Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On time yet still too late / Is Paypal protecting the seller or the buyer?

On time yet still too late

Barry Trengove went from London to New York to be an art director for I. Miller, the classy American shoe company in the 1960's. He arrived on Friday and went to the office.
The company was moving over the weekend and he wanted to check on where to report on Monday.

Passing down the corridor, he noticed that the walls were hung with the original shoe illustrations done by Andy Warhol for advertising campaigns in the 1950s. The movers were shifting out furniture and had begun to stack the pictures in a corner. Finding the foreman, Barry inquired what was happening to them

"They will be thrown away tomorrow", he said.
"Um", said Barry, "I quite like them".
"Well," said the foreman, "come in the morning at nine, five bucks and they're all yours."

Barry didn't sleep all night. He was back there bang on nine. "Sorry," said the foreman, "the rubbish was collected earlier than expected."

[The art of looking sideways: Warhol's Shoes]

Is Paypal protecting the buyer or the seller?

This is a tricky question. In my opinion - and in the opinion of a number of sellers burned recently - the answer is: neither!

Let me just share with you a true event: a local (Sydney) seller has listed his Rolex on eBay. The watch was sold to another local - a buyer who was happy to pay with Paypal.

The money was transferred to the seller, and as a precaution, he immediately withdrew the money from his Paypal account to his personal bank account.

Shortly after, the buyer contacted the seller asking if it would be possible to collect the watch to save on shipping. The seller was happy to oblige - after all, the buyer was doing him a favor. Personal delivery would ensure that the buyer has received the
watch, the transaction would be settled, and the seller could not be liable or open
to eventual Paypal investigation due to non-delivery or loss in transit.
So our seller agreed to hand the watch over in person.

Again, as a smart seller, at the delivery, he took the buyer's details: copy of the driver's license, phone number - he even took the photo of the buyer himself -and his car! Done deal!

By the time he arrived home, there was an email from Paypal: the transaction has been reversed - and Paypal took the money back from his personal account (as they are allowed to do according to Paypal agreement). Reason: fraudulent transaction! The "buyer" paid for the watch with a credit card which belongs to the victim of an online fraud - and once the victim realised what happen, his bank contacted Paypal.

So our seller lost his Rolex to a local scammer.

Being scammed online is painful, but being scammed IN PERSON is even more so. If you think that Paypal is there to protect you, then think twice. (In defense, Paypal said that seller would have been protected if the watch was shipped, but not when personally delivered!).

Unscrupulous people are out there to outsmart you, me, innocent victims, the banks and Paypal.

Be careful who you are dealing with - both face to face and online, 'Having the Paypal money in your bank account' is no longer safe. The Paypal money is NOT real money! It is a mere agreement between Paypal and your bank, and in case of fraud, it could take months to determine who is the victim and who is the scammer.


Happy collecting,

Nick Hacko

'Mystery' Rolex Table Clock

Hello Nick
could you tell me please more about this Rolex table clock:
a value, how old it is and if there were many made?


Unfortunately, Rolex never made a table clock of the above design. The clock on the picture is a recent Indian or Chinese fake, it has no monetary or collector's value other than 'novelty' value ($5-10).

However the glass ball design is not a a novelty in itself; during the mid to late 1800s a number of French and British makers have produced similar pieces. Some of them were true works of art and highly collectable, but none of them were in the skeleton style or had a signed dial. In the tradition of clockmaking in that era, the maker's name was engraved on the movement.

Original French ball clocks are very collectable and desirable. Such demand created a market for fakes. The most popular variety is the signed "Omega" but other watch brands - like the above Rolex- are not uncommon. What they do have in common is the appearance: "aged" brass patinated frame, modified wrist or pocket watch movement of later production and dubious "mysterious" provenance; the package is designed to fool novice watch enthusiasts!

Monday, October 17, 2011



Among Chuan-tzu's many skills, he was an expert draftsman. The king asked him to draw a crab. Chuang-tzu replied that he needed five years, a country house, and twelve servants. Five years later the drawing was still not begun. "I need another five years," said Chuang-tzu. The king granted them. At the end of these ten years, Chuang-tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke, he drew a crab, the most perfect crab ever seen.


"I dropped my vintage Rolex. Something is rattling inside and it no longer works. Could it be serious?"
"Yes. Sounds like a broken rotor, jewel or maybe both. Plus a general overhaul."
"How quickly can you fix it? I am in a hurry!"
"My standard turn-around time is 4-6 weeks. With bit of luck, three."
"That long?? It's only a bloody watch! Why would it take you so long to fix it?"
"What would you consider a reasonable turnaround time?"
"I was hoping you can do it while I wait."


I've found a link between apes and civilized men: it's us!

[1] Italo Calvino
[2] watchmaker
[3] Konrad Lorenz

PAM 1938: Media-magnet

Fine watches are magnet for media.

When things are slow and there is nothing to report or speculate about, you can bet your last dollar that tomorrow's top news is going to be "A Kitten Saved by Hero Fireman" or "Grandpa's junk watch sold for $100,000 on eBay".

In that order.

And yes, we get our share of calls from young (and seasoned) journalists wanting to "feature" our watches. Our usual reply is "Sorry, we are not interested, thanks for calling." In all fairness, would you hand over your finest piece to a total stranger
just because he claims to work for Channel 9 or In Style magazine? Yeah, sure.

This week was not out of the ordinary. I can't remember who he said he wrote for - BRW, Piping Australia, Melbourne Living or Dumbo Feather. ("Behind extraordinary ideas there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.") It would not matter anyway - the guy on the phone was as enthusiastic as they get.

What did set him apart, however, was his boldness.

After the 5 minute breathless monologue he finally got to the point:

"We are working on a special issue dedicated to fine watches and we would like to offer you a chance to supply a watch for a photo shoot. I can send my assistant straight away to collect it."

"Yeah, sure. Which one would be suitable" - I asked.

"I am very particular with this project and there is only one watch on your website that
would suit my requirements. Panerai Radiomir 1938."

"Good pick mate- you really got me excited now! There is only one small problem: the watch comes with a very peculiar price tag: it's called 'price available upon request'.
Which means it is worth a few dollars."

"Oh, we are not buying it, so for us, the price is irrelevant"

"Cool. But with all due respect, the price is very relevant to me because this beauty
owes me big bucks. It is what we call a liability. I mean, if it goes missing, the loss is mine, isn't it?"

"Yes, but I'll take special care and I'll wear it personally until it's returned to you".

"Now that you mentioned it, the watch is UNWORN, still in full plastic wrap so I guess this could be a problem when taking photos?"

"We will unwrap it. No problem."

"Sounds like you've got it all covered and planned. And am I going to be mentioned as
a watch supplier to the photo shoot?"

"Well this is not really a common practice, but if you insist, we can do that as well.
Mind you, we are not in the business of promoting other businesses; we are primarily interested in artistic / design side of the watch."

At that point I realized we went too far. He has obviously mistaken my cynicism for naivety so I had no choice but to break his heart.

"Sorry mate, I think I'll pass on your offer. I was just pulling your leg a bit; we are nothing but ordinary second hand dealers and you would be better off if you call an Authorized Panerai dealer to arrange for a similar watch."

"Thanks for wasting my time" he said. "You should have told me so straight away".

And he was right. I should have told him so - if he would only care to listen.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Yet another fake Italian Omega

A few months ago, I told you a story about fake Omega watches produced in Italy during the early 1970s. ( Link )

Well here is another one: this baby came in on Monday for a valuation. It came from the same part of the world, except this one was just a nasty, plain rip-off; probably the worst example I've ever seen.

While it looked fairly 'convincing' from a distance, the case back revealed the true origin: Il Ponte Rosso Special :-)

Base metal case back was enthusiastically stamped "18K gold", as well as the bracelet clasp.

