Sunday, 24 August 2014

What's common? Standardisation in the Swiss industry.

Well, you have probably guessed that they are by the same maker and you would be right, they are all by Tavannes, the two on the left were made within a few weeks of each other probably in 1922, the one on the right for Benson in 1936.

But there is a bit more too it than that. By the time these movements were made the Swiss had gone a long way down the path of standardisation. Apart from the obvious differences in the top plate / cock / bridge design and the additional screw holes etc in the face plate to accommodate them, these three movements are, except also for the type and quality of the finish, essentially the same with all of the wheels, the setting mechanism, the balance staffs, etc  interchangeable when new.

The  movement in the centre arrived with a very bent centre wheel caused by someone pressing the barrel against the wheel when taking the barrel out, so rather than trying to straighten it I repaired the movement by taking a centre wheel from a scrapped Benson (Tavannes) from c 1935, like the one on the right, which fitted perfectly and required only a trivial adjustment to the cannon pinion to get it all working. A small worn part in the setting mechanism was also replaced from the same scrapped movement. If only old English movements could be repaired as easily!

The fact that the two left hand movements have serial numbers in excess of 13 million also gives an indication of the scale of manufacture that the Swiss companies were now achieving; in 1925 the Swiss [population c 3.8 million] were making about 19 million watches a year whereas the USA [population c 120 million] were making c 9 million and the English industry was essentially dead.

 Scale and lagging behind in standardisation, two of the reasons why the English watch trade went belly up.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Riddle of the Hands (with appologies to Erskine Childers)

Rotherham key wound and set
full plate watch, Coventry, 1903.
This post is prompted by another query as to why a watch with gold main hands has a blue second hand, Carruthers  may have been able to find an answer but I can't and nor can others I have asked.

Swiss watches with gold hands normally have all three gold whereas most English watches such as this Rotherham, which was made in the year that Riddle of the Sands was published, does not.

The same will be found on English cased Waltham watches as most found in the UK are. Plain, rather than filigree,  gold hands were I am told rare in America and do not appear in my copy of the Waltham parts catalogue, so it is likely that hands were sourced and fitted locally conforming to English practice, which fits with a common method of selling these watches as described in my post on the standard watch case.

I think it will remain one of life's little mysteries.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

July Market Update & Four Bensons!

July was an odd month with watches in short supply, but, not for the first time, the trend was bucked by unconnected batches of some quality watches, in July it was watches by Rotherham, Omega and these four by Benson. Three open faced watches made by Tavannes and a rare Half Hunter made by Recta. The later sold in about half an hour and could probably have been sold half a dozen times.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Hunter, Half-Hunter or Open Faced?

The choice between the three types of watch is one that should be made for aesthetic reasons, not because of any perception that the Hunter type is more robust, in fact in some ways it is not. This post explores why and gives some of the pro's and con's of the different types.

First what are they?
  • The Hunter has a solid one piece cover or lid over the "crystal" and watch dial, normally by pressing the crown the cover should pop open by itself - if you don't get your thumb in the way of the hinge!
  • The Half Hunter (a.k.a. Demi Hunter, very occasionally a "Napoleon" and referred to by the Lancashire Watch Company and presumably by others as a "Sight Hunter")  also has the cover but there is a small window in it so that the time can be read reasonably well without opening the lid, the hour hand should be distinguishable from the minute hand when looking at it through the window, this is usually achieved by having two large swells on it - see the picture below.
  • The Open Faced watch just has the "crystal" which normally was glass. Later various types of plastic was used, which often changed a nasty yellow or green colour over time. A modern replacement will usually be acrylic and looks much like a glass one, it is essentially unbreakable and makes an open faced watch perfectly strong enough for normal use. Acrylic is more susceptible to scratching but a replacement costs only a few pounds (plus fitting). 

A Waltham "Hunter"
The Hunter is so named because with a lid covering the glass it was more suitable to wear when riding a horse (to hounds - hence it is known as a "Hunter") than an open faced watch as there was always the chance of being thrown against the pommel of the saddle and crushing the watch. This was a significant issue when, before about the mid 19th century, watches  had a hugely domed "bulls eye" glass front, it became less of an issue however when the glass became significantly flatter and was less susceptible to damage. A secondary advantage was that the front cover protected the glass from being scratched although the front window of a half hunter was at least as susceptible.

  • They can look good and there is a certain ceremony, which many people enjoy, of taking out the watch and popping it open to tell the time.
  • The crystal is protected from scratching.
  • You have to open it to tell the time and if worn in the breast pocket of a jacket (how I normally wear mine when wearing a Tweed jacket without a waistcoat) that is not easy.
  • They are rarer, particularly silver ones, and to many are more desirable and so are more expensive than an open faced watch.
  • The hinge for the front lid is vulnerable to wear and to accidently being bent or in severe cases torn off.
  • The springs that open them can break and replacing them, particularly on English watches, can be problematical, however replacements for "standard" watch cases, particularly those by Dennison can usually be found.
An English Half Hunter by
J.W. Benson
The Half Hunter is in my view preferable to the Hunter:

  • The time can be read without opening them which is more convenient.
  • They look very good.
  • As for the Hunter except as mentioned above.
  • They are much sought after and so are more expensive again than the Hunter.