Monday, May 30, 2016

Lesson 6: Waterproof Watches Myth-Busting

***Waterproof Watches Myth-Busting

A few years ago I said that there is no such a thing as a waterproof watch. 

Little did I know that this statement would upset so many watch enthusiasts! The avalanche of replies could be summarized in one sentence: my Rolex/Omega is waterproof, and has been so for decades - so Nick, you don't know what you’re talking about.

But let me explain what I meant.

The whole idea of making a waterproof watch is really a novelty. For 500 years, watch and clock makers - and their customers - never really thought about 'waterproofing' timepieces. There was no need for waterproofing, and even if there was - one crucial element was missing: the high-tech materials capable of 'sealing' two surfaces. Nowadays, synthetic rubber o-rings are commonly used in many water-resistance applications, but the rise of o-rings was really a post-WW2 affair.

Another modern watch sealing material is Teflon - which really kicked into mass use in the 1970s. Teflon is commonly used as sealant between glass (crystal) and metal, and rubber as sealant between two highly-polished steel surfaces.

True water-resistant watches hit the market in the 1960s. The market leader was Rolex and Omega - and both companies are still regarded as makers of true divers’ watches. Of course, the competition has increased in the last two decades.

There are two myths associated with water resistance. The first one is the 'depth' in meters printed on the watch dial. In reality, that information is often the result of ambitious marketing rather than factual engineering. The second myth can be formulated like this: "Once waterproof, always waterproof". The truth is that for a watch to remain water-resistant, frequent maintenance is required: a new set of seals must be fitted at least every 3 years. In addition, a new winding crown (which contains o-rings inside) should be replaced as well. Only then will your watch be suitable for serious water-related activity.

No maintenance = no water resistance.

Vintage watches (watches older than 30-40 years) should NEVER be worn in the water. Avoiding shower and sauna is sign of sophistication and good-care practice.

Complete the blanks:

A responsible watch owner does not wear their watch in the ______________.

Seal replacement and water resistant test should be carried at least once every _____ years.

____________ watches should never been worn in water.

Happy collecting,

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lesson 5: The Missing Link

***The Missing Link

The loss of lives and goods was disastrous – yet tragically this man-made disaster was completely avoidable. On April 19 1891, a fast mail train known as the No4 and a passenger train were sharing the same track. The engineer and conductor of the passenger train were given written orders to let the fast train pass at Kipton, a small station near Cleveland, Ohio.

As the train was leaving the station, the telegraph operator ran to the platform and verbally cautioned the engineer and conductor: "Be careful, the fast No 4 is running on time!"
The conductor replied: "Go to hell, I know my business".

What he didn't know was that engineers watch – the official timekeeper – had stopped the previous night for 4 minutes, then started ticking again. Shortly afterwards the two trains meet their destiny; the passenger train somehow managed to stop, but the fast mail train didn't even make an attempt to brake.

Following this disaster, the US Rail authorities found that many conductors on freight trains used cheap alarm clocks as master timekeepers. While the railroad service was expanding at a fast pace, the accuracy of railroad timepieces was completely inadequate.

From the ashes of the Ohio train disaster the phoenix rose in the form of the greatest American timekeeper: the great American railroad pocket watch; a watch unrivalled in quality and reliability. 

By 1893 the General Railroad Standard for pocket watches were adopted:
"Be open face, size 16 or 18, have a minimum of 17 jewellers, adjusted to at least 5 positions, keep time accurately to within a gain or loss of only 30 seconds a week, adjusted to temperature of 34 to 100 Fahrenheit, have a double roller, steel escape wheel, lever set, micrometric regulator, winding stem at 12 o'clock, grade on back plate, use plain Arabic numbers printed bold and black on a white dial, and have a bold black hands".

The railman was required to buy a pocket watch more accurate than many scientific precision instruments used in laboratories, and the American pocket watch industry was compelled to produce such instrument. And to its credit, amazingly, it did.

For the next 50 years American railroad watches were amongst the finest, most accurate timepieces one could acquire. Produced to the highest standard, finely manufactured, perfectly adjusted, outshining and outperforming any Swiss mass-produced competitors.

Even today, a hundred years later, most Swiss wrist watches are just a pale shade of the American railroad pocket watches.

For many years, fine pocket watches were the mainstream of horological collections.

In comparison to pocket watches, most wrist watches produced between 1930s and 1960s were pathetically inferior, and as such, completely rejected by serious watch collectors.

