In February 2017, I was fortunate enough to attend the first class in Philadelphia offered by The Horological Society of New York’s [HSNY] travelling education series.
Being an active member of HSNY for a little under a year, I’ve wanted to attend these classes for some time, but found it difficult to carve out the time to get to New York. Thus, when the Philadelphia dates were announced I jumped at the opportunity.
During the course of this post I shall be covering:
- Introduction to The Horological Society of New York and its mission
- “Meet” the instructors
- Review of the Travelling Education Series from;
- 101 – Introduction, tools and movement that we’d be working on
- 102 – Dismantling the watch movement
- 103 – Reassembling the movement, until it “comes back to life”
- Offer my final thoughts, as well as who should consider the money and time investment to attend the classes
So without further-ado, let’s jump right in and explore the wonderful world of watches / micro mechanics a little more from inside the case!
Author Comment: Please note I’ve specifically left out some of the class’ finer / funnier points, as not to ruin any aspect or take away from the overall experience for those who may attend.
Introduction To The Horological Society of New York
The society was founded back in 1866 to facilitate a forum for fellow watchmakers and craftsmen to meet and share their experiences.
Over 150 years old now, the society has evolved, and is open to those like myself who are just watch geeks, and not necessarily in the industry itself. Furthermore, and more importantly, its mission extends beyond the core membership base to the greater preservation of watchmaking education and history. To illustrate this, they have just introduced a scholarship program to financially assist student watch makers.
Anyone can become a member for just $100 per year. With the biggest and relatively recent benefit of the monthly lectures being filmed, this to me is worth the annual fee, even if I never managed to make it up to New York. Recent topics have included: How to Win at Watch Auctions, Time Is Money – How to Make A Living in the World Of Watches, Horology in Art, etc… Always fascinating topics, lectured by leaders in their respective niche within the niche of watches itself!
Oh, and one benefit I can’t neglect is that you get a sweet lapel pin!
Longs story short, if you’re into watches, join!
Meeting The Watchmakers / Instructors
As you would expect from such an historical and esteemed organization, the instructors are of the highest quality.
They didn’t disappoint! Both instructors were 100% approachable and 100% knowledgeable.
Left to right: Vincent Robert [Instructor], Paul Anthony [Student], and Steve Eagle [Instructor]
Vincent Robert – Watchmaker & Lead Instructor
- Worked at Jaeger Lecoultre, and Harry Winston
- Trains professionals in the watch industry itself
- Developed travelling education and slides himself!
Steven Eagle – Watchmaker & Instructor
- Went to watchmaking school in the USA
- Is the Director of Education for HSNY
- Currently works at Rolex headquarters in Long Island City
Above: Steven Eagle & Vincent Robert demonstrating balance wheel and hairspring placement to students.
HSNY Traveling Education Review – 101 to 103
Unlike the New York classes that are spread over a couple of different days / sessions, the traveling education course is designed to pack it all into one half day session.
Above: Workstations primed and ready for eager students
Specifically created by Vincent Robert, the class was engineered from the custom motion design slides all the way down to his patented travelling work benches!
As you’d expect from watchmakers, not even the smallest detail was neglected.
By the time 2.30pm rolled around [the starting time for my afternoon session] all eight students were in place for the next four hours of horological exploration.
Above: Philadelphia City Hall served as a dramatic backdrop to the action in-front of us…
Authors Comment: Although the class is advertised as a 101 to 103, they are not broken down into distinct sections. I discussed this with lead instructor Vincent Robert, and he informed me that the numbering system was used as an attempt to line up the traveling education experience with the New York version.
Thus, I’ve taken the liberty to break out the course into three sections that made sense to me, with respect to the afternoon’s activities.
Above: Paul Anthony before the class got underway
101 – Introduction, Learning The Tools & Movement ETA 6497
Approximate Time: 30 mins
Introduction To The Class
After the initial introduction, Vincent asked a simple question:
What is a watch?
With a room full of “watch guys” there was silence for a few seconds, while we all contemplated the question…
This simple question really set the tone for that class, where we started from the most high level conceptional question before we dove into the nitty-gritty of actually taking a watch apart.
We further went into questions and concepts of why certain materials are used in a watch, for example, jewels [man-made rubies], brass, steel, etc.. Then onto some fun items such as the relationship between vibrations per hours of a movement and hertz, and dispelled some common watch myths around the topic.
Again I want to keep some surprises for whomever may take the course in the future. But don’t be turned off, the information was both approachable and in-depth to satisfy both the watch noob and geek alike.
Tools Used During The Class
Above: Vincent Robert demonstrating the correct vertical use of a screwdriver, with the index finger placed on top for the optimal stability while working on a watch movement
Above: our ETA 6497 “patient” for the day, and watchmaking tools we’d be using
Tools we’d be using for the afternoon:
- 3 Screwdrivers [varying sizes]
- Plastic pick to assist the removal and placement of parts
- Finger cots, so that we would not touch the movement with our bare hands to avoid oils and acid from our skin sticking to the movement
- Watch bench
- LED lamp
- Parts tray
- Watch movement covers
- Watch movement holder, and
- Watchmakers loop
Above: Paul Anthony [Author] practicing with watchmaking tool, and sporting a loop with glasses adapter
Movement We’d Be Using For The Class – ETA 6497
So why this movement?
Simply, it’s big [commonly used in pocket watches], and has relatively few parts making it simple to work on.
Both instructors – one being trained in Switzerland and the other in America – said this was the movement they both began on during their respective watchmaking studies.
