Horological weekend at the BHI...

Jun 15, 2008,00:59 AM

Horological weekend at the BHI...


Leaving home



To reach here

The headquarters of the British Horological Institute in Upton England.


The British Horological Institute was founded in 1858 as the result of the spirit of forward looking men in a time of crisis for the British horological trade.  While the British tradesman was convinced of the superiority of his traditionally handcrafted clocks and watches, foreign competition from Switzerland and the US was already making great headway on the market.  The increasingly mechanized Swiss and American manufacturers were able to provide consistent quality at a lower cost.


One of the main goals cited at the time remains today, a complete formal education in horology to allow future generations to excel in their chosen trade and to assure innovation.  The BHI works actively on maintaining the syllibus for horological training in England up to date and offers itself correspondence courses that lead to fully recognised degrees.


This year 2008 is the 150th anniversary of the BHI, which makes it the worlds oldest professional organization.  To celebrate these 150 years BHI has organized this past weekend as three days of seminars to the themes:


Saturday: "In the footsteps of John Harrison"

Lectures on the origins and inspirations of John Harrison on making his marine chronometers, which where the first to be accurate enough to solve the problem of accurate navigation at sea. 

Other lectures went into the actual clock themselves and a reconstruction of a Harrison clock in progress by Derek Pratt.

Further the  concept, planning and realization of the 150 Anniversary clock designed by members of the BHI was discussed.


Sunday: "Meet the Makers"

Starting with an introduction by George Daniels, living watchmakers described their working methods, organization and plans.  A large portion of the discussion was attributed to watchmaking in England, its independence from/dependence on Switzerland and the efforts to invigorate the trade back to a life where it will do more than simply servicing Swiss watches.


Monday: "Perfecting the Pendulum"

All around the perfectioning of the pendulum clock, double pendulums, resonance and coupling, master/slave systems, fundamental limits, etc. 


A massive program for one short weekend, where I was unfortunately only able to attend the Sunday seminar "Meeting the Makers" at the BHI headquarters at Upton Hall.


Arriving at the BHI interesting questions are already brought up before entering the doors; What is the time told by a sundial standing in the shade?



Inside things seem more useful.  Those who read the BHI's monthly journal the HJ (Horological Journal) have been reading for more than a year of the advancements and setbacks of the 150th anniversary clock, made by a team of members of the BHI to commemorate this 150th anniversary of the organization.  This clock is the main attention piece in the main hall of the building.  Several of the intermediate prototypes made to test new ideas were also shown in the hall.  


As can be seen, I am not the only one interested in photographing this magnificent clock.


Note the 3 pendulums that are impulsed each in turn by the rotating free gravity escapement.


The time readout, the "dial", is on concentric rings at the top of the movement. 



Of the many clocks in the BHI collection this one caught my eye. A good attempt at perpetual motion before one notices the key for winding.


The days seminar "Meet the Makers" was held in the ball room of Upton Hall with room for 150 participants.  Great interest was manifest as all the seats were taken.   

The curator of the BHI museum, Mr. Alan Middleton, moderated the day.


First off Dr. George Daniels gave us a historical perspective of where we stand today through his now almost 60 years in the industry.  A speech peppered with his highly personal, but well argumented opinions about innovation and organization.


This Daniels Millennium Watch found its way in front of my camera later in the day at dinner.


Mr. Volker Vyskocil followed with a fascinating presentation of the design steps that lead to his present watch.  A journey of decisions and new ideas, steps forward and back, that lead to much more of a watch than was initially planned.






Roger Smith, watchmaker on the Isle of Mann, then spoke on "English Watchmaking, Past and Present" evoquing his experience and time working for George Daniels and the challenges to watchmakers trying to uphold the quality of English watchmaking from its Golden Days today.



The following break gave an opportunity to talk with the master himself and the following anonymous wrist shot.



Following we were able to hear from Mr. Philip Whyte of Charles Frodsham & Co.  Frodsham has been developing a new English made movement using the Daniels double impulse chronometer escapement.  We were able again to profit to hear of their design goals and the different steps they made to arrive at their present design.  They have 3 movements now in test for over 3 years and are preparing the production equipment necessary for small quantity production in England.  They expect production to kick off next year.



The Frodsham movement, notice the double train.  Two separate barrels up through two escape wheels turning in opposite directions to be able to impulse the balance symmetrically in both directions.


All of the parts of the Frodsham movement.  Almost entirely made in house.



After lunch, served under the marquee erected on the grounds of Upton Hall Peter Speake-Marin gave an introduction to the AHCI and many of its member watchmakers.




John McGonigle then made a plaidoier for rekindling the watchmaking trade in Great Brittan in his presentation "Bridging an Horological Divide".  He explained his career and that of his brother and how they have moved to Switzerland and now back to their native Ireland, but are still dependent on Switzerland for work, parts and services. His dream is to end this foreign dependence. 



In a presentation on advanced materials Gideon Levingston presented the hairspring materials that he is working on and trying to bring to the market.  After discussing the physical properties of carbon fibers and how they can be used with balances of his design the advantages of amorphous carbon, the so-called diamond-like-carbon was introduced and presented as the material of the future.  Its advantages include simple cutting of any form with a laser. 



Back in the domain of advanced watchmaking Stephen Forsey presented the Experimental Watch Technology of Gruebel Forsey.  This development strategy program of Gruebel Forsey has helped them to imagine, develop and bring to market a series of multiple tourbillion watches.




The final presentation of the day was made by Alexander Schmiedt who explained the efforts of the brand Mont Blanc, which has recently also become a watchmaking brand, to integrate the traditions brand Minerva into their product palette.


After this much new information rained down on us all day it was time for an evening among colleagues and friends.

Dinner was served:


Among others these watches got passed around at my table





George and Thom


To finish up the day a panel discussion with all the days presenters discussed controversially questions posed by the public.  Most hotly discussed: can one really separate the regulation of escape and oscillator?, is it desirable to have hairsprings that can not be tweaked such as a diamond-like hairspring who's shape is entirely defined when it is laser cut?  The question of the desirability of working at least for a time in Switzerland for young watchmakers also raised many comments.


All in all a very satisfying day, much information, people met with different views and open discussion.  It is to be hoped that the BHI will not wait another 150 years before sponsoring such a seminar weekend again. 



More posts: 1858 CollectionGeorge DanielsMcGonigleRoger SmithSpeake-MarinVolker Vyskocil

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Comments: view entire thread



 By: Mostel : June 15th, 2008-09:58
What a fantastic presentation. I tell ya, friends... there are some watches out there that really remind you what it's all about. Thanks so much Don.

Excellent post...

 By: Tim Jackson : June 18th, 2008-12:54