Watch and Clock Restoration
Some Recent Jobs
A number of people have asked about the type of watch and clock restoration work I undertake and so I have put together this page of some of the more interesting jobs I have done in recent months. Very often the owners of fine timepieces never see the workmanship which has gone into the making of their investment and, while the pieces on this page are by no means outstanding, they give an idea of the mechanisms involved. These pictures are culled from my recent files and were taken as records only, therefore they have little artistic merit, also, they are limited to those pieces which I have had the good fortune to work on since I began recording jobs in such a way. As better timepieces pass through my hands I hope (with their owners permission) to be able to add these to the gallery.
Obviously, I am not prepared to discuss the location of any of these items nor to reveal the identities of their owners.
I limit my work to the restoration and repair of 'antique' watches, small unusual or complicated clocks up to carriage clock size, and marine chronometers. My main interest is in complicated watches and pocket chronometers. I do not do routine 'trade work' and I attempt to carry out all my work to a standard at least as high as that of the original maker of the timepiece I am working on. Wherever possible I like to make my work undetectable on normal visual examination.
Initially, to answer the queries of some members of the 'model engineering' email list, here is a picture of the smallest balance staff I have turned so far. It was for an obsolete ladies watch of high quality and is shown next to the head of a normal dressmaking pin for size comparison. The photo is a little indistinct as it was taken through a microscope.
An 8-day Marine Chronometer.
This Chronometer has suffered as a result of bad handling, probably at the hands of a previous repairer, but also by being carried around in an unwound state. As will be seen from the following photos, the detent, which is the heart of the chronometer escapement and gives it its accuracy, has been badly damaged and had to be replaced. The locking stone had also been broken and I had to make a new one from synthetic sapphire. Whilst I do not have a photo of the finished stone, it is triangular in section and cut from a turned rod of about 0.6mm diameter and around 5mm long. The brass wedge which holds it in place is visible in the photo. The making of a chronometer detent has always been classed as the most difficult job in horology as it has to be hand filed from a block of tool steel to precise dimensions. The most delicate part, the spring which joins the blade of the detent to its foot, has to finish with the sides exactly parallel for its 2 - 3mm width and 4 - 5mm length whilst being less than the breadth of a hair in thickness. Hardening and tempering the detent is also complicated as the thin spring must be tempered to a nice blue whilst the tip of the detent must be left relatively soft. The whole detent is no more than an inch long.
A Pocket Chronometer by
Santiago James Moore FRENCH or William FRENCH
London, about 1850
Unfortunately, this watch has had a hard life. When it arrived, it was almost completely dismantled and had a substantial amount of rusting on the balance, balance spring, rollers and detent - all the most important parts! Work on these to conserve them is likely to take some time but the owner doesn't want replacements made and so the watch will be kept in its original form. It came as a result of a telephone call when its owner rang to say that he had been looking through some watch 'junk' he had acquired and had found this watch with 'a kind of springy thing where the escapement should be - what should he do?'. My advice was to put it back in the box immediately and bring it to me before he did it any more harm. Whilst the damage to it reduces the watch's commercial value, it is of some historical importance and it is fortunate that we have been able to rescue it.
The escapement of this watch is unusual in that it is a development of the Earnshaw escapement. Made at the time when Thomas Earnshaw Jr. was modifying his father's escapement into what would become the industry standard, this escapement suggests that there may have been some collaboration between French and the young Earnshaw.
The movement is approximately 45mm in diameter.
The Detent and locking stone.
This shows clearly the ornamentation applied to the body of the detent near the locking stone pipe and the gold passing spring can be seen behind the lower cut-out section of the detent. The detent spring and foot are not visible but extend to the right of the picture. The size of the detent is 15.3mm overall length (including spring and foot and projecting gold passing spring) and it is 0.84mm wide at the locking stone and 0.14 thick on the main body. The free end of the detent and gold spring to the left is 0.25mm high. In this case, the gold passing spring is rivetted to the detent. This is quite unusual as they were more often fixed with a tiny screw so that the length could be adjusted relative to the detent. Another unusual feature is that the foot of the detent is formed as a parallel dovetail which is held into a matching slot in the brass carrier by a taper headed screw and is provided with an eccentric screw adjustment for depth.