Obviously this one was produced to fool only a drunken sailor at 4am.

So what puzzles me is this: why did they bother then to etch the movement with a fake Omega symbol? Like the sailor is going to ask "can I see the movement please?"
Yeah, sure.

Anyway, I've told the owner that the watch is not only a fake, but a bad one which is only good for educational purposes. He said: "You can have it then". To keep my promise, I'm sharing the photos with you.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Hello Mr Hacko

I have been a subscriber to your mailing list for a little while now and am looking to make a purchase in the near future (just waiting for a good first buy into the market watch comes along, Tag Aquaracer or less expensive Omega etc) Which brings me to my question.

There is always alot of talk amongst people regarding watches that there are certain types of people who just seem to "break" or cant wear watches as they "just seem to somehow" stop, drop time, come apart etc when they are wearing them. This is usually explained as a high magnetic/electro-magnetic current in the persons body.

So my question is Q. Is there any credence to this claim that there are these seemingly mystical watch breaking people who appear to be channeling Magneto from the Xmen and breaking/stopping watches with their own bio-rythmic magnetism. Or as I seem to be one of these people who does have watches stop on him alot (and im not currently in my understanding Magneto from the Xmen) simply having this happen because I have not really
ever spent more than $150 or so on a watch?

This question is currently quite pertinent as I am looking to make a purchase (as I have mentioned earlier) quite soon and if there is any credence to the claim of magnetism or human bio-electrics interfering with watches to the point of them coming apart or stopping etc and I happen to be a person with whom this phenomenon occurs, then purchasing a watch no matter what the cost would be a rather pointless exercise.

As I do love watches and would like to start collecting (with a Tag or Omega etc and then progress to the likes of Patek Phillipe, Ulysse Nardin and Cartier etc any help you can give me shedding light on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
Regards T.K.

Dear TK,

I was only 7 years old when I first learned about "magnetic people".

My father was always very skeptical to any claims of bio-magnetic nature, and his usual comment to customers was: "Take good care of your watch and you'll be fine". But to me, those people looked genuinely convinced that they do possess something which prevents them from wearing a watch. After all, why would anyone make such a ridiculous claim?

The other reason I was more 'open minded' than the rest of my watchmaking family is because of a guy by the name Biba The Current.

When I was a kid, Biba was a regular guest on every scientific show on TV. He would plug one finger into a power point and fry an egg. Or boil coffee — holding the mug with his bare hands! Sparks flying everywhere, smoke, excited crowd, doctors and scientists shaking heads in disbelief — that was a show not to be missed!

After receiving your email I actually went to look for Biba — just to make sure he was still alive and kicking. And guess what: according to his Facebook website, he is! The fact that he's only got three friends (Erich Von Daniken, Uri Geller and Shane Warne) is proof that big minds and extraordinarily people always stick together.

Forty years later, I am as clueless to offer any explanation or opinion on the matter, but as you see, I now take things even more seriously.

So this morning on the bus to work, I came up with a simple test which can prove (or disprove) human magnetic properties.

The test is 100% definite and 100% safe. I have actually tested today myself, my assistant Margarett and 4 random customers.

Place 3 paper clips on the top of your wrist, on the area marked with a circle.

Now, rotate your wrist 180 degrees.

If the paper clips fall off your wrist, then you have no magnetic energy. You are not only safe, but ready to invest in fine watches!

However if the clips remain stuck to your wrist, then we can still do business, but you should call the "60 minutes" first and setup a Facebook account. Then call me, and we'll start with Pateks, not TAG.

Yours truly,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Horological puzzle - do you think like a watchmaker or a lawyer ?

Watch gears are called wheels and pinions. Whether a gear is a wheel or a pinion, depends on it's relative size in relation to the next meshing gear.

Therefore, on the picture below, gear A is
a/ pinion
b/ wheel

Email your answer to

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dear Diary: The low ball offer

For the past 600 years of horological history, there was not a single instance when a watchmaker insulted a real-estate agent. Verbally or physically - or both.

A couple weeks ago, an e-mail hit my inbox: “Nick – there is an Omega watch I like. You’ve listed it for $2,399. Would you take $1,700?”

My reply was prompt and factual: “Sorry, no room to move on the price. It is a beauty – worn twice – and almost half price of the new one.”

Five minutes later: “Nick, I am a real-estate agent from the Eastern suburbs. I know how business works and I know you have plenty of room to move on the price. Never mind, obviously you don’t want my cash - I’ll get the same watch from a Melbourne dealer. Have a nice day. Marc”

I thought that was the end of the story so I did not bother replying.

Later that afternoon, yet another e-mail from Marc came in: “Nick, I still prefer to do business with you. What is your absolute best deal on the Omega? Would you take $1,750?”

Dealers call this type of customer a pit bull. Once they locks their jaws on you, you’re dead meat.

“Sorry Marc, $2,399. However I’ll throw in 2 years guarantee. N.”.

Finally, thirty minutes before closing time all hell broke lose. I will spare you the details of Marc’s 3-page long email but in a nutshell – I was accused of all committed and yet-to-be-committed crimes under the sun.

Here is the punch line:
“… what upsets me the most is your inability to handle my LOW BALL OFFER. Actually I intend to use your rude replies in my upcoming real-estate training seminar to show trainees how NOT to conduct sales process…”

I felt like I was hit by a shinkansen. I was guilty of … what? Not knowing how to handle a low ball offer? No kidding?!

Of course I know what a low ball offer is. It is the name for a past-time game played by Israelites and Ishmaelites in year 1200 - 775 BC. It goes like this:

Dude 1: I’ll give you half a shekel for that black ram!
Dude 2: Are you mad my brother? 2 shekels in silver, no agora less!
Dude 1: This is way too much--- I’ve sacrificed a better one last year and it only cost me a shekel!
Dude 2: A shekel and a half, and that’s it!
Dude 1: One…
Dude 2: One and a half…
Dude 1: One…
…and the game goes on for a solid 10 minutes.

Eventually, they've settled for a shekel and a quarter – the very exact price every single ram has been sold on that very dusty market since the walls of Jericho fell down.

Yes, a low ball offer was just a game. And they’ve played it not because they had nothing better to do, but because they had no Twitter, no Facebook, no iPhones, no Mario Brothers, no YouTube, no Wii or Xbox. THAT’S WHY!

But since my only connection to modern Judaism is being a fan of Woody Allen, and Marc probably arrives at his flashy Eastern suburbs office in an even flashier black Porsche – NOT on a camel’s back – I just can’t see how the low ball offer reference is relevant to either of us? But then again what if Marc is really right? Could it be possible that real businessmen actually still play that ancient game? And if this is the case, and the new generation of young professionals are now trained in the game, will I be losing sales thanks to my ignorance? So I’ve decided to go out, in the real world, to learn how the game is now played – by making low ball offers to business people I bump into. Nothing beats hands-on experience!

… --- …

It was the time for quick lunch break so I went down to a cozy take-away place called “Taste of Maharaja.”

“A small serve of lamb rogan josh, a plain naan and a can of coke please.”
“$10” said the onyx-eyes Kali, the goddess of time.
“Would you take $7?”
“I have cash here, in my hand. SEVEN dollars”
“So which one don’t you want- the naan or the drink?”
“Oh, you don’t understand me. I want the lot! I am just making you a low ball offer and you are supposed to play along…”
“Move away or I’ll hit you with a spoon” yelled Indra the cook. “Can’t you see the queue behind you?”

I handed the $10 note and swiftly moved away. Even if I take our cultural and linguistic differences, it was obvious that these guys did not know how to play the low ball game and I was clearly wasting my time. As Peter Surname would say: "If I have to rate their customer service, I would struggle to give it more than 3 out of five”.

… --- …

Then it all become painfully obvious. As Marc said, the low ball offer is played between professionals, not just any business! That pain in my lower jaw and was obviously God-given after all! So I quickly booked an appointment with Dr. Nathan, the dentist on the 5th floor.

