Monday, December 30, 2019

What makes a watch- a watch?

Even a two-year-old can easily tell the difference between a rocking horse and a pony. A skilled carpenter can make a beautiful wooden toy with his bare hands, just from having seen a photo. However, if you want to discover where the real, living, breathing, and jumping animal comes from the best thing to do is ask a farmer.

A finely designed and perfectly crafted mechanical timepiece is not a sum of ad hoc, put together components which somehow 'keep the time'. The very DNA of a mechanical watch comes from strict, rigid, mathematical calculations which determine the shape of wheels, levers and springs as well as their relationship, engagement and physical position in space. The components themselves are then machined to perfection, which is a real challenge due to their size. In other words, a watchmaker's ability to make a watch – to manipulate its DNA - comes from a deep understanding of mathematics, physics, mechanical engineering, metallurgy, precision machining, precise measurements at sub-micron level, and plenty of fine tuning.

So, what makes a mechanical watch a watch?

Fundamentally, its ability to keep time accurately. If it doesn’t keep time, or keeps time poorly, it is not a watch.The accuracy comes from a number of factors, but essentially, it all boils down to the ‘freedom’ of a mechanical oscillator to resonate at an exact frequency, regardless of its position in space. I choose the word freedom – as a synonym for an oscillation free of friction, immune to shock, temperature changes, gravity and every other force trying to interrupt or disrupt that perfect, harmonical oscillation.

This is the theory. Practically, accuracy comes from a watchmaker’s ability to strictly follow and execute the mathematical calculation of oscillator escapement design. This means components manufactured with strict tolerances, perfectly burnished pivots, perfectly polished jewels, exact spacing between all the components, and impeccable parallelism. To do so is incredibly hard, and it takes decades to master the art of watchmaking.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that couple of young Australian "watchmakers" are working hard to hand-make their first watch. Hats off to them for giving it a go, but judging by what I have seen so far, both young men are trying hard bring to life a wooden pony using 15th century tools and techniques. And they are not alone: Instagram is flooded with young wannabe watchmakers from all over the world who are doing exactly the same: trying to make their first watch - a tourbillon- by following George Daniels sketches. What a waste of time.

Before good old George made his first watch, he spent 40 years behind the work bench. Before making, he perfected the art of watch repairing and restoration, until he was recognised as London’s top repairer, specialising in old masters like Breguet. Daniels had another slight advantage over the rest of us – he was a natural mechanical genius. To start a journey from where George finished is simply ridiculous.

Here is my advice to all young students of horology. Step one: focus on learning the trade from inside out, the proper way: from learning the basics, to advance repairing techniques. That will – and rightly should – keep you busy for ten years. Once you become a decent repairman, you are ready for the second step: the ability to read and understand the DNA of the watch. This starts with measuring, so access to advanced measuring equipment is must. From then on, task yourself with making your first components while striving like crazy to make them to exact dimensions. If you are smart and hard-working, that should take no more than 10 years.

Keep in mind that it takes two to make a watch: a watchmaker and a machinist. Daniels had his machinist (Derek Pratt) and I have two of my own (Josh and Andrew). George could never bring himself to acknowledge his machinists contribution, but it was Derek who made many of the components for George’s watches, especially the difficult dual escape wheel at the heart of the Co-Axial escapement. On the contrary, I am more than happy to give full credit to my machinists. However, if you, as a student of horology, wish to combine and master both trades – watchmaking AND machining - then brace yourself for a very long journey.

As we have said number of times: our workshop is open and young students are welcome to join us, in either trade. We have nothing to hide and plenty to share, including access to the most advanced watchmaking machinery in Australia.

Come join us!                       

Friday, December 27, 2019

Meet Your Machinist: Timascus Project Watchdog Night.

Monday Night's get together was an amazing event. We managed to pack nineteen people into our tiny office, and for two hours we talked about the most important project of 2019. The designing, machining, assembly, and completion of the first eight NH2 Timascus watches. Our young machinists presented their case well, explaining why Timascus is such a difficult material to work with, and how to turn a bar of a three composite titanium alloy- not intended to be used in watch making- into a high precision watch component. Polished to perfection to reveal fireworks of colour, one thing is certain, whilst some technical details might have been lost on our audience, the room was filled with excitement for a product manufactured in Australia. 

