Friday, March 25, 2022

Collecting without sophistication is just clutter


A business call at 8:30 on Saturday night, to our home number, is kind of unusual. "He says he knows you,” said Tanya.

The name did ring a bell, but I couldn’t think of any reason why someone so distant would call me so late, interrupting the only quiet evening of the week.

Our caller—let's call him Tom—was an elderly gentleman, and a fellow countryman who migrated to Australia in the 1960s. Tom's story is typical: he arrived penniless, worked 7 days a week, 16 hours per day, saved hard, and invested wisely. Extremely wisely. Tom proudly enjoyed his status in the migrant community—the status of a reputable man who earned his wealth in an honest way.

"Mr Tom, what can I do for a fifty million dollar man?" I asked him
He laughed the compliment off, “Close, but not quite 50 million. Not yet!”

Indeed, my countryman spoke as though he knew me, directly, and without hesitation. "I am downsizing,” he said. “The big house is on the market, and today I've started packing my stuff. I have a dozen or so watches, I’m wondering if you’d be interested in my watch collection?”

As it turns out, the most valuable watch in his collection was a 1980s Tissot.

"Sorry Mr Tom, I have to pass, but thank you for giving me a chance,” I replied.

"So my watches are completely worthless?” he said. “I’m not surprised. Quite frankly, most of the stuff in my garage is not worth much either. I have four digital cameras, video players, boxes and boxes of unopened VHS tapes, suits I never wore, gold clubs I never put to good use. Toys saved for retirement—a retirement that never happened.”

I tried cheering him up. Surely, some of his belongings would have some value to a collector, or an online trader?

"Now that you've mentioned it, I do have a collection of pens, about 200 of them. While I was in business, a sales rep would stop by every now and then and give me a plastic pen. I've saved them all."

I had no choice but to point out the obvious: two hundred pens of the same colour, model, and shape, all stamped with the same company logo, is not a collection. It is a pile of junk. Undeterred, Tom went on, in detail, for a solid hour—from the day he arrived in a new country, to the point in life when he could afford any house west of Strathfield he wanted. Over the years he owned 34 cars, mainly Mercedes. He travelled the world. And yet, something was missing, or as he put it: "I didn’t know what I really wanted, and even if I knew, I would not have had the time to enjoy it. I wanted my money to be my legacy.”

As strange as it may sound, money itself is not a legacy. Legacy comes when sophistication is put into action. The Great Pyramid of Giza is a mighty legacy because it was built by a sophisticated pharaoh. The same can be said for the Great Wall of China, or the Eiffel tower. All sophisticated collections—from paintings and bronze, to coke cans, Lego sets, and McDonald’s memorabilia, to even Barbie dolls—they all have one thing in common: they are legacies of sophisticated collectors.

For Tom, money was not an issue, but he lacked sophistication. He failed to learn the language, to invest in education, to read, to connect with, and learn from sophisticated people. Ultimately, by his own admission, he failed to create a meaningful legacy that would, like a pyramid, point to and speak for its maker for many millenniums to come. Or at least, to every now and then invest in a plastic pen of a different colour, imprinted with a different logo.

"I see where you're heading with this”, you may say. "You want to sell more watches to subscribers— mainly elderly gentlemen—by playing on the idea that collecting watches is, if not the ultimate, then at least a worthwhile legacy".

Actually, on the contrary. My message is to my youngest readers, those who are curious about the world, have a sparkle in their eyes, and who are yet to invest in the very first piece of their yet-to-be-built collection. And the message is simple: seek sophistication and your collection will find you. You will get much further if you seek refinement by displaying good taste, wisdom, and subtlety, rather than crudeness, stupidity, and vulgarity, which comes from a mere acquisition and accumulation. If you allow yourself to be found by just one watch per year, so be it. And then one day, in the surprisingly not so distant future, you will look back with no regrets, wanting nothing, and having it all.                         

New Zealanders - you are good people

Straight to the point: we love you. 

Kiwis are fantastic customers. Over the years, we've sold and shipped hundreds of watches across the ditch without a single incident. Realistic expectations, prompt payments, meaningful conversations, mutual respect. Exactly as business should be conducted.

