5/14/2015: Update, The Benson (bottom of this post) is now working. Amongst many aspects of life that occasionally please me (I am something of a curmudgeon), are mechanical timepieces. I don’t have the money to collect top quality pieces however, really good mechanical clocks and watches are available at reasonable prices. Here is what I have amassed over the years: First, my parent’s long case clock (not a grandfather clock), that I bought in Guildford, England for my parents Ruby Anniversary with contributions from my two sisters, in 1987. My parents have now passed and the clock found it’s way to North Carolina. It has been overhauled once following being sadly knocked over by my father in his last year. (I have it screwed to the wall.) It hurts to reflect on my father falling, grabbing for something to save himself and taking the clock down with him, it is also life….. I can’t say enough for my parents, truly great people. I think that they both knew that I feel that way. It has a 66 BPM weight driven movement with Westminster, Whittington and St. Michaels chimes. I keep it on silent for the chimes are LOUD!
A wall clock that I bought new in Cary NC around 1993. It has worked without attention continuously so the quality of the modern movement (German) must be decent. It has a 80 BPM spring driven movement and the Westminster chimes are not too intrusive.
Here is a pre-WW2 Kienzle 160 BPM Westminster chime movement, given to me by a good friend in Durham NC. The clock had been dropped and the case smashed. My father made this oak bracket for it back around 1994 during a visit to me in NC. I have had it repaired, it turned out that the mainspring arbor was cracked. Since then it has run well with pleasant chimes. It lives on top of a Tek 191 constant amplitude signal generator on the top shelf of my lab bench.
I have long been attracted to carriage clocks and here is a nice Turner & Blight (British) brass one with bevelled glass that I bought on Ebay for $100. It has a 300 BPM balance wheel movement having 11 jewels. It is in perfect condition. I did have to strip it and lubricate the mainspring. Since then, it has kept very good time, certainly better than 1 minute per quarter, rather good I think. Although the balance wheel does have balance screws (presumably not just cosmetic given the accuracy), I doubt that it would keep time so accurately when subjected to the jolts of a carriage!
Several years ago, I bought this beautiful blue faced Franchi Menotti watch for $200 on Ebay. I don’t know the history of it other than it was cosmetically perfect complete with a virgin Franchi Menotti band. However, it didn’t run for long as one of the legers dropped off the face. I had that repaired and then later, the winding stem came out! It is so pretty that I broke down and had it repaired. I was told that it is quite old and needed amongst other things, a new mainspring. This still surprises me because the case and strap were perfect, completely free from signs of wear. It does have a ETA (Swiss manufacturers association) type 2824-2 25 jewel 480 BPM automatic movement. The 2824-2 has been extremely well copied by the Chinese and so that may be the origin of this one, however, if what I was told regarding its age is true, it will be a genuine ETA movement. Who knows? Other than what the repairer told me, I can find no information on it at all. It has cost me $400 for repairs, putting the actual cost in the same range as the Tissot:
The Tissot Le Locle, also has a ETA 2824-2 movement. In contrast with the Franchi Menotti, it is somewhat chunky and together with its black face is more handsome than elegant. I keep them on a winder and in that state, they are accurate to better than 5 seconds a day. When worn, the timekeeping does change but not a lot. They both have display backs: the Tissot also has some rather fine engraved decoration on the back.
Here is my paternal grandfather’s pocket watch. In America, this is considered a “ladies” watch due to its small size, my grandfather was no lady however! It has an English gold engine turned case that has had the movement replaced with a gorgeous15 jewel 300 BPM piece by Waltham that according to a site on Waltham watches, would have been made in 1908. The evidence for replacement of the movement is that it does not fit the case perfectly. (I imagine that if I could read the hallmarks on the case, they would indicate date the case to be well before 1908.) It does run however there is a story behind that. Around 1970, it stopped and the local jeweler (R. J. Hibberd, Ltd of Aldershot) claimed that the main staff was broken and that it was “not worth repairing”. Thinking about that, it seems unlikely, I cannot imagine an event that would break the main staff and not also the balance staff. I recently asked a repairer about it and it turned out to simply need cleaning! It now runs, Hmmm. The Waltham movement is top quality and has removable jewel settings.
The classic engine turning is very worn.
Next is my mother’s Vertex Revue, bought at the aforesaid Hibberds and given by my father to my mother at Christmas of 1965. I remember that it cost £20, an online inflation calculator suggests that would be £375 today (2015) which sounds about right. The 330 BPM movement still runs.