ETA 6497 Technical Specifications:
- Caliber ETA 6497 [Unitas]
- Type of movement: Manual
- Function: Hours, minutes, and off-center second
- Size: 36.6 mm wide, 4.5 mm high
- Components: 76 [and this is a very basic movement!]
- Jewels: 17
- Frequency: 18,000 vibrations per hour, or 2.5 Hz
- 46 hour power reserve [approx]
102 – Dismantling The Watch Movement
Approximate Time: 1 hour 45 mins.
Now that we’d been introduced to HSNY, watchmaking tools and the movement, it was time to roll up our sleeves [or like me take my suit coat off, for greater range of motion] and get onto dismantling the watch.
First we removed the balance wheel and hairspring, placing the items into the parts tray. It was stressed upon us to be careful about how we do this and in what order, as later on we’d need to remember which screw, for example, came out to put the movement back together correctly.
The slides prepared by Vincent were very clear, keeping the same pitched angle and orientation of the movement so that they were easy to follow. Further, his use of motion graphics made them easy to follow, and both instructions were on hand to assist with any clarification or tricky maneuvers.
Above: Paul Anthony working on dismantling the ETA 6497 watch movement
At every step of the process, we were not only shown in which order to remove the parts, but more importantly, what those parts did and why. Above, for example, Vincent was showing the main barrel spring and how it’s coiled in a very particular way for a more consistent release of power during its release. We didn’t actually remove the main barrel spring due to safety, tool and time constraint reasons, but we did get to see it and touch the spring he’s holding up.
After about 105 mins of intense concentration and a lot of new information, the movement was successfully dismantled in front of me.
103 – Reassembling The Watch Movement
Approximate Time: 1 hour 45 mins
After a short break to rest the mind, we jumped right back into the last and final stage of the day – reassembling the watch!
There is so much to watchmaking, and that became ever more apparent at this phase. For example, below one can see the lube application tool used by watch makers and the schematic for which lubes to use and where…
It’s quite extraordinary to think that each and every second on your wrist [if you have a mechanical timepiece that is] your watch is beating away and that all of these moving parts perform that action many millions of times before your watch goes in for its next “service and oil change.” Vincent explained that using just a little bit too much, or too little oil can be devastating to the longevity and accuracy of the movement.
After all of that, needless to say we would not be lubricating our own movements. These were, after all, educational movements and we only had half a day to complete the course.
So began the reassembly. At this point, I was quite glad that I’d been very careful and precise using the parts tray, actually stacking each piece in pretty much the order it came out.
I had to imagine how tough this must be if one were to not have this luxury. For example, after all the parts had been ultrasonically cleaned. The importance of “mental images” and in what order parts came out, as well as what they looked like in place, was / is of such importance at this stage in the game.
Above: Paul Anthony starting to put the piece of the movement back into place.
I cannot say enough about the hands on attention given by both Vincent and Steve during the course. All eight students received lots of individual attention, and all my questions were answered to a most satisfactory level [aka my entry level!].
High Difficulty Watch Assembly Actions
Yoke Spring Assembly
At certain stages of both the disassembly and reassembly there were certain “focus” points of high concentration due to the complexity / risk of losing and / or damaging parts.
One such case was the yoke assembly, where it would be very easy to lose the spring and would have been ideal to have three hands! Only having two hands at our disposal, the yoke assembly requires the use of tools in a particular way in order to secure the spring and get it into place.
Above: Board demonstration and successful yoke spring reintroduction to movement
Balance Wheel & Hairspring
Another difficult task was reinstalling the balance wheel and hairspring assembly.
It not only required precision, but also finesse, as one incorrect move would destroy the fragile parts. This part can be conceptually viewed as the “heart” of the watch as it regulates the rest of the movement functions.
This was such a tricky move that it actually required a special break out, to watch either Vincent or Steve demonstrate.
What makes it so tricky is the need to dynamically move the movement itself during the procedure, while being very careful due to the extremely fragile and sensitive parts in play, such as the hairspring.
Both Vincent and Steve make it look like, well quite frankly butter!
After two gentle, but failed attempts, I managed to slide and move the movement in just the right way to marry all the parts.
Joy At The Beating Of Her Heart Again!
Within an instant, the movement’s “heart” began to beat again.
And, well the big cheesy grin below ensued. It was quite the feeling to see that happen right there in front of you, at the end of your tweezers…
Above: Paul Anthony proudly displaying the fully assembled movement
At this point the true watch maker would test and calibrate the accuracy of the watch itself using specialists’ tools, such as the one seen below.
This was not covered in our class, but we were told that it may be covered in future travelling education classes as a follow-up to this 101 to 103 and / or a full day session.
Overall Review & Thoughts Of HSNY Watchmaking Travelling Education
For me the picture below sums up the entire experience.
Of the eight students in attendance, six are working away on movement and two more are getting individual attention from the instructors!
As you’ve probably guessed by now, my strong recommendation would be to attend one of these classes if they come to a city near you, or if you’re lucky enough to be based in NYC, go to the classes there too.
They might seem a touch pricey, but in my opinion they are worth every penny for anyone who is into watches, mechanical things or just wants an interesting afternoon out of the house. The course is sure to not disappoint!
As always, please feel free to ask any questions you may have below and share your experience if you’ve attended one of these classes too!
You can see the current list of classes offered both in NYC and across the country [and possibly beyond in the near future] here: http://www.hs-ny.org/education/