A Day in Watch School

(ok, most of a quarter really)
click the small pictures to get a better look, sorry for the crazy lighting, the flourescent lights are a real joy

by ei8htohms
© 11-29-2001

Watchmaking school has been a goal of mine for about three and a half years. Ever since reading an article about Abraham Louis Breguet in early 1998, I have studied on my own and then with the guidance of a kind and skilled watchmaker in San Francisco, but always knew that I wanted to go to school to get an in depth education in horology. I moved from San Francisco to Seattle this fall thinking that I had to establish residency before I could afford the 2 year program offered by North Seattle Community College. A few weeks into the semester I decided to stop by the school to introduce myself to the instructors and was quite surprised to hear that the in-state/out-of-state thing is irrelevant because of their officially unaccredited status (a status that has been on-again/off-again with the watchmaking program there for many years). Before I could get too deeply into my plans for revenge on the misinformed admissions office, the instructors offered that I could take the entrance exam and start late (it was already three weeks into the semester)! What wonderful news.

The first few quarters of the program are dedicated to manufacturing. Through a series of practical projects the students are acquainted with jewellers’ saws, hand files, the watchmakers lathe, the drill press, heat treatment of steel and a variety of finishing processes (no Geneva stripes yet). Most importantly, we are gradually introduced to the extreme precision that is required for making small parts by hand. Beginning with tolerances of around 0.2 millimeters, we have gradually worked down to tolerances exceeding 0.05 millimeters and it ain’t over yet. We are also taught the importance of a fine finish on all components, sharp edges and accurate angles. The work is extremely demanding but extremely rewarding as well (to me at least). As my experience with horology thus far has been primarily with the repairing, servicing and adjusting of movements and studying the theoretical aspects of escapement design and timing, this portion of the course has been almost entirely new to me. And I love it. Making stuff is fun. Mostly what we do though is sharpen gravers.

Here are some of the projects we've made so far:
The first project (after a few technical drawings) was this wood filing block. It’s some kind of ridiculously hard wood that is clearly chosen to make working with steel later seem like a relief. Mine was a little rough but got a passing grade and I decided I would settle for that until I was at least caught up with the rest of the class.

The next project was this pair of angle rulers, one in brass and one in steel. The real challenge with the brass piece was the angles and edges within the cutout portion. getting a good sharp corner in such a situation is no easy trick. The challenge with the steel piece was hardening it without warping it and then cleaning it up and blueing it with some consistency of appearance and color. I spent a good half day experimenting with hardening temperatures (colors really), soaps to lessen scaling (an unattractive surface phenomenon that often plagues steel when it is hardened) and quenching techniques (oil, water, angle of insertion; all of these can have profound effects on whether or not the piece you just spent a few hours making will warp itself into uselessness in a millisecond) before I hardened this one. It still warped (but only a little).

The next project was this angle ruler, also in steel. By the time I made this one I was getting much more comfortable with the techiques involved and paid extra attention to the finishing of edges and keeping nice clean lines and sharp corners. I’ve used this little tool several times since when trying to make a 60 degree angle on a piece of work in the lathe. Using tools you’ve made by hand is great fun.

The next project actually looked like a tool I recognized (and use frequently): a balance tack. This tool looks like a large brass tack that sticks up in the air from a stable base. It is used when adjusting a collet, removing screws from a balance or turning meantime screws. The balance is lifted out of the movement by its bridge and the bridge is slid onto the balance tack through the screw hole. In this way the balance dangles down and can be manipulated without removing it from the the bridge entirely. This was also the first piece that we were allowed some creative license. Although the conical section of the tack, the base and the overall height were fixed, there is a section of about 17.5 millimeters

of the shaft to do with as we would. My design suffered from being pieced together in different stages (indecision can be a killer) and resulted in a very tricky (nigh on impossible) execution. After five tries at a shaft (to fit a "perfect base"), I finally realized the errors of my design and made a new base and a shaft to fit it. The square shoulders of the shaft mushroomed slightly when I rivetted it but the teacher apparently empathized with the difficulty of the design and gave me a great grade anyway.

The next project proved even more daunting. While the shaft of the balance tack was turned on the lathe, the center punch was the first piece of steel to be turned on the lathe and presented some interesting challenges. Once again our creative license got the best of me and it took me roughly five tries. The hexagonal portion in the middle was a little tricky but I almost ruined it trying to get a very nice finish on it. In the process of attempting to black polish the shaft and the grooves surrounding the hexagonal portion I rounded the shoulders a little and barely passed (I think she was grading pretty leniently on this one).

The next project was a real challenge. We had to make five steel carriers for supporting work to be turned in a Jacot Tool or Pivot Polishing Tool (don’t worry, we didn’t understand what they were for when we made them either). They look like little fish with three holes in them and a slot cut from the tail through the center of all three holes. The are 6 millimeters wide and 12 millimeters long and each have different sized holes (for holding different sized work pieces). The distance between the holes is crucial and drilling them accurately is a real trick. Although I didn’t fair too well in that category (I didn’t take enough time plotting them out before punching and drilling), I came up with a novel way of getting the outlines all quite identical. After watching the other students struggle with these for days on end (I think a week on average), I figured that I could superglue all five pieces on top of each other with rods through the holes to align them properly. In that way I could file the outer shape of all of them simultaneously (from only a rough-cut pattern) and save loads of time. It worked well in that regard and the whole project took me only two days (and I even passed!).

Having now caught up with the class for the most part, I got to join them in making screws. One in brass, then a smaller one in steel (not shown, still being graded), then a still smaller one in steel with a bevelled head (also not shown, like a wood screw sorta). The primary challenge of these pieces was the small size which dictated tighter tolerances. I went the extra mile on screw number two and anglaged the head and slot, we’ll see how I get graded on it though (gulp). Screw number three was a real trick because the bevelled head had to be cut after the screw was hardened and tempered. It was only in this way that the threads could be held in the lathe without flattening them. Cutting threads is not terribly tricky as long as you go slow and make sure the piece and die are properly aligned throughout the process. It’s very invigorating to put threads on something as the possibilities of things that can be manufactured multiply endlessly.

The next project assigned was a barrel closing tool in plastic. I haven’t taken a crack at this one yet because it must be manufactured on a slightly larger Levin lathe of which we only have one and so we have to take turns. Instead I skipped ahead to these brass carriers. They involve a little donut of brass with a matching screw to go in the side. We had to make three of them in different thicknesses and the holes will later be broached out to different sizes for different working sizes. Although this is only a pass/fail project (Does it work? Good. Check.) I took great pride in bevelling the donuts and the heads of the screws and putting three round grooves in each screw to make grasping adn turning them a little easier. (Do they work? Good. Check. Oh look, little grooves. Next.)

We are now working on filing squares. We have been assigned five different sized shafts to cut on the lathe and then must file the shafts into squares. This is tricky on the lathe with a file roller (how I did the square shaft on the balance tack and the hexagonal portion of the center punch) but infuriatingly difficult with just a pinvise and a file. After cutting the five sizes in the lathe and ruining all but one of them, I’m far from done with this little project. I think I need to sharpen my gravers.

A Day in Watch School
Second Quarter Blues
(click the small pictures to get a better look) by ei8htohms
© 3-25-2002

Initially, the subtitle for this article was to be "The Doldrums". Before we get to that part though, let’s see how the rest of the first quarter went (if you didn’t read the first quarter article yet, you can do that here). We’ll get to those little blue fish ina moment, but this is what that plastic barrel closer that we made looks like. This tool is used to, you guessed it, close a barrel. By placing the mainspring barrel on the flat base, aligning the barrel arbor with the hole in it and the curved top, you can squeeze the two together and seat the barrel cover properly without deforming it. It is really a handy tool and we even made an alternate, concave base for it to act as a barrel endshake adjuster (when you need to stretch out the height of the barrel a little. Somehow I misunderstood the instuctions on this piece though. I was under the impression that this piece was not to be graded but was merely to be checked off as functional (a few of the assignments were handled that way). Luckily I made it to roughly the specs in the blueprints because it was in fact graded. Much to my surprise, mine even

passed. When we left last quarter, I was working on filing squares. This was an excruciating process. It’s hard to properly describe the difficulty involved in filing four perfectly perpendicular sides out of a cylinder, and when the actual junction between the squared portion and the rest of the cylinder has to be taken into account, it becomes a little maddening. I’m not sure if it was more frustrating that the pieces we were working on so dilligently were merely practice pieces or that the standards by which they were judged seemed to have increased many fold, but it had a decidedly depressing effect on the class to have piece after piece rejected as "not good enough" (this was one of those ungraded projects). I probably made fifteen or so of these pieces in an atempt to get five that passed muster. Sadly I did not photograph any of the vile critters. In hindsight, those practice squares were a blessing. The next project was winding stems and the pressure and tedium began to set in in earnest. A winding stem seems like a fairly basic piece in a watch and certainly is one of the larger pieces. Most of the basic shape can be turned on a lathe but it must also be threaded, hardened, blued and a portion of it filed square. After navigating the challenges of cutting the several shoulders and different cylinder sizes (mostly to within 3 hundredths of a millimeter), cutting the slot (a significant challenge in itself), cutting the screw threads on the opposite end, hardening it (with the risk of warping and ruining it) and blueing it, it is easy to ruin it in a matter of minutes trying to put a square on it with a file. If you don’t ruin it there, trying to finish and polish the surfaces without rounding the corners, reducing them to smaller than the tolerances allow or just breaking it in the process is something of a miracle. Ruining it at any of these later stages means throwing away many hours of hard work and was cause for many outbursts of cursing, laughter or general throwing-up-of-hands along the way. Each of us was encouraged to find our own methods and perfect them along the way. We each developed our own style of holding the graver, whether we started cutting with carbide and switched to high-speed steel or vice versa, which order we cut the different shoulders and slot, whether or not we used a steel tube to protect the piece during hardening, whether or not we filed the square before hardening and tempering or after, what method we used for filing the square and what methods of finishing the surfaces were employed and when (before or after hardening and tempering). We were each assigned one stem project at a time as we completed the last in preparation for our first intermediate exam. This first exam required us to manufacture a stem from scratch in 8 hours and mail the resulting stem off to Switzerland to be graded. As our first attempts at making stems sometimes took days, getting the process perfected for such a time constraint was quite a challenge. The speediest student in the class completed and turned in 8 or 9 stems before we started on the several practice tests while the slowest students probably only completed three. I was somewhere in the middle although it took me not less than 35 attempts at the notorious stem #2 (a devilish stem with some awkward bevels and excruciating tolerances that happens to be the actual stem from the ETA/Unitas 6497 movement) before I had one I was comfortable turning in. Including the 3 or 4 practice tests, I made at least 50 stem attempts, probably completing 10 or 12 to some degree of

