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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. Whilst a number of things could 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 is 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, be used for jewel setting and other delicate tasks.
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, most things the “Staking Tool” can do but which includes lever actuation and a micrometre measuring and limiting device and 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 tool, 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.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Thoughts on the failure of the Lancashire Watch Company

A Size 14, model 116, "Excellent" grade with the
addition of 2 pairs of jewels and signed for the retailer.

The Lancashire Watch Company failed in 1906 (although it continued trading in administration until 1910), many have blamed the failure of the skilled workers (many of who would have had to sell or wind up their small business after the formation of the LWC) to embrace new ways of working, Cutmore [1] argues that given early success this in unlikely and that poor marketing, bad forecasting, unwanted products and a plethora of designs & products and by implication pricing were to blame. Looking at the trade catalogues from 1898 [2]  and later I would go with the later point.
The three-quarter plate keyless watch is a good example:


In 1898 the three-quarter plate keyless was available in two forms, both were pin set with the crown connected to the movement through bevel gears in the case and on the movement.

A Full plate LWC movement showing
the hinge and sprung loaded catch
required for a swing out movement.
#104: a swing out movement with the hinge integrated with the face plate and a catch opposite to secure it in the case. This model is rare and I have never one complete with its case.
#116: what became the more familiar type retained in the case by two screws with the addition of a locating pin to stop the movement turning in the case through the action of the bevel winding gear. This was not yet the “Standard” watch case.

Friday, 2 September 2016

English watch makings last hurrah! A Smiths movement for J.W. Benson.

And doing it rather well, this watch is within beat[1] to 0.07mSec or 0.03%.

This is a good quality movement for Benson by Smiths of Cheltenham who made limited quantities of good quality lever movement wrist and pocket watches on the back of their instrument and clock making business - particularly that of the long established aircraft instruments division and not to be confused with the Welsh joint venture that made millions of cheap pin lever watches from 1947.

Made in the Swiss style it has a Swiss Lever escapement with an Elinvar over-sprung screwed balance with double roller.

[1] Being in beat means that the balance action is symmetrical swinging an equal distance in each direction and that the balance staff, impulse jewel and pallet arbour are in perfect alignment. If you think in terms of a long case clock the "tick" equals the "tock" and it has a steady rhythm.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The English "Half-chronometer"

J.W. Benson "Observatory" watch made by Tavannes and
described  as a "Half-chronometer" as was the English made
Benson "Field" watch and many others.
The English description of a watch as being a "Half-chronometer" is, perhaps, a rather grandiose name for what the Americans termed an "adjusted" watch meaning a watch adjusted for temperature as explained in this Wikipedia entry.

This does not mean that other watches will not cope adequately with changes in temperature but that the "Adjusted" or "Half-chronometer" watch has been rigorously tested at extremes of temperature and adjusted to minimise errors.

Unfortunately most good quality English watches, particularly those by Benson, Rotherham and other good makers in Coventry and London plus most imported from Switzerland before the late 1930s and signed by English resellers are not marked "adjusted" so it is only possible to establish if they are by tracking down contemporary adverts such as the following.

From a J.W. Benson Sales catalogue from the late 1930s.

Friday, 26 August 2016

What size to buy?

Moved from the web site and updated.

Jump the next 3 paragraphs if you are a technophobe or just bored with the detail :)

The detail: 

Watch Sizes are specified by the diameter of the movement where it fits in the case, there are now two common measures, “Lancashire” for English and American watches and “Ligne” for Swiss.
An unrestored S12 fusee movement
with its carrier and oversized dial.
Lancashire starts at size 0 which is 1 5/30inch increasing by 1/30 inch per size. So the popular men’s size 16 is 1.7 inch and size 18 1.77inch but it is quite possible for a watch case to make a smaller movement look several sizes bigger although the dial remains the same size.
It was also common practice to mount 19th century English movements onto the back of a carrier two sizes bigger, the carrier attached to the larger size case and had the larger size dial on the other side so that it was indistinguishable from the larger size watch without opening it up.
Where quoted I normally use the nearest equivalent “Lancashire” size for Swiss watches.
As a rough guide the following table shows the approximate diameter of the watch for "normally" cased American and Swiss movements, some may be rather larger but a few can be smaller.
  • S14 4.9 – 5.0 cm
  • S16 5.0 – 5.2 cm
  • S18 5.4 cm+
English pin set watches will typically be a little larger as will full plate watches (because they are thicker).

Movements of size 12 and below and size 18 and above can vary significantly in size when cased up, so on the web site I normally give the dimensions for each watch as part of the description.
Here are some general guidelines on what each size of watch is best suited for, clearly there is room for variation here particularly for ladies if they are wearing a waistcoat or carry the watch in a handbag. And although a Fob watch is normally defined as one below about size 8 it is really only limited by the size of the fob pocket! 

A Ladies size 6 Waltham, heavily patterned cases are
frequently used on these smaller watches.

Size 0

Ladies watches only, suitable for wearing on a neck chain as a pendant (but be careful not to swing it around too much and bash it on something) or as a brooch with a suitable attachment.

Size 6

Ladies, as size 0 or as a fob watch. Men, as a fob watch.