One of my all-time favourite watch events was a presentation to fellow watchmakers at their Annual Conference in Nelson. We promised to return, and we will. New Zealand is like Australia, just a bit better.

Yesterday, during the installation of our new machine, I had the pleasure to work shoulder to shoulder with a really cool rigger. A Kiwi wearing a red shirt with a rather powerful logo: "Nothing is a problem". He moved around our machinery like matchboxes, cracking jokes, and making the difficult, complex, and stressful job look too easy. Priceless.

Our Seiko rep, Aaron, is a New Zealander too. We have been working on this Seiko project for a year and a half. He has proven himself as trustworthy and someone you can rely on. An asset to Seiko. There is one thing I really like about him: he does not even try to sell; the Seiko watches sell themselves. The other day we called him well after business hours; he replied at 6:59 in the evening. I mean, seriously, who does that?

Yes, it is so shallow to generalise, to 'box and label' an entire nation, but I am yet to come across a New Zealander I don't like.  As Australians, we should be grateful to all hard working migrants who came here - permanently or temporarily - to help us build our nation.  And today, on my own behalf, and yours too, I salute New Zealand.


What a surprise!


Camphor Laurel is a strange tree. In Australia, it is regarded as a highly invasive evergreen weed that has a tendency to exclude most other desirable native vegetation. It has no serious predators or diseases so it has a competitive advantage over native vegetation.

Yet Camphor Laurel is a valuable resource. It is used for a range of products and furniture including tables, kitchen benches, railings, bookcases, chairs, stairs, carvings, sculptures and various items that can be turned on a lathe. And curiously enough, in Japan, Camphor is not a weed, but a highly prized exotic wood of a beautiful, rich honey-colour with a clean, fresh Camphor smell.

On Friday, young Manni from Melbourne, who makes our pocket watch stands, showed up at our office with 3 Camphor Laurel pocket watch stands. It was a bit of a surprise: I was expecting a dozen or so dark and heavy burl stands. Dark burl and steel pocket watch cases work really well and burl stands are Manni's signature pieces. Instead, we got three light, almost Nordic looking stands! Would it work? It did. Immediately, it became obvious that the shiny stainless and honey Camphor compliment each other in a very 'harmonic' way. This harmony was the result of a careful section of wood as well as the cutting technique where most of the dark grain is only visible from the side. While I personally favour intense wood, it is not difficult to picture this stand shining like a centrepiece on a black table or black book case.

Coincidentally, Manni wears a Grand Seiko GMT and he is proud of his collection of 1970s Seiko chronographs which he restores himself! Small world.
Camphor Laurel: $250 each
Fiddleback River Red Gum: $275
What is cool about these particular pieces is that they feature figuring in the wood known as ‘fiddleback’, giving a unique striping pattern that dances in the light.
Artisan - made in Australia.                         

The best big boys watch under $200


Compared to other watch dealers, we run a rather small operation. Both in dollar value and in number of units sold.

Yet here is a crazy piece of statistics: assuming that I've physically touched just 10 watches per day, I've handled at least 125,000 watches in my lifetime. That includes watches I've considered buying, customer's watches, repairs and watches sold. 

Actually that is probably a very conservative estimate: on a busy day there could be 50 watches going through my hands, and a visit to an overseas dealer means looking at and examining 500 or more watches per day!

In other words, I've seen lots of watches - from piles of worthless junk to some really expensive and valuable horological masterpieces. Being in this unique position has helped me develop two quite peculiar skills: an ability to instantly recognize the quality of a watch as well as it's value. The kind of stuff that is a hallmark of every other specialist: from a car dealer to antique book dealer, numismatics expert to art auctioneer.

And this is how you should benefit from that insiders knowledge

Yesterday, I discovered a watch which could be only described as the best watch under $200 I've ever seen. A watch so cool, you absolutely must add to your collection. But before we get there: a quick intro.