satisfaction. Hence the Doldrums. This was truly an experience of discipline creating skills. The tedious repitition of making the same stem over and over until you finally got somewhere near perfection, although incredibly frustrating, developed our skills by visible degrees over the course of a few weeks even. It was this kind of gruelling discipline that I came to watchmaking school for, I just didn’t know it. I am now a firm believer in building skills through intense repetition and I think the quality of the stems we created demonstrates this amply. It is not without great embarrassment that I share with you a picture of the first stem I ever made. This one was made entirely by hand (without even a lathe) a few years ago. It was assigned to me by the watchmaker I studied with in San Francisco just to give me a feel for using a file to make round and square shapes. These next couple are some of the stems I turned in along the way. They got passing grades although they each have areas in which they are lacking. It’s not easy to capture the flaws in pictures but I can think you can at least see the different levels of "finish" achieved.

When the actual test finally arrived, we were each of us stem-making machines, capable of cranking out at least one, possibly two or three stems in an 8 hour period. Even the need to start over from scratch once or twice could not keep us from completing one in the time allotted. I felt quite good about the test and honestly felt that I turned in the best stem I had made up to that point. In the initial grading (by our instructor, they will get final grades from Switzerland) we all passed and I was delighted to find that my stem scored the highest in the class (a 5.89 out of 6.0). If only I can come close to that on our future tests. Here are some pictures of the test stem that I turned in.

After our big stem test was over we got to jump right into some unfamiliar territory. Our next big test will be on pivot gauges and at least initially, we’ll be making these on the turns. First, a couple of definitions. A pivot gauge is basically a handle with a pivot on it of a very specific size (within 5 thousandths of a millimeter). Using a set of these gauges, checking them one at at time in a jewel or bushing, one can determine the size of the pivot best suited to that hole. A turns is the predecessor to the powered lathe. It is a device whereby a workpiece can be made to rotate between fixed centers so that the trueness of the cutting is solely dependent on the trueness of the piece in question. It is usually powered by a bow or a hand-crank (we are lucky enough to have cranks for ours) and cuts very slowly and precisely although it is a bit frustrating to use only one hand to do the cutting.

While turns are not often used by watchmakers these days, they are generally considered to be the most precise method of turning between centers and some people still prefer them for very fine work. Our instructor will not require us to take our pivot test on the turns (instead of the lathe) but she does want us to familiarize ourselves with it so we can make an educated decision about which method we prefer. In order to rotate the cylindrical blanks that we put in the turns, we use the brass carriers that we made last quarter or sometimes the little fish. A little pin sticks out of the front of the pulley on the turns and propels the workpiece as the crank is revolved. I’ll say again that it is very invigorating to use tools that we made ourselves.

The difficulty in making a pivot gauge is that it must be cut out of blued steel. Blued steel is obviously much harder to cut and has the tendency to burnish as you cut it, forming a hard glossy skin that must be cut away to continue removing material. Often cutting through the skin removes a significant amount of material and can be very frustrating if you are within a couple hundredths of a millimeter of the desired size. Another difficulty in making these pivot gauges is that we are not allowed to finish the surfaces of the handle or cone at all (no graining, polishing or other treatment after cutting it with the graver). The graders want to see how clean a surface we can get with just the graver. In addition they want the band between the handle and cone to be left perfectly blue. No scratches, marks or blemishes of any kind. The real trick though, and the reason we are doing this project in the first place, is that the pivot of a pivot gauge is identical to a pivot found in a watch movement. We have to make some straight pivots (as usually found in the power train) and some conical pivots (as found on balance staffs) and learn how to shape and burnish the pivots to a mirror finish in the process. I’ve only completed a couple of pivot gauges so far and they’re pretty sorry I have to say (you’ll notice I don’t have any pictures of them). Burnishing the pivots with a standard jacot tool and straight burnisher is quite challenging for me still. A jacot tool is similar to the turns in that it is a hand powered lathe that rotates a piece between fixed centers. The pivot is supported in a notch of an appropriate size while the burnisher is worked across the surface of the pivot to smooth it out and eventually bring it to a hard, mirror polish. The piece is rotated by means of a bow and the process of working the bow and the burnisher in opposite directions is a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head.

Once we gain a familiarity with the jacot tool, we will be allowed to use it in conjuction with this pivot polishing tool. This tool rotates the pulley and workpiece by means of a hand crank while simultaneously rotating a carbide burnishing wheel against the pivot. It takes a few moments to properly set up this tool to burnish the pivot without the risk of

ruining the jacot tool but then the burnishing proceeds very quickly and easily and the quality of the finished surface is immaculate. One of my classmates has already ordered one of these tools for himself and I very much want one as well. After the pivot is burnished to the appropriate size and finish, the end of the pivot is rounded and any burrs created during the process must be removed. Removing burrs can be a maddening process if the pivot has been reduced significantly by burnishing. The more the pivot is reduced, the more material is pushed towards the end of the pivot and the harder it is to remove. It sometimes takes many times back and forth between smoothing the end and burnishing the pivot with progressively lighter strokes of shorter duration before the burr is removed completely. It helps that we have a 50x microscope to inspect our work with. Hmm, actually maybe that makes it harder. It’s tough to say.

A Day in Watch School
Third Quarter and We Get Some Watches
(click the small pictures to get a better look) by ei8htohms
© 7-20-2002

Before we get to the watches though, we have a lot of pivot gauges to make. By the end of the 2nd quarter, I had only completed a couple of straight pivots and they were not very pretty. It took me probably 20 or so attempts before I had 10 I was happy with and it was about that time we took the second intermediate exam. We had 8 hours to cut the handle, shaft and pivot of a straight pivot gauge and then shape and burnish the pivot to perfection. At first, it seemed like an incredible challenge but, by the time we actually got to the test, I think most of us probably could’ve completed two or three in that time. I focused an inordinate amount of time and attention on getting a near perfect cut finish on the handle and shaft of the gauge. As we were not allowed to finish those surfaces (the graders wanted to see our cutting skills), getting a consistent surface was a challenge. While a consistent finish with some machining lines would have been acceptable, I spent many hours experimenting

with different cutting and sharpening techniques in an attempt to attain a perfect mirror finish with just a graver. Eventually I found that using a carbide graver that had been finished on a glass lap with diamond paste I could get some pretty good results. I picked up a few cutting tricks from some of my classmates along the way and ultimately just spent a lot of time on the final hundredth of a millimeter of the cut surface getting a glossy finish (the pivot gauges shown are not the best examples). This frankly was not an ideal use of my time as my cutting technique surpassed my pivot polishing technique which was of course the real point of the exam. Obsession is a dangerous thing. After we were through with the exam, we moved on to conical pivots. In watches, conical pivots are used on balance staffs and other small pivots that ride on cap jewels. The conical shape helps to give them a little more strength but that didn’t keep us from breaking many of them in the process. The trick is to put just enough pressure on the workpiece while turning it in the jacot tool to burnish the entire straight and conical portion of the pivot without breaking it (click here for a little movie of Viet burnishing a pivot on the jacot tool). When the pivot you’re trying to burnish is under 0.08 mm in diameter, it gets to be quite a challenge. I took a page out of George Daniels’ "Watchmaking" and made a safety guard to assist me in this endeavor. A safety guard is a steel finger that limits the lateral motion of the burnisher. By properly positioning the safety guard, you can keep from putting too much pressure on the shaft of the pivot while allowing just enough to burnish the curved portion. The time invested in manufacturing this little tool was well worth it. While one of my classmates broke easily a dozen pivots before getting one burnished properly, with the safety guard in place I only broke two or three total. By the time we were done making pivot guages, I had a handy little assortment of all sizes between 5 and 24 hundredths of a millimeter. These little guys will come in handy when trying to select jewels or determine pivot sizes in the future.

