Search This Blog


Thursday, 1 December 2016

A rare English Hunter by J.W. Benson

This is the first intact English made hunter I have come across by Benson, it is a later version of  "The Field" watch and was the most expensive of their three "volume" made watches. Other complete "Field", "Keyless Ludgate" and "Bank" watches that I have seen have been open faced or half hunters and most have been in size 12 rather than this size 16.

The "Half Chronometer" (Adjusted) slow train movement has an English Lever escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance and 15 jewels including a diamond end-stone for the balance. Geneva stop gear was used to control mainspring pressure and thereby improve isochronism.

Part of the full page description of "The world renown "Field" Watch"
in my 1930s Benson sales catalogue, prices ranged from £20 to £36.75
at a time when a 3 bedroomed house cost about £350. 
The inscription "By Warrant to the Queen" is rather confusing, I have only seen this with respect to
Queen Victoria (from 1901 to c1907 "to the Late Queen" was used) but this movement is in a case hallmarked for Benson in 1920 and it clearly belongs with the movement as the serial numbers are the same, which in itself is rare with an English Benson.

As far as I am aware Queen Mary never issued a warrant to Benson and they certainly did not claim one on any of the dozens of watches I have seen from the 1920s and 30s or in the sales catalogue I have from the 1930's which does claim warrants for the emperor of Japan and several European monarchs.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A note to spammers

Don't even think about posting adverts as comments on my Blog.

Especially for c@*p modern watches.

All will be deleted pdq.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

More on magnetism and watches.

Waltham 1899-Vanguard, 19J, 1902.
(click for a larger view)
A while ago I wrote about how magnetic fields can affect a watch movement, in particular how the coils of the hairspring could end up sticking to each other. This post is about something a bit different.

The Waltham 1899-Vanguard shown here came in barely running (although it was described as "in "good working order") after cleaning, a new mainspring and fixing a number of issues, including replacing a winding pinion that came from a 1908 model that is not compatible with the 1899 and which was causing winding problems, the movement was running with an excellent amplitude (swing of the balance) of 320 degrees.

However when it was put in the case this dropped to an unacceptable 200 degrees and the timekeeping went haywire. When this happens it is normally due to problems caused by compression or distortion of the movement in some way after tightening the case screws, either because of a fault in the movement or by some distortion in the watch case forcing part of the movement parts out of true or causing something to rub. After extensive investigation I could not find anything wrong.

Some degaussing equipment (Demagnetizers) shown on
the web site.
I put the movement in a different watch case and it was fine so I got out the magnetic compass which went wild around the case and the problem was found.

Normally there is a trivial amount of ferrous material in a gold, filled gold or silver watch case, but this is a Hunter, and so it has two large and powerful steel springs in it to flip open the lid and to hold the lid closed. These had clearly become strongly magnetized at some point and that was causing the problem.

A few goes with the degaussing machine and all was resolved.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

A Bluffers Guide to replacing a balance staff and impulse jewel.

Perhaps the trickiest part of replacing a balance staff is getting the original balance assembly to pieces without damaging the hairspring, the balance wheel or the impulse jewel, however to explain that would take a as long as this post so I am starting with that done and with a balance staff available, again that may be a non trivial exercise as some movements have quite a few types of staff for a given movement and the one has to be found (and paid for @ £15 - £30 or sometimes a lot more!) - or made.

Click any image for a larger view.
The balance for this S16 movement is 0.6" / 1.5 cm
in diameter excluding the screws, some balances
are considerably smaller!
The first thing to do it to fit the staff to the balance wheel, that might need to be done in a number of ways but usually it will be a press (friction) fit or riveted.

This South Bend Watch Co balance is a press fit, the wheel is placed onto a stake (anvil) which has a hole in it just large enough for the staff to pass through, too large a hole and there is a risk of deforming the balance arms. Too small and your expensive staff gets stuck in the stake.

The staff is pressed into the hole using a punch with a hole drilled into it just large enough to accommodate most of the staff but small enough to rest against a step on the staff to press it in.

Frequently, as in this case, the hole in the balance it a tad to big for the staff, in this case after closing up the hole as much as possible with a specially designed punch it was still not a tight fit (due to the hard metal) and so it was necessary to use some Loctite retaining compound (not thread locker) which although quite strong can be release if necessary.

The part finished  assembly is then put onto the callipers which have a pair of jewels for the pivots to run in.

An index (bottom left) is moved close too the edge of the wheel and the wheel spun to check that it is square to the staff and flat.

Usually some manipulation is required to true it up, which can be tricky, especially with a cut compensation balance as an adjustment at the fixed end may require the arm to be twisted to ensure that everything lines up. As it does here.

It is best then to try the balance in the movement to ensure that it turns smoothly with minimal resistance. Particularly if a previously repairer has made adjustments to compensate for a wearing staff, adjustment will frequently be required to get the correct "end float", firstly by undoing all of his adjustments and then preferably by adjusting the position of the balance hole and cap jewels. This process can take as long as all of the other steps put together.

