Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Victoria Rail watch: Peerless SHOCKMASTER



Last week we talked about the little known Queensland Rail Omega Admiralty watch issued to rail workers in the early 1970’s. It was hardly a surprise that this short article generated a fair bit of interest. The most common comment: "Lucky QR employees!"
 
Which unfortunately cannot be said for their Victorian mates. In the mid-1960’s Victorian Rail opted for a very different watch for its officially issued Government timepiece: the Swiss-made Peerless.
 
Comparing Peerless with an Omega is much like comparing a Hyundai with a Mercedes. Peerless was probably the least exciting and least cool Swiss watch you could ever want and, quite frankly, its issue was an insult to Railway Horology, as much as to Victorian Rail workers themselves. Long gone were the days of mighty Longines, Omegas and Walthams!
 
Yet at the same time, the humble Peerless turned out to be an ideal watch for a Government on a budget. It was cheap, easy to repair, light on the wrist, practical - and even reasonably accurate. And, to its credit, it survived to this day as a testimony to the fact that even years of daily wear (and abuse) could not kill it.
 
I guess my main problem with Peerless is the lack of decoration on the Mechanism - the AS1900/01 movement is just boring.  Plus another small detail: the watch dial is lacking even one iota of Railway character! The Peerless SHOCKMASTER looks more like a dress watch than a tool piece - a watch for the Rail Accounting Department rather than locomotive drivers and train masters.  For fanatical, internet-forum, railroad enthusiasts who are desperately looking for at least something to hang onto, here is the heart-crushing truth: no, the Peerless Shockmaster is not 'a younger cousin' of the famous IWC/ Peerless 1930’s watch – the two Peerless models are part of two completely different stories.
 
But Australian rail watch history is like the history of any fragmented, slightly disfunctional family: it is what it is. As much as we 'hate' it, the Peerless Shockmaster is as important as any other Government Rail issued watch issued in the past 140 years.  

For subscribers who will be looking for VR Peerless: beware of fakes!  Pay close attention to the case back engraving.  Letters V, C and W are machine pre-engraved, while individual serial numbers are crudely hand engraved.  What is the fair price to pay for an original example? Whatever you think it's worth to you. Based on my limited research, recent sales vary from $120 to $1000, depending on condition. The good news is that we can repair/service your Shockmaster for around $250.  A small curiosity is the lug width of exactly 19mm which is a perfect match for our James Young kangaroo straps.








If you do have a Victoria Rail Peerless watch in your collection, please get in touch with me at nick@clockmaker.com.au so we can add its number to our database.  Thank you.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Mark 1 - a brief review



A "thank you" card to Gemma by a happy Mark 1 customer.

After almost 2 years of development, the first NH Mark 1 watch was finally assembled, tested and delivered on May 3, 2019 to Gary Miller from Belrose, NSW.  Three months later, we have assembled 116 watches with 67 delivered to our supporters. Three of them - ladies.



In case you are still awaiting delivery of your MK1, there are only a few more sleepless nights.  We are expecting the delivery of leather straps and your watch will be on its way soon. In the meantime, here is some feedback from those who have received their watch:

"Advice to watch enthusiasts - add one of these watches to your collection. I have had a number of dealings with Nick and his team, and could not be happier. Rebeldes (and all his watches) arrive on time, perfect working order, and perfect condition. Bought the Mark 1 recently for husband, hubby loves it. Keeps going on about the great quality, "better than an IWC", love the Australian made strap, "even the buckle is cool", etc, etc. Just get one, or one for your husband or partner. Cheers." - S

"This is my second purchase of an NH watch and I cannot be happier.  His handmade, locally designed and assembled watches have confined my other watches to the safe. I look forward to reading the daily blog and vicariously living the life of a rebel. Viva Rebelde!" - P

"I have just taken delivery of my second Nicholas Hacko watch. I absolutely love my new MK1. Cheers. DC."

"My experience in buying a Mark 1 watch has been flawless. The quality of the watch and the service is world class". - John

"I took delivery of a new Mark 1 a couple of weeks ago and it's fast becoming my go to watch. Happy to see someone keeping the Australian watch industry going." - Eddie

"I've just received delivery of my new MK1 and couldn't be happier with it. This is my second purchase from Nick and the team and won't be the last. Great company to deal with." - Peter

"Spectacular watch received. Every bit worth the wait for the "Mark 1".  Congratulations Nick and the team on this work. Satisfied customer. Thanks" - Don
Why is the MK1 project so important to you - and to us?

There are three reasons worth highlighting.

