Friday, August 30, 2019

The most beautiful railway pocket watch case I've seen in my entire life

Made around 1920. Super crisp engraving of 'the railway wings on top of the world' covering the entire case back. The case back is pure nickel, not a soft silver. A true piece of craftsmanship that would make one speechless.

Can you guess for which national railway it was made? (If you need time to think, pause here, the answer is further down).

Second, perhaps even more important question: who was a creator of this masterpiece?
The watch bears no name on neither dial, case or mechanism itself: it comes from the era when master watchmakers were so proud of their work and had such 'pedigree' that putting the name on the dial was not even necessary. However, thanks to a company stamp on the movement, the maker could be easily identified: "Les Fils de Numa Gagnebin" - or The sons of Numa Gagnebin.

One will never too much tell the scientific and artistic influence, which was illustrated in many domains, that the family Gagnebin have had. From the beginning of the 18th century, some of its members open the first chapter of a new adventure intimately linked to that of watchmaking. In 1718, Sir Gagnebin commits himself – as testified by a document kept in the archives of the Canton of Neuchâtel – to teach the craft of watchmaking to Abraham Favre. His son became himself a watchmaker in 1737 and later, the company was be named Abraham Favre & Fils.

The works in physics and mechanics of Daniel Gagnebin, brother of Abraham the naturalist, highly contributes to the progress realized in watchmaking art. His initial medical training will not prevent him from extending his action beyond his first profession : He will invent several very precise machines intended for the manufacturing of pendulums. The history also remembers that he helped Jaquet Droz in the making of his automatons.


The following generations strive in an even directer way to the evolution of watchmaking. Some are merchants, others study the specific aspects of watchmaking art. Among them, we can especially mention Frédéric-Guillaume Gagnebin, born in 1744, who went to Paris in order to study the theory and manufacturing of spirals for watches and becomes a talented chronometers maker, François-Louis Gagnebin, born in 1820, founder and director of the watchmaking factory Gagnebin & Cie in Saint-Imier and Louis Gagnebin, born in 1847, director of the watch factory Longines in Saint-Imier. The father of the founder of G.Gagnebin & Cie, Numa Gagnebin, also creates a watchmaking factory that he names «Les Fils de Numa Gagnebin». These few examples express the close link between the Gagnebin and watchmaking art. Way more than a simple professional activity, watchmaking has become a real passion for this family, in the heart of which motivation and necessity to advance the traditional art of their region have never been faulted. The family motto « from good to better » thus perfectly corresponds to the conquering state of mind that inhabits, since long, the family Gagnebin.

(Source: Gagnebin website )

The Numa Gagnebin pocket watch was made for Swiss Federal Railways station masters. Fifteen jewel straight lever escapement with bimetallic balance wheel and Breguet overcoil steel hairspring performing to chronometre specification.

Purchased on eBay for AUD $230.

Seiko Japanese Railway Pocket Watches


I didn't really plan to talk about this today however a number of subscribers are specifically interested in finding out which Seiko model was produced in which year.

Chronologically the entire production can be divided into 9 distinctive periods with almost no overlapping. The first railway Seikosha was issued around 1929 and it is known as Type 19 Size 16. The current production run is SVBR003 introduced in 1999 and has been unchanged for the past 20 years.

Here is a visual breakdown: 
Omitted form the list are a few special / limited edition models, like SCVR001 silver pocket watch issued in year 2000. as well as 'labelled dial' examples which are essentially  just a cosmetic variation of the same models.

Basically, if you are looking for a Seiko railway watch made and issued in a certain year (your birth year for example) then this list will assist you figuring out which model you are after. Early models are all mechanical manual wind, followed by mix of quarts/manual and after they are all quartz. However, the first quartz model 38RW only produced for 2 years (1978-1980) and it is extremely hard one to find. Back in 1978, it sold for over $600 and cost more than a brand new Rolex Submariner 5513!

It goes without saying that you absolutely MUST have at least one Seiko Railway pocket watch in your collection. For many decades, Seiko pocket watches were regarded as the most accurate in the world - and this reason alone is worth the investment.

Please do not copy/forward/publish any of above because this is still 'research in progress'  with more fine tuning required.                          

