chose this title especially to discuss some thoughts on habits that die
hard. These are things we do, did or were told to do by
"experts" and do not hold up to scrutiny. Do with them
what you will.
We all now joke about "personal
magnetism" that prevents watches from performing properly.
This kind of myth was invented to justify poor workmanship and get a
customer to stop complaining.
Then there are the myths like "overwinding".
When a timepiece stops working, what is the
first thing someone does? Wind it up of course! But if it
failed because of dried out lubrication or worn pivot holes, winding
does nothing. Then the next person discovers it is fully wound and
does not work; must be overwound. Many a child or partner has been
wrongly accused when int fact someone HAS to be the last person to wind
a timepiece that has failed due to maintenance issues.
The only true cases of overwinding I have
encountered related to people using vice grips on vintage Swiss aircraft
clocks which wind in reverse of normal and have no clutch. Unless
the stem or winding wheel are broken, it is hard to make a case for
Here are my thoughts on what I have now come to see
as myths for watchmakers. These are practices every author from
Fired to Jendristki have described; and only Jendritski makes it clear
that they apply to NEW work (Jendritski's Watch Adjusting). But
many authors have described these practices in the context of watch
Once I thought it through, I came to the conclusion
these practices really have no or very limited use in watch servicing.
Almost every watchmaking tome encourages the reader to "poise the
balance" with the poising tool. This practice is only useful
when doing new work. Countless precision watches have been
destroyed by people who took this as fact from writers such as
Fried. They either used balance wheel undercutters, filed the
underside of the screw heads or turned the heads down in the lathe to do
a first class botch job.
Totally unnecessary and destructive
in repair/restoration work.
Think about a Hamilton 992 Railroad
watch that never was sold and is still in its original factory sealed
container. It is out there somewhere. Yes, the balance
was poised when first staffed. But then, it was "adjusted to 6
positional rates". This was done by timing the watch in the
positions and then moving or changing the balance rim screws.
By definition, the balance left the factory "out of poise";
but adjusted to hold 5 seconds per day across 6 positions!
So now the staff in that watch
needs to be replaced. First, the roller determines everything and
in fact it can only go in one of two positions by convention. In 2 arm
balances, the impulse jewel is set to be perpendicular to the
arms. There are only two locations. If you are smart, you
will mark the original position with ink. Even still, if the
timing is off when done, you only need to rotate the roller 180 degrees.
Ok. You DO need calipers to
level and true the balance in the round (under minimum 10X
magnification); but if you did your job
properly, the corrections should be minor. Just do not handle the balance
like a sack of potatoes.
Now you do what Hamilton did; and
what today is called is dynamic poising. You set the balance to a
specific amplitude and measure the rates in 8 vertical positions to
determine the heavy spot on the balance rim. Before you touch
anything though, if the timing results indicate the roller position is
involved, rotate the roller and retest.
With dynamic poising, you do not
need to bother with the poising and the use of the tool will lead to
undo factory determined distributions of mass.
If I had a balance assembly that
was badly vandalized, I could start possibly use the poising tool to
give me a starting point. But for reasons of physics (look up
"Q" and resonance of oscillators), if the balanced is that
badly damaged, I would look for a donor balance assembly.
Think about it, all those authors
stated the use of the poising tool as an article of faith without ever
explaining why in the world anything done in restaffing would change the
factory adjustments; other than poor technique.
Fitting a new balance spring.
This is another myth promoted by many authors and the popularity of
"hairspring fitting services" in the old days. And it
makes it very difficult to find a railroad watch with a true oscillator.
When a watch is designed, the
geometry of the balance spring is actually determined by trial and
error. When a good pattern is found, the angular positions of the
bends are measured and recorded and the balance springers are trained in
how to produce that design. Tony Simonin told us at Wostep that
when he first started working, it took him 3 months to produce one good
spring; and that was for one caliber! He had the pattern to
In class, we spent a month
producing two springs for a Rolex balance for a grade. Again, we
had the specs to follow.
When I came home, I sold my set of
grade balance springs and my balance spring vibrating tool. I had
learned that it is impossible to produce a spring that will result in precision
timing (less than 10 seconds per day error across all positions) unless
you KNEW the pattern for that caliber! And then it took an
unrealistic amount of practice to make that spring.
A watch is not a watch just because
it ticks! It must function as intended. And most watches
worth servicing were intended to be precision instruments.
Which brings us back to to balance
spring vibrating services. You sent the balance and they would
send back a balance with a vibrated spring to keep time. But
unless the bends were made in the factory specified positions, it was
extremely difficult if not impossible to return it to positional