Monday, April 11, 2011

Clocks and Watches: Part - 3

This is the third and final part of this series.
Read also how some wrist watches survived my fiddling!

Wrist Watches

Possessing a watch was something special esp. in the first half of the 20th century, why, even until about 1980 or thereabouts.  A watch was for many years the second important item, next to the ring, gifted by the bride's family to the bridegroom at weddings!  Or should I say a watch was demanded by the bridegroom's side!  It was gossip subject for inquisitive people during the wedding!  

In the early part of the 20th century, people walked barefoot and only those well-placed in society wore sandals or shoes. Boys went to school barefoot and there are many instances of them getting their first footwear when they finished school and not a watch!  Now we see even kids boasting of a dozen watches in myriad designs! 

Come to think of it, we also have 'use and throw watches' that are also sold by weight!  It is no longer a 'luxury item' or a special gift at weddings.

My first watch came in 1975 of which I brief as I go on.  There were a few watches at home that belonged to my elders.
This Favre Leuba Zenith tops them all.  My grandfather's most cherished watch.  It was his wedding watch - 1914. He wore it with great pride and I have seen him enthusiastically show it to people that asked about it and always mentioned '1914'.

The lovely snow-white dial

Front door can be opened - probably to aid the blind to feel the hands and know time.

Silver case number, inside

The machine is beautiful to look and the sight of the balance wheel's oscillation is one to behold!

This Favre Leuba Zenith stands out whitest on his wrist as he gets a trophy for golf from His Highness.  Once the case's strap hook had snapped.  He got it soldered from a known jeweler in the same street not trusting any other jeweler near his office, where there were many. That's how close to his heart it was.

After the departure of him and also my father, I began to use it often. When I was wearing it during a picnic, my hand clapping made the machine to jump out and break a few parts. I felt extremely bad and I thought that was the end of this.  Years later, I discovered a colleague who knew my father and also a 'trustworthy' hobby clock smith.  "Please put it back in motion at any cost" I requested him when I handed it over.  After many reminders and 2-3 years, he said he had fabricated a tiny part as it was unavailable anywhere and that it was working and he had kept it for testing, much to my relief.  After some time, he finally handed it over to me.  I was absolutely delighted to see it ticking again. Mr.Khabade collected his nominal fee for this extraordinary work. Lesson learnt, I am now choosy about when to wear it and careful while doing so.

May be in the early 40s, another watch came to my grandfather in the form of this "Skymaster". 

It was a gift from one Mahadevappa who had toured Europe with the Royal Party that included the Yuvaraja of Mysore. This was another machine I meddled with and repaired it during my 'learning process'!  This is still my favourite, because of that square design in the centre and the magnifier for the date.  

I was with him when this picture was taken in a studio in 1972 or so. He was taking me to his office that evening.  Hope you noticed the Skymaster.

This Enicar was my late uncle's.  In 'irrepairable' condition because its 'escape wheel' is damaged and is unavailable.

My father used the Enicar or any of the two above when his favourite "Lamania" fell into the hands of a known  hobby-clock smith in the next street.  This man never returned it, despite me asking him at the behest of my father to return even if it is unrepaired years later. He never showed it to me in whatever condition it was.  So one can understand its fate. As a replacement and after much pestering, he gave a very cheap watch which did not work for long. I think my father had bought that Lamania during his stay in Bombay in the early 50s from his very modest earnings while working for the Films Division at a sound recordist. That was the end of Lamania. I only got to observe it in a few of his older pictures:

Seen here during his wedding
 Lamania is seen here.  I don't know if the cuff was pulled up intentionally!  I sometimes used to do that with my first watch and while wearing a full slack so that others could notice my wearing it!

Wearing a watch to school was really something!  Hardly anyone wore because even adults at home bought their watches after they joined jobs.  Those who had an extra watch at home would wear it and show off with classmates in school!

Though these watches were at home, I felt shy to wear them - don't talk of meddling their machines! It was only after a watch came to me that I got over that feeling.  It was my first watch - a gift by an uncle on the occasion the cousin's wedding. It was some lesser known Swiss brand and belonged to her brother who had died prematurely, some years before the wedding.  Gifting this to me for that occasion saved them a few rupees!  A watch was a big thing even in the 70s.

Long later, I replaced its machine with a 'quartz movement' and gave it off to my FiL who was in urgent need of a watch at that time.  I used to see him use it for some more years. It was a victim of the learning process.  

