Monday, December 11, 2017

Not as popular as a cat video on Youtube but who cares?

I am sure many of you remember that 6 months ago we had a major capital raising for the purpose of the acquisition of a Strausak gear hobbing machine. Strausak is the Mercedes of watch gear hobbing and I made a special trip to Geneva to meet the company director. After day one of negotiations it was clear that we were not heading in the right direction and, by the third day, the price of the machine, the cost of tooling, all added accessories, shipping and training ballooned to over $250k. This was a major disappointment and significantly more than we were prepared to invest in a gear hobber.

Geneva is really a village and a "cashed-up Aussie" sticks out like a sore thumb. It wasn't long before I was introduced to another gear hobber machine. This one was made by Affolter. There was only one small problem: I was well aware of both Affolter and this particular machine which I saw the year before. To put it simply, Affolter is a Porsche, not Mercedes C class. But due to some circumstances, the machine was a demonstrator, available for immediate delivery, with only a few hours of run time. A 911 with 100kms on the clock! 

To cut a long story short, our Carrera twin turbo Affolter AF90 arrived last week and was powered up for the first time yesterday. A gear hobbing machine makes watch wheels and it is a crucial piece of equipment which will allow us to make gears in-house, in our Sydney our workshop. Clearly we are excited: the 8 axis CNC hobber is truly a piece of art in itself. But, equally important, the Affolter people are excited as well. For them, selling a machine to us meant 'ticking off' the second last continent and cementing their position as a true world-wide leader in precision gear cutting. After Australia, the only continent with no watch gear cutting machine of this precision is Africa! (This really speaks volumes about us as 'tech giants'!) We are looking forward to training in Switzerland at their factory mid next year! 

The time frame: The next step for us is to design a few prototype wheels.  Based on our drawings, a Swiss tool manufacturer will make custom hobbers (gear cutters). Also a third party precision manufacturer in Switzerland will make tools and holders/collets to hold each gear while cutting. This preparation work should not take more than 6 months. In June next year Josh will travel to Malleray, a tiny village in Swiss Jura (population 1,900!) to the Affolter Headquarters. With a bit of luck, we should learn how it's done, and be all set to manufacture our first prototype gears by Christmas next year. 

For those of you who may wonder: What is the manufacturing cost of a watch wheel made in Australia?  Unfortunately, the math is not straight forward. But if we take the cost of the machine itself out of the equation, then the tooling cost per wheel and number of wheels made 'in one go' is really what determines the cost. Our problem is that we will never make more than 200-300 identical wheels, which is just unimaginable in the gear industry! A CNC hobber like the AF90 is designed to output tens of thousands of precision, top quality wheels at a time. But we are not in mass production.  Nevertheless, at 200 pieces per batch, our cost per wheel should be around $60 a piece, which is about the same you would pay wholesale for a top Swiss-brand wheel. 

Here is a 14 second video of our AF90:

And here is an Affolter video of the machine in action, hobbing a watch winding pinion, diameter 3,66mm and half millimetre thick, with module of 0.19. Production time: 55 seconds: 

Note the video view count: 243 views - and we've watched it probably 50 times ourselves! Yes, we are dealing here in something incredibly unimportant, not just to the general public but even to engineers (a good cat video on YouTube can generate millions of views; a half-naked squeaking singer a billon!)  But sophistication is not about numbers...

Once again, from our small team: we appreciate your continuous support.


Monday, December 4, 2017

We love our collets

A collet is a special type of chuck designed to hold either material machined or a tool machining it. And to do so in a very special way: by providing a firm and rigid, yet very precise grip. Collets are mighty things and there is only one rule about them; you can never have enough of them!  Indeed, each and every machine in our workshop has its set of collets; and some - like in the case of our Citizen lathe - come for both material and tool holding, in a variety of styles, shapes and sizes. All custom made too. 
The latest addition to our workshop is our lovely 30 pcs tool-holding set from Schaublin made for Kern. These lovely collets are designed for fast, automatic clamping on a spindle. And since the spindle speed goes up to 50,000 RPM, you can imagine how extremely well-balanced they have to be to retain positional error under one micron at that speed!
At last count, we had over 150 different collets in stock. By the time we make our first in-house watch mechanism, we are going to have close to 1,000.  The good news is that a precision collet can last forever, assuming proper care is taken. Josh is our collet guy and he is allowed to buy them without even asking me for approval. Actually if he doesn't buy any more before Christmas I would be seriously upset.
Machining is cool!  Did i mention that we are looking for a watchmaker’s apprentice?  No?  Well, we have to talk about that soon.  

