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Routine, Routine, Routine

by Jordan Ficklin

One of the secrets to being a good watchmaker is to establish a routine and stick to it. For example I always oil the train jewels starting with the barrel and moving towards the balance. Always going in the same order keeps me from skipping any.

I had an experience today where my routine got shattered. I recently returned from an advanced training seminar at Rolex. One of the things they suggested was that we oil the escapement after having installed the balance while the movement was running. I have always oiled the escapement by applying oil to the stones before installing the balance. The thing about this new method isn’t that it is different, but that it fits into a different place in my routine.

Today I had a watch that despite having timed out nicely has been running quite poorly. After a thorough examination I discovered that I had failed to oil the escapement! I imagine that after installing the pallet fork I told myself I would oil the escapement as I was shown in training but after installing the balance I timed out the watch, because for the last 4 years the escapement has always been oiled at this point.

It isn’t that my memory is that bad, but it is quite possible that I got interrupted at some point between installing the pallet fork and the balance. This happens quite frequently in a retail setting. I may have had to change a power cell (see the counter in the right sidebar) or I may have had to size a watch band, or it could have been something else.

It is these interruptions that make the routine so critical. When I come back to the watch I need to know what should be completed and then I can perform a quick check and continue on working with the watch. The problem here is that my routine has changed, and it isn’t habit yet, and that I didn’t follow my own rule of double and triple checking everything.

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  1. Posted April 23, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I was wondering if you could explain the benifits of oiling with the balance in the watch and running? It seems like it would be riskier in getting oil in the wrong place or worse on the hairspring. Currently, I oil the exit stone, let the escape wheel move about 4 teeth and then oil the receiving stone and letting that pass a few teeth, without the balance in. Under magnification, this looks pretty good.

  2. Posted April 23, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I’m curious to hear more about this new technique as well, J.Peter.

  3. J.Peter
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Scott, your description of oiling the pallet stones is how I have always done it. The method I am trying out is to install the balance and have it running. You then approach the escape wheel with an oiler from the back side of the movement and let the teeth pass through the drop of oil on an oiler without stopping.

    I’m not sure what the real advantages are other than it makes it easier to follow the recommendation to allow the movement to run for a little while without oil to build a track on the pallet stones through the epilame (fix-o-drop). You then would not have to remove the balance to apply the oil.

  4. Noah Riley
    Posted April 23, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Good topic today, and one that holds true for me too- those interruptions can be more costly than everybody else assumes, but they are a fact of retail service.
    As a side note, I have been oiling the impulse surfaces of the escape wheel teeth directly myself for awhile, and while I was first worried about difficulties in application, this has not proven to be a problem. A 30x microscope makes it very easy to do so without getting lubrication anywhere unintentional. A red-handled oiler with bent tip is what I use, generally from the dial side through one of the pallet stone observation holes.
    Theoretically, one is applying oil only and exactly where it needs to be. The method of applying oil directly to the stone (which I used previously) does coat the entire surface of the stone’s impulse face. Hopefully it is dragged into that “track” you spoke of- the path of the escape wheel teeth scraping across the stone. But it seems to me (from examining watches coming in for service), that much of the escapement lubrication ends up above or below that track, where it is not very effective in lubricating. In theory, if oil is applied only to the escape wheel teeth’s impulse faces, oil will be transmitted only to that “track” on the pallet stone where said teeth scrape across.
    As with any discussion of lubrication, opinions will differ, and my intent is not to claim this as the best and only way to do the task. I have had good success with it, and personally I like the theory behind it.

    Another advantage (as J. Peter said) is that the balance need not be removed as with my previous method wherein I would let the escapement run dry a minute or two to scrape off fix-o-drop from the “track”. A great horologer mentioned that this removal and re-installation of the balance could transfer oil from the lower balance pivot to the fork if the balance does not come directly out or go directly in without touching anything else.

    Those are my reasons, others’ results may vary, etc.

  5. Posted April 25, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I agree that lubricating is a great topic! Thanks Jp for sharing. I must admit, that after my visit to Rolex in 2007, mostly all escape wheels that I lubricate are done in that manner- magnification is definitely required, probably 10x is good enough for me. I let a tiny drop in first on the black sized oiler, and I approach the now running movement, as close as it gets to the escape wheel and then let the escape wheel feed off the oil. Once a tiny drop is there, it quickly spreads out, and you can watch as the movement (if in the case of a 3135) takes a leap in amplitude, the idea is to oil just enough, and adequately as in the case of the 3135, sufficient oil means significant enough so that one can see a virtual ‘oil bank’ formed on the receiving pallet stone! Mind you that without fixodrop coating, the oil bank is different looking than in other watches like an Omega 1120 for example, where it is slightly loppy. I use the same principle but the end result is different if oiled the same way as the 3135.
    The main thing is each movement’s specifics are different- they need different types of oils, and certainly checking and double checking is essential. Cheers for the lovely post Jp,

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] the video doesn’t demonstrate the new escapement lubrication technique, mentioned recently by J.Peter, it does offer some interesting insight into what’s at work […]

  2. […] must be difficult for someone to do this job part time or as a hobby because the routine is so important. Share and […]

  3. […] J.Peter has mentioned in the past, routine, routine, routine, is so very key. Despite the initial hiccup, though, I am happy I have made this particular change […]

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