Monday, March 30, 2020

It all started with bush fire smoke, somewhere in January

The initial "discomfort in throat" quickly turned into a sporadic but annoying cough.  It felt like medium-coarse sand paper (grade 800, wet & dry) being jammed in the upper airways.  "It will go away" I told myself.
It didn't. Instead, it turned into an irritating hourly ritual of unhealthiness which annoyed the hell out of everyone around me. But it wasn't the cough - it was the sleep deprivation that drove me crazy. Finally, two weeks ago, I went to see my GP for a checkout.
"You are perfectly fine, it's not coronavirus", she said.  "It will go away".
"When?" "In two weeks. If it doesn't, then come to see me again. Actually, don't come to see me. It will go away."
"It's not going away for 3 months now"
"Yes, I know" - he said - "I've been coughing myself for 6 months. It is irritating, but it won't kill you. It is most likely hereditary."

That night I called my brother who specialises in public health.
Ten minutes later, my mother was on the line. "Your brother told me you are coughing like a donkey. I can't believe you are not drinking onion tea! Start drinking it now, you will be like new by Friday!".
Bloody hell, the onion tea! How could I forget that good old Slavic recipe, the universal cure for any illness known to humans and small domestic animals?
"Boil one onion in a litre of water for 10 minutes. Drink 3 times per day."
Yes, it' simple as that. Does the tea smell and taste like onion? Of course it does. But if you are coughing like a donkey, it is the most pleasant taste ever. Because - it works.

Did it go away? Of course, like my GP said - in exactly two weeks’ time.

The Holy Trinity of Smiths and 'Artes Mechanicae'

We started shaping metal 12,000 years ago: copper, bronze and gold. The first metal objects were created for their artistic value. After all, the soft copper and gold were no replacement for utilitarian stone tools, perfected over tens of thousands of years.

The discovery and smelting of iron was a game changer, but it would take another 3000 years before we entered 'the iron age'. The issue holding us back was the high melting point of iron (1530 deg C). The ancient kilns were unable to produce temperatures above 900 C.  However, with technical advancement in smelting furnaces, the iron which could be found in abundance replaced the bronze. It was also lighter, cheaper and most importantly stronger metal, suitable for anything from weapons to ploughs.

Romans were first true metal smiths, who skilfully used silver, zinc, iron, mercury, arsenic, antimony, lead, gold, copper and tin as numerous other alloys. However, with the fall of the Roman empire, many of those metallurgy skills were lost for next 1000 years, until the 'Vandals' rediscovered the lost craft.

And then, it all exploded in Europe once again in the late Middle ages and Renaissance. With the fall of Constantinople and rediscovery of ancient scientific texts - and invention of printing which democratised learning-   great advancements occurred in physics, astronomy, mathematics, engineering and manufacturing.

The Holy Trinity of Smiths - locksmiths, gunsmiths and clockmakers - gave birth to fascinating utilitarian objects.  Artes mechanicae (mechanical arts) were based on the practice of skills. While ungratefully called servile and vulgar by those who practiced academic disciplines and "liberal arts", mechanical arts changed and shaped the modern world in an amazing, practical way.

A few months ago, a book titled 'American Genius' landed on my desk. It is one of those very special books, so narrowly focused on a subject that you would never have a need to look for. A book that finds you, not the other way around; a book which provides an amazing answer to a question rarely asked: what happens when a locksmith and a clockmaker work together, when two geniuses collaborate, strive, improve, innovate - and give a birth to an object whose purpose becomes irreplaceable for hundreds of years, yet invisible to the common eye?

“American Genius: Nineteenth-century Bank locks and Time locks” reads as crime novel. Two trades - both deeply rooted in secrecy - not without a reason - and their colourful Masters with magical skills to help a locked-out banker, who spent nights trying to pick competitor's locks, to learn each other’s secrets while doing anything humanly possible to be known as the inventors of 'unpickable locks' themselves.

