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Posts Tagged ‘hobbies’

blessing clockIt’s got to be the ugliest clock I’ve ever seen. Worse than that it was broken – fully wound, yet not even the hint of a tick when shaken, and the hands were dangling loose. Cosmetically it was in poor shape too, tarnished, with rust leaking through the gilt, and I really didn’t care for that ormolu filigree decoration at all. Who in their right mind would waste money on such a thing? Okay, so I would, but for £1.50 from the charity shop it was hardly a ripoff, and I’d get some pleasure from tinkering with it, even if it was only to learn a little more about how these things were put together. Such knowledge is pointless of course, because nothing is put together like this any more. But then much of what we pick up in life, even the stuff we think is really, really important, turns out to be pointless in the end.

It’s a Blessing – the clock I mean, made in Waldkirsch/Breisgau, West Germany. Like most old consumer grade clockmakers they’re gone now – the latest I can date them to is an advert for 1974, but they were a prolific maker in their day. If you search online, Blessing clocks are as common as Smiths. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, so I’m being subjective in describing it as ugly. Anyway, clocks of this period are usually pretty “robust”, so all was not lost. I was sure I could get it going.

What usually happens is they get dirty inside, the original oil turns to mush and the whole thing gums up. It slows down, becomes unreliable, you get cross with it. It stops. That’s the thing with these old wind-up clocks. You could have it serviced by a clockmaker, but it’ll always be cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one. So, quirky and unloved, consumer-grade tickers like this usually end up in the bin. How this one escaped is a mystery, but anyway,..

It’s an act of defiance I suppose, that I should want to get it going, though who the enemy is, who or what it is I am defying is harder to say – and I don’t just want to get it going, I want it ticking as sweet and accurate as when it was new. In a further act of defiance I can perhaps give it back to the charity shop and they can get a fiver for it.

I suppose what I’m doing is acting in a way I’m not expected to. I’ve been doing this fairly effortlessly one way or the other all my life – like the way I get the exact atomic time from my ‘phone each morning, and transfer it to any one of a variety of wind-up wristwatches, circa 1950, which manage to keep track of it within about ten seconds per day. But this is another story – unhelpful tangent – except to further illustrate my eccentricity and total lack of any coherent explanation of myself.

Anyway back to the Blessing: Mechanical devices from this period – I’m guessing late sixties/early seventies – were manufactured in ways that were reversible – in other words you could take them apart, strip them to their nuts and clean them up. They were put together by people sitting at a bench. Modern, consumer clocks are made and assembled by robots and are meant to be thrown away when they stop. Many aren’t even granted the dignity of a fresh battery.

Sure enough, the mechanism comes out of the case without much trouble – just unscrew a few things and the case comes apart into an array of interesting bits and pieces, all of them metal except for the acrylic “glass”.

The back-plate of the mechanism is stamped by the maker. This is West Germany, and marks it as coming from the pre-unification, cold war period, as important a period in post-war European History as will be the period post BREXIT. Already our ugly old clock is having us think of interesting things.

Let’s see: the balance spring is in good shape, likewise the rest of the escapement. So, our ugly old clock is in with a chance. Note of caution though: there are fingerprints all over the end-plate, so it’s obvious someone’s had a go at it before me. This is not uncommon – a squirt of 3-in-1 oil being the usual desperate remedy. I know because I’ve done it myself as a kid. It hadn’t worked – it never does – and fortunately further attention seems to have proved too intimidating for my predecessor – there being no tool marks on the nuts that hold the plates together.

So far my £1.50 investment is yielding great value for money.

The mechanism is heavy with fluff and hair, both human and cat, and goodness knows what else. A preliminary swill in white spirit gets the worst of this gunk off, then the mechanism is at least in presentable condition for the workbench, and further disassembly. One day I’ll get myself a cheap Ultrasonic tank.

Already we see the clock is wanting to run, the balance wheel is fluttering and a hesitant ticking is beginning to emerge from it. We’re a long way yet from getting things going properly, but the signs are promising.

Next comes the fun of a full strip down and a battle with the feeling that the further one goes, the less likely one is to remember how things go back together. Once stripped, we clean every little pin and pivot, put it back together, oil it, and away it should run.

