Sunday, June 3, 2007

Grand Complication

There are no small watch parts.

Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, self-taught watchmaker Ernest R. Tope learned the ropes first through helpful watchmakers willing to pass on their knowledge and later honed his skills as the resident watch repairer at a Florida jewelry shop for twelve years. First studying and practicing watch repair, then later as a Factory Trained Rolex Technician.

Like most future watchmakers, Ernest's curiosity began when he was young and helped foster his interest in all things mechanical. With a varied work history, Ernest settled into life as a watchmaker repairing standard watches, but also taking on such challenges as a watch with an ivory movement, a minuscule Patek Philippe hunter case pocket watch as well as an Hamilton 992E with Lucite plates--far beyond the usual skeletonized movement.

His education has brought him in touch with Henry Fried and his work has included, Breguet, Audemars Piguet and Chronoswiss.

Curious? Then read on and enjoy.

PR: So, let's start off with the basics; how old are you and where were you born and raised?

ET: I was born in Tampa, Florida in 1951 and grew up there for most of my life.

PR: Where were you trained in watch repair? What was that like?

ET: I received no formal education in watch repair. Mostly I learned by applying my experience in life with reference material and what I could garner from other watchmakers. Fortunately most watchmakers I know are willing and sometimes eager to share knowledge. Much written material exists and is usually a very reliable source for the basic concepts. The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute has been instrumental in providing current wisdom.

PR: What was your first professional position and with whom?

ET: My first position was with a small independently owned jewelry store. There I began to learn the watch repair trade that went along with the skills I had studied.

PR: How did your childhood education, or experiences affect your decision to enter Watchmaking?

ET: Many a watchmaker dismantled their toys to see how they worked. I was no different. I learned to love mechanical things and focus on how they functioned. Eventually it was this love for mechanical things that drew me to watch restoration as a vocation. I still love discovering a mechanism of which I am not familiar.

PR: What did you do before becoming a watch repairer?

ET: I had been a Motorcycle Mechanic, a Firefighter and a Cabinet Maker not to mention a few other endeavors.

PR: Any idea what your old school friends are doing these days?

ET: I know what a few are doing. But your question has made me realize that I haven’t kept up with most of them. As I grow older I see that I was not inclined to keep long term relationships with more than a few special friends. Wonder if I’m missing anything.

PR: Are you a watch repairer, or a watch maker? Do you see a difference in these two terms, or occupations?

ET: Semantics for the most part, the term watchmaker implies to me those who work with watches. There are all levels of skills and applications that are covered under the same term. If you want to understand how the industry delineates these skills, you could examine the Official Standards and Practices for the Preparation, Education, and Certification of Twenty First Century Watchmakers. This can be found on the web at:

Some feel that true "Watchmakers" should be able to make a watch from scratch. I think they should be able to competently service a fine watch without damaging or degrading it in any way. That takes a certain level of skill, knowledge, and integrity with ethical standards. I have been doing that for a long time now.

PR: What was the first watch you owned? Do you still have it?

ET: Absolutely not, actually I remember leaving it on the back bumper of the family car while I was playing. My Mom drove off and I never saw it again.

PR: What was the first watch you ever repaired, either professionally, or before?

ET: It was an old Studebaker pocket watch. Not worth much and not much confidence.

PR: Any opinion on the decline that mechanical watches and Switzerland in particular, saw during the sixties and seventies?

ET: No real opinion.

PR: Was it the fault of the Swiss makers, or the cheap, accurate imports that entered the market? Who is to blame for that downturn?

ET: It was in the stars my friend.

PR: What do you think fostered the upswing in the eighties?

ET: It was brilliant marketing on the part of geniuses.

PR: How did the downturn and upswing affect your business?

ET: I became a bench jeweler because of the rumors and forecasts of various speculators. I returned to Watchmaking in the later eighties because I landed work at an Official Rolex Dealer. From then on it has been watches only.

PR: How do you feel about the ever increasingly complicated watches we're seeing these days?

ET: I like it because servicing them is my specialty. I am concerned at the number of beautiful and valuable watches that receive inappropriate treatment by the uniformed. Every watchmaker of high caliber complains of seeing watches that have been abused. The fastest way to demolish a fine complicated watch is to put it in the hands of the unqualified. I think there will be a great shortage of qualified people to service such fine mechanisms. Only when the owners become savvy in knowing who is qualified will they be free from that threat.

PR: Do you feel these will be a boon to new watchmakers, or a hindrance with their highly technical nature?

ET: Both, they will be more expensive (time consuming) to service and more subject to abuse (inadvertent damage). On the other hand, the owners who enjoy them are willing to pay for competent service and are delighted when the watch performs well. That means the competent watchmaker would have plenty of good paying work.

