Observatory Chronometer, English movement
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  1. #1
    Member radger's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    N.E England

    Observatory Chronometer, English movement

    I do my watch collecting, service and repair at a slow pace and
    I've had this watch on my bench for over a month. It is presently in a dismantled
    state and has been waiting for me to take pics of the various parts as I
    think the watch is worth a picture thread.
    It is a Kew observatory class 'A' certified chronometer.

    Most collectors of watches will know what a chronometer is as we have
    heard of C.O.S.C, the body which guarantees a standard of accuracy
    and certifies chronometers.

    This tradition of certifying a watches accuracy is steeped in history and
    hails from a far flung age when lives depended on the accuracy of the
    time piece.
    In the early days a chronometer was used onboard ship, and used
    in conjuction with a sextant then a ships longitude could be found at sea.
    The accuracy at which longitude could be found was determined directly
    by the accuracy of the ships chronometer, especially its ability to keep
    accurate time over long periods and varying temerature ranges.
    Only a few seconds error and the ships position would be off by a few miles
    ...the more accurate the chronometer then the more accurately the ships
    position could be calculated, simple as that.

    Because the accuracy of the chronometer was so important to a ships
    navigation and safety at sea, astronomical observatories were charged
    with the testing of timepieces.
    Various observatories around the world set up facilities to test
    chronometers and one of these was the Royal Observatory at Kew.
    Chronometers tested at the Kew observatory had to go through very
    stringent testing with testing lasting 44 days.

    This watch is an English lever, 3/4 plate movement with going barrel,
    made by George Edwards of london & Glasgow, Late 19thC and is 44mm Dia.
    I made a post about this watch a while ago but only recently decided
    to service it with the intent of casing it up somehow, to protect it
    as it has lost its original case to the scrapman.

    Thousands of English lever movements of this 3/4 plate type and of
    varying spec of jewelling and escapements have been orphaned and are
    to be seen all to regularly on E-bay. I'm reluctant to say of
    'varying quality' because even low spec seven jewelled English levers
    seem to be built with the same regard to quality of finish as its
    higher spec cousins i.e gold gilt plates, cocks and bridges, highly
    polished springs, pinions, arbors and facets etc.

    The attention to detail and quality tends to be much the same whether
    one has a seven jewelled example in hand or a high spec 19 jewelled
    version such as this example.
    Having said that, quality can in a lot of cases be hidden and is not
    readily apparent. This quality is expressed in the carefull selection of
    materials and parts necessary to produce a high grade watch which would be
    capable of excellent time keeping, i.e Very best quality selected hairspring;
    Very best quality jewels carefully selected and polished to the highest
    standard etc.

    This watch can safely be said to fall into the High spec, top grade for
    this type as it has been chronometer certified class 'A' at the
    Kew Observatory. The top grade especially selected parts and materials,
    the extra work required by the master 'Springer Adjuster'and the cost of
    certification would have placed this watch into the very expensive price
    bracket when new.
    My hope is that I can convey the excellence of craftsmanship and quality of
    the high class engineering required to make such a watch which could pass these
    stringent tests.

    The watch would have started as an ebauche such as the one pictured here.

    These rough ebauches or 'Grey' movements as they are sometimes called were
    produced on mass in centers of production such as Prescott in lancashire.
    From this ebauche the watchmaker could make a plain seven jewelled pocket
    and everything in between up to the highest grade 19 jewelled levers.

    Disassembly was straightforward with little problems. The dial, a Swiss replacement,
    had been fixed with shellac by a previous repairman. Shellac is 'the' watchmakers
    glue and presented me little problem unsticking it by simply disolving the shellac
    with alcohol, methylated spirits in this case.

    As I dismantled and cleaned the various components of the watch I carefully
    examined the parts and it soon became apparant that the watch was in an excellent
    condition with no repair work required anywhere, as far as I could tell.
    Here are some pics of the lever, escape and balance. Note the lever is slotted at its
    tail, this type is called the 'tuning fork' lever and is documented in old books but
    is the first time I've actualy seen one.
    I assume the 'slots' function is to reduce the mass therefore the inertia of the lever,
    it might also facilitate the levers poise.
    Note the Saphire stones beautifully set into the slotted steel pallet slits.
    This 'concealed' method of securing the 'stones' is peculiar to English watches
    but I have seen it in some Swiss side levers...looking at the pallets from most
    angles you'ld be forgiven for thinking they are steel as the stones are effectively

    The balance is a cut compensated balance loaded with gold compensation and timing
    screws. It is, unusually, for an English ratchet lever, fitted with a double roller
    table with Saphire roller jewel (English watches of this type usually have a single
    roller table).