A further note of caution – we’ve got big springs here, one for timekeeping, one for the striker and neither of them contained in a barrel. A spring released suddenly from full tension like this is a wild thing, and it will bite. It’ll run riot in the mechanism and break things. I listen to myself and realise I’m sounding like a pro. Don’t be fooled, I’m merely speaking from experience. We need to let them down, carefully,… We search for the “click”, there isn’t one – oh well, we must improvise. Pass me the screwdriver – no, the bigger one,…

Does the clock survive? Do I? Does any of it really matter? Well of course not, but that’s life. We ponder what we think matters, and we ponder it wherever we can find it. And we can find it anywhere, even in the innards of an ugly old clock.

Stay tuned.

Graeme out.

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paul jobinSince the beginning of my eccentric fascination for the sensibly priced, mass produced gents dress watches of yesteryear what I have always wanted to acquire is a Paul Jobin.

The house of Jobin was a fine Swiss maker, and like many a fine Swiss maker, all gone now, swept away by the advent of quartz technology. I’ve been watching them on Ebay for a while now and noted these pieces tend to be expensive for vintage mass market tickers – at least relative to my tinker-toy budgetary limits, so when I bid a little over a tenner for this one, I wasn’t expecting to win, but then you never can tell with Ebay.

The seller said it was running “a bit”, but I’d prefer to say it was limping, then stopping to rest. Permanently. I wasn’t altogether hopeful then that after a quick tinker I was going to end up with anything more than another addition to my spares box. As usual the glass looked like it had been grit blasted, and the gold plating on the lugs was worn back to brass along the edges and corners. Removing the glass though revealed a pristine dial and still shiny fingers – and brass, when polished with Autosol, comes up like gold anyway. It was worth a shot, and all depended on the state of the movement.

It has a hand-winding mechanical movement, an ST 1802/3, by the much respected Swiss maker Anton Schild. We can look this up in an online catalogue and it gives us the date of manufacture as being 1965. Part of the fascination for me, as in childhood, is opening up an old watch like this and seeing the movement. They are incredibly beautiful things:  small, intricate, designed to run faultlessly for a lifetime – even on cheaper pieces – and quite probably haven’t been seen by a human eye since the day the back was first sealed, fifty, sixty, years ago. As a lesson in design and volume manufacturing they also speak of untold miracles. And by now they have become, in spite of their worthlessness, otherwise quite precious things. I no longer resist my obsession. I am tooling up. I am moving in deeper.

Fortunately most watches from the “vintage” period have probably lain quietly and safely in a drawer since the advent of quartz, around 1978, and the chances are if they’re not running any more it’s because time has aged the oil to gum, and all the thing needs is a strip down, a clean and some fresh oil to get it going again.

small parts.jpgYes, the parts are tiny, but with practice and patience and a smattering of cheap tools, it’s a skill anyone of a mechanical bent, and steady hands, can acquire. After a year or so of practice, and with the aid of online guides written by old watchmakers, I’m getting better at it, my last two examples having actually survived my efforts and gone on from their dubious conditions on arrival to make surprisingly accurate and attractive timepieces.

And so it has turned out in this instance.

After cleaning and oiling, my newly acquired vintage Paul Jobin has been running well, keeps time easily within a minute over a couple of days. In the fullness of time, a change of glass, costing all of £1.50, will enable much of that original sixties charm to once again shine through. Until then, this sterling little ticker can be my companion piece for my upcoming trip to the North Yorkshire coast. It’s perhaps no coincidence that most of the pieces I’ve acquired are as old as me, that in reviving them, in keeping them going, I am keeping myself going as well.

I close with a little excerpt from the Sea View Cafe – not altogether irrelevant:

the sea view cafe - smallHome was where love was. And when love died, it was time to go. But you couldn’t just run out on people, could you? You couldn’t just run out on a life you’d spent your whole life building from the ground up!

Could you?

The waitress brought his coffee, a fancy little biscuit on the side. She was trying hard, he thought, and not without appreciation, but this was still a small seaside cafe and seriously out of season – there was only so much altitude to be gained here. He noted a neat little badge on her breast which said: Hermione. He noted also she wore a man’s Paul Jobin wristwatch, gold plated, from the pre quartz era. Finn’s era. It had stopped. Beside it, a cheap plastic fashion branded thing kept up the time, all black but for the fake diamond hour markers.

