Thursday, September 29, 2005

Chuck's Watchhunting Travel Pack

Chuck Maddox explains what you need to go watchhunting.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Daniels' Coaxial and Flat Coaxial Compared

George Daniels' original patent application:

And as embodied in his early pocket watches:

uses two escape wheels fixed to an arbor (co-axial), with a standard pinion, as opposed to the later "extra flat" version:

that is found in later Daniels' watches and as adopted by Omega. This "extra flat" version uses an extra wheel in the going train that engages a multi-purpose pinion/impulse wheel which sits co-axially on an arbor with the other escape wheel.

In the above figure:
The escapement is composed of an intermediary wheel A, a double Coaxial wheel B composed of escapement pinion C and escapement wheel D, pallet fork E with 3 ruby pallet-stones F, G,H and a balance roller K carrying a ruby impulse stone J and a ruby impulse pin L. The roller is fitted to the sprung balance. In the Coaxial escapement, the clockwise impulse is delivered to the oscillator directly by the escape wheel engaging the balance roller. The anti-clockwise impulse is delivered to the balance roller via the lever. After each impulse, the escape wheel is locked stationary by the lever locking pallets allowing the balance to complete its vibration undisturbed.

However, Roger Smith is now making watches to the original design. Take a look here.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Grandpa's Watch at the Observatory Trials

You may remember Grandpa's watch from previous instalments. A modest man's pocket watch of the 30s, other than Chris Heal's service, it's not a fettled or specially prepared racehorse in any way. Not exactly Kew, but, I decided to put its recently serviced movement through its paces in my own lab in my own version of the 'Observatory Trials'.

An Everite from 1937/8. Not exactly Patek tourbillon material. We'll see. Go baby go!

So far so good. Day 3 and so far the mean deviation in rate is 0. Whooh hoooh! Stay tuned for ongoing updates. (Beats reality TV anyday.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

RAF NATO Pattern Strap

An RAF pattern NATO strap!

Sky high quality, cheap as chips, light as a feather, soft as your first kiss - in all weathers, indestuctabubble and definitely NOT to be confused with the normal NATO issue with all the problems of the double thickness, ouchy, itchy and scratchy fixed 3 loop positions. It's so comfy you keep thinking you've lost your watch to start with.

Yep, discovery of the year for me and preferably in Jimbo Bond grey stripes. So Dad had it right all those years ago after all….. Oh, and if you can't get one, you can modify the standard NATO one by cutting and heat sealing.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Seiko Spring Drive - Akahane's Pointless Marvel

First Spring Drive Prototype 1982

When I was a kid I modified a Smiths clock movement to run without an escapement - whoooooosh. I could make the clock run fast or slow with my finger as a brake on the escape wheel; it hardly took any force, I was fascinated. That was 1977 when Yoshikazu Akahane invented Spring Drive, the Summer Star Wars came out. I wonder if we were briefly connected by The Force and this too was his inspiration behind the Spring Drive! He was an electronics genius and sadly didn't live to see it produced (Dying in 1998, it was the year the watch was shown at Basel.).

I haven't posted on this yet because I was waiting to see how I felt about it longer term, let the impact of it sink in a bit. Well, my initial gut reaction to it hasn't changed and it's not good. I mean, who IS Spring Drive targeted at? People who want more accuracy from a mechanical? Or people who want a mechanical quartz watch. The first group is entirely understandable, but the concept falls at the first fence of the emotional. We debated the 'rules' for the development of mechanical watches a while back and quartz enhanced regulation of an otherwise mechanical watch was flagged as a no-no. Not an improvement on a good quartz watch either, Spring Drive doesn't even satisfy quartz standards with a rubbish guarranteed accuracy of 1s/d. Even some lucky enough to have them running 1s/w is still rubbish in my view. What is the point of a mechanical quartz watch; especially at the expense of accuracy and servicing aggro....what were they honestly thinking at Seiko? Neither appealing emotionally or functionally, Spring Drive's neither one thing nor the other. They simply failed to heed these words about research:
" It requires all one’s strength of mind to break off, when cool judgement counsels the abandonment of a project to which one has grown very attached and on which one has lavished years of thought and painstaking research; but such decisions have sometimes to be made and, speaking for myself, I find it easiest when the demon of doubt becomes insistent, to suspend all work and thought on the project for a few days or weeks and then review it afresh. It is surprising how coldly and dispassionately one can review and, if necessary, reject one’s own most cherished schemes after they have been banished from one’s mind for a decent interval.”
If they'd done that, they'd have abandoned this pointless marvel before The Empire Struck Back.