The next step was to start cutting balance staffs. To make a functional balance staff we had to put together all the cutting and burnishing skills that we had gained up to that point and achieve an even greater level of accuracy. As the overall length of the balance staff is possibly the most critical measurement, to cut two or three steps and shoulders on each side of the staff accurately enough to allow the finished product to meet tolerances of a few hundredths of a millimeter requires considerable skill. In order to ensure that both sides of the balance staff are perfectly concentric, the entire staff is typically cut without removing the piece from the lathe. Because of imperfections in the collets and other variables, a slight error could result from removing it from the collet halfway through and reversing it to cut the other side. I found the challenge of cutting the second pivot without breaking the workpiece off quite invigorating and made a double-decker version for fun (of course neither of

the staffs were accurate enough to use anyway). After balance staffs (and about 8 months of other manufacturing projects), we were given something completely foreign to us. As it was explained to me, it is called a "watch movement". Apparently, this one was code-named ETA/Unitas 6497. We spent some time taking it apart and putting it back together to familiarize ourselves with the parts in a basic handwind movement. Then, before getting too used to this fiddling with watch parts business, we proceeded to fabricate a clutch lever for it. It seemed like the clutch lever it already had was perfectly functional, but I lack the years of experience our instructor has.

This was a very entertaining project and, of course, quite challenging. Making watch parts is fun. Our instructor, Elaine, was kind enough to provide us with some paper patterns (just to save us the agony of scanning and/or photocopying the clutch lever ourselves) and we then had to cut one out of steel, file it to shape, harden it, temper it to blue and then finish it. Elaine mentioned to me that straight graining and beveling it would not be appropriate, as it would not match the other keyless levers in the watch. Just for her, I turned it in entirely polished. Then, after she graded it, I straight grained the top and beveled the non functional edges. It was only a marginal success on all counts. The portion of the lever that engages the clutch was not quite wide enough and so left a little slop in the handsetting position and the beveling was not as consistent, pronounced or highly polished as I would’ve liked. It was a learning experience to be sure. Next, we were given another one of these "watch movements". This one’s code name was ETA 2892. We spent some more time taking it apart and putting it back together. After we had reached the point where we could put all the parts into a big pile and successfully put it back together we had gained enough familiarity with the mechanisms to better understand the many checks, adjustments and repairs that we would soon encounter; not before some more manufacturing though. For the next project, we were given a choice. In order to gain some experience with jewelling and bushing, we could either make a jewel plate with four different sized jewels/bushings in a straight line at very specific distances from each other or we could make a little wheel sandwich. The wheel sandwich was two plates with two wheels between them, fixed in jewels and bushings at the appropriate distances to allow the wheels to interact in a power-train-esque manner. The wheel sandwich sounded a little more like a watch to me so the decision was easy. My classmates Viet and Rebecca also chose the sandwich and Steve (our classmate who is so far ahead he is performing complex repairs on complicated antiquarian pieces) had made the sandwich so long ago he could hardly remember having done it.

Viet and I encouraged each other dysfunctionally to come up with bridge designs that were fabulously complicated to manufacture and finish properly and we were sweating the final few hours of the week allotted for the project. After spending several days cutting, filing and polishing some complicated curves, all the real jewelling and bushing took place on the last day. We just plain ran out of time to add any anglage, so we’ll have to do that later. We were both more-or-less happy with our completed projects though and Viet’s dad (a watchmaker) was delighted when Viet gave him his figure-S shaped wheel sandwich for Father’s Day. At this point we were deluged with these "watch movements", receiving a kit of ten movements in varying sizes. These included a tiny, ladies’ Bulova 1020.30, some "standard grade" manual winds (standard grade is apparently the appropriate euphemism), a lovely little Longines movement, a few ETA autos, a Unitas 6497 and a Buren Cal. 03 (I think that one’s a bomb timer, large, no mainspring barrel (or even a place for one)). We took them apart and isolated the barrels from the rest of the parts and, after removing the mainsprings, surrendered the barrels and barrel arbors to Elaine who maliciously "adjusted" them. Maladjusted that is. She altered the sideshakes and endshakes and returned them all in non-functioning order. If there is a better way to learn how to check, diagnose, adjust and repair specific watch mechanisms, I don’t know what it is. We learned how to check the play of the barrel arbor laterally and vertically and how to adjust the barrel drum and cover until we had some lovely, free spinning (and true spinning) barrels once again. Using a staking set to close the holes when they were too loose and using smoothing broaches to open the holes when they were too tight, polishing the bearing surfaces with pegwood and polishing compound and truing the drums and covers until the barrel would spin smoothly and freely around its arbor was a laborious process of many frustrations and a very steep learning curve. The fact that these movements have sometimes been through many years of students made it all the more difficult as you occasionally had to face the fact that a given barrel drum or cover was simply un-serviceable.

Having many years worth of barrel checking and adjusting experience condensed into one week’s time was definitely an eye opening experience and made me look forward to the rest of the course all the more. The depth with which we examined the functioning of the basic power source of a mechanical watch was truly invigorating and I anticipate greatly focusing with such intensity on the many other mechanisms that make up a mechanical watch movement. Heck, I’m even kinda looking forward to the quartz business.

A Day in Watch School Part 4
The Changing of the Guard
by ei8htohms
© 11-10-2002

(some second year students fretting about the upcoming final exam) Summer quarter is in many ways a little more relaxed than the other three quarters of the year at North Seattle Community College. Less of the general student population is present (most of the programs only run three quarters a year) so the campus is sparsely populated and the quarter is not as long either. Coupled with that, you have the beautiful Seattle summer with long warm days full of sunshine and greenery. While this did make it harder to buckle down and focus on the tiny gears before us, the whole atmosphere was also a little more relaxed. In our class anyway. In the second year class the summer quarter was dominated by the slow building anxiety that culminated in their final examination that determined who would become a certified Watchmaker and who would have to brush up on their skills for another year and take the exam again. At the end of the third quarter, we were just finishing up the basic checks on the mainspring barrel. Using that as a starting point, we would work our way through the power train, keyless works and dial train of the watch, learning about all the different checks and adjustments that might be necessary to ensure proper functioning as well as learning proper lubrication techniques in preparation for our third intermediate exam during the last week of the summer quarter.

Before we jump into the wheel train though, we have to learn how to properly install and lubricate the mainspring. Removing a mainspring from the barrel is a risky procedure and one that will always result in at least a little distortion of the spring. Putting the mainspring back in is likewise risky but if performed properly can be done without distorting the mainspring. Unfortunately no one has yet invented a perfect mainspring winder so you often must overcome certain incompatibility issues when trying to use the various winders that are available. That’s half the fun.

You first select a winder drum that is slightly smaller than the barrel in which you intend to install the mainspring. Each winder drum has an arbor associated with it and if you’re lucky, the arbor that you need to use will even fit the eye of the mainspring you’re using. If not, you can sometimes select an arbor a size up or down and still make it work (sometimes) or else you can modify the eye of the mainspring to make it fit the arbor in question. Of course if the eye (the innermost coil) of the mainspring already fits the arbor of the barrel in the watch, you don’t much want to modify it to fit the darn winder but alas, it must be inserted mustn’t it? Hmm, a conundrum. Suffice it to say that the process of learning to properly install a mainspring is fraught with pitfalls, many of which can only be conquered with practice. I won’t go so far as to say that our relatively brief exposure to this exercise made us proficient, but it did familiarize us with the challenges at least. At this point, we were introduced to the varied and conflicting field of study surrounding lubrication of watch movements. I won’t even begin to go into the many endless debates that exist in this field as they are all but completely mindnumbing even to professional horologists. Instead I’ll just try to distill the basics as I understand them and in this way indoctrinate the kind reader to my particular leanings in the hopes of enlisting comrades in this never-ending war (Bwa-ha-ha-ha!). From this point forward, everything that I say with regard to lubrication should be taken as indisputable fact, etched in stone for all future generations. Basically it’s like this: Pivots need lubrication that will stay in place due to capillary action. Capillary action (to watchmakers at least) is the result of surface tension on the surface of the oil holding it in a well defined space, in this case the space around the pivot in the hole of a jewel bearing. Capillary action is particularly handy in jewel holes with cap jewels and can hold a significant amount of oil in place. Thick grease is not suitable for these applications because it will not flow properly to take advantage of the capillary action and will eventually push away from all the critical surfaces entirely. The faster the pivot turns, the lighter the oil should be so that it will create less drag on the turning of the pivot. The more torque on the pivot, the heavier the oil should be so that its increased sheer strength will hold up to the increased pressure.

