Monday, July 27, 2020

Transfer of Knowledge

"Never teach apprentices tricks of the trade - because they'll leave you and become your competition!"
Quite frankly, I doubt any subscriber to this newsletter would subscribe to this nonsense.

The real question is: when is the right time to allow apprentices to undertake more challenging repairs? Of course, that entirely depends on two things: apprentices desire to learn more than expected, and teacher's willingness to allocate more of his time to a keen student.

The heavily damaged steel Rolex bracelet is kind of job reserved for Michael who is now in his second year. He can do bracelet restoration and polishing with minimum supervision. However, the job itself is not overly difficult for anyone willing to follow instructions, have a keen eye for detail. Especially so when there is no need to complete the task in any particular time frame.

I had no doubt that Chloe, who has been with us for just over 2 months is now ready for her first Rolex bracelet.
Yes, it took her over 3 hours to complete the polishing: the deep scratches were filed out with diamond Valorbe file and then each link was hand polished with various grades of sand paper. The final brush finish was done on rotary 'graining' wheel. Of course, this was highly supervised job and at times, it was required to demonstrate how various media affects the finishes, and how to 'sculpture' the steel by following existing contours or how much pressure to apply; when to pause and most importantly - when to stop.

The overall result is rather pleasing and there is no doubt that the customer is going to be happy with the end result. Quite frankly, important victories like this one is what builds the confidence. Respect to big brands - of course, but to tremble in fear - never!

The Long Now

The Ise Jingu grand shrine in Japan is built of wood and leaves and it is 1500 years old. Yet today, it looks like it was built yesterday! The secret of this longevity, which retains this 'new' look, is based on a rather peculiar fact: every 20 years, the temple is dismantled and torn down - only
to be rebuilt again on the same property. The process of rebuilding has been completed 62 times with the latest in 2013. There is a forest around the shrine area that is considered sacred that covers 13,600 acres that is used for some materials to construct the new shrine. About 222 acres of this forest haven't been touched since the shrine was first established. Any trees used for the shrine are cut down in a special ceremony and floated down a sacred river to the construction site.

In order for trees to be of a suitable size to be used for the shrine, they have to grow for hundreds of years and the builders of the shrine use techniques passed down from generation to generation. The symbiosis is obvious:  the religion needs followers who will remain together for ever, and the ritual of building and tearing down, which cycles every 20 years, provides both spiritual and practical meaning to religion. And there is one significant element to this tradition: perpetual preservation of builders' skills which are passed on from generation to generation. Clearly, a young apprentice builder would be part of the first shrine rebuild in his twenties, in his forties he would be at his peak of strength and at his sixties, at the third rebuild, he would be master builder.

Similarities with our watchmaking project are numerous. If my decision to start the project at the age of 50 was to be based on 'showcasing watchmaker's talent and genius', I would be too old before a first
masterpiece would be assembled - if ever. Quite frankly, I would most likely give up because it would take decades to develop the skills required to produce a masterpiece. Yet for the fact that the brand started with a rather humble and very affordable watch which can be put together and sold to a sufficient number of 'followers', and for the obvious fact that such watches would require regular maintenance every five years, we are now in a position to train apprentices and pass on whatever knowledge we have, and prepare the ground for that next generation of talented ones to take the 'Manufactured in Australia' project to the next level.

Yes, 'Manufactured in Australia' is nothing but religion which requires adherence to strict rules of horological perfection built over generations. The good news is that the ingredients are already here: the seed of watchmaking knowledge developed over 3 generations, the apprentices, tools and machinery, and one day - the dedicated Mittagong workshop which will nicely tie it all together.   Which brings us to the most peculiar aspect of the project: one who wants to call himself an Australian Watchmaker must embrace the mindset of tradition and determination of 'The Long Now' - of which neither exist in Australia. Or more precisely - not yet.

There is no other option

Once again we have no choice but take our destiny into our own hands.

The print media is dead and commercial television is gone. And if you have a story to tell, then you have to share it online.

Remember the Qantas magazine? Remember the two hundred page Sydney Morning Herald weekend issue, a sophisticated paper loaded with news, stories, events, exciting products and thousands of houses for sale, ten thousands cars, countless holiday destinations, music and arts, business news and politics?

Today, SMH offers ten pages of yesterday's news and twenty pages of horse racing 'articles'. An unsophisticated broadsheet for unsophisticated readers. Irrelevant, soon to be gone forever.

