Archive for January, 2008

Parts Availability

In the world of watch repair obtaining spare parts is extremely important & often problematic. The american watchmaking industry invented the production of interchangeable parts in the late 1800s but parts weren’t really interchangeable until the 1940s. By the end of WWII watches could easily be repaired by identifying faulty parts and ordering replacements. For all but the most exclusive watches this is still the case today. Modern computer controlled machinery allows tolerances to be so tight that modification of parts is rarely necessary when fitting them in a watch.

Many people are aware that parts for antique and vintage watches are becoming hard to find. When I see an antique watch, if it looks like it is going to need lots of parts I am very careful to make sure they will be available before I agree to do the repair. Sometimes finding the needed part involves calling multiple supply houses and/or scouring the internet until the part can be located. Manufacturing parts is very time consuming and therefore an expensive operation, but it can be done if the customer feels the watch is deserving. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

The spare parts problem to which I refer in the opening of this post doesn’t have anything to do with vintage watches, I am referring to modern (still in production) timepieces. Many watch companies do not make spare parts for their watches available to most watchmakers. They want to control the quality of work performed on their timepieces. I can understand some brands taking this stance, but for some brands, it is just overkill.

Let’s look at some brands and how they deal with parts distribution.

Rolex — The 100 ton gorilla of the watchmaking world (maybe). For the longest time in order to get spare parts from Rolex all you needed was to maintain a clean and professional workshop which meets their criteria. This is still the case, but it also helps if you have some training or a certification recognized by the industry (like a WOSTEP certificate, or AWCI Certified Watchmaker). It wasn’t (and still isn’t) necessary to be a Rolex dealer, contrary to popular belief. Your local Rolex dealer does maintain some advantages over the shop down the street however. Your Rolex dealer can purchase special Rolex specific tools which other watchmakers cannot. ( This appears to be changing) Your Rolex dealer has access to technical literature and training directly from Rolex that the average watchmaker does not. Your Rolex dealer can get certain parts that Rolex requires an exchange of an old part (like dials & clasps) that the guy down the street cannot. — In conclusion if you are a qualified professional watchmaker with professional tools and a professional shop, you can get parts from Rolex.

Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, et al — These are widely accepted to be among the finest and most prestigious watch brands and to the best of my knowledge spare parts are only available to watchmakers who have been trained directly by the manufacturer. I don’t know how one gets training from them, it would appear that it is necessary either to work for them, or at one of their dealers at least.

Swatch Group — has to the best of my knowledge signed on to the AWCI CW21 system, allowing Certified Watchmakers access to parts for at least some of their brands. I can get parts for Hamilton, Longines, Omega, and Tissot parts. Parts for some of their higher end brands (like Breguet, Blancpain, & Glahutte) may be more difficult to obtain.

LVMH has a very friendly parts policy. Parts for Tag Heuer are available to watchmakers, end of story!

Richemont group has a stingy parts policy. Parts for their brands (Cartier, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, IWC, Montblanc) are difficult to come by. Even some stores which carry their brands are instructed to return all goods to the factory for servicing (and power cell replacement). This is slated to change pending the judges decision on the Fleury v. Richemont class action lawsuit.

Now for the ridiculous part: There are some brands which just think too highly of themselves. I can understand Patek Philippe wanting to maintain their image and insuring that only highly qualified technicians work on their watches, but what about these next brands.

Breitling doesn’t sell parts to independent watchmakers.

Maurice LaCroix doesn’t sell parts to independent watchmakers.

Movado makes some parts available but Ebel (also of the North American Watch Group) doesn’t sell parts to independent watchmakers.

Seiko sells parts to parts houses who will do business with anyone, even the consumer.

Citizen sells parts to watchmakers for everything except for some dive watches which they request be returned to the factory for service.

So, what does this all mean? Sometimes a highly qualified watchmaker cannot service timepieces simply because he cannot get the parts he may need. Some watchmakers make do with generic parts, or by cleaning and oiling the watch without replacing worn parts. Other watchmakers just turn work away needlessly. The AWCI Certified Watchmaker for the 21st Century provides the industry with a standard by which they can qualify watchmakers to work on their product. I encourage all brands to expand their spare parts network to include AWCI CW21 and CMW21. I encourage consumers to support brands which support watchmakers, after all it means more choices for service and we all know competition inspires excellence.

I would like to keep this information update, accurate, and as complete as possible. If you have first hand knowledge of parts policies for specific brands, or if there are any errors above that you are aware of, please leave a comment and I will update the information. Thank you.

