"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 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
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
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.
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
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
Nowadays, at his watchmaking studio, Dan
quietly shapes different metals. Passionately and persistently, making
his mark on time.
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
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
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
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 -
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
"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 (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-john-mcgarvie-8477)
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.