It is now time to fit the roller, in this case however the impulse jewel was crumbling and although it would have worked failure would not have been far off so it had to be replaced. This is a very fiddly job and invariably results in the loss of some quite expensive  jewels which are small and difficult handle and also to measure so trial and error is required.

In this case the jewel was cylindrical but with one side flattened. The full diameter was just 0.41mm (they come in steps 0.01mm big). The vice being used is a happy co-incidence of a hobby and business / hobby and is normally used for tying fishing flies, the jaws stay parallel in normal use, it gives a firm grip and  it can be rotated as required. The down side is that one of this quality would be rather too expensive to buy just for fitting impulse jewels!

After getting the jewel into the hole it has to be secured in place ensuring it is at right angles to the roller in both plains, traditionally this was done with heated shellac on the reverse side but modern equivalents are somewhat easier to use.

The roller it then pressed onto the balance staff using the staking set taking great care not to break the jewel or the staff either by getting things misaligned or by having a punch of the wrong size.

The impulse jewel should normally be at right angles to the arms (of a 2 arm) wheel, if not then positional errors may result. The red marks on the wheel were put there to indicate where the impulse jewel (and the hair-spring stud)  originally aligned in the hope that they were then correct and the watch will be in beat on completion.

At this point it is advisable to again put the balance into the movement to check that the impulse jewel engages correctly with the lever pallet and that they do not rub together, and if it is a single roller, that the pallet safety pin engages correctly.
This had a two piece double roller so next to go on was the smaller section.

A critical part of this operation is to ensure that the cut out in the small roller EXACTLY lines up with the impulse jewel, if it does not problems lie ahead!

After fitting the balance is again trial fitted to the movement to check that the pallet safety pin engages correctly with the roller.

Almost there now!

The next operation is to fit the hairspring, the balance is turned over, usually with a smaller stake to support it.

With a double roller this is relatively straight forward (if there is a spacer between the two sections to support the smaller section) but with a single roller the stake must not foul the impulse jewel, this particular staking set has a stake available with a cut out in it for the jewel to fit in, with others it is necessary to find a stake (or punch used as a stake if the set allows that) with a drilled hole large enough to accommodate the staff but an outside diameter small enough to fit inside the jewel. Get this wrong and the jewel breaks, the roller will have to come off and a new impulse jewel found and fitted.

Making sure it is aligned correctly so that the movement will be in-beat, hopefully using marks made earlier, the spring collet is pressed onto the staff.  It is now ready for fitting and testing.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

J.W. Benson: Swiss Watches of the 1930s

Having done some research and an analysis of my Benson mail order sales catalogue from the  late 1930s, I think I have finally worked out the Benson product line-up of their “standard” size 16 Swiss watches on offer during the period.

Longines half hunter for Benson


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries most “standard sized” Swiss watches offered by J.W. Benson were made by Longines / Frères Baume, in the late 1910s or a bit before, they switched to Revue Thommen and in the very early 1930s they changed again to Tavannes models which are the subject of this post.

Also during this period they sold watches by Record, Zenith and others but these were sold in very small quantities compared to Tavannes.


The Watches.

All of these watches had Tavannes 939 or 939a calibre movements, this however is not that helpful as it was in production for a long time by both Tavannes and Cyma under numerous brand names (including Admiral, Tacy, Rambler, Stayte, Semloh and lots more) and in a bewildering number of configurations. The Benson variant however stands out as being the best finished of all of the many I have seen.
All of the following were available in Open Faced, Hunting or Half Hunting configurations.
The cases were English made, Benson Bros (no relation) and Dennison, who acquired Benson Bros in1932, probably making most, if not all, of them. By this time all of the Tavannes made movements that I have seen made for Benson used the standard watch case with negative setting.
Prices ranged from £2 10s (£2.50) for an open faced “City” in Nickel, to £14 10s (£14:50) for an “Observatory” half hunter in 9 carat gold.  A 3 letter monogram added 10s 6d (52.5p).

The “City” & “Triumph” Watches.


These watches were the entry level to the range, the cosmetics and finish were the same as the higher grades but they had a rather more basic, but effective, Elinvar over-sprung screwed balance. The “City” grade is advertised in my catalogue as being available in Sterling Silver, Black [gunmetal] Steel or Polished Nickel.  

The “Triumph” grade was the same movement in a single bottomed 9 carat gold case.

These movement also turn up (as do some of the others) in rolled or filled gold cases by Dennison, although some of these have undoubtedly been re-cased they were almost certainly originally available in these cases but, like watches by Record etc, are not shown in this (premium) mail order catalogue.
J.W. Benson "Signal" 1936.

The “Signal” Watch.

These watches were similar to the “City” and “Triumph” grades but were upgraded to have an Elinvar Breguet sprung screwed balance and, like the "Triumph", they were in a single backed 9 carat gold case.  

Sunday, 16 October 2016

J.W. Benson Fly Back Chronograph, 15J, c1898.

Unlike most English Chronographs (aka Doctors Watches) of the period, this Swiss made watch for J.W. Benson does not completely stop when the centre seconds hand is stopped and so is far more practical (and expensive!).

