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.

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