Friday, October 20, 2017

Who's laughing now?

The red arrow is pointing to the actual screw.  The green arrow is pointing to the screw being measured.

When a German engineer came to train Josh and Tyler on our automated CNC lathe, I couldn't help but ask him, "What is the biggest challenge your customers face while running the lathe?"  Without hesitation he said that the major problem is since these machines are designed to run independently 24/7 for months at a time producing one component, the machine operators simply forget how to reprogram them for new parts.  At that moment it became clear that we must use our machine daily, learn how to make as many different components as we can, and rather than just preserve the knowledge received during the training, we have to build on it and expand.  So right now it is not our priority to make components but to continue to the learn code and to make as many different components as possible.

Wednesday night I arrived home late but Josh insisted that we go to the workshop.  We arrived there about 9pm and by 11 Josh had prepared the technical drawings to create another screw.  The material was already loaded into a bar feeder but the tooling had to be set and calibrated.  Then he wrote the machine code from scratch and we started manufacturing case screws.  The production cycle was 46 seconds per screw, however, the moment of truth came when we measured the length.  The actual length of the screw was 1.969mm which was just a micron within the intended length and in this case the screw length is the least critical dimension.   

The next step now is to beautify the screws, which means deburring, polishing, hardening, re-polishing and bluing.  The video below goes for exactly 46 seconds, the time required to make one screw.   Enjoy the video.

We arrived home at midnight laughing, remembering a statement made to us by Swiss manufacturers a few years ago that Australian watchmakers are too old and too dumb to be trained.  Who's laughing now?

Happy Collecting,


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Tweed Jacket

One of the most celebrated watchmakers of all times, the Englishman George Daniels, was known as a man who wore his jacket daily. Actually he wore it not only while making watches but also while restoring racing car engines. Some things are simply non-negotiable; like a trademark of noble leisure and pastimes.

It was brought to my attention this week that one of the largest Swiss multi-brand manufacturers has put the ultimatum to their Australian service department watchmakers: To sign a contract which prevents them from doing any watch repairs after hours, outside their premises. 

Once again, Australian watchmakers are robbed of dignity. They cannot even call themselves watchmakers!  Sign to be a brand slave or pack up and go. 

Even a casual subscriber can notice how passionate I am about watches. I talk about Swiss brands with vigour; I spruik them to you as if they are my own. Surely I do this, to a large extent, because I am not just a watchmaker but also a salesman. But I am not naïve; that respect is never going to be acknowledged, appreciated nor reciprocated by any Swiss brand. 

The Swiss simply couldn’t care less.

Some days I wake up feeling like a prostitute. Instead of investing my time and efforts into building my own brand, I work for those who least appreciate my skills. But in order to establish my workshop I need to continue to sell myself.

Hopefully, not for too much longer. This morning I googled my Harris Tweed jacket. And one day soon I will put it on and wear it with pride, just like Daniels did. No more a Swiss prostitute or slave; proudly independent and free.

Rebelde taking the heat

Nothing gets me more excited than a picture of a real man wearing a real watch, and not just anywhere, but in an environment that most watches would shy away from, and not with just any watch - but with a rebelde no less!
We just got two emails from our rebelde ambassadors, Garry and John. What a huge compliment.  Notice that John is wearing the N batch which was the very first production batch.

"The picture is a 900mm diameter steel pipe with a wall thickness of 12.7mm being bent using an Induction Heating Ring.  300kWh of power cycling at 1.1 kHz generating 950 degrees C across a 25mm band on the circumference.  

N60/70 is in the foreground.

Although I am sure my Trusty Rebelde is built to take on a lot of things this is as close as it gets to the Induction Heater". 

- John

"Dear Nick, seeing power is all the news at the moment, please find picture of current contract where I am the Safety Manager.  Ti 06 is on the job.  

I wear it every day.  it was noticed by a young guy asking what sort of watch it is. I said a hand wound one made by a Super-Hero in Sydney.  He had never seen a hand wound watch and could not hide his amazement when I took it off and showed him the movement.  I was struggling to keep up with his questions on how it worked."

- Garry

Thursday, August 24, 2017

No Excuse Not To Get It Right

An essential part of watchmaking in the 21st century is Computer Aided Design (CAD). It combines elements of draughtsmanship, engineering and design to 3D model parts.

While watchmakers of old did it all on paper, and we're amazed at how they managed to full off such feats of engineering, there are certain insurmountable limitations inherent to this process that CAD allows us to overcome.

One of the main benefits is that CAD allows you to immediately detect any incorrect geometry in your drawings. The nature of a watch mechanism is that every part is closely connected with every other, which means that the design of each part is based on the previous part in the chain. If an angle is off by 1 degree somewhere in the watch, the error will compound throughout the mechanism. It's an all or nothing type deal.

However, even if all your dimensions are correct, there are other problems that could pop up that you'd have no way of detecting without CAD. With it, we're able to assemble all of the individual parts and creating a functioning 3D model. This allows you to check the tension of any springs, that the gears are meshing properly and whether any parts will collide - all before you've made the first part.

Pen and paper is still an indispensable part of the process; It's where ideas are first conceived and refined thereafter, but CAD is now an essential tool in the watchmaker's kit.

As we work towards making our first in-house rebelde mechanism, we're spending many long days carefully modelling each and every part used in our current watches and for our future pieces.

In the image above you can see just one of the components I've made over the last week.

What you're seeing is a part called a sliding pinion. The 'sliding' part of the name is owed to how it works. Depending on what position your crown is in, the sliding pinion slides back and forth to engage either the winding or setting mechanisms.

When your crown is in the winding position, it's part of the gear train that turns to wind the watch's mainspring. When it's in the setting position, it engages with the gears that turn to set your watch's hands.

It's a part you'll never see, but a critical one that's in every single mechanical and quartz watch regardless of make or model.

I feel privileged to be continuing the watchmaking tradition built up over the last few centuries, but it's an evolving art and requires the use of modern tools as with any other field of engineering. Here in our little workshop here in Sydney, we're using the exact same CAD software as Patek Philippe and many other top-notch watch brands, so we've got no excuse not to get it right.

Till next time,


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Take your time

Some things cannot be rushed.  This never-used Swiss watchmakers Boley lathe waited 54 years to be discovered, pulled out of storage and shipped to Sydney. It then took another 12 months for Josh to get around to designing and making a suitable clamp. And finally, last weekend, he made a base of fine Queensland maple. Assembled finally - but still not ready to run.  We now need to find a suitable motor of constant torque with a reversible direction and speed control unit…Something like a Bergeon 6800. However, the price tag of US$2000 plus delivery and GST for a motor means that our lathe will have to wait a bit longer.  

But watchmakers are not in a hurry and watchmaking cannot be rushed... 

For subscribers who are considering a similar manual Swiss lathe or are just curious to find out how much a lathe like this costs, then the following link will answer at least some of your questions,  You will love it.

Happy Collecting,

Monday, August 21, 2017

A tough trick to pull

Today I flicked through the local newspapers. There on the second page was a photo of a smiling face saying, "If you are in trouble, call me". And you can bet that this Monday morning his phone will be ringing off the hook; desperate people looking for solicitor’s advice and quick solutions to get them off the legal hook. 

The beauty of a well-organised society is this: no matter what kind of help you need, there is a professional out there ready to take that burden off your shoulders.

Except, it seems, if you have a watchmaking problem; in particular: which kind of collet is best suitable for a piece of machinery never before imported into Australia?

The reality is harsh and character building: an Australian watchmaker cannot count on anyone but himself. (By the way, my very first phone call this morning was from a person who wanted me to assess a clock he intends to buy on eBay from an American seller. He would not take 'impossible' as an answer. Eventually I had to ask him what he does for a living in order to find an analogy of 'impossible' in his area of expertise. He said he was a magician and illusionist, and he likes me, and we should at least be friends - at which time I hung up!

So back to collets.

A collet is a cylindrical metal holder designed to firmly hold a tool or material to be machined. Unlike other tools (a chuck, for example) a collet exhibits some amazingly important properties. It provides strong clamping, excellent resistance to unclamping, great centring and, above all, tight tolerances.  In other words, if you are to machine a watch part which requires micron precision, you need micron precision collets. Actually, not just one, but at least a dozen to accommodate for tools of various sizes.

And now back to the original question: How do I know which collets are best suited for our machine, for the tools we intend to use and for the parts we would like to produce? 

It is clear that without the help of an expert I wouldn't be able to figure this out. So the most obvious solution to my problem is to delegate the job to Josh. To his credit, after 3 months of research and 3 deliveries (of which two were successful) we have finally got our set of precision collets to fit our Citizen R04 lathe. 

Now if you are wondering why am I sharing this information with you, the answer is to save someone 3 months of their life and frustration. The collet maker is ALPS TOOLS. Now, if you think Alps and tools, you surely are thinking Switzerland. Alps Tools is actually a precision toolmaker located in Nagano, Japan! The collets are AR11-d and the collet holder is SSH 5/8-ECH 7S-70 from the series called "Nice Mill". Nice would be a typical Japanese understatement: these collects are out of this world! 

I am a strong believer in sharing. Actually my plan is to get in touch with fellow owners of Citizen R04s around the world so we can share information and learn from each other. While large corporations have all the time (and resources) in the world and can be secretive, a small independent watchmaker does not have that luxury. Life is short and if you are to figure out everything by yourself, then the only thing you will be remembered for is your tombstone epitaph: "Could have been a great watchmaker, but ran out of time!".

Happy Collecting,


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Who said watchmakers don't party hard?

*** Who said watchmakers don't party hard?

Well, at least once a year…at the Annual meeting of The Watch and Clockmaker Association of Australia. Last Tuesday night Josh, Tyler and myself attended the WCA AGM held at the Ryde RSL. And boy, did we have a ball!  The meeting was an opportunity for kids to meet the 'Who's Who' of Sydney Watchmaking. For me, it was an opportunity to snatch some bargains at the tools and parts auction. 

Before I brag a bit about my hunt…believe it or not, there are still around 800 watchmakers repairing watches in Australia. Unfortunately, most of them do not offer their skills directly to you - watch owners and collectors – but, rather, work as subcontractors for established jewellers, do the trade work from home or simply live as hermits. Many work on a casual basis, awaiting retirement. Watchmakers like ourselves, who deal directly with public, are quite rare beasts.  The reason for keeping the 'low profile' is not for lack of skills, but restriction on supply of spare parts by major Swiss brands which is killing our trade. Of course, most watchmakers are either too proud or too blind to admit that, but a 'small guy with a loupe' is almost extinct, especially in Australia. Yet, only a few decades ago, even the smallest country town would have not one but two or three watchmakers.  

About 200 watchmakers are members of The National WCA. They are hardened veterans who have decided that they will not quit, no matter what, and for that reason alone they deserve our respect. However, most of them are in their late 70s. No matter which angle you take, the fact that there are only five watchmaker students who attend Sydney TAFE (and that is FIVE from the entire Australia!) speaks a lot about the future of the watchmaking trade in our country. On Tuesday night, a faithful bunch of 50 or so watchmakers packed a rather small room, keen to elect Officers who will run the organisation for the next 12 months and tackle issues that bother them - of which the most important one is: How to attract young blood and pass the baton on to the next generation?  

Luckily for us, we have solved that problem. We took our destiny in our own hands by cutting off the reliance on big brands, and starting our own. The only reason why Josh and Tyler are now firmly into watchmaking is because they figured out that hard work, skills building and creativity will eventually pay off. Investing in your own future is risky but exciting and there is nothing more rewarding than being the master of your own destiny.  Independent and free; no longer a Swiss slave but an equal partner.   

At the meeting I was pleased to notice a couple more young apprentices who were radiating enthusiasm. While small in number, the WCA is loaded with tradition and experience; a fertile ground for young watchmaker. By the way, if you are considering watchmaking as a career or if you do repairs as a hobbyist, you should definitely join the WCA.  

Back to the auction:

The moment I laid my eyes on her, I knew she was going to be mine! 

Yes, I already have two jewelling tools, but both are incomplete and well-used. But this baby is not only a complete set but also in like-new condition! The jewelling tool or press is an essential watchmaking tool used to replace cracked or worn jewels. It also comes with a number of reamers which are used to prepare the hole to 'accept' the new jewel and face plates to hold and position bridges and main plates. And the tiny 4.5mm collets are just so amazingly machined, to perfection!   

After some fierce bidding, the jewelling tool was secured, so I've moved to my next favourite thing: the Omega plexi glass removing tool. This set of 7 collet sizes is almost impossible to find - and when it does appear online it is often snatched up not by watchmakers but Omega memorabilia collectors. It is an essential piece of equipment for removing watch movements which are fitted in one-piece-case like Dynamic and Seamaster.  Again, the bidding was nerve-racking but, in all fairness, I just wanted it more than any of my colleagues.   

I also managed to secure more hand tools, case openers (Including an original unused Bergeon milled set for Rolex). Tyler scored a pile of books and a cabinet of watch parts. Josh restrained himself completely (while trying to restrain both Tyler and myself from bidding on more items!). However, the icing on the cake was the very last lot: a vintage valve- operated timing machine kindly donated by Martin Foster FBHI. Martin is without a doubt the most eloquent horologist who regularly contributes to a number of publications. While most of his WCA colleagues find his sense of humour rather annoying, I just can't have enough of him. To win his 60 year old valve tickoprint was a matter of honour. And to Martin's credit, the darn thing still WORKS. I have no idea what am I going to do with it, but I just love the glow of old tubes so I couldn't be happier with this little gem.  

All in all, great fun and, yes, we are looking forward to the next AGM. As I've said so many times: watchmaking is cool and yes, we are still looking for one more apprentice to join us. 

Do YOU have what it takes? 

Happy collecting,

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Man Who Had It All

***The Man Who Had It All

What does someone who has it all do with their time? What are their pursuits? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I know of what at least one of them did.
He was an Englishman residing in Sydney who’d had great success in business and was finally looking to settle down, in a sense. He’d been a keen sailor throughout his life and had a custom built yacht commissioned for him, which was made into something resembling a floating 5-star hotel. Everything about the boat displayed class and sophistication, but it wasn’t extravagant, representative of the good taste he had himself.
He could’ve had it gilded in gold and fitted out with all sorts of expensive curiosities, but the finishing touch that he felt it needed most came from one of his other passions. As is so common with sailors, he was also a lifelong enthusiast of horology. Accordingly, he needed a marine chronometer.

Marine chronometers were originally made to aid with navigation while at sea, but he didn’t need it for this. Regardless, he felt it absolutely necessary to have one on board. The boat just wouldn’t be complete without it.

The chronometer was made by J.G. Fay and Co, a company who, funnily enough, also appears to have made yachts, and who worked with a number of other makers to produce their chronometers. It’s housed in a beautiful mahogany wood case with brass linings. The Maker’s mark on the front of the case is set in real ivory (as was tradition in the day, judge away), and the chronometer housed inside is a timelessly beautiful mechanism that displays many of the achievements made in horology in recent centuries.

Having flicked through our copy of “Chronometer Makers of the World”, this piece in fact predates all J.G. Fay and Co’s known chronometers, indicating it’s a very early piece indeed.

If you find it hard to understand why he was so set on having it made, it might help to understand the nature of a chronometer and the dedication required to make one.

Chronometers were, above all, functional instruments. They were the most critical piece of equipment on board a ship and the lives of all of those aboard depended on it. Disaster was imminent if it ever erred in its timekeeping or malfunctioned. This meant that the makers had to work to the highest standards possible; anything less than perfection wouldn’t cut it.

He was forever reading about horological topics, and this passion and appreciation for so fine a craft translated over into his other work and was a big factor in his success. The loud tick of the chronometer is what made him tick. It’s no coincidence that successful people tend to be horology enthusiasts.

After he passed away the chronometer was handed on to a close friend of his who, as luck would have it, became acquainted with Nick some years later. Just ask Nick and he’ll be more than happy to tell you that he loves chronometers more than watches, so when the opportunity to grab it came up, he obviously jumped on it straight away. Nick’s small collection of chronometers is his pride and joy, and they’re the only things he’d never consider selling. Have a chat with a few watchmakers and you’ll find it’s not uncommon for them to be chronometer enthusiasts over all else, and with good reason. Though the man’s yacht is no more, fortunately his chronometer lives on.

Though the perfection required to make a chronometer is clear, an equally fascinating part of the story is how horology advanced to such a pinnacle in the first place. The competition was fierce, with some of the finest and most ingenious craftsmen to have ever lived battling it out over three centuries to produce a chronometer capable of surviving all the wild knocks and temperature fluctuations it’d experience at sea; a battle won by a genius clockmaker by the name of John Harrison whose first trade was carpentry. (Another must read is the book “Longitude” by Dava Sobel which tells the story of John Harrison’s extraordinary achievement.)

In all the history of timekeeping, I think it’s fair to say that the race to develop the perfect chronometer led to more advancements in the field of horology within a relatively short period of time than throughout the rest of human history.

Though chronometers are now a rare site (a conservative estimate of the number of chronometers ever made hovers around 100k, compare that with the millions of watches made every year), the word ‘chronometer is still common in the watch world, and is used to refer to a watch that falls within strict timing guidelines. Brands including Rolex, Omega and Breitling now seek to have most of their watches certified as chronometers and often proudly display the fact with a line of text on the dials of such pieces. It’s a nice salute to what’s come before, but not a totally fitting one; the required accuracy of an actual chronometer is far stricter than a ‘certified-chronometer’ watch!
For those that have ever tried to understand the development of the mechanics of modern watches and why they look the way they do, an understanding of chronometers is mandatory education, and a copy of ‘Chronometer Makers of the World’ is a great place to start.

The first half of the book speaks of the catalyst that launched the frenzied development and of the history of chronometers thereafter. The second half of the book is a directory of all the known chronometer makers along with the reference numbers of some of their pieces and occasionally with a short blurb about their significance.
This second section mightn’t sound that exciting, but if you give it a chance I think you’ll find it’s a highlight of the book. I’ve spent hours googling names at random from it and have fallen into many a rabbit hole filled with interesting stories. You’d never know it otherwise, but every single watch brand is in some way tied to these chronometer makers of days gone by.

Modern watchmaking isn’t resting on its laurels; there’s rapid innovation taking place and the ways of old are constantly being challenged, but there’s no way to properly understand it all without knowing what it’s all based on. I’ll go as far as to say that if you consider yourself a true horologist in any sense of the word, you must buy this book. It can be had for around $60 online and would be a welcome addition to any horological book collection.

The story of chronometers enthralled our man who had it all, and it’s sure to do the same to you too.

Until next time,

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The first U32j soon to arrive to Australia

Makino Japan is the world leader in advanced CNC machining centres and provides a wide range of high-precision metal-cutting and EDM machinery.  

The Makino U32j wire EDM machine is ideal for machining complex items that require extensive and intricate machining; especially high-accuracy precision parts, progressive dies and highly-engineered plastic molds for semiconductor devices, as well as medical components.

With touch-sensing accuracy to +/- 2 micron and an optical scale feedback of 0.05 microns for the X- and Y-axis and cutting wire of 50 microns, the U32j is Makino's ultra-precision flagship EDM model.

Rebelde (Sydney Watches Pty Ltd) is proud to announce acquisition of a U32j machine for production and manufacturing of watch parts. The expected delivery, installation and training is scheduled for February 2018. The purchase was made through Makino's Australian representative, HEADLAND Machinery, and U32j is the first EDM machine of such accuracy to be delivered to Australia.

Happy collecting,

Monday, August 7, 2017

It's good to be back home

The 6 week trip to Switzerland is finally over…And I am ready for a holiday…which, of course, is not going to happen any time soon. Actually, the next 12 to 18 months is going to be the most challenging and busiest time of my life!

Where do I start?

Firstly, we have two very exciting pieces of machinery coming in from Switzerland; soon to be packed and shipped to our workshop (the expected delivery time is around Christmas). I am not going to talk about specifics until the machinery is delivered and installed. However, let me just say that both of the watch part making machines are amazingly precise and amazingly complex and nothing like them has ever been imported into Australia…ever.

This is a huge undertaking which will require months - if not years - of training and practice. Quite frankly, we cannot even imagine what lies ahead, but we are ready to buckle up for an adventure of a lifetime.

Secondly, I have brought with me a sample mechanism for rebelde Mark 1. The case, dial and hands design will start this week and in 3 month’s time we should have the first computer-generated images of the new watch. There will be a number of custom-design movement components as well; and, most likely, a few of them will be manufactured in our workshop in Sydney. This itself is super cool. There is one more announcement about Mark 1 but I have to keep it secret for now. Trust me, you'll love it.

The third challenge is team building. We have received quite a few decent applicants for our engineering position and a couple for the watch apprentice position. Again, the next few weeks are going to be loaded with appointments and assessments. Finding the right people to join our team is our top priority which cannot wait.

The fourth project: Working even harder to source more quality pre-loved watches! This is an enormous challenge because quality stock is hard to find. However, my plan for this financial year is to offer 20% more watches than last year. More watches means more sales, more customer communication, invoicing and shipping, but we've been doing this for decades. We have the most trusted, loyal and supportive customers who love what we do and are happy to support us so it is only logical to try to offer more fine timepieces. When it comes to second-hand dealings, I am very proud of our unparalleled reputation which is a credit to all team members.

The fifth on this list, but really a top priority: To continue with the assembly of rebelde watches which are planned for 2017: rebelde fifty, rebelde pilots and control tower models in stainless steel. All of you who have placed an order while I was away: Thank you for your patience. Your watch will be ready to go in 3 weeks' time. A small curiosity...Since we started the rebelde project 3 years ago, 541 watches have been assembled and delivered. To my knowledge, as I type this, all 541 are in perfect working order! I proudly say, "There is no such thing as a broken rebelde". To this day, each and every watch is still 100% assembled and adjusted by myself. With all due respect to all my colleagues, when it comes to watchmaking and assembly, I only trust my own expertise; so no sub-contracting. In the rare case of non-performance, I have noone to blame but myself, which is how it should be. After all, if you wear a piece with my name on the dial, then you know who to blame or congratulate.

Another curiosity...all 541 watches were sold with ZERO advertising, except of course, for this mailing list. We don't go out telling watch enthusiasts how great rebelde is. The word of mouth and the recommendations of happy customers are more than sufficient to keep the brand going strong. We appreciate your support and if you haven't placed your order for a rebelde watch yet, then feel free to check out our website

With a starting price at $2,500 for a robust, reliable and fully repairable timepiece assembled in Australia, rebelde has virtually no competition in its market segment.

Sixth: Our small team remains committed to continue with our DAILY newsletter. For the past year we have hardly had a day without a newsletter. I don't know of any other business out there where each and every employee is more than happy to contribute, write, share and talk.  Our newsletter is our core activity and until the newsletter is out, we don't rest. We know you LOVE it and for thousands of subscribers, our daily newsletter is often the highlight of your daily mail. There are countless bloggers and watch forums out there but, unfortunately, most of the stuff is written by people who are simply hobbyists or others who recycle, copy and paste the same-old stuff. We strive to share our own views and talk about our own struggles, and do our own research. While the quality may vary from day to day, you can rest assured that our mail is always honest and authentic. And if you have ever prepared and sent just one piece of mail to your customers, then you KNOW how much time and effort such a newsletter takes.

The bottom line: the next 12 months will be a huge challenge but we are ready to rock and roll. If you wish to support us then remain subscribed, tell your friends about us, place an order for a rebelde watch and stay tuned for a range of fine pre-owned watches. You never know what may come up next!

Even if you do just one of the above this financial year, then our mission will be accomplished.

Happy collecting,


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

So what is your dream?

This week I've learnt my second French word. It only took 26 hours to figure out its English translation and its true meaning. 

It all started when I asked my Swiss host to put me in touch with a specialist watch dial maker who may be interested in producing a batch of dials for the next rebelde project. Without any hesitation, he loudly and proudly proclaimed: "Schansaintsheer" or something that sounded like that.

"Sorry, I've missed that. John Sheer? Jean who?"
"Schan - Saint - Sheer" he replied. "You must see him".
"Where is he located?"
"Here, in La Chaux-de-Fonds; we've past his factory earlier today. If you like, I'll take you there tomorrow."
"So you actually know the guy?" I’ve asked naively; realising instantly that that was a silly question, since everyone knows everyone in LCF.

That night I started googling 'dial makers LCF' but without much luck. How frustrating…I still couldn't work out even the dial-maker’s name.

The next day we spent most of the afternoon inspecting piles of used watch machinery so both of us forgot about the dial. But later, at dinner, I asked again:

"Hey, about the dials, what is the maker's name?"
"Which one?"
"The one you've mentioned yesterday; the one with the unpronounceable French name."
"Schansaintsheer? Ha, you must see him. You don't know who he is? How come you don't know him when you’re a watchmaker? Surely you have seen his dials," poked my host.
"If you would only speak clearly, and in English perhaps, then I would know who the hell is Schansaintsheer or whatever his name is."
"Schan - Saint – Sheer. He is famous; he made dials for Rolex and Omega in the 1960s and 70s, and many other Swiss brands.  He is really, really famous."
"Well, what I know for certain is this: all Rolex vintage dials ware made by SINGER, not your guy", I’ve said in frustration. After all, this was no longer about dials, but my own reputation.
"Bravo - that's him! But in French we say SIN-SHER; Jean Sin-sher"
"Jean Singer and Cie SA is your guy? The most famous dial maker of all times? You seriously want to take me to their factory? You seriously think SINGER would take an order for 200 dials from the smallest watch brand in the world??"
"Of course, if you pay and wait they will do it. It is sinher; they are the best."

A few days later in Geneva, during the Watch Fair, I met Ms Claudia Henry, Assistante de Direction from Singer Manufacture de Cadrans Soignes

Jean Singer firmly remains one of the last and the best independent dial manufacturers in Switzerland. The business was established in 1919 by Jean Singer and his wife. It started out in a small detached house at number 32, rue des Crêtets in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and stands on the same site today. Currently, the firm employs 250 dial-maker specialists and still supplies cadrans to the most famous Swiss watchmakers.

Would Singer be interested in taking a rebelde order?

Unfortunately, Ms Henry could not provide a definite answer. That would depend on a number of factors, of which two are potentially limiting: The batch volume and delivery time . A basic dial could cost around $500 per dial, plus setup and tooling costs. The precise amount can be calculated after a review of the technical drawings. Delivery time? Due to current production commitments I would be looking at 2 years' turnaround time, IF I can get a queue placement at all.

But…she didn't say NO, meaning that potentially, one day, a rebelde watch could have a Singer-made dial…

So what is your dream?

Happy collecting,


Monday, July 31, 2017

When corporatism leads to corporate governance failure

Over the past number of years many watch experts and industry insiders have shared juicy details about the murky dealings of the Swiss corporate world.  Others, like myself, simply conveyed thoughts and predictions based on micro-events, trying to build a bigger picture. However, a few months ago, we finally got an amazing opportunity to find out the truth. Dr Isabelle Campo and Dr Philipp Aerni, from the Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CCRS) at the University of Zurich, have published a 120-page report, and this report is the work of a true insider.
The report draws on archival sources, accessible since 2015, that were also extensively discussed in the Swiss print media in early 2016. They provide increasing evidence of corporate governance failure in the 1983 merger of SSIH (Société suisse pour l’industrie horlogère) and ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG) that led to today’s Swatch Group.
The merger, induced by Swiss banks, was portrayed as a necessary step to save the two allegedly bankrupt watch companies. Yet, the archival sources show that ASUAG had already been successfully restructured and was ready to conquer global markets with its new product; the Swatch.
Through the forced merger of the two unequal parties, the banks were able to avoid heavy losses that would have resulted from the bankruptcy of the ailing SSIH. The merger essentially enabled the conversion of a former state monopoly, ASUAG, into an even stronger private monopoly; eventually called the Swatch Group. The Swatch Group was able to establish itself as the leading watch company in the world by benefiting from prior innovation and corporate restructuring. In addition, the company built up its market power through extensive brand and “Swissness” marketing, political lobbying designed to preserve its monopoly pricing power in the production of certain watch parts, and the rhetoric of innovation to keep shareholders in good spirits.
The report also explains how bankers 'assisted' Nicholas Hayek to take over 51% of the Swatch group turning it into a private monopoly and, consequently, making the Hayek family billionaires.
The focus is then shifted to 2016 and beyond. A large part of the report analyses industry challenges in relation to the Government's role in the 'smart watch segment' as the industry regulator. While the protection and support of the Swiss watch industry was previously based on a deal behind closed doors, the new protectionism was publicly announced as a patriotic step to protect the value of “Swiss made” products. However, at the other end of the watch market spectrum, there are serious doubts that Swiss watches, especially in the higher price segments, will always fetch a high premium.
Why is the Swatch Group sitting on $1.4 billion worth of unsold stock?
Why is the Swatch Group the lowest ranked watch company on the Swiss Stock Exchange which fails to disclose much information on its products, sales and prices, yet still is a trusted brand name?
What might Swatch and Volkswagen have in common?
What is the reason for the $500 million lawsuit between Tiffany and the Swatch Group?
Why did SG buy Harry Winston Jewellers for $1 billion?
How does all of the above affect the company’s share price?
Why is SG frantically buying back shares to shore up its price?
All these questions are answered in the report which is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in untangling the dealings between watch manufacturers, multinationals, banks, shareholders, the Hayek family, and the Swiss Government.
One thing, however, is certain. This Report does not pay much attention to you, the Swiss watch owner; nor me, a small independent watchmaker. It seems that swissness stops the moment you part with your cash and strap on your new Rolex, Omega or Patek. It completely overlooks the buyer's needs, desires, support - or lack of it - or its crucial role in the watch market. It neglects the feedback effect and portrays (rightly, yet unintentionally) the Swiss watch industry as a one-way street; still immune and resilient from outside criticism. The watch business issues are just Swiss internal matter, to be solved by Swiss themselves, as an internal affair.

The report 'When Corporatism Leads To Corporate Governance Failure' is available as free .pdf download or as a book ( $15).  Enjoy it.
FH is the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry

Happy collecting,

Friday, July 28, 2017

Two Gifts To Humanity

Have you ever wondered who invented the egg box? The answer is the Canadian, Joseph Coyle. Annoyed with frequent disputes between local hoteliers and egg farmers over broken eggs, Coyle set himself up with the task of improving the way eggs are protected during transportation. Little did he know that his solution would be so simple, and yet so powerful, that 110 years later his original egg box remains virtually unchanged. He solved a centuries’ old problem that many have called 'a gift to humanity'.

The other day Tyler talked about the balance wheel 'balancing' tool. Briefly, he mentioned the shock absorbing device called incabloc. For those of you who are new to horology, incabloc is nothing else but 'a simple egg box' for the most delicate of watch components; the watch heart.
It too is a gift to humanity because it has brilliantly solved another centuries’ old problem in watchmaking: shock-related damage to the balance staff…And, like Coyle’s solution, for almost 80 years there were virtually no changes in its design.
The incabloc was invented in 1934 by Swiss engineers, Braunschweig and Marti, at Universal Escapements; a firm located in Chaux de Fonds.
The other day I stopped by the impressive Incabloc Booth at  a major Watch Fair.
'How's Incabloc’s business? Are there any new developments or improvements?" I asked.
'No, sorry, not much since the 1960s', responded the polite sales representative, with a smile.

'Excellent, keep up the good work', I said…moving to the next stand.

Of course, Incabloc SA doesn't rest on its laurels. While the shock protector’s design still remains unchanged, the company heavily invests in new tooling, machinery and equipment. Additionally, they are expanding into the manufacturing of other watch components, predominately bushings, jewel bearings and balance wheel regulators. Judging by the impressive - almost monumental - size of Incabloc's Booth, even a newcomer to the watch industry can tell how important they are to the Swiss watch industry.
For those of you who prefer cold, hard facts: Incabloc sold 350,000 units in its second year and by 1950 its total sales reached 10 million. In the 1970s, at the peak of Swiss watchmaking, Incabloc supplied 160,000 units per day!
Unfortunately in the 1980s battery-operated watches pushed mechanical watches to the very edge of extinction. Many Swiss specialists and manufacturers either dispersed or were absorbed by larger players. Incabloc struggled too…but in early 2000 Swiss watchmaking went through yet another renaissance which opened the way for Incabloc to re-establish itself, once again, as a crucial part of the high-end supply chain.
While there were numerous other makers of shock-proofing devices (like KIF, ETA's Etachoc, Seiko's Diashock and Citizen's Parashock) it is the Incabloc System which, in fact, has given its name to the entire protection industry…and rightly so.

No, there is no such thing as an unbreakable watch, but if you think you can invent a better egg box or a better shock-proof system than the one we currently have, then humanity is patiently waiting for you!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Watchmaker’s Poising Tool by Tyler

One of the most odd-looking tools we use in the workshop is the poising tool.
This little apparatus is one of the tools we use to test whether a watch's balance wheel is properly poised. But how does it work, and what does it mean for a balance wheel to be properly poised?

Let's start with the balance wheel itself. The balance wheel can be thought of as the beating heart of a mechanical watch, serving to regulate the flow of power throughout the gear train so that the watch keeps proper time. For it to do so, the balance wheel must be perfectly balanced; which is to say that the weight must be equally distributed around the circumference of the wheel. As well, the upper and lower pivots must be perfectly straight and have exactly the same diameter, otherwise the balance would tend to tilt in a certain direction.  The poising tool is but one of the tools we use to check whether this is so.

The tool must first be placed on a flat surface and then, using the adjustable legs, adjusted until it’s level. When the tool is perfectly level, the little water bubble in the red enclosure will float directly in the centre. The ruby jaws must then be thoroughly cleaned and inspected, as even a minute speck of dust can cause a false-positive when testing. The balance wheel with spring removed is then placed between the chucks with the tips of the upper and lower pivots resting on the ruby.

At this point, the wheel is slightly rotated (often by using a very light brush), and is closely observed to see where and how it comes to rest. If the balance wheel is optimally balanced, the balance wheel should be able to stop at any point around its circumference, depending on where it was rotated from and how much force was applied. If the wheel is out of balance, then it may roll backwards or stop at the same point each time it’s rotated, which indicates the balance wheel has a heavy spot at that point.

How this is fixed depends on the type of balance wheel (whether it has timing screws or not), and may require the removal of material. As you can imagine, for such a small part the amount of material that would need to be removed to correct an imbalance would be minuscule, and there is another watchmaking tool made specifically for this purpose!

(Left: A balance wheel with timing screws, which can be adjusted to change the balance of weight. Right: Note the small circular indents around the outer rim where material has been removed.

The symptoms of bent pivots are much the same, but can be diagnosed as such if the wheel appears to wobble as it’s rotated. Fixing bent pivots at this scale is, well, difficult, and sometimes not possible at all…or simply not worth the effort. A new balance staff is often the quickest and best solution. 
The replacement of broken balance staffs was once a common watchmakers job, especially during the pocket watch era, but since the invention of shock absorbers in modern timepieces (around 1920s) the need for balance staff replacement - and consequently the posing tool - has been significantly reduced. Furthermore, watchmakers have now developed alternative methods for checking the poise of a balance wheel (known as dynamic poising, whereas the use of the poising tool is referred to as static poising), but the poising tool still has a place in almost every workshop as a quick and easy-to-use diagnostic device. 

We’ve also found a very handy use for the tool in another aspect of watchmaking: Not just for the repair of existing parts, but in the manufacturing of them in the first place, which is what we’re doing with our rebelde watches. 
When a new pinion is turned and a gear freshly hobbed, you’re faced with many of the same problems: Are the sides of the upper and lower pivots perfectly parallel with each other? Is the weight distribution of the gear equal? 

Of course, our first test is to simply measure the new parts and compare them with expected dimensions, but, as you know, looks can be deceiving, and the use of the poising tool in this regard has served as an effective litmus test to check for the overall quality of the new part.