This now brings us to the next phase of our project-making plans for 2020.

There are many unknowns that need to be taken into consideration when it comes to creating products of high quality, with so many future unknowns. How many watches are we going to make? How much material, and how many tools are we going to order? And furthermore, how do we predict time? Time needed for annual machine maintenance that blocks out entire weeks of possible use? Or time needed to create proto-types, to hold educational workshops, and so much more? Only one person can run a machine at a time, and they have other commitments too, including attending trade fairs, presentations, and going overseas for further education. This is not an easy task for a watchmaker, untrained in financial planning. I do not have a crystal ball, but at the same time I do not want to disappoint awaiting customers.

The best I can do to solve this mystery is the following:  
We are Open for Orders.

Orders received up to 6th January 2020 will lock in place an order with us for the NH2 Timascus at the price as already announced, $8800. On 7th January, the price of NH2 Timascus will be $9800 so we need you to be clear about your commitment with us.

If there is a question if whether the watch itself warrants a price increase - my answer is absolutely yes! Our intention is to keep pricing NH2 Timascus so that one day the price will be our real production price. The amount of energy and investment that goes into this labour of love, we cannot subsidize the product forever from other activities.

It is clear that the NH2 Timascus watch can, and will, never be mass produced, and it is also clear that as we improve, we are increasing the number of components truly made in Australia that we can include. A true watch enthusiast that appreciates the uniqueness of a quality product will always understand and recognise the true value of a watch.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The best thing that happened to Sydney!

"You will not believe who just opened a boutique in Martin Place" said Bobby,
"FP Journe?"
"No, guess again"
"Richard Mille"
"No, think bigger and more exciting"
"No way! Seriously?

As a watch collector, the opening of the A. Lange & Söhne boutique in Sydney is like all my Christmases have come at once. Lange is my second favourite watch brand, and one that is so easy to fall in love with.

Of course, Bobby and myself could not miss the opportunity to poke our noses into the ALS Boutique, first thing Monday morning. With no specific expectations - except for a fireworks display of amazing horological pieces - we were simply blown away with the warm reception from the Boutique manager, Mr Delwyn Dass.  "Welcome to the second largest Lange boutique in the world!" - he proudly proclaimed.

Make no mistake: Lange is unstoppable. When it comes to workmanship, quality, finishes, complications and impeccable performance, the German watchmaker has very little competition at the very high end of haute horology. The pulling power of Lange is irresistible. It takes the will power of Ghandi to say no to the fresh, mint, and spotless 1815 Chronograph ref. 414.031 which is still the most affordable of all Lange chronographs ($73,000).

"What would you rather have- Lange or...?" is the game Bobby and I played all day. Almost every time, no matter what brand or model was mentioned, Lange was the preferred choice.

You see, unlike with most other brands, Lange is all about inner beauty; pure, traditional watchmaking; and impeccable craftsmanship. This is not a watch brand that attracts kids, or snobs, or flippers, or Instagram influencers, or those empty souls who constantly seek "external validation". This is a brand which patiently waits for patronage of true watch aficionados.

You buy and wear Lange because you want it and because you appreciate it - and because you could not care less what everyone else wears, wants, collects and buys. Lange owners simply do not care.

Mr Dass is both a knowledgeable and passionate watch dealer who is happy to explain and listen, but for the entire hour that we spent together, there was not the slightest attempt to over sell the brand, a watch, or his fine service. Unlike any Swiss brand watch representative I've encountered in the past, he was genuinely interested to find out more about our 'Australian manufactured' project. We felt a bit embarrassed to talk about NH watches in a Lange Boutique, but it was clear that when it comes to things that matter - inner beauty - our inspiration and aspiration comes from makers like Lange who share those same traditional values, firmly rooted in haute horology.

Lange's current stock range has around 40 models, of which quite a few are available for immediate delivery. Of course, some examples are made in very limited quantity and others have a delivery time of around 9 months. There is nothing boastful or arrogant about Lange's production and supply policy; no artificially created demand, no silly waiting lists, no patronising - simply an honest, straight forward "here is what we can do for you" approach.

