Saturday, April 21, 2007

Grande Complication

The watchmaker formally known as D.B.

We all know him as dAz. A watchmaker since finishing high school and a presence on alt.horology since December 15, 1999; dAz has provided watch and clock servicing to customers in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney since 1971 and passed on his knowledge and expertise to readers through alt.horology with over 1500 posts.

His first appearance on alt.horology was in response to a request from a poster for an explanation of a tool called a "torque watch gauge". dAz's reply was simple and to the point:

"dunno!!??, appears to have a jacobs 3 jaw chuck at one end and the dial at the other end, just because it says watch in the name, it may not have anything to do with horology"

And so we've come to appreciate and more importantly, understand watch and clockmaking because of dAz's concise answers and willingness to share what he's learned over the years, without expectation of reward on his part.

Between hobbies such as caring for and driving a 1928 Model A Ford and mountain biking, to dealing with a customer who would wind her quartz powered watch daily; dAz has gone from working with a clockmaker well schooled in the "dunk and dry" method of cleaning, to becoming self-employed watch and clockmaker, while leading a varied and interesting life all in between.

What are dAz's future plans? Let's just say his car's bumper sticker could read:

"From My Cold Dead Hands!"

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?

dAz: 51, Mudgee, NSW moved with parents at age five to Northern Beaches of Sydney where I still live

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

dAz: Four year apprenticeship at a local jeweller/watchmaker in Dee Why, not bad, taught me how to work in a shop :) the guy I was indentured to was not a good watchmaker, he could pull down a watch, fit balance staffs but his technique left something to be desired, fortunately I did one day a week for 3 years technical collage in Sydney passed second highest for the final and only pipped for first on a technical question.

Later I worked for a swiss service firm in Sydney, I learned more about watch repair in six months than in 4 years with the shop.

I went straight from high school year 10 (4th form) to an apprenticeship, so I really didn't know any better until I worked for Swiss Watches.

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

dAz: 1971. J & HM Begg in Dee Why, Harry Begg had just sold the business to an American watchmaker who not long moved to Australia with his girlfriend and left his wife and 3 kids back in the US.

The resident "clockmaker" was a nice fellow but I didn't fortunately follow in his clock repair technique either, he would take an American movement fully wound and dump it whole in dirty solvent and let it run down and then blow it out with an air compressor..... nuff said.

1975 I worked for the swiss service centre in Sydney for 6-8 months, although I did learn a lot I found the work very repetitive and boring, they had one guy whose job all day was to take the movements out of cases and sorted into divided boxes, then he would clean the cases, fit new crystals etc, the 4-5 watchmakers would take one of the divided boxes which held 5 jobs at a time and then do the service work then fit them into the cleaned cases, same thing day after day, a lot of the time for standard movements like ST 96, ST 69-21 the movements were exchanged, and when they get 50 of the same movement one guy would service them 20 at a time on a special rotating jig complete with electric screwdriver.

1976 I worked in my parents health foods shop for a couple of years, spent some time on a friends farm helping with sheep and fixing tractors, relaxing :)

Since then been working for myself.

PR: How did your childhood education, or experiences effect your decision to enter watchmaking?

dAz: Sort of fell into it, just seemed to be more interested in pulling machines apart to see how they worked, 5 years old I pulled my mum's alarm clock apart and used the movement for a choo choo train because of the whirring noise it would make when pushing the great wheel against the lounge room carpet, Mum was not happy :) got a mechcano set for next birthday!

By high school I could pull a simple wrist watch apart and rebuild it running with screwdrivers I made in metal work.

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

dAz: School.

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

dAz: Most moved away, but one close friend is bus driver for Sydney transport, another is a good mechanic and runs a service centre, another is a pilot and flys for Qantas.

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

dAz: A Watchmaker, I go by the term used in the old english watch trade, the watchmaker was the last guy in the line, after the movement is made from the blank, the wheelmaker, the escapement maker, the springer, the jeweller, the engraver, case maker etc etc etc, his/her job was to do a final service on the complete watch, pulling it down check everything fits properly and get it ready for sale.

I do make parts for watches and clocks, and I think I could build a watch from scratch if I had the equipment, but have no desire to do so, as far as clocks go I have made enough parts over the years to make several complete clocks, and maybe one day I will build a few clocks from the movement up, and not just cases and stick a bought movement in as some so called "clockmakers" do.

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

dAz: Oris boys watch, cal#611 made when Oris actually made their own movements, given to me first year high school 1967.

Yes I do, hangs on a nail in the workshop and yes it still runs

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

dAz: No idea, well the first watch I pulled apart was a open faced pocket watch Dad had, then it was a cheap bfg 866 watch in high school

PR: I've noticed on alt.horology that you really enjoy Seiko, especially the Seiko 5 series. Why is that?

dAz: I just like Seiko, simple but effective automatics, nice layouts, Citizen was bit too agricultural, the swiss watches had standard movements turning up in all sorts of brands much like you find Asian movements turning up in near everything today.

Also the first watch I fully rebuilt was Seiko 7005 auto I rescued out of the shops junk drawer in 1971, and yes I still on occasions wear it.

Simple tough and reliable, that's why I like them.

PR: What do you think of the more complicated Seiko watches we're seeing, such as the Credor line and the Spring Drive?

dAz: I like it, anything that can eliminate batteries and still give quartz accuracy is good in my book, if Seiko were to bring it down to their "5" series prices I think they would sell better than those horrors of the kinetic line.

It can be serviced by a good watchmaker, if not worn for a while there are no batteries to go flat and leak, and no landfill of dead batteries.

So long as the electronics lasts there is no reason the Spring Drive should not last 50-60years, there are 60s electronic watches still running today.

