I started my studies in watchmaking in the holology class at the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University (BCU) in Birmingham. I was there from 2011-2012.
This is the first thing we made on the horology course. We worked on it during all of our practical lessons for the first 8-10 weeks. It was the first thing I’d ever made out of metal in my life, and so I was pretty pleased with it. I decided to add some “flair” to it by making a screw, bluing it and screwing it in the end. It took me 15 attempts to get the bluing right.
It’s quite large for a movement holder, and I still use it. It’s particularly useful for pocket watch sized movements, or delicate items as it is made out of brass and so doesn’t scratch steel. I got an awful mark for it, and after I’d spent around 150 hours on it it wrecked my confidence in my practical ability; particularly as some other classmates had spent just 10-15 hours making their version which didn’t work correctly and had been given a similar grade. At that point I really questioned my decision to become a watchmaker, as I really worried that for some reason I couldn’t tell the difference between good or poor workmanship. But with hindsight, and a better eye for quality, I can see the mark is fair. I think I’d just set my sights too high and forgot that I was a beginner student
During the first term at school we worked on a chiming clock. This was a Smiths clock from the middle of the 20th century. It had been my great Grandmother’s. I cleaned it, polished it, and bushed 5 of the pivots. The varnish had been poorly removed before, and so I cleared it all off and made some laquer from a piece of shellac disolved in methylated spirits and coated it. It took about 20 or so coats of this laquer before I was finally happy with it. I then cleaned the dial and repainted it. As I’d just founded my company I branded it too. I gave it to my parents for Christmas, which made for a cheap present – great for a poor student. They didn’t really like the ticking or chiming and so it never got wound back up, as I’d predicted it wouldn’t, but I think it makes a much more contemporary and pleasing item that the tired and dusty old thing it was. Granny would be pleased.
I bought a Heuer stopwatch off the internet and thought I’d got a bargain. But when I received it I realised why it was cheap; it had no pusher. That meant you couldn’t wind the movement or reset the counter. There was no screw thread on the end of the winding stem, and so to attach it I squared the end of the stem, made a pusher out of brass, squared the inside of the pusher (mostly by using a 1mm drill bit), and then soldered it together. I also added some superglue just to make sure, as I wasn’t confident that the force of turning the pusher during winding wouldn’t break the solder.
Then I nickel plated the whole stem with pusher. I was quite pleased how it turned out, and if you were none the wiser you probably wouldn’t guess that it was an addition. Anyway, it worked, so that was the main thing.
I knew in out final exam that we would have to make a squared post and blue it. So I practiced polishing steel, trying different materials and techniques until I could get a good enough finish I was happy with. As it was a practice piece I polished it more than necessary and rounded most of the sides.
After polishing it, I blued it. The photo has some sort of strobing effect but after my 5th attempt it turned out ok.
I also made a small piece, turning to diameters. As I also knew we’d have to drill in a cylinder for our final exam I drilled a hole in the end. Then I blued it, which was a bit tricky as thinner parts heat up faster than thicker areas, and so i had to raise some areas and bury other parts as it was changing colour, but I got it looking ok first time.
Then there was the final exam piece for the technician grade. I had been quite worried about my practical making skills, but in the end it all worked out and I passed.
See also: Things I made at the British School of Watchmaking