Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Mark 1's journey to the Namibian Dessert

There is no doubt that many Mark 1's lead a very exciting life. Christoph sent us this fabulous photo of his Mark 1 on its journey around the world - including the Namibian Desert! Keep your MK1 photos coming!

As I type this: 91 Mark 1 watches have been delivered so far - and not one has been returned back.  I am very proud of the fact that we are able to deliver what we've promised: an affordable, assembled in Australia watch containing SOSC-capable automatic Swiss movement in 40mm case that is as good as any similar Swiss made watch.

We now have enough Mark 1's in stock ready for immediate delivery. Just pick your strap (brown/black/tan/Italian/kangaroo) and your watch will be in the mail same day.  Of course, pick up is welcome.  

Price:  $2,800 (five year guarantee)

To order send an email to

Esther Valladeris?

The truth is we don’t really know much about Russian watches with oil-painted dials, but we do know that most of them feature typical navy scenes: battle ships and flags. Without any doubt, they were painted by Russian sailors who, like all other sailors, traditionally kept themselves busy on long voyages with either painting or carving. In some cases, those miniature paintings featured scenery of far-away countries; their ports, exotic flora and fauna. And, in some rare cases, they depict local beauties. This is what we know. 

But if we allow our imagination to retrace their voyages, then a dial like the one above, on a 1954 watch, can tell us even more, and even answer this seemingly impossible mystery: who is the dark haired beauty? 

Clearly, she is beautiful and exotic, and an artist took his time to depict her in detail. Spanish or Caribbean? I propose the latter. Precisely: Cuban. Indeed, Cuba was one of the most exotic destinations for a Russian sailor. We can only imagine how excited a blonde Slavic sailor felt being confronted with a culture so vastly different and completely overwhelming to his own. Language, weather, food, rhythm, stars, not to mention Cuban beauties. An experience he yearned to remember forever, if in no other way but as a miniature piece of art on his watch dial. A souvenir, a story-telling point, an everlasting memory. 

Do we know her name? Not with any certainty, but if I were to guess, I think she is Esther, a famous Cuban singer from the 1950’s. The resemblance to Esther in her red dress is simply too obvious to ignore.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Off your butt, Greeks

Every dealer has his own little secrets and I certainly have a good share of my own.  However, with half the Greek population of Sydney, and probably three-quarters of Melbourne, visiting “the old country” I would feel bad not sharing this secret with you. 

It’s called Σ.Π.Α.Π.  SPAP stands for Siderodromi Pireos Athinon Peloponisou, the Greek rail company founded in 1882.  The first rail line between Piraeus, Athen and Elefsis was completed in 1884. It extended to Corinth and Patras not long after.   

This SPAP Railway watch is one of the most prized pieces in my small Railroad collection.  Actually it’s so rare that I have only ever seen one in my entire life.   

To my Greek subscribers: how many souvlakis, kleftiko and baklava can you have before the holiday boredom kicks in? Off your butt, and start roaming the markets, antique shops and eBay for Σ.Π.Α.Π.  

For the rest of us: once again, we turn our focus to railway engravings on the case back. And look how beautifully and cleverly the letter “S” (Σ) is engraved – a little zig zag railway, down to sleepers!

Technical Details:

Movado Σ.Π.Α.Π Railways Pocket watch
Piraeus, Athens and Peloponnese Railway

Σιδηρόδρομοι Πειραιώς-Αθηνών-Πελοποννήσου or Σ.Π.Α.Π. -  Siderodromi Pireos Athinon Peloponisou" S.P.A.P. 

Movado means "always in motion" in Esperanto.

Around the 1900’s, Movado was a major Swiss brand and had won 3 major "Universelle Grand Prix" medals: Paris 1900, Liege 1905 and Brussels 1910.

By the way, the World Exhibition has a long tradition itself, with the next Expo scheduled for Dubai in 2020.

Friday, July 26, 2019

What is the smallest drill bit in your toolbox?

One millimeter? One tenth of a millimeter? How about three hundredths of a millimeter!

The Sumitomo Carbide 30 microns drill is simply scary. No time for fake modesty: I certainly know how to handle small components, but my first encounter with the 30 u drill was heartbreaking. The tip snapped off before I had even had a chance to photograph it.  Luckily, we've ordered three... Andrew and Bobby went quiet (thinking 'lucky that wasn't me!') but Josh got revved up to red. Yes, $120 down the drain, but at the end of the day, you don't really know how to handle it unless you break it...