PR: Do you think Seiko is trying to candidly compete with Switzerland, or even Germany--such as Lexus going up against Mercedes--or are Seiko trying to present their own interpretation of high-mech?

dAz: Well they did, but found they didn't really have a market outside of Japan, their Grand Seiko are on a par with anything made in Switzerland.

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

dAz: [be] Like mobile (cellular) phones, 15 years ago they didn't exist or were very large and chunky, when I started in the trade in 1971 there were no quartz watches, mostly all mechanical, autos etc, the occasional tuning fork or balance drive electric or electronic watches and the odd American Pulsar before Seiko bought the name, by around 1974 I saw my first quartz watch in a dealers showroom, huge heavy thing, lucky to get 12 months from a battery.

But towards the end of the 70s quartz took off, the Japanese latched on and made the things in the millions, when the first LCD watches watches showed they were then amazing things, no hands, no button to press to light the display up, could be read in daylight, cost a bomb then, today the same sort of functions time and date display only can be found on a $2 LCD watch from the service station.

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?

dAz: The swiss were lazy or unaware at the time and it cost them, lot of companies folded or were absorbed by bigger companies, e.g. Omega nearly shot themselves in the foot, in the 60s they still had the nice 500 and 700 series movements in their watches, 70s they started to use dressed up Tissot movements in the Geneva range, made nasty LED quartz watches and then LCD to try and jump on the quartz bandwagon, finally by the 80s the swiss abandoned the digital watch and left to the experts in Japan who could do it better and cheaper.

Now we see a resurgence or mechanical watches, although it will never be like it was prior to the 70s.

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

dAz: Change in fashions, people had more money to spend.

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

dAz: Not a lot, took extra courses in the 80s to learn to service quartz and so on, also did a clock restoration course.

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

dAz: Nice, I have no problem doing work on some of these, but my main concern would be parts, a lot of manufactures are starting to cut guys like me out getting parts for these just because either I don't do enough of them a year or I wont jump through their hoops the right way.

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

dAz: Well to the battery and movement swappers it would, but there are young trade workers that are quite capable of doing this work, specially the ones that go through courses like WOSTEP.

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

dAz: Moving to more specialized houses, the cheap end is throw away and buy new, the expensive watches will be done in house, and then you still have people who want their mum/dads grandma/gramps watches restored, hopefully there will be guys like me and Frank and others that can still do them.

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

dAz: Die with tweezers and screwdriver in my hands :)

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

dAz: Nope, I don't think many people do live there dreams in the end, but humans learn to adapt to change and make their lives better.

PR: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

dAz: Same more or less.

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

dAz: Bit of computers, working on and driving my '28 Ford model A, visiting friends, cooking, riding mountain bikes :)

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

dAz: A quarter repeating clock pocket watch, with added chronograph functions, this watch struck the quarters full time just like a clock, hence the name, made around mid 1800s, English, and because each screwed down part had custom made screws you could not mix the screws like you can with American and swiss movements, took me all day to do, and refused to be interrupted with anything else until it was finished.

Nasty?! well any of the high grade watches that have come in with serious rust where is has to be carefully taken apart with minimal damage to the plates.

No actually the worst was a Seiko autodate in a square case on a bracelet belonging to a butcher in the arcade where the last jeweller shop I worked in house in, this was in the 80s after my first boss died I did the repairs in house for a couple years until the shop closed down, anyway the Seiko in question is one of those where the movement goes in a one piece back the gasket and inverted plexi is place in top and the case/bezel is snapped over this to seal the watch, result is a cavity between the inner and outer case, the guy was a butcher, wore his watch all the time even when digging inside carcases :P soooo the fat from the meat embedded in this cavity and the bracelet links and it stank!! I took the watch apart with gloves on, no one in the shop bought meat from him again.

PR: What was your easiest project?

dAz: Zenith Neuchatel 8day clock on bell strike, thing went together like a (very)large pocket watch, all the wheels stood straight, the back plate just dropped back into place without me having to jiggle anything, brilliant!

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

dAz: I service and restore including making parts for vintage watches and clocks, can service quartz but generally cheaper to change movements for new, will not work on crap or fakes, don't like Timex, don't keep or sell bands

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

dAz: See above ;)

Hmmm, lady whose watch had stopped, to which I fitted a new battery, when I told her what I did, she said "battery? it has a battery?!, why have I been winding the watch for the last two years?"

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

dAz: Hmm a lot don't like the customer looking over their shoulder, especially if something flips out of the tweezers across the room, but if someone is interested in the trade I will try and help where I can, it is not something everyone has an aptitude in doing, being able to concentrate in a small space while working on micro mechanics, not having sweaty or shaky hands and so on.

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

dAz: Do your research, do some sort of course or at least get someone to guide you through the steps, you cannot just leap into watch repair, start with something large and work your way down, and do not start something expensive, like the guy a couple of years back didn't want to pay the price to get his Rolex fixed so decided to jump in do it himself, anyone can change the oil and airfilter in a car, but not everyone can pull an engine apart and rebuild it, and a car engine is a lot bigger than a watch movement.

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

dAz: Clean uncluttered workspace and good lighting, makes it easier to find flicked parts :)

PR: And lastly, boxers, briefs, or commando?

dAz: Leather apron, if you drop your tweezers they usually end up point first in your lap, ouch! :)



A hearty thank you to dAz for taking the time to participate with this, the first interview in the Grande Complication series. I've learned a great deal; not just about watchmaking, but about the man himself, which is just as important.


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foxint said...

Good interview and fabulous insight into a great man who knows and loves his craft. The world needs more men like dAz.

He is a Master Watchmaker.