Thursday, November 30, 2017

You know you've made it when...

... your product becomes a synonym for an entire industry. Which is precisely in the case of Renishaw - or renishaw.
The Renishaw company was founded by two Englishmen: Sir David McMurtry and John Deer in 1973. McMurtry had needed to measure fuel pipes on a prototypejet engine. At the time, measuring machine sensors featured a rigid 'tip' which required manual positioning and which yielded poor repeatability when measuring delicate components. To meet this need, McMurtry invented a spring-loaded touch-trigger probe device tip, which he then patented. The new instrument tip was an elegant solution and was quickly adopted by leading manufacturers who needed measurements of ultra precision.
Our Kern mill arrived equipped with a renishaw probe. What a beautiful instrument! A glass enclosure reviling an electronics 'brain'; micro ruby ball on the tip of the styli; rigid - yet at the same time, a fragile, delicate instrument. The renishaw is mounted on the tool holder and can be 'grabbed and attached' on the main milling spindle automatically. Of course, for those of you who are into fine machining or coordinate measurement systems, this precision instrument is something you commonly see in action, on perhaps a daily basis. But for us, who have just started our journey into watchmaking, this renishaw is a very exciting newcomer to our workshop.
Made in the UK. Cool! 
And here is one more bit. Unlike the watch industry where every brand is working hard to 'stamp' its name on every single component claiming that the dial, hands, cases and all movement components are made 'in house' (when they are clearly not) it is really refreshing to see that true engineering companies which specialise in high-end manufacturing are actually proud to disclose their association with other industry leaders. And when you think of it - why would Kern even want to make their own renishaw when Renishaw has already invented a damn good one? Why would a world leader in the milling industry want to make collets for its machine when Schaublin, the leader in collets, has already reached the levels of precision required? And the list goes on - Erowa, Siemens, Zeiss, Boch... all supplying parts and technology to each other, for a common benefit. 
While 100% 'made in-house' may be great marketing news, such a watch mechanism is doomed to be a very average performer. Like it or not, sooner or later, 'in house' will become a synonym for a product which will lack the future; a product developed to please the brand itself rather than a consumer, at the cost of innovation and technical advancement. Open for cooperation, open for learning and sharing, an open mind. 
Quite frankly, I am so glad we are not in the watch industry anymore.

Monday, November 27, 2017

It's all about information

The year is 1850.  Suppose you are a reputable country watchmaker. In your shop window you have a large dial clock and all day long your customers and passers-by would stop in front of your shop to set their pocket watches against your master clock. The question is: How would YOU know what is the correct time?  Obviously this information would have to come from somewhere!  The solution was simple.  Every week or two you would take your best pocket watch, buy a newspaper, hop on the train, travel to London - and there you would set your pocket watch against the clock on display at the most reputable London clockmaker, who himself would have got 'his time' from Greenwich.  And there, at the observatory, clocks were set and regulated by astronomers, mathematicians and scientists who were really the 'true time keepers' because they knew how to calibrate their clocks against the movement of the stars.  Indeed, for a country watchmaker weekly trips to London were often the highlights of the week. 

Of course, with the invention of radio, everyone with a wireless could have direct access to accurate time. Bip, bip, bip - the time is 8 o’clock. 

Nowadays, we no longer need radio signals nor any effort on our behalf in order to 'know' the time. Thanks to GPS and the internet, our mobile phones and commuters are 'synchronised' countless times per day - and the time itself comes directly from the network of atomic clocks located all over the planet.  In just 100 or so years we have come a long way!