As you walk into Lange's Sydney boutique, the very first thing you need to visit is their art installation known as the 'Wall of Components'. The entire wall is covered in 1316 individual watch parts which, assembled together, are the contents of a calibre L133.1 powering The Tourbograph Perpetual 706.025 (in actual fact, L133.1 contains 1319 components, but the last 3 parts are not on the display - for a very specific reason!).  The 'Wall of Components' is precisely what Lange's mission is all about; to excite us all and leave us speechless - from a novice to a collector; an apprentice to a watchmaker. The true art of watchmaking comes from the inner beauty.

The Tourbograph Perpetual 706.025 is from the famous Pour le Mérite line. "For Merit" was one of the highest orders in the Kingdom of Prussia, and later,  German Empire. It was awarded strictly as a recognition of extraordinary personal achievement, rather than as a general marker of social status or a courtesy-honour. The connection is obvious: when in 1994. ‘newly rebirthed ’ Lange offered it’s first Tourbillon 'Pour Le Mérite' the bar of extraordinary excellence was set. The Tourbograph Perpetual 706.025 released this year is the sixth 'Pour Le Mérite' in 25 years. I'll stop right here though, as I don't want to spoil anymore for you.

I strongly suggest the following: go and visit all Sydney watch boutiques, inspect the stock on offer, talk to the dealers - and then visit the Lange boutique last. Then ask yourself just one question: if you invest in Lange, would you really want any other watch on your wrist?

This brief review of Lange boutique is unsolicited feedback and a tribute, not a paid article. If you happen to deal with Mr Delwyn or Mr Andrea, feel free to mention my name, it would be mutually appreciated. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

When Rolex is not a Rolex?

LaCalifornienne, a company that "restores vintage timepieces and reimagines them in bold colour", has found themselves in a legal dispute with Rolex, who filed a lawsuit on the 15th November at the US District Court for the Central District of California.

LaCalifornienne is an independent watch dealer which customises vintage and pre-owned Cartier and Rolex watches, injecting colour into the classics by altering the original dials, bezels, straps and crystals. Founded three years ago by Courtney Ormond and Leszek Garwacki (defendants), the company is now being sued as Rolex accuses the husband-wife duo of producing and selling counterfeit watches.

Featured in the likes of Forbes and Vogue, laCalifornienne watches are praised for ‘breathing new life into vintage timepieces’ and seen as a ‘youthful upgrade to the classics’ (Goop by Gwyneth Paltrow).

However, Rolex doesn't think so.

During the customisation process, laCalifornienne replace original Rolex parts with non-approved parts, a process which does not sit well with the mega brand. In the lawsuit, Rolex claims that replacing parts in a pre-owned or vintage Rolex no longer “attains the aesthetic” of Rolex and makes an otherwise authentic watch a counterfeit.

Not only have laCalifornienne ‘revamped’ Rolex watches giving the Rolex trademark a complete makeover, but Rolex believe that the watches do not perform to the same standard as an unaltered Rolex.

After acquiring two of the modified watches, Rolex claimed that the bezels in both watches were “bent and not properly fitted to the watch, and therefore water is likely to leak through, and ultimately, adversely affect the dial and movement of the watch.” This flaw along with others could be detrimental to the Rolex name, “diluting the distinctive quality of Rolex’s registered trademarks” as stated in the case against laCalifornienne.

LaCalifornienne is also accused of “benefiting and profiting from Rolex’s outstanding reputation for high quality products and its significant advertising and promotion of Rolex watches and the company’s trademarks” along with falsely suggesting that the watches are “authorised, sponsored, or approved by Rolex when they are not.”

I’m kind of with Rolex on this one. While the consumer/watch owner should be free to modify his watch in any way he wishes to, setting up a business with the sole purpose of selling heavily modified Rolex watches and passing them off as genuine is a different story.

The fact is this: A Rolex name on a Rolex watch is worth more than the watch itself. And when buying a Rolex, you would want a 100% genuine Rolex watch, not just something that someone has put together.

We will be following this case with interest.

However, laCalifornienne is just one of many companies which specialises in Rolex modifications. Take for example, Artisans de Geneve (incidentally based in Geneva!). While Artisans de Geneve clearly points out that "modification service is for private customers only, and that customised or modified watches are not intended for resale", in my opinion the end result is the same: a customised Rolex containing non-Rolex components that barely resembles the original design yet bears the Rolex copyrighted logo. I doubt Rolex have not heard of them and wonder what action will be taken.

