Watchmaking - George Daniels

This is a nice, hefty, hardbacked tome on, yes, watchmaking. A couple of years ago, I was rather intrigued by the insane nutty detail of mechanical watches, and received this book as a present. I've finally finished reading it.

This is a particularly hardcore tome. It's not about watch repairs, or the general techniques of mass production. It's about handcrafting a complete, high-accuracy mechanical watch, pretty much on your own, given thousands of hours. The author is well-known in watchmaking (his name being attached to various innovations), making this a pretty authoritative guide.

It's not for the amateur. It assumes the reader knows plenty already. Given I am an amateur at best, I was pretty completely lost in places. The book seems to assume a knowledge of machining and engineering which put me completely out of my depth. This wasn't helped by the initial chapters explaining how to make various obscurely-named parts, only to have the overall mechanisms and what the parts do explained towards the end!

The focus is highly practical - this really is intended as a guide to constructing the individual pieces, rather than a hands-off overview. The nitty-gritty is overwhelming. On the other hand, it's fantastic in its own way, and makes you appreciate the kinds of craftsmanship that goes on. Where design alternatives are explained, they are given in historical context, tying the book to a long history of watchmaking.

Daniels's quest for perfection is obvious throughout the book. For example, the 'select bibliography' consists of seven books, presumably because no other sources are good enough! :p It is highly illustrated throughout, with some colour plates which tie in very nicely with the later chapters. As well as the low-level construction details, there were some other highlights I thought particularly fun. He does the design of wheel teeth really well (there's a lot more to them than you might think!), and the tourbillon mechanism... wow.

As I'll never build a watch from scratch, I can't sensibly review this as anything like the target audience. However, it is strangely fascinating, and I found it oddly enjoyable. Caroline picked it up and her eyes glazed over at the diagrams, and talk of arbors, pinions and gravers... "It's soothing... like the shipping forecast."

Posted 2009-03-25.