Friday, 30 December 2016

Waltham 1888-American Watch Co

Waltham 1888-American Watch Co, 19J, 1893.
This is one of a series of posts illustrating the main grades of Waltham size 16 watches, in this case the 1888-American Watch Co.

This is an exceptionally rare watch, one of the top watches of its day and now even more sought after than the Riverside Maximus which later replaced it as the top 1888 grade. It gains 3 stars for rarity in the price guide - and they are pretty stingy giving stars!

The size 16, split plate movement has 19 "Extra Fine" Ruby and Sapphire jewels, a Swiss lever escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensated balance with double roller and a "tadpole" micro adjuster. The train is gold as are the top jewel settings and balance screws, it is adjusted for temperature, Isochronism and in positions. Crown wound and set.

The serial number shows that this one was made between April and June 1893.
The "fancy" dial on this example is a collectors item in its own right, there are a couple of very faint cracks in the glaze that take some finding, but these are fragile dials and this one is almost as good as it gets.

In a 20 year, Filled gold case and with the standard dial the retail value in the US is between $2,000 and $3,500, about the same or a bit more in pounds in the UK.

A full set of very high resolution pictures of this watch can be found here on Zenfolio. At the time of writing this watch is for sale from my website at £2,600.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Don't lend your watch to a Superhero

Click for the official site
and preview
It is the time of year for movie previews so here is mine! With a few bits left out so that it will not be a spoiler.

Back in September 2015 I received a query from the props buyer for a film in pre-production under the title "The Nightingale" after a briefing I was asked for recommendations for an appropriate watch that would be quite prominent in the film [spoiler omitted, and of course everything could have changed in post production].

After considering the options over several weeks they purchased a rather more expensive Waltham 1908-640 than the ones I had recommended because they liked the look of it. It did not completely conform to the brief but they were unconcerned, partly as I found out a couple of months later, because the film was actually Wonder Woman and the brief had not been entirely accurate.

The following January I got a call saying there was a problem with the watch and could I fix it, the watch duly arrived and in a bit of a state as can be seen from the picture below.

Having spoken to the young man (not one of the cast) who had been on set, he said he could not work out how to change the time so he had opened the front and tried to turn the hands and the hour hand had broken off.

To keep shooting (presumably not a close up of the watch!) the hour hand had been glued onto the face.

The red dust had been applied because someone [name omitted to protect the guilty] had decided that the watch looked "too good" and so they had "aged it". After a clean and a new hour hand it was back for filming a few days later.

In March I arrived home from a days Salmon fishing to hear of another problem, Wonder Woman had stepped on the watch, could I fix it? And it was needed very urgently for filming, apparently the "stunt watch" they had got in from Canada as a stand in was not good enough, so they needed this one back p.d.q. and it had to be working. It was driven out from the studio next morning. Fortunately it had not been stepped on - even a petite Superhero could have done a lot of damage - it had probably been dropped and / or kicked whilst on the ground, an easy thing to do, I guess, judging from action scenes shown in the trailer.
The Waltham 1908-640 before its adventures.

Refitting the Crystal and fixing the broken winding & setting was not a big problem but in this case and with time short, the broken balance staff was.

Normally I would be quietly confident of replacing a broken balance staff and getting a reasonably well performing watch in the time available, but the 1908-640 has a double roller and they are well known for breaking when being removed from the staff or when being refitted (they can be a tight fit and can be quite fragile) and I had no spare except perhaps on a working watch. Also, although I had a reasonable collection of spare staffs, there was no knowing until I tried if I had the correct type with the correct pivot size that would take the hairspring collet and the tricky double roller without something being modified. Then there was the cracked hole jewel which might need replacing.

It was too much of a risk so rather than fixing the -640 I found a working 1908-Traveler movement[1], gave it a quick clean and a mainspring, fitted the dial and case from the -640 and the props buyer picked it up that afternoon. We will have to wait until June to see if the original watch died in vain or for a noble cause, if anyone goes to see the film I would like to know if all of the trouble was worthwhile.

So be careful lending a watch to a Superhero.

[1] For the uninitiated a 1908-640 is a fairly high grade version of the watch and is quite rare with only 5,000 made, and only 1,000 pendant set as this one was, the Traveller it the 7 Jewel base model, above it and below the -640 are the -620, -625, -630, -635, PSB and Royal grades plus a number of special order intermediate grades probably totalling several million examples.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

American Watch Co., Bridge Model.