Take for example one Harry Miller, who in 1924 entered the trade as a locksmith apprentice at age 12. Only a few years later, Harry developed his expertise in opening the best and most complex safes and locks of the era. He was called upon to open safes for the US Military, the safe in the White House for President Roosevelt, and even a gold bullion chest for Chiang Kai-shek. Harry was known as 'the most dynamic and knowledgeable' figure in the history of American vaults. His secret? He was able to understand the weaknesses of safes and learn from them.  

Here is another gem: around 1800 Bramah and Co were the makers of the 'most secure lock' of the time.  Bramah was so confident that his lock was unpickable that their Piccadilly shop in London offered a reward of 210 pounds for anyone who could pick a Bramah padlock - a challenge that would go unanswered for more than 50 years. And then, in 1851, an American by the name of Alfred C Hobbs arrived to London. It took him 20 minutes to open the padlock and claim the massive reward. The defeat was felt by the entire nation, as recorded by Times of London:

"We believed before the exhibition opened we had the best lock in the world, and among us Bramah and Chubb were reckoned quite as impregnable as Gibraltar - more so, indeed, for the key of Mediterranean was taken by us, but none among us could penetrate into the locks and shoot the bolt of these makers".

Yes, no lock or vault is impervious to theft. A safe or vault can however be made impossible to crack without arousing alarm. And in this game, time itself is of the essence. The need for locks fitted with a clock mechanism which would prevent the opening of the safe even if the combination is known to burglars was a major advancement in safe protection. It came about as a result of a rather unpleasant event, the 1867 robbery of Northampton National Bank, Massachusetts:

"The so-called Great Burglary began not at the bank but soon after midnight at the home of John Whittelsey, a bank cashier, two thirds of a mile away. Seven robbers, one for each resident, burst into the house and tied up the Whittelsey family, demanding that John divulge the combination to the banks safe, and when he gave them the numbers, they diligently took then down. After the short period, they demanded that he repeat the combination, but having given the false one made up on the spot, he could not recall it now. The robbers tortured Whittelsey, obtaining the true combination, stealing more than $500,000 in banknotes, stock certificates and bonds. Three of the perpetrators were later captured and all the money was recovered, but the message to the banking industry was clear: with the newest combination locks, the weak point in the security system was now the human element. Bankers would need a lock that would keep out not just the robbers, but bankers as well".

From this- the time lock was born. Designed to protect the riches from every threat, these beautiful devices embody the evolution of locks technology. These handcrafted masterpieces are elaborately decorated with intricate engravings and castings despite the fact that they will be never seen by public.
"American Genius" is a feast for the eyes. With hundreds of high-quality photos and detailed descriptions of time locks, it covers the golden century of American craftsmanship. It is a must read for a technically minded and curious enthusiast, from an apprentice to an engineer, from a locksmith to a watchmaker, and perhaps, the most, from a banker and his antithesis - the lock picker. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Don't buy a lemon!

It only cost $200, but it will save you tens of thousands. It is small in size, but of mighty power. And most importantly, this amazing instrument will take your appreciation of watches, and your watch collecting addiction, to the next level. 

We have spent almost two days filming this educational video and we have no doubt you will love it. It is simply called "Don't buy a lemon". 

Link to video:

If you have any questions or wish for us to tackle a specific horological issue then please feel free to email us directly at and thank you for subscribing to our YouTube channel, it is much appreciated. 

What is an annual calendar function?

The Aqua Terra Annual Calendar is simply: super cool. Unlike 'dumb' watches, an annual calendar is a smart mechanical computer which can tell the difference between the months with 30 days and 31 days and it will display the correct month and date all year round without the need of any further adjustments.

We have put up a short video showing how easy it is to quick set the annual calendar. Unlike with many other day date or triple calendar watches, Aqua Terra Annual Calendar can be quick set at any time without the worry of putting the watch 'out of whack' (a costly mistake!). Actually, you can't get it out of whack - even if you want to!

Watch the video here: 

A word about the video itself:

At a time when small businesses are melting down, we are doing our absolute best to remain at your service. Right now, we are creating videos that will help us stay in touch. As you would imagine, a video production keeps us busy but keeps us focused on learning. When you click on the link, like the video, and subscribe to our YouTube channel then this is the ultimate reward for our small crew.

Thank you for your continued support.                       

