Meeting Recap: The Essentials Of Precision Timekeeping

Jack Forster, Editor-in-Chief, HODINKEE
February 5, 2018

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

Ever since the dawn of time, mankind has tried to keep track of it. Although timekeeping devices have evolved, from the water clocks of antiquity to the atomic clock today, the general principle behind them is the same: that they be correct. At the February 5, 2018 lecture before the Horological Society of New York, Jack Forster, Editor-in-Chief of HODINKEE, traced the origins of precision timekeeping, and delved into what makes it work. The first step in understanding precision timekeeping is to understand the difference between precision and accuracy. While we often conflate the two, they are in fact quite different. In the simplest terms, accuracy is the conformity to a time standard. However, in horology, precision refers to rate or frequency stability. For a timekeeper to be precise, it must have a stable rate. 

Early efforts to track the procession of time relied on continuous processes, such as the movement of heavenly bodies or the flow of water. An example of an early timekeeper that tells time from the movement of a heavenly body is, as one might expect, a sundial. Ancient Greeks told time with water clocks, which could have been as simple as a bowl of water with lines drawn on the inside. As time progressed, timekeeping devices became more sophisticated. This brings us to the second method with which time is measured: oscillatory processes. An example of this would be the swinging of a pendulum in a longcase clock. 

A pendulum is a harmonic oscillator, in which a mass, such as a weight, experiences a restoring force proportional to the driving force. Harmonic oscillators have a natural frequency which makes them suitable for timekeeping. In a pendulum, the restoring force is gravity, which is constant at a given altitude, making it ideal for timekeeping. This is achieved in modern watches and clocks by the escapement. For all our advances in horology, modern timekeepers are still plagued by the same issues that our ancestors dealt with. Temperature, magnetism, positional variation, and changes in atmospheric pressure can affect accurate timekeeping. The essence of modern horology, therefore, is combating these elements in order to keep timekeepers accurate... and precise. 

HSNY thanks Jack Forster for his fascinating lecture!

Submitted by Christa Chance, Recording Secretary, HSNY

Meeting Recap: An Introduction to the Naked Watchmaker Platform

Peter Speake-Marin, Founder, The Naked Watchmaker, Switzerland
January 9, 2018

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

For the first HSNY meeting of 2018, noted watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin spoke at about his new project, The Naked Watchmaker. The Naked Watchmaker is a website devoted exclusively to pursuing horological education. In Speake-Marin’s own words, he intends to "bring to a new generation the magic and passion of watchmaking, and to increase the knowledge of those already bitten by the horological bug."  As a veteran watchmaker, Speake-Marin has garnered extensive experience with the inner workings of the Swiss watchmaking industry. He spent several years in after-sale service, restoration, building complicated movements, product development, training, and developing companies. The Naked Watchmaker is a fulfillment of a lifelong goal for Speake-Marin. 

The Naked Watchmaker covers information in six categories, offering insight on areas that collectors will experience in pursuing their passion. For example, many collectors start with the first category, pocket watches, but might find that they are tricky to service due to the age and obscurity of many of the parts. Collectors of vintage watches, the second category, might run into the same issues; moreover, due to the fact that certain features of vintage watches—that might be considered damage by watchmakers—can in fact be considered valuable. Even collectors of watches made by modern independent brands, the third category, run into their own unique challenges due to the fact that many watches created by independent brands can be one-of-a-kind pieces. 

For the fourth category, "just movements", The Naked Watchmaker intends to bring insight to the unique and obscure features that many historical movements possess. The same holds true for modern calibres, the fifth category that The Naked Watchmaker covers, because many are only serviced by large brands. Finally, Speaks-Marin intends to offer horological art, the sixth category, on his platform. In the future Speake-Marin intends to continue to populate the site and make it a "Wikipedia for watches." Future sections include: modern machining techniques, how watches work, books (both paper and electronic), recommendations for museums and schools, and videos made in collaboration with Watches TV. 

HSNY thanks Peter Speake-Marin for his fascinating lecture!

Hans Weber, 1932-2018

Hans Weber died on the morning of Saturday, January 6, 2018. Hans was an active member of the Horological Society of New York for over 50 years, and was the only person to have attended both the 100th Anniversary in 1966 and 150th anniversary in 2016. Hans served as a Trustee for the Society, and was presented the Howard Fass award at the 150th Anniversary for his extraordinary dedication to the Society's ideals. Hans worked at both Cartier and Tiffany & Co. in New York. He was a kind man, a talented watchmaker, and he will be missed.

