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. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

One challenging restoration: Patek Philippe Nautilus bracelet

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 lathe. 

Ligne or Line? It's actually - Lin

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. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Kick start your career in 2020!

2020 is just around the corner and the time to make a very important career decision is NOW. And you're neither too young or too old to learn!
Watchmakers CNC Machining Course 

Duration: 52 weekly sessions, 2 hours per session (6pm-8pm Wednesday evenings).

Where: NH Watchmaking workshop, Brookvale, Sydney.

Starting: First week of January 2020.

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 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 CNC experience.

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 even universities.

This course is only available to Australian citizens or permanent residents.

We would appreciate it if you help us spread the word (Facebook/ Watch Forums) by downloading and sharing the link to our PDF flyer.

Major C. P. Heydenrych

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. Heydenrych, Johannesburg)

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 Railway Company.

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 African Railway.

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 Through Time. 

From the workshop: bespoke ratchet wheels progres

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 communication.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Omega Koku Tetsu on black sage himo

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 delight you.

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 or definite.

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 again.

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 Railroads).
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...