Wednesday, July 13, 2011

To regulate or to overhaul

Dear Nick,

Please do not take offense to my e mail, I am just seeking clarification of my recent experience. I am a past customer of yours having purchased a Rolex Submariner 14060 M in 2007 .
As I live in Adelaide and was visiting Sydney for a conference last week I wanted to take that opportunity for you to regulate my Explorer 114270 “D” series which is running 8 secs fast per day consistently. I rang your office three weeks ahead of time and told the person who answered that I would like you to regulate the watch while I was in Sydney .She said that I needed to ring closer to the time to arrange to bring the watch in. I did that and just happened to speak with you personally and when I explained what I required you told me that it would need and over hall which would cost $850.00 and 6 weeks turnaround time, and that regulation was not an option. To say I was then very surprised when upon returning home I opened an e mail from you citing a recent example where a customer returned a watch which he had purchased from you and wanted you to regulate it as it was running either fast or slow( not sure which) . You stated that it was a simple fix ( less than 5 minutes work) and it was running +_ 1 sec ..straight away..but you did have great trouble with the case back. My question is this : was your lack of willingness to regulate my Explorer which did not come from you (as it was a gift from my wife) .or some other reason? I am just confused. I am a huge fan of yours and have directed many people to seek you out for their watch purchases, but I am left feeling somewhat let down over this experience. I suppose what I was hoping for was that you would welcome me as a customer and agree to at least have a look at the watch and if in the end it meant leaving it with you as you were not at all confident that regulation would work ..then I would have done so.

I certainly do not want to impose on you and I know you are very busy , but I do feel kind of “not wanted”

Thanks you for taking the time to read this.

Kind regards
Richard, Adelaide

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your email.

Time keeping in mechanical watches is a very complex issue. It took us over 500 years of development to reach this current stage of precision! Today, makers of mechanical watches are investing more money than ever to improve time keeping even further. Unfortunately, due to the very nature of mechanical watches, environment, temperature, gravity, materials used, lubricants and design of escapement, we have already reached 'the peak performance' in the mid 1800s (for clocks and other chronometers) 1920 (for pocket watches) and 1970s (for wrist watches).

Without going into detail - indeed, one can write a book on the subject! - let me just point out that majority of modern (post 1950s- to now) mechanical wrist watches with straight line lever escapements like the one employed in Rolex calibres are designed to keep time within a few seconds per day. Official Swiss Chronometre certification COSC stipulates that an average daily rate of -4 to +6 seconds per day is "good enough" to pass the chronometer test. Almost all brand new watches which are finely lubricated and adjusted could keep time within 1 or 2 seconds per day.

In reality, this 'ideal' time keeping property is degraded relatively fast once the watch leaves the factory's assembly line, regardless whether the watch has been worn on the wrist daily or sitting unworn in the box. For a simple reason: deterioration of oils and lubricants! If we can produce a watch which will require no lubrication and is made of materials which will not wear out, then such a time piece will keep 'factory new' time forever. Of course, this is not possible and all mechanical watches need regular overhauls. Unfortunately, unlike with your car, one cannot just drain the old oil and replace oil filter - there isn't one in a watch! Watch movements require complete disassembly, cleaning, assembly and only then it is ready for final adjustment.
This is what we call "complete overhaul" and yes, in the case of Rolex watches $850 is standard charge. A complete overhaul is recommended every 5-6 years.

Now back to your question: why I was unable to adjust timekeeping of your Explorer in 5 minutes or less, while such adjustment was possible with GP?

According to Rolex serial numbers and production data, your D serial Explorer was manufactured in 2005 or 2006. As you indicated it is a 114270 model which has a chronometer certified movement. It is now 6 years old and had no previous service history. Which means it is now due for an overhaul. As I have explained over the phone, attempting to improve the time keeping of a watch which is due for an overhaul by varying the frequency of its balance wheel is incorrect procedure. Such adjustment is only possible for watches which are less than 1 year old, while
oil is still relatively fresh - like in the cases of above mentioned Girard Perregaux.

Let me explain why.

Your Rolex watch movement consists of a number of 'units'. Power source (main spring) train wheels, escapement, automatic winding unit, time setting section (stem and crown), calendar assembly, etc.

The units which are directly related to time keeping are: main spring - train - escapement.

All three sections are carefully designed and engineered to work together in harmony. Or more precisely, the forces which turn the wheels (main spring and train) and frequency of balance wheel (escapement) are finely synchronized.

Here is an example: if you have a weight-driven wall clock, try to gently pull the weight down. You will immediately notice that pendulum would no longer be 'ticking' as it used to.
Reduce the weight, the same thing will happen. (There is one more twist there: more or less weight will not necessary make the clock go fast or slower, but that is another story altogether).

What I'm trying to say here is this: your watch will only keep correct time when the forces applied to the train wheels and consequently, the escapement, are right.

That invisible hand which messes with your movement (taking the 'weights' of a clock train) is friction. So before we can get to final time keeping adjustment of an oscillator, we need to make
sure that forces around it are as per original design. To 'restore' that driving force, we need to clean the watch and re-oil it again.

How can I tell that a watch needs an overhaul?

Basically, I am checking the condition of lubricant by observing the force in the watch train. I am not going into detail, but a simple check on a time keeping machine will tell me if your watch is due for an overhaul or not. The loss of amplitude is usually a dead give away, but there are other things to look for. Again this has nothing to do with the average daily error (seconds per day).

Which leads us to a conclusion: a watch due for an overhaul (low amplitude of balance wheel) can still keep reasonably good time but trying to compensate for poor time keeping, which is the result of low amplitude, by varying the frequency of the oscillator ("regulation") is a bad solution.

Of course, there could be any number of other reasons why your watch may not be keeping correct time, but we cannot even consider any of them unless we take care of the obvious.

In the same way that you cannot ask your doctor to prescribe you a specific medication you think fits your symptoms, I am unable, as a professional, to undertake a certain procedure just because I'm requested to. Especially without physical examination of your timepiece.

I am sorry if you felt that your business is not welcome, but I can only assist you if you trust my expertise. As I've said over the phone, you are more than welcome to bring the watch in for a free of charge assessment.

In addition, I would be more than happy to further elaborate on any technical aspect related to time keeping, if required.

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