However, when it comes to the 'dissemination' of some other types of information we are still facing some serious issues with accuracy.

For example, suppose that you live in Germany and you've engineered and built two superbly precise machines. One stays in Germany, while the other is disassembled and shipped to Australia. The question is once that Australian machine is reassembled how are you going to calibrate it so it will machine metal as accurately as it did before, as the one on the different side of planet?

As clever as it is, the machine itself cannot calibrate itself.  As accurate as your watch may be, it will not tell you the time, unless you FIRST tell your watch what the time is! In both cases, the information has to come from an external, super accurate source.

I will not bore you with the details - but in the case of our five axes nano precision Kern mill, this outside information comes in the form of a small metal object which 'contains' crucial information. This object is machined in Germany to extremely tight tolerances, measured in a number of points, then shipped to us to be used as calibration 'etalon'. Without it, our machine could not be set.

While the geometry of 'etalon' is simple, thanks to the extreme precision with which it was machined and measured, it contains a number of crucial information. It will help us to establish the centre point of the table, work holding position, the eccentricity of the spindle, the relationship between the three main axes - and much more. 

Due to the fact that it had to be mounted on the tool holder, it was manufactured not by Kern, but by Erowa, a German 'tool holding' specialist.  However, after Erowa measured its dimensions, Kern re-measured it and re-certified it again, with even more accuracy. Each dimension was measured a number of times to 1/10 of  1 micron. Yes, we are talking nano!

The photos below are attached for your enjoyment. If you wonder what the cost is of this tiny piece of metal, then let me just answer this question in an indirect way: the etalon is kept in a safe and I am the only person allowed to handle it.

As you would imagine, we are now very anxious to get our mill assembled, calibrated and running.  However, we still don't know when the German engineers will be able to travel to Sydney to assemble it. Christmas/New year and endless European holidays are not working for us.  Patience, patience!


Friday, November 17, 2017

The art of self-promotion

It is not just bad taste, poor manners, lack of empathy - or simply just being a jerk. Self-promotion is a crime. 
And especially so in Japanese culture! I am not kidding: a poor Japanese craftsman would rather commit a harakiri than post a message on Facebook about the knife he hand-polished for 3 months to perfection. He would rather take 40 lashes with the cane for failing, than one compliment for achieving perfection. Strange.  
It is funny, but while the Anglo-Saxon culture has almost nothing in common with the oriental one, self-promotion is a sin even in our little colony.
Crocodile-wrestling-tough-as-nail sun burnt Aussies crawl under the rock at the very thought of even being in the same room as a self-promoter. Nearly a hundred years of exposure to Greek-ism, Balkan-ism and Latino-sim (the cradle cultures of macho-self-promotion) made our good Aussies even more resistant and more sceptical to any form of advertising with even the slightest hint of 'yeah, sure, we can do this'. 
"Wait until they discover your talent" say Mosman mums to their daughters as they jump out of mega-monster 4WD’s, being dropped in front of $40K per year schools. "Wait until they discover your talent" say dads dropping off boys at multi-billion dollar ovals. And make no mistake, like mums and dads, these very kids are already driving their own E-class Mercedes and wearing gold watches – and they play great cricket. But to tell anyone how good they are would be totally inappropriate. "Wait until they discover your talent" is what every 12 year old surfer hears every time he eats his vegemite. Be modest, be humble, be invisible; let others see what you are really worth and give you the credit you deserve. 
But life is no longer as it once was. "Others" are no longer a passive audience quietly waiting for the next Sir Bradman. "Others" are us: posting selfies on FB, Instagramming, chatting, and simply being alive; connecting, talking and sharing.  
You see, I don't mind modesty. Actually, I much prefer to wait 'to be discovered' than to self-promote myself. But on the other hand, I am not a big fan of posthumous awards either. 
Right now, as I type this, we have a great need for a 10 tonne forklift to move some equipment; we need an energetic and reliable office assistant; a smart and hard-working apprentice keen to learn about watches; a photographer who won't charge an arm and a leg; a reliable local server to host our new website; a 2KV petrol generator (not too loud!), an oven for steel hardening, a polishing machine - which comes with expert advice and the right polishing compounds. And we are not any different to other small Australian businesses. Yet somehow, those who are experts in their fields are often hard to find - because they have always been told the same old thing; "wait until they discover you". 
This week a rebelde-owner brought in his 3 year old watch for a minor adjustment. However, he wore that watch daily so it was heavily scratched. So we decided to surprise him:   We pulled the watch completely apart, serviced it, polished the case, fitted a new winding crown and seals - and even fitted a brand new leather strap.  Total charge: zero. Why? Because we simply want to show him what we can do, and how proud we are of our workmanship. And how much we appreciate the fact that out of hundreds of brands he put his trust in rebelde.
And here we go - I just committed the worst crime ever: I self-promoted.  
Guillotiner, make it quick.
Completely overhauled relbede I09 ready to be returned to its owner