Sliding surfaces need grease because it will stay in place and not flow into other areas as readily as oil might. Grease is appropriate for the keyless levers and winding stem and some other high-torque surfaces where drag is not much of an issue. Where this becomes really confusing is in the case of some "special lubricants" created by Moebius specifically for watches. These special lubricants have the properties of both greases and oils. Moebius 8200 is one such special lubricant that is suitable for mainsprings, high torque pivots, keyless works and cannon pinions. Moebius 941 and 9415 are special lubricants designed specifically for pallet jewels. Sometimes known as "impact greases", they are reputed to have the stay-put qualities of a grease while liquifying on impact to offer maximum slipperiness. Sounds a little too good to be true but they seem to work pretty darn well and are the industry standard for pallet stones. Very expensive. Marty, the second year instructor, was so fond of 9415 that he said he thought it could probably be used successfully just about everywhere in the movement if it didn’t cost so much. Just for kicks I tried it once (lubricating a movement entirely with 9415, from the barrel all the way to the balance pivots) and, other than feeling too light for the keyless works, it seemed to work just fine. I’m a bit of a lubrication freak. It’s most certainly because I am experimenting with the many different substances and applications but I’ve currently got about 13 different oils and greases I’m playing with and I’m always looking for more. One of my favorites is Elgin M-56b, a fairly light, all purpose oil that some studies seem to indicate has excellent properties of slipperiness, longevity and protection. Unfortunately it hasn’t been made for decades and who knows how good the little bottles you can find on the second hand market really are? Perhaps like a fine wine it has only improved with age (bloody likely that). So anyway, placing four little dollops of 8200 on the mainspring and a small amount on the bearing surfaces of the barrel arbor (D5, a fairly heavy oil can work here too), you then wind the barrel up completely by hand a few times (using a monumentally handy barrel arbor grabbing tool, I bought several extras of these in various sizes I like them so much), pop it open and check to see if the whole mainspring has a light coating of grease on it. If it does, you used enough grease. If not, try again. In the case of the automatics, you also put a few small dollops of braking grease (we’ve got at least four or five of these to choose from: molybdenum, graphite, a couple flavors of "special lubricants) on the walls of the barrel to provide adequate braking/slipping action for the slipping-clutch/mainspring-bridle. Now that we’ve got our barrels good and greased up, lets turn our attention to the wheels. While I thought truing barrels was frustrating, I was fully unprepared for the mental taxation of truing power train wheels. Truing wheels is something that shouldn’t really ever be necessary unless you are making a watch from scratch or trying to correct some accidental adjustments performed by some other "watchmaker". Unfortunately, with the relative thinness of these little brass wheels, such accidental adjustments are not at all uncommon. To true a wheel you place it in a truing caliper and slowly rotate it while comparing its rim to the edge of a fixed arm on the tool and make minor corrections to the spokes or the rim of the wheel in order to bring it to perfect flatness. What does or does not constitute perfect flatness being a source of endless confusion in the early stages of wheel truing and endless misery and frustration thereafter. A wheel can look all but absolutely 100% flat in the truing calipers and be seen to wobble like the wheels on my old Schwinn 5-Speed when placed in the watch movement with the rest of the train wheels and spun freely. A discrepancy of 1/100th of a millimeter can be easily spotted with some practice and with even

more practice, corrected. Absolute trueness of the power train wheels is necessary to ensure smooth power transmission and isochronism. That’s what they tell me anyway. Like all the other tedious learning exercises, the way we learned to true wheels was to surrender our ten kit watches to the instructor, have her bend the wheels mercilessly (sometimes painfully obviously, sometimes slyly subtly) and then return them to us for correction. Once you think you’ve got the hang of correcting errors in the brass wheels, you then learn that the Glucydur wheels used in modern ETAs are a whole other ballgame. They are much springier and more resillient than brass wheels and require a lot more force to correct. This process seemed to continue for an endless period of time but I can confidently say I now know something about truing wheels. I don’t enjoy it but I do know something about it at least. From here we began working on understanding proper endshakes of the train wheels and barrel and how to achieve it by moving the jewels or bushings up or down as needed. Endshake is the amount of vertical movement the arbors are allowed between their two bearing surfaces and is generally proportional to the size of the pivot in question. That being, the largest pivots (the barrel and great wheel) get the most endshake (possibly 3-5/100ths of a millimeter or so) and the escape wheel and pallet fork get the least (1-1.5/100ths or so). Getting a feeling for what these endshakes look like is at least as important at this stage as learning how to actually adjust them, especially as the Horia jewelling tool that came with our toolkit makes very precise and consistent jewel adjustments easy and repeatable. The tool uses a variety of stumps (the bottom portion) and pushers (the top portion) for different sizes of jewels or bushings and the movement of the pusher can be controlled very precisely with the micrometer adjustment on top of the tool. I think this is my favorite tool. No, more than that. It’s my best and only friend.

The thing about endshakes is that you are not only concerned with getting the appropriate amount of freedom in the wheel you are examining, but you are also trying to make sure that it lines up properly with the pinion and wheel that its wheel and pinion interact with. As all the wheels in the train interact with each other at least indirectly, you can sometimes make one adjustment only to find that it requires several more adjustments to make everything line up properly. We then focused our attention on the keyless levers and dial train and properly lubricating them. There are many sliding surfaces in the keyless works that must be lubricated for smooth functioning with minimal wear and our instructor favors Moebius 8200 for these applications as well as for the intermediate handsetting wheel post, the minute wheel post and the cannon pinion. I personally prefer Moebius 9020 (a medium-light weight oil) for the intermediate handsetting wheel and minute wheel post. As these wheels are in motion during the running of the watch, it seems to me that a lighter lubricant is desirable to minimize drag on the power train.

Our instructor believes that the heavier 8200 offers more protection during the high-torque handsetting procedures. From here we begin to focus on adjusting cannon pinions. In practice, a cannon pinion need only be tight enough to carry the hands without slipping while loose enough so as not to damage the handsetting wheels or power train when setting the time. To help us find the correct amount of tension, we were taught to also make sure the cannon pinion was tight enough to allow us to stop the movement with reverse pressure on the power train during handsetting (the improvised hacking method used by many watch enthusiasts to accurately set the time on a non-hacking watch). Using a variety of techniques to loosen or tighten cannon pinions to correct for the "adjustments" inflicted upon them by our instructor, we also gained an understanding of how lubrication factors into the functioning of the cannon pinion. At this point we were prepared for our third intermediate exam which involved checking and adjusting the trueness, endshakes and sideshakes in the barrel, truing the wheels and adjusting the endshakes in the power train, lubricating the keyless works, adjusting the cannon pinion and ensuring that the whole movement was held to the strictest standards of cleanliness. It was a four hour test that we prepared for with a couple of practice tests and took the exam the week before the end of the quarter. The last week of the quarter (after the exam) we spent assembling and lubricating a plate of various capped jewel settings. It included 12 Incabloc settings, 4 Duofix settings (non-shockprotection cap jewel housings) and 2 different sized sets of 2 Kif settings. After learning the appropriate amount of oil that should be observed in the assembled setting, we first went through the plate using an automatic oiler and than again without one to experience the different ways that oil can be applied to these settings. Of course the strictest standards of cleanliness was demanded during this exercise as well. At some point during the quarter (it’s all a bit of a blur), we took a break from the above mentioned schedule to play with some hairsprings. Our wise and experienced instructor had observed that many students fairly crack under the pressure of manipulating hairsprings for the first time and reasoned that if we had some exposure to them before these corrections became critical, it might save us some mental anguish in the long run. More accurately, it would spread the mental anguish out over a longer period of time. A perfect hairspring is a work of art. It is a study in symmetry in several planes that provides for excellent timing performance when coupled appropriately with the proper balance and should not be taken for granted despite its relative resilience and unflagging performance. When disturbed from this ideal state, it becomes the mother of all pain and suffering and woe be unto he or she who accidentally disturbs it.

Hairspring corrections are sometimes necessary to correct for flatness, and sometimes necessary to correct for roundness. Both of these corrections require specialized ways of thinking about the manipulations necessary and much practice and experience to perform the manipulations without compounding the problem (or problems). The quick and dirty explanation is that out of round corrections must be performed on the portion of the hairspring that is exactly 90 degrees from where the distortion is most apparent and out of flat corrections must be performed on the portion of the hairspring that is exactly 180 degrees from where the distortion is most apparent. The real challenge then lies in determining exactly which coil to manipulate to make the correction and in what way to manipulate it. After playing with haisprings of different sizes with one or two errors introduced in varying degrees of difficulty for about a week, we were delighted to get back into the tedium of wheel train adjustments. If we finished certain portions of the program early, a few of us also got the chance to perform some repairs. One interesting repair that I was treated to involved making a new pallet arbor for an old fusee pocket watch. Seeing the craftsmanship exhibited by the construction of the pallet lever was quite awe inspiring. The pallet jewels were perfectly fitted into slots in the black polished steel lever that completely covered the stones from above and below. Replacing these stones should they ever chip or break would be most daunting. Thankfully they did not chip or break while I worked on the new pallet arbor.

While we struggled with our remedial first-year challenges, the second year students wrestled with chronograph adjustments, advanced repairs and studying up for the theoretical/written portion of the final exam. Three representatives from WOSTEP came out to oversee and grade the exam which consisted of a 2 1/2 hour written exam and a practical examination of 16 hours including the servicing of a quartz watch, an automatic watch and a chronograph including multiple corrections and adjustments within the mechanism (including but not limited to hairspring and pallet stone adjustments in addition to resetting all the eccentrics in the chronograph mechanism itself). After the examinations were over, the second year students cleaned out their benches and the first year students swooped in like vultures to stake out their territory for the upcoming year. We then hosted an open house for the incoming students and their families and got a chance to talk to the WOSTEP representatives and meet some other supporters of the school. The most grueling part of the process for the second year students though was not knowing whether or not they had passed and would receive their diploma and certification until the graduation ceremony itself. While this apparent cruelty is partially the result of the tests only be graded directly beforehand (to minimize the length of stay necessary for the representatives from Switzerland), the reason they could not at least call any students that didn’t pass beforehand is lost on me. It left a bitter taste in my mouth to see the one student who did not pass face the news in such a public way, especially as his family was present for the graduation ceremony. Apparently this unfortunate occurrence was the result of some misunderstandings. In Switzerland, the graduation ceremony is very low key with no family or

friends present and now that the different situation is understood, it will not happen this way in the future.