The Escape Wheel.
This shows the form of the teeth with curved backs which became normal in 'modern' chronometers from around 1859. You can see also the way the centre of the wheel is releived and reduced in height to leave the greater part of the teeth standing proud. This was done to lighten the wheel and allow it to accelerate quickly when released by the detent or locking roller.
This wheel has a maximum diameter of 8.36mm, a thickness over the teeth of 0.67mm and a thickness in the centre part of 0.25mm.
These photographs were taken using a hand-held digital camera through one lens of a binocular microscope and so the quality may leave something to be desired.
A Quarter Repeating Pocket Watch by
Thomas Russell, Liverpool
View of the under-dial work, never normally seen by the owner
(I must apologise for the poor quality of these images)
View into the back of the watch: note the wire gongs circling the movement and the 2 hammers on the left hand side.
This watch had a number of problems including missing parts and wear. The making of missing parts is always a challenge as almost every old complicated watch is individual and different in its detailed construction. Such watches were always expensive and were made in such limited numbers that each was a work of art in its own right. A thorough understanding of the intentions of the maker are essential before any work can begin and this can involve substantial research into other comparable watches (or clocks) to get a feel for the way the maker thought and applied this to his design problems. In this case, several parts of the striking work had been removed and lost, presumably by a bad repairer who couldn't do the necessary repairs and had, instead, simply removed and discarded parts to free off the movement and allow it to function as a timepiece only. I'm pleased to say it now functions correctly again.
A Watch by John Ellicott of London.
This is a cylinder escapement watch by one of the leading makers of cylinder escapements. It currently does not have a case but is, neverthless, a very interesting and quite valuable watch. Despite its age it needed very little work doing on it and every part of it shouts quality. The balance cock in the centre is deeply carved and ornamented and has a diamond endstone set in place over the end of the balance staff. I have illustrated this for two reasons. The first of these is to draw your attention to the workmanship in the dust cap to the right of the movement. This is a cover which fits over the movement, enclosing it tightly to exclude any dust and is turned from a solid piece of brass. Considering the limitations of technology at the time this watch was made - about 1760/80 - the perfectly regular turning of the oval 'bump' on the back of the cover which is to clear the balance cock, and the assocoated surround to the winding hole, is a veritable tour-de-force. Remember, at this time, they had no powered tools - let alone computer-controlled milling machines! The second reason I illustrated this watch is to explain the cylinder escapement a little. Having been invented by Breguet in France, it was John Ellicott who developed it into a practical escapement for watches and replaced Breguet's original ruby cylinder with a steel one. As you are no doubt already aware, an escapement is to regulate and slow down the release of energy from a wound spring, a prolonged event of which the progress is measured by the rotation of the watch hands over the numbered dial. The name 'escapement' derives from the method by which the teeth of a gear wheel are sequentially stopped and allowed to 'escape' from an oscillating 'gate'. In modern watches this 'gate' takes the form of a pivoted, 'Y'-shaped lever, the two 'upper' arms alternately locking the wheel teeth as the lever pivots around its centre and its 'lower' tail is knocked from one side to the other by the balance wheel as it rotates one way and then the other. In the cylinder escapement, however, the lever is replaced by a steel tube which forms the actual balance staff. About half the diameter of the tube is cut away for part of its length (see picture below) and the teeth of the 'escape wheel' alternately rest on the outside of the tube and then on its inside as the balance rotates first one way and then the other. In this way, each tooth 'escapes' twice, first from the outside of the tube to the inside as the cut-away portion reaches the tooth tip in its rotation one way, and then from the inside away from the tube as the balance rotates far enough in the other direction. As this happens, of course, the next tooth falls onto the outside of the tube ready for its journey into and out of the tube.