I did not expect ever to be able to write about this model from personal experience, but here we are, a 23 Jewel 1899-A.W.Co Bridge from 1900. And from the first production run - always a big plus point for collectors.

The bridge model was developed at about the same time as the 1899 Riverside Maximus, the specification is very similar with the main difference being, as the name implies, the design of the top plate which is in the form of a central bridge with two cocks for the escape and pallet much the same as a Swiss Lepine movement although in this case all three sections are in fact made in one piece but still retained with 4 screws.

Left: 1899 Bridge model (1900)  Right: 1899 RM (1901)
There is rather less ornate decoration on the bridge model, probably because there is less space for decoration so it could look cramped if over done. Waltham were rather coy about the pricing of the Bridge model with most adverts giving the price of the Riverside Maximus (RM) movement but saying P.O.A. for the Bridge, this may have been due to availability issues, variable pricing or something else, however some contemporary adverts and comments found in the UK indicate that the Bridge model was a few pounds more expensive (The 1908-RM in the USA was $123 for the movement only in 1913). The later 1908 "Premier Riverside Maximus" adopted the plate design of the Bridge model.

Like the RM the movement was adjusted for Temperature, Isochronism and in 5 positions although there is some speculation that the Bridge model was adjusted to closer tolerances.

The train  was gold as were the jewel settings. Many of the steel parts were chamfered, in this example that included the lever pallet.

There were 4 diamond end stones, in this example 2 were on the top plate and 2 on the balance, on the 1908 Bridge some (all?)  had the diamonds in pairs on the balance and escape, as does my RM from 1901 (a few very early RMs had 5 diamonds but this was quickly discontinued). Other jewels are ruby and sapphire.

The face is of the period but if the watch was purchased in the USA probably not original as it would have been a 3 piece dial, however watches sent to the UK by Waltham for sale here or in the dominions, usually came without dials (I believe to save import duty) and dials were sourced from the UK or Switzerland in which case it could very well be original.

The case is in 25 year Filled gold by the Crescent Watch Case Company and is probably 14 carat.

This is a particularly fine example and measured electronically the average error in 5 positions was about 0.5 seconds / 24 hours, as with any average however there can be some variation, in this case the error is on the average Face Up, Face Down and Pendant up but with a balancing +/- 10 seconds per day Pendant left and Pendant right, correcting that has been left for another day as things are likely to change as the watch settles down from its servicing.

The total number of serial numbers reserved for the 1899 Bridge model was:

1,010    23J Open Faced 5 runs
1,160    23J Hunter 6 runs
190    19J Open Faced 1 run
300    21J Hunter 1 run

The total production may have been lower. Bridge grades continued with the 1908 model including the Premier Maximus but only a further 2,600 Bridge grades were made. A significant portion of the (later?) Bridge model were made for E. Howard and sold under their name.

The 2016 "Book" retail price in the USA is between $1,000 and $2,000 (make that pounds in UK) but on-line sources show a slight drop - with so few available prices tend to be volitile and very dependant on condition. A full set of hi-resolution photos are available on Zenfolio, This watch is NOT for sale.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

A Bluffers Guide to the Watch Escapement Analyser and Timer

A small (size 4) movement on the
Vibrograf mount / microphone. The bed
can be moved in 3 axis to check timing
in any position. It will easily hold an
oversized S18 case.
Timing machines were originally hybrid electro/ mechanical devices, the "tick" of the escapement was amplified and used to drive an inked pen that drew a trace on paper moving over a drum turning at a fixed rate appropriate to the expected speed of the balance.

Modern computerised versions do much the same thing but give the results on a computer screen, sometimes in a similar format to the paper tape trace but with additional information. Most are dedicated units costing anything from about £650 to £7,000 or more and are orientated more to wrist watches than pocket watches and some do not, for instance, work with a slow train (16,200 VpH)  pocket watch movement and may not accommodate large cases.

I use a PC based product developed by Graham Baxter that uses the PC's audio sampling clock (usually at 96KHz) which, when suitably calibrated, gives an accuracy of better than 1 / sec per day with a high degree of stability and confidence. This software currently costs £299 with a clip on microphone which is more than adequate for most users. I have upgraded to a refurbished Vibrograf dedicated mount with a new microphone which is rather more robust for constant use, more resistant to background noise and is easier to use in some situations, the software also runs on a dedicated (cheap) tablet / laptop, mainly for convenience.