The graduation ceremony included a banquet style meal, a slide show and speeches by representatives from North Seattle Community College and WOSTEP. Amongst the pictures of the educational facilities in Neuchatel and elsewhere, slides showing the breakdown of the final examination grades were shown so that the students’ performance in each different section could be seen. The overall scores on the written portion of the exam were the highest Mr. Simonin (the director of WOSTEP) has ever seen outside of Switzerland but he encouraged them to strive for greater degrees of cleanliness and care in handling of parts, noting that was where their performance was weakest.

A Day in Watch School Part 5
Getting Serious
by ei8htohms
© 11-10-2002

There’s nothing like going back to school after a long summer vacation. At least, that’s the way I remember it. Of course, a long summer vacation when I was growing up was three months or so. Going back to school after five weeks off is only OK but it was fun to play the role of the wizened second year students (hazing is not encouraged in watch school). The incoming class was full to the gills with twelve students at twelve benches and they even had a new instructor, the inimitable Henry Hatem - okay, actually we do sometimes imitate his sinister laugh, but only with the fondest of intentions. Henry brings a wealth of manufacturing experience and know-how to the classroom from his years of proto-typing and precision machining (on top of his watchmaking experience that is). Elaine Rolf would be our (the second year) instructor for another year, where her extensive experience with repair and adjustment could be properly exploited. While we certainly felt well schooled by Elaine in the manufacturing portion of the first year class, I often find myself bending an ear to catch the technical explanations, tips and tidbits that Henry heaps upon the unsuspecting heads of his pupils.

By the end of the fourth quarter, we had completed the checks and adjustments of the barrel and power train, dabbled with the lubrication of shock jewel settings, and toyed with hairsprings for a moment. As the fifth quarter began, we turned our attention to lubrication issues in earnest. Properly lubricating the power train of a watch is something that really must be learned from experience. While any amount of lubrication, from nearly non-existent to swimming with oil, will probably perform adequately in the short term, the long term performance of a timepiece relies on precisely allocated amounts of lubrication, applied with great precision and scrupulous cleanliness. One of the best ways to see if a pivot has the right amount of oil is to remove the bridge and inspect the underside of the jewel bearing. A clean looking "doughnut" of the appropriate size in the middle of the jewel is a good indicator. The problem being, once the bridge has been removed, the jewel and pivot must be cleaned of any remaining oil before the bridge can be reinstalled and then the pivot can be lubricated again. What this means is, there’s no good way to tell if a pivot has the right amount of oil without disassembling it and starting over, so that’s what we did; over and over again. After doing this umpteen times, one begins to understand how much oil on the oiler will translate to a doughnut of the proper size on the jewel and one can confidently leave a bridge in place with the knowledge that the amount of oil around the pivot will protect it for many years without running down the pinion leaves or slopping onto other nearby surfaces. Of course, confidence on the part of the student does not necessarily translate to confidence on the part of the instructor, so oiling was the focus of our first test of the quarter.

From there we went on to learning how to re-staff a watch. Staffing involves removing a broken balance staff and replacing it with a new one. While modern shock protection has greatly lessened the frequency of broken balance staff pivots, it is still often necessary to replace a balance staff because the pivots are worn, bent or otherwise imperfect. Elaine relayed that when she worked in a service center, if they had trouble gettting a watch to perform well and all other possibilities had been exhausted, they would frequently replace the balance staff and as often as not that did the trick. It is one of the most common repairs of a mechanical watch and should ideally be a quick and routine operation even though it involves highly invasive operations on one of the most sensitive and critical components in the movement. The first part of staffing a watch involves removing the old staff. Before you can do this, you must remove the hairspring (after marking the position of the hairspring stud on the balance rim so you know where to line it up when you put it back on) and the roller (after likewise marking where the roller jewel lines up on the underside of the balance). The collet is lifted off with a pair of levers while being careful not to mangle the hairspring and the roller is removed using any of a number of roller removers. Conveniently, my favorite variety for most situations is the cheapest and most readily available. While there are adjustable jaws that fit into a staking set, exotic scaffolds designed for removing rollers of various sizes and other elaborately conceived tools, this simple piece of nickel with a slot with blades on either side of increasing thickness

seems to do the best job. You simply slide the balance into the slot with the blades under the roller until it’s snug, then squeeze the open end of the tool together until the blades pop the roller off. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still possible to crush or otherwise damage the roller or snap the staff in the middle, but I have much better luck with this one than with the more exotic and expensive tools for the job. Once the hairspring and roller have been removed, the staff can be removed from the balance arms. The most traditional and often safest way to do this is it to cut the staff out on a lathe and this is the first method we learned. Although some texts recommend just cutting the small rivet out from the top of the staff, our instructor recommended cutting through the entire hub from the bottom. The advantage being that you have more material to cut through and a larger diameter to keep you from slipping and gouging the arms. I tried cutting the rivet out of a staff from the top a few times before taking the class and had some luck with it but I must admit that cutting it out from the bottom is safer and only takes a few minutes longer. The only real disadvantage I can see to cutting out the entire hub is if one needed the staff more or less intact to use as a reference for making a new one. In that case, carefully cutting out the rivet would probably be advised. Many modern balances employ a collet that cannot easily be removed and in these situations, it’s best to knock the staff out on a staking set or using a specialized tool. The crimped Greiner collets used by ETA and most other manufacturers as well as the laser welded Nivatronic and Rolex collets are all of this variety and it’s much safer to punch out the staff without trying to remove the collet using conventional methods. The punch out method can also be used successfully on most modern balances (with the hairspring removed) and is much quicker and easier than cutting the staff out on a lathe. Many staking sets come with a tool for supporting the arms of the balance while the staff is punched out but it is not advisable to try the punch-out method on a split balance as you will likely distort the arms and rim considerably. Once the old staff has been removed from the balance, it’s a good idea to clean up the hole in the balance arms a little. Any burrs around the hole can keep the balance from sitting flush on the hub of the new staff and result in trueness issues after riveting. With the hole cleaned and double-checked, the balance and new staff are placed on the staking set for riveting. A round-nosed punch with a hole just large enough to fit over the staff (down to the rivet) is selected and, after carefully checking that everything is properly aligned and the balance is sitting squarely and flush on the hub of the staff, it is used to spread the rivet out with a few taps of a watchmaker’s hammer. Some watchmakers prefer the single, good-strong-whack approach but, at least as a newbie, I’m more comfortable giving it a series of taps while rotating the balance and punch in between taps. This way I’ll know that any irregularities in the punch or staking table can be accounted for and I’m less likely to destroy the staff and/or the balance with an overzealous blow. Once the rivet has been pushed out enough to securely hold the balance, a flat nosed punch is used to flatten the rivet in place.

With the balance riveted onto the new staff, the balance must be checked for trueness, just as train wheels are. Subtle corrections are made to insure that it is absolutely flat at the rim and then the roller is replaced so that it can be checked for poise.

Static poising is accomplished by placing the balance on a perfectly level poising table with the cylindrical portions of the pivots resting on the ruby jaws. Don’t be fooled by the cute little level/bubble on the poising tool shown. All the levels in the latest batches of poising tools the school has received have been completely useless. We picked up some cheap plastic levels at the hardware store that work much better (which is to say that they work). If the pivots are perfectly smooth and clean and the jaws are perfectly smooth, clean, level and at the same height, the balance will come to rest with the heavy spot at the bottom. If the balance has screws on the rim, some weight can be removed from the screw nearest the heavy spot using a variety of different methods (undercutting, beveling, countersinking, beveling the slot, etc.) or if the balance is smooth, a tiny amount of material is removed from the underside of the rim with a small drill. The balance is then checked again for poise and the process repeated until the balance will stop freely in any orientation, indicating that it is in poise. While the poising process can sometimes result in a number of small holes in the underside of the rim, with some care and forethought, a balance can be poised with a maximum of three holes. By removing the largest amount of weight from the hole closest to the heavy spot and a smaller amount from the holes next closest (the amount of weight removed being proportional to the proximity to the heavy spot), the balance can eventually be brought to poise without scarring the rim as noticeably. Once the balance has been brought to poise, the hairspring can be replaced and the assembly can be cleaned and placed in the movement for further checks, adjustments and dynamic poising. After practicing staffing for awhile, we moved on to what WOSTEP calls the "divisions". This means checking and adjusting the endshake and vertical alignment of the escape wheel, pallet fork and balance. This can be a complicated process as several components have to line up with each other with one or two 100th’s of a millimeter of endshake on each one. The escape wheel must strike the center of the pallet stones, the fork horns must positively contact the impulse jewel without touching the roller and the guard pin (safety finger) must contact the center of the safety roller in order for the escapement to function properly. These checks can be performed in just about any order, but the best method I found was to start with the component with the least possibility of adjustment. For instance, often times the upper jewels for the balance pivots can not be adjusted (in older watches neither the upper or lower balance jewels

