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What makes a good watchmaker?

by J.Peter

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Watchmaking demands perfection. Unfortunately that is something which cannot truly be attained. Yet, we strive for it, and we (hopefully) come very close.

Watches are not very forgiving. It only takes one piece of lint, or one speck of dust in the wrong place to bring a watch to a grinding halt. You only have to forgot to oil one spot to destroy a component and cause a watch to stop. Watches demand perfection.

When I work on a watch, I am constantly checking and rechecking my work. One of the things that separates a good watchmaker from a mediocre watchmaker is that the good watchmaker remembers to recheck everything before he lets a customer take his watch. I check endshakes and condition of parts as I disassemble. I check them again as I reassemble. I oil components as I go along and when I finish with a functional group, I check them again to make sure I oiled them. It has to be this way.

As watchmakers we have to take special care to protect each component and make them function just right. This is especially true when we are talking about components the customer sees (such as the dial, hands, case, etc.) but it is also true of the components the customer will not see.

I received a brochure from a national repair center today (to remain unnamed.) They advertise heavily their exceptional skills, their quick turn-around time, and their ability to do what most watchmakers cannot. They claim to be the watchmaker’s watchmaker because when your watchmaker can’t fix it they send it to these guys.

The brochure is full color, multiple page on beautiful glossy paper. Here are a few things I noticed:

  • Inside the front cover is this beautiful photo of a Patek Philippe Before and After Shot. I took this picture from their web page.
  • Before & After

  • It is difficult to see in this picture, but much easier to notice in the brochure. The first thing that caught my eye was that the diamond for the 3 o’clock marker is crooked. Second, the diamond for the 9 o’clock marker sits below the horizontal center of the watch. It looks great, but I don’t think it is Patek Philippe quality.
  • They employ 15 Master Watch Makers and Jewelers and are able to “service and ship 200-300 timepieces each day.” – Using the low numbers, that is 14 watches per watchmaker per day. I hope at least 10 of those are simple things like batteries. In a brand-specific repair center (like Rolex) a technician is expected to disassemble, clean & assemble 5 or 6 watches in a day. Another watchmaker times the watches, another watchmaker applies the dial and hands and installs the watch in the case and yet another watchmaker conducts quality control. I don’t have the hard numbers but they are probably averaging about 3 or 4 watches per watchmaker per day being completed. 14 watches a day is more what they expect at Seiko.
  • Another photo shows a watchmaker with his handpusher resting on the dial. You just don’t touch dials if you can avoid it.
  • Another photo shows boxes of disassemble watches with dials, hands and date disks in the same boxes with movements. This is precisely how date disks, hands and the like get scratched. Hands should be kept independent of each other as should dials and date disks.

I have never had any work performed by this service center so I have no first hand experience but their brochure speaks volumes to me. This is supposed to convince me to use them to fix my watch but the brochure is full of evidence of shady watchmaking. I think volume may be more important to them than quality.

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 11, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Matt Hanson

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