Mind/Iron Blog Articles

Time Machines

I was reminded of this fact when I visited my local jeweler, in search of a spring bar to replace the one that dislodged from my watch band. He’s one of the remaining “old school” watch repairmen in town that actually repairs mechanical watches. The rest simply change batteries and ship off the watches that need real repairs to a national or international repair center. With the jeweler’s permission, I stood out of his way and watched him for the afternoon as he replaced the mainspring on a 30 year old mechanical sports watch.

As he worked, loupe in one eye, bent over his spotlessly clean workbench, he explained the various jigs and tools he used as he pried open the case, removed the movement, mounted it, unscrewed the various parts, and so on. Then, there was the cleaning with puffs of air from a handheld bulb, followed by dipping some parts in a solvent. Next was the oiling, reassembly, and adjustment. Finally — nearly three hours later — he replaced the gasket and tested the watch for water resistance.

Of course, fully describing any one of these procedures would fill several issues of SERVO. For example, there are certain oils that can be used and others that can’t; in part, because some oils evaporate and gunk up the works, as well as the crystal. I learned that there are standards for water resistance — for example, a watch rated at 30 meters can’t really withstand a dive to 30 meters. It would be lucky to survive a light sprinkle, and certainly would drown in a normal shower.

The point of this apparent detour into time machines is that, in fact, time machines are mainstream robotics. If you work on small sensors, servos, or SMTs, you should treat yourself to a few YouTube videos on watch repair. Then, take a look at some of the watchmaker tool sites, such as www.esslinger.com. You’ll probably discover a few tools that you never knew existed, but will instantly recognize how you can apply them to your next robotics project.

I wouldn’t wait to start your investigation into the world of watch repair and watchmaking. While there are still centers of excellence in Germany, Sweden, and Japan, watch repair in the US is going the way of TV repair. Why would anyone pay $400 to have a mainspring replaced when a new Timex goes for $40 and keeps better time? They wouldn’t — unless the watch had significant sentimental value or was a luxury model worth more than a car.

So, if you have an opportunity to watch your local watchmaker in action, do it now. And do take a look at those YouTube videos before they disappear, as well. The clock is ticking. SV


Posted by Michael Kaudze on 04/15 at 08:00 AM

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