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The four horsemen of apocalypse (part 2)

Australian Department of Defence - Pierce
The Pierce Watch Company was founded in 1883 in Biel (Switzerland) by Leon Levy and his brothers under the name Léon Lévy Frères Manufactures des Montres et Chronographes Pierce SA. As it usually was the case, the brothers started in watch assembly, buying parts and complete movements from other Swiss suppliers. However, for a reason unknown to us, Levy was cut out of the supply chain. Interestingly, according to my research, this happened at the time when he was already 40 years in the business. Levy geared up production, setting up their own watch factory in Biel and employing 1,500 people. They started manufacturing their own in house calibre in the 1930's and were awarded the contract for development and construction of the pilot's watch flight calendar for the Royal Air Force. Their watches quickly became known for their reliability and robustness.
Recent acquisition: eight Pierce pocket watches dating back to the 1930's, all issued by the Department of Defence and all in rather sad condition. They have been heavily neglected, but still in ‘restorable’ condition.
Set in a nickel case and fitted with a porcelain dial, Pierce DD is powered by in-house movement Calibre 170. This lovely fine grade mechanism is a 15 jewel straight lever escapement in German sliver with individual bridges in the train. With bit of luck there is enough parts to get two or possibly three watches  restored to good working order. 
How does Aussie Pierce compare with Japanese, German and British military pocket watches? Quite frankly- it certainly would not be my first choice of a timepiece to win a war with. While the time keeping could be on par with Seikosha and Moeris, the case itself clearly lacks robustness and refinement of German Grana (Certina). The lack of luminous hour markers on the dial and rather ‘skinny’ hands render the watch useless at night time. Overall, Pierce looks more like your grandpa’s retirement pocket watch than a lethal combat weapon. No doubt, Aussie Department of Defence had it’s reasons why Pierce was selected as their brand of choice, something we can only speculate about.

Here is an excerpt from Australian Army Dress Manual, Paragraph 2.53 titled 'Watches':

"2.53 Watches or watch bands are not to be worn when they may create a safety hazard. Brightly coloured watches or watch bands are not permitted. Pocket watches with visible chains are not to be worn with the Australian Army uniform. On a ceremonial parade a watch is not to be worn by any member, except the senior soldier controlling the sequence of a parade; normally the RSM or CSM (E) who may wear an inconspicuous timepiece."

(To be continued… if you’ve missed part 1:

Big Claim!

One thing that always puzzled me was this: who was the watch manufacturer who came up with the lifetime guarantee offer? And more importantly - what the lifetime guarantee really means? Thanks to the guarantee card which arrived with the Clinton pocket watch we finally have some answers.

The movement of your Clinton Product is unconditionally guaranteed against defects in material and workmanship for as long as you own it. All broken parts will be replaced with genuine factory material at no charge for parts or labor.

This all-inclusive guarantee is made possible by the fine craftsmanship and sturdy materials used in the construction of this fine watch. Your LIFETIME GUARANTEE applies to the movement parts only and does NOT cover the following:

1.       Periodic cleaning and re-oiling required by every watch.
2.       Exposure of non-waterproof watches to moisture, resulting in rusted movement parts.
3.       Watch case, crystal and watch band or attachments.
4.       If your watch shows signs of having been tampered with or abused.

And then there was a not so fine print: you must registered your watch within 10 days of purchase.


So what happened to Clinton Watch co? I am not going to spoil your enjoyment: see

What a bloody mess…

The four horsemen of the apocalypse

It is not often that we have four military watches in our workshop at the same time. While the intention is to introduce them individually next week, here is a lovely group photo of four of them: German Grana Wehrmacht, Australian Department of Defence Pierce, Japanese Imperial Army Seikosha and a British Moeris.

While the watches vary in size, the quality of workmanship and the style, the question we are trying to answer is which one was the best of the lot. Let’s start with the German Grana.

Grana is a Swiss-made watch manufacture established in 1888 as Gebrüder Kurth by Adolf and Alfred Kurth. They started manufacturing movements and supplies for the watchmaking industry with just three employees. In 1906 the brand Grana was introduced for watches and immediately won awards for its high quality. However, the Swiss Law for Protection and Regulation of the Watch Market of 1934 (Uhrenstatut) prohibited the supply of watches and ebauches simultaneously. As a consequence, Kurth Frères concentrated on the watch manufacturing. In 1939, the brand Certina was registered for cheaper volume models, while Grana was used for top models. However after the WW2 Grana production was discontinued and after the 1949 Certina remains the only KF brand name.