Dr. Nathan was not only a professional, but a very skillful and reputable dentist well known for his ability to charge just the right amount for his services. A clear testimony to that is his waiting room: always packed! Obviously, patients don't gather there just for the latest news, as a copy of the Times on his coffee table would suggest: "Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, Wednesday, July 29, 1981." No way!

If anyone knew how to play the game, it was the Dr. Nathan.

With only one thing on my mind, I couldn’t even feel the pain of the drill.

“All done Nick, don’t chew for the next 2 hours and take it easy” said the doc.
“Thank you, doctor. Now, how much do I owe you for today?”
“Usual charge, $320. Judy will take care of it.”
“Very good. So would you take $200 – in cash?”
Doctor Nathan gave me that worried ‘something is wrong’ look:
“Nick, are you still in pain? Are you allergic to penicillin..?”
“No doc, I am perfectly fine. I am just making you a low ball offer.”
“Ha! That is a good one, Nick – you almost got me worried for a second,”
said the doc, laughing. “Now get lost mate, the waiting room is fool and
I’ll miss the last bus home!” ...“and cut down on cherry strudels,
they are not doing you any good….”

I could not hear the rest because I was already on my way out. Again, the low ball offer did not work and I was experiencing both physical and emotional pain. What the hell is wrong with this world?

… ---…

After a long sleepless night, I’ve decided to give the low ball offer one final go. This time I didn’t rush. I knew why I failed: I was dealing with self-employed people who are obviously good at what they do but have a very limited understanding of how the real corporate world operates.

At exactly 10 o’clock, I was standing in front of the bank teller. This was the bank I visit every week. While the bank manager still doesn’t know my name, nor who I am, nor what I do, I feel appreciated. Who wouldn’t? After all, their advertising slogan is “Come and talk to the listening bank - together we make a great team.

“Good morning, I would like to make a small deposit”.
“Sure! How is your day?” (I’ve told you they are nice people! I love my bank!)
Topaz-eyed Jennet took my five $100 notes and smiled again.
Then she disappeared.
And then she re-appeared again with the bank manager... And two security guards.

“I hope this is a mistake,” said the manager. “Unless you have a better explanation for
an attempt to defraud the Bank?” (No one was smiling anymore, and one of the security guys started to act strangely.”)

“Defraud? What are you talking about? I am a customer, not a thief!”
“Let me rephrase that question – said the fuming manager – what exactly did you have in mind when you handed us $500 while $1,500 was written out on the deposit slip?”
“Oh, that... well cant’ you see it? I am making you a LOW BALL OFFER! I am surprised that you don’t know what that means – you are supposed to make me a counter offer until we agree on an amount of deposit which will be a win-win figure for both parties!”

The bank manager’s rant went on for an hour. I can’t remember the details but he concluded that this time they will treat the incident as an internal matter (they won’t call cops). I am banned to enter any of their branches for 10 years and yes, they have closed all my accounts, but I should still consider myself lucky.

But I am anything but lucky. Neither have I learned a thing. I am still completely clueless – so PLEASE if you are one of the low ball offer players, or you run a business which knows how to handle low ball offers, put me out of my misery and reveal the secret to me.

I am all ears!

A new horological puzzle

Yes, you do like puzzles! With over 120 replies and requests for 'more' looks like a puzzle section will become a standard newsletter feature.

Those who got it right said it was not a difficult one to figure out. For example, a fellow subscriber got it in less than 5 seconds. But he is an aviation accident investigator by trade, so no wonder. It was good to see that the puzzle smoked out a number of watchmakers lurking around the newsletter. For them too, this was way too easy.

The two best comments were: "Got it before my husband!" and "What's wrong? Bloody hell, are you blind? - the half of the parts are missing!" Typical Aussie sense of humor. Once again, thanks to all who replied.

And a very special "well done" to all enthusiasts who did not know the answer, yet spent time and effort to at least give it a fair go.

Today's puzzle is, again, an easy one. However don't assume anything and don't rush. While calculators are not essential, feel free to use it if you have too.

Photo below is of a Rolex Datejust. I have revealed a couple of layers (a mere 2 hours of disassembling and photoshoping!) underneath the dial, exposing the calendar wheel and the associated gears.

Question: in exactly 24 hours, which date will be displayed? Tip: the angle between two red arrows is 72.58 degrees.

Unfortunately I cannot provide any more clues because if I do, everyone would get it straight away. Reward: the names of the first 10 subscribers who e-mail the correct answer will be published HERE. Guessing won't cut - you also need to tell us how you worked it out. We now have over 8,160 subscribers so here is YOUR chance to claim a piece of horological fame!

To keep it fair, results and 'winners' will be published in the next newsletter.

As always, please do include your name, occupation and state.

A simple horological puzzle - are you ready?

Do you have an eye for detail?

If so - here is a simple horological puzzle.

Below is the photo of a Rolex 3135 movement which came in today with a time-setting issue.

Question: Can you see what's wrong with it?

Now, don't rush. This is not a trick question, the answer is right in front of you. Take your time because if you just click on the answer link below, or on the help photo, you'll kick your bottom saying wow that was so obvious!

In case you do need help, here is the link to a clue photo. Use it wisely:

And if you still don't see it then click here for the answer:

Like it or was it too difficult? Got it right straight away? Ready for another puzzle? E-mail me on and let me know how you did!

Happy collecting,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The white square packets

Thank you!

To all who kindly offered feedback: much appreciated! The inbox was flooded with emails and only regret is that I cannot publish some of the most brilliant, eloquent, friendliest and humorous replies I've ever read. It was humbling to receive emails from restaurant owners, second hand car dealers, new car dealers, real estate agents, a psychologist, retail experts, coffee shop owners, tradesmen, a lawyer, stay at home mums, engineers - just to mention few.

To Simon W.: Simon, we've read your email five times and we choked from laughter and tears. It left such a powerful impression on all of us here. Mate you are BRILLIANT.

If you ever feel like you need to get something off your chest - I am listening. I may not have time to reply to each and every email but I do read them all. Keep 'em coming :-)

The white square packets

Dear Nick,

... I can remember reading, some time ago, that the sounds "tick" and "tock" were actually made to sound different by our brain and that the clock/watch mechanism actually made the same sound each time i.e. tick tick tick etc. Have you heard this before and do you think the mechanism actually makes one sound or two?

Further to your last article, I thought the "largest pendulum in the world" I saw when I stayed at the Hotel Cornavin, Geneve, might be of interest. The hotel website says: "A special feature is the world’s largest pendulum - it hangs from the ninth floor and swings right down to the ground floor in the lobby of the hotel. The total length is 30.02 metres."


Hi P,

Thank you for your email and info about the Geneva pendulum. In regards to your question: I definitely subscribe to those who believe that tick and tock are not just two different events, but two distinctive sounds as well!

Let's talk about the tick and tock events first.

The period of oscillation of a clock's pendulum consists of a full swing which includes one tick and one tock.

To simplify, let's say you hop on the plane and travel from Sydney to Perth. This would be the 'tick'.

Coming back home would be 'tock'.

Now, while you've traveled the same distance on the same plane and have paid the same amount of money each way (and probably have watched the same movie) there is one main distinction between two trips: direction of the flight path.

Therefore tick and tock are not the same events. And you better hope that your pilot agrees with me! Otherwise, instead of flying you back home, you could end up in the middle of the Indian ocean, 3,500 km west of Perth. Same distance, same plane, same movie... wrong direction. Of course we can talk about the velocity and acceleration vectors of the clock pendulum, but we would still come to the same conclusion.

Now let's talk about the tick and tock sound.

What we describe and hear as one 'tick' is actually a complex sound which consists of
5 distinctive individual mini-ticks! We hear all those 5 clicks as one because they occur almost instantaneously.