I think my father may have purchased this one sometime in his retirement. It is both ornate and pretty, also the centre of the dial is lightly rose-hued (I was not able to capture this in the picture though it does show on my cell phone but not my Mac). It runs but is weak and badly off beat. The quality of the case is clearly superior to that of the movement, unlike my grandfather’s watch where the replacement by Waltham is a very fine American movement. I have dismantled it and on the back of the face it says James Ducomann, successeur de Fritz Voegeli, with the number 20. So, it is clearly of French origin, at least as a brand. It has a bar movement with cylinder escapement, and the following note comes straight from Wikipedia: “The horizontal or cylinder escapement, invented by Thomas Tompion in 1695 and perfected by George Graham in 1726, was one of the escapements which replaced the verge escapement in pocketwatches after 1700. A major attraction was that it was much thinner than the verge, allowing watches to be made fashionably slim. Clockmakers found it suffered from excessive wear, so it was not much used during the 18th century, except in a few high-end watches with the cylinders made from ruby. The French solved this problem by making the cylinder and escape wheel of hardened steel, and the escapement was used in large numbers in inexpensive French and Swiss pocketwatches and small clocks from the mid-19th to the 20th century.” So we can see the French connection and as expected the movement is “inexpensive”. However, the case is superb, beautifully made from silver (not sure what carat grade yet) and I surmise that these watches were intended to be primarily decorative. The cylinder escapement is not popular with watch makers and technicians. We will see if I can get it in beat. Cleaning and lubricating it comes first. Fortunately, I have a partial movement that I can use as a source to replace some of the screws that are missing. It has 9 jewels, 2 each on the second and third wheels, 2 on the escapement wheel and 3 on the balance wheel (see repair notes below). The cylinder is hard metal, not jeweled as far as I can see, it is extremely hard to see! Something I noted as I dismantled it that I do not like is that the spring barrel is not supported on both sides, it has just one bearing leaving it cantilevered. Surprisingly, it does not seem to be sloppy however, this feature cannot make for even engagement of the barrel with the first wheel.
Well, I have cleaned and lubricated it. Then, came trying to “improve” the beat of the escapement. The balance wheel has quite a bit of end float, maybe 10mil (0.01″). On the face end of the pivot, there is an end jewel, that is probably intended to take end reaction due to the escapement wheel ramps. I noticed that it’s setting was not seating quite flat and removing it and investigating, noted some tiny burrs on the seating area. I took a sharp blade and carefully pared the burrs away and the setting is now in visibly more intimate contact with the seating area. The next thing was that I noticed that the two outer turns of the hairspring were coming into contact as the balance swung. Much extremely fiddly work with bright lights, a loupe and a needle and amazingly, I actually managed to prevent the turns from touching rather than ending up with a mangled hairspring. The balance amplitude is now greater than 180° when nearly run down which is a big improvement. Now, it runs about a minute fast face up, and a minute slow face down and pretty much on beat (300 BPM) when held vertical. This is a huge improvement and though the timekeeping is poor by our modern standards, for what is after all a vintage dress watch, is quite good. I am happy with the results of my amateur fiddling!
Finally here is a Benson railway watch in sad condition. My father had a pristine example of this watch when I was a kid, I think it was stolen. (From him that is!) The dial is chipped and the balance staff is broken. It has a Swiss 15 jewel movement which is very likely original. J. W. Benson once was a fine London manufacturer however in WW1, the company was badly bombed and thereafter became a retailer of Swiss watches and also those of the English maker, S. Smith & Sons.
I purchased a replacement working movement from Ebay. Unfortunately, though it is of the same type it must have been from a different model and has arabic numerals (with black hands, one of which was missing). Still, it is nice to take two partial old watches and create one working time piece, otherwise in the natural course of things, at least part of the resulting watch would continue to be junk. Initially I intended to take the working balance and install it into the original movement. This plan was scuppered when I realised that one of the pallet jewels was chipped, this most likely occurred when the balance staff was broken, there is a small but deep dent near the rim of the outer back that had printed through onto the inner back also. It must have been dropped quite hard. Here it is, cleaned up and working with the original gold hands, very classy.
I lubricated the movement using a synthetic watch oil, hopefully it won’t harden with time. I then timed the 300 BPM movement and it indicates about 30sec slow per day, both when vertical and horizontal, suggesting that the escapement is in good order. (I use a free Android App for timing called “Clock Tuner”.) A view showing the hallmarks inside the outer back. This watch has two hinged backs in the manner of a key wound watch. The inside back is also halImarked, it is quite a bit of extra silver. I can’t imagine why they kept the second cover for this keyless type. However, all other examples that I have seen have two hinged backs.