Sadly, this trend has been reversed and the reviewal of pocket watches is highly unlikely. Modern Swiss manufacturing primarily focuses on mass-produced, average-quality, over-hyped and overpriced timepieces.

However even a novice watch enthusiast should at least have one pocket watch in his collection.
The pocket watch - the 'missing link' between the marine chronometer and your wrist watch - is out there, waiting to be 'discovered'.

In the early 1960s a Swiss watch movement manufacturer called Unitas developed a pocket watch mechanism which was regarded as robust and reliable, yet affordable enough to be fitted into pocket watches sold to the mass market.

Unfortunately, like a few similar pocket watch movements, this mechanism arrived on the horological scene too late. By the 1960s pocket watches were already out of fashion and further development on a mass scale made no financial sense. The movement was largely dormant, but thanks to its size, it was widely used as a learning tool for novice watchmakers. When large wrists watches became fashionable in the late 1990s, this very mechanism was 'discovered and resurrected' by Panerai and a couple of other small boutique brands who successfully reintroduced it to watch enthusiasts.

And this is the very same Unitas movement that ticks in your rebelde.

Complete the blanks:

Railroad _______________ are high quality precision timepieces, built to last for many generations.

Happy collecting,

Lesson 4: The Fundamentals of Horology

***The Fundamentals of Horology

We have reached a point where I simply have to beg you for bit of patience!

Please bear with me and allow me to present my case.

Lesson 4 is not only the most important piece of 'knowledge' I can share with you but it deals with the very foundation of horology. Everything you will learn about watches and timekeeping from now on hinges around it and if you don't understand it properly you will never be able to create 'the big picture' - you will wander around, jumping from watch to watch, from forum to forum, gathering bits of knowledge here and there, yet unable to complete the puzzle.

However, if you understand the very core, everything else will fall in place, effortlessly.
I will keep it as brief as possible.

Suppose I am a Christian and I was asked by someone who never heard about Christianity to explain in one sentence the 3 pivotal, most important, fundamental parts of my beliefs.

I would offer this as an answer: An everlasting and omnipotent God created the world, sent his son to redeem humans and he will return to take us all to heaven. (If you are Christian you would probably agree with this, and your answer would be very similar to mine).

Now, if you ask me to define what horology is all about, and to present my case in one sentence, then my answer is this:

From the earliest days of history, humans have been desperately trying to master time: to measure it and record it as precisely and as accurately they can, undertaking one of the most exciting scientific and engineering challenges on which they have spent enormous amount of time and effort to achieve it.

There are 3 crucial moments in the history of horology.

1. Improvement of timekeeping of clocks by the application of a pendulum.

It was the Dutch scientist, Christiaan Huygens who, in 1656, first attached the pendulum to a clock mechanism.

By this ingenious marriage (clock + pendulum) the timekeeping of clocks was improved from 4-5 minutes per day to 1 second per month. This was an amazing, history-changing event and until the 1930s precision clocks were the most accurate timekeepers known to humans.

Note that clocks had already been around for hundreds of years, and the pendulum had been around for thousands of years, but it was Huygens who put the two together and enabled humans to master time at an unprecedented level.

2. The second most important horological event was watchmakers ability to create a portable clock which would be as accurate as Huygens stationary clock.

In order to achieve that, a new heart (mechanical oscillator) had to be invented and then improved. A number of watchmakers achieved this almost simultaneously in the late 1700s / early 1800s with the creation of the ship chronometer. This portable marine clock allowed humans to navigate the sea, to reach every corner of the world (and return home safely with spoils!).

The ship chronometer was really the global positioning system (GPS) of the time, a truly revolutionary milestone in the history of horology. Your mechanical wrist watch is an indirect descendant of this marine chronometer.

3. The third crucial achievement happened in 1949 when humans created the heart of the atomic clock.

The atomic clock took timekeeping and precision measurement to an exponentially new level. With our ability to measure time at this unprecedented level, we reached the moon and started solving mysteries of the Universe. The atomic clock opened a new era of human development and, in a way, we've become masters of our own time.

So there you go my watch enthusiasts. From now on, everything you learn about horology will relate to these 3 pivotal events. The more you understand the importance of these events, and the technical development and engineering challenges around them, the less you will focus on a particular brand of a watch, the colour of the dial, or a sales-pitch by an over-enthusiastic "authorized dealer". Actually, most watch dealers, shop keepers, watch forum guys and your fellow collectors are not even aware of the very foundation of horology or can name a single crucial event outlined above.  But you now are, and you can name all 3 of them.