“Thanks,” he said, and then, impulsively: “There were caravans once.”

“Sorry, darlin’?”

“Up on the hill. Caravans. I used to come here on holiday as a kid.”

“Caravans? Before my time. What about you John? Do you remember caravans on the hill?”

John ‘Squinty’ Mulligan had taken out his newspaper and was hiding behind it. He shrugged, grunted. Squinty remembered the caravans of course, remembered them very well, but preferred not to be drawn. Let the stranger pass on through, unenlightened, he thought.

See you in Yorkshire.

Graeme out.

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medanaThere’s a debate among collectors whether or not a personalised inscription on an old watch or a piece of jewellery alters its value. The majority view is that it devalues it considerably, indeed on a cheaper piece it renders it all but worthless.

Other collectors, perhaps less concerned with an object’s material value, will say it adds human interest. It can also be useful if the inscription includes a date so we can accurately place the piece in time.

Personally though, I avoid old watches with a dedication. I’m not sure why. I have plenty of old books on my shelf that bear a dedication to strangers, yet I feel I possess them no less for all of that. I mean a book is a book, after all. But a watch is a wearable piece of kit and it will always feel like someone else’s watch if it’s got their name on it and a hint of their history. It wouldn’t feel right to wear it myself. It would be as if I had stolen it. With a book it’s more like borrowing it.

This little Medana is my latest acquisition from EBay. It cost me all of £12.00. It was described as a runner, but the case looked poor, and the lens crazed – and square lenses are impossible to replace off the shelf. But all of that was fine by me because I only bought it for the experience of tinkering with it. I’m certainly not complaining, but a more honest seller would have shown a photograph of the back, which bears the inscription:

To Jack on your 21st Birthday. Love Mum and Dad

I don’t know who jack was, or his mum and dad, but I do know the watch has a fine seven jewel  pin-lever movement, a Swiss MST 374 to be precise, which dates the watch to 1950. It’s a well worn piece, indeed a lifetime of wear by the looks of it, most of the gold plating rubbed off, the case pitted with a million dings, and the plexiglass all finely crazed, but somehow not unattractive for all of that. There is still something elegant about it.

It bears the deep lines of Jack’s life, and as an object in itself, though virtually worthless, it oozes character and old world charm. So perhaps the inscription makes it more than just an old watch. It makes it a story, or rather it has us making up a story to fit it because, without having known Jack, that’s the best we can do. But there are some things it’s reasonable to surmise:

I’m guessing Jack’s dead now, that the watch came from a house clearance or something. Jack would have been in his late eighties, his passing quite recent, his life cleared out, his furniture given to charity, his papers burned, a few items picked up by the clearance merchant and put on Ebay. What else can we surmise? Well, I suspect there were no children nor grandchildren, or they might have held on to the watch, given the inscription, and the family significance, or maybe they just weren’t sentimental about stuff like that.

I find it rather sad to think of this parental gift, marking time for the whole of Jack’s adult lifetime, only to be discarded and wash up anonymously on the second hand market, though I suppose that’s better than it going in the bin. How easily these days we are deleted, our life’s worth scattered to the four winds, how easily we can be forgotten, brushed off, even by kith and kin.

I wonder about him, about his Mum and Dad, and I try to imagine that birthday long ago, when this little Medana was sparkling new, the gold plate unworn and deep with lustre, and Jack was making his first steps into the adult world. Medana was a respectable brand, a sister brand to Roamer, good quality manufacture, though neither of them in the luxury bracket, so Jack’s parents were not that well off, not your Patek Phillipe, dynasty founding types, but they appreciated a bit of quality for a special occasion.

This was an ordinary life, Jack the lad and his mum and dad. Had he any surviving sisters? Brothers? Surely they too would have kept the watch had they known about it. For a reasonable sum it could even have been professionally restored and passed on, kept in the family, but I guess it’s just no that kind of watch. I hope Jack did not die lonely.

