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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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  1. Brandon
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Love the dial ring…why do more manufacturers not use these? I’m thinking the dial and plate must have to match precisely to make it work, which, obviously, wouldn’t make sense in mass production.

  2. Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Hi Brandon,

    The dial ring sure is elegantly simple. With respect to mass production, Rolex employs a dial ring, designed a bit differently, for their 2135 & 2235 calibres.

  3. Tony
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Anybody know where the flat eyeglass he was using in the first video came from? Want.

    Eyeglass options for spectacle wearers are very limited.

  4. Posted April 19, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tony,

    While I can’t say where the exact eyeglass loupe that Roger Smith is using came from, most watch supply houses do carry similar models. Amazon even carries them, in both single (3x) and dual-magnification (5x/10x).

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Smith actually made his, as well designed loupes for eyeglasses are actually something that George Daniels elaborates on quite a bit in Watchmaking, and Daniels did ultimately end up making his own eyeglass loupes to meet the criteria he sets forth in the book.

  5. Posted April 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    On June 21, 2011 “Watchmaking” will be re-released for $68.00 (Hardcover!), just do a search for it on Amazon. Hopefully people can wait a bit 😉 Great blog btw.

  6. Posted April 29, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jay. Hopefully Amazon has it right this time around. That date has been pushed back multiple times in the past two years. We first announced a November re-release here on the blog back in September 2009, but it has yet to come to fruition.

  7. John Shillingford
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a wonderfully clear explanation. I do not think I will ever achieve this level of excellence. I am into minor refurbishment of old pocket watches in my collection, and would really love to see a similar level of detail in case hinge repair does any one know of a video to watch ?

  8. Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    @John: Martin Matthews details how to make a case hinge, for a pair case, in the DVD Four Generations of Watchcase Making.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] life yet another gem of experience from Daniels’ masterwork Watchmaking. You may recall the series of 10 short, tutorial videos from Smith that we featured previously here on Tick Talk, which detailed the careful work involved […]

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