PR: How did you first learn about the American Watchmakers Institute? How long have you been a member?

ET: I joined when I learned of it in 1984. A fellow watchmaker invited me to a local gild meeting and educated me about the organization. I’ve been a member ever since.

PR: Do you have a mentor, or a watchmaker you hold in high regard?

ET: There are many but I suppose the guy that sticks out is the late Henry Fried. I learned from his books and later had the opportunity to spend a little time with him. He was amazing and a giant role model for the Horologist.

PR: Where do you see the watch repair business heading?

ET: It will be interesting to watch. I am not sure how the independent repairer will be supported by industry. As long as they are there will be some. Factory service will always be challenged to keep up with service for the large numbers of watches being

PR: Will you be going along for the ride, or will you go on to other things?

ET: My work is not the mainstream. I repair and restore watches that others do not. This is an area where there is no industry support to rely upon. I have more restoration work than I can do. You might say I am independent of industry. Lately I have been toying with making unique watches and admit I am drawn to that possibility. There will be more on that in the future.

PR: Are you where you pictured yourself as a young man, work wise?

ET: As a young man I thought I would have to work to survive. Now I know I can thrive without working. I never thought making money would be so much fun.

PR: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

ET: Independent Horology, designing and making unusual watches.

PR: Do you have a favorite maker, or watch company?

ET: I could declare a favorite but actually it keeps changing depending on what marvel comes across my bench. Some of the finest watches I have seen were not signed. Anonymous was the most prolific watchmaker. Can you imagine a watch sold today without a makers name on it?

PR: When not at the bench, how do you spend your time?

ET: Self-discovery, I am on a great journey to know and love myself. This requires much self-observation and meditation. Freeing myself of the constraints of my past is a great pastime. I have no big hobbies or boy toys, just a big delightfully interesting world to be part of.

PR: What was your most difficult project, either difficult because it was complicated work, or just plain hard and nasty?

ET: The biggest challenge so far was making a spring detent for an English pocket chronometer. I may have found something harder now. Currently I am making an escape wheel for an extremely small cylinder watch. The wheel is 2.8mm in tooth diameter and .25mm high. It must be easy; the original was made before electricity came into popular use.

[Editor's note: Here is a link to a website discussing a spring detent]

PR: What was your easiest project?

ET: Can’t remember.

PR: Are you a "strap and battery" repairer, or do you turn your nose up at that sort of watch repair work?

ET: I still do that stuff for my friends.

PR: What is the silliest question a customer ever asked you?

ET: How often should I wind my quarts watch?

PR: Are watch repairers a cloistered lot? Are "outsiders" welcomed?

ET: There are all kinds but I find most friendly and willing to share information to those who respect their time. They may not welcome others who ask many questions instead of dong the research. It’s like asking for a free appraisal and historical evaluation on the back of the repair envelope. I have been bugged excessively for explanations to the novice. Try that with your lawyer or auto mechanic and see what happens. Generally, watchmakers are much nicer when they tell someone to get lost. When adequate respect for time is apparent most watchmakers will welcome anyone.

PR: What advice do you have for people like me, who wish to make this a new career, or a hobby?

ET: Research, Research, Research, and be real about your ability. The largest impediment to achieving success is a poor attitude. Give yourself full credit for what you know and acknowledge there are multitudes of things that you do not know. Discovering those things is a great adventure.

PR: What is your best kept secret, or tip for repair work?

ET: What goes poorly today may go miraculously tomorrow. Emotional stability and a sense of opportunity in whatever is happening serve me well in my work and my life. Now don’t tell anybody know.

PR: And lastly, ties: A single Windsor, or a double Windsor knot?

ET: I do not like to wear one. When forced I like one of those clip on ones from the 70’s. When there is absolutely no choice in the mater I will use a Windsor. Never heard of a double Windsor. Must be a different culture.

I'd like to thank Ernest for taking the time to participate with this interview. The experiences Ernest has not only encountered, but sought out are proof to all of us interested in Watchmaking, that it is possible--whether success, pleasure with our work, or fixing the hither to believed unfixable. Thank you, Ernest.

If you'd like to contact Ernest to inquire about his services, please visit his website at:

Email at:

Or call:

(813) 505-9749

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cleaning & Oiling A Bulova 10BC Movement

One of my favorite watches took a nasty spill and the upper pivot on the balance staff broke.

After acquiring another 10BC movement from Larry Foord, I proceeded with a pretty standard cleaning and oiling.

I was pleased to see that the replacement movement was a 17 jewel 10BC, so I swapped it for my 7 jewel 10BC.

The new movement was missing the barrel ratchet wheel, the hour wheel, the canon pinion and the upper pivot on the pallet arbor was broken, but the balance and hairspring were perfect.