Quite frankly, if Artisans de Geneve are such great artisans, why don't they start their own watch brand, sign watches with their name and show us what they're good at, rather than bastardising Rolex watches and the Rolex brand? 

Another War Veteran Saved

Well, we are so pleased to see this one being reunited with its owner: A World War II military pocket watch issued by the Australian Department of Defence.

The watch arrived with a broken heart. What made the restoration tricky is the rather obscure Montilier calibre 62 movement. A classical restoration process which took us almost 6 months to source the parts and complete.

Montilier was established as a watch brand in 1852 by Etienne-Ovide Domon, founder of Fabrique d’Horlogerie Montilier. The Montilier factory, built in 1855, was the first in the Swiss watchmaking industry to manufacture complete watches in-house.

The technicality of Montilier watches won awards throughout Europe, and by 1890, Montilier watches were being exported around the globe. During World War II, Montilier produced many military watches which were particularly special due to their robustness and quality.

The watch we have today is no exception, and we are happy to report that this World War II Australian military pocket watch has been restored to working order. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Fact or Fiction?

Whether a fictional character wore Rolex or Omega is kind of irrelevant. What remains a relevant undeniable historical fact is that in 1936, Omega, like many other Swiss brands, flirted with some rather strange characters.
This one comes straight from the Omega Bible: A Journey Through Time, page 233. 

'3752. Official Omega of the Axis Agreement, 1936: A Lepine with an enamel dial featuring the portrait of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, who concluded in October 1936 the Axis Agreement between Italy and Germany. Cailbre 38.5 L T1, minute track with 13-24 markings, blued steel Plume hands, gun metal case with a gilt reed bezel. (ref. MA 141 LV)'
Following the liberation of Rome by Allied forces, Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, had attempted to escape to Switzerland but were captured by the Italians underground on April 27, 1945. They were executed the following day, and their bodies were hung on display in Milan plaza.

"I didn't know that" said Andrew.

Now you do.                         

Friday, December 6, 2019

The best heroes are fictional

Ian Fleming, the author of Dr No and the rest of the James Bond saga, was a Rolex man. He wore an Explorer 1016 and in the book, James bond wore the same watch - the Rolex Explorer. However the first actor to play James Bond in the movie, Sean Connery, wore a Rolex Submariner 6538 -  and the rest is history. Connery wore the Submariner in all of his seven onscreen performances.

In 1995, Agent 007 switched alliances to Omega. Why? Because Rolex simply refused to supply free watches for the movie! Omega cleverly seized the opportunity and Pierce Brosnan wore the Seamaster.

The 'official explanation' for the transition from Rolex to Omega was rather childish: Lindy Hemming, the film’s costume director, "discovered" that if Bond was a real British navy man as his backstory has it, he would wear an Omega. Bond has worn the brand ever since, and that won’t change in the film’s newest instalment, No Time to Die, next April.

What happened to the Rolex employee who refused to supply a free Submariner, literally killing the James Bond-Rolex partnership, will forever remain a mystery. I would not dismiss a promotion to “Director of Relationship & Stock Supply Coordinator to Authorised Dealers (Worldwide)”.   
Which brings us to the new, just released James Bond Seamaster, to be seen on the big screen in April.

Titanium case, vintage dial with 'aged tritium' markers - and bizarrely, fake 'military issue numbers' on the case back.

As Omega explains, 'the series of numbers inscribed follow the exact format of genuine issued military watches, the most notable aside from 007 is number 62 which refers to the year the first James bond movie was released". *Sigh*. If this is not weird enough, the minute hand is lime green, while the rest of the markers are fluorescent blue... Yuck.
Price: $AUD 13,075.

My question: are you going to buy one in a hurry OR would you rather invest in a good all-rounder Seamaster from the  Brosnan era ($3,500)?

Tough Landing

And I have a question for you: How much force is required to crack an almost unbreakable Speedmaster Moonwatch plexiglass in two places?

Luckily, we rarely see this kind of damage but if it does happen to your Moonwatch, worry not! We will be more than happy to restore your Moonwatch into like brand new condition.

