Wednesday, August 28, 2019

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

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