And even in its current, below the common denominator and common sense level, no main stream media would publish a story about a maker or a thinker - because their readers could not care less. Surely, one can be published in 'Luxury insert' - for $10,000 per half page. But even if money is not an issue, being 'interviewed 'by a journalist who could not care about you, or your story, or your product'- let alone about the big picture or fine horology is simply unbearable. Why should I pay $10,000 for the privilege to
talk about horology with someone who knows absolutely nothing about the watchmaking and everything about Swiss Megabrands and have that story shared with unsophisticated audience?

We have no other choice but to reach to smart people who care. And this is why YouTube is the way to go.

Independent watchmaking is a big story and a big project of global relevance and importance. There are many watchmakers, horologists, machinists, makers, craftsmen and artisans who, like us, have no platform to voice their cause and present their beautiful watches - except on the media channels they have created themselves. And we are now doing the same.

However, our goal is not to talk about ourselves, but about our fellow watchmakers. To allow them to share their stories. To open their hearts and workshops to those who care - you and me.

Yes, the quality of our videos is rather pedestrian, the quality of verbal expression is rudimental and vocabulary at times just elementary. But for those who care, the message will come through loud and clear: it is about an endless pursuit for perfection, learning, improvement, and creativity. It's raw and uncut, honest, and we tell it as it is- the way you like it.

Today, my guests are two craftsman- two young men who are currently making some of the most fascinating one-of-a-kind watches. Actually, to call those mechanical timepieces watches would be too simple. 
Michal Molnar and Igor Fabry come from the country where watchmaking has never really existed. They have self-taught themselves jewellery making, watchmaking, engraving, stone setting and polishing in a short span of ten or so years. Today, they collaborate with most eminent Swiss movement makers and equally passionately remake masterpieces of the golden era of horology.

As neither of us three come from an English speaking background, it was tempting to edit the interview and 'clean' it for the viewer's convenience. But we made decision to leave the entire recording as is, raw and uncut. And even if choice of words or expressions would be perfect, the words themselves are irrelevant: their masterpieces speak for themselves.

For your enjoyment:

A special 'thank you' to all of you who now follow us on YouTube. The channel now has over 1,000 subscribers which is rather important milestone. 

Raw and Uncut: Interview with Dan Spitz

Dan Spitz is a third generation Master Watchmaker. He remembers sitting on his Grandfather’s lap in his watch and jewellery store in the Catskill Mountains of New York when he was eight years old staring at the inside of a Patek Philippe in amazement. Yet the road to independent haute horology took a few bends – from being a cofounder of heavy metal group Anthrax, 40 million records sold, Grammy nominations; to decades of touring the world spreading his love for metal.
Nowadays, at his watchmaking studio, Dan quietly shapes different metals. Passionately and persistently, making his mark on time.

Two minds in one body, outspoken, raw and uncut.

For your enjoyment:

[Make sure to comment, like and subscribe to our YouTube channel]

You've asked for it - and here it is:

Here is a short tutorial on 'how to remove an Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch bracelet' off its case.

It's easy. You can do it. No fancy tools required.

With a bit of practice, you will be able to replace your Omega bracelet with a leather strap or NATO in no time.
Or, simply to remove it for periodical cleaning.

Putting the bracelet back on is even easier.

My tool of choice: a humble screwdriver with 1.40 mm blade.

Link to video:

Link to screwdriver suitable for Moonwatch bracelet's spring-loaded bar:

PLEASE make sure to like it - and to subscribe to our YouTube channel. Thank you kindly.                          

Monday, July 13, 2020

Sydney Auction scene 2020: What a joke!

Yesterday I was bidding over the phone on a 1850 regulator clock - sight unseen. The clock was in typical distressed condition: complete, but in desperate need of restoration. Starting with the mechanism itself, to the silver dial and the mahogany case. All three major components would require specialists work. Think thousands of dollars and months of hard labour.

The clock was auctioned by Sydney auction house which specializes in pretty much everything- from vintage cars, wine and furniture to even diamonds. The pre-auction estimate was $5,000- $10,000 but on Sunday morning, a couple hours before the auction, the lot was listed with a new estimate of $10,000- $20,000.

$10K was as far as I was prepared to go. Beyond that figure, there would be no joy of either acquiring the clock for stock or adding it to my private collection. In addition, a hefty 25% + GST buyer's premium would turn a ten thousand dollar bid into $13,000 purchase.

The bidding was fierce and in no time I was bidding against at least two bidders, sitting on $12,500. It was time to pull out. I like the clock but at $16,000 I had no choice but to let someone else have the joy of the restoration.

