Archive Page 2

Horology and the Web

Here is a great post at WatchFreaks about how the web and horology are intermingling. Check it out here.


Alcohol Lamp & Pallet Warmer

Alcohol lampThis is one of those tools that when my co-workers (not watchmakers) see me using it they always ask what I am doing. It’s an alcohol lamp and a pallet warmer. So, what do I do with it? Burn alcohol and warm pallets, duh! Just kidding.

Many adjustable parts in watches (like most jewels) are held in place by friction but there are a few things which need to be adjustable and need to withstand large forces. For these items we use shellac to hold them in place. Shellac is the secretion of the lac beetle, a very diluted version is used for applying finishes to wood, but also, in a thick form it is a very hard re-heatable adhesive. It is commonly used to hold pallet stones and roller jewels in place. Shellac dissolves in alcohol and becomes soft when heated to between 170-200 degrees fahrenheit, but is extremely hard (and brittle) at room temperature.

Pallet ForkThe two stones on the pallet fork interact with the escape wheel to block the unwinding motion of the train and to let the escape wheel pass one tooth at a time at a rate controlled by the balance. The depth of interaction is adjustable by softening the shellac and moving the stones in and out by extremely small amounts (hundredths of a millimeter). The two stones need to be even and adjusted just right so that the escape wheel is properly “locked” each time and so that just the right amount of force is required to “unlock” it. This adjustment takes a lot of practice. The stones are pushed in using a piece of pegwood or pried out using a very sharp metal point.

You can get an electric heater to do the job also and there is a tool which holds the pallet fork and shows on a dial exactly how far you are moving the stones called an escapement meter. You still have to have a light touch to move the stones a very small amount but the dial helps you to better gauge how far you are moving them. Together the two tools cost over $1000 so I’m stuck doing it the traditional way for now. The escapement meter and heater are on my wish list. If you know where I can get a good quality used one for less, leave me a comment. In watchmaking school they made us do it the traditional way before they let us use the escapement meter, and I am glad they did. I guess they know that most little shops like mine don’t have an escapement meter sitting around. If you work in “the industry” you probably would have access to one.

The truth is I don’t have to adjust pallet stones every day. They are adjusted at the factory and unless you have to replace an escape wheel or pallet fork they should stay correctly adjusted, but on older watches I find that often somebody came along and moved them for some reason (probably to squeeze out a little more amplitude to compensate for some other mistake.) and I sometimes have to adjust them.

School Watch ConstructionI also use my lamp and pallet warmer to temper steel. After hardening the steel with a propane torch I temper steel over the alcohol flame because it allows for a slower more controlled flame. This is how you get those beautiful blued screws and hands you see in some watches like my school watch. I have struggled to get a good photo of my watch but here is one attempt.

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Watches I

balanceI think it’s about time I return back to the roots of this blog. My watch education.

The Lititz Watch Technicum
Micromechanics, Part I
Micromechanics, Part II
Micromechanics, Part III

Watches I

With all of these micromechanical skills, what’s a boy to do? You see, the WOSTEP program is designed in Switzerland for the Swiss watchmaking community. It’s mission is really to prepare watchmakers for the watchmaking industry. That is why the WOSTEP Curriculum covers watch movements only, and no polishing or case work. Partner schools in the United States have adapted the curriculum so that it better prepares watchmakers for the retail repair environment, although many WOSTEP graduates still end up in the U.S. Watchmaking industry. This may be why Oklahoma State’s new program is geared toward preparing AWCI Certified Watchmakers for the 21st Century instead of WOSTEP graduates. If you visit my about me page (and every post on this blog you’ll see what this boy does with his micromechanical skills.)

Having said all of that; the reason WOSTEP puts so much emphasis on the micromechnaical work is because it: fine tunes hand eye coordination and trains the eye to see very small defects. You see, for six months of watchmaking school we didn’t touch watches. Now, we would.

Unitas 6497Our next set of tasks would prepare us for the WOSTEP gear train exam. We were given an ETA 6497 movement and our mission was to disassemble it completely, clean it thoroughly and reassemble it with every thing working and still clean. Cleanliness is perhaps the most important thing in watchmaking. Once we could handle the screwdrivers okay they began to adjust endshakes and we would have to restore them to their correct positions using our jeweling tool. At this point we didn’t have to worry about whether or not the watch would tell time, it just needed to be assembled correctly with the correct endshakes and ticking healthy. (We didn’t even really have access to timing machines at this point.) After one or two weeks of assembly and disassembly we took our exam and would move on to bigger and better things!

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Haute Horlogerie

Haute Horlogerie is a term which a group of manufacturers use to describe themselves. Literally it means “high watchmaking.” Many in the watchmaking community understand it to refer more specifically to high dollar watchmaking rather than high quality watchmaking. You see many of the brands who define themselves as haute horlgerie have long been considered fashion brands. In today’s world however every body is turning out fantastic high end watches. Lets take Harry Winston for example. He is jewelry designer to the starts, many of this watches are diamond encrusted quartz watches, but in recent years he is actually turning out incredibly complex high end watchs, specifically in his Opus series. My favorite is Opus V produced in cooperation with Baumgartner (the genius behind Urwerk watches.)