At this stage we have no idea if drilling a micro hole in titanium is even possible.  Will keep you informed.
Photo: Sumitomo drill next to human hair, our in-house photo.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

When duty calls

The other day I was contacted by a subscriber who found a late 1920’s/early 1930’s Royal Australian Airforce watch numbered issue with the owner’s name still on the case back.  The request was for a full service.

Unfortunately the watch was in very poor condition, long past servicing days.  Really a booby trap.  But the subscriber had already contacted Canberra Military Archives and had got in touch with the daughter of the serviceman in an effort to reunite her with her father’s watch.   Clearly, I didn’t have much choice but to do my best.

The repair took the whole afternoon, and eventually I got it up and running.  To my surprise, not only did it survive its first night but, as I type this, it is still keeping reasonably correct time.  In the spirit of reunification, this repair job is going to be pro bono.  Of course, the full credit goes to the subscriber who - like a Good Samaritan - donated his time and the watch.  

Preserving a piece of Australian military history is reward in itself.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Ferrovia Italiana

Today our focus is on watches made for Italian State Rail.  A brief introduction to Italian Railway.

Italy's first rail line was the Napoli-Portici line which was built in 1839 to connect the Naples Royal Palace to the sea.  Following on from the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, a project was started to connect the entire country by rail from the Alps to Sicily.  Italy's State Railways (the Azienda Autonoma della Ferrovie dello Stato) was instituted on 22 April 1905 to take over the majority of Italy's railways which up until then was private. 

Italy's first high-speed train was the 1939 ETR 200 which travelled from Milan to Florence with a top speed of 203kph. This allowed the rail network to compete with airlines. However, WWII put an end to this service. After armistice on 8 September 1943 Italy was divided, as were its train operations.  Salerno was the Headquarters for the South and Verona for the North.  The post-war era was particularly difficult as most of the rail network had been severely damaged and the rolling stock was obsolete.  Almost 20,000 kilometres of new rail tracks were built by 1952.  New trains were introduced with many rail sections electrified and often doubled.

After 80 years, the Azienda Autonoma delle Ferrovie dello Stato was replaced by Ferrovie dello Stato. The workforce was halved. Privitisation occurred in 1992 with the creation of Ferrovie dello Stato SpA, however, shares were still owned by the Italian Government.

Nowadays rail tracks and infrastructure are managed by Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI) whereas the train and passenger sections are mainly managed by Trenitalia. Both of these are subsidiaries of Ferrovie Dello Stato (FS), once Italy's only train operator.  

I am not a collector of Italian Railway pocket watches myself so  I have only three pieces in my collection, two of whom are identical.  
On the left is a Perseo (Cortébert) calibre 530 going back to the late 1920's, early 1930's.  It is a 52mm nickel case pocket watch.  The porcelain dial is signed "Perseo" with their three star logo.

The other two pieces are from around the 1970's, fitted with UNITAS 6498 movement (by the way, this is the same mechanism we use in our rebelde line of watches).  Cortébert call this calibre 160 but it is entirely developed by UNITAS.  Robust, reliable and repairable - for sure.  This model is 49mm case size, and a much slimmer line.

Of course, what is of interest to us is not merely the Perseo brand.  Cortébert made countless number of watches for civilians, not just railroad.  Also, while some watches have "FS" engraving (Ferrovie dello Stato), that does not necessarily mean that the watch was issued to railroad workers.  Only watches with the FS logo and serial number engraved on the back are considered true Italian railroad timepieces

Another detail worth mentioning: note the difference between the engraving of the FS logo.  The older logo is clearly more refined and attractive than the more recent one.

Cortebert calibre 530

Cortebert calibre 160 (UNITAS 6498)

What is in it for you?

I strongly believe that an enthusiastic watch collector should have at least a few railroad and military pocket watches in their collection.  The history behind them is amazing.  They belonged to real servicemen who used them daily for many decades.  Yet they have stood the test of time and, when restored, will perform as good as new.

If you are an Italian, then having a Ferrovie Dello Stato pocket watch is an absolute must.  Look for the best examples you can afford, and avoid watches with damaged dials and missing hands.  But do keep in mind that even the best examples found online will still need a complete overhaul before they can be worn.

The three pieces mentioned here are not for sale but if I do get any duplicates I will certainly offer them to subscribers.  
The Target List

From my research, the following Swiss brands produced timepieces for Italian Rail:

Pocket watches:
Perseo (Cortébert)

Wrist watches:
Universal Genève
Perseo (Cortébert)

Monday, July 22, 2019

WAGR Western Australia Government Rail - research update

Due to an amazing set of circumstances, I was able to get in touch with a watchmaker who spent decades repairing WAGR-issued watches! We've spoken twice over the phone, with over 2 hours of solid historical data from a man who has not only seen, but repaired every type of WAGR watch in circulation.
Today, I will skip the 'cool' pieces and issues and bring your attention to the very last issued WAGR batch, dating from 1980.  Unfortunately, this is not a story of precision and high-end workmanship but rather a sad account of incompetence at State level. At that time, WA Rail was literally prostituting itself by issuing Q&Q wrist watches. And if that were not pathetic enough, the engraving on the dial was the worst marking I have ever seen: crude scraping.
The first issued Q&Q was a white dial model.