Lets have a look at the watch escapement and how the sound is generated.

Here is a drawing of the watch lever escapement:

And this is what happens on the first leg of your flight, Sydney to Perth:
(or should I call it - an anatomy of 5 sounds of "tick")

- pin hits pallet fork [1]
- escape wheel impulses pallets stone [2]
- pallets stone impulses back ruby pin of the balance wheel [3]
- pallets stone locks escape wheel [4]
- pallets hit banking pin [5]

And here is the return flight, back home, or 'tock' :

- pin hits pallet fork [1]
- escape wheel impulses pallets stone [2]
- pallets stone impulses back ruby pin of the balance wheel [3]
- pallets stone locks escape wheel [4]
- pallets hit banking pin [5]

Now there is one MAJOR difference between the two.
While the paths are the same, the action of the ruby pins is switched.
The very same ruby which received the impulse in the "tick" phase
is locking in the "tock" phase. And vice versa.

This is possible thanks to the extremely fine geometry of the pallets jewels. To say that the exact position of the jewel in relation to the escape wheel is critical would be a gross understatement. In traditional watchmaking, pallet jewels are set and secured onto a fork with shellac. Shellac is natural resin (produced by an Indian lac bug) and may be dissolved by alcohol. The watchmaker would set the jewel, assemble the escapement, check for the depth of engagement and then make further adjustments. Unlike glue, shellac can be melted an infinite number of times. Nevertheless, the adjustment process is tedious and time consuming.

Let me just give you another analogy.

Let's say that on your trip to Perth you make a stop over in Adelaide. While there, you visit a local watch dealer and buy a watch. Then have a strudel and coffee and fly on to Perth. This is the tick action.

The tock: on your way home, you make another stop over in Adelaide, sell that Omega back to dealer and have another strudel and coffee, then hop on the plane to Sydney.

Can you note the difference between the two events? First, you've bought the watch, then you've sold it. That means that both YOU and the DEALER were both buyer and seller.

This is exactly what happens in the relation between pallet stones and escape wheels. During the tick, one stone is receiving impulse while the other is locking. And during the tock, it goes the other way around. Same wheel, same pallets, same stones - just different actions.

If we had a very sensitive recording device which would then play the sound in 'slow motion' (spectral analysis) we will see those different actions sound differently. It would roughly look something like the drawing below. Events 1 and 4 are the loudest, but once again, since all 5 happen almost instantaneously, we hear them all as one tick.

Based on the above I am quite happy to conclude that when we are talking about ticks and tocks, both events and both sounds are different, and yes, rightly so, we say that there is only one tick and one tock.

Of course there are other types of escapements which produce only one sound - but more about that on another occasion.

Finally, here is a real-time snapshot of a timing machine recording showing the performance of a freshly overhauled watch. Note 0 sec/day error and 0.1millisecond beat error with a fantastic amplitude of 333 degrees:

The white squares on the bottom half of the screen are actually individual ticks and tocks. And as you can see, under magnification, they are nicely spaced in time:

This particular watch movement "produces" 21,600 white square packets each hour.
Neatly packed inside each packet are the 5 sounds of escapement - a total of almost 2.6 million sounds generated each day. What a mighty heart that is!

And this is precisely why we adore mechanical watches.

Oh, I almost forgot: with regards to that 30.02m hotel pendulum in Geneva: Using the simplified formula for the period of a pendulum mentioned in the last newsletter we can easily work out the length of ticks and tocks, in seconds:

If you substitute constants and input L=30.02m then T (tick+tock) is approx. 11 seconds. (Or that would be 27 seconds per swing period on the Moon!)

Talking about the Moon...

While we are there.... here is an email received from a fellow subscriber. I think it's cool (and so humanely personal) so I have to share it with you:

"I wanted to ask you to keep an eye out for me for an anniversary Moonwatch or one from the landing year. Unfortunately I missed a beauty you had in just recently. The reason for me is very significant. On July 21st 1969 I flew with my family from England to start a new life in Australia. As a bright eyed seven year old, it was a new adventure, only surpassed by the adventure that was unfolding above me beyond 30,000 feet.

During one of the night sections of the flight to Australia the Captain came onto the intercom and announced "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Man has just set foot on the moon!". My father turned to me, pointing out to the moon through our window and said to me "If you look closely you can see him waiving". I later discovered I shared the same first name with Neil Armstrong and my father took me to see him, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins when they visited Perth later that year.

So for all those reasons above and a boyhood fascination with space travel the Moonwatch is the piece I have always wanted to own and wear. -N."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Time generation and time transportation

Last week a note from a fellow subscriber was received - with a complaint about the length of recent news articles. He concluded that I "...obviously have far too much time on my hands." What a compliment! Anyway, should you prefer a shorter newsletter (or no newsletter at all) then you may wish to skip this one.

However if you are a technically-minded person then I am sure you'll enjoy my struggle with time and time transportation. In addition, I would strongly recommend this article to all single ladies as a final proof that choosing between an investment banker and a geek is a no brainer. You have been warned my dear!

Time generation and time transportation

Yes we are surrounded by time-telling devices! Mobile phones, personal computers, microwave, video recorder, TV sets, digital watches and clocks, fax machines - you name it - it seems that time is everywhere!

But where does the time come from ?

Time generation

It may sound strange, but the time is actually baked. Like my wife's strudel - it comes from an oven. There are few bakeries around the globe which 'bake' the time. And once a day, all bakers get together and show their strudels to each other. Just to make sure they have got it right.

Of course, scientists don't call the time strudel, neither do they call their laboratory a bakehouse, but when you think of it, this is how it really works. In essence, time is GENERATED.

For reasons shown later, I will take you through the kitchen of NICT, located in Japan. Men in white coats who work at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology call their strudel JST - Japan Standard Time.

Since we all know that the most accurate clock is an atomic clock, you are guessing that JST is generated by an atomic clock. That is just partially true because time masters have at their disposal no less than 22 atomic clocks! And this is how the kitchen looks like: there are 18 cesium atomic clocks and 4 hydrogen masers. Plus a bunch of computers, of course.

Clocks are set in 4 rooms and each room is fully shielded from electromagnetic radiation and kept at a constant temperature. The accuracy of each hydrogen maser is 1 second in 67 million years and cesium clocks are accurate to 1 second in 100 million years. You would think that one clock will do, but no! To generate the time, they plug them all at once and then average the error, synthesize the result, advance the clock for 9 hours and voila - the JST strudel is ready!

You have to love Japanese bakers - they are really funny. They say: Cesium clocks are better for long time stability (greater than one day) and hydrogen masers for short term stability (less than one day). Like half a second in 50 million years would matter. But for them, it obviously does. Respect!

As said before, all leading national laboratories get together once per day to compare their time with each other. The end result is a master-strudel called International Atomic Time (TAI).

Time distribution

Back to JST.

Once the time is generated, it is then distributed to end users. And the queue of users is long: Everyone from your Internet service provider, military, nuclear plant operators, transportation, shipping, broadcasting, legal people - down to your bed side alarm clock - depend on and require National time.

Here is how the distribution list goes:

JST ->
-radio transmitted time and frequency standard [digital clocks and watches automatically synchronized]
-Internet time [network of ISPs]
-modem users [serious guys]

The users on the right are connected to the bakery via cable or network.
But let's focus on the magical distribution and synchronization of time which happens in the most mysterious way:
via radio waves!

The magic of radio

Ever since 1920s radio broadcasting was used as a vehicle to transport time signals.
You tune to your local radio station and just a few seconds before the news, you'll hear "bip, bip, bip, beeep: it is 5 o'clock." So you can set your watch or clock to correct time. In this scenario, time is obviously transmitted via radio, but YOU are the one who does the adjustment or synchronization of your clock.