Click for an enlarged view.
The sample trace here is from an exceptionally good restored 7J Waltham Traveler undergoing a test in 5 positions. The vertical lines in the centre moving up the simulated paper (the coloured band)show the odd and even ticks, here they are very close together showing that the watch is "In Beat", as the detail on the bottom left shows almost perfectly so with an average error in 5 positions (Face Down, Face Up, Pendant Up etc) of only 0.13 mSecs, about 0.07% on this quick train (18,000 VpH) movement.

A trace moving off to the left (up the screen) indicates the movement is losing time and moving off to the right it is gaining. Again in this computerised system that is also shown numerically, the old systems did not.

The trace that looks rather like an e.c.g. printout is the sound of the escapement unlocking, the impulse jewel going through the lever and the escapement locking again with two ticks showing - one to the left and one to the right so that a fault occurring when the balance is moving clockwise or anticlockwise can be seen, unfortunately it can't tell you which is which.

The distance between the three blips gives an indication of the amplitude or power of the movement, if they are close together (in time) the balance is moving quickly (strongly and with more turn) if far apart then slowly. Some clever mathematics, knowing the geometry of the escape wheel and other factors, allows the amplitude to be calculated and displayed in terms of the degree of rotation of the balance wheel.

With experience a lot of faults can be pinpointed by irregularities in the trace such as knocking, the hairspring rubbing the balance cock or balance wheel, dirty or miss placed pallet jewels, banking pins set incorrectly, etc., (If I remember I'll add an example the next time I find a good one) More detailed views and explanations of the display can be found on Graham's web site

The initial faulty trace from an 11J size 4 half hunter.
An advantage of a computerised system is that the readings can be logged and displayed in different formats and scales. This trace taken over an hour or so (not all shown) shows a movement with a problem, the top trace is showing time keeping errors in seconds per day measured every 2 seconds. As you can see it is varying quite considerably averaging around a 20 seconds / day gain but varying from 0 to 60 s/Day.

The lower graphs show the amplitude and the beat error (the later looks bad but the scale, that I left on automatic, is such that the deviation is tiny and quite immaterial).

By looking at the periodic nature of the trace we can see that there is 3 minutes between the peeks of slowness and also between the peeks of fastness of the movement. This has to indicate something wrong with the train. The centre wheel
And after the first attempt at resolution
turns once per hour so it is unlikely to be that, similarly the seconds wheel turns once per minute so is not likely to be the problem. That leaves the wheel in between.

Taking the movement apart the wheel was checked for cleanliness, deformed teeth and flatness and some adjustments made. After reassembly the test was rerun. Things have improved with the deviation less and the peaks now 6 minutes apart. Again the movement was taken too pieces and some more fettling done, mainly getting the wheel exactly at right angles to the arbor (axel). And the variation in timekeeping was reduced to a few seconds per cycle with average time keeping (at full wind) within 5 secs per day, which is pretty good for a watch made in 1891.

Unfortunately that was not the end of the story, checking the watch in different positions it was fine face up and face down but gained 2.5 minutes per day pendant up and lost a minute pendant down. Another hours work was required to fix that and before the advent of timing machines that would have been several hours over many days. But adjusting for positional errors is well out of the scope of this piece and takes up many pages in most good books on watch repair.

The final result
Left to run over night to settle down it was checked at about half wind over a fifteen minute period and gave very consistent results (the blip at the beginning was the result of moving the mount for the photo at the top of the page). Job done!

Or not done, having put the motion work, dial & hands on and put it into its case I found it was loosing 20 minutes per hour due to a slipping cannon pinion so all that had to be undone, the cannon pinion removed, adjusted and refitted (these 3 operations all requiring the use of the staking set on this design of watch) and everything put back together.

Thankfully on this occasion the first adjustment did the trick.

Vine & Thompson Small Half Hunter, 11J, 1891.

A very rare survivor. Although signed by a London retailer and with a London hallmark this watch was almost certainly made in Coventry although I do not know by who, a larger version I have seen was signed by the Army & Navy Store but also not by the maker. Marked as a size 5 but measuring closer to a size 4 this would have been a Ladies watch or a Gent's Fob Watch.

The pin set movement has 11 jewels and functioning Geneva gear to control spring pressure, it has a true English Escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance.

The movement is engraved Vine & Thompson, 85, Aldersgate Street. E.C. London, Vine and Thompson, previously Thompson and Vine, are listed as Clockmakers working from 1868-1957.

