Monday, July 13, 2020

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.

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