Losing at an auction is not a big deal, especially not so on a lazy Sunday morning. But I did end up a bit upset. The auctioneer acted as if he was on drugs. Auctioning a fine antique clock like calling a finish of Melbourne Cup was extremely annoying. And completely unnecessary. Not to mention the obvious: thanks to corona, the auction room was empty and bidders were competing simultaneously online and over the phone. I could not see what was going on in the room, who is placing the bids against me, at what speed and pace, or even if those bids were imaginary or real.

And my goodness - the 30% buyers premium is simply criminal. Mind you - there is a sellers premium as well, which most likely is 25% too. Which means that on $10,000 sale auction house makes $5,500 profit. That is a huge amount of money taking in to consideration zero investment in stock, zero risk and zero guarantee on sold items. Not to mention that almost every item that ends at auction would either have no provenance, would require restoration, repair or even just polishing and that there is no guarantee on authenticity or any guarantee on performance - whatsoever.

No names - but there is another auction house in Sydney which persistently advertises "Fine jewellery and watches  recovered by Australian Federal Police". The modus operandi is simple: generate as much hype, in hope that sensationalist media would pick it up and turn it into a 'story'.

Like this one:
“From today they're auctioning off recovered fine jewellery from the proceeds of crime for 70% off.

If you consider yourself a bit of a bargain hunter, true crime buff or just have a penchant for bling, it’s quite literally your lucky day.

Running from today until May 17th, the Australian Federal Police are auctioning off a bunch of recovered fine jewellery and watches via [deleted] for a song.

Without leaving the comfort of your lounge you’ll be able to pick up a luxury piece from the likes of Cartier, Bvlgari, Tiffany or Rolex, through an online auction for up 80% less than its retail value.”

Note the loaded narrative: crime, bargains, luxury, police, 80% less, Rolex and Cartier. Who can resist?

In reality, while all this could be true, most likely your chances of picking a bargain are painfully slim. Notoriously, such ‘recovery items’ are often used just to sparkle the otherwise ordinary stock, which could be a mix of private items, retail or jewellers wholesale stock-  and who knows what else.

I really admire auctioneers who are experts in everything from needles to locomotives. And when one day that Rolex ‘proceed of crime bought for a song’ ends up at a Rolex service centre for an overhaul, you may be in for a surprise.

“Auctions” in the time of Covid are for bored fools with deep pockets. If you can’t attend it in person and bid in person, don’t waste your time. If you do end up as a ‘winner’, most likely, you’ve paid too much. And if you got it for a song, then you are probably tone deaf.

Bottom line: buy new and enjoy the pride of ownership. Preowned is fine – only when bought from a reputable expert you can trust. Everything else – at your own risk.                         

Reclaiming the horology

A few weeks ago we started the project titled 'Horology Raw and Uncut'. Essentially, a series of interviews with watchmakers and clockmakers who share their stories. Last night, my guest was Mike Cardew. Electronics engineer by trade, Mike got into watchmaking perusing his passion for design and making. There is so much I like about him: he is focused, productive, creative and unorthodox. He uses tools which he has at his disposal and incorporates watch parts sourced from other timepieces into his own made main plates, bridges and cases. Cardew Watches is a ‘company’ which makes watches but as Mike says, does not have customers – only ‘people I like’. You will be surprised to learn what happens to Mike’s watches once assembled.

Yes, horology comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There is no doubt that you will find this interview inspirational – especially if you like to make your own things – whatever they are.

When you like our YouTube videos, you are not paying homage to me personally, but to my guests who are creative and extraordinary craftsman in their own right. ‘HRU’ videos are created as documents and documentaries to be preserved for the future, not as an advertisement for business or a product. Please subscribe to our YouTube channel and help us grow so we can provide more exciting content in the future. Our immediate goal is to reach 1000 subscribers!

A special ‘thanks’ goes to our apprentice Bobby for post-recording production- without him, the 'Horology Raw and Uncut' project would not be possible.

To watch the video go to:

Interview with David Walter, Part 2

If you enjoyed the first part, then the sequel will impress you even more. David is simply telling it how it is, no horological sugar coating, taking no prisoners. Yes, he will rock you out of your comfort zone, but that's what a 'raw and uncut' interview is all about.  (It goes without saying that you should watch the first part before jumping to the link below.)

Keep in mind that David Walter is our fellow Australian and in a way, our ambassador in California - who will appreciate your best wishes. Feel free to leave your feedback in the YouTube comments.