The Consular style swing out case has London hallmarks for Sterling Silver, 1891 and the makers mark of William Bullock, Cherry St, Coventry.

Someone made a  transposition error with the serial number on the case with the 2nd and 3rd digits out of order. The case measures 1.6" / 4 cm excluding the pendant etc.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A rare English Hunter by J.W. Benson

This is the first intact English made hunter I have come across by Benson, it is a later version of  "The Field" watch and was the most expensive of their three "volume" made watches. Other complete "Field", "Keyless Ludgate" and "Bank" watches that I have seen have been open faced or half hunters and most have been in size 12 rather than this size 16.

The "Half Chronometer" (Adjusted) slow train movement has an English Lever escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance and 15 jewels including a diamond end-stone for the balance. Geneva stop gear was used to control mainspring pressure and thereby improve isochronism.

Part of the full page description of "The world renown "Field" Watch"
in my 1930s Benson sales catalogue, prices ranged from £20 to £36.75
at a time when a 3 bedroomed house cost about £350. 
The inscription "By Warrant to the Queen" is rather confusing, I have only seen this with respect to
Queen Victoria (from 1901 to c1907 "to the Late Queen" was used) but this movement is in a case hallmarked for Benson in 1920 and it clearly belongs with the movement as the serial numbers are the same, which in itself is rare with an English Benson.

As far as I am aware Queen Mary never issued a warrant to Benson and they certainly did not claim one on any of the dozens of watches I have seen from the 1920s and 30s or in the sales catalogue I have from the 1930's which does claim warrants for the emperor of Japan and several European monarchs.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A note to spammers

Don't even think about posting adverts as comments on my Blog.

Especially for c@*p modern watches.

All will be deleted pdq.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

More on magnetism and watches.

Waltham 1899-Vanguard, 19J, 1902.
(click for a larger view)
A while ago I wrote about how magnetic fields can affect a watch movement, in particular how the coils of the hairspring could end up sticking to each other. This post is about something a bit different.

The Waltham 1899-Vanguard shown here came in barely running (although it was described as "in "good working order") after cleaning, a new mainspring and fixing a number of issues, including replacing a winding pinion that came from a 1908 model that is not compatible with the 1899 and which was causing winding problems, the movement was running with an excellent amplitude (swing of the balance) of 320 degrees.

However when it was put in the case this dropped to an unacceptable 200 degrees and the timekeeping went haywire. When this happens it is normally due to problems caused by compression or distortion of the movement in some way after tightening the case screws, either because of a fault in the movement or by some distortion in the watch case forcing part of the movement parts out of true or causing something to rub. After extensive investigation I could not find anything wrong.

Some degaussing equipment (Demagnetizers) shown on
the web site.
I put the movement in a different watch case and it was fine so I got out the magnetic compass which went wild around the case and the problem was found.

Normally there is a trivial amount of ferrous material in a gold, filled gold or silver watch case, but this is a Hunter, and so it has two large and powerful steel springs in it to flip open the lid and to hold the lid closed. These had clearly become strongly magnetized at some point and that was causing the problem.

A few goes with the degaussing machine and all was resolved.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

A Bluffers Guide to replacing a balance staff and impulse jewel.

Perhaps the trickiest part of replacing a balance staff is getting the original balance assembly to pieces without damaging the hairspring, the balance wheel or the impulse jewel, however to explain that would take a as long as this post so I am starting with that done and with a balance staff available, again that may be a non trivial exercise as some movements have quite a few types of staff for a given movement and the one has to be found (and paid for @ £15 - £30 or sometimes a lot more!) - or made.

Click any image for a larger view.
The balance for this S16 movement is 0.6" / 1.5 cm
in diameter excluding the screws, some balances
are considerably smaller!
The first thing to do it to fit the staff to the balance wheel, that might need to be done in a number of ways but usually it will be a press (friction) fit or riveted.

This South Bend Watch Co balance is a press fit, the wheel is placed onto a stake (anvil) which has a hole in it just large enough for the staff to pass through, too large a hole and there is a risk of deforming the balance arms. Too small and your expensive staff gets stuck in the stake.

The staff is pressed into the hole using a punch with a hole drilled into it just large enough to accommodate most of the staff but small enough to rest against a step on the staff to press it in.

Frequently, as in this case, the hole in the balance it a tad to big for the staff, in this case after closing up the hole as much as possible with a specially designed punch it was still not a tight fit (due to the hard metal) and so it was necessary to use some Loctite retaining compound (not thread locker) which although quite strong can be release if necessary.