With the advent of mechanisation in the latter part of the 19th century, this became a popular and cheap escapement and was fitted to countless thousands of the pretty Victorian ladies fob watches. Repairing a broken cylinder is a tedious task as, nowadays, replacements have to be hand made in the manner of the one in the watch illustrated. The majority tend to be around 1mm in diameter and, perhaps, 6mm long and the steel rod from which the new part is made must be drilled and lapped out to around 0.75mm diameter leaving only a very thin wall. This must then be filed away for almost half its length to just over half its diameter and a section at the end of this part must be further filed away to leave only a very small arc of steel tube wall so that the tube may swing freely over the rim of the escape wheel. The whole lot must then be hardened, tempered and highly polished and the edges of the cylinder which come into contact with the escape wheel must be carefully rounded and polished. Once this is done, steel plugs must be made and push fitted to each end and these are then turned down to form the two end pivots. The cylinder is then press fitted into a brass bush which is turned to size and has the balance wheel rivetted to it. Needless to say, cylinder escapement watches are quite delicate and must be treated with care.
A Silver Pair-Cased Verge Watch
by John Moody of London
This watch is typical of many 'common' verge pocket watches. It is made by a good London maker who is listed as working in the 1760's although this case is hallmarked for 1773. Many of these watches still exist and run quite well over 200 years after they were made - not a bad testament to their maker's abilities. The Verge escapement was the first escapement to be invented and was still being regularly made into the second quarter of the 19th century.
The verge balance staff forms the heart of the escapement and consists of a steel rod with two 'flags' projecting radially from it at right angles to each other. The escape wheel in this case is like a crown with ratchet-shaped teeth and is presented at right angles to the verge balance staff so that the two 'flags' alternately obstruct teeth at the top and bottom of the escape wheel. Replacing a broken verge staff is an interesting engineering exercise as, for most of its 15mm or so length, it must be turned to a smooth 0.8mm diameter or thereabouts. However, the complication comes with the flags which project from a point close to one end and about 1/3rd the way from the other end and are, perhaps, 1.5mm square. The section between the flags is very difficult to support during turning and the end pivots must then be turned down concentric with the rest of the staff. These staffs are turned in a hardened and tempered form as this is the only way to get enough strength for support and they must be finally polished and the flags must be shaped and polished before the finished staff is fitted to a brass collet which is rivetted to the balance wheel.
A Modern Chronograph
This watch, made in the 1950s, shows the basic mechanism of a chronograph (stop watch). The only repair I was asked to do was the fitting of a new balance staff and a general overhaul and set-up. You will notice that some of the 'screws' on the backplate of the watch have more than one slot in them - this indicates that they are not normal screws and. in this case, one is an eccentric adjuster which is used to set up the limits of a lever's travel whilst the other indicates that the screw under it has a left-hand thread. Many times I see watches with such parts broken or missing and so I would strongly recommend that, if you see a 'screw' with any more than the usual single slot in its head, you leave it alone. The adjustment of Chronographs is quite a delicate matter and any incorrect adjustment can lead to irregular timekeeping and excessive wear on the rest of the watch.
Some other pretty watches
A verge watch by Kenneth McLennan of London. Mc Lennan worked between 1776 and 1825 and is noted for a planetarium which he made for the Royal Institution in London. This watch has a number of 90 which probably indicates a date before the end of the 18th century.
A very nice verge watch by William Nash who I believe worked in Canterbury between 1762 and 1794. The watch has a couple of interesting features. One is its raised oval 'bump' on the dust cover which is more typical of early cylinder watches and the other is that the movement is dated - 1st August 1791. Whilst this may have been the date at which the watch was finished, it is unlikely and it would be more plausible to imagine that it represented an important day in the life of its original owner. The watch is also unusual in having the engraved decoration on the dust cap.
If you have any comments on this page, I should be pleased to hear them.