Service Information
Saturday, January 13, 2018
Visitation beginning at noon, service offered at 2:30pm
Vander Plaat Funeral Home
257 Godwin Avenue
Wyckoff, NJ 07481

Henry B. Fried Scholarship for American Watchmaking Quadrupled for 2018

Henry B. Fried teaching a watchmaking class.

Henry B. Fried teaching a watchmaking class.

The Horological Society of New York’s Henry B. Fried Scholarship was established in early 2017, with a goal of increasing the number of students studying at full-time watchmaking schools in the USA. Most watchmaking schools in the USA are free, but the cost of living while attending school can be a large barrier for prospective students. Additionally, many watchmaking schools are not accredited, meaning student loans are not possible. At the same time, watchmakers are more in-demand than ever. The popularity of mechanical watches continues to increase, but more watchmakers are retiring than graduating. With the Henry B. Fried Scholarshipthe Horological Society of New York (HSNY) is working diligently to reverse that trend, by offering significant financial assistance to American watchmaking students.

The dramatic expansion of the Henry B. Fried Scholarship was made possible by an incredibly generous and anonymous donation of $100,000, shortly after Roger W. Smith’s lecture in December 2017. For 2018, the Henry B. Fried Scholarship will quadruple from one award of $5,000 to two awards of $10,000 each. The application period is open now through March 1, 2018, and the scholarships will be awarded at HSNY’s annual Gala & Charity Auction on April 18, 2018. Students who are either studying at or have been accepted to a full-time watchmaking school in the USA are eligible. To apply, students should write a letter to HSNY that includes a brief biography and explanation of their motivation to study watchmaking.

Meeting Recap: The Development of a Practical Watch Escapement

Roger W. Smith, Founder, Roger W. Smith Ltd., Isle of Man, British Isles
December 4, 2017

No one knows who invented the escapement, but it has been contributed to over the centuries by generations of talented watch and clock makers. Even so, only a few have ever been practical for daily use in a watch. On December 4, 2017, Roger W. Smith lectured at the Horological Society of New York and spoke on the practicality of the co-axial escapement.

In his lecture, Smith explained that he had been able to dramatically increase the service interval of his watches due to the efficiency of the co-axial escapement. He then extrapolated on his mentor George Daniels’s research in escapement development, which resulted in the publishing of The Practical Watch Escapement in 1994. 

Early escapements, like the cylinder, exhibited sliding friction while operating. Detached escapements reduced sliding friction, allowing the balance to run freely and reducing the stress on the already heavily taxed escapement lubrication. The more a balance is able to swing freely, the more accurately the watch can run, and with a longer service interval. Even modern detached escapements, like the lever, still exhibit a high amount of sliding friction.

There have been many escapement designs that have come close to eliminating sliding friction, but nearly all of them are limited by the higher complexity and therefore higher failure rate and cost to manufacture. Daniels' co-axial, and Smith's single wheel co-axial escapement provides power much more efficiently than a Swiss lever escapement, and has reduced reliance on lubrication in order to operate, all while being practical to implement in a wristwatch.

The Sunday before Smith's lecture at HSNY, he guest instructed a special horological education class for six lucky students. The class was an opportunity for students to learn from one of the world's leading watchmakers, over an afternoon in Brooklyn.

HSNY thanks Roger W. Smith for his fascinating lecture!

Submitted by Christa Chance, Recording Secretary, HSNY

HSNY Welcomes Watchonista as a Sponsor

Watchonista, the online magazine dedicated to covering the world of watches, has joined the Horological Society of New York (HSNY) as a sponsor. Watchonista’s generous support will enhance HSNY’s mission of horological education.

Watchonista's Co-Founders Alexander Friedman and Marco Gabella said “Watchonista is delighted to sponsor the Horology Society of New York. It’s an honor to join esteemed colleagues and partner brands to support this very worthy cause. In addition, we’re committed to globally supporting HSNY's efforts to educate the next generation of watchmakers. We look forward to helping share the association’s knowledge and history to our readers.“

Nicholas Manousos, HSNY President said “Watchonista's passion for horology is evident through their in-depth and intriguing editorial coverage of the watchmaking industry and their support of charitable horological organizations around the world. HSNY looks forward to a wonderful partnership and thanks Watchonista for their generous support.“

Early Bird Tickets Now Available for HSNY's 2018 Gala & Charity Auction

The Horological Society of New York invites you to celebrate its 152nd year at the 2018 Gala and Charity Auction on Wednesday April 18, 2018. The annual Gala and Charity Auction is an opportunity to look back at our accomplishments, recognize talented watchmaking students, and bid on incredible watches and ephemera. More details will be announced soon. Early bird tickets are available only until January 31, 2018. Don't delay, reserve your tickets to HSNY's 2018 Gala & Charity Auction today!