My 'achievements' in meddling these time machines

I used that watch for some years and when it developed a snag, I got curious.  I saw a clock smith in me.  I opened it with some crude tools - one was a tweezer I had bought for zoology specimen dissection at college!  I accidentally bent a spring and its condition still worsened.  Handling the tiny machine requires very steady hands.  Skill comes from persistent practice. Drunkards cannot become clock smiths.  I had already 'laid my hands' on the two alarm clocks which 'in the end', met their premature end!

During my market errands, I got clues while inquiring for spares for the watches that suffered under my hands. I also observed how the professional smiths handle the tiny parts.  I bought the basic tools like the eye piece, screw drivers, little trays and boxes at a watch spares shop.  I wanted to try and see for myself what could be done to make it work again.

I learnt that the balance wheel is like the human heart.  If it stops, the machine goes lifeless. But the "machine's heart" is replaceable. Handling the balance wheel with its 'hair spring' is a highly skillful job which I could never master, despite being a teetotaler!  It was a tough learning process nevertheless.  I could remove and replace all the parts after cleaning them with 'aviation petrol' and putting oil to the 'jeweled parts'.  This was also the beginning of my hobby as a clock smith, which helped me maintain the watches and clocks at home and even helped a few of my friends that knew of my ability at this.  For things that were beyond my basic skill, I had to engage professional help.

I have spent hours searching the floor and desk, for those nano screws that slipped from the tweezer grip!  I had even used magnets to 'find' them because I thought then that the broom and brush might still worsen the situation! I used to wonder how they even manufactured such tiny parts with precision.

That Favre Leuba is one watch I never wanted to open even though the temptation was there.  But for once, wisdom prevailed.

After my entry to a job I bought my first watch for Rupees 225.  I sold it off after a few months for 175 to a colleague and bought another similar watch in 1984 only because I liked the design on this one!  It is the traditional spring wound watch from Hindustan Machine Tools. This one, still fine:

In the late 80s, quartz watches became popular.  I found out over time that they are reliable and durable.  My next watch was a quartz watch brought for me from Singapore by a friend for Rupees 200.  It worked nicely for almost 20 years when its life ended in 2007.

Like many organizations that presented employers with watches when they completed many years of service, there came a day when I got one too from mine.


Another dial design I made on the back side of the original dial of this clock which did not suit my taste. I have designed the hands here.

The new generation is never satisfied with one or two. 

Some Swiss Watches through the 'window':
 Showcases at night
 Cuckoo clocks are famous in Switzerland
 "Expensive cheaper watches"!!
 Huge shop full of watches
 Not unexpectedly... expensive.
 More watches and mementos


Clocks and Watches: Part 2

This post in the series is about
Alarm Clocks and a couple of pocket watches.

There were two alarm clocks.  One was a "Rhythm" clock from Japan,  with 'radio design' and 'radium hands and numbers' that glowed in the dark. That was new in the 50s. It was a gift to my father at his wedding from one Dr.M.L.Mariswamy, a renown physician in that time, a good friend and client of my grandfather.  The Doctor had a clinic on Sayyaji Rao Road.  A clock was considered a very valuable gift in those days because not many homes had an alarm clock.  As such, the presenter was always remembered through such a gift! Alarms were getting into fashion at that time.

It was working beautifully for many years and every time an alarm was required, it was wound up and kept close to the bed of the one who wanted to rise at a particular time, usually early in the morning.  This 'Rhythm' was also to become my first 'scapegoat' as I tried to meddle with its parts in my quest to satisfy the curiosity about its working mechanism.  I tried to repair when it stopped but failed many times and succeeded in some but it became erratic.  There came a stage when I had to give it to a known clock smith as it was beyond my ability to put it back to motion again. Little did I know that I was to be cheated by him.  Finally, I had to raid his shop and to take my clock back in whatever condition it was.  As I had rightly thought, there were some parts missing as he kept with him for 2 years!  It is only a 'showpiece' now.

That fellow even took the alarm gong.

The other alarm time-piece was a Wehrle from Germany.  This was my second scapegoat as this developed a snag later than 'Rhythm'.  Probably this was also my father's wedding day gift, I do not know.  This is what remains of it now, just the dial and gong.  Both the clocks served well until they found me!