Obviously, it would be much easier if the clock is somehow adjusted (synchronized) by itself, preferably more than once per day. And thanks to advancement in electronics, such synchronizing devices are now commonly installed in both clock and watches. Therefore as long as you are within the radius of a transmitter, your timepiece will be set and synchronized to the National time automatically.

What a brilliant solution!

Limitations of radio transmitted time signals

Yes, you've seen this one coming :-(

The first problem with wireless synchronization is the fact that only a few countries transmit time signal. Japan, Germany, France, US, China, UK, Russia and Canada are 'on air' but each country has its own time distribution standard. Therefore your Japanese clock will not work in Germany and a Junghans watch cannot be synchronized in China.

The second problem is coverage: while one radio signal can synchronize an infinite number of clocks simultaneously in its area of coverage, the strength of radio signals decrease with distance. If you are located too far away from a transmitter, synchronization just won't happen.

This second challenge leads us to core of my quest for radio time signal detection and decoding.

The challenge

One of the biggest challenges of astronomy is the whole art and science of learning to find things in the night sky. Like astronomy, radio signal detection is challenging because it requires specialist equipment, patience and plenty of "luck". t any given time there are millions of radio signals to be heard and detected. Some of them are very strong - like your local AM radio station or TV station. thers are detectable only under very special conditions, at certain times of the night or year. nd like distant starts, some of them are just too weak to be heard!

Since time signals, like JST, are just another form of radio signals, a couple years ago I got really excited about the possibility of 'catching' and decoding it. While a distance of 8,000 km is 8 times farther away from the coverage area of a Japanese transmitter, I felt that under right circumstances and with adequate equipment reception it could be possible.

As they say in astronomy: you just need a larger telescope. Or in my case: a larger antenna!

But why would I want to catch a time signal in the first place? Well, because I am watchmaker and seeing, hearing and decoding the most accurate time reference would be like looking at time's DNA structure under a microscope. Or watching the first nanoseconds of the Big Bang. It is difficult, bordering on impossible - and definitely a fun thing to try!

Getting started

The initial research online showed that JST time is transmitted as radio signal at a frequency of 40 kHz. The transmitting site is located at Mount Ohtakadoya, 7,983 km north from Sydney. The output power of the transmitter is 50 KW and thanks to it's 250m tall antenna and kilometers of wire under the antenna, its radiated power is around 12KW. Transmitter's 'rego plate' : JJY.

Two problems become evident straight away: first, I needed a receiver which could be tuned down to 40KHz. This is a very low frequency. Your AM car radio goes down to 520KHz, and some marine communication receivers go down to 100KHz. Even at that frequency, the sensitivity is very poor - simply, most receivers are not designed for chasing low frequency signals.

The second problem was the size of the receiving antenna. Keep in mind that clocks which are synchronized by Japanese time signal are in close proximity to the transmitter. On contrary, I am located 8,000 km away. The further you go from the transmitter, the weaker the signal - and a larger receiving antenna is required!

There were a number of other problems with potential reception - but luckily I was not aware of them at the time.

The receiver

In August 2010. I had stumbled upon the website of an Italian radio manufacturer who recently launched a revolutionary radio receiver featuring a new technology called Software Defined Radio (SDR) Basically their receiver was capable of tuning down to 10 KHz! In addition, the overall reception performance was hardly degraded even at such a low frequency. This new concept had other benefits when compared to your classical AM radio receiver. As you know, when you tune your car radio, you can listen to only one station at a time. SDR allows you to tune to all of them at once! In addition, you cannot only hear the signals, but you can see the signals as well because your personal computer is part of the radio. And much more - signal recording of the entire spectrum, number of narrow filters to filter the signal, various modulation modes... A true Space shuttle radio!

Two weeks later, to my wife's shock and horror, the Perseus was sitting in my radio shack...

[To be continued...]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dear Diary: In the area

If this happened only once or twice, I would not even mention it. Even if it happened once per month it would not be a big deal. No, I am not looking for an advice on how to handle this matter nor a sympathy pat on the back. I just have to get it off my chest.

It is 8:55 in the morning and I have already spent a solid hour behind the work bench trying desperately to re-shape a Breguet-over coil hair spring. Fixing other people's mistake is never fun, but since we cut down on general repairs, tangled hair springs and broken balance staffs are luckily not often on the menu. I've learned long time ago to ignore intense pain in the back, shoulders and both elbows which is a typical 'watchmakers disease.' But with a bit of luck and patience, it will be all over soon...

Then the door bell rings.

Our office is situated on the 4th floor and we have two security doors. Due to the nature of our business and security issues, we see clients strictly by appointment only. My assistant opens the door and I could clearly hear the conversation that is taking place in the show room.

- Hi, is Nick here?
- Yes, he is but he is busy right now. Can I help you at all?
- Well, I would like to see Nick!
- Unfortunately we are not open to the public, as of yet. Do you have an appointment?
- No, but it will be only 10 minutes or so...

At that stage, I know I have only one option - to put the hair spring job away and turn my attention to the visitor.

- Good morning Sir. Are you here to buy, sell or repair?
- Hey Nick - neither - do you sell watches?
- Yes, I do.
- But there is nothing on display?
- No, it is a bit too early. So you are interested in...?
- Well nothing in particular, I would just like to see what you've got?
- In that case, Margarett will set an appointment. How about 9:45? We keep our stock in a security deposit box and it takes a bit of time to get it ready for viewing. (Why am I apologizing?)
- Nick, I am not really ready to buy; I just want to SEE what you've got.
- In that case, why don't you check out our website. After all, it's all there; photos, description, prices... (Why am I reasoning?)
- It's not the same thing... I have to try the watch on my wrist before making a commitment. It is really a shame you can't show me what you've got RIGHT NOW. This is very disappointing, I was in the area... looks like I'm wasting my time!

At that point, I feel like a gorilla stunned by a taser.

Don't get me wrong - I am not upset because you've forced your way into my premises. Nor with the lack of respect - or because you are not even making an effort to listen. That I can handle.

What throws me out of whack and makes my blood boil is your immature attempt to put a blame for your "disappointment" on me, like this is somehow my fault. And even more so - by using completely illogical reasoning.

Let me just tell you two things.

First, this situation is anything but SHAME. Shame is when England won back Ashes beating Australia in 2009. Or that game last month when Samoans kicked our bums in Sydney. THAT is shame.

Second. There is an establishment across the road, above the bank called "Final Touch". No, they are not a hair dressing salon. No, they are not a funeral directors either. They provide a very specific service. Yes, that one.

Like other 400,000 people who work in Sydney CBD, I too see their sign on my way to work. Since this is a completely fictional scenario, I beg you to use your imagination wisely:

I ring the door bell. The 60-something ex body builder covered in tattoos opens the door. Yes, I woke him up, and yes, I can smell some strange fumes, and yes, I can see something is going on behind that curtain, yet I hear me saying:

- Hey, it's me. Are you open?
- No mate, it's too early...
- Anyway (and I push him gently to make my way into the establishment) I won't waste much of your time...
- We are not open; what do you want?
- Well my solicitor told me that you got a new girl, Ruby Cat. I would like to see
her in person!
- Ruby Cat is not available. It's too early mate. She is not ready to see clients.
- Oh, you don't understand me. I don't want THAT. I just want to SEE her. I've checked her profile online, but as you know, in case I ever decide to become a client of your fine establishment, I have to make sure I like her personality.
- Listen mate, call the number, call us to make an appointment (now the area under his chin is turning red, and heavily pulsating, especially around the string of tattooed numbers - is that the number to ring? I haven't seen a walking business card before! Very unprofessional to say the least)
- Well, that's really a SHAME. Especially because I WAS IN THE AREA....

So here is my second point: being in the area gives no one any special power or privilege over any business owner who happens to have an office in the time and space YOU intentionally or unintentionally happen to share.