Clearly, the Wehrmacht was interested in Grana and not the cheaper Certina. Grana manufactured wrist watches as well as pocket watches. The Wehrmacht requested watches with a black dial with Arabic figures, luminous hands and figures, sub second on the "6", water resistance and a screw back. Such watches were produced for the officers of German Army during WW2. The watches were signed with the letters D and H as well as a number. While H clearly stands for Heer (army), it is the letter D that divides horological historians. It either stands for Deutsches (German) or Dienstuhr which means service watch. We are still waiting for an official clarification on this matter.

Apart from the robust nickel case and stunning black glowing dial, it is was the water resistance that made Grana so very special: a screw lock case back with a Dichtung!

To be continued...

The Zen of watchmaking

It is usually around the end of the second year of training when a young apprentice is ready for 'the next level' of watchmaking. After mastering the basic techniques and gaining the skills required to service a common modern watch, he is ready to enter the very Zen of Watchmaking - a phase when he slowly realises what it means to service a masterpiece.

This is a very crucial phase of the apprenticeship and only a few reach that level when they should. Those who miss it - either lacking imagination and attention to detail or simply being trained in a strictly sterile environment - either drift away or spend the rest of their career as mere technicians.

By Andrew

A few days ago I was tasked with the overhaul of a 1936 Longines cal. 17.89.ABC pocket watch.  However this movement in particular was so beautifully crafted and preserved it raised a few almost existential questions about the very nature of watch repair. Ones that I have thought about but never put into writing.

On first inspection of the movement, I could see no sign of malpractice on the watchmakers part. No stray screwdriver blades tracing out their own little adventures across the beautifully polished bridges. Every screw head looks as though it has not been removed since first assembly in St Imier over 80 years ago. All black mirror finished by hand. No jewels cracked and amateurishly replaced. No wheels or pivots are bent due to a rushed reassembly. With the extremely thin spokes of each wheel, not bending anything is more difficult than usual. This makes two things very clear that simply must be understood before contemplating an overhaul of this calibre (pun most certainly intended).

The first is that preparation is key. This is not a simple tyre replacement. The approach must match the procedure. Every screw slot must be mated with a perfectly sharpened screwdriver. No exceptions. The work space must be cleared and cleaned. Containers organised for safe storage of dial and hands. All tools possibly needed for the overhaul within arms reach. This is not an overhaul I will be pulled away or distracted from. Mental preparation is the most important factor. A few words to everyone else in the office. “Leave me alone for a little while, Thanks.” And then you sit. Relax your breathing, relax your heart rate, relax your racing thoughts. Your soul must be ready to join the list of watchmakers who have contributed to the long life of this piece. You are now ready to contemplate beginning the overhaul.

The second point that is of paramount importance to understand is invisibility. How many watchmakers have serviced this pocket watch before me? With the 5 year service interval suggested in modern times it would be about 16. Based on how the movement looks, you’d be forgiven for thinking zero. Invisibility achieved. This does relate slightly to preparation as that is required to remain invisible but simply trying to remain invisible is not good enough. You must have an understanding and deeper appreciation of why. This is not some cold mass produced movement of today’s modern watch production. Someone. Some person. Some watchmaker put this watch together. Every bridge is hand engraved with an 89 on its seat (last two digits of the serial) so that each family member may find its way back to its mainplate home. It was his job but also his duty to make sure this pocket watch would stand the test of time and pass with flying colours. I strongly believe that a small portion of each watchmaker’s soul is embedded into the movement, extending its life a little further. It has most certainly outlived its maker. I would say I am somewhere in the middle of its life. So I can not disrespect the movement and its original watchmaker by reducing the potential for admiration of future wearers and repairers.

There is nothing that I can  do to make this movement any ‘better’ than what it was in 1936. I am merely fighting entropy and restoring the movement as best I can to its birth. I think it is in this notion that it became clear watchmaking was for me. I have always been a bit of a romantic and when you combine that with a passion for making and fixing I guess you get watchmaking. This is the power of a movement such as this Longines. The way someone’s heart and ideas have sculpted inanimate metal components into the ticking horological art we see below will force many watchmakers, many years from its first tick, to ponder the very meaning of why they are doing what they are doing.