Certified Watchmaker

When I graduated from the Lititz Watch Technicum, I left with an LWT Diploma, a WOSTEP certificate, and the title of AWCI Certified Watchmaker for the 21st Century. So what do they mean?

My WOSTEP Certificate means that I successfully completed 3000 hours of coursework approved by the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program and passed the intermediate and final exams. I completed this coursework at the Lititz Watch Technicum from 2004 to 2006. The goal of the WOSTEP program is to prepare watchmakers for after sales service of quality swiss made timepieces. It is recognized throughout the Swiss watch industry. The coursework and exams require proficiency in micromechanical tasks such as filing, sawing, turning, and burnishing as well as proficiency in watch cleaning, lubrication, timing, adjusting, hairspring manipulation & forming, theory & ideas. Students are tested in each of these areas culminating in a final exam administered on an automatic, chronograph & quartz wristwatch.

The LWT diploma is unique to the Lititz Watch Technicum and requires that the student complete (in addition to the WOSTEP requirements) a school watch project (see LWT post), a thesis project, and a significant number of “real world” customer repairs.

The AWCI Certified Watchmaker is probably the most recognized certification in the United States, but it has a shady history. This certification has been around for many years but it lacked respect in the past due to its administration methods. This certification was totally revamped and the Certified Watchmaker for the 21st Century (CW21) was born. This new certification process (which I completed) is strongly supported by the American Watchmaking Industry, especially by Rolex USA. It is designed to assess the skills of watchmakers and determine whether they have the knowledge and skills to work on high quality modern watches. It specifically tests on automatics, chronographs and quartzes. I cannot write about the specifics of the exam but details are available from AWCI. Since I know many individuals who have taken this test (some who have passed and some who have failed) I feel it is a very good assessment of a watchmaker’s skills and I would encourage all watchmaker’s to take it.

When first faced with the decision as to whether to take the CW exam or not I was torn. I already was slated to receive the WOSTEP certificate and the LWT diploma, but I decided to support the exam as a way to qualify good watchmakers in this country. I’m glad I did. Many companies have supported this certification. Rolex offers spare parts accounts to watchmakers who receive the certification and who have a professional workshop. Recently they have even extended tool accounts to some of these individuals. In the latest Horological Times it states that Rolex will require all their spare parts accounts to have an AWCI CW by 2010. If it is good enough for Rolex, it’s good enough for me. I still hold out hope that other companies will follow suit. Availability of spare parts is a serious issue for watchmakers today, maybe I’ll write about that next.

Measuring Tools

ToolGroup

I have three measuring tools I use on a regular basis. I use them for all kinds of things. I use them to measure parts dimensions to order replacement parts, I use them for measuring the width between lugs to fit new springbars. My favorite thing is to use them for making new parts, but they don’t get enough of that kind of use. Here I will discuss each.

Vernier Calipers VernierCalipers These are my most frequently used measuring tool. I use them on a daily basis. This pair is Swiss Made by TESA. I prefer analog to digital because I find them to be more reliable. This particular pair is very sturdy, some inexpensive ones I’ve used seem to flex in the hand (which yields inaccurate results). Accurate to 0.02mm they are sufficient for most applications. They will measure both inside and outside diameters. I use them for measuring springbar and bracelet pin diameters, for measuring screw thread tap sizes, for determining spring bar sizes, bracelet and strap widths, and much much more. I use them to double check drill bit sizes before drilling and for checking mainspring dimensions before ordering a new one. Honestly, I couldn’t live without them. While they are the only pair I’ve ever owned I have used some others and the only other ones that have come close were made by Mitutoyo. If you want digital Mitutoyo is probably the way to go. The one thing digital can offer that analog does not is the ability to switch between metric and standard measurements. I almost always use metric in my world and the conversion is done easily enough that it doesn’t bother me.

Micrometer Micrometer made by TESA of Switzerland also. Great tool for measuring pivot diameters when making new pivots or burnishing a pivot. Extremely useful when turning any cylinder because the jaws are perfectly parallel and made of tungsten carbide. When closed down on the cylinder it is easy to detect any imperfection. They are also more accurate than the vernier calipers; accurate to 0.01mm. When tightened down on the object measuring they have a built in clutch which slips to keep you from tightening too tight and producing an inaccurate result because you dig in with the jaws or cause them to flex. On the downside they don’t get into tight spaces as well as the vernier calipers do. I prefer this handheld micrometer to the bench micrometers with heavy bases because you are free to turn it any angle and it can be used at the lathe easily.

