Thursday, August 30, 2018

Australian made watch project update

A major milestone. Happy to report that the first Australian-made CNC watch mechanism has been mounted into a case and, as of today, we have a fully working prototype.
So what is the big deal? Three points: 
- We have understood and mapped the 'watch genome'. We know what makes the watch tick from both a physical, functional and engineering point. 
- We are capable of manipulating and cloning the 'watch DNA'. Not just replicating the existing design but designing and manufacturing original components.
- First in Australia: milestone achieved by kids who are born in Australia, working in Brookvale, using materials sourced in Brookvale. 
If you wonder what percentage of the mechanism was manufactured in-house: the main plate, top bridge, balance cock, winding stem and screws. The main plate and bridges are core 'unifying' components which combine and house all other parts. Assigning a single percentage number would be impossible, but if we are to try: we reached 80% of the overall design and well over 50% of machining operations with 95% of integration, accuracy and performance. 
At this stage we made no effort to 'beautify' the mechanism so the main plates are straight out of the mill. No plating, hardening or engraving of any kind. 
What's next? More testing, refining, more machining. Our next milestone is to produce a batch of 20 movements and have them up and running, hopefully by Christmas.
A big 'congrats and thank you' goes to Josh and Andrew who spent the past 6 months making tooling, fixtures, learning how to operate machinery and making individual watch components. Without them we wouldn't be where we are now. Long hours and hard work are paying off and, quite frankly, this is a major achievement by two young kids who jumped into the project with no previous experience in CNC machining. Two of them are still on a $35,000 annual salary - but will be from now known as the first true Australian watchmakers. 
Right now, we have no name for this prototype movement but we believe that it deserves an indigenous name. Happy to take suggestions. The movement is cased in a Titanium 45mm case - a leftover of Ti A production batch, marked Ti M 1/1.
Some of you may ask - would it be possible to have an Australian-made watch case? The answer is simple: yes. The case itself is far less demanding than the mechanism. It can be produced on a single CNC mill/lathe machine. Taking into account already gained know-how, it would take 12 months of prototyping. The Swiss machine itself cost $800,000. Unfortunately, the case making is not going to be our priority until the new workshop is built in 2020. In one word: possible, will happen, but not just now. 
To all existing rebelde owners: this is a day you should be proud of yourselves too - without your trust and investment in our project, we wouldn't make it. Thank you.
Nick Hacko (Watchmaker - finally!)

Friday, August 24, 2018

The cutting edge of manufacturing

Today was an incredibly exciting day. 

Earlier this year I went to the Louis Belet factory in Switzerland. At the risk of succumbing to cliches, I would like to say that it was life altering. 

The organisation of the factory, the workplace culture, the care and commitment for on-time delivery, the massive investment into RnD, the pursuit for perfection in every day tasks and the seeming laser focus of every single machine operator, sales manager, design team member etc. Etc. It blew me away. If you ever have the opportunity to tour, please - do it.

On my tour I asked about something that I had seen at a trade fair the previous year, solid ceramic cutting tools. The response I got was interesting, a mixture of technical explanation and sales pitch, but surprisingly, very very little sales pitch. 

There was almost hesitation in Arnaud's voice when talking about these tools (Arnaud - the 3rd generation CEO of the family owned company) 

These tools were the venture into uncharted territory in this field. Ceramic tools have been made before, usually in the form of turning inserts for hard metals, but this was different. This was micro tooling specifically for high efficiency cutting in brass. Almost exclusively used in the watchmaking industry. The problem being that watch manufacturers usually aren't too willing to buy into new forms of tooling, and, therefore, very few people are willing to test these tools. We were.

The benefits? Almost no wear. The claim is that these tools last orders of magnitude longer than brass. Further, the surface finish should not degrade as quickly. 

This is due to the almost magical edge retention of the cutting surfaces.

The drawbacks? You need an extremely rigid and dynamic machine to use these tools. They don't withstand vibrations or shocks - think of how brittle your fine China dining set is. Yep. That's what we are cutting with. (Thank you Kern Pyramid Nano for the ability to use these tools!) I ordered these tools on Monday afternoon, they travelled around the world and arrived in Brookvale, in Sydney's northern beaches, on Friday morning. Amazing! 

The white is ceramic, grey- carbide.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

From the workshop

We didn't make a single watch part in the entire month of August. Instead, the focus was on tool making and a work piece holding solution. Precisely: the main plate holder 2.0.

Happy to report that the new tool has been designed, coded and manufactured in our own workshop using our own machinery, without any external help or support. The tolerances are as per expectations, precision has been improved, the tool is lighter without sacrificing rigidity, and there is a substantial saving in raw material used in watch main plate production. I can't wait to see the new parts coming out this week. 
Time invested in this project: over 120 hours. 
Another important detail: we are able to do the CNC equipment maintenance ourselves! Thanks to video support from Germany, and local support from Japanese makers, the down time is minimal. This was something that was worrying me from day one, and knowing that we can do almost all maintenance ourselves is certainly making the project less stressful and more enjoyable.

Friday, August 10, 2018

So do you still do repairs?

The short answer is - yes - and no. There are a number of watches and brands we wouldn't even touch: all Rolex watches manufactured after 2010; all  modern IWC, JLC, Cartier, Panerai- the Richemont Group brands. Why? Because they refuse to supply parts so we are not interested in those watches - even when a repair is possible or an easy job to do.  We also stay away from Breitling for the same reason. 
However, we love jobs rejected by Rolex. If they reject your watch, or quote a ridiculous amount, or bundle one repair with another - trying to upsell - then you should contact us and we will be happy to see what can be done. Especially so with any vintage sports models. 
We also do plenty repairs of vintage Omega watches - because we can still source parts for older models. Again, in most cases, the cutoff year is 2010. 
The third group of repairs are lesser-known vintage pieces and pocket watches. The success rate is 80% or better. In general, our customers are serious collectors or watch owners who have their reasons why they would prefer to deal with independent watchmakers rather than Swiss brand services. Our charges are reasonable, but for those whose main concern is price, we suggest they take their business to our competitors. 
Recent repairs:
A gold water damaged 18k Rolex rejected by Rolex due to custom diamond bezel. The restoration included movement, case and bezel restoration. Similar project on a 1980s Cartier, also rejected by Cartier. A water damaged Speedmaster. A number of vintage GMT Masters and Submariners from 1960-1980. A vintage Stowa and Cyma.  And a Nomos with a winding issue which we managed to repair for just $150. 
All repair quotes are free of charge. 
For watch repairs in Sydney email if you have any questions, call (02) 9232-0500, or visit our workshop in the Sydney CBD:
Nicholas Hacko Fine Watches:  Suite 403, Level 4, 67 Castlereagh Street Sydney Monday to Thursday 11am-5pm, Friday 10am to 4pm.