1936 Longines pocket watch

Case size 42.5mm. Original hands and porcelain dial. A very faint hair line on the surface of the dial. Comes with chain and T bar.

The Longines pocket watch was originally sold in 1936 by a famous Japanese jeweller, Shobido from Osaka. The Shibido's are still in business and now in their 6th generation.

The Longines pocket watch is now for sale.
Our Price: $1,600

NH2 Timascus update

After spending all day in our city workshop with Andrew and Bobby doing restorations, at 8pm I joined Josh in Brookvale for some machining action. At midnight we got our final version of Timascus pallets bridge. This is a very thin component with complex geometry and very tight tolerances, directly responsible for timekeeping parameters, particularly the amplitude of the balance wheel. The one minute video shows the final stage of machining and quick inspection under the microscope.  But that was not the end of the night shift: we proceeded to titanium etching and anodizing. What fun! Seeing the colours popping up was simply mesmerizing. 

Check out our short video: then see the part on our Instagram:

1952 Seikosha Japan National Railway Pocket Watch

Bringing to life a long written off pocket watch is always a challenge. Getting a vintage timepiece to run let alone keep correct time is not a matter of cleaning, oiling, and adjustment; that only works on modern watches. It is always a matter of solving the problem of wear and tear and replacing the corroded and broken parts.

And this Seikosha (early name for Seiko) is the perfect example of how easy it is to underestimate the time and effort required. The heart of the watch (shown on the last photo) known as the balance complete was beyond rescue. Luckily we had a donor watch. So four hours later after the complete rebuild, this 67 year old Seikosha was full steam ahead!

The dial restoration is something I am extremely proud of. Anything to do with chemicals is usually beyond the expertise of a watchmaker and until the last moment the outcome is unknown. Removing the embedded grime that built up on the dial over decades was tedious and painstaking and you can see how the dial looked before and after the process.

The calibre 9119A was introduced in 1949 and remained in production until 1971 (Showa 24 - Showa 46). And here is one juicy bit. Unlike most Swiss railroad watches, Seikosha pocket watch comes with original "second setting". It is a hack mechanism that enables the railman to set and restart the watch at the exact 00 seconds signal. When the stem is pulled out, the watch continues to run until the seconds hand reaches the 60 mark, then it stops and the time is set to the exact hour and minute when the time radio signal is next expected. At the last radio beep the stem is pushed in and the minute and seconds hand are synchronised properly. This synchronisation is much more difficult to achieve with a standard Swiss hack method.

As promised before, I am on the constant look out for original Seikosha Railway pocket watches and any duplicate will be offered for sale to subscribers. I appreciate your patience. 

Where Does My Dentist Go?

At the end of the day it all boils down to one question: who would you trust to service your most precious vintage Rolex? The youngest watchmaker in the town, with the best eyesight, or the oldest, most experienced one? The one with steady hands, for sure, - but steady hands without appreciation for beauty are lethal weapon combination. To someone who is going to do a fast job, or offers 'value for money' service? To an Authorized dealer who will send it away? To Switzerland head office? To a local second hand dealer overly concerned about the value of your heirloom, tempted to swap your original parts? To someone who advertises his services on Facebook? To an industry veteran too busy to care and listen?

And if this was MY watch, and I turn blind today, whom would I trust?

Luckily, there are still a handful of watchmakers in this town I would trust with my Rolex: Max, Thomas, Karl and Carl, Joao.  Yes Sydney - consider yourself lucky!

Before and after photo of 1971 Rolex Ref. 1680 which arrived to our workshop on Monday, restoration completed on Tuesday night. All original parts preserved, case lightly polished, bracelet brushed to original finish, original 'high dome' plexi polished by hand. Complete overhaul of the mechanism with replacement of worn out auto reverse winding wheels. Ready to go.

Catch the East Wind!