The next batch consisted of 'coloured' dials with the Metro brand. Q&Q is the low(est) range of Citizen watches and it stands for "Quality and Quantity". The brand was introduced in 1976 and, until today, over 500 million pieces were sold! Of course, as even a Mister Minute would testify, Q&Q is more of a kid's toy than a watch. The 1980's issue was not designed to be repaired, it contained no jewels, and had more plastic than metal parts. To issue such a watch to railway staff was the ultimate insult – or, simply, a sick joke.
Should you invest in one? Absolutely, yes. For no other reason but to preserve the ugly cousin of Australian Railway history. Fair price to pay? $10-$40.

I sincerely hope that with the discovery of WAGR Q&Q we have reached the very bottom of the research saga. Quite frankly, I could not think of any lower quality watch brand that we could come across in future. Can you?

Zero chance you'll figure this one out. Sorry.

Let’s have some fun: I'll throw in a bunch of historical data, and you have to figure out the Swiss maker/brand name (without Googling).

In 1891, in the well-known Jura mountains, a talented master watchmaker named Henri Frédéric Sandoz founded a watch company.  He and the Schob Brothers - his partners - opened markets all around the world, particularly Canada, Russia, Far East and the US.  Henri was a pioneer and entrepreneur and, thanks to his engineering and watchmaking abilities, was the first to create machine tools for the Swiss watch industry.

In 1902 Sandoz built his first factory and by the next year he had to expand and build a new one.  A year later 750 workers were producing 450,000 watches.  Their output increased to 750,000 and they won sought after Gold Medals in 1910 and 1914.
In 1915 it issued its first shock-proof watch to soldiers and in 1917, after being approached by two British submarine commanders, it created its first waterproof wristwatch suitable for submarine decks.  
In 1930 there was another Gold Medal win for a completely new watch concept - the "La Captive" or the Belt-Watch.

By 1938 (half a century later) it had built five factories in Switzerland and became the fourth largest watch manufacturer in the world with over 2,000 watchmakers producing more than 4,000 watches per day.  The size of its factories is simply mindboggling!  

And if that's not enough to impress you then these sales stats will - an astonishing 30 million watches sold by 1938!

Unfortunately in 1940 a huge fire destroyed several factory buildings as well as many of its archives.  Yet that didn't stop the brand to restart production once again.  
In 1943 the company launched its first automatic movement which it fitted into its square cased Watersport model and by 1950 the company had registered over 300 patents and was producing movements for most Swiss brands including Patek Philippe, Hermès, Dunhill and Zenith.
Its Autorotor self-winding calibre 485 was released in 1955-1957 and is now considered a collector's item.
Still no clue?

It is TAVANNES (pronounced tav-anh).  

Tavannes today - the Swiss village the brand originated from, with a total population of 3,585.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Sometimes the best deals are those that come unexpectedly

While looking for Australian Railroad watches, I bumped into a New Zealand Railway piece auctioned in the US.  I was immediately drawn to it.  The plan was simple:  sooner or later I will bump into a New Zealander with an Australian watch and this NZR piece will put me in a great bargaining position.
But when the watch arrived I was in for a surprise.  It was one of the first 150 pieces commissioned by the New Zealand Government.
A beautiful Gillett & Bland Railway Guard Pocket Watch recently sold at auction and has brought to light how rare these pocket watches were.  Charles Bland joined William Gillett in 1854 as a sales man and set about building up the relationship of the company with overseas buyers like the New Zealand railway.

The earliest records found in the remaining ledgers we have for this time are for 14th August 1875 when the New Zealand Government put in an order for 50 Railway Clocks. Then on 22nd May 1878 an order for 150 Railway Guards watches was made at £4.10 each.

These watches were made for railway service and we believe they were put in place before the following ruling was made by Law, Rule 55 of the New Zealand Railways Department Rules & Regulations of 1907 reads “Every member connected with the train service and every ganger, leading Hand in Charge of Works, or any person who may be required to run a trolley or velocipede on the Main Line, must provide himself with a reliable watch and keep it regulated to Railway time.”

