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Making Watch Hands à la Roger Smith

by J.Edwards

English watchmaker, Roger W. Smith, has posted a series of videos detailing the process he uses to create the unique set of hands that have come to define his distinctive style of watchmaking. Being the only apprentice that renowned watchmaker, George Daniels, has ever taken under his wing, this short series of how-to videos is particularly precious in that they bring to life aspects of Daniels’ treatise, Watchmaking – which is undisputedly the most thorough book ever published on the subject. To put the value of the book’s contents into a bit of perspective, the aftermarket price for used copies of Watchmaking, in excellent condition, have soared to as much as $1,100 in recent months (the prices at Abebooks are still somewhat more reasonable).

While the videos don’t come close to even scratching the surface of what Watchmaking covers, they do offer valuable, second-hand insight into chapters 3 and 6 of the book, which discuss finishing techniques and the making of small components, respectively. I found it particularly neat to see Smith’s take on the brass rod polisher that Daniels’ details on pages 56 & 58 of the revised edition of Watchmaking. I also found it interesting to see that Smith uses a pair of bronze tweezers, similar to the ones we mentioned here on the blog back in December.

If you don’t have time to take in the full set of 10 videos, here is a quick synopsis of some noteworthy highlights:

  1. Part 1 details Smith’s process for hardening and tempering. Having always stuck to using brass shavings and a controlled heating element for tempering, I was both surprised and impressed by the speed and simplicity of Smith’s method of tempering.
  2. The last few seconds of Part 3 demonstrate a simple way of preparing a polishing rod for coarse polishing.
  3. Part 5 outlines the process for fine polishing.
  4. At 2:21, in Part 6, Smith shares an excellent tip about having created a pre-emptive “pip” in the second hand, prior to hardening, to aid in the finishing process. (If you are interested at all in creating your own macro-videos, it’s neat to note the GorillaPod in the background of Part 6, as well)
  5. The technique of rubbing the hands on a heated brass block where they haven’t yet achieved the level of bluing desired, as detailed in Part 7, is a valuable tip.
  6. Part 9 demonstrates a method of achieving a black polish on steel using nickel.
  7. In Part 10, it is interesting to note that Smith uses a dial ring in lieu of dial feet to hold the dial in place. The footage towards the end of this video clip offers a good close-up of this.

Part 1 – Hardening & Tempering the Hands

Part 2 & 3 – Cleaning Up the Edges with Diamond Files

Part 4 – Rough Polish with 30µ Paper

Part 5 – Polishing with 20µ Paper and diamond paste

Part 6 – Cleaning, Polishing, & Bevelling the Bosses

Part 7 – Bevelling the Second Hand Boss & Bluing the Hands

Part 8 – Bluing the Hands

Part 9 – Polishing the Top of the Bosses

Part 10 – Installing the Hands

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