It's been ages since we spoke about pocket watches, and today I'm very pleased to share some good news.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
This was one of those annoying jobs: fixing other ‘watchmaker’s’ errors.
In short: the previous repairer decided to ‘fix’ a worn out Patek
bracelet pins with mild steel pins. In about year or so, these new pins
were literally eaten away by sweat. Consequently, the bracelet
disintegrated into a number of pieces. According to the owner, Patek
service centre was not impressed and suggested ‘full bracelet
replacement only’ quoting $17,000. Can we help?
The job was approached in stages: drilling out all pins, paying special
attention to alignment. Then making the new set of pins – this time out
of stainless steel. Reaming out gold mid links by hand, then riveting
the links together one at the time, polishing by hand. Last stage:
making one missing Nautilus casing screw. The screw was made in CNC
lathe meaning programming, tooling and turning of just one piece in a
machine designed to produce thousands of the screws at time. Kind of
transporting single 10kg box on a semitrailer from Sydney to Perth!
Possible, but crazy.
Total repair cost: $1,200. Would we do it again? Probably not.
The most challenging part of the restoration
was finding the exact centre of the pins to drill through. This photo
shows a microscope installed directly into the spindle of schaublin 102
Well, that would depend whether you're French or English. Lets stick with the French.
Ligne (pronounced 'lin'), is an archaic unit of measurement commonly
used in French and Swiss horology dating back to the 1700s. It is a
pre-decimal unit of measurement. Basically, 1 ligne is 2.2558mm.
Watchmakers made movements in lignes where the average size was
around 19 lignes (or just under 43mm in diameter). As continental
Europeans moved to the decimal system, Swiss and French watchmakers
refused to budge. So even today, measurements in lignes are often quoted
in relation to the watch movement diameter.
Lignes as a unit of measurement is easily distinguished by metric and
imperial units with the number followed by 3 primes (e.g. 18'''). For
students of horology: the movement diameter is measured at the outside diameter of the bridges, not at the dial/casing flange.
Novice watch enthusiasts sometimes confuse lignes with calibre or what Americans call size.
For example, the Omega movement mentioned yesterday was calibre 19LBN,
happens to be exactly 19 lignes in diameter. But this a pure
coincidence. American pocket watch movements are referred to by sizes.
For example, size 10 is 1.500 inches or 38.10mm or converted in lignes,
16 and 7/8s. Clearly, the relationship between lignes, millimetres,
inches and sizes is not 'blindly obvious' and to covert between we need
help of tables.
To this day, the French and Swiss stick with lignes and Americans with sizes, and neither side is willing to adopt the logical decimal unit of measurement.
Being Australian watchmakers ourselves, we
simply state that our NH2 movement is 36.60 mm in diameter. Which would
make it just over 16 lignes and just under size 8.
Objective: Introduction to CNC machining- measuring, design, drawing, programming, tooling, turning and milling.
Focus: Practical 'CNC skill-building' training relevant to watchmaking and other high precision industries.
Age 12 - 15 FREE
16 - 29 (students) $4,000
30 and over (employed / retired) $6,500
Payment: In advance or in 4 quarterly instalments for students.
The number of attendees for this course is limited to 6.
How to apply: Please send a detailed 'expression of interest' letter to email@example.com.
We would like to hear why you would be interested in attending the
course, your current involvement in the industry (if any) and anything
else you feel relevant to secure your seat.
Clearly, our intention is to open our workshop to young people who will
benefit the most from this unique opportunity, as well as to students
who are either considering a mechanical engineering career, or are
already trained as technicians / engineers but lack practical workshop
As specialised watchmakers and the only watch parts manufacturer in
Australia, our workshop is equipped with modern, state of the art high
precision CNC machines not commonly found in Australian workshops or
This course is only available to Australian citizens or permanent residents.
Its been ages since we spoke about railroad pocket watches!
Today, the focus of our interest is a 1925 Omega SAR-SAS railway pocket
watch number 1498, fitted with a 19 LBN calibre movement. The watch
arrived in very poor condition, with a number of movement parts missing
and heavily worn out engraving on the nickel case back. However, the
writing on the porcelain dial is well preserved and it is one of those
rare quad sign examples which bears railway designator as well as Omega
brand name, local co-brand, and co-brand location. (SAS-SAR, Omega, C.P.
South African Railway watches are so rare that any example in any
condition is worth our attention. Unfortunately due to current workload I
will not be able to undertake any restoration right now. But I can't
wait to get my hands on to it. In the meantime, the preliminary research is presented here for your enjoyment:
SAS-SAR stands for South African Railways -
Suid Afrikaanse Spoorweg, spelt in both English and Afrikaans
respectively. The railways have always been an essential part of South
Africa’s transport system, and the SAR infrastructure is the most
developed across the continent.
In 1860, the first locomotive was introduced to South Africa which
connected Durban to Harbour Point, by the Natal Railway Company. Other
railway lines linked towns and cities within South Africa, constructed
and operated by Cape Government Railways and Netherlands South African
In 1910, the four British territories of Cape, Transvaal, Natal and the
Orange Free State republic gained nominal independence from Britain.
These four provinces formed the Union of South Africa and as a result,
the railway lines across the country were merged creating the South
The railway pocket watch dial on today’s agenda is inscribed:
C. P. Heydenrych
But who exactly is CP Heydenrych?
Carel Petrus Heydenrych of Johannesburg was the son of Johanna Jacoba
Heydenrych (born Theunissen) and Carel Petrus Heydenrych. He was an
important military figure: A Major and Colonel who served with the Rand
Rifles during the Boer War and with the Witwatersrand Rifles during the
First World War. His war achievements were recognised with an honorary
war medal in his name: The Major Heydenrych Medal.