In 1972, Hamilton and Electro/Data, two American companies, released the first battery operated watch with a digital display. It was called Pulsar. It looked like no other watch: futuristic, full of optimism. A miracle of electronic engineering. Solid 18K gold. And above all: it was a sexy looking watch. So sexy that it was featured in 1972 Playboy magazine. The first Pulsar came with price tag of $2100 USD which is more than the price of not one, but four Rolex Submariners.
In 1978, Seiko made the move to acquire Pulsar. The idea was simple: thanks to Seiko’s manufacturing power, Pulsar watches would be made in the millions and offered at an unbelievably low price. In 1982 Seiko started marketing affordable digital watches under the brand, Lorus. Lorus was first launched in Europe to complement the already popular Pulsar and Seiko brands. It was an instant success, offering not only affordable products, but products with high design and technology qualities.

Yesterday, when I got my hands onto the latest 46mm Lorus in stainless steel, I was completely blown away.
Without any doubt, this is the best watch under $200 I’ve ever seen. As you would expect, it is loaded with all the bells and whistles an owner of a Swiss mechanical chronograph could only dream about, but that is not the point. The point is that Lorus feels like a proper ‘quality’ watch, a watch which could – and should – be worn by even a most serious watch enthusiast.

I am not talking ‘no, you won’t be disappointed’. I am talking ‘yes, you will be blow away’.

I called Aaron immediately. “Aaron, I feel an obligation to introduce this amazing watch to our fellow watch enthusiasts. I want the entire stock you have on hand. I want them all because they will sell like crazy”.

As always, you have my personal guarantee that you will be completely satisfied with your watch. Meaning: when you open the box, if the watch is not as per your expectation, I’ll take it back for a 100% refund. No ifs or buts: 100% money back guarantee on a single watch or on entire batch. I’ll also keep the shipping cost locked at $9.

Case size: 46mm. Quartz movement. Digital/analogue. Chronograph with alarm and perpetual calendar. Lumibrite backlight.

Here is another "insiders only" delight - this Lorus contains two batteries. One lithium, and the other is silver oxide. The lithium battery powers up the digital side of the watch, while silver oxide runs the analogue movement. Two batteries with completely different characteristics and life cycles, so the chances of both dying at the same time are practically zero. Super cool.

An update


A couple of subscribers requested an update on the opening of the new shop. In case you've missed: my 82 year old father retired on January 1 and it is now my duty to take care of the family shop, established in 1951 on the other side of the world. Yeah, heaps of fun.

I'll keep it brief. Dad is still refusing to hand over the keys. I mean, he tried to con me with a set of freshly cut duplicates. A fully functional set, nonetheless, but the message is clear: only one of us could be the boss. The latest request: whoever takes his place, must be a non-smoker. In addition, by his decree, the 3 meters wide street frontage has been 'claimed' as a no-smoking zone. Of course, he knows very well that he has no say over council land which makes this childish attempt to insert authority completely unnecessary and a complete waste of time.

Luckily, I do have an ally on the ground: my younger brother, who is helping me with the shop refurbishment, installation of new lights, sorting out a leaking tap, and painting. Having him on my side is simply priceless. He also helped with the business registration, hiring an accountant and book keeper, opening a bank account and interviewing potential job applicants. Yes, I hear you - doing business with family is a recipe for disaster. "Your brother will rip you off as soon as the opportunity presents itself". Maybe he will, maybe he won't; I am prepared to take the risk. At the end of the day, our plan is simple: to keep the shop open so that our family name remains on the door.

Right now I am trying to get myself familiar with local laws, especially regulations relating to the tax system. Quite frankly, I am amazed with the level of compliance required to run a company in a small central European country. In a positive way: the rules are rigid, but fair. The Government is absolutely paranoid about two things: collection of VAT (their GST) and protection of workers wages and payroll. Local GST is 20% which is double what we pay here. On the other hand, the company tax rate is 15% (ours is 25%). And here is the beauty: there are only three personal income tax brackets: 0% which applies to the income of all middle earners, 10% for high earners (doctors for example) and 15% as an absolute maximum rate for the 'ultra rich'. Clearly, unlike in Australia, the Government makes money from taxing consumption, not earnings and wages. Free education and free Medicare are the norm.