Every wrist watch you look at or consider buying would either fit in this big picture - or not.

TO DO: visit the exhibition on ships chronometers at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

This is about the fundamental point 2 on my list so is absolutely a MUST.

Once again, I am dead serious: if you want to put your name down for my rebelde watch but you cannot name the 3 most important historical horological events then you are just kidding yourself.

Fill in the blanks:

The first horological pivotal event was reached when Dutch scientist Huygens improved timekeeping of clocks by attaching the __________.

The second major event was the invention of the ________________ which enabled navigation at sea.

The final leap in human ability to measure time precisely was the invention of the ___________ clock.

Happy collecting,


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lesson 3: Timekeeping is (almost) irrelevant

***Timekeeping is (almost) irrelevant

I am not a sailor. Actually I have been known to get seasick riding on the E69 bus over the Spit Bridge.

But many of you are familiar with sailing and will appreciate the analogy.

Suppose I hire you (and your small sailing boat) to take me from Sydney to Hobart.
My only request is that we arrive there in exactly 3 days, 14 hours and 51 minutes.

"Ridiculous" - you say. "That is absolutely impossible! We may get there bit sooner or bit later, but certainly not at any predetermined time!"

And of course my request is ridiculous. The mighty forces of the wind and waves will make the journey over 1,170 km at a constant speed impossible.

The same is true for the ability of a mechanical watch (precisely: its heart) to tick at a steady beat when you constantly move your arm around. And not only you move your arm, but also when you hammer, play golf, ride a bike, play sports, shake hands, gesticulate and run - just to mention a few of your daily activities you don't even think about.

This constant movement of your arm create a mighty havoc [tsunami!!] of random forces which, in a fraction of a second, accelerate or slows down that little mechanical heart throwing it around like a tiny dingy on rolling seas.

As any sailor can testify: staying on a course to Hobart is a huge challenge in itself, let alone arriving there at a certain predetermined time.

Yet somehow, you expect your mechanical watch to overcome random man-created forces at a predictable rate – not mentioning gravity, variation in temperature, state of lubricant and internal forces which power the movement.

Despite all of that, mechanical wrist watches do actually keep remarkably accurate time. Out of 86,400 seconds per day most watches miss only a handful, resulting in accuracy of 99.99946 percent!

Watch enthusiasts who demand 'perfect timekeeping' are missing the point:
the journey to Hobart is all about arriving to the destination, conquering the mighty forces.
Getting there at any particular point of time is as irrelevant as it is impossible.

Time keeping is not about achieving perfection. Rather, it is a continuous horological attempt to reduce imperfection.

A $50 Seiko can be as accurate as a $50,000 Patek and a $10,000 Rolex can be as inaccurate as a $10 Raketa. Money cannot buy happiness, and as you now know, it cannot buy accuracy either.

Questions: there are _________ seconds in a day.

Considering the obstacles they have to overcome, mechanical watches are remarkably ________ timekeepers.

Happy collecting,


Lesson 2: It's YOUR responsibility!

***It's YOUR responsibility!

We live in a day and age when shifting the responsibility to someone else is an art form.
However, when it comes to your watch, the responsibility for the performance and longevity cannot be delegated to a third party: the watch is yours and you are fully responsible for it.

The better you look after it, the longer it will last and the better it will perform.

Your mechanical marvel of engineering is built to last for decades and it will easily outlast me and you, and most likely a couple more generation of owners.
That is: if you take proper care of it.

For hundreds of years watchmakers have worked hard to design and construct timepieces which will withstand a significant amount of force, water pressure and variation in temperature.
Today, we've reached a stage where wrist watches are extremely robust and durable.

Yet they are not unbreakable. That little ever-ticking, ever-lasting mechanical heart needs as much love and care as it can get. If you abuse, drop or knock your fine timepiece, you will bear the consequences: your watch will lose its ability to keep time accurately.

In most cases the damage is irreversible. The repair process usually means replacement of vital parts which is both expensive and time consuming.

Fine mechanical watches are not guaranteed for damage caused by abusive use, lack of care, negligence or accidents. External components like the winding crown, bezel, crystal, pushers and bracelet are not covered by any guarantee. You break it, you pay for it. Watchmakers design, assemble, adjust and perfect: you wear it and you look after it.