1. MK1 is a simple, high quality, every day watch, priced accordingly. It is a watch you can wear daily knowing that it is fully repairable (if needed), fully serviceable, and built to last for decades. It represents true value for money.

2. MK1 allows us to grow. With every watch sold, we are getting stronger as a brand and as a team of young and enthusiastic Australian watchmakers. A project like MK1 allows the "transfer of knowledge" - from an overseas-trained watchmaker to young Australian apprentices. Nothing beats the excitement of the in-house assembly process which results in the birth of a brand new watch. With each assembled watch, our young watchmakers are being rewarded with a sense of relevance and their self-confidence grows. Being just a watch technician at a Big Brand, repairing broken watches, is not nearly as 'cool' as being directly involved in the MAKING of an Australian watch brand.

3. Your money stays in Australia.  Each sale contributes in a very direct way to our national well-being from Goods & Services Tax collected, corporate tax paid, to wages, superannuation contributions, down to income tax paid by every employee.  A micro project like ours is vital for the Australian economy.  We are proud to be one of 4.8 million Australians who work in a small business and contribute 35 percent of total industry value added. 





Should you wish to place an order for Mark 1 then simply give us a call on (02) 9232-0500.  The price is $2,800.  No payment is required until the watch is assembled and ready for delivery (which is currently around three weeks).  Mark 1 is a 40mm, automatic watch which comes with an Australian hand-made kangaroo leather strap.  Five years guarantee.  

Thank you for your support.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Could this be the most sought after "Queenslander's" Omega?



So what is the big deal?

From 1947 to the late 1970’s, Omega was an official supplier to the Western Australian and Victorian Railway, as well as the NSW Government Rail and Tram Department. This is a well-documented fact and a number of Omega Government pocket watches have survived to this day as a testimony to their quality. The majority of pocket watches were Calibre 38.5 T1-161 with enamel dial and blue hands, and dials were signed according to state/department. However, we now know that Omega also supplied a small number of wrist watches to Queensland Rail from late 1969 to the late 1970’s. Model: Reference 135.015 "Admiralty". Currently, we know of 3 such pieces in private hands, numbered 31, 251 and 345.

About the watch

Omega 135.015 Admiralty for Queensland Rail comes with a typical Military style dial, Arabic numerals. What makes this batch unique is the dark brown 'chocolate' Genève dial and orange sweep hand. The orange anchor on the dial indicates water resistance of 30m. For Omega, the Admiralty project was rather a shy attempt to produce a 'light' sports model in the Geneva range, without interfering too much with the Seamaster line. We don't really know how many Admiralty Omega watches were produced in total, and what were the variations. We do know that some Admiralty timepieces were fitted with a diver's style bezel, others with a plain bezel or none at all, and we are now very certain that perhaps only a few hundred of military style dials were sold to Queensland Rail as official railroad timekeepers. Ref 135.015 was powered by Calibre 601 17 jewel non-chronometer grade movement, adjusted in two positions, 48 hours power reserve and 19800 bph, first introduced in 1962.

Case

The steel case diameter is 35mm not including the crown, or 38mm including. It comes with crown guards, and the crown is signed with the Omega symbol. Plexi glass. The case is signed "Waterproof". At this stage we are unsure if the QR batch was supplied with flix-o-flex spring loaded bracelet or leather strap.

To say that I am excited about my QR Admiralty would be an understatement.  It has been a while since we've had an opportunity to shift our focus on a watch with such a strong and unique Australian pedigree - and a watch worn for decades by an ordinary Aussie bloke doing his daily job, wearing his tool watch.  Knowing that QR251 was manufactured in 1969 - the golden Omega year!- makes it even more special.

So, what's in this for you?

Fun times ahead! Now that you know what to look for, it's time to start your search. If you do get lucky, snatch it. And as for the price: it's simple - just listen to your heart.

Happy collecting!








Thursday, June 20, 2019

Welcome back to NSW, my baby



In the late 1880’s the Australian state of New South Wales was a bit like the Wild West... Mainly - two problems: trains not arriving on time and train robberies.
 
NSW Government Railway was the department in charge of railways from 1855 to 1972. After a major railway incident that occurred in the US, the NSW Government ordered that every train driver and station master be issued with a precision time-keeper - a pocket watch.  Batches of railroad watches were ordered from the American Watch Company - Waltham, Massachusetts. Every issued pocket watch in NSW had its individual number engraved on the case back and some examples also had the owner's name. In addition, train drivers were also issued with a gun, bearing the same number as the one engraved on their watch.
 