Yet before you jump on the first flight to that 'tax haven' country- beware of a small drawback: there is always the chance that by the end of the financial year you'll be bombed by either Putin or Biden - or both, simultaneously.

For that reason alone, I am quite happy to conduct business remotely, while happily residing in (still!) the best country on earth.

(to be continued)

The best $13 I've ever spent!


This is super cool - I've won an auction! A 1970s Seiko pocket watch write-off for just $13. Judging by the photos, most likely, the poor thing went through a washing machine. Externally, a disaster. Internally - just a blob of rusty mud.

So why am I so excited? Because I have in stock every single part for this particular Seiko calibre, and like the Ship of Theseus, I can already see this railway pocket watch looking like new, and keeping perfect time. The whole restoration project shot in 4K would generate hundreds of thousands of views and steady advertising income for years to come.

There is only one problem: I don't really have time to do it right now... 

By the way, and if you are not familiar with the concept: the Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced over time remains fundamentally the same object. This concept is one of the oldest in Western philosophy, having been discussed by Heraclitus and Plato 2500 years ago. Since then, philosophers have been banging their heads to solve this paradox, which in a way remains unresolved to this day.

Yet in my mind, the paradox could be easily solved in a very elegant way, by introducing the 'third party' with vested interests. Suppose that the watch was insured for a sum of let's say $1000. Then ruined by a careless owner, then restored by a skilful watchmaker who replaced every single part at the total cost of $1,000. The owner makes a claim to their insurance company who happily pays the watchmaker.
Here is the punch line: while both the watch owner and watchmaker could agree that the newly 'recreated watch' may not be the original watch, such a dilemma would not burden the insurer. The insurer doesn't really care; because it is not his job to care about thought experiments, but material evidence.

In other words, the paradox exists only if we want it to exist. And even then, it only exists in our minds.                         

'Manufactured in Australia' project update


The first batch of NH3 watches has been delivered to watch collectors in the US, Europe and Australia. Without exception, every single ambassador who has received his NH3 replied in superlatives. "It simply looks so much better than on photos". "Stunning". What more could we ask for?

In a moment like this, I would usually say: Thank you, we are humbled.
This time, just: Thank you very much - your support is truly appreciated. But we are not humbled. The NH3 is exactly what we have promised: manufactured in Australia, to our best ability.

I am not just speaking on behalf of my team who have worked so hard for the past few years to deliver a bespoke watch you can be proud of. I am talking about our ability to push watch part manufacture to a level rarely attained by small independent watchmakers - not just in Australia, but anywhere that watches are made. Machining exotic titanium, brass and timascus alloys at the micron level, hand finishing and hand assembly are just some of processes appreciated by highly sophisticated watch collectors.

It is very important to point out that those first orders came from very serious collectors, including enthusiasts who specialize in makers like Constantin Chaykin, F.P. Journe, Joshua Shapiro, Urwerk, Paul Gerber, De Bethune, MB&F and Gronefeld.

The future is exciting: currently, we have more orders than we can physically take care of. Which means that we no longer provide a firm delivery date. Each watch is a unique piece which cannot be rushed. 

Today we have commenced 'disassembly' of our manufacturing facility in Brookvale. As the new Kern is about to arrive and to be installed, we are now forced to halt production, move every single machine already installed, do some structural re-engineering of the available floor space, upgrade the electrical lines, and undertake long overdue maintenance on our cooling system. This is a major job that will take 2-3 months to complete.

A special 'thank you' goes to our strap maker James B Young. The new crocodile strap for NH3 took quite a while to develop and deliver (the skin was sourced from an Australian supplier more than 3 years ago!) but it was surely worth it. An Australian Watch, on an Australian Crocodile strap, in an artisanal Australian Silky Oak box. It really doesn't get more Australian than that.

The new crocodile strap would fit not just NH3 but all titanium case Rebelde and NH models (24mm spacing between the lugs). Extra long (to fit up to 21cm wrist) straps are in stock, price $525. 

