Thursday, February 11, 2010

Things that make you tick

Last week I've sold an Omega Seamaster chronograph watch to a customer in Melbourne.
Before shipping I've checked the watch for a timekeeping, as I routinely do.
Seamaster chronograph is based on Valjoux 7750 movement which is
fairly rugged and reliable chrono. The watch kept almost perfect time: +1 sec/day
with 'healthy' amplitude of 330 degrees and zero beat error.
All good!

The watch was double boxed and shipped to Melbourne with overnight

Following day I got an email from the new owner.
He was very unhappy to say at least; his new Seamaster was gaining
two minutes per hour!

Obviously, he had every right to feel 'cheated'.

And so did I ! The reason why a mechanical watch will gain time like crazy
is always of mechanical nature, and most common reason of all
is mechanical shock. Whether the watch was dropped by the new owner or poorly handed
by courier it was at that point irrelevant.
I suggested for watch to be returned for further inspection
and made an offer to repair it free of charge.
Sometime it is much easier to accept blame
then to argue (yes I am happily married man, I've learned this trick 20+ years ago).

So the poor bugger (Seamaster) arrived today.

As per my expectation, the reason for excessive gain was
neither mysterious nor difficult one to rectify. Nuisance, nevertheless.
(Fellow watchmakers reading this email have probably guessed what was the problem).

Due to sudden shock, first coil of hairspring was pushed underneath the stud. As a result, hair spring
was physically shortened. The rate of oscillation become much higher
and watch was gaining time. I've 'painted' that first coil in red so you can see
what I am talking about. Photo below is showing enlarged balance wheel assembly.

All that was needed to restore correct oscillating frequency was to
unjam that first coil stacked underneath the stud.
Two seconds repair job!
Below, I've painted this first tun in green so you can compare it's
"before and after" position relative to stud pin. Note the even spacing between
adjoining coils - approx. 2/10 of millimeter!

Bottom line: Valoujx 7750 is fine chrono movement
designed to withstand fair amount of 'bashing'. But it is still
a mechanical watch movement and as such definitely not shockproof.
Like with any other mechanical device, things sometimes do go wrong
and small imperfection can cause substantial malfunction.
If you are new to watches then I suggest to invest
bit of time learning about maintenance, servicing and performance
of mechanical timepieces. Such investment will pay off big time in the long run.

All Sydney watchmakers I know are bit 'coockoo' - they have spent years
learning and practicing watch trade, dealing with both watches and customers.
Reputable ones are stubborn and grumpy but very proud, trustworthy and
honest people. They know their stuff inside out - but believe it or not - have absolutely no control over
Australia Post Express overnight service to Melbourne.

Happy collecting!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Scratch-proof, shatter-proof, foolproof?

Watch crystals made of synthetic sapphire are often marketed as "scratch resistant", meaning they are very difficult - but not impossible - to scratch. Diamond can scratch them; so can man-made materials that incorporate silicon carbide. These materials are sometimes used to make tools or simulated-stone surfaces for furniture. The watch wearer should note that accidentally scraping a sapphire crystal against such a surface could cause a scratch.
So while your 'official and authorized' salesman would be more than happy
to tell you that your watch is fitted with scratchproof crystal, in reality
this is far from being the case!

Fine mechanical watches are definitely not shock proof either. Drop it on a hard surface and the crystal will shatter. Needless to say, expect further internal damage.

While the 'shock proof' myth originated in 1950s it really took off during the sixties / early seventies when ever creative advertisers of Swiss watches finally
managed to convince case making departments to mark mechanical watches as 'water proof, water protected, antimagnetic, nonmagnetic, schookproof, shockprotected, dustproof, unbreakable mainspring, and even ultrasonic!

My favorite all-time misleading caseback marking is "TROPICALISED WATERPROOF" which date from 1960s. While the watch mechanism and dial are long gone, the case back itself has survived remarkably well !

Summer, surf and vintage Subs

Yes, I know it is 'so cool' to wear your 40+ years Sub while surfing but by doing so you are just asking for trouble. Most vintage watches are NO LONGER water proof so don't just assume that because it's Rolex it's OK to wear it in water.

This particular 5513 came in yesterday in rather miserable condition. In just 48 hours after the water got in, it started to rust! Luckily for the owner it was still not too late - most of corrosion was contained in main spring barrel area. Lucky this time - a close shave indeed!

Watch straps - part II

Your response to last week's newsletter
in regard to overpriced leather watch straps was totally overwhelming!
Many of you voiced your opinion (over 300 emails received!) -
and I thank you very much for expressing it.
The 'strap scam' by Swiss manufacturers is so widely practiced.
It looks like that $500 is now barely enough for an original brand name strap
Many manufacturers are charging over $1000 for even mid-range models.
And if you think that's crazy amount to spend on a leather strap,
then hear this: an original pre-Vendome Panerai straps
now fetch over US$4,000 on second hand market - if you are lucky to find one!

But enough of bad news. Let's focus on positive.

Here are few tips for those who refuse to be ripped-off.

1. Don't give up searching for an ORIGINAL strap!

There are few watch wholesalers who still offer
original straps for certain models at wholesale price, direct to public.
A good source for Omega straps is Otto Frei
US based but definitely worth doing business with,
especially at times when exchange rate is favorable to AUD.
They also have those hard to find Omega bezels
at half price of SMH Australia.

Australian watch parts wholesaler are not well stocked
and would not gladly deal with individuals,
however if you are watch collector or hobbyist you should have
no problem opening an account. You don't need
shop front or ABN either, especially if you pay upfront.

Smith and Smith is based in Sydney
and Seivers (02 9279 1755) have offices in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.
Keep in mind that they are specialized suppliers so
be polite, factual and don't waste their time.
When ordering it is essential to provide strap manufacturer's code and
watch reference number. Both are good source for anything SMH and TAG.

2. Hand and Custom-made

This is your best value for money option, especially
when looking for a replacement strap for Panerai,
Breitling and other large case-size watches.
Good starting point is list of strap makers is located here:
Support independent craftsman!

3. Look for a substitute by another maker or brand

In some cases (and with bit of luck) suitable replacement strap may
be sourced by another watch manufacturer.
For example, most of Glycine straps are not only well made
and reasonably priced, but they are almost ideal for vintage
and new XL watches like Rolex Sub, Longines, Breitling,
IWC and Omega. Yes this may be a long shot but you'll love the saving.

4. The old-fashioned way: buy your next strap
from specialist strap maker!

Probably the best known strap maker is
Austrian manufacturer Hirsch, established in 1765.
On offer is large range in many different
styles, colors and band width.
In Australia, Hirsch is represented by Duraflex (02) 9417 6268
- call for your nearest stockist.
Or search for online retailer like

As the prices of original straps continue to rise,
more makers will specialize in production of
'aftermarket' straps. Most likely, being the strap specialist, those
makers will soon produce straps that are not only cheaper but
of better quality than originals - which will make them
brand name in their own. A good example of this phenomenon is
Mario Paci

If you have your favorite supplier or strap maker you
are happy to recommend let me know and I'll pass
your information in next email. As always, special thanks goes
to subscribers who kindly provided references and links to above mentioned