A complete overhaul including parts costs around $1,000 with a turn over time of 1 to 3 weeks. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Manufactured in Australia and proudly so!

Good news!

As I type this, we have six NH2 Timascus watches completely assembled and ready for delivery on December 17th.

To say that completing six pieces was a real challenge would be an understatement - but I am extremely pleased that after almost a year of research and development, machining and assembly, we have reached a stage where consistency in tolerances, colouring and ultimately the performance of assembled watches is simply impressive. Timascus is ready to go!

Of course, you have to take my word for it: the pictures of the timascus watches below are just a pale shadow of how they look 'in real life.' It is practically impossible to photograph timascus movements through the glass case back. As I always say, if you are in the area, please stop by and check them out in person.
You will be pleasantly surprised!

Please find below a brief description and photos of the available NH2 watches.

For Australian customers, the price is AUD$8,800 including GST.
For overseas customers, the price is AUD $8,000.
Case No. J03/25
Serial No. 028-03
Colour: Turquoise, purple, lilac with gold engraving and gloss finish.
Pattern: Plasma

J03 is a very vibrant piece where all three titanium alloys responded dramatically to the anodising process. The ever-changing hue of purple is eye pleasing, highlighted by an azure turquoise under layer. 
Case No. J04/25
Serial No. 029-04
Colour: Turquoise, purple, lilac with gold engraving and gloss finish.
Pattern: Mosaic

All bridges of J04 are made of mosaic pattern timascus, where the predominant colour is turquoise with splashes of purple. The gold engraving and custom ratchet wheel make J04 a perfect example of nicely matched patterns, with the same grain clearly visible on all bridges. 
Case No. J05/25
Serial No. 030-05
Colour: Green with deep gold engraving and gloss finish.
Pattern: Mosaic

J05 is the first green timascus watch. It was a result of a rather complex anodising process. The green ranges from lime to fluorescent with finely matched mosaic patterns on all bridges.

Nicknamed “Papageno”.
Case No. J06/25
Serial No. 031-06
Colour: Turquoise, purple, blue with titanium engraving and gloss finish.
Pattern: Nebula

Without any doubt, the three quarter bridge and balance cock bridge of J06 reveal the most intricate nature of three composite timascus. The pattern itself resembles woodgrain, and thanks to the multi-layered anodising process, the spectrum of colours range from a number of shades of purple, turquoise and blue. 
Case No. J07/25
Serial No. 032-07
Colour: Gold, purple, pink with titanium engraving and high gloss finish.
Pattern: Nebula

J07 is another completely unique piece with a look that changes dramatically in relation to light angle. In low light, its almost entirely gold. As the light intensity increases, you will be welcomed with a spectrum of purple, gold, pink and indigo blue. Nebula pattern with a couple of very prominent rosebuds.

Nicknamed “Lavender”. 
Case No. J09/25
Serial No. 034-08
Colour: Indigo with matte finish.
Pattern: Rosebud Nebula

J08 is nicknamed “Indigo Rosebuds”. There are actually 11 rosebuds on the balance cock and three quarter bridge. Thanks to the matte finish (all surfaces being treated with micro-blasting) indigo blue and deep purple are the two predominant colours. In the case of J08, the predominant colour depends on the angle that the light hits the surface, rather than the intensity of the light itself. The movement engraving is stealth and of all NH2 pieces, J08 reveals its intricate details at close range with a loupe. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

We've got it!

It's been ages since we spoke about pocket watches, and today I'm very pleased to share some good news.

After many months, a very special long awaited pocket watch has finally arrived. It is a Showa 3 (1928) Seikosha railway pocket watch. What a beauty! Known as type 19 (52mm case size), it became the official railway pocket watch of Japanese National Rail from 1928 to 1945. In 1945, type 19 was then replaced with Seikosha 9119, featuring the same mechanism but in a slightly smaller case (50mm). Type 19 was the El Primero of the Japanese railway saga.

Of course, Seikosha was not the only watch to be used on Japanese Rail as a time keeper. From the late 1880s, Japan imported high grade pocket watches from both the USA and Switzerland. Waltham, Omega and Longines were already well established in the land of the rising sun. But one can only imagine the euphoria which culminated with Seikosha's technical mastery to manufacture a high grade pocket watch as good as foreign.