Friday, October 27, 2017

We have reached levels of madness never seen before

Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona Sells For AUD$23 million (USD $17.7) Becoming The World's Most Expensive Wristwatch Ever Sold
Well, it's official. We have reached levels of madness never seen before - and this auction result has got nothing to do with horology, watchmaking or watch collecting.
There is no doubt that this 'record' will be celebrated for months, but in my books this is just a prime example of a media circus; audience clapping at every bid, a pretentious clown creating fake tension and drama by yelling Tiffany, Nataly, Tiffany, Nataly, last chance, fair warning, Tiffany, Nataly selling, Tiffany fair warning, last chance Tiffany.  Quite frankly, any lower Northshore real-estate agent would be more entertaining to watch.  
A fool parting with his cash. On what precisely? A mass-produced piece which in the 1970s was less popular than the Omega Moon Watch Professional, retailing for around $1,200. The watch that Paul Newman casually took off his wrist and gave to a boyfriend of his daughter. "Yeah, man, thanks for taking my darling out last night, I am sure you two had a good time, but tomorrow, please, bring her back before 5am”. “But, sir, I don't have a watch”, said the kid.  “Here, take this one, just don't forget to wind it".  Probably not word for word, but the story is more-or-less authentic. Paul Newman couldn't have cared less about his Paul Newman. THAT was what made HIM Paul Newman, but this act of generosity didn't make this Rolex more important than it really was, which wasn't really that much.  
Surely, you can call me a cynic, but I am not complaining about the amount that fool paid. I am just trying to point out one important detail: There are many timepieces of far greater historical value, technical importance, beauty, and provenance which are sold for peanuts every year. But they don't generate media hype. They cannot be sensationalised because the average newsreader has never heard of Breguet, Dent, Graham, Jacquet Droz, Berthoud,Lepine, Ditisheim, Earnshaw - or even Adolph Lange.
However, as of today, I have one more nuisance to worry about:  To explain to my friends, neighbours, and people I travel to work with on the bus: "If Rolex is NOT the best watch in the world, why is it then the most expensive watch ever sold"?
It's the question I have no answer for. Unable to untangle this paradox, to all of them I'll just look like an ignorant fool. 
So Rolex, you have beaten me and won another battle, again. Congratulations.
PS: No Rolex photos today. Instead, one of Abraham Louis Breguet, as a sign of respect and appreciation.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rebelde taking the heat

Nothing gets me more excited than a picture of a real man wearing a real watch, and not just anywhere, but in an environment that most watches would shy away from, and not with just any watch - but with a rebelde no less!
We just got two emails from our rebelde ambassadors, Garry and John. What a huge compliment.  Notice that John is wearing the N batch which was the very first production batch.

"The picture is a 900mm diameter steel pipe with a wall thickness of 12.7mm being bent using an Induction Heating Ring.  300kWh of power cycling at 1.1 kHz generating 950 degrees C across a 25mm band on the circumference.  

N60/70 is in the foreground.