The lustre of the case has not lasted a lifetime, but it tells me Jack was loyal to the watch even as it began to show its age, loyal to the gift and the memory of his Mum and Dad. It also carries jewellers marks inside the case, further indicating it was looked after, serviced, loved, valued. I see Jack wearing it from the time he was 21, strapping it on each morning and setting out into the world, his world, and now he’s gone. And I’ve got his watch, a watch that’s worth nothing, and even a little less than nothing for having his name on it, but then such is life. As a story though it speaks volumes, filling the imagination, even though the actual truth of Jack’s life we’ll never know.

But here’s my dilemma: I can’t tinker with it. This isn’t just any old watch after all. It’s Jack’s. So I’ll put it in my little tin of keepers – maybe to confuse my own progeny when I’ve popped my clogs and they’re clearing out my own tat.

“Jack?” they’ll say. “Who the Hell was Jack?”

I don’t know, but I raise a glass.

Here’s to Jack!

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Image1I found this little Raketa alarm clock at the weekend. It was on a junk stall,and the seller wanted £1.50 for it. It’s an old clockwork model, and wasn’t running. You can buy a new alarm clock, pretty much like this one for a couple of quid these days, a modern battery version – so £1.50 for a broken clock might not seem much of a bargain, but I like stripping and cleaning old clocks and seeing if I can get them going. Human beings aren’t always logical creatures and our emotional drivers are usually too complex to explain to others. Indeed, if we have to explain them at all, we’re probably wasting our breath and better finding someone else to talk to.

Like broken human beings, what old clocks and watches like this are mostly suffering from is neglect. This one was simply gummed up with decades old 3 in 1 oil, and it responded well to a bit of TLC. I dismantled it, cleaned it up in white spirit, then reassembled and sparingly oiled the jewels with proper watch oil. It was very satisfying to see it come to life.

The unassuming exterior of the Raketa hides a very fine 19 jewel movement, originally designed for a pocket-watch, but adapted to take a nicely engineered timer and striker mechanism. By contrast the modern alarm clock is not designed to come apart much, other than to change a battery. They are not intended for repair. If it broke, you’d throw it away. This is the natural evolution of Capital, to make something deliberately beyond economic repair from the outset.

With an occasional service by a watchmaker, the Raketa will last a hundred years, but at forty quid a service who’s going to pay that? There’ll be no watchmakers in a hundred years, only tinkerers like me. Clocks and watches like this are to be our natural inheritance, also the reasons why we bother in the first place.

The Raketa was built in Soviet era Russia, a period when east-west tensions had us all talking about Nuclear Armageddon, a period that taught me there was no surviving such a thing, that the lucky ones would be those sitting under the first bombs as they fell – at least in Europe where the population density is high and the targeted cities are insufficiently far apart to provide safe havens in between. In a nuclear war, there are no safe havens, you see? You either die fast or you die slow – and the former is obviously preferable. What you cannot do is survive. And those weapons haven’t gone away, we managed to pretend for a while they had, but now we’re talking about them again, talking up the likelihoood of a nuclear war.

Imagine the other side have launched their nukes (Russia, North Korea). You’re going to die one way or the other. What would you do? Launch yours as well, simply to ensure the other side is wiped out along with you? Imagine you have a potential leader who says they wouldn’t hesitate to do it, that their readiness to do it is in fact our best defence. Or you have another potential leader who says they’d not launch under any circumstances, that it was immoral. Who would you vote for? And what kind of civilisation would be asking such questions in the first place?

But we were talking about clocks.

Time-pieces interest me on many levels. On the scientific and engineering level it’s a question of how you design a device to accurately shadow the movement of the earth with respect to the sun and provide a globally synchronised reference for conducting human affairs, so for example sixteen hundred hours on the twelfth of January 2027 means the same to everyone. But we can also think in more philosophical and existential terms, a time-piece being then a construct that maps our place in time, the hands sweeping up the history of our lives as they circle.

I prefer mechanical timepieces, even though they are less accurate. There’s something about analogue mechanisms being themselves a metaphor of life – each piece visible, open to scrutiny and doing its bit, responding to the rhythm of life, its function being to assist in recording the history of its greater self.

