An evolution in the hobby: Attending a basic watch training class

To many serious WIS, it is a natural evolution to migrate from collecting watches based on their looks, history and marketing efforts, to understanding how a watch works and hence appreciate a well constructed and put together movement. To me, this is the equivalent of brushing past all the “Smoke and Mirrors” that are so prevalent in any luxury industry, especially that of luxury watches.

Luxury Watches (all copyright belongs to the photo's owner)

Luxury Watches (all copyright belongs to the photo’s owner)

This is also the stage where I find myself in my hobby as well. I have stopped buying and flipping watches, to purchasing only watches with well regarded movements  without too much focus on its popularity. Rather I started reading up on what makes a watch movement (rather than how a watch looks, or how its a re-re-reissue of a watch that made in the 1700s and used by some obscure army in some long forgotten war) GREAT via forums and books, and my appreciation of fine mechanical work elevated to new highs.

To me basically, a watch movement that is well constructed WILL tell time reliably and faithfully, regardless of whether it had proved its mettle in the battleground, went 12,000 km under the sea, or was the first wristwatch worn into space.

Hence, I was lucky enough to find a watch training class that was launched recently in Singapore for watch enthusiasts like myself. It is a 4 hour class with hands on disassembling, lubing, and reassembling of a NOS Seagull ST-5 watch from the 1970s.

NOTE: This is NOT a sponsored post and I paid for this course out of my own pocket.

Course Materials 

Course objectives (L), Timing sheet (R)

Course objectives (L), Timing sheet (R)

The class materials were ample. We had a timing sheet to record the amplitude, beat error, timing of the watch before and after the training. Of course, the watch should perform better after the lube and reassembly, assuming we had done our steps correctly. It is harder than it sounds. Trust me.

We also had a fairly thick stack of reading materials and it covers a list of basic tools, comprehensive steps to dissemble and then reassemble the watch, blow up watch diagrams of popular watch movements, etc. All in, it has everything that a beginner would need to know to start taking apart, cleaning, lubing, and reassembling a watch.

Regulating, adjusting, polishing, correcting hairspring, etc is not covered here, but will be covered in the next higher level should you wish to continue.

Course objectives (L), Parts illustration (R)

Course objectives (L), Parts illustration (R)

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Clean work desk before the chaos starts!

Basic timegrapher, the starting point of every watch overhaul/servicing

Basic timegrapher, the starting point of every watch overhaul/servicing

This machine here should form a corner stone of any serious watch collector’s setup, especially if he is into second hand/vintage watches. This tells you at a glance if the watch is running well or if a service is urgently needed.

Recommended text with plenty of illustrations!

Recommended text with plenty of illustrations!

This was a recommended textbook used by the trainer, Vincent. It can still be purchased online or in bookstores if you try hard enough.

Today's victim of the watch training class. NOS 1970s Seagull ST-5

Today’s victim of the watch training class. NOS 1970s Seagull ST-5

This black dial beauty is going to be the poor victim for this class. Let’s see how she looks like after the operation.

Desk with a good lamp is critical. Our trainer (Vincent) explaining in the background to his clueless students.

Desk with a good lamp is critical. Our trainer (Vincent) explaining in the background to his clueless students.

Timing the training watch

As I mentioned earlier, we had to time our watches first before starting anything. The results will then be compared to the results taken after the cleaning and lubing process is over. It “should” show a marked improvement assuming the watch survives.

My watch results:

Dial up: 222 degrees, 2.2ms, -50sec/day

Dial down: 204 degrees, 0.6ms, -33sec/day

Dial down: 162 degrees, 0.3ms, -60sec/day

Initial timing (Dial up)

Initial timing (Dial up)

Initial timing (Dial down)

Initial timing (Dial down)

Initial timing (Crown down)

Initial timing (Crown down)

Preparing the tools

All the tools are now ready for the training to start!

All the tools are now ready for the training to start!

From top left to top right:

Screw drivers 9 pieces set, Movement holder pad 5 sizes, tobacco paper, watch head, hands remover, hands setting tool, 5X loupe (Bergeon 2611) with wire, cleaning cloth

From bottom left to bottom right:

Ventus Tweezers ST10/13, Moebius Oil #8000, oil cup 3 in 1, oiler 0.7mm RED, oiler 0.2mm BLACK blower, small red containers for balance assembly and escapement, pink container for dial, Bergeon 6033 Rodico, peg wood, mainspring release tool, parts container

Demagnetising

Demagnetising the watch

Demagnetising the watch. For the curious readers, the watch on the wrist is a Chopard L.U.C. Mark III Classic.

It is good practice to demagnetise the training watch and all your essential tools first before starting work. This is to avoid magnetising any parts with the tools subsequently.

