My Watchmaking 101 Experience - The Horological Society of New York

Last night I attended the watchmaking class at the Horological Society of New York. Two hours felt like minutes, which is ironic given the function of a watch and its role in accurately measuring time.

My workstation, pre-surgical organization...

My workstation, pre-surgical organization...

The evening began with a history lesson of the Horological Society’s informal beginnings in New York just after the Civil War. Founded by German emigres in 1866 who answered the call for watchmakers, the organization served to represent their craft.

Our instructor, Steve Eagle - Director of Education, spent time discussing his path to become a watchmaker. Trained somewhat locally to New York, he graduated from watchmaking school in Pennsylvania. Despite what he calls the “Quartz Crisis” in the 70’s, when quartz movement all but made mechanical watches extinct, there has been a resurgence of demand and appreciation for the intricate components and mathematics behind a mechanical timepiece.

Not long into the class, we were already “hands on” with our movement. And by “hands on” I am referring to covered contact thanks to our finger cots (see below).

Finger Cots - Oil free handing

Finger Cots - Oil free handing

Steve’s Powerpoint slides are as precise and accurate as the movement sitting in front of me. Each slide clearly indicates the proper tool for the current step, as well as “focus” slides that break complex steps into multiple simplified micro-steps with magnified visuals.

The "Balance Wheel" slide - Handle with care!

The "Balance Wheel" slide - Handle with care!

Before the clock struck eight, we had already fully disassembled the 17 jewel movement. We had worked hard to deserve Steve’s applaud, sarcastically congratulating us on completing the easiest part of the class.

Deconstructed and ready for re-assembly

Deconstructed and ready for re-assembly

Next it was time for the real test, reassembling these tiny parts back in the right order and at a 1/100th mm accuracy required for precise time measurement.

Less than twenty minutes later I was ready to insert the balance spring, what some call the “heart” of the watch.

The balance wheel and spring

The balance wheel and spring

Success, the first attempt resulted in a steady beat, with the ever so soothing “tick, tick, tick, tick” right on time, every time.

As a watch aficionado, I love to get my hands on a real watch movement where I can break it down, interact with, and ultimately rebuild from scratch to a point where it comes alive once again. All without breaking the warranties for my own timepieces!

In just two hours I had activated all my senses and learned an incredible amount of material. The visual complexity of a watch movement is simply just the surface of the trade. As I move into the 102 and 103 level courses we will explore the mathematics required to develop the gear train, as well as winding and setting works.

I couldn’t help but remember the countless times as a child that I took apart radios, remote control cars, remote controls, and any other object with a screw in it that I could get my hands on. Of course, we didn’t have the same reliance on computers as our children do in today’s digitally distracted world. I see it first hand as my twelve and three-year-old boys spend their day tapping a touch screen, and by chance might interact with a mechanical component within a video game.

The requirements of watchmaking extend far beyond mechanical engineering. The mathematical calculations to create even the simplest of complications are enough to challenge the scholarly. The focus and patience to assemble hundreds of components with a needle point tweezer is not for the easily frustrated.

Lifelong skills both required and taught by this trade such as patience, focus and process-driven thinking are exactly why we decided to form the first watch brand for children. Progeny watches are the first real timepieces for children. Our mission is to create timeless bonds between parent and child by pairing educational activities with presenting a gift of significance to a child that they can one day pass down to their child. The flagship mechanical watch is appropriately named the “STEM”. Every Progeny timepiece incorporates the finest watchmaking materials, found only in adult watches, up until today.

Check out our brand at progeny.nyc and learn how you can become a part of this amazing movement. And be sure to check out the Horological Society of New York. They have taken their courses on the road, and gone as far as San Diego.