Although I am sure my Trusty Rebelde is built to take on a lot of things this is as close as it gets to the Induction Heater". 

- John

"Dear Nick, seeing power is all the news at the moment, please find picture of current contract where I am the Safety Manager.  Ti 06 is on the job.  

I wear it every day.  it was noticed by a young guy asking what sort of watch it is. I said a hand wound one made by a Super-Hero in Sydney.  He had never seen a hand wound watch and could not hide his amazement when I took it off and showed him the movement.  I was struggling to keep up with his questions on how it worked."

- Garry

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Take your time

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

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

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

Happy Collecting,

Monday, August 21, 2017

A tough trick to pull

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

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

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

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

So back to collets.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Collecting,


Thursday, August 10, 2017

The first U32j soon to arrive to Australia

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

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

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

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

Happy collecting,

Monday, August 7, 2017

It's good to be back home

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

Where do I start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy collecting,


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

So what is your dream?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would Singer be interested in taking a rebelde order?

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

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

So what is your dream?

Happy collecting,


Monday, July 31, 2017

When corporatism leads to corporate governance failure

Over the past number of years many watch experts and industry insiders have shared juicy details about the murky dealings of the Swiss corporate world.  Others, like myself, simply conveyed thoughts and predictions based on micro-events, trying to build a bigger picture. However, a few months ago, we finally got an amazing opportunity to find out the truth. Dr Isabelle Campo and Dr Philipp Aerni, from the Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CCRS) at the University of Zurich, have published a 120-page report, and this report is the work of a true insider.
The report draws on archival sources, accessible since 2015, that were also extensively discussed in the Swiss print media in early 2016. They provide increasing evidence of corporate governance failure in the 1983 merger of SSIH (Société suisse pour l’industrie horlogère) and ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG) that led to today’s Swatch Group.
The merger, induced by Swiss banks, was portrayed as a necessary step to save the two allegedly bankrupt watch companies. Yet, the archival sources show that ASUAG had already been successfully restructured and was ready to conquer global markets with its new product; the Swatch.
Through the forced merger of the two unequal parties, the banks were able to avoid heavy losses that would have resulted from the bankruptcy of the ailing SSIH. The merger essentially enabled the conversion of a former state monopoly, ASUAG, into an even stronger private monopoly; eventually called the Swatch Group. The Swatch Group was able to establish itself as the leading watch company in the world by benefiting from prior innovation and corporate restructuring. In addition, the company built up its market power through extensive brand and “Swissness” marketing, political lobbying designed to preserve its monopoly pricing power in the production of certain watch parts, and the rhetoric of innovation to keep shareholders in good spirits.
The report also explains how bankers 'assisted' Nicholas Hayek to take over 51% of the Swatch group turning it into a private monopoly and, consequently, making the Hayek family billionaires.
The focus is then shifted to 2016 and beyond. A large part of the report analyses industry challenges in relation to the Government's role in the 'smart watch segment' as the industry regulator. While the protection and support of the Swiss watch industry was previously based on a deal behind closed doors, the new protectionism was publicly announced as a patriotic step to protect the value of “Swiss made” products. However, at the other end of the watch market spectrum, there are serious doubts that Swiss watches, especially in the higher price segments, will always fetch a high premium.
Why is the Swatch Group sitting on $1.4 billion worth of unsold stock?
Why is the Swatch Group the lowest ranked watch company on the Swiss Stock Exchange which fails to disclose much information on its products, sales and prices, yet still is a trusted brand name?
What might Swatch and Volkswagen have in common?
What is the reason for the $500 million lawsuit between Tiffany and the Swatch Group?
Why did SG buy Harry Winston Jewellers for $1 billion?
How does all of the above affect the company’s share price?
Why is SG frantically buying back shares to shore up its price?
All these questions are answered in the report which is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in untangling the dealings between watch manufacturers, multinationals, banks, shareholders, the Hayek family, and the Swiss Government.
One thing, however, is certain. This Report does not pay much attention to you, the Swiss watch owner; nor me, a small independent watchmaker. It seems that swissness stops the moment you part with your cash and strap on your new Rolex, Omega or Patek. It completely overlooks the buyer's needs, desires, support - or lack of it - or its crucial role in the watch market. It neglects the feedback effect and portrays (rightly, yet unintentionally) the Swiss watch industry as a one-way street; still immune and resilient from outside criticism. The watch business issues are just Swiss internal matter, to be solved by Swiss themselves, as an internal affair.