    The hairspring is unmolested and pristine and is pinned to a polished steel 'block'
    collet in the manner of very best English work.

    The center and third wheel. The finish to the spokes and internal angles could
    be better as they have been left unbevelled, but the form and finish of the teeth,
    the pinions and arbor are first class. The use of gold in these wheels is of a practical
    concern rather than aesthetic as gold has excellent low friction properties, ie it
    is a naturally slippery substance.

    To be continued........
    Last edited by radger; May 15th, 2011 at 10:09. Reason: Added pic

  2. #2
    Member sherwoodschwartz's Avatar
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    Apr 2009

    Re: Observatory Chronometer, English movement

    wonderful post. can i hit the like button several times?

  3. #3
    Member Shangas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Re: Observatory Chronometer, English movement

    No, but I did it for you.

    Marine chronometers are fascinating pieces of machinery. I think they're just amazing. To think we achieved THIS level of timekeeping accuracy 200 years ago...
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

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  5. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2010

    Re: Observatory Chronometer, English movement

    So this watch is from the 1800s?

  6. #5
    Member Sparcster's Avatar
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    Apr 2009

    Re: Observatory Chronometer, English movement

    Great post... Like the detail you have gone into when describing the parts.... Eventhough I am a novice when it comes to movements and their workings...

    I look forward to part 2
    A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away...

    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    Twitter: quickpicmarc

  7. #6
    Member Shangas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Re: Observatory Chronometer, English movement

    I learned something today. Gold is a virtually frictionless metal. I didn't know that. So THAT'S why they put it in watches...
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  8. #7
    Member joeuk's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    west yorkshire, uk

    Re: Observatory Chronometer, English movement

    thanks for sharing your hard work, always great to see post like these. if i had a go like this my final picture would be the watch bits in a bin lol.

  9. #8
    Member Tick Talk's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Waaaay Up North - Canada

    Observatory Competitions

    Wonderful post Radger! A great topic that I discovered, like you, following ownership of an Observatory Chronometer (of the Swiss variety). Your description of the movement's qualities is very inspiring.

    If I may correct a slight inaccuracy with your story...
    It is true that the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, organized the first timing competitions in 1766. The Swiss followed in 1772 at the Geneva Observatory. Geneva actually introduced the first points-based annual competition in 1874.

    All Observatory contests, whether in England, Switzerland, France, Germany or the USA, were of 45 days duration. Timepieces that achieved a base level of 2/3 available points were granted a Bulletin de Marche (Class A certificate at Kew). Those that performed very well could enter the Grand Prix competition and the winners were given 1st, 2nd, 3rd Prize or Honorable Mention. Observatory trials unfortunately ceased when the quartz movement made accuracy a certainty.

    The current COSC standard is a considerably dumbed-down process of 16 days testing; this is perhaps where your reference comes from. Observatory trials have reawakened with the interest in mechanical movements. In 2009 a Swiss/French competition was held and another is scheduled for the fall of 2011. Of the 16 wristwatches subjected to 3 sets of standard 16-day COSC trials conducted a three locations, six failed.

    I can't quite read the number of points your movement received...is it 76.6 or 78.8? FWIW, the tests were not standardized so it is not possible to compare results between Observatories...something I think they did on purpose! Kew Observatory chronometer test ledgers are presently kept at the Greenwich Observatory Museum and they will provide an extract upon request. PM me for contact info if you wish
    Attached Images Attached Images

    Tick Talk says, "A watch in the hand is worth two on the wrist"

  10. #9
    Member Erik_H's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    Norwegian, Singapore

    Re: Observatory Competitions

    A wonderful thread. 78.8 marks was not bad at all, very few watches ever scored over 90.
    Member NAWCC Chapter 149

  11. #10
    Member Eeeb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Great Lakes - USofA

    Re: Observatory Competitions

    This thread is a great example of why many of us are here. Thanks to all!
    "Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

    "The watch has to be surrounded by a history.
    You need more than just a great design. You need to create an atmosphere around the product.
    Who is the company behind it? Why are they using this material?
    People need to be able to identify the watch with themselves. It's based on emotion." - Ralph Furter

    ...that's just my opinion and I've been wrong before and will be again and might be now!

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