can be adjusted without bending or otherwise altering the balance cock) so it’s a good idea to start with the balance. After setting its endshake properly, the correct height for the fork horns and guard pin will have been established by the height of the roller. After setting the pallet lever to the correct height for the horns to positively contact the roller jewel (and sometimes bending the guard pin slightly up or down to line it up with the safety roller), the escape wheel can then be set to the right height to contact the pallet jewels squarely. While this sounds pretty straight forward, it’s not always so easy. Sometimes the pallet fork cannot be made to line up with the roller without rubbing the underside of the pallet bridge or the bottom of the plate. In this situation it might be necessary to bend the pallet lever slightly to correct it (this is pretty rare unless some other watchmaker [or watchmaking instructor] has sabotaged the watch beforehand). The pallet lever can be moved up or down on its arbor or its jewels can be raised or lowered (slightly), so deciding which way is best might require a little judgement. Occasionally by the time you get the height of the escape wheel set properly, the escape-wheel pinion is no longer lining up well with the fourth wheel so the entire power train (or some portion thereof) must be adjusted to make everything work. The real trick though is seeing what the heck is going on in the first place. It’s not so hard to see all of the interactions in a Unitas 6497 (because of its large size and good visibility) but when you’re trying to see inside a 5 or 6 ligne lady’s wristwatch movement, it can be quite a challenge. Sometimes the only way to see what’s going on is to put a little grease on one of the components, let it interact with the others and then remove it to see where the grease left a trail. This works especially well on escape-wheel teeth and pallet stones but can also be used on the fork and guard pin if necessary (of course, they must be cleaned thoroughly afterward). Once the divisions are all dialled in, the real fun with the escapement begins. From here we began to study the multitude of checks and adjustments that might be necessary when observing the escapement from above (as opposed to from the side). Horn shake and symmetry, guard-pin shake and symmetry, proper drop and locking depth are all critical for a properly functioning escapement. Testing the horn shake begins with just making sure the roller jewel fits in the horns of the pallet lever. The only time this will really be an issue is if the lever, the roller jewel, the roller or the entire balance complete has been changed so it’s not really necessary to perform this check on its own in most situations. Basically though, you want to make sure the roller jewel can fit easily inside the fork. As with most of the escapement checks, there is a certain amount of judgement that must be exercised with regards to what is a good fit. Once it has been confirmed that the roller jewel can easily enter the horns without binding, the balance is held so that the roller jewel is just entering the fork, and the freedom of the pallet lever - between the lever hitting the banking and the inside of the fork horn hitting the roller jewel - is examined. This distance must be small enough so that the pallet stone cannot come unlocked but slightly larger than the guard pin shake (which we’ll get to in a moment). If the shake is not right, it might be necessary to adjust the banking. In a watch with banking pins, this is accomplished by turning their eccentric

mounting posts (in older American pocket watches especially) or (lacking those) bending the pins slightly while making sure that they remain parallel. It is also critical that the horn shake is the same on both sides, so the banking pins might have to be adjusted for this reason as well. If the watch has fixed banking there is really nothing that can be done except in extraordinary situations where filing down the banking might be necessary (assuming changing out the fork and all other less invasive options have been exhausted). Although some "watchmakers" like to fiddle with the banking pins to try to correct all manner of ailments, it is really only in relation to the horn shake that the banking should be adjusted at all. Once the proper horn shake has been established, we can check the guard pin shake. This is tested by rotating the balance until the roller jewel is completely clear of the pallet lever and checking the freedom of the pallet lever between the banking and the safety roller. The guard pin shake must be slightly smaller than the horn shake so that the roller jewel will not strike the tip of the fork horns when it tries to enter the fork, and must be equal on both sides. If the guard pin shake is too large, the guard pin must be pulled out a little (assuming that’s an option), peened (tapped with a rounded punch to stretch it a little) or replaced. If the guard pin shake is too small, the guard pin must be pushed in a little (assuming that’s an option) or filed to the proper length. If the guard pin shake is not equal on both sides, the guard pin should be bent until it is perfectly centered in the pallet fork. The guard pin shake should be tested at several orientations of the balance so that any inconsistencies in the safety roller might be observed. Now that the proper functioning of the escapement on the roller and fork side of the equation has been established, the much more subtle interactions between the escape wheel and pallet stones can be observed and adjusted if necessary. Most of the proper functioning of the escape wheel and pallet stones has already been ensured (or not) by the time a watchmaker sees it. The geometry of the escape wheel and pallet lever are critical and subtle changes can have dramatic effects. If the angle of either of the stones is off or the spacing between them is not correct, the chances for a fatal failure are great and there’s not a whole lot that your common watchmaker could do about it. In a rare and extreme circumstance it could conceivably be necessary to bend one or the other of the lever’s arms slightly (and it would take a very experienced and knowledgeable watchmaker to be able to make this determination), but other than that diagnosing the problem and replacing the parts is the best one could hope for. The primary adjustment that a watchmaker can readily make to the pallet stones is to adjust the depth of their engagement with the escape wheel. This alone can make the difference between a watch that is barely running (or not at all), a watch that is tripping and knocking (with excessive amplitude) and a watch that is running optimally. The line on pallet jewels from our textbook is that they should lock the escape wheel to a depth of between 1/4th and 1/5th of the impulse plane of the jewel. That is, the distance between the leading corner of the escape wheel tooth and the locking beak of the pallet jewel at full lock should be equal to approximately 1/4th to 1/5th of the entire length of the adjacent,

impulse face of the jewel. In practice, some very fine watches might have a locking as light as 1/6th or so and some, uh, not so fine watches might lock up close to 1/3rd. The important thing is that they lock as shallow as possible while also locking consistently and securely. The drop (the act of the escape wheel tooth "dropping" onto the locking plane of the pallet) and locking (including the draw action of the escape wheel tooth on the pallet stone) are checked with the balance removed from the movement and approximately one turn of power on the barrel (it’s important not to check the drop and lock with too much power on the mainspring or the escapement will seem to skip ALOT). The pallet lever is gently manipulated back and forth (I use a thin brass pin to keep from scratching the steel lever but an oiler works fine if you’re very careful) and the depth of locking is observed on the entry and exit stone. The lever should return to the banking when disturbed slightly and snap over to the other banking when pushed a little farther. This action, the security and consistency of the drop and the depth of locking are observed for at least a full revolution of the escape wheel so that any eccentricities in the escape wheel teeth are accounted for as well. If the pallet lever flicks from one side of the banking and back again (once or several times), this is called skipping or tripping and means one or both of the stones need to be pulled out a little. The drop on either stone is dependent on the depthing of both stones so when skipping is observed, if one of the stones has a shallower total lock than the other, it is pulled out a little. If both stones are equal in that regard, they must both be pulled out slightly. An invaluable tool for this procedure is this little pallet stone adjusting tool and the accompanying electric heater. Traditionally a brass clamp and/or plate of various shapes was heated over a flame with the pallet lever in place until the shellac got soft at which point a very steady hand and some stout tweezers were used to move the stone in or out as the well-trained eye deemed necessary. As the difference of only a hundredth of a millimeter or so can be crucial when dealing with small watches, this could be a very frustrating activity and almost always involves a little trial and error. There is also the danger of heating the pallet fork a little too much and discoloring it or, god forbid, annealing it. This little escapement tool allows for very precise adjustment of the stones by reading the amount of change on the little dial while the whole tool is heated just enough to melt the shellac with no risk of adversely affecting the steel. The increments on the dial don’t relate to any actual measurement as far as I can tell (and couldn’t really with much accuracy as the exact angle the pallet stone engages with the measuring arm varies depending on the size of the pallet lever), but you can use them as a rough guide and then make any further adjustments relative to the number of increments the previous adjustments included. With a little practice and a little trial and error, very precise adjustments can be made. For instance, by adjusting the depth of the pallet stones on an ETA 2892, it was relatively easy to give it a running amplitude of 320°, 300° or 280° without changing any other variables.

You’ll notice that the pallet lever shown in close-up above has no visible shellac on the underside (facing up in the picture). Although in some finer watches of yesteryear it was common to scrape any excess shellac from the underside of the pallet lever (leaving just the small amount in the slot around the jewel), it is common practice at all levels of manufacturing today to leave a small dot of shellac on the jewel and lever. Although arguably this convention has changed as a symptom of a general decline in craft, a visible spot of shellac will undoubtedly hold the stone a little more securely. The lever shown has had all the shellac removed (to start from scratch) and is being adjusted prior to putting the shellac in place. After practicing all of the steps of re-staffing a balance and checking and adjusting the escapement on our kit watches, we took a test on these skills (the fourth intermediate exam). The test consisted of this: Cut out the balance staff and rivet the new staff (including truing and poising of course); check the endshakes and divisions of the escapement and balance, and make corrections; and finally check the various escapement interactions and make corrections including horn shake, guard pin shake and pallet stone depthing (inserting pallet stones from scratch). All of this in under 4 hours. It was a bit of a crunch and frankly I didn’t do as well as I might’ve hoped on this one. I did pass however, and that’s what’s really important, isn’t it? After the intermediate exam, we began to work in earnest on hairsprings. That though, is a story for another day.

