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Found 5 results

  1. Well, the day is finally about to arrive (September 16)! After two years of living a split existence between my home on weekends in Berkeley Springs and weekdays in York, Pennsylvania, I'm finally done. I lived in an old rooming house in downtown York (see picture below) and my small school was a few blocks away. Two years is enough time to develop a habit of living and, waking this morning, I still felt like I had to make the 100+ mile drive to York this morning. But I didn't and that's a good and a bad thing. Good because I can now call my home my home again. Bad because a phase of my life has ended, probably for good. I'm sentimental about such things and this latest venture has often brought me nostalgic feelings about starting graduate school at New York University in 1980. That period ended in 1985 when I packed up and went to a post-doctoral fellowship at Northwestern University, both now over 30 years ago. So what can I say about watchmaking school? When I first started I wrote down on this website some of my initial impressions and followed it with an occasional update. For those who have the time and the resources I would say, go for it! It accelerates one's progress because you don't have to re-invent the wheel--something to be avoided unless you have a real affinity for wheels! I don't. For those who, like me were complete newbees, knowing nothing about the watch and clockmaking communities, it will allow you to quickly set up a network of fellow craftsmen. In my case going to York was very much like going to the historical heart of American watchmaking. Relatively speaking, there are a lot of watchmakers in central Pennsylvania; probably because nearby Lancaster was the home of the Hamilton Watch Company. It still is the location of the RGM Watch Company whose watches I greatly admire. Because of school I am now a member of the NAWCC, the Central Pennsylvania Watchmakers & Clockmakers Guild and the Horological Society of New York. Also it provided me with a steep ramp-up on acquiring tools--which our craft employs a greater complement than almost any other. I probably would never have seriously considered obtaining a watchmaker's lather or, if I had, not known how to get one that was both useful and reasonably priced. Sure you can get modern one's but they're pretty expensive and, frankly, appear to lack to quality of the older "vintage" lathes. But you have to be careful as there's a lot of old stuff that's been sorely abused and, unless you have a machinist background and recondition them yourself, not worth purchasing. Also what do you get: 6mm, 8mm, 10mm, or does it matter? (Actually, in America 8mm was the most popular and has the most available accessories.) Another advantage to me was that I was forced to work on pieces. Alone, my lack of self-discipline and my harsh internal critic, operant while working alone, pre-school, made it difficult to accept new challenges and complete work. I won't say I have this completely under wraps but I have now worked on a fairly broad range of pieces and have more confidence now. And it has cured me of one disease that I've heard some watchmakers say they had to be cured of: the feeling that you have to save every watch! Many I let go but am careful to inventory as parts watches. Also my fear of breakage is diminished; partly because I feel more confident that I can recover from a blunder and partly because I see my fellow students blunder and realize screwing up is part of the learn process and continues into common experience even for the experienced. (Which is not to say that I don't continue to work towards lowering my blunder rate!) Many will want to know whether or not I am a real, "stand-up", watchmaker like some members of this website? Probably not, though I can see real progress. It's a cliché that schooling, in any discipline, only takes you so far. The rest depends on time served and degree of dedication. As a former teacher, let us not get too hung up on a word I deliberately omitted, talent! Sure there are individuals who have it but my experience is that the bulk of progress is made by people of ordinary ability applying themselves conscientiously. Getting in there with our screwdrivers and tweezers is where, for the individual, our craft starts to take form. My only regret is that, at 66 years old, I won't have enough time to dedicate, say, 40 years to strive for a truly high level of achievement. This is where youth beats old age. Nothing can be done about it, though, except to provide a cautionary tale to those who are still young. Like most youth's I figured real self-examination, as to who I really was and what I would really like to do, fostered upon me by old dotards who weren't as smart as I was. Youth thinks the world is its oyster. Would that they could know otherwise. Sometimes, infrequently, individual youths do "get it" and listen to their elders. So be it but, whether they heed or not, at least those reading this can't say they never heard it from me. The attached pictures are two view of where I lived in York. The house is a nice example of antebellum architecture and is on the local historical registry. The very top floor was the servant's (some would say slave's) quarters. I had a very nice room with a beautiful black marble fireplace which I show decorated with some silly gewgaws I obtained from a local second-hand store. It's all been packed up and taken home, never to be so arranged again (some might say, amen to that!). I'll miss it and my housemates whom I hope to see from time to time. Finally I have a job interview in Philadelphia's diamond district later this month. In America there are jobs for watchmakers going unfilled. If they make the right offer then maybe my wife and I will, once again, pull up stakes and start a new chapter in our lives, in a totally unforeseen area to live. Who would have guessed Philly after living in NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C. Life is full so unlikely tributaries. But we'll see.
