Only fools will go… step 9 - Finishing up.
This has been a long saga, but now the final result is on the table and I am very satisfied. It has been a lot of work and many hours, but the result is everything I was hoping for. Before going through the last steps to finish the watch, here a sneak preview of the finished product.
The last steps have been very time consuming. Especially making the dial. You remember the first dial I made, in brass and then rhodium plated. It is just too shiny. So after taking a good look in all the watchmaking texts I have, mostly the Daniels, of course, I decided to try making a bleached silver dial, bleached silver being white. The “bleaching” is a simple heat treatment with subsequent bathing in a dilute acid solution to remove any oxidation.
But before doing this I need to solder the dial feet on the back of the dial. To tell the truth, the pictures below are of my third attempt at making a silver dial. In the first the feet were placed wrong and I ruined the dial while unsoldering them. For the second attempt I drilled shallow blind holes in the back of the dial to position the dial feet. They were then positioned OK, but after bleaching the silver you could see little dark spots where the copper feet were soldered on from the back. I guess that during the heating to bleach the copper was leaching in to the silver. In any case it was not pretty and I had to start over. To put all the chances on my side I made a jig to hold the feet while soldering and used silver for the feet. No possibility for the positioning holes to be too deep and/or for copper feet to cause discoloring. Here is the dial blank and the positioning jig holding the feet.
With the feet well attached, using medium temperature silver solder, I could commence bleaching the surface. In the picture I have a copper wire to hold the dial and lower it into the acid, after it has cooled. I discovered, however, that the copper was oxidizing much more than the silver and polluting my acid solution leaving particles that stuck to the dial surface. So I soon went to moving the dial using only pegwood, which is unaffected by the acid solution. Several bleaching and pickling cycles were necessary to get an even white color over the whole surface. But even the pegwwod seemed to be leaving discoloration so I went to using a piece of thick plastic line to suspend the dial in the acid. That worked. And be sure to allow the piece to cool completely before placing in the acid. Otherwise the dial will distort and need much reworking to get flat again (realizing that you can’t touch the bleached surface without leaving traces, that flattening will be a real trick). Below you can see how it came out. I did the same procedure for the frame portion of the dial, to then scribe the indexes and cut out the center as I did with the brass dial too.
Unfortunately, I again have some unforeseen problems at this point. The bleached surface is very delicate. The chips of silver simply falling from the surface have caused imperfections in the white. You can see them in the following picture at around 20 seconds (4 o’clock on the upper dial if you prefer). But the whole impression of the white dial is much better than the brass dial, as you can see.
What to do? I could bleach the whole piece again and leave the indexes white too, but I wanted the contrast. So I tried re-bleaching and then polishing the indexes. I am just not good enough, ‘though. It only takes one little wrong move the ruin the whole thing again. Which, of course I did. I did get about half way through polishing the indexes without a mishap ‘though. Anyway, in the end I decided to make a circular brushed surface until I have the final good idea of how to make that frame. (Maybe hanging the lathe from the ceiling in such a way that the chips fall away from the work piece?).
After a soak in alcohol over night to dissolve the rest of shellac on it the dial is ready to be lacquered so it doesn’t tarnish and the two pieces glued together.
I won’t bore you with the complete story of lacquering this dial. Suffice it to say that the 5th lacquer I tried was the first that is really clear and doesn’t have a slight yellow tinge. It is a good thing that the gods blessed the world with acetone to easily remove lacquer. You can imagine that by the time I found a lacquer that didn’t yellow I was getting close to despairing. Then came the problems of application. I first tried using spray lacquer… that yellows and raises dust during the application. This crystal clear lacquer I found is liquid and not having an airbrush I dunked the dial in it. This caused problems because the layer was too thick and running. I was first able to get reasonable results after thinning the lacquer by 50%. Although not planned, I like the subtly mottled effect I am able to produce with this lacquer.
After finally getting a reasonable dial it is time to case-up. Here some last pictures of the movement before it disappears in the case.
As you can see I am unable to decide if a black crocodile strap is better than a brown ostrich strap, but I think I will go for the ostrich for everyday wear. The crocodile is very elegant.
Finally arrived at the end of this saga, this watch, my nr.1, is now my daily wearer. I have been looking forward to this moment so long. But as with all sagas worth their salt, the end of this saga is just the beginning of the next. My wife has been clamoring for her watch for months already. I have a long list of things to improve and change, like a better time setting mechanism and having the dial frame such that the second hand really follows the edge of the frame exactly. I will continue my formation in horlogerie to perfect my skills.
I am finding great enjoyment in carrying out as many steps as possible of this creation myself and aim to increase that portion with each watch that I make (I will place the limit there at going out to hunt a crocodile and/or an ostrich for the band). Following the complete series of steps to make a watch from some brass stock to a finished watch requires many different skills, always something new, is not repetitive at all. Just up my ally. I plan to keep on making unique pieces, each one customized for its owner, each one with new challenges for me, the maker. Watch Nr. 2 for my wife will have a different case in 18k gold, gold hands and a mother-of-pearl dial as well as a movement with a much-improved setting mechanism, among other things. If you have ideas you can contact me at dcorson (at) isuisse (dot) com (insert the correct characters and remove the spaces).
I hope that you have enjoyed this series of posts documenting the creation of this watch and had as much fun watching its evolution as I have had in making it.
Copyright © 2006 Donald W. Corson