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Last modified: 09 aug 1999

 

IT'S ABOUT TIME

Watches keep time; so the more watches I own the more time I'll have.

If time is money, what is the going rate? The time spend writing these words could also have been used to repair a watch and in doing so earn some money. Is doing things without making money in the process a waste of time? I dislike the saying because of this idea behind it. I prefer the old proverb 'Time and tide tarry (hold) for no man'. This is a reminder that you should spend your time right and focus on those things which are important in life. But if this, in your case, means making money, we are back to square one. The invention of time is surely one of the greatest achievements of early man. At first there were the daily motions of the sun and the monthly cycle of the moon which enabled man to keep time. We gained access to the fourth dimension. From this point onward we could actually make appointments to be at a certain point in space at a given moment in time. We decided the year should have 365 days and we divided each day into 24 hours. Machines were invented to measure and show the passing of time. From the sundial over the water clock down to the invention of the first spring driven clock somewhere around 1420. Miniaturization of the same led to the pocket watch and eventually to the wristwatch.

There are sources that tell a story about Queen Elisabeth I who got a small round jewel-studded watch fastened to an armlet by one of her favorites, the Earl of Leicester, in 1571. It is said that the first person who actually wore a watch on the wrist was the eminent French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). With a piece of string he had fastened his pocket watch to his wrist.

Only at the beginning of this century people started to wear wristwatches as we know them now. Probably the First World War helped in bringing them into general use. For soldiers it is a matter of life or death to know when to attack or to retreat. And a watch worn on the wrist is much handier than a watch worn somewhere in an inside pocket. Because the wristwatch was more vulnerable, being in the open at all times, early military wristwatches have a protective grid. Maybe this vulnerability of the wristwatch hastened by the invention of the watertight wristwatch and shock absorbing systems like 'incabloc'.

Collecting wristwatches can be dangerous. It can become an addiction, and you need more and more... But seriously, collecting watches can be fun and it does not require lots of money to get started. If you go to a flea market and buy any old watch for a couple of bucks, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. If you are able to open the case or better yet, let a watchmaker open it for you, you will see a small miracle. It is like an living organism with a heart that beats like ours and where wheels spin around each other and work together to form a machine that enables us to keep time. And when you can see the beauty of the tiny machined parts, the wheels set in ruby and gold and the craftsmanship that created it all, you are likely to become a collector yourself. Below are some guidelines which may help you to start a collection of your own. First of all be aware of what you are buying. When I bought my first watch I just looked for a nice, interesting, dial. So I bought this watch which made a strong ticking sound for about 30 dollars. The name on the dial read 'Basis'. I was happy with it and because the case was worn, I had it redone for another 30 dollars. But then it stopped and my watchmaker didn't want to work on it because it was just a cheap pin lever movement and he told me it would cost more to repair it than the watch was worth.

A good Swiss made watch has a jeweled movement. This means that the little cogwheels are revolving on (artificially made) ruby bearings. Also the anchor, which is the little device in the shape of an anchor that regulates the power flow, has rubies on its extensions. The purpose of the jewels is to avoid wear. Watches that are not jeweled will have a shorter lifespan and will sound louder. A lot of older watches still have '17 rubies' or '21 jewels' written on the dial. Dials and cases can be redone. A dial is hardly ever made by the same factory that made the movement. For this reason it doesn't matter that much if you have it redone. As long as it is done in the original way. Still, watches that have their original dial are valued more.

If your watch has a chromium or a gold filled case it can be redone. All steel or gold watches can be polished easily and will look like new again. The inside of a watch is called a 'calibre' and not unlike a car every part can be ordered separately. The more refined a caliber is the better the watch will keep time. On the more expensive calibers you will find inscriptions like; 'Adjusted to three (to five) positions' or 'heat and cold treated'. Sometimes a watch will have both inscriptions. Heat and cold treated means that the watch has been tested in an extreme heat and extreme cold environment and has been adjusted accordingly. The positions in which a watch can be held - face up, face down etc..- are important for the way it functions. Watches that bear this inscription have been tested in different positions and have been adjusted accordingly.

One last advise. Buy the highest possible quality you can afford and you will not be disappointed. We will be writing mostly on all sorts of wristwatches and pocket watches but any remarks or thoughts on other small mechanical timepieces or reflections on time in general are very welcome. In the next article I will look at some of the most important brands and I will show a couple wristwatches that have become legends.

If you have any comments on this article, or if you have a question about wrist watches, you can write me through e-mail.

Pjer Strolenberg


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