JKA-Feintaster My bench micrometer is made by JKA-Feintaster of Germany. I am told this company is no longer selling this tool and I got mine on closeout. I’m sure you could find one on eBay and it would be well worth it. On the left are two very pointed jaws which will fit into the smallest spaces. On the right is an attachment specially designed for measuring shouldered pivots, like balance staffs. This tool is absolutely indispensable for properly measuring the dimensions of a staff. It can measure shoulder to shoulder, pivot to pivot, or shoulder to pivot without any problem. The table under the right jaws can be raised to support the item if needed. This tool is mounted in a wooden box but it can be removed if desired (the underside is not well finished however. It is accurate to 0.01mm as well but with the very large dial it is easy to read dimensions down to 0.002mm. One rotation of the hand around the dial is one millimeter. Another nice feature is this tool is spring loaded so it always offers equal tension on the subject when measuring. Great tool!

Accurate measurements are key in my line of work so I work with fine tools and keep them calibrated to a standard.

Do you have a favorite tool or do you know of another tool that you prefer? If so, leave a comment.

It’s not all fun

I love watchmaking! I very rarely have a day where I don’t enjoy what I do. Don’t get me wrong however, it’s not all fun.

Today I write about one of the less appealing aspects of my career, in case you were thinking about becoming a watchmaker.

Body Cheese is what we call it. I don’t know where that name came from but it is appropriate. Not everyone has perfect hygiene, I’m sure I don’t but I clean my watch on a regular basis. Here is what it looks like if you don’t.

BodyCheese1BodyCheese2

I see this on a daily basis, not always this bad but to some extent. I keep hand sanitizer around for exactly this purpose. This isn’t the worse I’ve seen, just the worse this week. If you don’t think you can handle this, watchmaking may not be for you.

To the consumer: Bracelet cleaning options:.

    If your watch is waterproof (like this Rolex):

  1. Take it to the sink get an old toothbrush and some hand soap and go at it under running water about once a month or so to prevent it getting this bad.
  2. Take it to a reputable jeweler or watchmaker and have them ultrasonically clean the bracelet.
  3. If it’s not waterproof:

  4. Take it to a reputable jeweler or watchmaker and have it cleaned (if you’re a good customer they’ll most likely do it for free) If you’re not they may charge you a little bit.
  5. If you feel comfortable doing so: Remove the bracelet and clean it with soap and water and a toothbrush as described above.
  6. Clean the case (and/or bracelet) with a dry toothbrush.

Never put your watch case in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. Never use an ammonia based cleaner to clean your Rolex bezel (it will fade!). Never use harsh chemicals on your watch case (like Acetone, alchohol, Benzene, Naptha, etc) they will damage gaskets.

Keep your watches clean. It keeps your watchmaker happy, it keeps you healthy, and it helps your watches & especially watch bracelets last longer.

Economic Stimulus

So, this is about the millionth blog post on the topic but I just wanted to throw in my $.02.


The government is talking about sending me an $1800 check. $600 for me $600 for my wife and $300 for each of my two children. I think it is a great idea! We’ll probably use it to build up our savings for some future purchases and emergency situations. We certainly won’t rush out and spend it right away like economists (politicians) would like us to. So I ask the ever popular question: Does that make me a bad american? Or a smart consumer?

A recent AOL poll, to which over 400,000 people responded says that 69% of americans would use the money to pay bills, 21% would save it, 13% would spend it and the rest are unsure. Fact is that of those 80% (bill payers & savers) most of them won’t be saving it for more than a couple of days before they find something to spend it on, or they’ll use it to pay off their credit card bills, freeing up more of their credit limit so they can put themselves right back in debt, but if we all do what we say than the package won’t work. I don’t care, I’ll take the money.

I personally think the economy is over inflated. Consumers have been using credit to over extend themselves and purchase all kinds of durable goods fooling the producers into thinking the economy is stronger than it is. All this artificial spending with money that consumers don’t really have, has caused the economy to grow artificially.

The final result is that banks over extended themselves. With too much confidence they leant money to irresponsible individuals (maybe they misrepresented the type of loans they were offering, maybe they didn’t.) Now credit is harder to get, and since it was money on credit that were consumers were spending, there is less money to be spent. Or, actually there is the same amount of money, it is just in more responsible hands. As a result there is less spending.

Spending returns to more realistic levels and the economy returns to where it should be. Until the government puts billions of dollars into irresponsible hands again to create some more “false security” in the market. Fact is the government should use those billions to pay down debt, like I’ll be doing instead of incurring additional debt to continue propagating the idea that the american economy is stable with gazillions of dollars of debt.