My little Raketa has known a great deal of modern history – it’s perhaps thirty or forty years old. It’s known the ending of the cold war, and the reunification of Germany. But I’m not sure how long its been asleep, and what it’s missed – a couple of gulf wars perhaps, the Syrian civil war, Libya,the European refugee crisis? What it will witness in the future one can only guess – the breakup of the European Union seems likely, also Scottish independence, the forced reunification of Ireland, and perhaps a new American war with North Korea?

Perhaps I’d’ve been better leaving it on the shelf. Some things I’m sure, like me, it would rather not know about. I’m reminded that I retire in 2020, that alarm clocks will then no longer be necessary, though I could make a decent hobby out of tinkering with old clocks and watches – and writing of course. A question for myself then: do I build a writing cabin in the back garden, or a nuclear bunker?

It has to be a writing cabin. The nuclear bunker is a waste of time, though I notice they are very much back in vogue.

Duck and cover?

Yea right!

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From A to B

bernexMy apologies to the other bidder who was after this rather nice looking Bernex. I know it doesn’t help now, but I assure you I would not have bid any higher than the £22 it went for, so you should have kept going, added that extra 50p and clinched it. But that’s the curse of auctions, online or otherwise, isn’t it? If we’re not careful we get carried away, ego takes over, and we’re damn well going to have the thing, no matter what it costs. The only winner then is the auction house. So, in this case we both stuck to our limits and in that way we were both winners. I may have clinched the actual prize this time, but the goddess of restraint has had me miss out on it often enough in the past.

But here’s the thing: what I really wanted was the Montine that closed five minutes after the Bernex, and which I suspected most vintage horologists had taken their eye from in single minded pursuit of the Bernex, and which I’d therefore imagined I could nail pretty cheap. Sure enough, the Montine went for just £14 and would have made a more ideal tinkertoy, but by then my pocket money was spent and I had to let it go. From past experience I thought the Bernex would have sailed on up to £50 or £60, which goes to show you just never can tell with auctions. It comes down to the mood of the day, perhaps even the phase of the moon.

The seller said it winds and runs, and it does. The seller said the timekeeping had not been measured and in any case could not be guaranteed, but I find it keeps time reasonably well. There’s some wear of the plating on the case, and it needs a new glass, but other than that it has survived the years with dignity – except for that disgusting Fixoflex strap – remorseless nipper of the hairy wrist! Uggh!

Polished, a new glass, a decent strap, and professionally serviced, this one could sit happily in the vintage section of the posh jeweller’s window with a price tag of maybe a hundred, or a hundred and fifty pounds. I hesitate therefore to tinker, to strip it to bits, to clean and oil and regulate, to risk losing the screws to the carpet, or bending the balance, or marking this fine seventy year old dial with a careless slip of a screwdriver blade.

The rickety old Avia I wrote about a while ago, and which I’d not wanted to die on my watch, died on my watch. The balance jewels turned to dust when I cleaned them, and an intricate repair to the lever, carried out in the mists of time, and under the lupe of a man more masterful at the art than I, came undone. At best I now I have an Anton Schild movement as spares for the more robust bits that tend never to be needed. I don’t want the Bernex to go the same way, end its days in the ignominy of my bit-box. It is not a Rolex, just as it is not a Rolls Royce, but even a Ford Focus man like me can enjoy those rare moments when mass produced stuff has a quality about it that shines.

Anyway.

£22 is about the cost of dinner, an experience all too often questionable, and in any case gone in an hour, lingering in the memory only as indigestion. I do not dine out much these days, but for the same money I shall have many more hours of delicate tinkering with this old beauty, learning as I go, and this time I hope, another nice vintage gent’s dress watch to fill a gap in my collection of sensibly priced tickers – indeed a Bernex to add to my Avias!

Oh the joy of it.

 

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olad-aviaSo, seventy five years from now no one will be interested in the date of manufacture of my first generation iPad. Even I don’t remember. 2010, perhaps? All I know for sure is I’d only had it six months and it was already obsolete. Such is the march of consumerism. I still use it though, resisting the inevitable upgrade because like most people I’ve less money now in real terms than I had when I bought it.

But if it still works, why worry about it?

Shame on me. This is not the spirit of consumerism.