The part finished  assembly is then put onto the callipers which have a pair of jewels for the pivots to run in.

An index (bottom left) is moved close too the edge of the wheel and the wheel spun to check that it is square to the staff and flat.

Usually some manipulation is required to true it up, which can be tricky, especially with a cut compensation balance as an adjustment at the fixed end may require the arm to be twisted to ensure that everything lines up. As it does here.

It is best then to try the balance in the movement to ensure that it turns smoothly with minimal resistance. Particularly if a previously repairer has made adjustments to compensate for a wearing staff, adjustment will frequently be required to get the correct "end float", firstly by undoing all of his adjustments and then preferably by adjusting the position of the balance hole and cap jewels. This process can take as long as all of the other steps put together.

It is now time to fit the roller, in this case however the impulse jewel was crumbling and although it would have worked failure would not have been far off so it had to be replaced. This is a very fiddly job and invariably results in the loss of some quite expensive  jewels which are small and difficult handle and also to measure so trial and error is required.

In this case the jewel was cylindrical but with one side flattened. The full diameter was just 0.41mm (they come in steps 0.01mm big). The vice being used is a happy co-incidence of a hobby and business / hobby and is normally used for tying fishing flies, the jaws stay parallel in normal use, it gives a firm grip and  it can be rotated as required. The down side is that one of this quality would be rather too expensive to buy just for fitting impulse jewels!

After getting the jewel into the hole it has to be secured in place ensuring it is at right angles to the roller in both plains, traditionally this was done with heated shellac on the reverse side but modern equivalents are somewhat easier to use.

The roller it then pressed onto the balance staff using the staking set taking great care not to break the jewel or the staff either by getting things misaligned or by having a punch of the wrong size.

The impulse jewel should normally be at right angles to the arms (of a 2 arm) wheel, if not then positional errors may result. The red marks on the wheel were put there to indicate where the impulse jewel (and the hair-spring stud)  originally aligned in the hope that they were then correct and the watch will be in beat on completion.

At this point it is advisable to again put the balance into the movement to check that the impulse jewel engages correctly with the lever pallet and that they do not rub together, and if it is a single roller, that the pallet safety pin engages correctly.
This had a two piece double roller so next to go on was the smaller section.

A critical part of this operation is to ensure that the cut out in the small roller EXACTLY lines up with the impulse jewel, if it does not problems lie ahead!

After fitting the balance is again trial fitted to the movement to check that the pallet safety pin engages correctly with the roller.

Almost there now!

The next operation is to fit the hairspring, the balance is turned over, usually with a smaller stake to support it.

With a double roller this is relatively straight forward (if there is a spacer between the two sections to support the smaller section) but with a single roller the stake must not foul the impulse jewel, this particular staking set has a stake available with a cut out in it for the jewel to fit in, with others it is necessary to find a stake (or punch used as a stake if the set allows that) with a drilled hole large enough to accommodate the staff but an outside diameter small enough to fit inside the jewel. Get this wrong and the jewel breaks, the roller will have to come off and a new impulse jewel found and fitted.

Making sure it is aligned correctly so that the movement will be in-beat, hopefully using marks made earlier, the spring collet is pressed onto the staff.  It is now ready for fitting and testing.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

J.W. Benson: Swiss Watches of the 1930s

Having done some research and an analysis of my Benson mail order sales catalogue from the mid 1930s, I think I have finally worked out the Benson product line-up of their “standard” size 16 Swiss watches on offer during the period.

Longines half hunter for Benson


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries most “standard sized” Swiss watches offered by J.W. Benson were made by Longines / Frères Baume, in the late 1910s or a bit before, they switched to Revue Thommen and in the very early 1930s they changed again to Tavannes models which are the subject of this post.

Also during this period they sold watches by Record, Zenith and others but these were sold in very small quantities compared to Tavannes.


The Watches.

All of these watches had Tavannes 938 or 938a (Hunter), 939 or 939a (Open Faced) calibre movements, this however is not that helpful as it was in production for a long time by both Tavannes and Cyma under numerous brand names (including Admiral, Tacy, Rambler, Stayte, Semloh and lots more) and in a bewildering number of configurations. The Benson variant however stands out as being the best finished of all of the many I have seen.
All of the following were available in Open Faced, Hunting or Half Hunting configurations.
The cases were English made, Benson Bros (no relation) and Dennison, who acquired Benson Bros in1932, probably making most, if not all, of them. By this time all of the Tavannes made movements that I have seen made for Benson used the standard watch case with negative setting.
Prices ranged from £2 10s (£2.50) for an open faced “City” in Nickel, to £14 10s (£14:50) for an “Observatory” half hunter in 9 carat gold.  A 3 letter monogram added 10s 6d (52.5p).