After the Great War ended, CP Heydenrych
commanded the South African Armoured trains throughout the 1920s. An
armoured train is a locomotive that is protected with armour - artillery
and machine guns for example. Armoured trains proved popular in the
late 1800s and early 1900s, especially during wars, as they could easily
transport large amounts of firepower.
Johannesburg, 18 March 1922. Major CP
Heydenrych, Lt-Col RC Wallace and Major JM Greathead with troops at
troop train on station platform.
Since 1893, working on the railroad required officials to carry railroad
timekeepers to ensure trains were on time in order to avoid
catastrophic collisions. By the end of the 19th century, Omega, together
with its brand sister Gurzelen Brandt, had garnered a reputation of
producing outstanding railroad watches, supplying South African Railways
with the very watch we have in our workshop.
The nickel case back has the issue number 1498 and did have a
locomotive motif engraving, however this has been completely worn away
with time. In it's original condition, it would've looked something like
the pocket watch on the left:
As a railroad commander, the Omega SAR-SAS
pocket watch would have most probably been a part of CP Heydenrych’s
uniform. However, it is unlikely that this pocket watch is a
one-of-a-kind unique timepiece. What is more likely is that there were a
number of pocket watches made by Omega, and due to Major CP
Heydenrych's military status, the porcelain dial bears his name almost
like a 'special edition' of the SAR pocket watch.
Omega railroad pocket watches are far more than just a timepiece. They
are a piece of history which carry huge horological importance. And this
watch in particular not only preserves railway history, but the
military achievements and life of Major and Colonel Heydenrych.
"Railroad watches may be considered as the first reference watches
of the manufacture, much before the record precision chronometers, the
Olympic chronographs or the NASA Official Speedmasters." – A Journey
In two words: all good. Thanks to all
rebelde owners who took up the offer - you guys are keeping us busy!
Here is a photo of yet another in-house made fixture. Purpose: to hold
the batch of ratchet wheels during milling and engraving procedure.
And below: a few wheels ready for installation. Your part comes with
it's own drawing, signed by Josh and Andrew. Kind of 'a thank you' note
that you can add to your rebelde set.
One thing we have underestimated is the amount of admin work involved in
the ratchet wheel project - it takes dozen of emails to sort out
initials, invoicing, payment processing and shipping for each wheel.
Good news is that we now have a real time 'spreadsheet interaction'
between the city office and our Brookvale workshop so either side can
see where we are up to. Learning heaps about efficient internal
It has been ages since we've talked about
railway pocket watches! But if you appreciate the historical importance
and undeniable horological value of watches which have played such a
significant role over the past hundred years, then this short note will
A Journey Through Time is Omega’s Bible and a ‘must have’ book
in your library. While section five, "Official Watches", bundles
railway watches with shooting and military pieces, it still provides
records of Omega's involvement in the production of railway watches,
showing examples sold to various Government Railway authorities from the
late 1800s to 1980s. An important account, but far from being complete
For that reason, we are always excited when new pieces are discovered
and catalogued - like the three Omega pocket watches from the early 1950s for Japanese National Railways that we recently acquired.
All three pieces are almost identical, yet with some case, dial and hand variations, 48mm nickel ‘open face’ stem wound and set.
The case back is stamped with two kanji characters: Koku (country) and
Tetsu (steel) which translates to Japanese National Railway.
The issue year is Showa 27 (1952) and issue numbers are 148, 681, 1076.
Form the inside, the case backs are stamped 141 21 and 141 22 which are
Omega model reference numbers. One also bears the stamp 'GR' which is
the same GR we've seen on other Omega watches supplied to Government
Rail - in other words, a special issue. The serial numbers are 12.4 mill
range corresponding nicely with early 1950s Omega production.
Mechanism: the trustworthy Cal. 38.5L.T1. It is important to remind you
that Cal 38.5L was first introduced in 1932 and remained in production
until 1966. It was an inexpensive mechanism to manufacture and in 34
years of production, Omega made 998,700 movements. I do however dislike
the fact that 38.5L is non-incabloc which means a slightest drop would
be fatal to balance staff. As any watchmaker would testify: finding an
original balance staff in a Cal 38.5L is almost unheard of!
Hands and dial variations: I will leave this for further in-depth study once more examples become available.
Small curiosity: one JNR piece comes with a nice, well-preserved black sage himo.
All three pieces are sourced directly from Japan and trust me, it took a
fair bit of arm-wrestling to convince three individual collectors to
part with them. But I am very pleased that JNR Omegas are reunited, once
The search continues!
Omega: A Journey Through Time (ISBN 9782970056225) is out of print, occasionally available on ebay.
And slightly off the topic, but still on subject - page 213, Omega pocket watch for Bulgarian Railroads, erratum:
The caseback monogram is not АЖБ but ДЖБ.
It is easy to confuse Cyrillic letters А and Д, but in this case there
is no room for misinterpretation: the monogram ДЖБ stands for Bugarska
Drzavna Zeleznica or Bulgarian State Railway (not Royal Bulgarian
Yes, while Bulgaria in 1925 was ruled by a
Tzar Boris Klemens Robert Maria Pius Ludwig Stanislaus Xaver aka Boris
III, the railway was owned by the state.
And while we are on Bulgarians... here is a pic of Boris's father,
Ferdinand Maximilian Karl Leopold Maria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. All
the medals aside, Ferdinand is one of a few monarch who lost 3 wars -
the Second Balkan war of 1913, World War I and World War II. Not much
luck picking the winners...