A Day in Watch School Part 6
by ei8htohms
© 8-29-2003

Ok, I’ve put it off long enough, I think I’ve finally recovered from the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and am ready to talk about hairspringing. Forget everything I’ve said before about how important the barrel is, the train wheels, lubrication, the escapement, blah, blah, blah. The hairspring is the watch. No kidding. If your hairspring is not near perfect (or a perfect blend of chaotic and miraculously counteracting errors, don’t laugh, it happens), the watch is not gonna keep time. Sure, sure, it needs a smooth, even flow of power, a poised balanced and all that other stuff (they call it watchmaking I believe), but if that wonderful little spiral wrapped around the heart of the movement is not right, forget about it. We had been innoculated somewhat to "hairspring induced dementia" in our fourth quarter and had increasingly long wrestling matches with them on an individual basis trying to keep our kit watches runnning in the fifth quarter (hmm, is this a sports metaphor forming?), in the sixth quarter we tackled them with tweezers in both fists. It was a knock-down drag-out fight of epic proportions and, although it was not a clear victory, I think a mutual respect was established on both sides. We of course learned to respect (and fear) hairsprings in all their power and glory, but I think a few hairsprings learned to fear us as well. God knows I left a few of them with a severe limp or a black eye. The art of vibrating hairsprings involves first and foremost some

mysterious mathematics. Some combination of the mass of the balance and it’s radius (the moment of inertia I hear tell) and the frequency of the movement is used to determine the size and elastic couple of the hairspring which are encapsulated and represented by its CGS number. More specifically, the CGS (K in (N x mm^3)/rad) is equal to M (the elastic couple of the spring in ((N x mm^2)/rad)) times (the quantity) the square of the external diameter of the spring minus the square of the internal diameter of the spring or the diameter of the collet. Of course to use this formula with any success you have to first establish the necessary elastic couple of the hairspring: M (units listed above) is equal to E (the modulus of elasticity of the spring in ((N x mm)/rad) times h (height of spring in mm) times e^3 (where e is the thickness of the spring in mm) (the quantity) divided by 12L (where L in the length of the spring in mm). Of course to find the elastic couple from a known balance and beat rate, it’s necessary to apply the formula: T (the period in seconds) equals 2 times Pi times the square root of (the quantity) I (the moment of inertia of the balance in (kg x m^2)) divided by M (the restoring couple of the hairspring in (N x m)). Hmm this has gotten a little off track. Let’s just say it involves some mysterious mathematics and leave it at that. This stuff is all very important when designing a balance assembly from scratch for a given movement but, for the practicing watchmaker, it’s a little too much information. Let me not discourage you math whizzes from pursuing this number dance to its many wonderous conclusions, but let me not kid you about how much of the above anyone in our class actually knows how to apply in the real world. For watchmakers, the most common way to use the CGS of the hairspring (and to find it) is to use a test spring of a known CGS to experimentally establish the CGS needed for the replacement hairspring for a given balance. Frankly even this is more math than most practicing watchmakers would do. It’s most common to just eyeball the spring and balance and try out the combination to see if it might work (crude, but usually effective). For our first foray into the fine art of vibrating hairsprings, we were simply given a balance and a hairspring with the appropriate CGS (whew!). Ok, really we were given several of the aforementioned balances (in two different sizes/frequencies), a slew of hairsprings, some collets, some studs and some brass taper pins. Although the supply of collets was severely limited (they were pretty beat up looking for the most part), thankfully we had a seemingly never ending supply of hairsprings. It seems the road to good springing is littered (at least ankle deep) with mangled bits of wire.

At the Collet
Since we’re starting out with a hairspring of the appropriate CGS for our balance, the first thing to do is temporarily attach the hairspring to the collet so we can find the initial vibrating point. We need to have the hairspring attached securely enough so that we can put the collet on the balance and suspend the balance by the hairspring in the vibrating tool but we don’t want to make it a particularly permanent atachment because we’re going to want to adjust where it is attached in the near future. A raw hairspring comes with a fairly tight innermost coil and a little straight part at the very middle. This is a bi-product of the manufacturing process which just happens to look a little like the straight part we’re going to need in the innermost coil in order to pin the hairspring to the collet. One way to go about the initial atachment is to pin the hairspring to the collet. To do this we need to cut off some of the innermost coil and form a little straight portion that we can slide into the hole in the collet. Then we can push a taper pin into the hole to hold the hairspring in place and snip off the ends of the taper pin so that they don’t interfere with the first coil of the spring. It’s a good idea to do this initial pinning with the smallest first coil possible so that when we repin it later we won’t be left with an excessively large first coil (more on this later). Another method of making the initial attachment (and the one I prefer) is to simply wrap the very tight first coil around the collet. This will stretch out the first coil enough to make it hold the collet fairly securely, but not so much as to ruin any of the useful portion of the spring. The trick to this method comes later when we’re trying to determine exactly where the active portion of the hairspring leaves the collet (more on this later as well). Once we’ve temporarily attached the hairspring to the collet (and slid the collet onto the balance staff), we can hang the combination from the tweezer-like scaffold on the vibrating tool and commence to vibrate the spring. A hairspring vibrating tool consists of a platform with a reference balance and hairspring, over top of which is a scaffold from which to dangle the balance and hairspring to be vibrated to time. The whole platform and scaffold can rotate some 90 degrees or so and is held in its rest position be a restoring spring somewhere in the base of the

tool. Once the test balance has been suspended from the scaffold directly over the reference balance, it is arranged so that one of the arms of the test balance is directly in line with one of the arms of the reference balance. Then the whole platform and scaffold can be rotated from its rest position (by means of a lever) and allowed to return (under the restoring force of the hidden spring). This action creates some motion in both the reference balance and the test balance which continue to vibrate back and forth due to the restoring force of their respective hairsprings. Now that both balances are vibrating back and forth, the extent to which they are (or are not) in time with each other can be determined by observing the arms of the two balances and seeing how long they remain in synch with each other and/or how long it takes them to return to a synchronized state. The effective length of the test hairspring can then be made shorter or longer by changing where it is gripped in the "tweezers" and the comparison to the reference can be performed again. This continues until the two balances vibrate at very nearly the same frequency (we were instructed to aim for approximately 20 seconds of observable synchronization or more), thus determining the initial vibrating point. Of course getting this far is not as easy as I’ve made it sound, but I don’t want to bore you with the many pitfalls and secret tricks we learned along the way. I’m sure the rest of this extended dissertation will be adequately excruciating as it is. So now that we’ve determined the initial vibrating point (that word "initial" has a sense of foreboding about it, doesn’t it?), we cut off the outer portion of the hairspring at a point exactly one coil out from the vibrating point. This is done so that the initial vibrating point can be spotted easily while still leaving us plenty of hairspring to use for the terminal curve and studding procedures. At this point we must undo everything that we’ve done. Believe it or not, we’re going to repin the hairspring at the collet and revibrate the spring. We do this not because we are masochistic SOB’s (or at least not solely because of this), but because we want our hairspring to be poised. As you might remember from the Watch School article that dealt with poising the balance (Part 5), it is critical for the balance to be in poise (the weight evenly distributed about the axis of rotation) in order for it to keep good time in the vertical positions. Likewise, the hairspring can also be poised by ensuring that its vibrating point lines up with the point of attachment at the collet. This means that the active length of the hairspring consists of whole coils, thus being more or less evenly distributed with regards to mass. There are a variety of different theories on points of attachment and the pursuit of poise of the hairspring is only one of them. Another approach is to attempt to align the vibrating point approximately 90 degrees (86.5 degrees I believe) from the point of attachment at the collet and in this way ensure a flatter isochronism curve (the graph of the rate against amplitude). The tradeoffs of positional performance versus isochronism can probably be debated ad infinitum, but most modern watches are pinned at whole coils in my experience. To poise the hairspring we must first determine the angle between the point of attachment at the

collet and the initial vibrating point. One of the ways to determine the angle is to lay out the hairspring and collet on a protractor-like scale. By lining up the point of attachment at the collet with the zero angle, the angle to the vibrating point can be read off the scale and used to determine how much of the hairspring must be cut off the innermost coil in order to repin it "in poise". If you’re using the "wrap method" initially, establishing what constitutes the initially point of attachment (to line up with the zero angle on the scale) requires some experience and some guesswork. Since the hairspring leaves the collet fairly smoothly, deciding at what point it first starts vibrating is not cut and dried.

The formula for determining how much to cut off is: A (the angle between the two points) plus (the quantity) A over 3 minus 60 degrees equals B (the number of degrees to be cut off from the intial point of attachment). This allows for 60 degrees of the remaining spring to be tucked into the whole in the collet for pinning. The thought behind this formula is that a length of spring on the innermost coil is equal to a length of spring on the outermost coil that represents one third of the angular value of the portion at the innermost coil. This is only approximately true given the general geometry of hairspring coils but it’s close enough to allow us to come within 15 degrees or so of pinning the hairspring in poise. Ok, pinning the hairspring at the collet and then later at the stud requires the utmost precision and care. Not only is it incredibly easy to ruin the hairspring with a slight slip of the tweezers, but if it is not pinned flat, it’ll create a world of troubles for you trying to make it that way. Also, if you pin it without the right amount of spring in the sharp curve where it enters the first coil (at the collet), it will resist centering vigorously. It is absolutely critical that the hairspring be perfectly centered and perfectly flat at the collet if you cant to get anything like good performance out of it. As Henry Hatem (the first year instructor) said to me when he saw us struggling with this aspect, "That first coil is your whole world." He couldn’t have been more right.

Each of us developed our own methods for holding the collet and spring, inserting the taper pin, cutting it to the right length and pushing it in firmly enough to hold the spring. For a little while I thought that holding the collet in a collet closing tool at precisely the correct height to let the spring lie flat as it enters the hole in the collet could insure a reasonably flat initial pinning. The problem being that the taper pin itself pushes the hairspring out of flat. There’s really no perfect way to do it so you just have to practice, practice, practice until you can figure out a series of steps that works for you.

So after the spring has been pinned at the collet and made as flat as possible, we must shape the innermost curve to make the hairspring coils centered around the collet. This is incredibly difficult if the first coil is very tight (because you don’t have room to get your tweezers in between the collet and the hairspring) and is also not at all easy if the first coil is very large (because it’s hard to see how well centered it is). The actual size of the first coil is somewhat arbitrary as it is determined by the poising process. One of the ways to check if the spring is properly centered and flat is to place the balance in the figure 8 calipers and spin it slowly. From the side, a slight up and down motion of the hairspring will indicate it is out of flat. From above, a perfectly centered hairspring will have coils that appear more or less stationary as it spins (or at least they will progress very evenly). One of the joys of this part of the process is that making corrections in the flat usually throws off the centering and vice versa.