Perhaps the internet will preserve the history of my iPad for posterity. Who knows? That’s more than can be said for the AVIA watch company, its history being something of a blur – no one seeming to have considered it worth the writing down. Like the iPad, they shelled their watches out like peas, entirely in accordance with the bean counter’s credo  that making things has never meant a damn beyond the selling of them.

But I’m an engineer, not a bean counter. I make things and I like making things, and I’m interested in the history of making things, and how things were and are and will be made. And I like AVIA watches, but don’t ask me why. They were a quality Swiss manufacture, the designs possessed of a certain nostalgic elegance that appeals to me. I’ve no idea what my first gen iPad will be worth in seventy five years, but a seventy five year old Avia wrist watch is worth,.. well, it varies, but I just paid £12 for this one, which is next to bugger all.

It still runs, just about, but cleaning and oiling will have it back on form. As for the rest of it,.. well,.. it looks knackered to be honest. The case is very worn, the gold plating rubbed through to the brass, and the face,… well,… let’s just say it’s suffered from a long term overexposure to damp. Clean it up all you like, this old watch is never going to look like new.

I’ve seen pictures of Patek Phillipes, Omegas, Rolexes, all with crusty dials – they call it patina on watches like that, aspirational watches, but on an old consumer grade AVIA, well it’s just junk, isn’t it? Sure – with a bit of patience, I can get it telling time as if it were new – get it going for another seventy five years. But who cares about that? Patina’s only worth it on a watch worth ten grand, and in the eyes of the pillock who’s prepared to afford it. To anyone with less money and a damn sight more common sense it’s just going to look,… well,… knackered, and why don’t you go and by yourself a new watch?

So, maybe I should just have my fun, learn a bit more about what makes old tickers tick, then chuck this worthless old junker away.

What’s that? Sell it back on Ebay?

Why should I? If I’m more honest than the original seller who sold it to me (nice condition, running a bit fast), it’s hardly going to make much of a profit, is it? (Old AVIA, generally knackered in appearance, but keeps good time.)

A fiver?

I asked this question on Instagram. My thanks to @grandadbeard for the reply. If it still works you shouldn’t throw it away. You should use it. But I have several dozen watches, some of them much older  and all of them a damn sight better looking than this one. I’ll never wear it, never use it.

But someone will.

It’s come a long way since those first nimble fingers put it together. Maybe in another 75 years it’ll be more valued than it is now. I sense the responsibility, reach cautiously for the screwdriver.

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IMG_1921

The Ebay bug continues to bite. Search: Gents vintage watch. Maximum bid £20. To date I’ve managed to mend slightly more of them than I’ve junked. But let’s be honest, this “mending” has involved only patience in the stripping down, cleaning, oiling and reassembling. Anything broken or missing is, I fear, (usually) the death knell for the consumer grade tickers of yesteryear. I do not tinker with the luxury end of the market, nor anyone’s priceless family heirloom. One slip with a screwdriver and it’s game-over. That’s just too risky a business.

I’m sure you can still get hold of the delicate bits of Rolexes and Omegas dating back to the 1940’s, and that’s fine – those old beauties will survive for centuries, but a Timex, an Avia, or a Services? It is these consumer grade tickers that are the endangered species, beautiful in themselves but vulnerable to the misadventures of tinkerers and Bodger Bills like me. But I shouldn’t be too hard on myself – it’s up to the Bodger Bills to preserve these less prestigious makes, because their insignificant value means that when they stop, they are not worth a proper watch-maker’s time, and the bin is their usual fate.

My most recent project was rather a sorry looking Cardinal for which I paid ten pounds. All the gold plating was worn off and it was losing 5 minutes a day. But it was a valiant little specimen, keen to keep going, and for all of its poor time-keeping, it kept that poor time reliably, if you know what I mean.  The plan was to polish up the case to more of a chrome shine, clean and oil the mechanism and regulate it back into decent time-keeping.