2018 Executive Committee

HSNY's Board of Directors met recently to hold elections for 2018. After serving as Vice President for 2017, Michael Fossner resigned and nominated Luke Cox-Bien as his successor. Luke Cox-Bien was then elected Vice President by HSNY’s trustees. Luke Cox-Bien has been a member of HSNY for five years, and has held several executive committee positions. HSNY thanks Michael Fossner for his exemplary service. In addition, Brett Walsdorf, who serves as Director of Special Events, was elected Trustee.

Pictured above, Nicholas Manousos, President (left), and Luke Cox-Bien, Vice President (right). Photo by Atom Moore.

Meeting Recap: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Radium Dials

Kathleen McGivney, COO, RedBar Group and Director of Operations, Horological Society of New York
November 7, 2017

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

Many watch collectors own watches with radium dials - even seeking them out specifically. But do these watches present any dangers to the collectors who wear them? In her lecture to the Horological Society of New York on November 7, 2017, HSNY's Director of Operations and Red Bar's COO Kathleen McGivney delved into the history of radium dials and answered those pressing questions.

Radioluminescence, the process by which light is produced by bombarding a reactive material with ionizing radiation, was widely used as the demand for watches that were readable at night grew. Radium, discovered by the Curies (who coined the term “radioactivity”) in the 1890s, was ideal for that use due to its radioluminescent properties. Also, since radium was viewed at the time to have medicinal benefits (even touted to cure arthritis and high blood pressure), its potential deleterious effects were ignored… to deadly effect. 

Starting in the 1910s, thousands of young women began working at factories devoted to producing watches with radium dials. They would dip their camelhair brushes into a solution of radium, and then moisten the tip of the brushes between their lips to give them a finer point. The “Radium Girls” churned out dials, knowing that the watches they painted would adorn the wrists of soldiers fighting “over there” in the First World War.

By the 1920s, the Radium Girls began to fall ill and die of wasting diseases that doctors attributed to their ingestion of the element, eventually filing lawsuits which led to the establishment of OSHA. Which brings us to the present day: since the watch industry used radium until well into the 1950s, many watches with radium dials survive. Are these watches dangerous to handle or wear? The short answer is no. 

McGivney shared videos of readings she took with a Geiger counter from watches with radium dials. While all emitted some radioactivity, McGivney concluded that the exposure was not enough to harm the people who wear them. However, McGivney recommended that collectors store these watches in lead-lined pouches. 

HSNY thanks Kathleen McGivney for her fascinating lecture!

Submitted by Christa Chance, Recording Secretary, HSNY

Meeting Recap: Fakes, Forgeries and the Birth of Mass Production in the European Watch Industry, 1750-1820

Dr. Rebecca Struthers FBHI FRSA Ph.D., Birmingham, UK
October 2, 2017

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

Anyone who has visited Chinatown in New York has seen the thousands of “imitation” watches on offer. Though it might seem like a product of the age of mass-machining in which we live, such a concept is much older. In her lecture at the Horological Society of New York on October 2, 2017, Dr. Rebecca Struthers, FBHI, FRSA, PhD, Birmingham, UK, discussed her groundbreaking research on 18th-century “Dutch forgeries.” 

London was the center of horology in the 18th century. This was the Golden Age of British Watchmaking. Watchmakers like Tompion and Mudge produced roughly 1,000 watches a year. But the emergence of a vibrant and hungry middle class in Britain meant that these master watchmakers—faced with heavy taxation on precious metals after the Napoleonic Wars—could not meet the demands that the middle class posed on them. However, watchmakers in Europe were not faced with the same economic structures. European watchmakers capitalized on the depression in England to flood the market with cheap watches, often using fictitious names—like Harry Potter. 

These were called “Dutch forgeries” but, as Struthers pointed out, they were not Dutch made, nor were they forgeries of specific well-known makers like Mudge or Tompion. These watches imitated the Dutch style, often with scalloped edges on the dial, but with an inferior quality of metal and materials. Struthers used her past experience as a metalsmith to study the cases and came to the conclusion that they had been stamped and then soldered with lead, not cast as previously thought. 

Since standardized mass manufacturing didn’t emerge until the mid-19th century in America, the fact that these watches were produced and then distributed in such large numbers is astounding. Their existence spoke of a novel and innovative redistribution of labor, allowing for over 40,000 watches to be produced in a year. These watches proved that cheap watches would sell because there was a market to buy them. This changed the face of horology forever, as portable accurate timekeeping was no longer only the province of the rich.

HSNY thanks Dr. Rebecca Struthers for her fascinating lecture!

Submitted by Christa Chance, Recording Secretary, HSNY