So, at the same time as Basel World the brands of “Haute Horlogerie” get together for the SIHH (Salon Internationale de Haute Horlogerie) to show off their wares. It will be exciting.

Here is something worth checking out. If you are interested in watchmaking the SIHH has put together some extremely interesting videos relating to the profession of a watchmaker. You can see them at One of the best is this one about the Conceiving and making a new watch caliber.

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What happens to my watch when it is serviced?

So you decided to get your watch serviced, but you were shocked by the price. Let’s talk about what you get for the price.

Omega PWWhen a professional watchmaker services your watch his job is to bring it to like new condition — This isn’t always possible but we try our best. What you say? Not always possible? Sometimes a watch case has a huge dent in it and removing it would cause way too much wear on the watch to warrant it, so we pretty up that section a little bit taking care to make the rest look perfect. And, then there is the issue of parts. When parts aren’t available what does one do? Not replace worn parts, make new ones, use generic, or turn down the reapir?

So back to the service: It usually includes a complete refinishing of the case and bracelet (not to be confused with polishing.) Sometimes an individual will polish a watch case and make it “shiny.” Refinishing the case means applying the same finishes as original in a clean, crisp manner and can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the specifics of the finishes applied. Your typical Rolex case and bracelet requires 3 different polishing compounds, 5 different finishing wheels, a lathe for refinishing case backs and tape to mask off the polished center links when applying the line finish to the outer ones. It is a labor intensive process.

HammyServicing the movement requires detailed and precise work. The watchmaker shouldn’t leave any marks on anything. The dial and hands are removed, the watch movement is pre-cleaned and then every component is carefully examined under magnification for flaws as the watch is disassembled (there are well over 100 parts in most watches). All worn components are replaced and all faults are corrected at this time (except for timing.) Jewel holes are pegged out and pivots are cleaned in a block of pith wood. The disassembled watch is then put into a special watch cleaning machine which combines agitation and ultrasonic frequencies to clean the parts. The parts generally go through one wash cycle and two or three rinse cycles before being air dried. The parts have to be perfectly clean!

Once the parts are clean they are never touched by hand. The oils in the skin could damage the parts and small flecks of skin are enough to bring the gears in a watch to a grinding halt. The watch is carefully assembled and each component is again examined under magnification to be sure there are no defects. As the parts are assembled each function is checked to make sure it is working correctly and the watchmaker is careful to make sure no foreign substances are inside the watch. I find dandruff to be a real problem, I’m always finding little white flakes which I have to remove carefully. You can watch the video at this site for a feel of what goes on during assembly.

Special lubricants are applied to all the bearing surfaces in the watch in a very precise manner according to the manufactures instructions. Too little means the watch needs to be serviced again prematurely, too much means the oil runs everywhere and gets on parts that can’t have oil. A typical watch requires five or more different lubricants, all must be applied in the correct areas.

Once the watch is assembled the watch is put on a timing machine to check its rates. Careful adjustments are made to the hairspring and regulation device to ensure the watch keeps good time.

The dial and hands are again placed on the watch and the movement is placed back in the refinished case. All the gaskets are replaced and the watch (if it is water resistant) is pressure tested for water resistance. The watch is then observed for several days and any additional adjustments are made to the timing of the watch.

The end result is a beautifully restored watch which is ready for another five years of service.

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Here is a sample list of what might take place during the disassembly of the watch:


  1. Carefully examine bracelet for damage
  2. Remove Bracelet
  3. Carefully examine case, dial & hands
  4. Remove case back
  5. Examine watch
  6. Remove Stem
  7. Remove movement from case
  8. Re-install stem
  9. Remove hands
  10. Remove dial
  11. Remove date disc
  12. Remove hour wheel
  13. Remove cannon pinion
  14. Let down power on mainspring
  15. Pre-clean complete watch
  16. Check & correct balance endshake
  17. Check & correct balance interaction with pallet fork (roller jewel, fork clearance, horn clearance)
  18. Check & correct pallet fork interaction with escape wheel (total lock, drop, run to banking)
  19. Remove balance bridge & balance
  20. Verify condition of balance pivots
  21. Check & correct pallet fork endshake
  22. Remove pallet fork
  23. Check condition of pallet stones & shellac (make corrections if necessary)
  24. Verify condition of pallet arbor pivots
  25. Peg out pallet jewels
  26. Check & correct escape wheel and gear train endshakes
  27. Check freedom of the gear train
  28. Check & correct barrel arbor endshake / sideshake
  29. Remove ratchet wheel
  30. Verify condition of ratchet wheel teeth
  31. Remove crown wheel
  32. Verify condition of crown wheel teeth
  33. Remove crown wheel core
  34. Remove barrel bridge
  35. Remove barrel
  36. Verify condition of barrel teeth
  37. Open barrel and remove mainspring
  38. Verify condition of barrel arbor
  39. Pre-clean barrel
  40. Tighten barrel endshake
  41. Peg-out barrel bushings or jewels
  42. Remove train bridge
  43. Peg-out jewels in the gear train
  44. Examine all train wheel pivots for wear
  45. Examine all pinions for debris, rust, and wear
  46. Remove set lever spring
  47. Remove intermediate setting wheel examine condition and condition of post
  48. Remove minute wheel & examine condition
  49. Remove yoke spring
  50. Remove yoke
  51. Remove set lever
  52. Remove stem & examine condition
  53. Remove winding pinion & examine condition
  54. Remove sliding pinion & examine condition
  55. Install balance
  56. Check & correct hairspring for flatness & trueness
  57. Remove cap jewels
  58. Washing