A size 12 Rotherham although tightly cased
for a pin set watch it is still 1.9" / 4.7cm
 in diameter, about the same an American size 14

Sizes 12

Getting rather large to be a Fob watch but some American size 12s will be OK used as above. Many old size 12 movements are put into size 14 cases with the use of a carrier as described above.

English pin set size 12s make a good sized mans watch.


Size 14 & 16

A size 16 hunter in a New Old Stock Dennison
case. A Hunter will always be a little bigger
than an open faced watch due to the space
 taken by the bezel and lid.
A common size in the nineteenth century in all forms, this became the “standard” man’s size for keyless watches in the twentieth century, these are generally quite slim so do not distort pockets as much as earlier key set watches.

This was the smallest size that could be certified as a “Railway” watch in the USA (beware of this term! Originally it defined an accurate and reliable timepiece suitable for controlling railroad traffic in the US, later it was picked up as a marketing ploy and appears on some really awful Swiss watches – you have been warned!).


A tightly cased Waltham 1892 railroad watch.

Size 18

Originally the watch to go for to show status and now very popular with collectors, particular of North American watches and it is frequently said the bigger the better. Some very fine watches were made in the calibre.

Size 20 & 22

As for Size 18 but really showing off, not that common and most in UK are key set from the front and made in the 1890’s and very early in the new century.

Size 24+

Are really too big to carry around but frequently would have had a special stand to convert them into something you could use as a travelling clock.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

What affects the value of a watch?

Transferred from the web site faqs with some updating. 

A premium grade American railroad
watch movement by Waltham.

I think it would be useful to understand why watches come at different prices, this may help to focus on what is important to you in making the decision and how to get the best value (to you) for your money.

The simple answer is of course supply and demand but perhaps a more useful one for our purpose is “desirability”. Some aspects of what makes a desirable watch are fairly obvious and clear cut and so the more of these “boxes” a watch ticks (pun not intended but left in!) the more expensive it is going to be; but each individual will have their own view on what is desirable in a watch so may wish to select a watch or type of watch that presses their “buttons” but does not have some other attributes that increases price but is of little interest.

Here is an initial list, in no particular order, of things that may significantly affect the value of a watch - I suspect I’ll add more over time:

·       Condition.
·       Rarity.
·       Absolute age and also early or late examples.
·       Quality of design and construction.
·       Type of movement & escapement (see below).
·       American railroad watches will attract a significant premium, association with rail ways generally will also enhance value..
·       Features for accuracy and reliability (see below).
·       Method of winding and setting.
·       Certain Brands and / or makers.
·       Type of case and the material used.
·       A hunter or half hunter will cost more than a comparable open faced watch.
·       And did I mention condition?

This watch ticks many boxes, it is by J.W. Benson a top London maker
much collected, it is one of their higher grade watches, it is rare and in
first class condition. It is also a half hunter. It sold in a few minutes even
though it is one of the most expensive watches I have put on my web site,
even including most solid gold watches.
Of course a very old watch in awful condition is not going to be as valuable as a slightly younger one is excellent condition and it is the balance between these factors which is often so difficult to assess.
Other factors are more subjective such as:

·         Clear vs signed faces.
A bespoke 3 piece dial as on this Waltham will make it a bit more expensive
but it will also sell more quickly.
·         Flamboyant decoration of movements vs elegant simplicity.
·         Ornamentation and dedications on cases (can go either way).

A rare case like this will certainly add value, especially on a high grade
watch such as the 23J Waltham1899 Riverside Maximus in this one.

Types of popular movement:

In ascending order of value, other things being equal:
·         Going Barrel Pin Lever
·         Going Barrel Cylinder
·         Going Barrel English or Swiss Lever
Fusee Lever movements are likely to be old and fragile, a basic one will generally are not as desirable as an equivalent going barrel but good ones can get expensive. Verge fuse movement will be early 19th century or earlier and in good condition can get very expensive. You will not find any pin lever watches on this site and very few cylinder watches, there will be the odd fusee but no Verge Fusee as they are too expensive for me to play with.

English Lever escapements come in two flavours, the true English lever with its “spiked” or “horned” escape wheel and a variation of the Swiss Lever which is laid out as an English lever but has a “Club tooth” Escape and which was normally described as an English Lever even though technically it wasn’t. There is not a lot of difference in value between them although many prefer the true English as being traditional although the Swiss variant is more efficient. True English Lever watches are rarer after about 1900 although companies such as Rotherham and J.W. Benson stuck with them into the 1930s.

Features for accuracy that add value:

·       Generally the more jewels the more expensive with good jewel placement also being a factor – see more detailed notes in this post.
·       Adjustment (see this nawcc wikki on the subject) for temperature, isochronism and / or in multiple positions. 
·       Screw set jewels tend to lead to higher prices than hand or machine set.
·       A cut compensating balance (mentioned in coverall or the Elinvar hairspring) is better than an early screwed balance without an Elinvar hairspring, is better than a solid balance but age and other factors muddy these waters.
·        Breguet sprung balance is generally preferred to a “standard” over-sprung or under-sprung balance.
·        Geneva Stop Gear, if still functional, is a plus point on early going barrel movements.