Home Forums General Discussion Forum IMAGE VS. REALITY

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    david pierce

      When anybody jumps into this, especially me, they have an image of an old world craftsman with wire frame glasses, a watch lathe, graver, and a green visor cap working in a Swiss watch factory turning out beatuiful handcrafted watch parts. This is simply not the truth. I received my reality check at a Chicago Tool Show in the 1990s. I watched a Swiss (TRAUB) CNC machine spitting out watch pivots at a rate of about one every three seconds. The pivots started out as a huge roll of wire (probably 1000 pounds or more) feeding into a feeder/straightener and then into the back of the lathe. The lathe itself was about the size of a Volkswagon car and weighed several thousand pounds. The finished pivots dropped into a small basket in the front of the machine. At that time in my life I was too busy with my job to think about watches but that experience always stuck in the back of my mind. Now that i am more involved with watches I carry this and other manufacturing thoughts and experiences, from my past, with me when I look at these issues. My thoughts now are completely in line with the way the watch factories of today are set up and run. If you go to Youtube and watch the inside of these factories such as PATIT FILIPE, ROLEX, VACHRON and so on you will see equipment that is definately not in step with the traditional image that I once had but not longer hold. In case anyone ever wondered why my opinions run contrary to the existing traditionally held opinions that is, at least, partially why. The technology that I used and still use came from many years of study, school, seminars, on the job experience and may or may not apply to others and the methods they feel comfortable with. I do not feel that there is a right or wrong way to make these parts but I do know that my way is also the way the modern watch factories have gone. In the end it is you who is going to buy a piece of equipment to fit your skill and comfort zone and you must make the decision to work within a sphere of technology that you are comfortable with.


        A very good post David and very true. I think there is a common disease that affects a lot of people when being trained in anything and it is “blinkered disease”. Once you have been taught a specific way to do something and you get used to doing it that way it then becomes difficult for some people to understand or believe that there is a different or possibly better way to do something. It might mean learning new skills to do that thing differently so if you can already do it one way what is the advantage of learning another skill to be able to do it another way?
        I know that when new customers come to me they look a little confused because I am not in my seventies, I dont wear a tweed waistcoat and I think it makes them a little nervous.That image is way out of date but that is how the public will always see us :(


          Great post David, and of course if any craft is going to flourish, it has to embrace old and new methods. Many if not all of the U.S. factories from the turn of the century until their demise used complex machinery to produce staffs/pivots, etc. Some I’m sure went through hand finishing/fitting operations but were overall massed produced.
          I’m in awe of your machining knowledge BTW !!!

          I have small bedroom, and no option for a large lathe, so for me, part of the equation it’s about what fits my shop. I’m also a romantic on many different fronts, traditional martial arts, jazz musician, etc., so hand crafting parts just falls in line with my approach to other passions.
          And my business is slow ( my choice ),so I have more time than some here, to invest in old manufacturing methods that require more time ?

          How on earth is anyone going to take you seriously if you aren’t wearing a waistcoat fitted with a fine timepiece ??
          George Daniels would openly chastise you sir ! ;)

          All the best gentlemen,..



            great thread David, I too had the vision of one person sitting there making and assembling a early 1900s pocket watch, I was sorely disappointed when I watched the video Tom had posted of the elgin watch factory, as neat as it was it crushed my perception. of course if you had to make 10000 parts the investment of time and money leans towards a mass production setup, If you had to make 1 part then you may have to find your green visor and wire rim spectacles and get to work with what you have. Improvising is a great way to learn (at least in my case) working from very crude tools and methods, then depending on my financial situation buying and using greatest tools and techniques. Isnt it interesting that the public perception leans towards the cruder methods? That a timepiece handed down from your Grandfather would be more valuable if it was made by Paul in his tweed skirt? I think as long as the job gets done accurately it really doesnt matter on how. I decided to buy a milling machine but I am sure if I wanted I could have used a sharp rock to get very similar results, if I did would that make a part more valuable? maybe. David, how long do you think this particular discussion has been going on? the beginning of time? Oh, and thank you for all you do……William

            bernie weishapl

              David, great thread. I apprenticed under my mentor back starting about 1980 or 1981 for almost 6 yrs. It was funny as I came in to work with him one day and started to sit down beside him. He kind of grunted and said no, no your bench is over there. I knew I had graduated. He was a watchmaker and clock maker till WWII. After he came back he did clocks and watches part time as he built houses full time. Everything he did was the old way. He used hand tools on his lathe to make parts such as bushings, arbors, screws, nuts, etc. So for years I made/make parts using hand gravers, files, etc. I also use compound slide rests if time is of the essence. I do like when time permits doing things the old way and enjoy it very much but do realize that times have changed. Clocks and parts are being made with CNC machines as are watch parts. I much enjoy reading and hearing the thoughts of others. Interesting conversation and yes William this conversation I think has been going on for years and will for years to come.


                What you say David is true in all trades. I learned 40 years ago that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I have two retired clock people hear that help me from time to time. One retired from the Santa Fe railroad as a clock maker. He is very knowledgeable, but is convinced that clock parts have to be hand made rather than buying replacements. The other, understands from a business point of view, if you end up with a well running clock, by using replacement parts in a shorter time, you end up with more profit and a customer that is just as happy. In the restoration business, I have to reproduce a lot of different trims. I can either have a lot of expensive cutters made for my shaper, or make it on the table saw, or use hand scrapers. Most of the time, the piece of molding only a short piece, and I made not need that piece again for quite some time. That’s where this forum comes in handy. We get a lot of differing techniques and pick and choose the best for our own abilities. All you cat people, I don’t actually skin cats :? Mahlon

                david pierce

                  If you ever get a chance there is a series of four DVDs by JIM KINGSHOT. He was an extremely highly skilled woodworker from England who did beautiful high precision woodwork with hand tools. His DVD on moulding planes starts out with him showing a grandfather clock he made entirely with hand tools.

                  chris mabbott

                    Very true David, but you missed one important item from your image description of the solitary watch tradesman, the row of ticking, chiming clocks running relaxingly in the background, kinda like Steffen Pahlows videos 😆 Or my virtual buddy.. Bunn Special on Youtube, who’s videos I have watched and enjoyed many times over..

                    Like William, my image was a little crushed when I first saw those old classic videos from Elgin, even though I am familiar and still involved with mass produced equipment, what was I dreaming about 😆


                    david pierce

                      I am reasonably sure that Steffen Pahlow has an engineering background and most likely looks at his watch parts in terms of mathematical models. He uses a lot of hand tool and manually operated machinery but his thinking process is still numerical in nature. There is one video he did making a Tourbion Cage where he is working off of a print that he drew. I am pretty sure that if he made one part, two parts, three parts or ten parts they would all be the same. As far as Bunn Special goes I don’t think he ever did anything the same way twice.

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