There are 400,000 people within 3 minutes' walking distance from our shop who are ALSO in the area, yet I don't expect them to knock on my door with such a lame excuse. This "I WAS IN THE AREA" excuse sucks, and it sucks big time so DONT USE IT!

Even if my shop was 850km north of Burke, in the middle of nowhere, even then, "I am in the area" would not be a good reason to knock on my door unless I had a "No Appointment required" sign stuck on my window.

Actually you will have more chances of seeing the tears rolling down the face of Ruby Cat's boss than making me guilty for not being able to accept illogical excuses.

Nothing personal. That's just the way the things are.

Seriously: Yes, we appreciate your business and we LOVE to deal with you in person. However, we are professionals - in order to serve you better and allow you to browse our stock confidentially and uninterrupted, we operate BY APPOINTMENT ONLY. Please call 02 9232 0500 or email.

Thank you for your patronage.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One mighty swing

"Can you explain the purpose of pallets and how the pallets are "connected" to the escape wheel and balance wheel?"


Dear TK,

I guess the easiest way to answer your question would be to provide a link to Wikipedia, "Lever Escapement." The only problem with that is that these seven paragraphs of explanation are written by someone who has either never seen a watch or who copied the whole article from a 600-page book called "Theoretical watchmaking."

To save your time, I've read the said article just a minute ago, and quite frankly it was so dry that they've lost me in the third paragraph.

Therefore my explanation will be somehow different.

No technical background needed, just plenty of imagination!

Let's say you and your kid decided to have some outdoor fun and build a swing. Since the only suitable tree in your backyard is a very tall one, you had no choice but to suspend the rope from a branch which is 10m above ground.

(Are you using your imagination? Can you picture that really long rope? I don't want you to think of a small playground sand pit swing, but a BIG one!)

Six hours later, working on a hot summer day, your swing is finally ready for a ride.

The kid is on, and you've given him that strong initial push.

(Now imagine the swing swinging swishhh......swishhh.... and the kid having fun!)

Then your wife comes out and yells: slow it down!! So you let the swing slow down, to rock gently, while you maintain the action by pushing the kid with just a gentle touch. Like all good fathers do on a hot summer day.

Once again, we are talking about a very long swing with a very low amplitude.

So here is the first postulate: in order to keep the swing swinging, you must continually provide a bit of force, or an impulse as watchmakers would say.

No impulse, no joy- the swings stop.

Now let's move to the second postulate.

After a few minutes, the kid is going to get bored. Since you've just spent six hours building the darn thing, you want him to play a bit longer. (This is also known as quality time). So you've come up with a game: Every time the swing comes your way, the kid will give you a high five and yell a number.

The mental picture: Here comes the swing - your hands touch and he yells ONE - then you gently push him away. Here he comes again - touch,TWO, push; touch,THREE, push... and so on.

Every time you two do the high five, the kid is impulsing your hand. A fraction of a second later, you are impulsing the swing back. And because the kid is counting swings, he is acting as a tick-tock generator - a time piece!

Your swing is an oscillator which is impulsed from the outside, and at the same time it
provides an impulse which is 'fed back' into the system.

This concept is really extremely simple yet magnificently efficient and accurate. The swing is a pendulum and the kid is a pendulum bob (weight on the bottom). Since you are receiving and giving an impulse, YOU are acting like clock pallets.

The reason why students of horology don't understand this concept is because two things happen almost instantaneously, and only one is obvious. However if you try to explain the geometry of impulsing without understanding the basic concept behind it, you too will be lost in 7 paragraphs of Wiki explanation.

You have probably noticed that I am not talking about watch pallets, but clock pallets instead. For a simple reason: while watch and clock oscillators work on different principles, the impulsing part is almost identical (and easier to demonstrate in simple terms on clock pendulum).

Essentially, pallets provide a connection between gear work and oscillators and their purpose is to transfer the force from the mainspring (via gears) to the oscillator AND to receive feedback impulse which does the 'tick tock' counting.

While we are at clocks, let me just expand a bit on pendulums (your big swing ticking at low amplitude). The search for accuracy in mechanical timekeeping went on for at least 2000 years. It came to an end in 1656. when a clever dutchman by the name of Huygens attached a pendulum to a clock movement. Within a couple of weeks of experimenting, he managed to improve the daily error in clocks from 15 minutes per day to 15 seconds per day! This was such an amazing and revolutionary discovery! Of course, he could not keep it secret and a few months later the good news spread to London which was at the time the horological capital of the world. The rest was just history...

So what is so special about clock pendulums?

If you remember, last week we have talked about watch oscillators and concluded that the period of oscillation depends on two things: inertia and stiffening of the hair spring.

Here is that formula once again:

Obviously, it is difficult to get a steady rate of oscillation when you have to jiggle two variables - we are dealing with complex and challenging engineering requirements.

Unlike with hair spring-return system, the beauty of the pendulum is this: pendulums are gravity driven!

Here is the formula which describes its period of oscillation:

Now note that T is not exactly defined in the formula; this simplified formula works only for a pendulum with a very small amplitude. This is why I wanted you to picture that LONG swing, not a short one.

(Just in case you want to see the formula which does take into account amplitude or theta-angle of swing here is that nasty and ugly beast. Note the 3 dots after last + sign: the equation extends for ever!!!

So let's go step back and have a closer look at T in the simplified formula: it is directly related to two things: L = length of the pendulum and g = gravity. Since gravity is a constant, there is really just one thing we need to worry about! What a beauty!

Indeed, you know so well that timekeeping adjustment in clocks is done by adjusting the length of the pendulum bob. Lower the bob, slower the clock.

And the weight of the pendulum is irrelevant - whether you have a 10 kg kid on a swing or a 30kg one, the preriod of oscillation is always the same. You can actually sit on the swing yourself and let the kid push you - and number of ticks and tocks will not change a bit!

Because of constant gravity, clock built in London will keep equally correct time in Sydney, Hong Kong or New York.

But let's say we have built two identical clocks and we send one to the Moon while the other stays in Sydney. We set time on both clocks at noon Sydney time. My question is this: twenty-four hours later, would both clocks display the same time?

While this sounds like a tricky question, the answer is really simple. According to our formula -

the period of oscillation is gravity dependent. And since gravity on the Moon is only 1/6 of gravity on Earth, the moon clock will go significantly slower. Actually we would have to reduce the length of the pendulum from 1m to 16.6cm if we want both clocks to show identical time!

That is probably the reason why Apollo astronauts took Omegas to the moon, not their grandfather clocks :-)

To conclude, understanding the function of watch pallets starts with the understanding of impulsing action. Transfer of forces is pure geometry, and I have to say a fairly complex one. For many years, watchmakers have struggled to perfect the geometry of pallet stones, shape of the escape wheel, polishing, lubricants.

The smallest misalignment will inevitably result in loss of power transferred to the balance wheel and in loss of amplitude. The timing when transfer of power occurs is absolutely critical, and it is determined not just by the shape of the escape wheel and pallets, but by their relative positions. Once again, it goes without saying that external disturbances like shock or lack of regular servicing will result in poor time keeping.

Here is a photo of (broken) pallets and a (rusted) escape wheel from my junk box:

Final curiosity: the weight of the Rolex escape wheel is 0.006 gram. In other words, the total of 167 wheels would have the combined weight of 1 gram. With the price of US$28 per wheel, 1 gram of escape wheels is worth US$ 4,676.00!

Do you know of any other machine-made and mass-produced piece of metal worth 4.6 million US dollars per kilogram? That's why the Swiss don't bother about making hammers and screwdrivers. If they did, you'd have to be Warren Buffet to take up carpentry as a hobby :-)

Monday, July 25, 2011

IWC Da Vinci Ref. 3750

When we are talking about truly iconic watches then the Da Vinci is surely one to be considered as such. Introduced in 1985. as model reference 3750, Da Vinci was the world's first automatic chronograph to feature a perpetual calendar, year display and perpetual moon phase display!