Demagnetising the tools

Demagnetising the tools

How does it work? We place the item to be demagnetise near to the blue box and press the button. Then while keeping the button depressed, we move the item away from the blue box.

The show begins – Opening the caseback

From here on, I will let the caption in the photos do the explaining.

Please note that I will be skipping some steps nearer the end of the disassembly and these series of photos should not be taken as a step-by-step guide to disassembling the movement. Also, I have made efforts to ensure that all the parts are named correctly but be tolerant of any mistakes considering that it’s my first time stripping a watch!

Preparing to remove the caseback

Preparing to remove the caseback

We used a proper clamp to hold the watch case in place. What was interesting was that Vincent used a thin blue rubber sheet to increase the grip. It worked like a charm and I learnt a new trick today.

First look at the virgin movement

First look at the virgin movement

This is the famous Seagull stripes and apparently from Wiki, no two watches have the exact same stripes because they are finished by hand.

Releasing the power in the mainspring before starting any disassembly

Releasing the power in the mainspring before starting any disassembly

Before attempting to remove any parts, we need to release the power in the mainspring. Here Vincent is showing us how it is done.

Dial shim in place for hands removal to prevent scratches to the dial

Dial shims in place for hands removal to prevent scratches to the dial

Hands are out!

Hands are out! They are so tiny, I fear that I will accidentally bend or even break them.

When handling the hands, my appreciation of well finished hands (i.e. those found in Grand Seiko) grew in bounds. It is so easy to scratch them while installing or removing the hands! Also given that they are so tiny and light, proper finishing of hands has to be a real art.

Preparing to remove the dial face by releasing the screws located in the recess

Preparing to remove the dial face by releasing the screws located in the recess

Dial's off

Dial’s off

I suspect that the yellowish spots here were the remnants of glue previously used to hold the dial in place. It certainly do not look nor feel like rust.

Dial washer

Dial washer

Dial washer and hour wheel

Dial washer and hour wheel

Balance wheel with cock and screw

Balance wheel with cock and screw

Pallet bridge, screw and fork

Pallet bridge, screw and fork

Ratchet wheel and screw

Ratchet wheel and screw

Lunch break!

Lunch break!

It is always a good practice to keep all the parts in a covered container when taking a break.

Crown wheel, wheel ring and screws

Crown wheel, wheel ring and screws

Barrel bridge and screws

Barrel bridge and screws

Train bridge and 3 screws

Train bridge and 3 screws

View of the movement with the train bridge removed and the wheels visible

View of the movement with the train bridge removed and the wheels visible

Mainspring barrel, center wheel, second wheel, third wheel and escape wheel

Mainspring barrel, center wheel with pinion, center wheel (drilled), second wheel, third wheel and escape wheel

Center bridge and screw

Center bridge and screw

On left: Clutch level spring and clutch lever

On the left: Clutch level spring and clutch lever

Cap jewels and jewels

Cap jewels and jewels. I broke my shock absorber removing these little bastards. The rubber mat is in the background to provide perspective on how small these are.

Naked dial side main plate

Naked dial side main plate

Naked movement side main plate

Naked movement side main plate

Our training class stopped here because we ran out of time, but Vincent graciously offered us a make up class to complete the assembly of the watch. Frankly, I was glad we took a break here for the day as it took a tremendous amount of concentration and patience for me to reach this point!

Conclusion

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Taking into account that we are the very first class that Vincent took and there was some logistical hiccups, the following are my thoughts on the watch training class.

The Good

I really like his training because he is very detailed and meticulous. Vincent will also tell us of certain tricks he has learnt along the way and all the mistakes he once made so that we can avoid making them ourselves.

All tools are provided, even some custom ones he made himself.

Vincent purposely kept the class only to 4 each time in order to be able to devote enough time and attention to each of us, keeping in mind that we are at differing levels of ability.

Class materials are provided, including some watch making videos which he will send to us via email, or copy into our USB drives during the class.

Areas of improvement

As mentioned earlier, Vincent expects you to come to class with an idea of how a watch work and how all the parts fit together. You do not need to know this to be able to disassemble a watch, however I believe it will be a great help to start with the theory before the hands-on section of the class.

Being the first class, Vincent probably underestimated the time we required for the class. However he is well aware of this, and has taken steps to source for a new training location and plans to extend the duration of the class.

In addition, Vincent already informed us, the pioneer class, of a free makeup class for us to assemble the watch and formally complete the Level 1 watch training class. I will be writing about my experience after the class, with pictures, in order to share the complete experience. I have also signed up for the Level 2 watch training class and will also share my experience then.

For the WISes in Singapore who are interested in attending this class, you can visit here for more details! Enjoy the learning process!

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