At the Stud
Once we’re convinced that the spring is perfectly flat and centered, why not let’s form a dogleg and terminal curve? It’s not a whole lot of fun but at least it’s easier than forming an overcoil. A little anyway. After much experimentation, this is how I ultimately ended up forming the dogleg and terminal curve. With the hairspring off the balance, I picked a spot about 80 degrees or so in from the new vibrating point (on the outermost coil, directly in line with the spot where the hairspring exits the collet thanks to our poising efforts). I make a nice sharp outward bend here. Then at some randomly chosen and aesthetically pleasing spot a little ways out on that bend, I make a sharp inward bend. If I’ve chosen the location of the two bends properly, the second bend will be approximately 60 degrees from the vibrating point. Now the exact alignment and shape of the dogleg is a source of some mystery. I’ve been told (by those who should definitely know) that the shape and location of the dogleg can play a critical role in improving isochronism and positional performance. The specifics however are completely unknown to me. Apparently this analysis is a fairly recent (and probably ongoing) development or else a pretty well-kept secret. This did not stop me from experimenting a little though. My one

radical experiment (a little on this later) proved to be a complete functional failure. It properly demonstrated that there is something to the whole dogleg issue, but offered no real basis for further experimentation. So now that we have our somewhat randomly formed dogleg, we need to form a terminal curve. The portion of the spring from the second bend of the dogleg out is already curved, but more tightly than we need it to be. We need it to be curved along a radius that’s at least three or four coils larger than it is currently. The final shape of its sweep will have to be formed on the balance cock in relation to the arc of the regulator pins, but I found it much easier to loosen it up before pinning it to the stud by "stroking" it with some fine tweezers (using the word "fine" here is a little silly, all the tweezers that touch hairsprings are pretty darn "fine"). This stroking/curling is accomplished by grasping the hairspring firmly at the second bend with one pair of tweezers and stroking the length of the hairspring with a second pair turned to the side as one might curl a ribbon with a pair of scissors when wrapping presents. No kidding, this really wrks pretty well. If either of the bends of the dogleg or the stroking/curling occurs at anything but an exact right angle to the length of the hairspring, more flattening fun will commence. In truth, more flattening fun is always either commencing or in varying degrees of needing to commence. Sigh. So now that we’ve got a rough approximation of a dogleg and a rough approximation of a terminal curve, let’s attach the hairspring to the balance cock via the stud to see where we’re at. While some people prefer to pin the hairspring to the stud on a studding table, I found it easiest to put the stud in the stud carrier (held with the stud screw) and pin the hairspring in situ. By doing it this way, any out of upright issues that might exist between the stud and the stud carrier can be accounted for from the get-go. If the location of the dogleg has been estimated correctly, the hairspring can be pinned to the stud approximately 120 degrees from the dog-leg. Ideally this will put the vibration point directly between the stud and the dogleg, giving it 60 degrees of freedom on either side for rate adjustment. As with pinning the hairspring at the collet, it is crucial that it is pinned to the stud at precisely the correct angle to make the coils parallel with the underside of the bridge. This can and will be adjusted somewhat after the balance has been installed, but if it’s not flat to begin with, you’ll be creating a lot more headaches down the road than you need to. I like to do this by screwing the balance cock upside down onto a largish piece of brass. This gives me something to hold onto while I’m pinning and otherwise manipulating the hairspring. To pin the hairspring at the stud, I hold the piece of brass vertically and coax the hairspring into hanging vertically from the stud while I push the taper pin in. It’s never as smooth or straight forward of a procedure as it sounds, but with some

fussing I could usually manage to get it pretty flat before pushing the taper pin home. Once the taper pin is snugly in place, you can cut or break off the ends of the taper pin and cut off the excess hairspring as well. It’s best to leave a little bit of extra hairspring sticking out just in case though. You never know when you might need to repin it. So now we need to adjust our terminal curve. The idea here is to make a circular curve between the stud and the dogleg that is exactly concentric with the balance pivot jewels and exactly as far from the center as the curb pins. When the curb pins are as close to the stud as they can get, the hairspring should be exactly centered between them, and it should stay there regardless of how far towards the dogleg the curb pins are moved. Oftentimes, in order to get the terminal curve to line up with the regualtor sweep, a tiny little dogleg bend is necessary right at the stud. I won’t try to kid you, the process of making the terminal curve line up with the regulator sweep is excruciating. Theoretically, an infinite number of tiny bends are necessary to ensure that the terminal curve is perfectly smooth and concentric with the regulator sweep (assuming an act of God has not granted you a perfectly formed terminal curve based on the stroking you did previously). In practice, I found that making 6 or 8 very small bends was typically enough to get it pretty darn close without visibly distorting the spring from its rounded shape and then a number of smaller bends in between could correct for any small errors that still might be present ("might be present" that’s a good one, of course there are still errors!). Here again, if the bends are not made at precisely a right angle to the length of the hairspring, you’ll be throwing it out of flat, much to your chagrin. Now we simply need to manipulate the two bends of the dogleg to center the collet directly over the balance pivot jewels. Then we can put the hairspring back on the balance and do it all over again. Invariably, a perfect looking spring when attached to the balance cock without the balance will still need some further adjustment once the balance is in place. It’s at this juncture that our supreme care in making sure the hairspring is perfectly flat throughout the process pays off. Trying to correct subtle flatness issues with the balance in place is an exercise in futility for the most part. Here’s one of the fun tricks that I found helped me to get the hairspring perfectly centered on the balance cock. Once you’ve basically got the balance and hairspring combination well adjusted, that is, it’s as flat centered and true as you can get it by eye, take the balance cock off the movement and turn it upside down and screw it onto the brass plate we used for pinning the hairspring at the stud. Make sure that the balance cock is perfectly flat on the plate and that the plate is perfectly flat (use a level to be sure) and then observe the balance. If the hairspring is perfectly centered, it will hold the balance perfectly upright, without leaning in any direction. This only works on movements with fairly stiff hairsprings (the tiny hairsprings in ladies movements or ultrathins won’t hold the balance up no matter how perfectly centered they are), but it can help you to get the hairspring very well centered in those cases. So then we took an exam on vibrating hairsprings where we had to do this from start to finish in four hours. The time was not really a huge problem on this test, the problem was getting a proper

looking (and performing) hairspring in that time period. A simple mistake or two early in the process could easily ruin your chances of getting it done in the time allotted. In fact, most of our class had to take this exam twice before getting a passing grade. I really love fitting hairsprings. It’s very challenging but also very rewarding and seeing your efforts translating directly into timing performance is most satisfying. I had a little fun along the way too. Having heard that a properly formed and correctly positioned dogleg could significantly effect positional performance but not being able to find any reference material that pertained, I decided to experiment a little. As we were forming our umpteenth hairspring for a Unitas 6497, I made some of the doglegs pretty sharp and some of them pretty loose to see if I could tell the difference in how they behaved. As you can probably imagine, with such a small sample, no control for the various shapes and fighting all the other student induced errors along the way, I wasn’t able to get any feel for how the different shapes were affecting the performance (if at all). Just to make sure there was some significance to the shape of the dogleg, I made one like this one day. It performed so miserably as to assure me that the shape of the dogleg is critical, even if I don’t yet understand how or why.

Some other fun hairspring projects included vibrating a hairspring for a tiny ladies watch. It had a 5 1/2 by 6 3/4 ligne A. Schild 1012 movement. It was running miserably and no amount of adjustment, pivot polishing or black magic could seem to get the positional variation closer than about 50 seconds or so. Finally, in an act of desperation I decided just to vibrate a new hairspring for it (reasoning that the old hairspring was just too mushy to hold adjustment and was sagging into itself in various positions).

Remarkably we had some raw hairsprings that happened to be the right size (or close enough to work anyway) and, after a few days or cursing, I was able to get a positional performance on the order of 20 seconds between positions. Not stellar performance, but given all the other shortcomings of the movement, I was delighted to say the least. I think my teacher was a little shocked that my efforts had succeeded at all. Although not the only one to say it, she was clearly heard to pronounce me insane at some point along the way.

A little later I also got the chance to vibrate a new hairspring for this IWC ultrathin pocket watch. It’s beautiful, blued steel hairspring had some rust on it and, with Curtis Thomson’s help finding me a raw replacement spring, I was able to fit a new blued steel hairspring for it. This also gave me the chance to learn how to form and adjust an overcoil. It’s a lot more straightforward than I might’ve guessed initially but getting it adjusted to perform well was enormously challenging (now I know why they aren’t used too often these days!).

Vibrating a hairspring from scratch is not the kind of thing that most watchmakers will ever do in their lives. Even if you can find the right spring, it is very time consuming and, outside of a few specialists in restoration work, it’s just not done that often. Learning how to do it has given us a much greater respect for and deeper understanding of hairspring adjustment in general though, and that alone is well worth the effort. If you know that you have the skill to fit a hairspring from scratch if need be, making a simple tweak here or there to correct a damaged hairspring is not nearly as daunting as it might be otherwise. _john

Copyright Aug. 2003 John Davis and ThePuristS.com - all rights reserved