Posts Tagged 'watchmaking'

Could this be a practical joke?

SpeedmasterToday I was working on an Omega Speedmaster with a caliber 1151 inside. That’s the same as an ETA 7751, by the way. As I checked the pallet fork endshake it seemed really large. That’s when I noticed the upper pallet jewel was upside down. That’s right, the oil sink on the jewel was facing the pallet fork. I have to ask myself, is somebody playing a practical joke here. This is the kind of things professors in watchmaking school used to do to us. I don’t imagine a watch could leave the factory like that, could it? I of course corrected the problem and the watch is running very well.

By the way, I like the ETA 7750 series. It’s not beautiful or elegant but it is a robust and functional automatic chronograph which always seems to perform very well. It amazes me how inexpensively you can pick one up. A kit online is about $550 to assemble one yourself (prices probably rising). You can get one in a Swiss Army for just under $1000. Lots of other inexpensive brands use them as well. I’m sure you can get a great deal for one on the secondary market. Hopefully ETA will continue supplying parts as they are currently because they are a great watch to service.

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Hublot spare parts policy

I’ve talked about spare parts before, but since it was a big part of my day today, I’ll talk about it some more.

Hublot WristwatchI started out my day with a customer who had a ladies Hublot wristwatch which needed a new power cell. I recommended a water test as I usually do with water resistant watches and they agreed that it was a good idea. Upon removing the case back I noticed that the unusually shaped gasket was deformed. I was going to have to replace it. I looked up Hublot’s phone number on the internet and gave them a call. I got the usual reception that I get from a higher end brand. I’m sorry we do not sell parts unless you are an authorized retailer who has received our training. I explained my credentials but they wouldn’t budge, the watch would need to go to their service center.

The nearest authorized retailer is 400 miles away and their service center is in Florida. The customer needs a battery and a gasket and they have to send their watch insured hundreds (or thousands) of miles away so they can get it a new battery and a gasket. What kind of customer service is that? I called back and asked for more details. If it needed a complete service it would probably cost over $300. They may do less but without a guarantee and their current turn around time is about 6 to 8 weeks. All I can say is I’m glad it’s not my watch.

Before buying your next watch you might consider the companies spare parts and service policies. If you don’t know if your watchmaker would be able to service it, give him/her a call.

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Tuesday Tools – Case Opener Update

A while ago I wrote about all of my case openers and I mentioned a little sticky ball available online fairly inexpensively which is supposed to be able to open most screw back watch cases. Here is the follow-up:

Case BallI finally got the magic case opening ball today and it was well, a big disappointment. I tried it on 5 watches today and I was only successful in opening one of them. Thankfully, I have professional grade tools for opening all of these watches. The ball succeeded on a Tag Heuer Link, but failed on: Rolex 31mm Datejust, Rolex Lady Datejust, Movado Chronograph and ladies Seiko 5. It would appear that if the backs are on as tight as they should be, the ball fails. My overall opinion is that my son is going to enjoy his new little ball 🙂

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Do it yourself?

I don’t really have a problem with people changing their own batteries on inexpensive watches. Before I ever had an interest in watchmaking, and definitely before I knew what I was doing I did it myself. It isn’t really rocket science, but there are risks of course.

Timex Quartz MovementHere is the important stuff. Number one, be sure you know how to follow instructions. Today I had a customer come in wondering if I could fix their watch. It was a Timex, and I don’t normally perform repairs on Timex watches. He had tried to install a power cell himself, and the watch wasn’t running. It was an all digital Timex with screws on the case back, there isn’t a whole lot that can go wrong with this watch, it is all “solid state” electronics. So, I said I would take a look at it. First, I checked the power cell, it was brand new. I put the power cell back in and shorted out the circuit to reset the watch, it started displaying the time on the screen. — In order for the customer to install the new power cell he had to pull back a sticker that said “after install new cell push here (with an arrow).” I guess he didn’t do that. If you’re going to change your own power cells, read the instructions. There are probably more detailed instructions in the owners manual.

Also, there are some critical things in a quartz analog watch. Don’t ever touch the little coil of wire, one scratch and your watch won’t work. Try not to touch the power cell (or anything else in the watch) with your fingers. The salts and oils from your hand will cause things to corrode faster. Clean off the back of the watch before opening it to keep the dirt and debris from entering the movement. Be careful of little coil springs (especially on digital and alarm watches) that may fall out. They need to be there and they usually sit pretty loosely. And be prepared to accept the consequences of scratching the watch if it has a snap back. If you wouldn’t be happy with a scratch, don’t try and get the back off, it takes some practice and know how to do it without slipping.

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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 www.hautehorlogerie.org One of the best is this one about the Conceiving and making a new watch caliber.

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