Dad has turned 82, and today is his last day of trading

Actually, he was supposed to retire on January 1, but he just couldn’t help himself. Breaking away from a daily routine that has lasted for over 60 years is not something that can be done overnight. Our small family workshop is in the same location that it was in 1951 when the first generation Hacko commenced the watchmaking business.

Dad will retire on a monthly pension of 300 Euros. Which is plenty for a man who barely needs anything. Being the oldest son, it is now my duty to provide for mum and dad. In return, I am also expected to take over the family shop and continue the trade - closing the shop down or renting it out would be disgrace and an insult to our family name. This is going to be quite the challenge, considering that the shop is located 18,000 km away from Sydney.

The transition itself is exactly as expected: painful. I had to call mum last night with the firm demand that dad hands over the keys immediately, without further delay. My younger brother has already organised an electrician, plumber and painter; so the stock has to be put in storage, and bench tools taken home.

At 82, dementia is slowly creeping in. He has no hobbies; he does not have a pet. While he is still fine behind the work bench, he struggles with basic stuff: unsure of the day of the week, or who is related to whom. He is stubbornly unwilling to do even basic bookkeeping or keep a social distance, or wear a mask. A few weeks ago, on the way to work, he fell off his pushbike and bruised himself badly, yet failed to tell mum about the accident. "So I wouldn't be even allowed to stop by the new shop? And who is going to do all the repairs?" - he asks over and over again.

Right now, I have no answers to his questions. What has to be done, has to be done, and done sooner rather than later. Time waits for no one. 

[to be continued...]

Friedrich Deckel and the Bee Gees


Last week a fine gentleman and friend of mine had decided to part with two pieces of machinery from his workshop.
Both pieces were imported from Europe, one from Switzerland and the other from Germany. They were in immaculate condition and coincidentally, with how the world works, were exactly what we needed in our factory! This story is the story of one of those machines - the Deckel S0, tool grinder.

Friedrich Deckel was a machine tool manufacturer that made precision toolroom machinery out of Germany during the mid 1900s. The story of their company is fascinating, with links to Zeiss, Ernst Abbe and many other industrial powerhouses in central Europe. Interestingly, FD manufactured shutter components for nearly every single camera manufacturer! If you have a minute, even a quick glance over their history on Wikipedia can give you a great understanding of the influence they had on the industrialisation of Europe.

During the late 50s, Deckel narrowed it's business scope to making machine tools, some of which today have the same cult following among machine tool collectors as vintage Patek does to Patek collectors. Deckel made some of the most well built milling and grinding equipment money could by. We talk a lot about our "Kern" machine, Deckel was the Kern of it's time! In 1993 Deckel merged with another machine tool builder, "Maho AG" and became Deckel Maho AG. Within a year they filed for bankruptcy and were purchased by Gildemeister, another German machine tool manufacturer, and renamed to "DMG". About 20 years and a lot of growth later, a Japanese company by the name of Mori Seiki merges with DMG, to make DMG MORI, which is as of writing this, the largest machine tool manufacturer in the world, supplying machines to every single market segment and servicing every single manufacturing need that humanity has to offer.

Friedrich Deckel, the "D" in DMG Mori AG, is in many ways the progenitor of arguably the most successful, and definitely the largest machine tool builder in the world. From humble beginnings making grinding equipment for Zeiss and almost failing twice, now the crowning letter in a company that employs over six thousand people and has a sales volume measured in billions. This story is fascinating to me, it's all about longevity - make something, make it well, and service it to last. Success is almost guaranteed. Who knows where you will end up if you can keep on 'Stayin Alive'.

Pictured: The Deckel S0 Single lip tool and cutter grinder. Used in our workshop to produce cutters out of carbide and high speed steel, and most notably will be used to make and sharpen cutters for the guilloche process in our NH series watches.

While you are here: a photo of the current project: an assembly for a space application. This is a ground up project where our role involves providing a technical solution, design, manufacturing and assembly. The chassis was made from a solid block of metal, and so were the bronze rack gears. 
Manufactured in Brookvale, soon to launched into space.