The report 'When Corporatism Leads To Corporate Governance Failure' is available as free .pdf download or as a book ( $15).  Enjoy it.
FH is the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry

Happy collecting,

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Small but persistent - the Japanese way

Wataru Hasegawa was the son of a Japanese Naval Force Chief Engineer. His father died when Wataru was a very young boy, and his only dream was to become an engineer; like his dad.

After graduating in 1928 he started his small machinery manufacturing businesses. The competition was fierce, with many similar manufacturing start-ups competing in the Japanese market. However, the Hasegawa Machinery Co. was different.  Unlike competitors who fiercely competed in medium to large lathes, Wataru focused only on the small watchmaker’s lathes.

Then came World War II and, like many other businesses, manufacturing halted. However, during the post-war rebuild of Japanese industry, and especially thanks to the optical industry, orders for small precision lathes started flowing in.

As they say - the rest is history…

Today, Hasegawa small lathes and mills are synonymous with both precision and quality. 

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting a machinery dealer in Geneva, I made a passing comment that I really liked the latest Hasegawa mill and that I wished they had an Australian dealership!  The Swiss salesman replied, "Well, it just happened that we have here, right now, an engineer from Hasegawa, Japan. Would you like to pass your comment on to him in person?"

Of course I would not miss such opportunity! However, I was shocked to find out that the young engineer I was introduced to was young Hiroaki Hasegawa, and with him there was his father, Mr. Toru Hasegawa, the Company President.

I have to say that I have never met a nicer, more polite, and considerate Company President than Mr Toru. While he had a number of meetings lined up, we spent almost 20 minutes talking about watchmaking. He said that he is personally aware that "a rebelde from Australia" made an inquiry a few months ago about their precision CNC mill. Unfortunately, they are yet to sell mills to Australia.  However, that may change if there is interest in precision machining, and especially watchmaking.  He loved rebelde (I was wearing the N00 Pilots prototype!). On that day he wore a Rolex, which is a very sensitive choice when doing business in Geneva. Hiro wears Seiko; the pride of the Japanese watchmaking industry.

The highlight of this unexpected meeting was a personal demonstration of the latest PM250 mill by Mr. Toru, followed with more “watch talk”.   I have to say that this affectionate exchange between Mr Toru and me left quite an impression on our Swiss host.  

What a truly humbling experience!

I wonder, however, if Mr Hasagawa is a bit of a rebel himself?  In the Japanese corporate world where bigger is better, he continues to makes the small CNC watchmaker machines, following his grandfather's dream. "Size is not everything" is his company’s motto.  But persistence surely is…

Happy Collecting,


Monday, July 24, 2017

The 3 Best Jobs In Sydney

***The three best jobs in Sydney!

We are looking for smart and hard-working people to join our rebelde team!

1. Mechanical Engineer, proficient in Solid Works with CNC or EDM
machining experience. Role: in charge of micro-machining facility, parts design and manufacturing. Overseas training provided with a starting salary of $75,000 p/a.

2. Watchmaker's apprentice/technician to be trained in all aspects of
watchmaking from parts design to parts manufacturing, assembly, repair
and restoration work. 3 years TAFE course with guaranteed employment. Award
wages and a great career opportunity.

3. Office Assistant with excellent communication skills and a native English speaker. Pedantic, well-organized and willing to commit for the long term. $50,000 p/a.

