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Antique Watch Restoration, Vol. 1

by Archie B. Perkins

Book review by Richard Watkins

298 pages, 618 illustrations.

Published by the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute, 2012. Available at awci.com (through the online store) for $99.99.

When I read the first few chapters of this book, I became confused and bewildered. Then I read the Forward [sic] and found it begins with the following sentence: “My earlier book The Modern Watchmakers Lathe and How To Use It forms a basis for this book since the lathe is used often in watch and clock restoration.” This is a serious understatement! This book only makes sense when we realize that the reader needs two things:

 

First, the reader must be a very competent watch repairer—able to do all the tasks described in Archie’s book on the lathe. And second, he or she must have a complete watchmaker’s workshop, including at least one watchmaker’s lathe with wheel-cutting, milling and screw-cutting attachments, and all the other tools that are necessary for professional work. In addition, a larger lathe is desirable for some tasks that cannot be easily mounted in a watchmaker’s lathe.

Hard bound front cover of book.

How a watch should be restored raises some
philosophical questions.

This context is important. Antique Watch Restoration ignores the common jobs, such as making balance staffs and replacing jewels. Instead, it provides detailed instructions in five areas:

 

(a) Repairing and making barrels, fusees (using a screwcutting attachment on a watchmaker’s lathe), and some of their component parts, for English fusee lever watches (six chapters, 54 pages). The rest of the movement is not mentioned.

 

(b) Making worms and worm wheels (one chapter, 10 pages). These are rarely used in watches and the chapter is more relevant to music boxes and clocks.

 

(c) Correcting wheel teeth using the rounding up tool and Ingold Fraises (one chapter, 8 pages).

 

(d) Making cannon pinions and winding wheels for American watches, including making crown wheels and bevel gears (one chapter, 22 pages). The rest of the movement is not mentioned.

 

(e) Decorating American winding wheels by snailing and engine turning, including instructions on how to make an engine turning attachment for the watchmaker’s lathe (one chapter, 26 pages).

Two page spread of the Antique Watch Restoration Vol. 1 (pages 30-31).

The obvious omission from this book is that there is no discussion of two fundamental questions: When and how should an antique watch be restored?

These 10 main chapters are interleaved with seven chapters on other topics:

 

Chapter 1 has 33 pages describing, in great detail, how to disassemble, clean, and assemble an English fusee lever watch. Considering the background required of the reader, who must have worked on full-plate watches before, this elementary material is excessive.

 

Chapter 8 spends 61 pages describing the staking tool and its use. Again, the reader must already be familiar with this essential tool. But this information is very important for the learner, and I would have preferred it to have been printed as a separate booklet.

 

Chapters 9, 10, and 11 describe how to calculate watch trains (and determine the properties of missing gears), gear terminology (with illustrations of incorrectly sized and positioned wheels and pinions), and types of gearing (including involute forms and tables of standard dimensions). There is no practical information on how to make wheels and pinions because this is covered in Archie’s lathe book.

Chapter 14 provides some photographs of different wheel and pinion cutters (but no information on how to make them), calculation of cutter size, and tables of Carpano cutters. Finally, chapter 17 explains how to straighten bent pivots and how to use the Jacot tool and different pivot polishers.

Two page spread of the Antique Watch Restoration Vol. 1 (pages 212-213).

Other than chapter 1, these chapters form an appendix to The Modern Watchmakers Lathe and How To Use It, adding useful information that was not included in that book.

 

As we can see, Antique Watch Restoration Volume 1 is not a systematic study of watch repair. Instead, it assumes the reader has the ability to repair watches and provides detailed and very good information on a few advanced topics. But we must ask, why not some other topics? For example, escapements (verge, cylinder, duplex, etc.) are not considered. I suspect the topics selected by Archie Perkins are those not adequately covered in other books, but perhaps Volume II will fill in some of the gaps. The obvious omission from this book is that there is no discussion of two fundamental questions: When and how should an antique watch be restored?

 

For example, the English fusee lever watch illustrated in this book is a common, ordinary, solid watch. Large numbers exist and they are not expensive, so are major repairs justified when the cost will exceed the value of the finished watch? Indeed, these watches with steel balances could never be adjusted accurately, and their fusees were probably mass-produced with no attempt to cut the fusee to match a particular mainspring; such fine adjustment is too expensive and unnecessary. So the restoration of these, and their American equivalents, often can only be justified by extrinsic values, such as family heirloom status or an important inscription.

Page 33. Replacing the hands.

How a watch should be restored raises some philosophical questions. For example, early watches had their wheels and pinions cut by hand-filing the teeth into the shape of a bay leaf or a thumb, and the theory of epicycloid teeth was unknown to most watchmakers. So if we are restoring a valuable, old watch, should we use modern tools and methods to improve the teeth and to make replacement parts? Or should we make them by hand so that our work matches that of the original maker?

 

Indeed, in some cases should we do anything, or should we leave a valuable piece in its original condition? Also, should our work be signed and dated? When someone buys a restored watch many years later, it would be important to know how much of the movement is original and what has been replaced. These and other questions need to be answered before any attempt at restoration is undertaken.

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