  2. The days certainly fly! I've been in school for 13 months now, but there is still so much to learn. I wonder if I'll know enough by the time I graduate? Today was a big day, tool-wise. I got my new Lorch lathe (see box at far right next to bench with closed roll top). It's a beautiful set, probably from the 1970's. It's almost complete. This plus my 1920-vintage Boley allows me to do almost everything. I'm also working on a nice little Japanese wristwatch. It's not very expensive but it has some nice and fairly innovative features and, consequently, is of different design than I usually work on. It has a cracked jewel so, as an exercise using my new lathe, I'm going to make a brash bushing to replace the jewel. I wouldn't normally do this except for practice using my lathe. Also I recently re-jeweled a watch that had brass bushings; so there's a sort of symmetry between the two operations. Finally, we put in the finishing touches to a student workshop off-campus where we can work together practicing various skills. We will work, help and challenge each other and prepare questions to ask our instructor the next day.
  3. Here's a picture of me at my school bench. It's crowded. We have, right now, 5 students. We work in a close environment and are constantly engaged in each other's work. Our hallmark is the apron because making parts by hand is often dirty work. I apologize for my less than distinguished pose! (Why can't my pictures be "slimming"!)
  4. This is my second installment of my experience of watchmaking school. I am entering my 4th week of school. The way ahead still seems long and full of possible obstacles. It is hard to imagine that there will ever come a time when I can begin to think of myself as a watchmaker. I have been watching my instructor and fellow students who are farther along. I've also watched many videos of watchmakers with almost a lifetime of service and I think that I may never come close to them. Perhaps it's best to say, following the family motto of the great explorer Ernest Shackleton, fortitudine vicimus? As you work in our shop at the York Time Institute you have the feeling of being transported back to earlier era of watchmaking; more like a 19th century apprenticeship than a modern, clean, college of the science of horology. It is certainly not as hygienic as the modern Swiss factory/laboratory (we have two dogs who pay us frequent visits!) but that is probably by intent, for our instructor is, when it comes to watchmaking, in large measure an antiquarian. He loves old tools and techniques and the substrate of our craft: old watches and clocks. I find it hard to consider such a love for the old as a defect—like so many modern people do. And, anyway, I've found from experience that familiarity with the old makes for a better understanding of the new when such becomes necessary. For example, I've found an understanding (and fondness for) 19th century classical mathematics of the type found in Whittaker and Watson's A Course in Modern Analysis or Hardy's A Course of Pure Mathematics, has served me well for embracing more modern math which, in spite of its labyrinth of jargon and complex sub-divisions, often seems like a fancy way to swat flies. Ditto computer science. Having, in a sense, gotten in on the ground floor, there are some concepts which I naturally understand. So it seems to me that it is always possible to use to old as a springboard to the new whereas learning the new without reference to the old is like building a scaffold in the air. I also accompany our instructor on house calls. Last week we visited two homes to repair grandfather clocks. It’s good experience towards dealing with customers in their homes. This is real apprenticeship, though we don’t call it that. In fact, we do have apprentices but they’re far more advanced than I am. Perhaps someday! Since my first week I've been learning and restoring some tools I've acquired. I recently obtained, at a very reasonable price, and 8 mm Boley lathe with a number of accessories in a, once nice, but now dilapidated box. I have almost a complete set of collets and a very nice set of gravers. Most of the restoration will be of the box, which I started on today (Sep. 28). So far it’s looking great. I sanded it and put on a nice stain. Tomorrow I’ll shellac it and repair the inside so that the lathe and its parts and accessories will be neatly stored as they were when it was new. I've also obtained a number of free tools from donations made by people who, learning about our school, have generously given us surplus tools. Some of these have to be refurbished but our instructor, because of his aforementioned love of tools, is of immense help. Besides the lathe I have restored staking punches and stumps, a staking anvil, bench blocks, Vernier calipers and a vintage bench micrometer, etc. I am told that I will soon be leaving the “grammar” of tools, their names uses and restoration, to their application or “logic” and that will be the subject of my next installment.
  5. I decided to take the plunge and go to school. I'll be starting at the York Time Institute in two weeks. Have been there for several visits now and have received good reviews from its students. I like the intimacy and dedication of its director, Daniel Nied. But it's going to be a long haul taking perhaps 2 years or more--depending on how I progress. Also I will be spending 3 night a week in York to attend four days a week. I'll spend long weekends at home in Berkeley Springs. I decided that I need to have someone, who has a lot of experience, supervise and instruct me. Plus there are elements of this craft that I simply never would have been able to try out because I would probably never have access to the right kind of equipment. I haven't had the kinds of feelings of expectation and, yes, anxiety, since before just starting college. I'm really looking forward to learning a lot of things but have a little anxiety over whether I'll be able to make the grade. But that's just my nature. In fact, Dan and all the other students I've talked too and spent time with have been very supportive so far. So, here goes! I won't be leaving this blog so I'll keep you posted on my progress. --Doug
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