When it comes to horology, religion is Swiss. On a very rare occasion we venture into Japanese watchmaking, and on the even rarer occasion, Russian. However, not once in 25 years have I uttered the following words: buy a Chinese made watch. Yet today I’ll give you one reason why you should invest in Seagull Railway. Why? Without Seagull, no watch collection is completed.

In the late 1800’s and through to the 1930’s, Chinese Railway imported their railway watches from Waltham, US and later from Omega.
Despite intensive search, so far, I have seen only one officially issued and numbered CR Omega pocket watch, and no Waltham at all.
It is fair to say that those pieces are bit of a Holy Grail of horological railroadiana. But here is the good news: for us, the watch collectors on budget, there is still plenty of 1970s-1990s China Rail timepieces around to be collected!

Precisely: Seagull ST5 wrist watch with China Rail logo – the official railways timekeeper.
A word about the logo: the logo was designed by Chen Yuchang  陈玉昶  (1912-1969) and officially adopted on 22 January 1950. The whole logo represents the front of a locomotive. The upper part of the logo represents the Chinese character 人 (people), while the lower part represents the transversal surface of a rail. The logo means that China's railway belongs to the people. I just love it – such a clever,  simple yet powerful synergy in a design!
What’s inside the Seagull?

In January 1955, on the basis of a Chinese government order to establish a watch industry in the north of the country, four men in a small workshop with limited tools set out to build China's first wristwatch. Starting with a Swiss Sindaco 5 jewel pin-lever design, they successfully completed the prototype on 24 March. This first watch was called WuXing (5 Stars). This low-grade watch went into very limited production, each unit virtually hand-made. From this humble beginning began what is now one of the world's biggest mechanical watch enterprises.

In 1966, the factory successfully developed the first 100% Chinese designed and built wristwatch, the Dong Feng (East Wind). The calibre ST5 was modern, thin, accurate and of high quality. It had 19 jewels, including jewels for the mainspring barrel. The ST5 met the National First Grade standard. The ST5 movement is prized by collectors for its distinctive 'Sea-Gull Stripes' decoration comprising graceful radiating arcs engraved deeply on the plates. Due to the hand-finishing, no two are exactly alike.

In 1973. The name East Wind was probably recognized as too political for the international market, so the case back logo of a windswept sea had a flying sea gull added to it, and the dial was signed SEA-GULL. This was the first exported Chinese watch.

The railways version features CR logo on the dial. I was able to pick this very fine example for only USD$90. An absolute bargain!
And you would be crazy not to add one to your collection.

Performance wise, my 35mm cased ST5 was almost spot on – even in ‘as found’ low amplitude condition, due for service. Worth mentioning: high bit 21,600 bph!

Still not convinced to collect railway watches? I am not giving up -  stay tuned for more!


The "Song of Stormy petrel" is a poem by Maxim Gorky written in 1901. The poet overhears a conversation between birds outside his window on a late-winter day. A crow, a raven, and a bullfinch representing the monarchist establishment; sparrows, "lesser people"; and anti-establishment siskins (чижики). As the birds discuss the approach of the spring, it is one of the siskins who sings to his comrades “the Song of the Stormy Petrel”, which he had overheard somewhere. In the song, the action takes place on an ocean coast far from the streets of Moscow – where lives the proud stormy petrel, unafraid of the storm (that is, revolution) as all other birds cower.

The publication of the poem of the Russian society was disallowed by the censors and Gorky was arrested for publishing it. However the Burevestnik Revolyutsii -The Storm Petrel of the Revolution- later becomes the battle anthem of the Soviet Russia  and one of Lenin's favourite works by Gorky.

The Krivak class, Soviet designation Project 1135 Burevestnik, were a series of frigates and guard ships built in the Soviet Union primarily for the Soviet Navy since 1970. Later some sub-branch, like the Nerey was designed for coastal patrol by the KGB Border Troops.
Which brings us to the watch on today’s offer: super rare original 40 mm case Raketa Burevestnik 24 hours marine timepiece issued especially for Soviet Navy stationed in Leningrad naval base. Fitted with the original Calibre 2623H and inner rotating bezel denoting the 4 hours shits, this is a true Military tool watch.
Of course, as it was in use for at least couple of decades (1970s-1990s) it does show usual amount of wear, but it still keeps perfect time. Lightly polished, fitted with a brand new strap. Serial number: 342.