Proving itself as robust and reliable in less than a decade, Seikosha established itself as the official JNR supplier. While foreign railroad pocket watches remained in service until their 'expiry date', National Railway favoured Seikosha over all other suppliers.

Externally, design-wise, the Seikosha type 19 is heavily inspired by the 1920s American Illinois Bunn railroad pocket watch. The most prominent feature is the crown bow which clearly is not an imitation of American style, but rather one of the most elegantly designed European inspired bows, rooted in the Art Deco era.

The best way to understand and appreciate the true value of a high grade railway pocket watch is to remind ourselves of what such high precision instruments cost in the 1930s. While a top of the range Rolex Oyster Perpetual was advertised for 14 pounds, the cheapest Illinois Bunn was sold for $65 USD. And the Seikosha type 19 was not any cheaper than its American equivalent.

A high grade pocket watch, especially a railway issued piece, should be a corner stone in any ambitious watch collection. If you are yet to acquire your first piece, the time to look for one is now while the prices remain very reasonable. If you are interested in a pocket watch from a particular year, send us an email and we will keep an eye out for you! 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Living in the world of sub-micron

Run-out is an inaccuracy of a rotating mechanical system; specifically when the tool does not rotate in line with the main axis of the spindle. For example, when drilling, the run-out will result in a larger hole than the drill's diameter due to the drill being rotated eccentrically.

The first law of machining: the run-out is dynamic and cannot be compensated for.

The second law: the run-out is complex with the run-out error being compound. It is a result of a number of factors such as imperfect bearings in the spindle, worn bearings, imperfect chuck, collets or an imperfect tool itself.

And here is the final postulate of machining: "Absolute alignment is impossible, a degree of error will always be present."

This is a scary thought, you invest in a machinery tool holding the best tools money can buy, and you know upfront that no matter what, there'll always be some run-out.
Of course, if you're to drill a 6mm hole in the wall with a $99 cordless hand drill using a $5 drill bit from bunnings, then a run-out is not going to be important at all. But if you're trying to drill a 50 micron hole then even a 1 micron run-out of your entire system is way too much. This is the kind of challenge that we face in watchmaking. In particular, the weakest point in our system is not the spindle of the German CNC mill nor the 'Swiss drill bit', it is the chuck (the clamping system) that connects the two. To machine a watch main plate alone, it takes 12 tools which are rapidly exchanged, each one held in its own chuck. Most of those chucks have a run-out under 1 micron. But recently, we have acquired Japanese high precision tool holders by BIG Daishowa. These are sub micron run-out tool holders and the difference in price between the standard and ultra precision model is over $1,000 AUD per holder.

Here is the link to Instagram video showing the measured run-out of our milling system:

This information is in the public domain and we are proud to share advanced manufacturing capabilities that we all, as Australians, can be proud of.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Its been ages since we spoke about pocket watches...

It's been ages since we've talked about pocket watches - and today is a perfect day to share with you a couple of horological gems. The first find is a recent discovery of two Japanese National Railway pocket watches which come with very exotic 'service papers'.

The first watch was manufactured in Showa 31 (1956) and issued to JNR as watch number 1747. Recorded in fine ink are six consecutive services, specifically noting the timekeeping and beat error in the years Showa 38, 39, 40, 44, 47, 55 (1963, 1964, 1965, 1969, 1972, 1980). The circular Kanji print instructs the watchmaker to fill in all the fields. Of course, my Japanese is very shaky but it looks like the label comes from Shizuoka service centre.
The second watch is JNR 5279 issued in Showa 30 (1955) with the same label.

A reliable service history record of a precision instrument like a railway pocket watch provides priceless historic data and adds significantly to the value of the watch itself. Not to mention the obvious, the trustworthy number 1747 was continually in service for at least 25 years.

The second little beauty is this Japanese National Railway watch shipping container.
This one is designed to accommodate two pocket watches while transported around. I have not seen anything like this before! The industrial robustness of the container is clearly evident,  but the box is an art piece in itself showing the impeccable attention to detail of the Japanese. The latch still works perfectly despite at least 50 years of use. If you ever come across one, snatch it in a heartbeat!
Speaking of Shizuoka, this is the view of Mount Fuji from the city edge.