Thanks to newly arrived watches, trains eventually got better with timetables, however, the robbery bit was an ongoing issue until the 1950’s. "Robbery from the Mudgee Mail 'Reward of five hundred pounds, with ten per cent on value of money recovered not including cheques'" was just another news story of the day.
 
Since watches remained Government property, they had to be handed over at retirement. Consequently, only a handful of GR pocket watches have managed to find their way into private collections and today they are regarded as some of the most sought after Australian timepieces.
 
GR number 250 dating from 1889 is the earliest numbered NSW Government Rail watch in private collection. It was sold 6 years ago at a Queensland auction, then stored, until it hit the market late Sunday night. Welcome back to NSW, my baby.
 
Now, if we can only find that Government issued gun...







Ebaying at its best (or - how to waste your life searching online)



No, this is not a whinge. Quite the contrary - after wasting a solid ten hours on eBay over three days, for some strange reason, I feel like a winner. Weird!

Bitten by the “Moeris” bug, overcome with the panicking fear of missing out on the 'deal of a lifetime', I ended up winning actually not one but two pocket watches.  The catch arrived promptly, in less than a week, on the same day - one from Adelaide, the other from Lydney, just south of Gloucester.

The English Moeris is a Cairo tramway piece, properly marked with an issue number, meaning that the watch was actually used by a tram driver or station master. You can't ask for more authenticity and character. The dial is absolutely stunning, the movement is in need of service - but it’s complete. However, the hands are a poor replacement which is rather annoying. Bottom line: a very promising restoration project. Total investment so far: $150.

The second Moeris from Adelaide is a different story altogether. The mechanism is complete but showing no sign of life; missing stem and crown, and the case is heavily beaten up. In other words, it would not pass one of my 'pocket watch buying tips' shared with you last week. However, the watch is a G. S. T. P. British War Office military piece fitted with a nicely jewelled 19H calibre. Even as a complete write-off, it would be worth its $50 in spare parts alone.

So the most important question is: what's in it for you?  Words of wisdom.  Clearly, buying a vintage pocket watch without proper inspection is a lottery you'll never win. At best, you are investing in a 'restoration project' which could take months to complete and cost hundreds of dollars. The end result - unknown. On the other hand, investing $50 or $150 on a watch with historic value is money well spent - as long as you don't expect the watch to be complete or keep time.

The most common mistake novice collectors make is this: the expectation that three beaten up watches will produce enough parts to complete one stunning piece. Nothing could be further from truth. Just think of it for a moment: if you invested in three 50 year old ex-taxi Fords with half a million kilometres on the clock, will you be able to turn that pile of junk into a nice, good running family car? Clearly not - all three donors would suffer a similar amount of wear, needing the same crucial parts.

Annoyingly, even if you double, triple or quadruple your budget, there is no guarantee that a more expensive watch will be any better than a junk donor, which is a simple paradox of the 'no inspection, blind luck' game. On the other hand, if you are looking for a very specific maker, model and year, historical reference timepiece, then eBay is a great starting point.

And finally - note this name down: O. Dusonchet, Cairo. I am yet to do my research on him, but it looks like he was a jeweller who supplied all watches to the Cairo Tramway in the early 1900’s.



Workshop notes



This is exciting: we've just added yet another watch part to our arsenal of 'Made in Australia' components. Again, the usual question: do you have an attention to detail?

The picture below shows the drawing of the part as well as the part itself. Can you see the part?

Yes, that's it - a speck in the plastic bag in the top left corner. Engineers and machinists have already noticed dimensions and tolerances: 1mm long and 1.1mm in diameter at the widest point.






This watch locating pin is inserted in bridges and the balance cock to ensure proper alignment with the main plate. Previously the locating pin was milled together with the brass bridge.  However, since we are now experimenting with titanium (which is much harder and slower to mill), the new pin arrangement saves us on machining time, tools and materials themselves.

The 1mm locating pin is made on our Citizen R04 CNC lathe with a cycle time of 23 seconds. It comes out of the lathe with almost a mirror finish. Design, tooling, setup, programming and the actual machining - in house.



There is great similarity between collecting pocket watches and submitting your annual tax return

In both cases you can either hire a professional or do it yourself.  The Tax Office doesn't care.  I suggest that you start building your collection by putting aside "play" money.  Let's say a couple thousand dollars.  Go online, do your research, buy the pieces you find attractive and learn from there.  Yes, most of the pieces will be terrible choices, bordering on junk, but this first phase of collecting is not about building collection, it's rather about learning about pocket watches.  In a year or so your success rate will grow.  The second option  is to acquire your pieces from dealers and fellow watch collectors who are knowledgeable and have years of experience.  Not only will the pieces be better but they also come with some kind of guarantee. 

