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The ‘Bermuda Triangle’ Found

by J.Edwards

Even the best watchmakers spend time on their hands and knees looking for that elusive lost part. Its inevitable. The average mechanical watch contains 100+ parts and we deal with dozens of them a week. Over the course of a year, we handle hundreds of thousands of parts that are often fractions of a millimetre thin. Any watchmaker who has spent any appreciable amount of time at the bench can sympathize with what it’s like to have a spring ricochet out of its intended destination or to have a small part unintentionally fly from between the tips of your tweezers. If you’re lucky, and if you’ve taken the initiative to keep your bench clean and free of clutter, the part can sometimes be relocated in a matter of seconds. If you’re not so lucky, that part may find its way onto the floor and a little bit of sweeping or several minutes of crawling around on your hands and knees may be in order before it’s retrieved. On that very rare occasion, however, no matter how hard or how long you search for it, a part seems to vanish into thin air.

I have posted before about accidentally rolling over a part with my chair but, up until just recently, I have never taken the initiative to check the wheels of my chair to find that freckle sized screw or other small part that mysteriously vanishes. A short while back I made the transition from working in a factory service center to joining forces with another watchmaker working on the frontlines at a well respected jewellery store. chairwheels As part of the move, we expanded the watch service area and installed new flooring. Before moving our task chairs back into the new space, we took a few moments to thoroughly clean the wheels of the chairs to keep the dust at bay and to preserve the fresh sheen of our new floor. Little did we expect to find so many once-vanished watch parts! The wheels were littered with screws, oscillating mass axles, and other small parts. We had unwittingly stumbled upon the elusive ‘Bermuda triangle’ of watch parts.

So, the next time you lose a part and just can’t seem to find it, take a moment to turn your chair over and give the wheels a once-over. You never know what you may find.

7 Comments

  1. Tinker
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    To find that part you just lost on the floor:

    1) Get off the chair WITHOUT moving it.
    2) Grab a small, high-power LED flashlight. A Fenix LD01 works well for me.
    3) Dim the lights of the room.
    4) Turn on the flashlight and put it on the floor so te beam shines perpendicularly to the floor. Rotate it slowly, so the beam sweeps the floor (like the hands of a watch). This way, even if the part is small, the shadow it will project on the floor will be several times larger, and you will be able to spot it most of the time.

    Try it!

  2. J.Peter
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I have used this method many times. The stronger the light, the better this works.

  3. Posted June 2, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Apt point, Tinker. I have a small Maglite that I use to find parts. What I like about it is how well you can focus the beam. I am not sure if that is even an issue with LED flashlights, though.

    The interesting thing about these chairs is that we purchased them second hand from a factory service center, at a very nice discount, so the majority of the parts were lost there. The number of oscillating mass axles we found embedded in the wheels was astounding. My guess is that they were used, discarded axles that were brushed aside on purpose. There were quite a few small screws though and the way that they were embedded in the wheel made me realize just how easy it would be to lose one in there even if the chair were to move only a few millimeters. I do my best to be careful when dismounting my chair, but I do unwilling move it slightly sometimes. I can recall losing the odd screw that was very tiny and I was just dumbfounded that I had never thought to inspect the wheels of my chair before we happened to clean these ones.

  4. Posted June 6, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    You didn’t happen to find a barrel screw for an AS 1709 in there did you?….K, I’ll keep looking. :)

    I’ve yet to find my Bermuda Triangle. Although I’m pretty sure the felt pads on my desk legs are pretty well stocked.

  5. Posted June 8, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Felt floor protectors are terrible. I know the ones we use on our kitchen table and chairs at home are far too effective at collecting dust bunnies and other debris. For a watchmaker’s space, polymer based floor protectors, such as a those made by Slipstick, are a much better alternative. I am a big fan of the cupped, vinyl floor protectors that ship with Rolex benches.

  6. Posted June 19, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Hello Jp, Jon,
    I’d like to share a very interesting idea- given to me by my new student Ron McKelvie from Delta, Vancouver.
    In my first meeting with him, Ron suggested to me that his wife said to him (whilst he was on his hands and knees …lol, you know the score) that why did he not use a fridge magnet? Well, turns out that he was able to locate the part in a matter of minutes, by going over the carpeting.
    Cut to me last week, and here I was, having lost a very vital Zenith calibre spring on the date side..well, his words came back to me, and lo and behold, within 10 seconds max, I heard a click and sure enough- the spring was attached to the underside of the fridge magnet!
    Fridge magnets are weak magnets, and will not easily magnetize your partts, I am testimonial to this method of finding parts.
    Moral of the story- even your student can come up with winning solutions, so, watchmaking needs a very open attitude.
    Thanks again,
    Prem C.

  7. Posted June 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi Prem,

    I would add that wrapping a tissue around the magnet is also a great help. I prefer using a magnet that is stronger than a fridge magnet, though, as they more readily pickup components from a greater distance and it is easy enough to demagnetize a part once it is found. The great thing about wrapping the magnet in a tissue is that you can quickly and easily remove everything that’s collected on the magnet once you’re done sweeping it over floor etc. This not only prevents a build-up of metal shavings on the magnet over time, but also prevents potential damage to fragile components, such as springs, when trying to remove them from the magnet.

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