J Mcgarvie Smith (Sydney) pocket watch - the saga continues

Of course, it was impossible to resist- so yesterday the workbench was cleared to make room for a quick disassembly of the JM Smith. The watch is numbered 7625 on both movement bridge and inside the gold case which means that case and dial started the life together. Of course, each watchmaker had his own numbering style so this relatively high number does not mean 'seventh thousand something' watch made by a particular maker- it really could have been his first and only piece as numbering is concerned. The movement is also signed 'Patent' which is a sign that Smith claimed a patent to either a design, function or innovation of operation related to the watch. And indeed, there are at least two unique features of the watch which makes it special, and different in at least those two details than any other pocket watch I've worked on from the 1870s era.

The first feature is that the sweep Chrono hand of the timer is located beneath the minute hand. It is actually sandwiched between hour and minute hands. There is a reason for it - but I'll talk about that some other time. The second feature is a unique winding system. Unlike the other stem wound, pin set pocket watches which employ 'negative keying', which means that once the mechanism is taken out of the case, the winding stem no longer 'works', Smith's solves that problem elegantly with positive keying and a click with click spring and ratchet integrated under the crown wheel, while winding crown and intermediate winding wheel are integrated into the case itself. Practically, a watchmaker could work on the watch and wind it and set the time without the need to insert it back into the case. However, such luxury for a repairman comes with the price: creation of two crown wheels mounted under a rather tricky angle to each other. Quite frankly, to manufacture those wheels and their bridges today would be a challenge- let alone 150 years ago.

While  Smith was  trained as a chronometer maker with sufficient knowledge to design and implement complex new systems in his watch, the question which begs the answer to, was who made the gears and bridges - Smith himself, in his Sydney workshop or a skilled maker in London, for him.

One thing is certain: a man of McGarvie's 'calibre' would not easily take credit for someone else's work and sign the mechanism with his name and claim a patent if he merely copied or imported the entire mechanism from England.

I have contacted NSW library with polite request for any patents issued to J M Smith from Sydney around 1870s so let's keep the fingers crossed.

There is just one rather disappointing moment which actually made me bit unhappy: 22 subscribers who replied to survey said that J M Smith 18K gold pocket watch is worth 'less than $1,000'. There are two possibilities for such unkindness and disrespect to an eminent Sydney watchmaker and scientist: total ignorance or sick humour. Neither is appreciated.

Luckily, 65% of you generously suggested that Smith's pocket watch be donated to the Museum which is an ultimate sign of sophistication. For those who insist on a dollar value: who in his right mind would commit treason? To swap a one-off piece of Australian history for a mass-produced Rolex watch? If this is the way we think then we clearly don't deserve Smith's watch at all.

This is exciting

"John McGarvie Smith (1844-1918), watchmaker, metallurgist and bacteriologist, was born on 8 February 1844 in Sydney, eldest surviving of thirteen children of Scots parents David Milne Smith, tailor of Old South Head Road, and his wife Isabella née Young. Baptized John by Rev. John McGarvie, he later added McGarvie to his names. Aged 13 he was apprenticed to a jeweller and watchmaker and by 1867 he had set up as a jeweller and watch and chronometer maker—in George Street in the 1870s, then in Hunter Street until 1882. His precision training and commercial sense stood him in
good stead." And this is just the first paragraph of J M Smith's biography, as recorded by Kamoya Peterson (

However, Smith will be remembered as a founder of McGarvie institute. After watchmaking, he took up the study of bacteriology and did a large amount of research endeavouring to find a vaccine against the effects of a snake bite. He was successful in developing a vaccine for Anthrax.

John Smith was avaricious and secretive, and reputed to have amassed a fortune. His estate was valued for probate at £28,739. But he was also "deeply patriotic and convivial with a wide circle of friends. A 'Big Man'in every sense". He died 6 September 1918 at his Woollahra home and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

A person of repute, a skilful watchmaker and academic, born and buried in Sydney.