  59. Put movement parts in cleaning basket and send through a wash cycle
  60. Assembly

ETA 2892

Tonight’s post will be short, I’m writing from my iPod Touch because of technical issues with my PC and my wife is using the Mac for work.

I read a very good article in this month’s Watch Time about the ETA 2892. They gave it a very favorable review. I have always liked the ETA 2824 more than the 2892 because it ses more sturdy and more reliable and because it is the movement of choice for Rolex to use in their Tudor models.

It seems that the thinness of the 2892 outweighs the sturdiness of the 2824 for most watch companies. I guess they find it to be sturdy enough.

The thing that surprised me the most was how many variants there are of the 2892 including a perpetual calendar, big date, day-date, sub-seconds, and of course chronograph. If we include third party modules there are another twenty variations by about 4 other companies, including a 5-minute repeater.

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filesIt is really amazing how many files I have for how little I use them. Per request I am going to discuss the files I use as a watchmaker. On a regular basis I use my 8″ No. 2 Cut file and one or two of my escapement files, the rest sit in my drawer. If I were doing more custom work or parts manufacturing I would use them a lot more. High Quality files are important. I recommend Grobet Vallorbe – as they say, if it’s got the rabbit it is a good file 🙂

Larger Files I use the larger files mostly for tool making, although I find myself using the large No. 2 file for shortening case tubes, case work and bracelet work, like forming rivets and shortening pins. For serious work you would want an aggressive file like the 8 inch No. 2 file A good number 4 file and a 5 or 6 for fine work. You would also want at least one half round file, mine is pretty coarse, it is a number 3. The numbering system represents an old system dating back to 1812 and represents the number of teeth per inch on a sliding scale proportionate to the overall length of the file. For in depth information about files you can visit Grobet USA.

Escapement filesEscapement files are small fine files (presumably for use in constructing the parts of an escapement). I have the standard set of 12 swiss made files from Vallorbe with cut 4. These files are also very useful for skeletonizing work, or any small delicate work. These files are sometimes referred to as needle files. Their is a light difference. Escapement files have square handles, needle files have round (usually with knurling). Escapement files are slightly finer: an escapement file with cut 4 has 142 teeth per inch and a needle file has 117.

Euro Tool FilesWhen I was in watchmaking school I was doing a lot of filing and I wanted a set of more course needle files fast so I bought this set of Euro Tool files made in India with a Cut of 0. That’s when I learned how nice my other files were. It pays to buy the nice stuff. But they are acceptable for course work, assuming you’re going to go back and clean up with a finer file.

If you want really clean edges you may want to go and remove the file marks, an emery stick (see top pic) or some lapping film (self-adhesive from 3M) on a small piece of brass looks really well. In fact lapping film on a brass slip is really good for polishing beveled edges.

If what you want to do is skeletonize a watch movement, most people start with a flex shaft tool, dremel tool, or drill press to rough out the basic shape then go in with a jewelers saw and escapement files to fine tune it. Finishing it all up with some lapping film on a perfectly flat surface, actually the back side of a barrette file can work nicely. Also the file edge of a watchmaker’s pivot burnisher works well for this. Some people use Diamond needle files or Diamond escapement files but I don’t have any experience with either.

There are of course many, many more types of files. All of the ones I mention above are cross cut files some of them have a safe edge others do not. These are simply the ones I use. A final note on safe edges. If you want to file crisp 90 degree corners you should dress your safe edge, typically the cuts don’t go all the way to the edge of the file so relying on the factory safe edge will give you a slightly rounded corner. To produce sharp 90 degree corners prepare at least one of your files by stoning down the safe edge all the way in until the teeth come right to this edge. This can be a tedious process. It took me most of a day to prepare my 5 inch number 5 file’s edge. But it would have taken less if I had used the diamond lap – alas they didn’t allow us such things in watchmaking school 🙂

Oh yes, one more thing. Keep your files clean and dry. You don’t really want oil on them because this will cause them to clog. In a humid climate you might store them inside of a very lightly oiled rag or with some of those silica moisture absorbing packets. Some people use wax in them to keep them from clogging. When they do clog use a file card to remove debris. Move the card across the file following the cuts.

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