I had seen that on the dial of Mysore's famous Clock Tower's clocks on all four sides having 'Roman Numerals'.  Somehow I have always appreciated the look of these Roman Numerals.  I thought of making one myself using my skills and painted one on paper with Indian Ink for this 'Rhythm' clock which by now I had fitted with a quartz machine which was available locally.  I spontaneously gave it a name - Roman-tic-tic.  In the 70s, my eyesight was sharp and hence those tiny lettering was possible to write!   I derived great pleasure from the way it turned out. 

I made another (less impressive) dial for another quartz machine (movement) I bought.  It is a so so in art.  By doing it, I learnt why the '4' has ' IIII' instead of 'IV'.  It is to bring in harmony and balance to 'VIII' on the left! I had also learnt why in clock and watch advertisements the time they show is always about 10:11:40.

Pocket Watches

There was one beautiful little pocket watch with Roman Numerals and a flat glass cover.  It was being neglected because it had stopped working some years before or it was not cared to get it repaired. I cannot recollect its brand name, but I was using it as a toy, turning the globular knurled knob as the sound of the clutch wheel inside it gave a certain pleasure!  I had kept in my 'draw' and used to fiddle with it as I studied.  It also had a removable chain. 

These pocket watches were supposed to be kept in a separate 'watch pockets' stitched inside coats.  Mostly the elite people owned one such.  I do not know how it disappeared from my draw.   I could not locate it anywhere when I raided the house in search of it many years later.  It is really a mystery.  It looked something like this - the watch on the left and the chain on the right picture:

(Pictures borrowed from the Net)

Notice the pin here in my great grandfather button hole.  That is to secure the pocket watch.  This must be the one inside there which went missing from my desk draw.

But I have salvaged that pin and also the chain till this day.

Below is a picture (1900 or thereabouts) of my grandmother's father.  The dangling watch and chain is part of costume.  It was an item to be 'displayed' in that time!

This is the coat's watch pocket on the left side.

About 15 years ago, a colleague gifted this watch (pictured below) to me as it was not working properly. I keep it as a reminder to that mysteriously missing pocket watch. 

These type of watches became famous as 'Gandhi Watch'. Looking for some information on this, I found this blog very informative and interesting:

..| || ||| |||| ||| || |..

The alarm clock deserved a special place in the corner shelf and protected with its own special case.

This little clock belonged to my maternal grandfather.

The 'clock dial' is also used in some playing card tricks:

This may be the largest Garden Clock in the World:

Another Garden Clock:


Please take time to visit!

Watches and clocks: Part 1


I gathered material for this blog and in the end, found it to be too lengthy for a single sitting. So I broke it up into three parts in separate posts.  Click on the pictures if you like to see the enlarged version.  There are some links in changed colour of words.  Click on them to visit the link.
In this, the first part you will find something about
Wall clocks. Read on, "if you find time"!

My late old friend Mr.Brown was fond of telling this: "Time will not find you, you have to find time."


Wall Clocks

The clock has always been a curious object wherever it is.  I grew up admiring a few of them at home as they ticked and showed time, effortlessly. I also used to wonder how they worked and what made them tick.  When I was old enough I discovered it when I laid my hands on them.

The vintage Ansonia Gothic Clock, manufactured by Ansonia Clock Company, New York had adorned  the wall in the hall majestically.  It was the main clock for the house and visible from the kitchen also, but not from the street as in many houses. It was patented in 1882 and I guess this is one of the earliest possessions of my great grandfather. No one knows when and where he bought it, but in all likelihood it should be before 1900.

This is an eight-day/30-hour clock, meaning it runs for a week on one full winding of the spring.  In my time, my father did this without fail, every Sunday.  It had a bell inside to strike the hours and half hours.  I do not know if some clock smith had removed the original gong which could have been a spring gong because I had seen such a one in a relative's similar and older Ansonia.  I was wondering why ours was fitted with a 'cycle bell'!  I dreamed of finding a spring gong for our Ansonia. This dream got to fruition 20 years later when I found one with a clock smith cum dealer of old clocks.  Without second thought I bought for Rs.175/- and replaced it myself.  Picture below.  By then, I had learnt to meddle with clock mechanisms also.

Watch a video clip of its working and striking.

This Ansonia also had a alarm feature. But it was never used.  I have removed this separate unit as it came in the way of  the new spring gong.  This little dial in the centre could be adjusted.  Here, the alarm is set to 10 O'Clock.

As far as I knew it never asked for repair. Oiling this lovely machine is such a pleasure as its design is so beautiful too.  In 1998 when I moved to the old ancestral house, an old relative visited us reminiscing his younger days in the same house.  He showed me the place where this Ansonia was kept originally.  So, I placed it at the same spot.  (See picture below).