And today, I have in front of me a J M Smith gold pocket watch. A watch of mysterious origin; a piece of historical and horological value that is yet to be researched. Judging by the quality of workmanship, the 18K gold case as well as mechanism itself, the watch could have been made in England. Yet we know that in the mid-1880s Smith set up himself as an assayer and metallurgist and continued to record his occupation as assayer until 1914. He developed a successful treatment for refractory ores at Sunny Corner mine and Broken Hill, and refined the chlorine process of extracting gold at Mount Morgan, Queensland. Would a gold assayer and a chronometer maker of repute simply import an English pocket watch and engrave his name on the movement and dial? This would be highly unlikely and would make no sense. The construction of the pocket watch is bit unusual - it is a single pusher chronograph capable of recoding up to 60 seconds, but with no minute counter. A kind of watch that he could have at least partially built or made himself. A watch perfect for quick pulse measurement - or what we call a doctor's watch'; a kind of timepiece that would be extremely handy to a scientist or physician. If indeed McGarvie made at least some of the watch components himself, then this pocket watch would certainly have significant importance to Australian horology.

Exciting times ahead - I wish I could jump straight into J M Smith, but for next few weeks the watch will be safely put aside until the bench is cleared.

Note: a watch of this importance always generate fair bit of interest. At this stage it is not for sale. And if decision is made to be sold, then I have no other option but to insist that the watch stays in Sydney. A special thank you to Mr Trent Firth, President of the WCA for help with the research.

From the workshop

Another important milestone reached yesterday: we've made our smallest
titanium screw so far.

The thread diameter is 0.6 millimetre, the head diameter is 1.16mm and the slot is just one quarter of the mil. To put things in perspective: a human hair next to the screw. Note how cool the thread profile is.
And this is how the screw looks like after being machined. The next step is deburring by hand, 'black polish' with diamond paste, and finally anodizing.

And this is how the screw looks, ready for installation.

Next step is to make a polishing jig for polishing of the bottom of the slot.

As reported before: the profile cutter tool for the thread cutting was ground in-house as well.

It would be really interesting to know are there any other screw manufacturers in Australia who can make a screw of this size?
The only other application for such a fine screw outside watchmaking would
be in instrument making.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

David E Walter

David Walter is the first person to successfully recreate the Woodward Free pendulum clock, W5 in 2006 followed by an improved edition of Breguet No.3671 Double Pendulum clock in 2010 and further development in 2012 added the complications of Daniels Perpetual calendar with retrograde date and sunrise/sunset indications. These great achievements firmly place David Walter not only as one of the greatest clockmakers ever to have lived and the greatest living clockmaker as well as the only clockmaker to have ever made both versions of double pendulum clock, The Free Pendulum (D)W5 and the Double Pendulum Resonance Clock.

And what would you say if I tell you that David Walter is an Aussie?

Quite frankly, I was hoping for and would be more than happy with a fifteen minute chat with David. Generously and kindly, he allocated over two hours to share with us his amazing story.

For your enjoyment here is Part One of the 'Raw and Uncut' interview with David E Walter.

Watchmakers Secret Revealed

Like all tradesmen, watchmakers do not share their tricks of the trade, but I have nothing to hide. This two minute YouTube video shows how to professionally remove chronograph hands from an Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. We love our vintage watches in original condition and especially the dial and hands. Our duty as repairmen is to keep them intact.

This particular Speedy is from 1968 - fitted with calibre 321 movement.

Make sure to like the video as it would be greatly appreciated.

Workshop News, Brookvale

Continuing with the Manufactured in Australia project.  It has been a busy week with plenty of excitement. Josh is currently manufacturing titanium screws, reaching the 'new small' with a thread diameter of 0.8mm. The screws are turned and threaded on the Citizen CNC lathe. The screw polishing jig is done as well, with internal holes having a thread of 0.8mm and 0.6mm. This is done on the Kern mill using an amazingly small threading cutter. Note the photo of the cutter next to a human hair. We are not quite there yet, more fine tuning to follow, but the first screws are already fully functional. 
In the mean time, Andrew is working on the NH Regulator Clock. When we started this project a couple of years ago, it was based on an English design. Last month we finally got back into it - and we made the decision to ditch the old design and start from scratch, designing our own clock. From the layout and unique power maintenance work, to holding all the wheels not in brass bushings but seated in ceramic ball bearings. We also wanted 'perfect' dial symmetry with the minute hand in the centre, seconds and hours in line and two winding squares. It is completely 'in house', from design to manufacturing. A small curiosity is the gear tooth profile - which is not a clock, but watch profile. The plan is to have a fully tested and working regulator on the wall by Christmas.

Here is a quick 60 seconds video of the first couple gears in motion. The almost friction-less motion is mesmerising because clock gears are not supposed to turn so smoothly, and especially not while just sitting supported in one bearing.

Check it out here -
It will only take one minute of your time. Make sure to like it and do remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel - much appreciated.