After disassembling and hand cleaning the new movement, I separated the parts.

After the cleaning process, I used wooden skewers to clean out the jewel holes, being careful not to crack one. I also removed the cap jewel for the pallet arbor lower pivot and cleaned that.

Here are pics of the pillar plate:

And the dial side:

To avoid smudges I did a preliminary wiping of the bridges and plate with Rodico. A more though cleaning would happen after the movement is assembled.

Here we see the damaged pallet fork and arbor from the replacement movement. The missing pivot is quite obvious, even on so small a part.

Here is the first step in assembly; the pallet arbor and fork (PA&F) are set in place and the PA&F bridge is carefully set onto the upper pivot.

Here, all the pics are from the 7 jewel movement. As I got going on assembling the 17 jewel movement, I became careless and didn't take any pictures. So the 7 jewel will have to sit in for the 17 jewel movement. The layout is identical, however.

Next, the escape wheel is put in place.

Then, the fourth wheel--the gear which moves the sub-second hand.

Next, the third wheel--the gear which moves the minutes hand.

And lastly, the second wheel, or center wheel--the gear which moves the hour hand.

Here the bridge has been replaced. On a personal note, I've noticed it's far easier to place the bridges down on high jeweled watches. These seven jewel movements are tough, because there isn't a colour contrast between the pivots and holes, like a jewel will give you.

Here the barrel is placed in position.

And here the barrel bridge in put in place.

Here, the click spring gave me some grief on the 17 jewel movement. The click had jumped the spring, so I had to remove the click, so as to get the spring back behind the stud located on the underside of the click. Thirty minutes later, I was victorious and the click spring was my defeated enemy!

To crush your click springs, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the winding clicks!

Lastly, the balance goes into place.

This video may be downloaded for free from Rapidshare

Here is a video of the 17 jewel movement ticking along nicely.

This video may be downloaded for free from Rapidshare

Thursday, May 24, 2007


To all my readers, I apologize for my laziness in posting.

I don't want to turn this into a "personal" blog, so I'll keep it short. My father had some health issues, which have been clearing up very well. I've been helping my mother to care for him and have been putting out fires around the house; so things like studying and blogging have fallen by the wayside.

Starting next week, I will be making regular postings and updating the Chicago School Of Watchmaking section, as well as all the other sections. I especially hope to have a new Grande Complication interview up sooner, than later.

You've all been very patient and I look forward to interacting with you as much as possible over the next year--and beyond.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Custom Made Watch Dials

Received a heads up from reader Dennis Brooker on his custom made dials.

His dials are made using genuine shell materials and Swarovski crystal, etched carbon fiber, holographic background materials, real wood and rattlesnake skin. Dennis has also created a new high quality luminous film which is comparable to any luminous material now offered.

They are available for 35mm and 40mm watches in both quartz and auto. Your name, initials, a monogram, a military insignia or logo can be imprinted on to any of the dials.

My personal faves are the carbon fiber dials:

Check out Dennis Brooker's website for more info:


Good news for this weeks Autonomie; I had my first comment!

Reader rrwatch pointed out that the Chicago School Of Watchmaking course left out a couple of important setting mechanisms from their course: The key set and pin.

From Christoph Ozdoba's website:

"...the shaft where you insert the key to set the watch is usually directly in the center."

"In the picture above, the red arrow shows the little pusher that you have to operate (best with the nail of your thumb) if you want to set the watch: Push it in, and then turn the crown to set the hands."

The key set featured both front and back setting squares and the pin set--as is found on the Model 1870 Waltham.

I haven't made a new post on the Chicago School Of Watchmaking for several days and I apologize. I haven't had too much time to study, which is not an excuse. I hope to start posting daily, rather than catch as catch can, as I have been doing.

I posted info about my blog on several watch forums to mark the one month anniversary of the What Does Your Watch Say? blog. Response has been good, but I'm still looking for your comments and emails, readers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Longines Legend Diver update

Some new info and pics about my favorite and yours, the Longines Legend Diver re-issue.

To be made available between September and December 2007 for approximately $1,900 US.

Reference No. L3.674.4.56.2
Mechanical automatic movement Longines L633 (ETA 2824/2) 11½ lines, 25 rubies, 28,800 beats per hour power reserve of 38 hours
Functions: Hours, minutes and second
Case: Round, stainless steel, with internal rotating bezel, two screw down crowns and back "plunger" or diver symbol stamped on the case back 42 mm
Dial: Black dial enameled with index hour markers with luminescence superluminova
Hands: Polished rhodium with luminescence superluminova
Water resistant: Up to 300 Meters
Crystals: Convex sapphire,
Black synthetic Bracelet with Longines signed deployment clasp

Troughout the text below, are pics of an original Longines diver from the 1960's.