It has a Swiss Lever escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance and 15 jewels.

The gilding on the top plate was most probably done in England after the watch was engraved, I don't recall previously seeing Benson giving their address as "London & Switzerland" on watches of this period, I suspect the engraver was not used to doing it either as the "Switzerland" bit looks to be squeezed in.


This one was advertised by a dealer as being c1880 but it is somewhat later than that. The Swiss hallmarks for .935 silver were in use from 1882 through 1934, but more revealing is the engraving on the movement "By warrant to the Queen and the Prince of Wales". Victoria died in 1901 and Benson immediately changed their engravings to read "The Late Queen" so it is no later than 1901.

All of the datable Benson movements I have seen mentioning the PoW have been from the late 1890s so I am fairly confident that this one dates from 1898 give or take a year or two.

The dial & hands:

The watch has the normal hour and minute hands with a lower subsidiary dial for seconds.

The upper subsidiary dial is for the stop watch function and records minutes from 0 to 30. In fact it keeps going beyond that so any length of time can be measured, but you need to remember how many "thirties" there have been.

To make it easier to read the hand steps each minute rather than moving gradually as would the minute hand on most mechanical watches and the central minute hand of this watch.


Not a good picture unfortunately, the exposure was
way out but I was not going to take the watch to
pieces again to correct!

The "normal" watch is crown wound and pin set as were many English watches of the period and Swiss watches made for the English market.

The Stop Watch function acts as many watches might today, from stopped & zeroed the first press on the crown starts the centre seconds hand and the upper subsidiary minute counter.

The next press stops the two and a third press moves both back to zero.

By some definitions a "fly back" chronograph should "fly back" and automatically restart, however this is the more common version.

All of the extra gearing, cams etc. needed to run the stopwatch function creates a lot of drag on the movement and may result in poorer timekeeping and will certainly reduce the run time of the watch (although it would start again if the stop watch function was stopped), it is best therefore to only activate the centre seconds hand if it is needed.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Stakes, Staking Tools & Jewel Setting Tools.

A modern Staking Tool and a modest selection of
Punches and Stakes by premium Swiss maker
Bergeon, £420 from 
A stake in watchmaking (and jewellery) is a form of anvil used with a punch for riveting and other operations, simple ones are held in a vice and the punch, which is hand held, is hit with a hammer or pressed down by hand. Whilst a number of things can be done this way it was literally rather hit and miss on delicate jobs, especially when the stake, work (usually in 2 pieces) and punch has to be perfectly aligned.

To make things easier a device known as a “Staking Tool” was developed, this included a mount for the stake and an accurately machined tube for the punch aligned above it.

A hammer or the hand are still generally used to perform the required operation but more precise positioning is possible.
These are still made and with a comprehensive set of punches retails for between about £200 (Indian made) and £800 (Swiss made).
My old lever operated Staking Tool which could, at some
 risk due to the lack of micrometre adjusted limiting,
 be used for jewel setting and other delicate tasks. Otherwise
it is an excellent tool and has a particularly wide range
 of anvils and good screw on solid and drilled pushers.
A refinement of the standard Staking tool, which appears not to be available on modern staking tools but is on Jewel setting tools, added a lever arrangement to force the punch or other tool down, this made it much more controllable and easier for operations such as jewelling, work on balance assemblies, etc..
The major limitation was the lack of a device to limit the movement when pressure is applied so that it was very easy to push things too hard and too deep, so the next development was the Jewel Setting (or Jewelling) Tool which does, with the right accessories, some of the things the “Staking Tool” can do but which includes lever actuation and a micrometre measuring and limiting device and
My somewhat later Boley & Leinen combined Staking
and Jewelling set with an extensive range of punches that can
also be used as stakes. Modern Bergeon Punches will fit so some
damaged pieces have been replaced. Purchased (fortunately
 at a bargain price) to extend the range of my original staking set
 shown above. The rather worn jewelling tools are generally
not used as I also have the modern Seitz set shown below. 
usually made with more precise tolerances generally.

It is claimed that work with the modern Seitz tool can be done to within 0.005mm, the down side is that it is smaller both in the diameter of the punches and more importantly in the depth of the hole drilled into some punches and stakes which is not big or long enough to take some pocket watch components so, for instance,  it is not possible to use a jewel setting tool to rivet a centre wheel back on to the centre arbour of a pocket watch if it has been loosened by a breaking mainspring (Watches without a Safety Pinion often have the wheel weakly riveted on so that this fails to prevent damage further down the train).
A modern Seitz Jewelling Outfit with a good number of
pieces, most of which can be used as a Stake or as
an anvil. £1,050, also from
The Bergeon / Seitz set I have just purchase cost over £1k, it might not pay for itself in cash terms compared to just having my previous tools, but it should make delicate operations rather less stressful and will allow me to do jobs such as Lanterning Cannon Pinions (nipping them in to prevent slipping) more accurately and to reduce hour hand holes to fit which was not possible before. And of course to reset or replace jewels with a greater chance of success.

It will hopefully also reduce accidents, cursing and swearing somewhat.