Update March 2017: The following information is correct as at the publication of the sales catalogue, recently I have had two watches from 1938 with the same balance configuration as the City but marked as "Adjusted", it is probable that these were still marked as the "City" but I have no documentary evidence to confirm that.

The “City” & “Triumph” Watches.


These watches were the entry level to the range, the cosmetics and finish were the same as the higher grades but they had a rather more basic, but effective, Elinvar over-sprung screwed balance. The “City” grade is advertised in my catalogue as being available in Sterling Silver, Black [gunmetal] Steel or Polished Nickel.  

The “Triumph” grade was the same movement in a single bottomed 9 carat gold case.

These movement also turn up (as do some of the others) in rolled or filled gold cases by Dennison, although some of these have undoubtedly been re-cased they were almost certainly originally available in these cases but, like watches by Record etc, are not shown in this (premium) mail order catalogue.
J.W. Benson "Signal" 1936.

The “Signal” Watch.

These watches were similar to the “City” and “Triumph” grades but were upgraded to have an Elinvar Breguet sprung screwed balance and, like the "Triumph", they were in a single backed 9 carat gold case.  

Sunday, 16 October 2016

J.W. Benson Fly Back Chronograph, 15J, c1898.

Unlike most English Chronographs (aka Doctors Watches) of the period, this Swiss made watch for J.W. Benson does not completely stop when the centre seconds hand is stopped and so is far more practical (and expensive!).

It has a Swiss Lever escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance and 15 jewels.

The gilding on the top plate was most probably done in England after the watch was engraved, I don't recall previously seeing Benson giving their address as "London & Switzerland" on watches of this period, I suspect the engraver was not used to doing it either as the "Switzerland" bit looks to be squeezed in.


This one was advertised by a dealer as being c1880 but it is somewhat later than that. The Swiss hallmarks for .935 silver were in use from 1882 through 1934, but more revealing is the engraving on the movement "By warrant to the Queen and the Prince of Wales". Victoria died in 1901 and Benson immediately changed their engravings to read "The Late Queen" so it is no later than 1901.

All of the datable Benson movements I have seen mentioning the PoW have been from the late 1890s so I am fairly confident that this one dates from 1898 give or take a year or two.

The dial & hands:

The watch has the normal hour and minute hands with a lower subsidiary dial for seconds.

The upper subsidiary dial is for the stop watch function and records minutes from 0 to 30. In fact it keeps going beyond that so any length of time can be measured, but you need to remember how many "thirties" there have been.

To make it easier to read the hand steps each minute rather than moving gradually as would the minute hand on most mechanical watches and the central minute hand of this watch.


Not a good picture unfortunately, the exposure was
way out but I was not going to take the watch to
pieces again to correct!

The "normal" watch is crown wound and pin set as were many English watches of the period and Swiss watches made for the English market.

The Stop Watch function acts as many watches might today, from stopped & zeroed the first press on the crown starts the centre seconds hand and the upper subsidiary minute counter.

The next press stops the two and a third press moves both back to zero.

By some definitions a "fly back" chronograph should "fly back" and automatically restart, however this is the more common version.

All of the extra gearing, cams etc. needed to run the stopwatch function creates a lot of drag on the movement and may result in poorer timekeeping and will certainly reduce the run time of the watch (although it would start again if the stop watch function was stopped), it is best therefore to only activate the centre seconds hand if it is needed.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Stakes, Staking Tools & Jewel Setting Tools.

A modern Staking Tool and a modest selection of
Punches and Stakes by premium Swiss maker
Bergeon, £420 from 
A stake in watchmaking (and jewellery) is a form of anvil used with a punch for riveting and other operations, simple ones are held in a vice and the punch, which is hand held, is hit with a hammer or pressed down by hand. Whilst a number of things can be done this way it was literally rather hit and miss on delicate jobs, especially when the stake, work (usually in 2 pieces) and punch has to be perfectly aligned.

To make things easier a device known as a “Staking Tool” was developed, this included a mount for the stake and an accurately machined tube for the punch aligned above it.