As the measurement of time developed from water clocks and candles, the driving force was always accuracy. With the plethora of precise timekeeping available for tuppence ha’penny now, I think it’s hard to appreciate the lost importance of this in our age and you have to go back and ask pre-quartz (PQ!?) people what it was like when it was different to understand the issue. For my dad, brought up with no option, the appearance of quartz was a revelation, cheap as chips and accurate beyond belief; some kind of gift from benevolent aliens. He was fascinated by them and taught himself how to repair them, buying up non-runners from a weird shop in Tottenham Court Rd. Does he wear a mechanical now? No. He stills see the point of a watch as to tell the time – as accurately and fuss free as possible and quartz gives that. Strangely, it was listening to his earlier wristwatches and staring in the back of my Grandpa’s pocketwatch that got me into mechanicals….. Anyway, I digress.

With the advent of quartz, yes, the mechanicals ‘gave up’ and stagnated at a certain ‘acceptable’ accuracy level and concentrate on aesthetics, emotions and branding and we rightly applaud 2s/d. However, despite the burden of accuracy being removed, and although academic, futile, and arguably ‘pointless’ the development of some mechanicals continues; mostly from a gadget perspective, but often with genuine improvements in timekeeping, e.g. coaxial. When I hear that a certain well know haute horologer is satisfied if his new gizmo manages 20-30s/d believe me I shake my head. And I think, part of our role is “to sort the feats from the gaffs?” and debate and discriminate between where timekeeping is improved rather than just achieved in a novel way (or even worsened); we should be rating the scale of achievement.

Because it is a continuation of a line of evolution, it makes sense, at least to me, that developing better mechanicals remains valid; the logic being “in the absence of quartz where could we be?” And this is where I start to struggle with Spring Drive. It was never the bridge between mechanical and quartz, so it has no historical place, it’s novel, but not an improvement (yet). As a hybrid, it should surpass both of its parents’ abilities, and it doesn’t. Quartz is routinely available at 15s/year accuracy. So, once you’ve leapt to the quartz demon, I see no sense in a watch like this unless it is blindingly accurate. So sorry, but 1s/d or week IS rubbish if a watch contains a quartz oscillator. But hold on, I’ll be holding out for when Seiko make the maintenance-free, radio-controlled version. Now that would make Akahane-sama smile.

Spring Drive reviews and analysis links on ThePuristS and Timezone1 and Timezone 2.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Kew Observatory Trials Versus COSC - And why things will never get better

At Kew Observatory, the accuracy of a watch was measured by observation of the variations of its mean daily rate. For an 'A' certificate the trials lasted for 45 days, and included tests in temperatures varying from 40 to 90 deg F (4.4 to 32.2 deg C), in every position with dial vertical, face up and face down.
  1. The average daily departure from the mean daily rate could not exceed 2 s/d
  2. Maximum absolute deviation from mean rate in any position could not exceed 5 s.
  3. The errors should not increase more than 0.3 s/d per deg F. (0.54s/d per degC)
From the COSC standard ISO 3159 1976: Of the seven COSC test measurements taken, the closest we have to the Kew trial is:
  1. Mean variation in rates ‘V’ is the arithmetic mean of the five absolute values of variations in rates obtained for the five positions of the watch during the first 10 days of the tests. Note: The variation in rate is the difference between two consecutive daily rates in identical environmental conditions.: Max of 2s
  2. Greatest deviation in rates ‘P’ is the absolute value of the greatest of the ten differences between one of the first ten rates and the mean daily test rate.: Max 10s
  3. Thermal variation ‘C’ is obtained by subtracting the rate at 8 deg C from the rate at 38 deg C, the whole being divided by the temperature difference, expressed in degrees Celsius. : error 0.6s per deg C
I would tend to draw the following conclusions about the Observatory Trials:
  1. Deviation in mean rate: Essentially identical to COSC
  2. Greatest devation from mean rate: Harder than COSC by a factor of '2' (which is really quite a lot tougher)
  3. Thermal control: Very similar to COSC
As the Japanese had dominated the two preceding events, in 1972 some Swiss watch manufacturers demanded the end of the observatory competitions. Now, all chronometers are equal on a pass/fail basis. Apparently, this was the one condition demanded by the Swiss watch industry when COSC was founded in 1973. So who performs best under current COSC testing? Well, we'll never know. The COSC does not reveal this information. Were COSC to introduce any sort of ranking by test results, Swiss watchmakers would be competing on the basic timekeeping qualities of their watches which is not necessarily linked to brand hierarchy! So don't expect any change anytime soon.

But the Chinese Could Never Own the Swiss?