Have fun!

Before we go any further

...if you are even remotely interested in pocket watches then you need two things:

(1)  The Book. 
It's called The Complete Price Guide To Watches by Shugart, Engle & Gilbert. Any Edition will do and the cheaper the better.  The book can be bought online for as little as $5 plus shipping.  However, while two-thirds of the book is on wristwatches, it's the first third on pocket watches that is of interest to us.  Bizarrely, according to Amazon, the next edition of the book will be wristwatches only which is another reason to buy one now.




(2)  A pocket watch knife.  
While almost any knife will do, I humbly recommend the one I use which is a Bergeon ref. 7403.

Bergeon is black and AF is blue but they are identical knives.

https://shop.clockmaker.com.au/home/115-bergeon-knife-and-case-opener-ref-7403.html

https://shop.clockmaker.com.au/home/200-af-switzerland-knife-and-case-opener-ref-16884.html




(3)  A loupe.
Absolutely essential.  2.5 to 3.5 is a good size to start with for pocket watches and if you haven't got one yet then:

https://shop.clockmaker.com.au/6-loupes

QR



Never in the history of human kind has data been generated at such an alarming rate.  We record images and sounds, we translate books into digital format. We store terabytes of 'stuff' - from what we had for breakfast to cat pictures - and most of that stuff is random noise. The amount of data we are creating is just enormous.  However, paradoxically, we are losing historical information at an equally unprecedented rate.  It amazes me how easy it is to forget – usually in just a generation or two.  Some of us don’t even remember the full names of our grandparents, let alone great grandparents.  Yet chances are that we lived at the same time as them.

Here is what shocked me: according to UNESCO, as many as half of the world's 7000 languages are expected to be extinct by the end of this century! It is estimated that one language dies out every 14 days. As you read this, there are only 5 people left on the planet who speak N|uu, an ancient South African language.  And, bizarrely, the language itself is not even spoken anymore since all five live in different villages.

Historical horological information shares the same fate: while there are billions of photos of watch 'enthusiasts' wearing their shiny new Rolexes and Omegas, machinery warehouses in Switzerland are loaded with machines rusting out because no-one knows how to use them. It is actually common to find last century books and catalogues picturing machines and tools we don't even recognise anymore.   The 'battery watch era' which wiped out mechanical watches during the 1970’s and 80’s wiped out at least two generations of machinists and watchmakers who made incredible timepieces. Just 10 years ago, I could pick up the phone and call Doug Minty and Michael Smith - two Sydney watchmakers - and get an answer on almost any horological question - and their output would be faster and far more accurate than Google. Not anymore.

Yesterday’s newsletter on Moeris pocket watches for Queensland Rail generated a fair bit of interest with many agreeing we had better do something about it before it’s too late.  If you have a QR pocket watch do keep me posted - photos, serial numbers and calibres, as well as historical and general notes are appreciated.  Send me an email at nick@clockmaker.com.au.  I would love to hear from you!



Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Mission accomplished

I absolutely hate partial repairs but sometimes it's hard to say no, especially when it's a matter of undoing a wrong by doing a right.  The owner of this lovely Omega Speedmaster had a crack on the hesalite and he took his watch to Omega Service Centre.  When the watch arrived back it was also fitted with a new set of hands - not really something he expected or requested.  But he was in luck!  He got his old hands back.  Can I simply put his tritium hands back on, he asked?  As any watchmaker will tell you, fitting chronograph hands is the most delicate of watch servicing.  But what could I say?  You know me - I'll do anything for a good Google review!

Below is the photo of the watch as it arrived with shiny new hands and the final image shows the end result: the old hands, dial and movement reunited.  A final touch on the sweep hand as well as timekeeping adjustment and we are done.

Before...




... and after






Finally, here is an image of the hands of a Speedmaster Moonwatch.  Note that while all sub-dial hands look the same from the top, they fit different diameter wheels so the inner tube is different.               

     

The bottom line:  when you put your watch in for a brand service make sure you request that all the parts be returned to you.  After all, they are your property and they should not keep them.                           

Monday, June 17, 2019

1900’s quarter repeater restoration - and what's the big deal about it?




Traditionally in horology, gear and pinion manufacturing are the most difficult tasks.
For even accomplished watchmakers, the ability to cut a gear in-house has been always been undisputed proof of a Master’s craftsmanship. However, the technical challenge with gear cutting has remained the same for the past 500 years: gear cutting and hobbing machinery and tools are not only very expensive but also very limited: one tool can cut just a few different 'profiles'. This meant a watchmaker was only capable of making a very limited number of gear train combinations and rarely any complicated clocks or watches beyond his 'standard' set.