Watch Parts

I was reading in my January Horological Tiimes today about workshop organization and parts inventory management. I have seen some very cluttered watchmaker workshops. Often the watchmaker’s bench is completely covered with old parts and movements except for the 10 – 16 square inches directly in front of them where they work on their current project. Usually in these shops there is a 70 year old watchmaker who knows just where everything is. I know some parts supply houses are run in this same fashion.

I don’t operate in this fashion. I throw 80% of my old parts away because, well they’re broken, that’s why I removed them from the watch. I do keep old Rolex parts sorted by caliber for performing statistical analysis which helps me provide better estimates to my customers. I also keep many old quartz movements around for scavenging for battery clamps and screws should I need one, but they are organized in a single drawer by make and caliber.

My biggest issue is this. I keep spare parts stock for Rolex calibers and for a few ETA calibers which I see all the time, namely the 7750, 2824, 2892, and 2000. Any other parts I have are a result of previous watchmakers who worked in my shop. I recently went through our two parts cabinets and organized all the parts either by Bestfit number or by caliber and manufacturers number so that I can quickly check the cabinet before ordering the part to see if I have it in stock. Prior to this I probably ordered several parts which we already had in stock.

The fact is material houses are in the business of storing, organizing, and selling parts. I am in the business of repairing watches. It makes much more sense for them to keep the inventory and for me to order it when I need it. I have been faced with the temptation of buying parts cabinets in the past and I caved once, I bought a cabinet of beautiful blued steel and gilt hands, the quality of the material was so good I couldn’t resist. The problem is there is no index, so if I want hands I have to measure every single pair until I find the ones I need. It is way easier and faster to call up a parts house and order hands. I won’t buy another parts cabinet unless I know it is full of rare and valuable parts for which there is a great demand and it comes with an index.

On bench organization: I try and leave my bench completely clean every night, this way it remains clutter free. It may seem silly to put away a watch and tools which I am going to use again the following day but it allows me to clean off my bench so it doesn’t get dusty and maintain order in my workshop. I guess this may be a result of my Swiss-esque training.

Basel World Predictions

I’m going to put myself out on a limb and make some predictions for Basel World 2008.

Prince

I don’t have any insider information, this is kind of what I’m hoping for and I think is plausible.

I work with Rolexes on a daily basis, and I am a big fan. I went to watchmaking school at the Lititz Watch Technicum. I graduated with my WOSTEP certificate, my LWT diploma, and my AWCI Certified Watchmaker in hand. I received a very broad and generalized education followed up by some very specific Rolex brand training, so my opinions are not unbiased.

I like Rolex because their movements are solid, rugged, dependable machines and their styling is timeless. I don’t like all there models but I do have some favorites. Before I make my predictions let me share some of these with you (in no particular order) 🙂

Steel & 18K Everose gold Turn-O-Graph. I like the Turn-O-Graph because it is dressy but still has the added functionality of a rotating bezel as well as the date. Probably one of Rolex’s most under appreciated models.

I love the Datejusts on a strap. Probably my favorite is the white gold Datejust with the decorated blue dial with arabic numerals. Classy! (Shown of Rolex’s web page in yellow as option #8 if you follow the link.)

I love the Cellini Prince. My favorites are the rose gold and the white gold with the black and red dial (rayon flamme de la gloire = flaming rays of glory).

From a technical stand point the new Yachtmaster II is an incredibly complex watch with awesome functionality, even if you don’t participate in yachting regattas. Great for board games.

On with the predictions!

1. I asked a Rolex executive if we would see the ceramic bezel and wider lugs from the redesigned GMT-Master II on the Submariner. He replied, “We don’t have any plans for that yet.” To which I said, “Until Basel in April ;)” His reply, “We usually let Basel break the news.” I predict we will see the Submariner with a ceramic bezel, it’s an obvious extension.

2. I expect we will see another really large watch. The new Yachtmaster II measures 43mm which is much bigger than Rolex has gone before. This year I think we’ll see the Sea-Dweller in an oversized case with a rubber strap. After all they missed the 50th Anniversary of the Deep Sea Special in 2003, why not release a 55th Anniversary edition?

3. I’d like to see the Daytona Cosmograph redone, possibly in a large 43mm case but I expect that will wait for the 2011 50th Anniversary of the Cosmograph.

Okay, I’ve put myself out there. Remember I have no inside information, this is just wishful thinking.

Update available at the new location of Tick Talk

Have a prediction of your own? Post a comment