More incendiary findings on the topic of foreign parts and/or foreign assembly of "Swiss made" watches.

It is not generally known that quite a few Swiss companies have watches assembled in China for export to North America, Asia and even Europe, where the brand name is more important than the “Swiss made” label. Such watches may consist of a Chinese case and a Chinese crystal, a Taiwan-made dial and metal bracelet and Japanese hands.
And even more interesting what happens if a Chinese company owns a Swiss one? Gasp....
Chung-Nam Watch Co. Ltd was established in 1935 in Hong Kong. It owns the world wide rights to the Bruno Banani brand watches. It also controls the Roamer Company in Solothurn and thus, has Swiss made watches in its portfolio.

From the Brand Frame of the Chung-Nam Website
But no, if you look in the Roamer site you won't find anything about Chung-Nam. Funny that.
Keep it coming Luger.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Ultimate Watchbox.....(Really)

Having just filled my modestly proportioned antique Georgian walnut writing box (which I converted for watches) I was looking at other options and stumbled across simply the ultimate. I won't describe it here, just click on the picture to warp to the Erwin Sattler site and play yourself.

For the WIS who has everything presenting the Sattler Time Mover? Check out the variable drive winder controls.....

and not least I guess the Classica Secunda 1995 clock is thrown in for free ;)

Of course you could always build one yourself....

Saturday, September 10, 2005

New Finer COSC Standard and a Return to Observatory Trials

For a given level of watchmaking skill is it true that as a 'machine' the tourbillon is a superior time keeping device? No, I don't think so. It is quite clearly possible to assemble 'gadget' versions with poor variation in rate.

To deliver a given level of timekeeping performance it is harder to make a tourbillon, and it takes an even higher level of skill to get the timekeeping performance to be superior. There is an 'entry level' of watchmaking skill, if you will, that must be reached to go beyond the performance of a finely made 'static' lever escapement.

With the Chinese breathing down the Swiss' necks I foresee the only way to rate this skill concretely to the public is by measurement rather than simply being a 'me too' maker with a functional version. Thus the Observatory Trials will return (or at least the fine standard of COSC) to sort the feats from the gaffs.

Vrooooom! Patek Philippe's 1960 34T Observatory Trial Entrant. Yummy!

The trouble for the Swiss is how many of the tourbillons they make now actually keep better time than normal escapements.....? But once they've sorted themselves out, a return to competition could lead to a sensational line of devastatingly accurate watches over the next few years. With the marketing spin of 'race car on the road' it's a killer new segment to (re)open. Once again, I see the pressure of the Chinese only leading to exciting times for watch nuts.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"Swiss Made"....Promise

Remember being a kid? Nothing hurts more than broken promises.....
"I know poppet, I said we'd go to the zoo but, blah blah"
The damage done by being ‘found out’ is worse than owning up at the start. Now we've all read "A brand is a promise kept" and my key concern is about this fragile emotional link between brand and consumer. So if one is trading on the basis of hairsprings bent on the thighs of Swiss maidens, then there had better be some pretty sweet hotties in the VallĂ©e. Take the “JLC Cal 75x FP1185 situation” as an example. What damage did the polemic do by not coming clean at the outset?

Of course, the industry will persist in trying to maintain the myths knowing the majority of consumers are either ignorant (see CEO comment 2), or successfully brainwashed by their marketing hyperbole. So (to paraphrase Jefferson) "The price of quality is eternal vigilance", to be watchful for deceit and when we find it, flush it out shouting, “Unclean, unclean!” from the rooftops.


Luger is pursuing "Swiss Made = what?" with utmost vigour. Read more:

Monday, September 05, 2005

What The Industry Thinks of Us

In light of the recent chronograph situation I am reminded of a quote relating the utter contempt with which we are viewed by the watch industry:

I have heard some CEOs who have said to me, although politely, you know they meant what they said (none of the 3 examples are JLC):

Brand a: We decide what is fashion, consumers want and need the guidance from us.

Brand b: The collectors market is very small (technically correct) the indirect message is that collectors placed too much self importance on their views, when they are not

Brand c: If someone doesn't like our watch, then I don't want him to buy it, he simply doesn't deserve to wear the watch.

Phew - Still Some Beauty and Passion at JLC

I'm always fascinated to hear people's first watch related memory. I asked Linda Aidan (Watchmaker at JLC) what her earliest memory of watches was.
"I had a dream about a watch when I was young. And when I woke up, I got a piece of paper and tried to draw it....... I still have the picture."
Later of course Linda went on to pursue her career at JLC. "Go baby, go!" she says to herself when one bursts into life for the first time on assembling it.