Had a once in a lifetime experience yesterday – I was invited to fill a suddenly vacant spot (read… divine favor and providence!) in a Swiss watchmakers introduction to Watchmaking course (Uhrmacherkurs) at Chronometrie Beyer in Zurich. Four people a month can take this course. I suppose these are offered by watchmakers in the states, but I’d probably not spend the money, nor would it ever measure up to taking such a thing here in horological heaven. I am very grateful to Herr René Beyer for making it possible for me to attend and for the English translation. You can read this if you are not aware of who he is as the seventh generation watchmaker here at the internationally renowned Beyer’s of Zurich.

Thomas was able to attend as my photo journalist and we squeezed an afternoon into 2min 47 sec video just for you. Another journalist was there writing a story with a photographer and he took my card and will send me the magazine article when it comes out.  My instructors were Ernst Baschung and René Clémençon – Ernst comes from a watchmaking family and has been a watchmaker for 35 years. I picked his brain, are you surprised? He said I did a remarkable job grasping the complexity of a basic time measurement system and disassembling and reassembling a simple pocket watch mechanism on my own.

Before you view the video I’ll share a couple things for your edification and interest.

Ernst tells me golf and tennis are the two no nos with watches. It’s not the swing motion, its the shock energy released from the moment of impact with the ball that will break even the most expensive Rolex. Anyone with any watch they care about should never play golf or tennis with it on.

I asked him about the best watch in the world in terms of quality – hands down Rolex is the highest quality watch in the world; the parts are thicker, better material, etc. Other watches may look finer, and they may be, but quality/durability is sacrificed. A good and complex Rolex has upwards to 1200 parts. The watch I took apart maybe had 100. Previously I would have said a $10,000 watch can’t be a whole lot different than a $1000 watch and the rich are only paying for the name.  Now I disagree. If a watch costs $10,000 it’s worth $10,000 because of the mind-blowing precision inside it and the quality of support and warranty ready to repair it if it breaks. The really expensive watches today are made with a new material – a new silver – one slight touch of a human finger ruins the material and the part is worthless.

Throughout the afternoon I was in awe of those who can work on these things – but what really trips me up is to think that someone invented this and that it works! Somewhere in there is a strong Intelligent Design argument.

The Breitling by Bentley Mark IV watch I’ve coveted for a few years is now over $10,000. (Check out the video on this watch – sweet.) Here’s the thing… illegal replica’s are available all over the internet for under $500. Ernst says a replica is really two watches, a cheap mechanism inside with a imitation casing outside. Were you to wear your illegal imitation into a Swiss watchmakers shop and ask him to repair something (he would likely recognize it a fake from just a glance at it while you are wearing it) he’d likely take it, put it on his bench and smash it with a ball-peened hammer right in front of you and send you out of his store. 40 million FAKE “Swiss” watches are made each year compared to the 26 million REAL Swiss watches that are made each year – estimated loss of sales annually is 1 billion Swiss francs. That has an ENORMOUS economic impact on the Swiss Watch industry. If you are thinking of getting an imitation, read this.

Most of the clocks in the shop for repair are 17th and 18th century clocks. I asked about transporting these things to and from the shop because the UPS guy has yet to bring me a book I ordered without a dented corner! – how do they get these here and home safely? Answer: one of Beyer’s watchmakers travels to the location/home of the broken clock and personally assesses it, gives an estimate, transports it by hand back to the shop in Zurich and then back home again.

Here’s a pic of the various parts of the watch I worked on.

Watch parts

The part in the picture, #710 (it’s in far the lower right and looks like a small “T”), is called the Swiss Anchor Escapement. Here’s the guy who invented it. This little thing constrains, controls and releases the right amount of power for the entire mechanism – without it the watch would spin out until it’s drained of power. 99% of watches use this Swiss design escapement- it has two jewels, usually rubies on the edges of the T. This little part moves back and forth thousands of times every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – and it doesn’t wear out – your car only runs a few hours at a time and is in the shop multiple times a year!!!

What’s remarkable to me is that this thing is SO SMALL that a small size mosquito could probably fly off with it resting on it’s back. No kidding, when it sits on a whitetop workbench, your eyes have to adjust to even see it like they do picking out a plane hidden high up in the sky.

Lesson… if you open the back of your watch and a miniature mosquito flies out… it wasn’t a mosquito! More fun facts, some who open their watches and look inside then go get a tweezers to remove what they think is a fine hair – fyi… it belongs there – leave it alone!

You can see that the video ends with me holding my Certificate of Course Completion. I can’t read German but I’m assuming that what is written there says something about how you can now send me your broken expensive watches and I’ll be able to fix them. Inside joke… a few years ago I commented after seeing a rerun of a Discovery channel Operation program that I could probably now perform a heart surgery. I’m a quick learner, monkey see, monkey do.