Saturday, November 19, 2011
Getting my Bearings
I've been doing some intensive exploration of the horology web over the past few weeks. There's a whole world out there that I had no idea even existed. There are communities of people, information databases, specialty suppliers, markets, the works. I've been especially happy about the people. It almost seems like there's an international brotherhood of watch nerds, and they have been very welcoming. Special thanks to Max—mars-red of Global Horology and WatchUSeek—who's really gone out of his way to help me get started.
I've also been learning to know my tools. As I mentioned previously, I have a cheap Indian all-around kit. When it comes to tools, I believe strongly in "buy cheap, buy twice." As in, if you don't have a bleeping clue about what you're doing, first buy cheap. Then as soon as you have some idea of what you want, buy professional-grade stuff.
Bad tools are really annoying to work with, and ironically handicap novices more than experts who have the skills to work around the limitations. On the other hand, if you have no clue about what's what, you can easily make expensive mistakes—for example, buying some very pricey specialist tool that you don't actually need, or buying some very expensive tool that you ruin because you don't know how to use it.
Another way things get expensive is if you get into an upgrade cycle. That is, you start out with something cheap, then buy something that's a little better, then a little better than that, then even better, until eventually you end up buying the really good tools anyway.
So I buy twice. First cheap, then good.
At this point, I have figured out what the most critical tools are. Namely, a set of screwdrivers between 0.5 and 1.2 mm, and a pair of #2 tweezers. So I bit the bullet and ordered a set of the former from Bergeon, and the latter from Dumont. Won't need to be upgrading either of those in a hurry. I bought them from a supplier in the UK, which required me to tick a box saying that I'm not buying them as a consumer, since they're a wholesaler. I'm only too happy not to be a consumer!
I still haven't gotten my cleaning stuff together, so I haven't been able to proceed to cleaning and oiling the Citizen from my previous posting. Instead, I've been playing scales, as it were: I've been practicing disassembling and assembling my broken Swiss movement. It's a Unitas 6300N. The hairspring looks weird, there's a kink in it and it's kind of bunched to one side, and there's some rust coming out of odd places. It's a nicely machined mechanism, though; the components are more precisely cut than in the Citizen. Perhaps eventually I'll find a new hairspring from somewhere and try to change it, see if I can get it to run again.
I'm getting more confident with my tweezer technique. I no longer constantly feel that I'm about to destroy something, and I'm able to reassemble the movement without having to refer to photos on the way. Those tricky bits I mentioned earlier—getting the pallet fork and arbor properly seated, installing the train bridge—don't feel all that tricky anymore. My screwdriver still slips on occasion and puts marks on the movement, but I'm getting better with that too.
I've also acquired a couple more watches.
My mother-in-law (thanks, Aune!) found one knocking around in a drawer and gave it to me. It's from the 1950's or possibly early 1960's, a real working man's tool watch. It has a "Wehrmachtswerk" movement—AS 1300, or very similar—and a rather handsome stainless-steel case. The dial isn't very pretty and the hands are a bit oxidized, and it has suffered some damage at the hands of someone else practicing on it; the case back has some gouges in it from a poorly-fitting tool that has slipped, the movement was dark with fingerprints, the screws don't look all that nice, and the balance cock has some odd-looking scratches on it too. But it still runs.
I really like the case, though. If I could find a nicer dial and hands to fit the movement, it would make a really good-looking watch. As it is, it's a very good practice watch, and very likely the subject of a future article on this blog.
The other watch I bought on the Finnish equivalent of eBay. I bid not really expecting to win it, and got it at a price where I expected it to be broken or at best barely working. "Unfortunately" it turned out to be in excellent condition, and much too nice for me to practice on. The only problem with it that I can see is that it's missing one of the train bridge screws.
The watch is a Certina Waterking 210 with date, from the late 1960's or early 1970's. It's one of the unloved models from that time, much less coveted than the DS or DS-2 lines. It's gold plated, has a cushion case with a brushed finish, and a cream-colored, convex dial. The case is in really good shape, looking almost new; the crown has most of the gold plating worn off, and the dial is pristine.
I've put it in a box, waiting for the time I feel confident enough not to put scratches into the movement, or damage screws, or otherwise degrade it. It'll be very interesting to see if it's as well-made as the beautiful decoration on the visible parts suggests. It really is a very pretty mechanism; looking at it side by side with the NOMOS Club Datum I have—it has a glass back—I'd say the Certina looks more carefully finished. Which is a bit mortifying really, considering what I paid for the NOMOS.
While waiting for those tools and consumables—I've also ordered Rodico, pithwood, two kinds of oil, and finger cots—I've been working out the basics of dealing with cases. Lots of stuff to explore there, too.
I'm now familiar with the basic types of plastic crystals, know how to measure one, and am able to remove and install a tension-ring or pressure-fit plastic crystal. I know—just pop it out from the back with your thumb, press it back in from the front with your fingers. Ridiculously simple; so simple it took me weeks to believe it was that simple, so I actually did it. So I also ordered new crystals for the Citizen and the Wehrmachtsuhr; they have some cracks around the edges. And I'm able to polish a scratched crystal.
I've been less successful in my attempts at polishing the case itself. The Citizen started out with a brushed finish, but was rather badly scratched; I want to turn it into a mirror finish. (Yes, I know that's a no-no when dealing with serious watches, but fortunately the Citizen isn't a serious watch.)
So I sanded it down with some sandpaper between 280 and 1200, then polished using a general-purpose stainless-steel polishing compound with a chamois. It's now sort of shiny and looks OK from a distance, but not quite what I want yet. I think the problem may be that neither the polish nor the sandpapers are quite good enough for the job; stainless steel is hard, and the sandpaper loses its grit pretty quick. More research needed there too, clearly.
I like being a complete newbie. There's a freedom to it, like arriving on an unexplored continent.
And now, I'm going to find out if shellac is soluble in alcohol.
Edit: It is. I thought of dunking the parts into isopropanol after cleaning them in the ultrasonic cleaner, so they'll dry quicker and without leaving residue. Bad idea. The jewels would fall out.