Inside the Mind of a Watchmaker

A couple weeks ago, I had the chance to show you Matthew Carbaugh break down a Breitling Colt Automatic into all of its individual parts.  When I say Matt is an incredible watchmaker, that is a tremendous understatement.  I have seen him take watches that are not operating and look completely destroyed, only to make them appear brand new again.  This guy is good!

Thankfully, Matt took some time out of his ridiculously busy schedule to answer some questions that both you, my readers, and I had for him.  Believe me, Matt has an inordinate amount of repair jobs lined up for his services.  Anyway, I found his answers very interesting and extremely informative.  I hope you do as well!  Thanks again, Matt!

What is training like for a Authorized watchmaker?  With all of the different movement complications that exist, how many levels to watchmaking are there?

Watchmaker training starts in school.  There are quite a few different schools you can go to.  The best ones will take you about 2 years to get through.  My school was a little over two years and was about 2,000 hours of training.  If you do not get a good start in being trained properly it will be harder later in life, but not impossible.  In school you will learn the basics.  That includes quartz (simple), mechanicals, and automatics.  Certain schools will teach you chronographs, module mechanical chronograph movements, and chronograph quartz.  After school you can take a test given by American Watch and Clock Institute, AWCI.  The test they offer helps with setting a standard for the watchmakers out there.  But to be an Authorized Watchmaker you need be affiliated with an Authorized Dealer.  The brands will send someone to make sure your shop is up to par.  You are required to have certain tools to properly repair their watches.   From there, the watch brands will invite you to do training with their brands.  Most brands have different levels of training.  Breitling has 1 through 4.  The bottom level 1 would cover simple repairs like automatics, quartz, and simple chronographs.  I have training up to level 3.  That entails all chronographs and big date functions, like on the Crosswind Special or some B.  But more complicated timepieces need more experience.  There are some more complicated watches that I still will not touch.

What is the advantage to using a Authorized watchmaker?

Using an Authorized watchmaker is important because of the parts issue.  An authorized watchmaker or the factories are the only ones that are, for lack of a better word, authorized to get the genuine spare parts.  Other watchmakers can claim they can repair your watch but they are using generic parts or not replacing parts at all.  Be sure to ask them what parts they are using.  But most of the higher end brands cannot be repaired properly with generic parts.

What is the most complicated watch you have worked on?

The most complicated watch I have worked on would be an automatic chronograph with a complete calendar function.  But one of the hardest watches I have worked on would be an IWC Split Chronograph.

What is your favorite watch to work on?

My favorite watch to work on is Breitling.  I am not just saying that because I am talking on a Breitling blog.  They have a lot of fun complications, can be refinished to look like new almost every time, and are in my opinion one of the sturdiest watches.

What advice do you have for the average watch owner in terms of care and maintenance?

The best piece of advice I could give is to do the regular maintenance subscribed by the brands.  Mechanicals should be overhauled every 5-6 years and quartz watches should get basic services during battery changes.  This will keep down on any un-needed wear due to drying oil and keep your watch from leaking moisture due to dried or misshapen gaskets.  Also do not be afraid to wash your case and bracelet with warm water and soap, Mr. Clean works great.  This will help keep a build up of what we call “body cheese”, dead skin and soap scum build up.

What is the most common problem you see in a watch, and how does one avoid that situation?

The most common problems I see in watches bad services.   A common cleaning is easier when the last person in the watch knew what they were doing.  I see a lot of un-needed damage (like scratched plates and screws), parts that should have been replaced, watches that were never cleaned properly, and gaskets that were never replaced.  Not replacing gaskets can result in water damage from moisture getting in, which can include rust and discolored dials.    Watches that never get cleaned properly do not get the old oils removed.  This, with worn parts that were never replaced, can cause a watch to run poorly.

What goes into an average watch service?

For this question I will choose a Breitling Chronomat.  I will disassemble the whole case and movement.  I will remove and throw away all old gaskets.  The case and bracelet will be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner with a special detergent.  They will be refinished to the original factory standards as best as possible.  The case will then be reassembled with new genuine gaskets.  The movement will be cleaned in a special machine designed to clean watch movements with ultrasonic waves.  I will then reassemble the movement, lubricating it to the original factory standards.  The mainspring and reversing wheel are replaced.  After the dial and hands are attached the movement is put into the case and pressure tested.  The watch is then tested to make sure that the watch is regulated correctly, winds fully on a winder, and runs the full power reserve.  After that is tested, the bracelet is reattached and given back to the customer.

Is there anything that sets a Breitling movement apart from other watch movements?

One thing that Breitling does, that no others do, is all their watches are chronometers.  That means that any Breitling watch you buy will run to COSC standards.  That is +6secs to -4secs in all positions under heat and cold.

Have you ever worked on the Breitling B01 in house movement? What are your thoughts on the movement?

All B01 should be sent to the factory at this point.  But hopefully I will be trained on this movement shortly.  I think it is a very impressive movement.  The trainer for Breitling has given me a close up look of the B01.  There was a lot of thought that went into the design of this watch.  They designed this movement for easy service in mind.  But it is still very young movement for me to develop a proper opinion of it.

What brand’s movements impress you the most and why?

Rolex is one of the most rock solid movements out there.  They run amazingly and are easily serviced.   There are a few independent watchmakers out there such as Moser and Lange & Heyne.  These are some of the nicest movements and finished to perfection yet simple.  But two of the nicest watch manufactures out there in my opinion are Patek Phillippe and A Lange & Sohne.  They are amazing movements with amazing complications.   Parmigiani and Jagear LeCoultre are two very impressive watch manufactures that I believe make a watch that is a big bang for your buck. Yes, I know that Parmigianis are expensive, but what amazing movements they make.

If you could have any watch, what would it be and why?

My favorite watch right now is between the Albert Von Sachsen by Lange & Heyne and the Zeitwerk by A Lange and Sohne.  A friend of mine who is a watch collector turned me onto Lange & Heyne.  I find this watch to be amazingly finished, simple yet complicated, and made by an independent watchmaker.    The Zeitwerk is stunning.  I got to see this watch in person.  The detail in how it was made is like no other and when the dials change….wow.  The indicators change simultaneously and snap straight into place. Very impressive.

If you have any other questions for Matt, please do not hesitate to let me know.

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