This means that those people required to have watches were required to provide their own.  However by 1911 the NZ Railways Department was importing pocket watches in bulk, and then selling them to staff at the cost price.  This arrangement probably went further back before 1911.

The watches were made from heavy nickel double-bottom case with original thick (unbreakable) flat glass and a front bezel release catch revealed only when the case back is opened, the case was numbered as was the movement and engraved with its railroad number on the back.

The movement was a large key wound full plate fusee movement with 22 size plate diamond shaped cock foot, a calliper specifically designed for strong use, a single roller detached lever escapement, and compensated balance with a spiral spring.  Perfect enamel dial, original blued-steel hands. 61 mm diameter.

The movement was inscribed Gillett & Bland, Croydon, London as was the dial.

The movement maker and case maker are both well known.  John Wycherley 1871-1891 made the movement and was known as one of the best manufacturers of rough movements used by the best watch finishers in the country.

And here is another bit that makes an NZR pocket watch very special.  As you can see, at some point of time the watch serial number has been obfuscated.  For whatever reason, the intention was to make the numerals indecipherable.  Unfortunately the "crook" did a rather poor job and the numbers are still visible at certain angles.  This is clearly NZR 127 out of 150. 

It goes without saying that a Gillett & Bland pocket watch should be on the top of your To Get List.  We don't know how many of these watches are still in circulation.  Perhaps only a dozen or so.  If you ever see one, snatch it at all costs.  
PS: Some interesting NZ Railway highlights:  In 1892 The Wellington and Manuwatu Railway (WMR) Company's No 10 locomotive established the world speed record with an average speed of 68kms per hour with a top speed of 103 on its two hour journey.  During WWI over 5000 permanent New Zealand Railways employees served (about 40% of the NZ workforce).  The New Zealand Railways Magazine began publication in May 1926, continuing until 1940. It regularly promoted leisure and tourism opportunities via its rail network to New Zealanders with a circulation of 26,000 in the 1930's.   

What a find

We just got delivery of 20 Swiss made Darwil watches manufactured in the 1970's.  They all come from one collector and they have one thing in common:  not a single piece is in working order.  Although the watches are not working the majority of the components inside are still recyclable.  

So here is the deal.  If you order any watch tool from our online store (even if it's $10) we will throw in a free, non-working Darwil (until all 20 watches have been allocated).  What a fantastic watch to practise disassembly and re-assembly and put your newly acquired tools into good use. 

Have fun!

Visit our shop here:


Sometimes machinists make strange objects for one reason only:  to flex.  I have to say “to flex” is not a word from my vocabulary but it is commonly used amongst our young watchmakers.  And here is an example of what a flex is:  a piece of steel machined to look like a miniature staircase. 

The difference between the lowest step and the top one is 1mm. The step between the stairs is one-fifth of a millimetre or 200 microns. Apart from the perfect cut, machining a staircase like this is not really that difficult in any professional machine shop.
The second piece is a bit more challenging.  Its highest step is half of the height of the lowest step in the previous piece which is 100 microns.  These staircases are barely visible and we call them the ant steps, where each one is 20 microns apart.  Again, there are a number of workshops in Australia capable of making ant staircases.

The third staircase is really the flex piece.  Again, the highest step is half of the ant step, going from 10 microns down to zero in intervals of 2 microns, and the last three steps are exactly 1 micron apart.  The staircase is not visible to the naked eye but it is only under microscope.  And this is really where we are reaching what is mechanically possible to machine on a 5 axis mill.
Here is a mind blowing fact: a 700kg Z axis which holds the spindle is moved 1 micron vertically at a time, to make a cut.  The total cutting error - which includes the wear of the tool, the play in the ceramic ball bearings, the ball screw end shake, and the parallelism of the hydrostatic guide – all combined is under 0.3 microns.
The full credit for this flex goes to Josh, who spent less than one afternoon flexing.
We would be really keen to hear from any other business in the field of precision manufacturing who can match “the staircase challenge”.  Slice a micron in half and we will say "Respect".

Of course, all three pieces are in our city office available for inspection but, most importantly, Manufactured in Australia.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A watch hero


On June 22 1941 Nazi Germany attacked Soviet Russia. The operation known as "Barbarossa" was the biggest single land operation in the history of wars. The surprise was complete: in just a few months Leningrad was under siege, Crimea was conquered and the Germans were on Moscow's doorstep. Five million Russian soldiers and civilians were killed in five months.