Instead of asking "How far can I push it without causing serious damage?" you should really ask "What can I do to ensure that my watch will last for a hundred years?"

A responsible, sophisticated watch owner is proud of his precision instrument and does his absolute best to protect it from damage. 

Fill in the blanks:

A mechanical wrist is a __________ instrument.

Accidental damage and external components including the _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ are not covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

Happy collecting,

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sink or Surf : Lesson 1.

***Sink or Surf

The list of stuff I am completely clueless about is endless. For example, I have no idea what the difference is between AFL and NRL. I cannot tell a $500 bottle of wine from a $5 one, or even name 2 beer brands, because I don't drink. And here is another area I know nothing about: recreational drugs. I would struggle to tell a Panadol pill from ecstasy - actually I have never seen a real drug pill in my life. And embarrassingly the list goes on: from golf to surfing, from literature to classical music.

Make no mistake: I guess I can easily afford a bottle of wine, a rugby jersey or a set of titanium golf clubs and a cool surf board but the mere possession of these objects would not make me any more enlightened - until I actually make some effort to study the matter, I will remain a clueless fool. Sadly, many of watch enthusiasts - even those with large watch collections and those who can easily afford $15,000 pieces - are completely ignorant of horological matters. And even more sadly, many of them make no effort to familiarize themselves with even elementary facts. Such bizarre attitude is a twofold disaster: they do no service to themselves, nor to me.

My message is simple: learn and respect, or go away.

In today’s day and age when information is both cheap and readily available, there is no excuse to remain ignorant. To buy a $5,000 watch and doing ZERO research is simply irresponsible. To strap on your wrist a fine timepiece without having the slightest clue of what it does, how to use it, or how to properly care for it, is a sign of the utmost arrogance and stupidity. And quite frankly, I have had enough of dealing with idiots. I would rather go broke than to sell a watch to someone who talks over me, does not listen or does not care. Instead I will double my efforts to educate and provide my services to those who care and who are willing to enhance their appreciation of watches.

And if you were in my position, you would do exactly the same.

Here is the plan:
For the next few weeks I intend to produce a few short 'lessons' on elementary horology. If you are new to watches then you will appreciate them and learn a lot. If you are an advanced collector, you will still find them interesting. At the end of the lesson, there will be couple of questions so you can quiz yourself and self-assess your progress.

Lesson 1: Your mechanical wrist watch is a marvel of micro engineering

The wrist watch you wear today is nothing but a mechanical miracle.
It is the result of over 500 years of painstaking development. Countless numbers of very clever watchmakers and scientists spent their lives designing the inner mechanism; to shrink it so it could fit on your wrist and to perfect it so it can keep accurate time. There is no other mechanical device out there which is as accurate as a wrist watch, that can operate constantly for decades with no maintenance, and that can be used deep under the water or on the Moon.

The finely designed and precisely executed heart of the watch is called the escapement. This mechanical oscillator ticks five times faster than your heart, it is adjusted to compensate for change in temperature, to overcome forces of gravity, to withstand shock. Missing just one tick every 30,000 ticks would create an error greater than 4 seconds per day. No other mechanical device designed in human history can perform at such level of accuracy for so many years, 24/7. And here is one more detail: a comparison between your wrist watch and your mobile phone or your computer would not be a fair proposal. Why? Because your mobile phone is not really a watch.

Your mobile phone is merely a display, a device which displays time generated by an atomic clock, far away. On the contrary, your mechanical wrist watch actually generates its own time. This is in itself is an amazing achievement, and for that reason alone, a sophisticated watch owner would appreciate it more than any other gadget. In other words, we wear mechanical watches because they are highly sophisticated mechanical devices, which, consequently, make us bit sophisticated as well.

Take a good look at your watch. Admire it. Enjoy it. And above all - respect it.

Fill in the blanks:

A mechanical wrist watch is product of ________ years of watchmaking development.
The heart of mechanical watch is called the _________________ .

So this is it: your first lesson on horology. Stay tuned for more and if you intend to add yourself to the list of proud rebelde owners, write your answers down and memorize them.

From now on, anyone wishing to order a rebelde watch and to call himself a proud owner of a rebelde watch must be able to correctly answer these and a few more questions.

A rebelde watch is simply too precious to be handed to an ignorant owner. I also invite existing rebelde owners to voluntary undertake the 'rebelde owners test' in a few weeks time. You will pass it, you will love it and you will be proud of yourself.

Happy collecting,