This challenge presented itself in yet another form: the gear repair and restoration limits.  Chances that a Swiss watchmaker in the 1970’s would be able to make a replacement gear for an English pocket watch from 1870 were slim. The problem was not in skills, but lack of variety of gear cutters and hobbers at his disposal.

Over the past 100 years, only a handful of Australian watchmakers were brave enough to tackle the gear making problems and undertake such repairs in-house. Almost in all cases, the new gears were repaired by hand, employing basic techniques rather than made from scratch. And in the cases where gears were damaged beyond repair or missing completely, the end result was always just a fairly crude compromise.  In rare cases, when money was not an issue, fabrication was outsourced by sending the drawing to better setup shops and gear specialists in England.

The repair to a pocket watch which required a new gear - as shown below - is our solution to this centuries’ old watchmaking challenge.

1. We started with taking measurements of a broken gear




2. The next step was calculation and drawing in Solidworks






3. The Solidworks model was then translated into a Mastercam file which would execute cutting operations of the CNC EDM wire cutting machine. This includes not just the cut itself but all probing and measuring





4. Cutting of the new gear



5. Lapping of the new gear to match the thickness of the old one - by hand



6.  Comparing the profile



7. Riveting the new gear to the old pinion, by hand.

8. Installation and final check.

Clearly, the advantages of EDM wire cutting of watch gears are numerous:

- very little limitation to gear module, size and even shape. We are currently setup to make flat gears in diameter ranging from 5mm to 300mm
- ideal solution for high precision and high quality gears in prototyping and small batch series;
- no limits in regard to gear material! EDM technology enables cutting of almost any metal - from soft brass, aluminium to stainless steel, titanium, to tungsten.  The harder, the better!

Of course, the initial EDM setup does require significant investment in software, machinery, training and maintenance but we are already convinced that such investment is worth it.

While EDM is not a new technology in Australia, this is the first time in the history of local watchmaking that a service like this is available to fellow Australian watchmakers - even for one-off jobs. We remain at your disposal!

Again,  it is absolutely obvious that without the constant support of our brand ambassadors a project like this would only remain a dream. When you invest in our watch, you are becoming directly involved in a much bigger project that benefits not just a handful of young watchmakers but takes us all, together, as a country, to the next technological level.

Finally, here is a short video of the quarter repeater striking again:


https://youtu.be/HDliKEr2SMA

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Can an Australian watch manufacturer beat the Chinese on price, quality and turnaround time?



The photo above is not a watch part, it is a steel die made in Brookvale, an essential part for a silicon extrusion manufacturer - our next door neighbour.

Turnaround time:   4 hours from sketch to part.  
Quality: internal surfaces to mirror finish.
Price: $330.
Quantity: 1.

If our customer were to order one from China, it would cost him at least $500 plus $120 for shipping. The turnaround time - at least a week.  Quality? Unknown.   Confidentiality and protection of its intellectual property? None.   
The ability to rapidly modify the finished part and add new features?  Zero.

Not to mention hassles with endless emails, language barriers, upfront payments,  currency conversion rates, bank and customs fees, and time zone differences. 

Yes, setting up a small manufacturing business in Australia is difficult, and not necessarily a very profitable venture, but it’s highly satisfying nevertheless.  Naturally we won't be able to mass-produce millions of cars, toasters, watches or washing machines and compete with China on volume, but when it comes to prototyping and small runs of highly precise parts - we already do.

We can train our own people - young Australians - while ensuring that things which matter: skills, our own resources, and our national security remain in our own hands.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Some repair jobs are simply more fun than others



...which is the case with the 1969 Omega Bullhead Speedmaster we just completed.  The Bullhead is very similar to the Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch.  However, there are some major differences.  While the Bullhead mechanism is based on the calibre 861 it comes with the addition of a calendar.  The second major difference is the dial layout, with the stem at 12 position and no hour recorder so the stop watch records seconds and minutes up to 30.  Omega called the calibre 930.

And here is why collectors love the Bullhead.  It was manufactured for two years only in 1969 and 1970 which makes it one of the rarest Speedmasters.  And even average examples now fetch over $15,000.   According to the Omega website, the original 1969 Speedmaster Bullhead is "amongst the rarest, most collectable and most recognised chronographs ever produced".

The main challenge with this restoration was to make our work invisible - meaning not leaving any marks on the dial or hands and preserving all original parts.   Apart from a standard overhaul, the Bullhead had an issue with the cannon pinion and required a jewel replacement in the minute counter.  Total repair cost:  $1,100.