With an unparalleled level of calendar complication, it is still a miracle of mechanical watchmaking. It's mechanical calendar will function properly WITHOUT ANY EXTERNAL ADJUSTMENT until March 1, 2100 when the normally expected leap year will be skipped!

Unlike other perpetual calendars, the 3750's calendar is manually set (forwarded) just by the crown - there are no external push 'holes' for the separate adjustment of day/date/month/year and moon phase. It's all done automatically by a simple turn of the winding crown. Of course, that means that the calendar cannot be 'set back' to the previous day but this is really not required since the Da Vinci can 'tell' all of the above by itself anyway!

This watch encompasses one of the most extreme reduction gear ratios in the history of watchmaking: 1 : 6,315,840,000 turns of escape wheel are required to move the 100-year display for just 1.2 mm. At the same time, the balance wheel would make 95 billion ticks and tocks!

To say that IWC was excited about Da Vinci would be understatement. Here is the quote from watch booklet which captures the excitement of the new model:

"With the Da Vinci we also present to you a brand new century slide for the year 2200 - 2499. And that in a sealed glass tube. Keep it in a good place for the next 200 years. At the beginning of January 2200, take it to your watchmaker. He will exchange the slide in next to no time and your Da Vinci is ready again to show the time for the next 300 years.

Perhaps the visit at your watchmaker's will last a little longer than expected. Not to worry. He will seize this opportunity to take a close look at the watch movement ad calendar. On looking, he will certainly be astounded that such a thing was ever able to be produced. And that 215 years ago."

Needless to say, there are only a handful of watchmakers trained to assemble the Da Vinci. The entire calendar is located between the dial and movement plates, and held by just 4 screws. Not only that each gear, lever, tension spring and bridge must be placed in exact order but the each tooth of each wheel can be set in only one exact position.

Knowing your limits and sticking to them is one rule I religiously adhere to - so when the new baby arrived on Friday, I was just happy to take it out of the case, check the overall condition of the movement, made minor adjustments to the tome keeping, advanced the calendar for a few days to make sure it works as it should - and to take a couple of photos of the dial for my blog.

I am just so glad I won't be around in January 2200. to help you with the calendar slider!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

BNIB: almost a keeper

Hi Nick,

I have signed up for your email updates and interesting articles over the last 3-4 months and wanted to pass on how much I thoroughly enjoy these. I have always had a keen interest in fine watches as well as the history behind fine time pieces.

Part of the reason of me sending an email was to ask about buying fine watches online. I did  research some of your articles talking about buying watches where the dealer won't divulge serial numbers and any history of the watch.
My brother lives in the States and is interested in purchasing a Panerai watch over there. There is one online as new with boxes and papers with a private dealer. My question is, with new watches how do they turn up with sellers that are not authorized sellers of new watches like Panerai initially? Secondly how does the warranty apply in this situation? Are there things to check to make sure everything is above board?

Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Best regards,

Dear Richard,
Thank you for your email.
Before I answer your question, let me share with you a very personal story.
A couple of years ago we met a guy who became sort of a friend. Mike was the nicest guy ever, very helpful and extremely polite. He loved my wife's cherry strudels and in return he would fix my letters for grammar and spelling. A fair deal!
As an accountant by trade he worked hard and saved his pennies even harder. Happy man - except for one detail: for some strange reason, no matter how hard he tried, he was still a single man. He really wanted to find that very special soul but for one reason or another, it just did not happen.
One late evening, Mike knocked on our door, announced. Obviously he was in a hurry and he said he needed my help. So we let him in.
He quickly logged into my computer and said:
"Nick, here are 3 ladies I've narrowed down from a selection of 12,000. A doctor from Novosibrisk, an architect from Petropavlovsk and a painter from a small village in Ukraine. Which one should I marry?"
To say that all 3 looked extremely beautiful would be understatement. 

But that was not the Mike we knew, so I was curious to find out what made him pick those 3 particular ladies? And he told us: all three were exactly the same height, same age and same  weight. For Mike, those numbers were the most important search criteria. The only problem he had is which one to pick?
And this is why he needed my help.
Now, let's just pause the story here for a second. If you were in my shoes, you would probably do your best to convince Mike not to rush with his decision. You would argue that there is the  possibility of significant misinterpretation when deciding about a person purely on low quality .jpg fifteen minutes after midnight, and that height and weight have very little to do with heart and soul, and all that stuff. That's what any reasonable person and friend would say!
But not me.
Without a nanosecond of hesitation, without even the slightest bit of guilt or doubt, as certain as only a watchmaker could be, I pointed to the photo of the artist by the name of Yelena.
"She is the one, Mike. You can't go wrong with a painter." 
And so he did.
Yelena arrived in Sydney in what I would call a BNBIB condition - a brand new Barbie in a box, with original papers, certificates, inner and outer boxes, hang tags, original receipt, spotless, conservatively described as 10/10. She would suit both a novice enthusiast or a seasoned collector. She was painfully perfect, with that heavenly Slavic accent - all those shs, tchs, ljs, zszs, which makes the sweetest French girls sound like Darth Vader.
There was only one bit missing: she came with no instruction manual and Mike could not figure out how to get her ticking -  no matter how hard he tried.
So what is my point, you may ask?
Well, buying online could be tricky. There is no guarantee that you'll get what you want and there is even less guarantee that you'll like what you get.
For the same reason you cannot blame Yelena for being Yelena, you cannot blame a Panerai for being too large, too heavy, too expensive or even fake.
I hope this goes without saying, but when it comes to recommending an online product, I am completely useless.
As Roxette said, "...listen to YOUR heart - there is nothing else you can do"
PS. Mike is now happily married to an Aussie mum with 4 kids. He lost few dollars in trade, but he kept the receipt. My wife still makes the best cherry strudels in the world, and as before, I still need someone to fix my grammar. As what happened to Yelena, I can not disclose for legal reasons.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Time keeping

What a week! After receiving 127 requests to disclose the cherry strudel recipe and 16 requests to disclose Yelena's phone number (neither possible, sorry) finally a watch-related email from a fellow enthusiast:

"Can you explain in simple terms how the watch balance wheel is regulated to keep 'spot on time' ?"

Dear J.N.,

I am glad you've asked for a simple explanation because this will save us time :-) You've indirectly asked two questions and I'll try to respond accordingly.

But before we get into it, let me just say that I cannot stress enough the importance of this subject. Unfortunately I know of many watch retailers, dealers, collectors - and even watch repairers who handle high grade watches on a daily basis, yet most of them have only vague knowledge of time keeping adjustment.

Therefore if you care to immerse yourself in my brief reply, you will be miles ahead from them all!

Time keeping and regulation are fundamental to watchmaking and our ability to tell the time accurately. Let me just say that mechanical watches never keep 'spot on time' but neither do 'quartz' watches. Even atomic clocks are not perfect but they are getting better: In the 1950s they were able to keep time within 1 second per 2000 years, while today we got them 'adjusted' to 1 sec per 20 million years. Which is not really all that bad.

Back to mechanical watches. Instead of 'spot on time' may I propose we settle for the more practical term: 'reasonably accurate'. Let's say 2 seconds per day.

While 2 sec/day is way above any practical requirement (especially if you travel on Sydney buses) your watch will still be 1 minute off at the end of the month. But then again, this is at least twice better than official Swiss chronometer certifications.

Which makes the Swiss standard look pretty lame. Or does it?

Before we jump into any conclusions, let's put things into perspective.

The balance wheel assembly is the heart of the watch. It is directly responsible for time keeping.

In essence, the balance wheel is a mechanical oscillator - it is the heart of the watch. Or to put it simply, this is the device which makes ticks and tocks.