It continues to be a few feet away from the place even now after some changes that took place. In all likelihood, the clock was on that wall ever since the house was built and occupied in 1911-12.

The swaying pendulum and the striking of the gong have always impressed me.  It was/is my habit to observe these wherever I see this.  There was one in my friend Gopi's house - a 'Scientific' (brand) clock. It was beautiful.  There was another in my grand uncle's house in Bangalore.  I was delighted to watch these almost no end.  Almost hypnotic!

Just a trifle away from the subject - Ansonia had other products too, like this nail clipper with 'button lock' (lock not seen here - it is on the other side).

There was another large round clock which was mostly idle.  This was showing time correctly 'only once every twelve hours' if you see what I mean.  One fine day, my grandfather gave it to a clock smith sometime in 1974-75.  We had no clue whatsoever about who that smith was because my granfather also suddenly departed in 1976 and my father had no further information on it.  It machines are problematic, they tend to keep it for months and years as is their wont!

That clock looked very similar to the picture below, borrowed from the net. It had a pendulum inside as well.

Below is the picture of my grandfather in about 1930 with his trophies.  Observe the medals there. This rosewood 'medal display stand' was no longer serving its purpose by 1970.  It was lying here and there with its hooks as the medals had been transferred to the rosewood showcase he got made in the 1940s. 

In 1991, I thought of converting it as a clock.  By then quartz machines were available.  A machine was procured with the help of a friend from Delhi for as cheap as Rs.45/-.   I used my carpentry skills to fit the little machine at the back.  I marked the dial accurately and stuck plastic numbers I found in 'trash' at the workplace.  It is almost 20 years now and this is still working nicely competing with Ansonia for accuracy.  After a nice polish to this lovely rosewood plank, it has added some more beauty to the wall!  The tiny hour and minute markings in yellow are stickers I cut up from a sticker strip.

In olden days, not all houses in the street had clocks or watches. So those who had, used to put it on the wall in such a position to make it visible from the street for passers by who wished to know the time. Doors also used to be kept open in those days as the houses were seldom locked.  Someone or other used to be present at any given time.  One example of this in our street was at late G.Sachidananda's house. 

I must now tell about the 'Big Ben of Mysore', the Jubilee Clock Tower.  It was built in 1927 to commemorate 25 years of the golden reign of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar.  The clock tower was built in a prominent place to enable people to see the time because that was the main market area at that time.  The original dials had lovely Roman Numerals (my favourite) till 'forces' replaced it with Kanarese Numerals around Y2K. It is a landmark monument of the city and I cannot forget the melodious vibrations that filled the air when its huge bell struck the hours or half hour. It was heard for miles when it was silent before dawn or late in the night.  In recent years, engineers noticed some cracks on top of the tower and decided to stop the striking of the bell sensing that vibrations from it would further damage the tower. It is a very heavy bell.

 Below is the picture showing Kanarese numerals on the dial (2010). The bell is also seen.

My grandmother made a model of this tower using paddy around 1950. She had made one before 1931. It is a unique and eye-catching craft that won her many prizes in various exhibitions. My uncle had tried to put a real clock in this model (picture below), but this proved to be unfeasible and cumbersome.

Bronze Medal (Certificate) awarded in 1931.

This prize was for the first model she made for Dasara Exhibition in 1931.


The famous vintage French Clock at Jagan Mohan Palace Museum is another impressive object esp. when it strikes12.  Visiting people flocked around it to watch the spectacle.  This clock has a mechanism that makes the miniature doll soldiers to parade at 12 O'Clock, a drum beating soldier marks the seconds and another with a bugle marks the minute, all having movements in little dolls.  I only hope it is still there and functional!  I had seen this many years ago.  Also at Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad there is a similar clock but not as grand as this one in Mysore.  I saw this in the mid 90s.

There are some impressive clocks at other places.  Switzerland is a renown clock producer. See a few unique designs from a few different places:

 This is a most impressive dial in gold, black and red!

Kloster, Engelberg, Switzerland

I was visiting the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi a couple of years ago.  A friend who worked there took me to the 'Atomic Clock' which is one of the most accurate clocks in the world and they are the time-keepers of the nation.  Here is a picture I took with their permission:


We had other clocks also at home.
 Go to Part 2 of this series and have a dekko.