All types of watch case work
New watch backs; clip, screw, or hinged.
Bezels in any material and shape.
Hard gold plating.
Chrome and Nickel plating.
Lost wax casting, vacuum assist or centrifugal.
With my new P.U.K. Welder I am able to make repairs to enamelled work that would in the past have been repaired with lead solder or glue.
Watch case Repairs
Making watch cases
An interview with
How did you become interested and involved in the repair of watch cases?
I was first asked to make a new case for a Thomas Mudge movement for a client in 1986. On completion it was shown to a renowned expert who pronounced it beautiful but completely the wrong style for the period. I saw that as a challenge and determined to do better the next time and to improve my knowledge and skills in this very specialised area. That first case led to further cases and repairs.
Is all the work done by hand, is there a lot of skilful hand finishing?
It’s a combination of modern tools and old fashioned smithing. With restoration the art is sometimes in knowing when to stop; you have to balance sympathetic restoration with achieving an acceptable end product.
Has the process of case making changed much over the last two hundred years?
I think the earliest I have ever worked on was 16th century, and the process is in essence very much the same, but I have all the advantages of modern tooling and I don’t have to work by candlelight with a small boy employed instead of a motor to turn my lathe. The tools have certainly changed. Diamond tools, high speed steel tungsten carbide tools and even superglue (for holding small parts while machining) are some of the innovations in engineering which have made my life much easier than my predecessors.
Are any specialist tools required?
Most of the accessories to the tools I use are fairly specialised, for instance boxwood chucks which have been used for centuries and specially shaped gravers.
What mechanical equipment do you use in your workshop?
I have four lathes two of them made by Cowells, one of chinese origin and an ancient 6mm Lorch watchmaker’s lathe. I also have a very small Hauser horological milling machine. I use a PUK welder for specialist work on some enamel cases and the rest of the workshop is the standard array of goldsmith’s tools.
Does modern technology i.e. a computer help in any way?
I don’t use CAD or CNC machining; the jobs we get are all one offs so we wouldn’t really benefit from modern engineering technology with all its advantages when applied to mass production. I am, however, keeping my eye on the latest developments in 3D printing as I think this may be one technology which I may be able to make use of in the future.
What is one of the most common repairs to a pocket watch case?
That would be broken or badly repaired hinges. This is a very common problem, hardly surprising given the great age of some of these pieces. Also, I am often asked to make new bezels for pocket and wrist watches which have been lost.
What has been perhaps one of your most difficult projects to date?
No particular job stands out, but I would say that I really hate making springs as they have a nasty habit of breaking just as you are fitting them. I understand that this was Martin Matthews’ pet hate as well. I always approach repairs which have been carried out by other people with trepidation. You never know which type of solders have been used until you start the job; it is surprisingly common to find valuable gold cases repaired with lead.
Do you also undertake commissions to make new watch cases or wristwatches?
I have done both in the past; in fact we get a lot of enquiries for these but the cost is nearly always prohibitive. I am making a stainless steel chronograph case for a client at the moment and have been asked to make a traditional pocket watch case to be exhibited in the Science Museum in the collection of The Worshipshipful Company of Clockmakers. Occasionally I get asked to adapt an existing case for a movement, which is a much more affordable option.
Do you undertake all the restoration work yourself, or do you outsource any specialist work?
I do all the case work in house but movements and dials we outsource. When I worked in Clerkenwell access to allied trades was very easy, but now I do my own plating, polishing,lost wax casting and spinning.
Do you work alone or have an apprentice?
I don’t have an apprentice but my wife organises the work and deals with all the necessary admin which I dislike doing.
What advice would you offer to someone wishing to follow your chosen career?
If you are passionate and prepared to learn the necessary skills it can be a very rewarding career. I would like to see more financial support for apprenticeship schemes so that people can receive proper training to acquire the required expertise. I fear that without this many ofour traditional skills are going to be lost.
What are your other interests and hobbies?
Tools and machining techniques seem to take up most of my spare time; a bit of a