A hammer or the hand are still generally used to perform the required operation but more precise positioning is possible.
These are still made and with a comprehensive set of punches retails for between about £200 (Indian made) and £800 (Swiss made).
My old lever operated Staking Tool which could, at some
 risk due to the lack of micrometre adjusted limiting,
 be used for jewel setting and other delicate tasks. Otherwise
it is an excellent tool and has a particularly wide range
 of anvils and good screw on solid and drilled pushers.
A refinement of the standard Staking tool, which appears not to be available on modern staking tools but is on Jewel setting tools, added a lever arrangement to force the punch or other tool down, this made it much more controllable and easier for operations such as jewelling, work on balance assemblies, etc..
The major limitation was the lack of a device to limit the movement when pressure is applied so that it was very easy to push things too hard and too deep, so the next development was the Jewel Setting (or Jewelling) Tool which does, with the right accessories, some of the things the “Staking Tool” can do but which includes lever actuation and a micrometre measuring and limiting device and
My somewhat later Boley & Leinen combined Staking
and Jewelling set with an extensive range of punches that can
also be used as stakes. Modern Bergeon Punches will fit so some
damaged pieces have been replaced. Purchased (fortunately
 at a bargain price) to extend the range of my original staking set
 shown above. The rather worn jewelling tools are generally
not used as I also have the modern Seitz set shown below. 
usually made with more precise tolerances generally.

It is claimed that work with the modern Seitz tool can be done to within 0.005mm, the down side is that it is smaller both in the diameter of the punches and more importantly in the depth of the hole drilled into some punches and stakes which is not big or long enough to take some pocket watch components so, for instance,  it is not possible to use a jewel setting tool to rivet a centre wheel back on to the centre arbour of a pocket watch if it has been loosened by a breaking mainspring (Watches without a Safety Pinion often have the wheel weakly riveted on so that this fails to prevent damage further down the train).
A modern Seitz Jewelling Outfit with a good number of
pieces, most of which can be used as a Stake or as
an anvil. £1,050, also from
The Bergeon / Seitz set I have just purchase cost over £1k, it might not pay for itself in cash terms compared to just having my previous tools, but it should make delicate operations rather less stressful and will allow me to do jobs such as Lanterning Cannon Pinions (nipping them in to prevent slipping) more accurately and to reduce hour hand holes to fit which was not possible before. And of course to reset or replace jewels with a greater chance of success.

It will hopefully also reduce accidents, cursing and swearing somewhat.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Thoughts on the failure of the Lancashire Watch Company

A Size 14, model 116, "Excellent" grade with the
addition of 2 pairs of jewels and signed for the retailer.

The Lancashire Watch Company failed in 1906 (although it continued trading in administration until 1910), many have blamed the failure of the skilled workers (many of who would have had to sell or wind up their small business after the formation of the LWC) to embrace new ways of working, Cutmore [1] argues that given early success this in unlikely and that poor marketing, bad forecasting, unwanted products and a plethora of designs & products and by implication pricing were to blame. Looking at the trade catalogues from 1898 [2]  and later I would go with the later point.
The three-quarter plate keyless watch is a good example:


In 1898 the three-quarter plate keyless was available in two forms, both were pin set with the crown connected to the movement through bevel gears in the case and on the movement.

A Full plate LWC movement showing
the hinge and sprung loaded catch
required for a swing out movement.
#104: a swing out movement with the hinge integrated with the face plate and a catch opposite to secure it in the case. This model is rare and I have never one complete with its case.
#116: what became the more familiar type retained in the case by two screws with the addition of a locating pin to stop the movement turning in the case through the action of the bevel winding gear. This was not yet the “Standard” watch case.

Friday, 2 September 2016

English watch makings last hurrah! A Smiths movement for J.W. Benson.

And doing it rather well, this watch is within beat[1] to 0.07mSec or 0.03%.

This is a good quality movement for Benson by Smiths of Cheltenham who made limited quantities of good quality lever movement wrist and pocket watches on the back of their instrument and clock making business - particularly that of the long established aircraft instruments division and not to be confused with the Welsh joint venture that made millions of cheap pin lever watches from 1947.

Made in the Swiss style it has a Swiss Lever escapement with an Elinvar over-sprung screwed balance with double roller.