Feel free to pass this information onto Watch forums. This is a unique
opportunity for enthusiastic people to enter the Watchmaking industry and
become a part of the only Australian watch brand investing in local
production and local talents.  Send your resume/CV to

Ultra Thin

*** The very first pocket watches were the size of table alarm clocks; unsuitable for portable use, thick, large and awfully poor timekeepers. It took centuries of painstaking development to 'turn' them into true pocket-sized timepieces.  Wrist watches went through the same evolutionary process; from modified pocket watches to slim, practical, modern and lightweight timepieces.

Yes, for centuries, watchmakers have been on the mission to reduce the size and thickness of watch parts. We reached 'the golden era of slim and thin' in the 1980s where makers like Vacheron, Jaeger Le Coultre and Piaget proudly produced some of the most exciting super-thin watches. Thin was considered avant-garde; highly desirable and a mark of excellence in watchmaking.

There are a number of problems associated with an ultra-thin design. The reduction in thickness has an unwanted side-effect: the loss of rigidity. As you are decreasing the thickness, you are inevitably increasing fragility. Moreover, at some point, your bridges are no longer strong enough to support wheels, your levers and springs no longer behave like springs, and oils no longer lubricate overly fine pivots but, rather, choke them.

However, since the late 1990s there has been a renewed interest in micro-mechanical component research and development. Thanks to a new technology known as LIGA (the German acronym for lithography, galvanisation and moulding) some of those newly developed components are now finding their application in the watch industry.
Let’s put things into perspective. We are talking here about really tiny parts.

The photo below illustrates the power of LIGA and comes from the cover of the 1994 Scientific American Magazine…an ant carrying a micro gear:

(source: 1994 Scientific American Magazine Cover)

This was 24 years ago, so you can only imagine where the LIGA process has reached today.

During my last visit to Switzerland I had the privilege to meet with Mr Adrian Haubi, the CCO of Mimotec; a market leader in UV LIGA watch technology. Mr Haubi kindly explained to me the rather intricate process which starts with photolithography and the creation of a part-like cavity in a polymerised resin. Then the 'mould' is submerged into a galvanic bath where the micro part is literally grown by electroplating process. After the creation of the part the final desired thickness is achieved by lapping (polishing).

LIGA is a truly amazing part-creating process and the final watch parts are within 2 microns tolerance. Also, both stainless steel and non-magnetic material can be used in part-growing, and the achieved surface finishes are mirror-alike.

However, most importantly, my question is in relation to the mechanical property of the 'grown parts'.  Do they still behave like traditionally machined components? Do LIGA springs actually behave like real springs?

The answer is Yes, and I was able to actually see and touch a number of parts which simply could not be created in any other traditional way.

While Mimotec is not the only Swiss company which offers this service to the watchmaking industry, it is the only one which also offers rapid prototyping services well within the reach of medium-sized watch brands. And when it comes to mass production, LIGA is hands-down a price-effective solution.

At the moment few watch brands make their complex components using this new exciting technology. I am not going to mention brands which are Mimotec customers, however, I have been told that the Swatch Group is working on their own proprietor LIGA technology. Indeed, an Omega Press Release from 2014 mentions "LIGA coaxial escapement plates".

There is no doubt that Swiss watchmakers are, once again, pushing the limits of mechanical micro-engineering.  While most of the components are now a few hundred microns thick, the lower end is not a problem; theoretically a part can be made as thin as 10 microns (usable parts start at 20 microns) Actually, the real challenge for LIGA is not how thin a part can be made, but how thick it can be grown. At the moment the thickest component is just under 1mm. Reaching a 3mm thickness (expected to be achieved in 2019) would allow Mimotec to enter other industries like medical, aeronautical and automotive.

The photo below was taken with Mimotec's permission and will be most appreciated by fellow watchmakers already familiar with the shape and function of components. 

For those wondering which watch Mr Haubi wears…A Maurice Lacroix Square Wheel and Clover Leaf - a cool little gadget piece intended for curious horologists. Yes, the two wheels actually mesh perfectly and the square seconds indicator does rotate!  But there is one far more significant reason why he wears this ML than just novelty.  This very watch features yet another cutting-edge technology which, unfortunately, I am not able to talk about.

Well done, Mimotec – there are exciting times ahead!