White coats time

So micro-mechanics is done with (from an exam point of view). Amongst other things, that means a move from wearing dark blue coats at our benches to crisp, new white coats. Our classroom just officially became a clean room. 

It’s time to start servicing watches. Specifically, the ETA 6498. A big old clunker that would be familiar to Panerai owners (or not). 


Straightforward, easy to work on and perfect for a load of beginners to get stuck into. First things first, take it apart….


Then put it back together again. Then take it apart again. Now put it back together…you can see how this goes. Repetition, repetition, repetition, practice, practice, practice. This is exactly what I signed up for and I love it. 

So you think you can turn?

Winding stem? Easy! What ya got next?

Balance staffs….

They make winding stems look like rolls of carpet. 


A few millimetres long, a couple of millimetres at their widest point, steps, gradients, undercuts and conical pivots burnished to a perfect finish. How hard can it be?


Plenty hard. That’s how hard. 

In fairness, the turning is just progression of the skills practiced on winding stems. The dimensions and tolerances are smaller but the principles remain the same. Rotate a piece of metal in a lathe and use another piece of metal to cut bits off it until it’s the right shape. 

Burnishing I had a real problem with at first. Turning removes metal, burnishing rubs a harder piece of metal on to your work piece in order to compress the surface, making a stronger, smoother ‘skin’. In this case to reduce friction as the pivot rotates in the jewel. 

I spent 2 weeks achieving nothing but snapped pivots. Persistence pays off but we’re all human and the frustration began to build as my classmates all appeared to be progressing with relative ease. 

Then it clicked. It wasn’t the technique I was struggling with, I simply hadn’t found ‘the feel’. I had been misinterpreting just what burnishing should feel like through the fingertips. I had been chasing a smooth, rolling sensation. Whenever I found that, the balance staff would shift in its runner and either no progress would be made or the pivot would snap.

Then I found a slightly rougher sensation as I passed the burnisher across the pivot. Instantly I was getting results. Results that I could consistently reproduce! I’d cracked it and never looked back. 

I must stress that my inability to progress does not reflect badly on my tutors. They gave me guidance and suggestions at every stage but micro-mechanics at this level is very much about finding your own technique and ‘feel’. It’s about practicing, making mistakes, systematically correcting and making breakthroughs. 


In February I passed my balance staff exam. 2 exams done, 2 exams passed, no resits required and the micro-mechanics portion of the course boxed off. 

I’m not too bad at this lark. 

Catching up 

I’ll admit it! In so many ways I’m impulsive but, equally, I’m a procrastinator par excellence. 

I’ll update this blog tomorrow, this weekend, at the end of this month….and here we are. Time to take up the quill again and fill in some gaps. 

The last time I was here, I was learning how to make winding stems by hand, with a view to passing my first exam. The stems got more complicated, the tolerances got smaller and my skills improved to the point where, I’m pleased to say, I passed! Chalk it up. 


And there it is. Precision made on a hand lathe to tolerances of a few microns. Doesn’t look like much does it? I consider it quite the achievement for somebody who hadn’t looked at a lathe in the 30 years since high school. I’m on my way to calling myself a watchmaker