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.