The dial told me Cardinal was a Swiss manufacturer –  usually the mark of a watch designed to long outlive its original owner, but opening this specimen up revealed an uninteresting mechanism – purely functional, no flourish to it at all, and a little flimsy. It was made to market, product of a cost cutting era when the West still sought to rescue its share of consumer goods, under fierce competition from the East. We lost. We were never very good at going cheap, the secret being to somehow retain the soul of a thing, rather than it being the first thing we threw away, which we all too frequently did. Nowadays we still manage a decent fist of the luxury end of the market, but much of that is nostalgia for a time that probably never was and we shall never recover our prowess for GDP enhancing volume manufacture. At least not in my life-time.

So, I was disappointed in the mechanism, but you can’t argue over the price I paid for it and a clean in my little agitation tank, and some fresh oil got the rate back up to a more accurate attempt at 300 beats a minute. The beat itself was lopsided though – more tick-tick-a-tick than a smooth tick-tick-tick, but there was adequate adjustment to bring this back in line. After an evening of tinkering we had what looked like a promising return to good time-keeping, its daily losses now counted in fractions of a minute rather than multiples.

Meanwhile the case polished up very nicely indeed – all the remaining bits of gold removed and the base metal brought up to an impressive chrome shininess by successive layers of abrasive paper: 600 grit, 1200 grit, 2400 grit, then a good going over with Solvol metal polish and a fine buffing wheel on a Dremel drill. The result was pleasing – the time spent was enormously absorbing.

Then came reassembly, but I chose an inopportune time, the TV nagging in the corner of the room and one of those occasional familial spats kicking off around me. Watch tinkering requires focus. The lifting of every screwdriver, the unfastening of every screw, the withdrawal of every pin, the lifting of every plate. The smoothness, the focus, the deliberation, the intent, all guard against surprise, and against the panic that sometimes ensues when “surprise” happens. In this sense watch repair is like meditation. And like meditation, to begin with at least, we need a quiet room.

The plate was about five millimetres diameter, brass, a quarter of a millimetre in thickness, and had curled into it a spring, like a paperclip, but again very small, so I had not noticed it on strip down. I spotted it now through the loupe as it pivoted away, ready to fall. I caught it with the tweezers, breathed easy, teetering on the brink of disaster. Then the agitation around me reached a crescendo, broke through momentarily, caused a ripple of irritation on the still surface of my thoughts, a tremor of the hand,… and the spring literally dematerialised. One moment it was there, held safe in my tweezers, the next it was gone.

The spring was part of the mechanism that flips the date, a complication which, in the case of this watch was more complicated than any other I have encountered. The watch would still go back together, tell good time, I supposed, but that it would never know the date again was unfortunate. On the plus side, it was not a good quality watch, so I had not ruined much. But I had thought that if I could have got it running better and cleaned up to a more presentable shine, I could in all good conscience have resold it on the Bay as a more superior specimen than the one I’d bought, but alas it looked like I’d junked it, and all for the want of a spring the size of fly’s leg.

But a spring is a spring, fashioned from spring-steel, and I remembered I had it a-plenty from my torsion clock days. I chose a quieter time. No TV, no other people around. An hour under the loupe with snippers and pliers and a new spring took shape. It slotted into place snugly, held firm and performed crisply, pressing the tiny detent mechanism into the date wheel, so it stepped through the days properly. The Cardinal once more knew what day it was, as well as making a better stab at the time. And I began to feel less like a Bodger Bill and more like a watchmaker.

Nope – still a Bodger Bill, Michael.

I remember an old clockmaker showing me once a repair that had been made on a three hundred year old clock. The bit of bent iron crudely fashioned into an escapement mechanism I correctly identified as a discarded horseshoe. I was impressed by such ingenuity. The clockmaker was not.

I’ve worn it for a week now, and it does passably well – all right, sometimes it gains a minute, depending how I set it down at night, and then there’s a slackness in the train that makes the minute hand wander plus or minus a minute when you tap the watch, so the time will always be something of an average, no matter how well the beat is regulated. Alas I cannot release it back into the wild as anything other than another tinkerer’s tinker thing. Yes, it’s running slightly better than when I got it, but admittedly not much, and I would certainly not like to rely on it. But the watch tinkerer’s Cardinal rule is that we must accept much of the value in what we do is not in the end result of our actions, nor in the final bid price if we decide to sell, but in the journey we took the moment we flipped off the back.

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