There was no time to be wasted: the First Moscow watch factory had to be evacuated. A convoy of 170 trucks loaded with watchmaking machinery and 488 machinists and technicians were en route to Chistopol, a small town located on the Kama river in Tatarstan, 1000 kilometres east of Moscow.
Severe winter weather caused delays, but by the spring of 1942 the newly-established Chistopol Watch Factory (Чистопольский часовой завод ЧЧЗ) was fully operational, manufacturing both pocket and wristwatches. Like all military facilities, Chistopol was designated a number: Factory 835. While its main activity was the production watches, CWF also produced magnetic fuses and various other military devices. However, the 488 evacuated watchmakers were not enough to meet war production demand  and the factory employed and trained local boys and girls as young as 14 and 15 years of age.
​World War II ended in 1945. The Soviets defeated the Germans - at enormous cost: over 26 million Russian soldiers and civilians lost their lives.   But Muscovite watchmakers didn't return home: they stayed in Tatarstan, continuing to make civilian wrist watches, and the Chistopol Watch Factory was renamed simply to Vostok - East.
A war era Chistopol pocket watch definitely deserves a spot in your pocket watch collection.  My plan here is simple: to encourage you to look for one, while providing some basic 'how to decipher' details.

How do you identify a Chistopol pocket watch?

      1. Dial, signed: Чистопольский часовой завод (Chistopolsky Watch Institute).

2.  The movement is stamped "ЧЧЗ".  Note:  this is not number 443.

3.  "15 камнeи" = 15 jewels.
"2-48" is manufacturing date: this particular watch was made in the second quarter of 1948.

4. "ЧK-6" is the movement calibre. 
"373764" is the individual serial number.

5.  The case back is stamped "ГОСТ 918-41".  This could be confusing to novice collectors.  "ГОСТ" is a Russian Technical Standard.  "918" is the Standard number and "41" is 1941, the year when the Standard was issued.

In other words, this is to certify that the pocket watch was made according to official Russian Standard, and this number on the case back is the stamp for all watches, regardless of the year of production.

Which one to collect?

Clearly Чистопольский pocket watches manufactured between 1942 and 1945, as well as pieces produced 1945-1949.  The 1950's and later models would have less collectable value. The Holy Grail: 2-42!

Happy collecting.


Arguably the most common misnomer in horology is "NOS".   According to countless online dealers’ descriptions, almost every second watch is described as NOS.   Clearly this attribute means different things to different sellers, yet there is no room for misinterpretation:  NOS stands for New Old Stock.  Precisely, a watch that has never been sold to a customer.  Not a watch your uncle bought 20 years ago and has never worn, your nanna’s piece discovered in a shoebox, or a watch you bought on your last trip to Vegas - and forgot about it upon arrival.

NOS comes from only two possible sources:  (a) directly from the manufacturer who built the watch decades ago but the watch has remained in the factory’s safe; or (b) from a dealer who acquired the watch from a manufacturer and never sold it.  That is the definition of true NOS and clearly everything else is not NOS.  Yes, a timepiece can be described as “in NOS condition”, meaning a watch which looks like new, showing no signs of wear or use.    However, in these instances one should be careful not to mislead.  

NOS stock was common in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when mechanical watches came back into fashion and Swiss manufacturers and dealers opened their safes to clear their unsold stock from the previous decade.  One of the most famous examples of such supply was a case when a rather large quantity of Breitling watches manufactured in the 1970’s appeared on the market.   Another known event that can trigger an NOS avalanche could be a brand takeover, when a new owner acquires the brand and clears its old stock.  In recent years I don’t recall any NOS event on a large scale.

However, there is one country where NOS stock stills appears on the market – Russia.  It is no secret that Russians are not fond of Communist past and there is very little appreciation for anything associated with the pre-Gorbachev era, so  – with a bit of luck – finding a true NOS pocket watch is still a possibility.

Monday, July 15, 2019

You are invited

Investment potential?  Absolutely.
Story?  Incredible.
Historically relevant?  More than ever!
Collectable, super cool and sophisticated?  Yes, and that is just the start of our exciting journey!

No, we are not talking about Rolex or Patek - we are talking about Australian Government-issued railway timepieces from the 1880’s till the 1980’s.  A fascinating horological story written for over a century, still to be told, and recorded for generations to come.

It is my pleasure to invite a handful of subscribers to an upcoming watch talk night.  The goal is to share the little I know about Railway pocket watches, and show you some of the examples I've unearthed so far.  I’ll also guide you on how to start collecting pocket watches in general: from practical tips on models, brands, periods, mechanisms and styles, down to an assessment of online and over the counter pieces.

As always, seats are strictly limited so we need to hear from you as soon as possible. At this stage, the proposed date is Wednesday 7 August from 5:30-7:30 pm.

Cost per person: $90 with light refreshments and coffee included.

This presentation is suited to all enthusiasts, regardless of age.