The Longines Legend Diver, produced by the pioneers of the sport of diving and their exploits, this Longines line "Sport Legends" pays homage to the pioneers of the sport and their exploits timed by Longines.

The Longines Legend Diver is a re-issue of a diving watch produced in 1960, when marine exploration and the military and sport diving were in their glory. Longines had participated in the record dive of the Bathyscaphe "Trieste" in 1953 by providing on board instruments.

While preserving the typical spirit and the design of the sixties, Longines presents this vintage design with contemporary and powerful new design features: a convex sapphire glass, crown and back screwed down to guarantee a water tightness of 300m; a rotating disc under the top glass.

This watch brings together, in a legendary style, high performance and timeless elegance. From the very start of the 20th century, the symbol with the winged hour glass has been successively associated with the legendary names of pioneers such as the commander P.v.H. Weems, Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes and Donald Campbell, in the fields of aviation, of terrestrial and underwater exploration, but also in land speed records on the ground and in water.

The pinnacle of the Longines Sport Collection, this model in the Sport Legends line, the Legend Diver, shows off a highly powerful diving tool matched by the design revival of classic watches. Revisiting a model from 1960 a period in the pioneer spirit of diving records to which Longines took it's rightful share--in particular that of the Bathyscaphe "Trieste" to 3150 meters, in September 1953--it brings back the principal lines and in particular the convex glass, reminiscent of the unavailable at the time technical ideas, but carried out with the then available tolerances and high performances matching the dive watches we see today.

Its stainless steel case is 42 mm and has a screwed back, engraved with a diver.

The two screw down crowns are decorated with a fine criss-cross pattern, which is matched on the loop of the synthetic bracelet, carrying forth the pure spirit of the 1960' S. One of the crowns controls and locks the time lapse disc turning bi-directional under the crystal, making it possible to determine the remaining time of dive.

The luminescent indice hour markers and figures are coated in superluminova of the enameled black dial offer an optimal legibility, increased by the sober and clear typography of the figures 3, 6, 9 and 12.

A genuine dive watch, the Legend Diver is watertight to 300 meters. It is equipped with a mechanical movement, automatic Longines L633 with a power reserve of 45 hours.

Some more pics of the original model

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Chicago School Of Watchmaking Lesson 2

Master Watchmaking
A Modern, Complete, Practical Course
By Thomas B. Sweazey and Byron G. Sweazey.

The Chicago School of Watchmaking was founded in 1908 by Thomas b. Sweazey.


There are two types of part assortments available: bulk assortments which are not separated. And pre-sorted assortments, which cost more, but are easier to use.

In American watches there are three types of setting arrangements:

The first is the pendant set which uses s stem and sleeve and sits inside the watchcase and is sometimes called a Negative Setting.

The second type of setting is called a Swiss setting and the stem is a part of the movement and is sometimes called a Positive Setting.

The third type of setting is called a lever set and it uses a set lever operated by the finger nail and is mostly used in railroad watches.

Section 49:
A sleeve is screwed inside the watchcase pendant. The top of the sleeve is threaded, as is the upper part of the pendant inside. The sleeve with the stem inside is screwed into the watchcase pendant with a sleeve wrench. The bottom of the sleeve is sectioned like four fingers, which grip the bottom of the stem in two places; the bottom notch for winding and the top notch for setting. The crown is screwed onto the top of the stem, which is threaded.

Section 42:
When removing a movement from a case which has full head screws, you need only remove the lower screw, loosen the top screw slightly, pull up the crown into the setting position and the movement will come out of the case.

Section 43:
To remove the crown from the stem, after the movement has been removed from the case, hold the winding square with a pair of flat nose pliers and turn the crown to the left with your right hand.

Section 44:
Sleeve wrenches have prongs with either two, or four lugs on the ends of the prongs. The wrench is placed inside the pendant of the watchcase to unscrew the sleeve. On some watches, the sleeve is old and cannot be removed with the sleeve wrench. In this case, remove the stem from the sleeve and use a square file, or broach to unscrew the sleeve from the pendant. Adjustments are done to the sleeve inside the pendant, with the stem still inside the sleeve.

Section 45:
Using the sleeve wrench, place the correct size prong inside the pendant and turn the wrench to the left and continue doing so until the sleeve is free of the pendant and case. the, remove the stem through the bottom of the sleeve.

Section 47:
When selecting a new sleeve, make sure the diameter of the threaded top is correct, that the threads are the correct pitch and that the length is correct.

Section 48:
If a thread breaks off inside the crown which is made of gold, rolled gold, gold plate, or nickle, soak the crown in a solution of water and alum to dissolve the steel thread.

Section 49:
When replacing the crown, make sure the threads fit the stem threads and fits over the pendant.