[1] Being in beat means that the balance action is symmetrical swinging an equal distance in each direction and that the balance staff, impulse jewel and pallet arbour are in perfect alignment. If you think in terms of a long case clock the "tick" equals the "tock" and it has a steady rhythm.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The English "Half-chronometer"

J.W. Benson "Observatory" watch made by Tavannes and
described  as a "Half-chronometer" as was the English made
Benson "Field" watch and many others.
The English description of a watch as being a "Half-chronometer" is, perhaps, a rather grandiose name for what the Americans termed an "adjusted" watch meaning a watch adjusted for temperature as explained in this Wikipedia entry.

This does not mean that other watches will not cope adequately with changes in temperature but that the "Adjusted" or "Half-chronometer" watch has been rigorously tested at extremes of temperature and adjusted to minimise errors.

Unfortunately most good quality English watches, particularly those by Benson, Rotherham and other good makers in Coventry and London plus most imported from Switzerland before the late 1930s and signed by English resellers are not marked "adjusted" so it is only possible to establish if they are by tracking down contemporary adverts such as the following.

From a J.W. Benson Sales catalogue from the late 1930s.

Friday, 26 August 2016

What size to buy?

Moved from the web site and updated.

Jump the next 3 paragraphs if you are a technophobe or just bored with the detail :)

The detail: 

Watch Sizes are specified by the diameter of the movement where it fits in the case, there are now two common measures, “Lancashire” for English and American watches and “Ligne” for Swiss.
An unrestored S12 fusee movement
with its carrier and oversized dial.
Lancashire starts at size 0 which is 1 5/30inch increasing by 1/30 inch per size. So the popular men’s size 16 is 1.7 inch and size 18 1.77inch but it is quite possible for a watch case to make a smaller movement look several sizes bigger although the dial remains the same size.
It was also common practice to mount 19th century English movements onto the back of a carrier two sizes bigger, the carrier attached to the larger size case and had the larger size dial on the other side so that it was indistinguishable from the larger size watch without opening it up.
Where quoted I normally use the nearest equivalent “Lancashire” size for Swiss watches.
As a rough guide the following table shows the approximate diameter of the watch for "normally" cased American and Swiss movements, some may be rather larger but a few can be smaller.
  • S14 4.9 – 5.0 cm
  • S16 5.0 – 5.2 cm
  • S18 5.4 cm+
English pin set watches will typically be a little larger as will full plate watches (because they are thicker).

Movements of size 12 and below and size 18 and above can vary significantly in size when cased up, so on the web site I normally give the dimensions for each watch as part of the description.
Here are some general guidelines on what each size of watch is best suited for, clearly there is room for variation here particularly for ladies if they are wearing a waistcoat or carry the watch in a handbag. And although a Fob watch is normally defined as one below about size 8 it is really only limited by the size of the fob pocket! 

A Ladies size 6 Waltham, heavily patterned cases are
frequently used on these smaller watches.

Size 0

Ladies watches only, suitable for wearing on a neck chain as a pendant (but be careful not to swing it around too much and bash it on something) or as a brooch with a suitable attachment.

Size 6

Ladies, as size 0 or as a fob watch. Men, as a fob watch.


A size 12 Rotherham although tightly cased
for a pin set watch it is still 1.9" / 4.7cm
 in diameter, about the same an American size 14

Sizes 12

Getting rather large to be a Fob watch but some American size 12s will be OK used as above. Many old size 12 movements are put into size 14 cases with the use of a carrier as described above.

English pin set size 12s make a good sized mans watch.


Size 14 & 16

A size 16 hunter in a New Old Stock Dennison
case. A Hunter will always be a little bigger
than an open faced watch due to the space
 taken by the bezel and lid.
A common size in the nineteenth century in all forms, this became the “standard” man’s size for keyless watches in the twentieth century, these are generally quite slim so do not distort pockets as much as earlier key set watches.

This was the smallest size that could be certified as a “Railway” watch in the USA (beware of this term! Originally it defined an accurate and reliable timepiece suitable for controlling railroad traffic in the US, later it was picked up as a marketing ploy and appears on some really awful Swiss watches – you have been warned!).


A tightly cased Waltham 1892 railroad watch.

Size 18

Originally the watch to go for to show status and now very popular with collectors, particular of North American watches and it is frequently said the bigger the better. Some very fine watches were made in the calibre.

Size 20 & 22

As for Size 18 but really showing off, not that common and most in UK are key set from the front and made in the 1890’s and very early in the new century.

Size 24+

Are really too big to carry around but frequently would have had a special stand to convert them into something you could use as a travelling clock.