Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Aomori Ice Clock

In February this year I was invited to travel to Japan to work with local craftspeople in Aomori in Japan. As part of the work I was a participant in a workshop run by Nobumuchi Tosa from Maywa Denki. Tosa-san is a hero of mine and I've met him several times before, dating back to the first time I travelled to Japan in 2002 (for the CG Arts exhibition in Tokyo).

The workshop was conducted in Japanese, of which I speak very, very little so most of it was mysterious to me! To be honest I think even to the Japanese speakers it was rather mysterious - we were introduced to Tosa-san's free-association way of working.

The experience was rendered extra strange because Aomori was under several metres of snow - you can see in the photo below that the snow came up above the level of the windows (although this is somewhat exaggerated because the snow slipped off the roof and formed drifts against the edge of the building).

Anyway by a very circuitous route I found myself on the second day of the workshop (prototyping day) needing to produce some sort of clock combined with the river thames. Because of all the snow, I opted to use frozen water and produced a clock made of ice.
I ran the clock as a sort of performance for the camera for just over one hour - basically tending the ice-hands, moving them around as necessary and adding more ice when the hands melted too much. The first video shows the laying out of the clock face and then the second shows the clock in motion.

The workshop was organised by Okada Tomohiro of Creative Cluster. Later I'll post some information about the other pieces I made while in Japan. 

As a coda you can see below the building of the clock face:

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ernest Borel 1950s Cocktail watch

Another watch from our archive - this watch dates from the late 50s, early 60s and features an mesmerising psychedelic display driven by the seconds hand. A disc on the seconds hand rotates above a static pattern to make a dizzying optical effect.

One of the things that I like about this watch is that it's extremely of its time - somehow it captures the playfulness and invention of the 50s. As a watch it's also a fantastic and quite unusual design with transparent case back and a dial that sort of merges into the case.

I brought this watch several years ago (quite shortly after we released our first series of watches). I was interested to see how the disc-type hands had been used by other watchmakers in the past and how you can make optical effects by printing on the discs. Our watches use a quartz (battery) mechanism and feature a momentary seconds action, rather than the smooth sweep that is characteristic of a mechanical watch. This means that the optical effects we can trigger (for example on The Decider) are more on-off, rather than the smooth change you see on this watch. The design of Love knows not was certainly influenced by this watch - the idea of an image (or text) gradually coming into phase and then fading out is the same.

One final thing that I like about this watch is the way that the timekeeping is a secondary function - the red markers for hours / minutes are definitely subservient to the overall design / optical effect.

You can find a variety of Borel watches for sale here

More info about Borel watches

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Watch Revival (Number 3)

In the third of our blog posts about mechanical watch revival, Crispin talks us through his next find, a ladies left hand wind watch.

I found this watch on ebay and was rather pleased to get it for £15 (ladies watches generally are much less desirable, so cheaper than men's watches). What drew me to it was the winding crown being on the left hand side. This places it very early in the history of the wristwatch, before a time when the convention of having the crown on the right had been established. I'm always drawn to little oddities like this, they remind us that what we think of as the natural way of things is simply a pattern that we've all got used to.

We know it's a ladies watch because the convention was that gold decoration was only every used on ladies watches. The watch is quite small at  30mm, although this wouldn't necessarily have precluded it from being for a man in 1910. It's a pretty modest watch and would not have been terribly expensive (Richard Edwards from EFHC called it a "servant's watch", which probably sums it up quite well).

The hallmarks date it to 1909/1910 which fits in with this - it comes from a time when people were first starting to wear watches (albeit reviving a fashion that had died out 10+ years previously).

It's also interesting to note that the lugs on the watch are hallmarked - this was something that was only done very early on in the history of the watch - it is to show that when it was assayed the lugs were present i.e. it wasn't converted from an old pocket watch, with the lugs being added later.

It was listed as being "over wound", this is something that comes up in the description of non-working watches quite often. "Over wound" is a kind of myth - there is no way to over-wind a watch (well theoretically you could break the mainspring, but you'd be more likely to snap the winding stem if you were applying this level of force). The explanation is quite simple - what it really means is that one day the watch was wound up, but it had a fault, so wouldn't run. The owner could feel that it was fully wound, but not running, therefore assumed that the tightness of the winding was the fault. 

I'm not sure what the exact problem was with the watch, but disassembling and cleaning it got it running again (and 24 hours later it's keeping time ok). Most likely there was an obstruction like a hair caught in the mechanism that was preventing it working. The minute hand seems to have been damaged - it should reach out to the minute track, but as you can see it's a bit short.

It has a cylinder escapement (which implies quite cheap watch), this was the escapement preferred by the Swiss who made cheap watches at this time (American watches were the expensive ones). The system fell out of favour for wristwatches quite quickly - it's not really robust enough for wearing on the wrist. An escapement is a method to control the escape (or unwinding) of the mainspring, which provides the power for a mechanical watch. The escapement basically prevents all the power coming out instantly and allows the stored energy to be gradually eked out to move the hands.

In truth the cylinder escapement is not a great system - it's rather delicate and prone to faults. Indeed even when it works well it looks like the watch is slightly tired. the amount the balance swings is rather small compared with something like the Waltham which has a lever escapement, as did pretty much all watches from about 1920 onwards.

I rather like this watch, both for the unusual side of the winding crown and because it's early in the history of the watch watch.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

You live you learn

We get asked to make special watches by customers fairly regularly. Unfortunately both because of the long timescale involved and because of the cost, it's rarely something we actually follow through. Also if i'm totally honest I don't really like the idea of doing it - generally someone starting a conversation with "I've got a great idea for a watch" is my nightmare!

However we did on one occasion produce a unique piece: my cousin wanted to make something special for his Father's 70th birthday. We worked things out early enough and he obviously benefited from the Mr Jones family discount, so we were able to make it happen.

I thought that he wanted something that said basically "Happy Birthday Dad", so I mocked up a version of this (with slightly gritted teeth). I was nicely surprised when he said that what he really wanted was to place a phrase that his dad uses all the time on the watch hands: "You live, you learn". This seemed a far more interesting watch and also in much more sympathetic to our brand.

As a note the case for the watch in the sketches was intended to be the production case for the fourth series. You can see there is a kind of cut through on the lugs, these would have been made as four separate pieces and screwed into the back of the main case.

Unfortunately the production of the case turned out to be way more expensive than expected. So at short notice I did a revision of the Series 3 case (Cyclops, Everyday Special), with slightly thicker lugs with more pronounced ends. When we received the samples (including this watch) I didn't like how it turned out - it felt too chunky and crude and I didn't like the curve of the bezel area. For this reason we opted to produce the fourth series in the third series case. So this watch has both a unique face and a unique case!

We kept two pieces of this watch as spares and my Uncle has the other one (and as far as I know enjoys wearing it!)