Monday, March 16, 2020

Business as usual in March 2020

The buzz word of the week: self-isolation. My goodness, I can't wait for 2 weeks of FUN: no bloody customers, no phone calls, no unwanted emails. No public transport hassle either- just endless streaming of Netflix, YouTube documentaries, stock market horror stories & reports. Homemade food – and countless hours playing with toys. 

But hang on - I've just described YOUR life! For me, business as usual! Yes, we are open by appointments only - but we ARE open. With a pile of watches to list, and a pile of watches to repair - and assemble - life goes on. 

Self-isolation is not the end of the world. Pull out your watches, give them a wind, kick them in motion - and have some fun. Change straps. Clean bracelets; polish those plexi glasses to a mirror finish. Of course, if you haven't done it yet - do your watch inventory. I can't think of a better time to do so than now! 

Your inventory sheet should be detailed: stock number, model reference, serial numbers - all numbers visible on the watch - as well as a thorough description. Don't forget the important bit: price paid and what you believe is the current market value. Take a few photos of your stock and keep them on file. It goes without saying that your   inventory sheet should be kept separately from your watches, and away from prying eyes. 

The inventory sheet is absolutely priceless. It serves a number of purposes: from helping with determining which watches need a 'proper' insurance valuation, to helping you assess of your collection's monetary value. You may be surprised how much you've 'made' on certain pieces - and how other watches pathetically under-performed over the years. That's life. Of course, if you wish to trim your collection and sell a piece or two, get in touch. 

Watches always wanted!

Looking to add to your collection? Our entire stock is listed here:

We ship the moment that payment is received, which in most cases is the same day. In a day or two, the watch will be on your wrist.       
As of 16/03/2020

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

NH2 No.12 Timascus/Titanium

If you're new to horology then here is a brief summary. An independent watchmaker is a watchmaker who is not part of a major brand or manufacturer. A small maker who makes watches under his own brand; usually a one-man band.

Of course, no two independents are the same and each one will have its own story to tell. For some of them, it's all about the design, others focus on finishes or complications, and a handful even embark on a journey of making their own watch components in their own workshops. The final product reflects everything that the independent stands for, and since the watch manufacturing process is an endless pursuit of perfection and creativity loaded with technical challenges so are the timepieces themselves. A practical creative journal in time.

Independents have been around for ever but its only in the past 20 years -thanks to the internet- that their work has become known to a wider audience. Yet only a few have attained true global recognition including F P Journe, Philippe Dufour, Derek Pratt,  Constantin Chaykin, Kari Voutilainen, Vianney Halter.

If watchmaking is a calling, then independent watchmaking is a curse. A lifetime of solitude, trying to prove a point- whatever that point might be. One thing is certain: independent watchmaking is not about money it is about satisfaction.

This morning, after two months of making, NH2 No.12 Timascus/Titanium movement has finally been completed. This is our first watch featuring guilloche decoration on a 3/4 bridge and balance cock. No. 12 is the most challenging project so far, and even last week I still wasn't sure whether the watch would be completed. While giving up was never an option, the longer we worked on it, it became more and more obvious that No. 12 is a labour of love.

The most difficult moment was on 19th February, when late Wednesday night, I got a phone call from Josh informing me that the main spindle on a Kern had to be shut down. The pump which circulates the coolant liquid through the main spindle had failed. Calls like this from the workshop are the calls I dread the most.

Bringing the mill in for service could mean weeks of delay and tens of thousands of euros. The worst feeling of all is the uncertainty. My only instruction to Josh was 'Gather as much data as you can, and contact the Germans'. It was around midnight when Josh called again. He was able to disassemble the pump motor, and pinpoint the fault- a failed impeller and pressure valve. By 10 o'clock Monday morning our pump parts arrived in Sydney. On Tuesday, the five axis mill was back in action.

NH2 No. 12 is much more than a watch, it is testimony of what is possible when enthusiastic and talented young independent watchmakers work together.  It is also a testimony to 'Manufactured in Australia'. A small colony down under, probably the least suitable country for watchmaking of all.

NH2 No.12 Timascus/Titanium is available for inspection at our Sydney office.

Price: $8,900

For more images/videos see our instagram here: