Friday, March 29, 2013

Lange and Sohne 1815 Automatik Sax-o-Mat Ref 303.025

Lange and Sohne 1815 Automatik Sax-o-Mat Ref 303.025

For those of you who missed last week's Lange Perpetual calendar in platinum - here is a good news: we have just received our Sax-o-Mat Ref 303.025.

The beauty of Ref 303.025 is in it's external simplicity and internal complexity.

For many, this is the pinnacle in fine horology and a piece worth sacrificing. And again, for many, this is often the very last watch in their collection. Once you own Lange, it is almost impossible to replace it with other brand without spending significantly more.

Do you know that a 3 liter milk bottle filled platinum would have mass of 65 kg and would be worth almost 3 million dollars?

Production of platinum in Africa ceased at the start of the First World War and remained docile until the end of the Second World War. With a lack of platinum watches for around 25 years, popularity waned. Only until the 60s had some life returned into the platinum aspect of the watch industry, only to be stomped down again by the onslaught of Japanese quartz watches in the 70s and 80s. With the mechanical watch revival in the 1980s and 90s came the increase of popularity in the precious metal to be used in a horological sense. Since the 1980s the popularity has increased especially since the refining process has been perfected.

Platinum still remains in the realms of high end watchmakers, and still owns a specific aura of class. Its unmistakable hue, glow, heft, purity and resistance to the elements set it apart from the other precious metals. Denser and much more resistant to scratching than gold, platinum betrays itself as a run of the mill, workhorse metal, but rather is a highly sought after material used in only the highest quality watches. A. Lange famously uses platinum in its limited edition and special edition pieces.

An unusual property of platinum: this precious metal never loses weight through scratching, as opposed to gold which is soft and loses some metal every time its comes into contact with another metal.

Basically, you are not really 'scratching the platinum, but merely 'repositioning' atoms around!

Finally, those of you how have a Lange watch in collection may have noticed that watch movements appear slightly gold-yellowish in colour.

Here is why.

The movement main plates are made of untreated German silver which is a white alloy containing nickel, zinc and copper. In the natural process of aging or patination, this galvanically and chemically untreated metal becomes naturally patinated and the yellow-gold patina protect it from further oxidation! Funny enough, the German silver contains no silver at all :-) Another use of German silver is in production of high-end musical instruments, like French horns. It is said that such instruments have bright and powerful sound.

And this is really where story of your Lange just begins. We can spend hours talking about blue screws, gold chatons, hand engraved balance cock, platinum and gold rotor - and many other features found only in best made watches.

But more about that some other time...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jeff Sexton, Watchmaker: "the Elgin guy"

*** Google this!

"Never mind, I'll find it on Google!"

This is a typical answer you'll get from a teenager nowadays. Which is true in most of the cases - except when you are looking for things which are really important - a personal recommendation, for example

Still not convinced? Go ahead, google for "my dentist's dentist". I told ya.

And every now and then, yes, even a watchmaker needs a watchmaker.

The other day when I needed a crystal replacement for a Patek, I sent my assistant to Max Schweizer. A week later - it was all done and ready for collection. Last year, Joao Santos got me out of trouble with a hard to find circuit for a long-discontinued Cartier. And I am always happy to recommend my colleague Thomas Czibula to those who call or email looking for a watchmaker who specializes in vintage watches.

All three of them are a watchmaker's watchmaker!

Often, we are asked to recommend someone in the US who is equally passionate, independent and skilled.

Sometime ago I've bumped into fine and enthusiastic American watchmakers who specialize in Elign watches and other American brand pocket watches.

Jeff Sexton is 'my guy'- if I lived in the US and ran into problems with a vintage American watch, I would send it to Jeff.

I asked Jeff to introduce himself to our newsletter subscribers:

"I learned watchmaking from my Grandfather, Everett Sexton, who attended the Elgin Watchmakers' College in the late 1930s. My Grandfather had no small amount of natural skills. This was something noticed by William Samelius, "The Dean of Watchmakers", who singled out the young man for instructing personally. This was an enormous benefit and a privilege.

When I was just beginning, I would drive to my Grandparents' home, about 6 hours away, as often as I could with a collection of watches I had repaired. My Grandfather carefully and silently examined each, then offered suggestions. He often spoke of Samelius.

"Well, this is good, but Samelius would say you were a little too generous with the oil there."

I learned the tools and methods as Samelius taught them. At first, I did nothing but re-shape screw driver tips and finish the insides of tweezers. Later I learned to set the pallet stones, collet hairsprings, make a staff and set the beat - no machine either. On the one hand, much of what I learned is out of step with modern practices, but on the other hand I also routinely perform repairs and adjustments that few do, while using tools much, much older and more experienced than myself. I use my Grandfather's lathe, which he bought in in 1936 for $38, and many tools much older.

You never know what you will find inside an old watch, that has been handled by a progression of watchmakers, and had all manner of repairs, over a century and more. Every one is different. But I am proud to carry on the work my Grandfather cared for deeply."

Jeff's website is www.elgintime.com/ By the way, as someone not familiar with the work of William H Samelious, I was pleased to discover that he wrote a book titled "Watch and Clock information, please!" about watch and clock restoration. Stay tuned for a review :-)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Integrated vs. modular? ETA 2894-2 movement, the Purists and a TAG Monza

Earlier this week we talked about watch servicing. We concluded that an overhaul is a labour intensive and time consuming process which requires skills gained by years of practicing.

We also concluded that the more complex the movement, the more costly it is to service it.

Over the years many watch manufacturers went out of business for the very reason they got into it in the first place: a complex product which required labour and skills in both manufacturing and maintenance was often too expensive for the average watch owner.

The advancement of battery operated watches in late 70s and early 80s brought the Swiss watch industry to the brink of extinction. Only the fittest and strongest of watchmakers survived the Japanese onslaught.

"Brand name" Swiss makers concentrated their efforts on high end product. Small guys disappeared, and those in middle who had manufacturing capabilities or provided a unique service to the industry were eventually absorbed by the big players.

In the 1980s some Swiss makers ventured into the field of modular engineering. This was an effort to retain mechanical complexity, yet to make the end product easier to manufacture and assemble - and eventually, easier to service.

In reality, the concept itself is as old as watchmaking. The final result is always a compromise - not necessary from a performance aspect but rather from the 'purist' view. More about purists later.

Here is the essence of modular watch technology.

As you already know, the watch movement consists of various 'blocks' which are cleverly put together in order to measure and display time. While some of those blocks work extremely hard 24/7, (escapement, train wheels, main spring, auto winding system), others perform certain actions only every now and then (calendar, day/date function). And then, there are some which are only engaged on demand - like a stop watch. Ironically, those blocks which do the least amount of work are often the most complex ones to pull apart, assemble and adjust.

Practically, due to functional integration and complexity (you hate that word too, do you?) and necessity to pack all those blocks together in a slim line watch movement, an overhaul would demand COMPLETE disassembly of ALL blocks, including those which may not need service as often as main spring or escapement.

So, you may ask (and rightly so!) would it be possible to engineer a watch mechanism where components are physically grouped in such way which would retain complexity, yet simplify production, assembly and maintenance?

The answer is yes - and it is called the ETA 2894-2.

Here is a picture of a TAG Heuer Monza which is equipped with ETA 2894-2 movement.

It is a self-winding (automatic) watch with date and chronograph (stop watch) function.

A typical example of a 'standard' Swiss watch made for a novice watch enthusiast.

There is not much to be seen from the dial side, so here is a photo of the back:

Again, from this view, 2894-2 looks like any ordinarily automatic watch- except for one detail: there is no sign of a chrono unit!

Well not until you remove 3 screws and separate two modules:

The module on the left is a 'work horse' and it contains all the hard working bits and pieces which require regular overhaul.

On the right, the chrono module hoses a very complex but low-maintenance unit.

The level of modular integration (or should I say: modular separation) is really amazing. Unfortunately, the photos above do not reveal much of the complexity - not only each unit contains close to 100 parts, but each module does what it is supposed to do even when completely separated! Another important detail is in the fact that the motion from one unit is transferred to other in just 3 'points of contact': via the seconds, minutes and calendar wheel.

If you are a mechanically minded person, then you would appreciate how difficult it is to "break" the motion yet still maintain precision in execution and accuracy in performance.

Here is a photo which shows those 3 points of connection:

It goes without saying that watchmakers just adore the modular concept! If there is no fault in the chrono or calendar unit, a watchmaker can overhaul the watch without even having to remove the dial and hands! A 4 hours job reduced to 45 minutes.

Now, by disclosing all this information to you, you may think you have enough ammunition to accuse your watchmaker of cutting corners. However, don't use that argument- the chrono spare parts are not available from ETA. In case of fault, ETA would supply a complete module only. So by not pulling it apart, your watchmaker is actually saving you some serious money!

Of course, the base module should be serviced the same way as any other automatic watch.

Apart from TAG Heuer, there are number of other Swiss makers who happily use the very same movement – most noticeably, the Omega Speedmaster Reduced automatic chronograph. And here is a tip: the adjective reduced does not refer to it's size (39mm) but to omission of a date function :-)

If you are still reading this article then you are probably asking yourself one logical question: why aren’t there more Swiss "sandwich" movements out there?

The answer to this question is: blame the purists!

If the critics are failed actors, then the purists are failed critics!

Purists are watch 'enthusiasts' who have their own view about everything watch related. There is of course nothing wrong with that - except that such view is based on an extremely narrow minded understanding of watchmaking and horology in general.

If I make a statement that "classical music is the only one worth listening to, except perhaps for jazz" then that would give you a fairly good idea of how narrow minded and disjointed I am. Also, this would be a great moment to switch to a completely different subject - or even better, leave the room.

Watch purists are exactly like that. They only recognize a handful of watch manufacturers as "true watchmakers" and everyone else who does not fit in their narrow-minded view are not worth worshiping.

For a purist, a modular movement is a betrayal of the watchmaking tradition, which, according to them, demands that all components must be placed in layers only above or below the main plate. There are number of other pre-requisites for a watch brand to qualify as 'purists approved' but most of them are complete nonsense so I don't even want to go there.

Of course, the current trend of the Swiss industry is towards complex, labour intensive, highly branded products designed to please wealthy purists, not an average watch owner or God forbid - a watchmaker. Old-fashioned watchmakers believe in conspiracy theory that Swiss watch houses are infiltrated and managed by a new generation of purists who come from high fashion, banking and management background, not the watchmaking side of business and who will continue to push watch production beyond common sense.

Practical, serviceable and affordable are no longer engineering pre-requisites.

A humble watches like the TAG Monza or Omega Speedmaster based on modular ETA 2894-2 calibre are already part of horological history.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Timor from Dubbo: Protect it as best you can!

Today a watch arrived in the post carefully packed in a hand-made wooden box. I was impressed by the lengths the owner went to, in order to ensure its safe delivery. In the coffin, I found a 1960s beaten up Timor, with a note:

"Dear Sir, Yesterday, when I went to adjust the time on this watch, I pulled out the winder as usual. The usual click sensation was absent, and the winder felt quite loose. When I attempted to adjust the time, the hands didn't turn, as if the winder has become disconnected. Will you please investigate and repair. Advise me at ( ) of the cost and I will post you a cheque." Thank you, K,, Dubbo. "

The watch was in shocking condition. Obviously a daily wearer which has not been taken off the wrist for past 50 years! Quite frankly, it was long overdue for burial.

Yet there was something honest, sincere and very human about the owner and his request.

On the other hand, while fixing the broken winding crown is only a minor repair which would not take more than 10 minutes, it could take 10 days before the $10 check is received and cleared!

But how could I deny my service to someone who has put so much trust in me?

To his credit, the beaten-up Timor started ticking the very moment the new crown was fitted on and it was on it's way to Dubbo before lunch time, fee of charge, including a free return delivery.

The reward of 'resurrecting' yet another half-dead watch, knowing that an old man will be thrilled to get his ticker back on his wrist was all I needed as compensation for my humble service.

Now, if you think that reason for this post is to brag about my generosity then you've completely missed the point.

The point is: if you are to ship your watch to a watchmaker, PROTECT IT AS BEST YOU CAN!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Patek Philippe Ref. 3590 Cal. 28-255

Under the bonnet of Patek Calatrava Ref 3590.

This post is for lovers of Jaeger Le-Coultre as much as it is for admirers of Patek Philppe . When in 1970. Patek needed an ultra thin automatic mechanism for their new Calatrava, they went to no other than to JLC. The Jeager Cal 920 was in production since 1967 and was a movement of choice for both Audemars and Vacheron Constantin.

Patek engraved the movement and renamed it to calibre 28-255.

It was a beauty! A mere 2.45mm thin - including the carousel gold rotor - this was one of the best engineered slim-line automatic movements on the market. It proudly featured the number of 'only JLC can make this' and features: a free sprung Gyromax balance, solid gold rotor on a beryllium carousel supported at four jeweled rollers, a ball bearing intermediate wheel in auto winding system and a jeweled ratchet under it's own bridge - just to list a few details.

The 36 jewel movement is adjusted to heat, cold and isochronysm in 5 positions. Finely decorated, it is both eye-pleasing and quiet on the wrist. And thanks to JLC, for next 30 years, Patek was able to deliver an ultra slim Calatrava to aficionados of fine watches.

The Ref. 3590 is an 18K white gold version which is just 6.5mm thick.

Pictures below are provided for your enjoyment :-)

Why does a mechanical watch need servicing?

*** To service or not?

Why does a mechanical watch need servicing? How often should a watch mechanism be overhauled? What exactly needs to be performed? How long does it takes and what is the service cost?

Glad you've asked!

A 'proper' understanding of watch servicing should be of great importance to any watch owner, let alone to a keen watch collector. Let's start form the very beginning.

On a cold day when you rub your hands, you do so to warm them up. Rubbing creates friction, and the product of friction is heat.

The key word here is FRICTION.

In real life friction could be both desirable and not-so-desirable. For example, the top side of surfboard is coarse so you can have a good grip (more friction = better grip). The bottom is polished and as smooth as possible (less friction between board and water = better surfing).

When it comes to mechanical watches, friction is the evil of all motion. Friction reduces the driving force, increases wear and tear and, has a very negative effect on time keeping and accuracy.

Friction is bad. And this is the first thing to remember.

Now here is the good news: over the centuries, watchmakers have worked hard to get rid of friction, or at least to minimize its negative effect on watch performance. Friction between two surfaces (for example a watch pivot and bearing) can be reduced if both surfaces are highly polished. Reducing the size of contact area also helps. But what helps most is lubrication: when a small quantify of oil or lubricant is applied between solid surfaces, the friction is greatly reduced.

So second thing to remember: OIL is a good thing!

There is however one small problem: over time, this ‘good’ oil turns into ‘bad’ oil. After 5-6 years of constant ticking, a watch which has kept correct time no longer does so because the good, fresh oil has deteriorated to the point where it no longer act as a lubricant.

So here we arrived to the third point: oils and lubricants AGE with time.

In fact, not only do oils get worse to the point where they serve no purpose, if the watch is forced to run beyond that point things get really bad. After 7-8 years, the watch mechanism is seriously contaminated with dirt, dust and metal particles which are now embedded in the old lubricant. The mixture acts as a grinding paste – completely opposite form the very reason we lubricated the watch in the first place! After 12-15 years those fine, hard and polished pivots and jewels are now badly worn.

To answer your first question: a watch mechanism needs servicing because old oil needs to be replaced with new, fresh oil which will restore watch performance. As you guessed, this should be done each and every 5 years.

When you think of it, this is no different to grease and oil replacement in your car - except in one significant detail: the amount of lubrication in watch is minuscule. You cannot simply drain the old oil, replace the filter and voila- off you go!

In order to apply fresh oil, the watch mechanism needs to be dismantled completely. Worn out parts are replaced and all components are thoroughly cleaned, de-greased, dried, then re-assembled, lubricated and finally adjusted for good timekeeping. The watch is left to run for a few days and if needed, re-adjusted again.

[Gents and ladys Rolex Dateust dismantled, ready for cleaning]

This is what watchmakers call a complete overhaul.

The process is tedious and time consuming. A complex watch mechanism like an automatic chronograph (stop watch) may contain over 200 components. In addition, the watch case itself may need polishing and in case of water resistant watches, replacement of rubber seals and in some cases replacement of the crystal, pushers and winding crown. Finally, the watch bracelet is cleaned and polished to give the watch a desirable "as new" look.

There is no fixed charge for a complete overhaul - the more complex the watch, more time it requires to service. In addition, watchmakers often estimate the repair cost based on overall condition of the watch. A well 'looked after' watch would need less work than a watch worn daily for 20 years. With some exception, vintage watches (40+ years old) are rarely serviced by the manufacturer. In their view such watches are simply too old and spare parts are hard to obtain. Those watches may require special attention and the repair costs are usually higher. Finally, well known 'brand name' watches and those made of precious metals and studded with diamonds cost more to service due to higher insurance costs / risk, undertaken by watchmaker.

A turnaround service time of 4 weeks is industry standard, except for vintage watches or watches which need more serious repair (broken parts, water damage, shock-related issues etc).

To conclude: if you would like to extend the life expectancy of your timepiece, follow the manufacturer's advice and service it when it's due. Wearing the watch for extensive periods of time without an overhaul will cause irreversible damage which will have undesirable consequences to time keeping - even after such watch is overhauled at some later point in time.

Mechanical watches - like any other precision instruments - are not built to last forever, and especially not if abused and forced to run to point of self-destruction.

Contrary to popular web myths, placing the watch on a watch winder "to keep the oil fresh" will not extend the ‘between service time’.

If you have a number of watches in your watch collection and only wear them once per month or less, you may get away with an additional year or two between two services. But beyond that, such watch should not be worn again unless overhauled - it should be only good as 'display' model and as such left to rest, unwound and not worn, until you decide to service it and wear it again.

Grandpa's silver pocket watch

I would like to know the age of pocket watch which I inherited form my grandfather. K.R.

Dear K R,

For the exact dating of a pocket watch it is required that the timepiece is submitted for a physical examination. The easiest way to date a timepiece is by comparing the serial numbers on the mechanism and the case with manufacturers production data. In your case, we can estimate the manufacturing year based on style of the case and winding system.

Lets' start with the later.

Your pocket watch is a stem-wound, pin-set model. It is wound by turning the winding crown on the top. To set the time, one would have to push down the pin located to the left. The pin itself is protected with pin guards. This winding system in pocket watches was popular from mid to late 1800s and replaced in early 1900s with a more convenient stem-wound, stem-set system which later became the norm for wrist watches.

Now let's move to the watch case.

The heavily ornate case with relief scene is most likely made of coin silver. This alloy of 80% silver and 20% copper was a good choice for pocket watch cases. Look for the stamp 0.800. The give away mark is the slight reddish discoloration which comes form copper.

While we don't know much about the mechanism, judging by the heavy and rich relief, it is fair to assume that your watch is of 'better than average quality' and most likely made by a reputable maker.

Thanks to well detailed symbolism, the women depicted can be unmistakably identified.

Note the crescent moon on her diadem: she is a goddess. Depicted holding a bow and quiver with arrows, she also wears a short tunic and it is portrayed as young and beautiful: without any doubt, she is Diana, the Greek goddess of hunting.

In the background, there is a lovely detail of a cupid holding the hunting dog.

This lovely 'hunting' scene is typical of the late neoclassical period.

Pocket watches are remarkable 'objects': they tell the time, they are witnesses of their time and they refer to myths which tell their own stories.

Greek and Roman gods, muses and heroes have been a favourite bronze clock subjects during the period from 1700-1830s and they remain popular right through end of neoclassical period in pocket watches. Knowledge of the mythological background of depicted theme was an important factor in choosing a certain timepiece. War, love, faith, sacrifice and victory were one of the most interest to both artists and public.

Based on the case features of your pocket watch I would estimate the production date to be somewhere around 1880-1890.

The watch "Boutique" experience

I'm not worthy either... when it comes to buying big brands we are all perceived as sinners!

What never ceases to amaze me is the effort the big brand names put into the 'buying experience'.

They love to convince us that the best place to buy a new watch from is the authorised dealer, especially from one of those new type of flagship stores that have proliferated recently, known as Boutiques. These shops are modeled on the brand's perception of the richest look and feel. They have bright lighting, security enabled sharp-suited staff and range upon range of products laid out in a confusing ocean of glass cases filled with bright objects.

Which is all good, except for one detail: for most, such experience is painfully intimidating.

Boutiques intimidate you from the moment you step in the door. The snooty staff, the setup of the counters, the lights and the decor are all modeled around the medieval religious experience; that of aiming to make you feel as small as possible and the BRAND significantly larger than it really is. Since the sole purpose is to glorify the brand, not to connect with the buyer, I am under the impression that brand boutiques can happily exist even without sinners.

Perhaps the term Boutique would be better swapped for Cathedral? My apologies for the other 2 Abrahamic offshoots; the point here is the size, not the flavor.

I am sorry, but I refuse to be treated like a sinner just because I want to buy a new watch.

Last week I sent young Josh across the road to inquire about the retail price of a newly arrived watch. To his credit, at the age of 16, Josh has already handled more watches than some AD priests. Naively, he went there with a smile and high expectations, to return with a broken spirit. "I'll never go there again" he said.

I didn't have to ask why - probably for the same reason I never entered one of those places of worship myself.

The sad thing is that we all as customers pay for these over indulgent medieval retail experience as it is factored into the price of the watches. The way to redemption and salvation is not to 'shut up and pay retail', nor to be subjected to intimidation for lack of faith in a big brand.

There is no hell and you are not a sinner, go on with your life and enjoy value for money!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Too easy"

*** Believe it or not...

A fellow subscriber forwarded us a link to a New Zealand paper with the following comment: "Thought u might like this. It really goes to show there r still silly people out there! B.B."

Cannot agree more. Just not sure whether to laugh or cry?

Here it comes:

"A Wanganui [New Zealand] man conned two Canadians out of almost $30,000 by selling them bogus watches, claiming the items were for sale were luxury brands Rolex and Patek Philippe Nautilus. Shane Arnold Goodgame, 26, pleaded guilty to two charges of obtaining by deception over $1000 when he appeared in Wanganui District Court yesterday.

Goodgame posted two watches, purported to be a Rolex and a Patek Philippe Nautilus, online for sale. In May 2011, a man from Canada saw the Rolex advertised and emailed Goodgame to ask about the year of the watch. He was told it was a 2008 Daytona model.

After several emails, the pair agreed on a purchase price of $7,132.01 (US$5,800). The amount was deposited into Goodgame's bank account on May 26.

A few days later the victim discovered Goodgame's email address no longer existed, and he never received the watch. On August 11, another victim, also in Canada, emailed asking about the Patek Philippe watch, and over a series of emails, a purchase price of $22,581.65 (US$19,600) was agreed.

On September 2, Goodgame received the money in his account and emailed the victim, thanking him for his payment. The victim never got the watch and all email contact ceased on September 8, with Goodgame's email address becoming invalid. The victim attempted to get his money transferred back, but was advised it was not possible. Bank records show within three weeks of receiving the money, Goodgame had spent it all.

Among his purchases were clothing and electrical items, including an Apple iPhone valued at $1099. Police searched Goodgame's house on January 31 and found the Rolex watch, clothing and iPhone. The Rolex was inspected by a watchmaker and deemed to be fake.

The victims are both seeking reparation and the police have requested the seized items to be forfeited because they were obtained through the proceeds of a crime.

When spoken to by police, Goodgame admitted the facts, saying it seemed "too easy" that someone would willingly pay that amount of money for a watch he did not have to send.

He admitted knowing it was wrong and said it "felt good" to have money and buy things. "

If you feel sorry for gullible Canadian - please don't. These guys are not some naive newcomers but seasoned bargain hunters. They knew exactly what they were looking for, how to negotiate, how to make payment and what was the right price to pay. They knowingly and willingly took the risk expecting to profit form the deal.
Unfortunately, this time, it did not work.

A 'different' Swiss Chronograph: Ebel 1911 Cal. 137

So you know your 'chronographs', right?

Here is a quiz question:

Out of over 300 Swiss watch manufacturers which sell mechanical chronographs (wrist stop watches) how many of them are actually capable of producing their own in-house mechanism?

a/ 84
b/ 21
c/ 9

I offer 9 as a possible choice because quite frankly I am not sure if there are even nine makers who can design, engineer and manufacture complete chronograph. So if this was your guess, then you've guessed close enough: Rolex, GP, Patek, Zenith, Blancpain, Breguet and JLC. And possibly a couple more.

Yes, despite all the money available many large makers are still unable to design a better (or cheaper!) chronograph than the standard ETA or Valjoux stock.

And there is yet one more maker who almost created an in-house chrono in the 1990s: Ebel! After investing millions of Swiss Francs and 5 years of hard engineering, the calibre 137 was ready for production.

Now I am not going to spoil your enjoyment by interpreting a great article about this project published by - instead go to Watchtime and read it for yourself. The 'insiders' aspect of the article is really an eye-opener on dealings between Swiss manufacturers.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The California dial

"California dial" is a watch dial featuring Roman hour markers on the top half and Arabic markers on the bottom half of the dial.

While the origin of the name is unknown, the style of the dial has been around from the early 1930s.

The earliest example I've come across was on a Rolex Oyster bubbleback, from 1938, and the latest dates from 1966, fitted to an Oyster Precision Ref 6424.

The style and logotype itself are typical of the Art Deco period: bold and provocative, yet perfectly balanced.

Nowadays, California dial, is a hallmark of Panerai Radiomir watches, especially models which pay 'tribute' to the original 1938 Radiomir Brevettato Ref 3646.

Here is a sketch of Panerai PAM 249 a highly collectable and sought after piece by any serious Panerai collector.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tudor Submariner matte dial Ref. 79190

Could this be the best Tudor Submariner matte dial we've ever seen?

As most of you know, when it comes to vintage watches there is nothing more important than one property: the overall condition, colour and appearance of dial and hands. Everything else can be polished, cleaned, overhauled, replaced and improved. But the dial and hands are the ultimate determining factor of the watch value.
A smallest imperfection can devalue the watch significantly, so perfect 10/10 dials are highly sought after amongst serious collectors.
The warmth of tritium hour markers directly applied to a matte black background and their even, unblemished and original condition makes this one as close to perfect as you'll ever find.

This is one of a few watches that make me proud of what I do for living.

Finer Things in Life: the bicycle clock

Ten years ago (or thereabouts) a seller walked in our shop. In a shoe box he brought in a small pile of parts and a frame which resembles a 'bicycle' clock.

The dial looked American, of Ansonia clock style, so my offer was $20. He said the $20 is better than what he was hoping for; the pile was destined for rubbish anyway.

With way more important jobs to concentrate on, the bicycle clock remained in the shoe box until last Christmas. Amazingly, not only were all the parts there, but I got it ticking in no time.

On closer inspection, it turned out that the clock was manufactured in 1900. by the British United Clock Company, Birmingham, And unlike many of similar clocks made by the BUCC, this one features a barometer as well.

But why did I mistake it for an American clock?

The mighty Google solved that mystery: the British clock company was founded and operated by Edward Davies, brother of none other than clockmaker Henry Davies who was the founder and president of one of the largest American clock manufacturing facilities in mid to late 1800s.

A great tale of two clockmaker brothers working in the same field, on either side of Atlantic.

As I type this, the BUCC Bicycle clock is cheerfully ticking and telling the time. Next time you visit our premises, ask me to wind it up for you, for your enjoyment.


Watercolour by TanyaH

1958. Omega advertisement

*** 1958 Omega advertisement

Hi Nick, I recently found a pile of news papers under my house and spotted this. I hope it is of interest. Dean

Sure is Dean - and thanks for taking time to email us.

What a lovely advertisement! I love that punch line: "Some day you will own one!"

Those little gems of horological history are very valuable to watch collectors because they help us to put things 'in perspective'. Often, we jump on a manufacturers complaining about the price of new watches. In reality, 55 years ago a good quality gold Swiss watch was even more of a 'sacrifice' than it is today.

Your advertisement from The Sun Herald, September 21, 1958 is a perfect example: It shows that the price of solid 14K gold Seamaster was 120 pounds, and most certainly would not have been a rash purchase for the discerning gentleman of the era. The Seamaster range at the time was only 10 years old, being created in 1948 to encompass the new trend for timepieces billed as 'sports models'. These watches were solid and dependable, being billed as 'super-waterproof' and shock protected.

The Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

"Nick, Gordon here. I am your colleague, a watch valuer. You've kindly helped me couple of times last year and I wonder if I can pick your brain one more time?"

"I am listening, Gordon".

"Nick, I got two watches here, both Rolex. Can you tell me what do I need to look for to make sure they are original?"

"Gordon, I don't think I can help you with that, sorry."

"Oh Nick, don't be like that - I know you can. There is a number on a bracelet..."

"Mate, stop it right there. I really can't help. You know it is impossible to tell the fake from genuine based on verbal description. It's also highly unethical and unprofessional, and frankly quite irresponsible to value items without physical inspection!"

"Yes I know you are right, but please get me out of trouble just one more time."

"If you want me to help you, bring the watches over and I'll help you. But remember, I do charge $95 for a valuation."

"Nick, I only charge $25. Unlike yours, my customers are crap."

"No Gordon, it's your valuations that are crap. Now get of your backside and do something about it for the sake of your own reputation."

"Nick, quite frankly, I am disappointed with your attitude. I won't bother you again."

Feeding lazy valuers is like feeding Sulphur crested cockatoos. They chew on your TV coax cable, and you clean up the mess.


Watercolour by TanyaH

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Watch fishing" at Lake Geneva

Many of divers watch manufacturers make bold claims about the depths you can dive to with their product strapped to your wrist, but few ever empirically test their product in the field.

Back in the 60’s some of the more serious timepiece manufacturers could often be seen on small boats on the lakes of Switzerland (and even bobbing on the oceans!) with a watch firmly attached to a long piece of stout string, graduated in meters. The ‘tester’ payed out the rope to the set depth and then cautiously pulled it back in to see if the watch was still intact. It sounds bizarre, but since few humans dived to any real depths at the time many manufacturers simply didn’t bother testing their depth claims, and in fact most watches of the era didn’t state a depth rating. Rolex were one of the few exceptions to this, and back then the Submariner was a 200m watch.


Watercolour by TanyaH

By the end of the 1960’s not only were these brave souls going deeper under water, but also staying under for longer due to improvements in technology. Those who spent their professional lives under the waves began to demand a better tested product as their life depended on keeping the nasty elements of their work environment on the outside of their timepiece. To accommodate this requirement, watch companies invented laboratory testing rigs to pressurise watches to check their sealing at depth. Omega led the way with the first pressurised testing machines and other assorted equipment. Serious brands also engaged the services of real divers to test their watches in the oceans, and the first professional dive watches were born like the Omega PloProf, developed with Jacques Cousteau, and the Rolex Seadweller which was developed with COMEX.

Modern high end watches are built using CNC machinery. They have high quality materials and good engineering. This means that using the test equipment in the lab brands can prove that their models will withstand serious pressure without failing. However, these days very few brands actually get their product wet during testing, after all its not really going to be much fun sending a diver to anything over a few hundred meters due to the dangers involved and the time it would take to come back to the surface to avoid the bends.

Back in 2006, this didn’t stop Pol Palacios, the Sea-Dweller owner - who also happened to be an oil company employee - to test the depth rating of his watch with his ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle). Pol first checked with Rolex who assured him that each Seadweller is pressurised at the factory to 130bar which equates to 1300m, so theoretically he should be safe. We all know the sayings about famous last words though...

Confident in the product, he carefully strapped his pride and joy to his work vehicle and slowly sent the pair off into the briny deep. After a very gentle descent (so as not to ‘rock the boat’ and lose the watch) the ROV reached an indicated 1200 meters. This equaled a pressure on the Rolex of 122 kilograms per square centimetre. Of course this was only half of the story. The watch had reached 1200m without issue, but now it needed to make it back to the surface in one piece...

After another gentle (but no less nail-biting) cruise the ROV breached the surface and was hauled aboard. Pol rushed over to check his watch and found that it was still ticking away on time, having kept the elements firmly at bay. Fantastic!

Testing and confirming Rolex’s claim that the Sea-Dweller was good to 1200m was a superb exercise but of course this is probably the only Seadweller that will ever visit that depth; unless one falls off the wrist of a sailor over somewhere like the Mariana trench, and even then no one will witness if there is any implosion!

The simple truth is that these days we really don’t see many Rolex Sea-Dwellers. While they were a current model they were reasonably plentiful, but since they were replaced by the new DeepSea model we have increasingly struggled to find them in the condition we want, as (as usual) collectors have been grabbing and holding onto them.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

1935. Durban Rolex

A couple of years ago a watch came in as part of a modest estate sale. It was rectangular shaped, with a steel case, and signed "Rolex" on the dial. Not a model I've seen before - so I decided to examine it closely at some later stage.

Going through bits and pieces today, I've "found" it again. It turned out as a perfect candidate for a "show and tell" segment of my blog.

The first question one has to ask when examining a vintage piece is one related to originality. Is the watch made by the maker who signed the dial? Is it completely original or a well put-together fake? Has it been restored at some point in time and did the restorer use components which are original or aftermarket?

Obviously this requires serious detective work and especially so with models not previously handled. With this particular watch, I had a few concerns.

The dial was definitely an original one, a typical 1930s style. However the "Rolex" writing was slightly too bold for my taste.

The case back was signed RWC Ltd which stands for Rolex Watch Company. However, the absence of usual markings (like for example, "25 world records") was another puzzling detail. But the worst of all was the movement itself: it was completely blank with no markings, calibre numbers, serial numbers or anything that would associate it with Rolex company.

At best, the watch looked like a well put-together piece, made to deceive.

But then again, who would fake a rather modest timepiece which even if all-original could not be sold for more than a few hundred dollars? And most importantly, if the watch was a fake, why did the scammer not engrave the mechanism with the word "Rolex"? After all, this is what an untrained eye is looking for - a definitive and convincing 'proof' of originality.

There was yet another possibility: that the genuine Rolex dial was at some point in time attached to an unknown, generic movement, or, even worse, that a completely anonymous watch would have the word "Rolex" written on it (and case back stamped with RWC) - which would be the worst scenario of all.

Obviously, in order to solve the mystery, I needed to dig deeper - to do more research and pull the mechanism apart.

The first evidence that the watch is a genuine piece came after removing the dial and hands. There, on the main plate was a nicely engraved "Rolex Geneve".

Not only is the engraving identical in shape and size to many I've seen before, but it was partially oxidized, to the same degree as the rest of the movement - which was proof that it has not been engraved at some later stage. This was good news indeed.

However, it was still puzzling why this particular movement had no serial numbers nor Rolex calibre number. It was time to pull out from my cabinet a book of old Swiss movements catalogue from 1954

While the identification took a bit of time, I was able to determine that the mechanism was actually manufactured by Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon (FHF). And more precisely, it was calibre FHF 29.

FHF is one of the oldest and largest Swiss movement manufacturers. Rolex used FHF blanks for their export models. For example, Rolex 59 was a modified FHF 30, which, was exported to Canada from 1935-1945.

The movement identification process itself is a unique one, and worth mentioning. Universally, the identification of a movement is based on the mark and number engraved on the back plate, either beneath the dial (like in my case) or beneath the escapement. The Swiss movement catalogue from 1954 provides further help: "If there is no mark or number engraved on the dial-side of the plate, identification is performed in the following way: the 3 setting parts exposed on the dial side of the plate are the so called "fingerprints" of a movement. In order to facilitate identification, each movement is shown with its setting parts in EXACT SIZE."

In other words, by placing those 3 setting parts (setting lever, cover plate and yoke) over the hundreds of images in the catalogue, one could identify the actual movement maker and calibre! Not an easy task! And my watch was an export model too: the dial was signed both "Rolex" and "Randles Durban". The Randles were South African jewellers who sold Rolex watches.

After the Great Depression, watch importers have done their best to keep the cost of imported watches as low as possible. And back then, Rolex was just another struggling Swiss maker. For that reason, some Rolex (modified FHF) movements were cased in the country of destination. Compared to later models or those sold in Europe, overseas cases looked far less elaborate, thinner and even less dust-proof. Rarely, they were signed with anything but RWC.

Thanks to Google, I discovered that for a short period of time, Randles from Durban sold other Rolex models, including chronographs. Unfortunately, not many watches survived to this day.

With all three crucial watch components examined and researched (watch dial, case, and mechanism), I was able to conclude that this Durban Rolex is definitely a 100% original and unaltered piece. The fact that the watch itself cannot be found in any Rolex reference books I have in my library just proves once again that our knowledge and understanding of Rolex manufacturing history is far from definite. This is especially the case with lesser popular models from the 1930s which are not sought after by Rolex collectors.

The next step was to overhaul the movement (what else one can do when movement is already in pieces!).

After assembly and lubrication - and some minor adjustment - the watch proved itself as reasonably good timekeeper. Not bad for an 80 year old timepiece!

A truck load of Rolex GMT Masters

Chapter IV

(Warm greetings omitted by sender)

"You know....I used to look at your e-mails and think...wow...these prices are a bit high...must be because of the Australian dollar...but now with the AD on par with the US dollar, I have just put you squarely into the column of Rolex reseller criminals...Selling a used Rolex GMT Master II that cost $2500 new for $8k just has to be criminal... especially when it can be had for between $3-5K almost anywhere else...I guess the Australians aren't as bright as I thought... Please remove me from your distribution list, the entertainment value of your prices and hyping of common watches has weened...

Regards, Jessie"

(Spellchecked by recipient)

Dear Jessie,

I have forwarded your email to my book keeper Wendy. Man, she needs to get a life!

Wendy is such a pain in a bum - last year I lost a receipt for $4.50 (noodle bar in Cabramatta) and she simply can't get over it. I now spend most of my Mondays typing from a closet, sharing a cubicle with shady Cyprian solicitor. "Niiickyyy, you still owe me that receipt mate" yells Wendy every Monday under the door.

And look at you Jessie - so causal with figures, so relaxed with numbers, so easy going with facts! Not a pinch of guilt. Rounding prices to three zeros makes Harvey Norman's $9.99 look like a bad joke. What a talent Jessie! What style!

But Jessie, as much as I would love to, I have no time to dwell over your gift, nor have I time to unsubscribe you - so I'll go straight with what I believe is equally magical stroke of genius: I am willing to extend my hand of friendship and business partnership over the Pacific, from a colonial city of Sydney to financial metropolis of Maurepas Swamp, Louisiana.

You and me Jessie, will be the Bonnie and Clyde of pre-owned Rolex market!

Here is what we are going to do (and I am spelling this out in detail just for the sake of slow Aussie subscribers who are not good with maths, or hyper excited with numbers, like my book keeper Wendy):

I am going to order a truck load of GMT Master II from your supplier in Maurepas Swamp, LA. The cheap examples in so-and-so condition will do us just fine (remember- we are selling them to dumb Aussies!) When placing the order, please remind your guys that a GMT II only cost $750 in 1981. Taking in account the overall condition, recession in USA and sizable volume of our initial order,we can expect further 30% volume discount. What a heck – let’s ask for 50%. After rounding the figures, that would be exactly $250 a piece.

I guarantee you - and let me repeat this one more time - I GUARANTEE YOU JESSIE- we are going sell that darn load of GMT Masters in no time for a $3999 a pop. I swear I'll make that $3,974.71 just to see the sweet tears of joy rolling down Wendy's plump cheeks.

Would the 40-60 split work for you Jessie? With all due respect, I am the one who has the newsletter and needs to deal with bloody subscribers!

If you think this is no way possible - then please rest assured it's DONE DEAL because I've just got thumb up and a nod of approval from Dimitrios the solicitor (who himself is doing a killing importing potatoes, Pateks and pre-loved Porsches from Nigeria).

Awaiting your prompt reply,

Nick

PS Please pass my kindest regards to Troy Landry and Landry boys. Man, they are so HOT here!


Watercolour by TanyaH

Monday, March 18, 2013

From Hippasos to Patek: The Golden Ellipse Part 2

For those who love to see the mechanisms, here is the Golden Ellipse Ref. 3738.

The unique feature of the movement is an offset micro rotor with solid 22k gold rotor on a ball bearing. The Golden Ellipse is a fascinating example of micro engineering.

Movement Cal. 240 is stamped with the Geneva quality mark, rhodium-plated, fausses cotes decoration, 27 jewels, straight line lever escapement, Gyromax balance adjusted for heat, cold, isochronism and 5 positions, shock absorber, self-compensating free-sprung flat balance spring.

From Hippasos to Patek: The Golden Ellipse

On today's offer we have a Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse in 18K yellow gold from the 1980s.

If you are tempted to jump and exclaim: "This has to be the ugliest watch ever!" then you are missing the most important thing about this Patek - and most likely a lot about watches in general.

Since such a strong sentiment and aesthetic assessment would only come from a forty-something-year old, allow me to put things in perspective.

Thirty years ago, you would have been a ten year old kid. The only thing you could think of was how to skip school and spend a day with your mates surfing at Cronulla. Hoping on the train with a Vegemite sandwich in your pocket and a surfboard under one arm, spending the day with Gary and Jimmy was the best thing in the world.

Yet on that very same day in 1983, at the very same time, the original owner of the said Patek Philippe watch was on a Qantas flight to Switzerland to buy his second Patek from the Gubelin shop in Geneva.

A handsome, tall, markant forty-years young Aussie then spent a couple of weeks at Saint Moritz. During the day, he was skiing some of the crispiest slopes and enjoying the mesmerizing view from Corviglia. At night, a glass of fruity and spicy Swiss merlot reflected the image of a Golden Ellipse on his wrist illuminated by flames from a log fire.

Now, I am not saying that your Cronulla day trip was anything less memorable or exciting then his $30K Patek trip to Gubelin. I am just pointing out one very painful fact: your world and his world are slightly different. You judging his watch would be equally inappropriate as him saying that a foamy surfboard from K-Mart was the ugliest board ever. Not to mention the 30 year age difference, which in itself calls for utmost RESPECT.

In some way, the mere fact that you now have an opportunity to strap the Golden Ellipse to YOUR wrist and treasure for the next couple of decades a Patek that could tell you more stories then you can imagine (if you only care to listen to it!)- is a small miracle in itself.

Of course, you too can jump on the plane today and visit the very same Gubelin store in Geneva. But as handsome, tall and charming as you may be, it is highly unlikely that anyone in Gubelin would know you by your first name. Most likely, you will be asked to step aside and join the queue of equally charming but far more enthusiastic Chinese customers.

That's life - so make the most of it. Make your mark, have fun, enjoy. But don't judge, please.