. There will be a number of custom-design movement components as well; and, most likely, a few of them will be manufactured in our workshop in Sydney. This itself is super cool. There is one more announcement about Mark 1 but I have to keep it secret for now. Trust me, you'll love it.

The third challenge is team building. We have received quite a few decent applicants for our engineering position and a couple for the watch apprentice position. Again, the next few weeks are going to be loaded with appointments and assessments. Finding the right people to join our team is our top priority which cannot wait.

The fourth project: Working even harder to source more quality pre-loved watches! This is an enormous challenge because quality stock is hard to find. However, my plan for this financial year is to offer 20% more watches than last year. More watches means more sales, more customer communication, invoicing and shipping, but we've been doing this for decades. We have the most trusted, loyal and supportive customers who love what we do and are happy to support us so it is only logical to try to offer more fine timepieces. When it comes to second-hand dealings, I am very proud of our unparalleled reputation which is a credit to all team members.

The fifth on this list, but really a top priority: To continue with the assembly of rebelde watches which are planned for 2017: rebelde fifty, rebelde pilots and control tower models in stainless steel. All of you who have placed an order while I was away: Thank you for your patience. Your watch will be ready to go in 3 weeks' time. A small curiosity...Since we started the rebelde project 3 years ago, 541 watches have been assembled and delivered. To my knowledge, as I type this, all 541 are in perfect working order! I proudly say, "There is no such thing as a broken rebelde". To this day, each and every watch is still 100% assembled and adjusted by myself. With all due respect to all my colleagues, when it comes to watchmaking and assembly, I only trust my own expertise; so no sub-contracting. In the rare case of non-performance, I have noone to blame but myself, which is how it should be. After all, if you wear a piece with my name on the dial, then you know who to blame or congratulate.

Another curiosity...all 541 watches were sold with ZERO advertising, except of course, for this mailing list. We don't go out telling watch enthusiasts how great rebelde is. The word of mouth and the recommendations of happy customers are more than sufficient to keep the brand going strong. We appreciate your support and if you haven't placed your order for a rebelde watch yet, then feel free to check out our website

With a starting price at $2,500 for a robust, reliable and fully repairable timepiece assembled in Australia, rebelde has virtually no competition in its market segment.

Sixth: Our small team remains committed to continue with our DAILY newsletter. For the past year we have hardly had a day without a newsletter. I don't know of any other business out there where each and every employee is more than happy to contribute, write, share and talk.  Our newsletter is our core activity and until the newsletter is out, we don't rest. We know you LOVE it and for thousands of subscribers, our daily newsletter is often the highlight of your daily mail. There are countless bloggers and watch forums out there but, unfortunately, most of the stuff is written by people who are simply hobbyists or others who recycle, copy and paste the same-old stuff. We strive to share our own views and talk about our own struggles, and do our own research. While the quality may vary from day to day, you can rest assured that our mail is always honest and authentic. And if you have ever prepared and sent just one piece of mail to your customers, then you KNOW how much time and effort such a newsletter takes.

The bottom line: the next 12 months will be a huge challenge but we are ready to rock and roll. If you wish to support us then remain subscribed, tell your friends about us, place an order for a rebelde watch and stay tuned for a range of fine pre-owned watches. You never know what may come up next!

Even if you do just one of the above this financial year, then our mission will be accomplished.

Happy collecting,


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

So what is your dream?

This week I've learnt my second French word. It only took 26 hours to figure out its English translation and its true meaning. 

It all started when I asked my Swiss host to put me in touch with a specialist watch dial maker who may be interested in producing a batch of dials for the next rebelde project. Without any hesitation, he loudly and proudly proclaimed: "Schansaintsheer" or something that sounded like that.

"Sorry, I've missed that. John Sheer? Jean who?"
"Schan - Saint - Sheer" he replied. "You must see him".
"Where is he located?"
"Here, in La Chaux-de-Fonds; we've past his factory earlier today. If you like, I'll take you there tomorrow."
"So you actually know the guy?" I’ve asked naively; realising instantly that that was a silly question, since everyone knows everyone in LCF.

That night I started googling 'dial makers LCF' but without much luck. How frustrating…I still couldn't work out even the dial-maker’s name.

The next day we spent most of the afternoon inspecting piles of used watch machinery so both of us forgot about the dial. But later, at dinner, I asked again:

"Hey, about the dials, what is the maker's name?"
"Which one?"
"The one you've mentioned yesterday; the one with the unpronounceable French name."
"Schansaintsheer? Ha, you must see him. You don't know who he is? How come you don't know him when you’re a watchmaker? Surely you have seen his dials," poked my host.
"If you would only speak clearly, and in English perhaps, then I would know who the hell is Schansaintsheer or whatever his name is."
"Schan - Saint – Sheer. He is famous; he made dials for Rolex and Omega in the 1960s and 70s, and many other Swiss brands.  He is really, really famous."
"Well, what I know for certain is this: all Rolex vintage dials ware made by SINGER, not your guy", I’ve said in frustration. After all, this was no longer about dials, but my own reputation.
"Bravo - that's him! But in French we say SIN-SHER; Jean Sin-sher"
"Jean Singer and Cie SA is your guy? The most famous dial maker of all times? You seriously want to take me to their factory? You seriously think SINGER would take an order for 200 dials from the smallest watch brand in the world??"
"Of course, if you pay and wait they will do it. It is sinher; they are the best."

A few days later in Geneva, during the Watch Fair, I met Ms Claudia Henry, Assistante de Direction from Singer Manufacture de Cadrans Soignes

Jean Singer firmly remains one of the last and the best independent dial manufacturers in Switzerland. The business was established in 1919 by Jean Singer and his wife. It started out in a small detached house at number 32, rue des CrĂȘtets in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and stands on the same site today. Currently, the firm employs 250 dial-maker specialists and still supplies cadrans to the most famous Swiss watchmakers.

Would Singer be interested in taking a rebelde order?

Unfortunately, Ms Henry could not provide a definite answer. That would depend on a number of factors, of which two are potentially limiting: The batch volume and delivery time . A basic dial could cost around $500 per dial, plus setup and tooling costs. The precise amount can be calculated after a review of the technical drawings. Delivery time? Due to current production commitments I would be looking at 2 years' turnaround time, IF I can get a queue placement at all.

But…she didn't say NO, meaning that potentially, one day, a rebelde watch could have a Singer-made dial…

So what is your dream?

Happy collecting,