And those ticks and tocks are what the time is made of!

Take a look at the photo below.

One second consists of EXACTLY 4 ticks and 4 tocks (*for 28.800 bph movement).
No more, no less. Consequently, one hour is made of 28,800 ticks. Or 691,200 heart beats per day! That is almost seven hundred thousand beats!

Let's say that instead of 691,200 beats your watch heart ticks just 16 beats more (or less) per day That would be an error of 0.00002 % which is the equivalent of those 2 magic seconds we are chasing!

You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that such a tight tolerance is nothing but a miracle - especially for a mechanical device.

Actually there is no other mechanical device - including precision laboratory instruments - which would or could keep such a level of accuracy 24 hours per day over a period of 5 years without any maintenance while submerged under water, or up in the air, exposed to a temperature range of 50 degrees Celsius or more. Not to mention game or two of golf, sledge hammer and occasional drop to tile floor!

Indeed, the mechanical watch heart is a MIRACLE of human engineering and it's ability to tick with such an amazing accuracy is a very unique property.

Now that we've learned how precious that little heart is, we can get into more detail about time keeping adjustment or regulation.

The heart (oscillator) consists of a number of components, but two are directly responsible for ticks and tocks are:

- spring (often called a hair spring) and
- balance wheel

If you like formulas, you'll love this one: it is a real beauty! Actually the
greatest thing about Newtonian physics is that everything makes perfect sense!
(Unlike with confusing quantum stuff which came later :-)

The above formula describes the relation between time keeping, the hair spring
and the balance wheel.

Why is it a beauty? Because this is exactly what we need to know! It tells us that period of oscillation T [ticks and tocks] is determined by the position of weight on a balance wheel [I, inertia] and the stiffness of the hair spring [k].

In other words, in order to make our watch tick faster or slower, we could make adjustments to either the hair spring, the balance wheel - or both!

Rolex (and some other makers like Patek or the new Omega Coaxial) have designed their tickers in such a fashion that adjustment to time keeping is made by the variation of inertia of the balance wheel.

With most calibres of Rolex watches, regulation is achieved by adjusting the position of
regulating weights. The tiny little weight (marked A) is set closer or further away from the balance wheel rim (B). The closer to the rim: more inertia, slower period of oscillation, and the watch goes slower. The weight is effectively a nut; one quarter of a turn of one weight (4 shown on photo) equals approximately 1 sec per day.

Other makers opted for variation of stiffness of hair spring as a means of time keeping adjustment. Here, the inertia is constant (no weight on wheel) but the hair spring is
either shortened (stiffness increased) or extended by sliding the regulator lever [B].

As one would expect, both designs have advantages and disadvantages, and yes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Since by now I have most likely lost most of my subscribers, let me just wrap it up by clarifying a couple of Internet misconceptions.

The myth: watches with higher oscillator rates are better time keepers. Well this one has been busted big time. If you are to remember just one thing today, then remember this: never buy a watch just because of high beat rate!

A 36,000 bph watch is not necessarily a better time keeper than a watch ticking at 19,800 bph. The higher beat also comes with a few side effects: it requires a very special kind of lubricant for the pallets / escape wheel; more frequent overhaul and if movement is not serviced properly there would be more wear and tear.

This is the main reason why Rolex Daytonas produced with Zenith El Primero movements
(Pre - 2000. production) have 'modified' movements: the original Zenith bph was reduced to 28,000 and true to tradition, Rolex preferred free sprung balance wheel with variable inertia adjustment.

But the 36,000 bph has one fantastic property: it allow us not only to mechanically split the second to 10 beats (5 ticks+5 tocks) but to display the 1/10 of a second on the dial as well. And yes, the high beat oscillators are less sensitive to outside forces which are trying to throw the oscillator out of balance.

The common bph for mechanical wrist watches are 18,000 - 19,800 - 21,600 - 25,200 - 28,800 - 36,000 corresponding to 5 / 5.5/ 6 / 7 / 8 and 10 beat per second.

For those who like to think "outside the circle": you can actually chose ANY rate for your mechanical oscillator, as long as you have a wheel cutting machine to cut a wheel with 64.9754 tooth and don't mind "hour" hand displaying 3.483 hours per day :-)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gustav Becker with a good provenance

Hi Nick,

My name is Troy D. and have been a subscriber to your mailing list for sometime and was wondering if
you would be able to help with the identification of a wall clock that has been in our family for some time now.
It is believed to be a Gustaff Becker made in 1907. It was brought to Australia by The Redemptorists and was for the Monastery in Mayfield,
Newcastle which was founded in 1885. When the monastery closed it was obtained my family.
The history of the clock is a bit vague but it is believed that it was either brought to Australia by the one of the fathers
or it was constructed by one of the craftsman constructing the St Alphonsus monastery in Mayfield.
It is believed that the clock has been maintained quite well and is in perfect working order.
If at all possible from the photos attached to this email could you shed some light as to its make and
approximate value for insurance purposes.
Your expert experience on this subject would be greatly appreciated on this matter by my family
and also any tips in keeping this beautiful timepiece in perfect condition.

Your Sincerely,
Troy J D

Dear Troy,

Thank you for your email.

While you have supplied a number of photos, you have unfortunately made my dating task almost impossible by not providing a crucial one: a photograph of the back plate which will show us the Gustav Becker logo.

In order to do so, you must take the movement with it's sitboard out of the case. The sit board itself is fastened to the case with a couple of wood screws. Remove those screws and pull the sitboard form its slot.

Now be careful not to detach the mechanism from the sit board itself! Otherwise you will alter the position of hammers in relation to its chiming rods!

(I assume you are capable of doing this as per instruction, if not, it is better to leave it to a clockmaker.)

If your clock is indeed manufactured by Gustav Becker then you should be able to find a company stamp / logo on the bottom of the brass back plate.

This is what you are looking for:

As you can see, GB cloaks were manufactured both in Germany and Czecho-Slovakia (Bohmen or Bohemia) .

The clock case itself is clearly dating from the early 1900s as per your suggestion, and so is the dial. However the dial style and shape of hands remained popular until 1960s.

The clock itself is of fairly common construction for the era. It was built to tel the time, not to impress! It is a spring driven 8-day movement with 3 trains: time, hour strike and quarter chime
on 4 gongs. The fifth gong is for the hour strike only. On your photo, you can see the lever behind the dial, above the 2 o'clock position. This lever allows the owner to "turn off" the chime, strike or both.

There are a couple of important factors which must be taken in consideration when determining value for insurance purpose.

First, it is the value of the clock as a timepiece. Secondly, it's sentimental and historical value.

While your clock comes form a good home it would be difficult to convince any insurer that it possesses any significant value purely on it's provenance. Therefore the replacement value must be established based upon historical sales data for a similar clock made by Gustav Becker. The overall condition, especially of the dial and case, repair history, etc. would be considered as well.

In general, Gustav Becker clocks are regarded as mid-range quality German clocks. From the late 1850s to 1935 GB produced hundreds and thousands of clocks - maybe even well over a million! The company was bought by Junghans in 1935. With so many clocks produced - and so many still in good working order - GB clocks have very modest collectors value, even for examples in very good to excellent condition.

The possibility that the clock was made in Australia is extremely unlikely. While the clock cabinet (case) could have been made locally, there is no evidence in your
photos that suggest so. Case construction, ornamentation, veneer and overall finish looks consistent with mass-produced German examples.

Based on the above, a figure of around $1200 - $1500 would be a fair and reasonable insurance valuation amount.

Regarding maintenance: let's leave this for the next newsletter!

NOTE: While I am happy to provide my opinion on any timepiece based on photos and description - if time premits - such opinion is NOT legally binding in any financial or legal matter.
Proper and adequate Insurance Valuation is only possible upon physical examination of a watch / clock in question. Valuation service is available at nominal charge.