Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Oil or Acid – What’s the Best Watch Lubricant?

  Sir, - As an Englishman, will you allow me to inquire, through the medium of your truly important journal , the utility of “The Court of Requests?” whether it be instituted to protect the oppressed, or otherwise?
  From a decision given against me (defendant), at “The Court of Requests,” Guildhall, I am of opinion that a man may, ad libitum, summon whom he pleases thither; and can make the defendant pay what sum soever he may demand, and for what the defendant knows not; and this opinion originates from the following circumstance.
  Some months ago, on winding up my watch, the fusee-chain became detached, or broken; on the following morning I took it to the shop of a watchmaker who lives in the neighbourhood of Snow-hill, and distinctly directed that the chain only be repaired; that I would send for it in the morning; but when I sent, the person was told that the watch was in pieces and could not be had.  After a considerable interval, however, the watch is returned to me, accompanied by a bill for 16s. 6d.  On my way to the city the next day, I discovered the watch indicated falsely: I therefore sent it back requesting that it might be “regulated” conceiving my request to be just, and such as every honest man would tolerate.  During an interval of a few minutes I was waited on by the watch-maker, who desired me to call at his shop to view my watch , “for,” said he, “the works are rusty, and covered with an acid.”  From information I had subsequently obtained, I provided a friend; and, we saw the watch, not covered by an acid, but an oil, which he acknowledged to have applied; and not a particle of any other substance was visible, nor did the metal exhibit appearances of being acted upon by an acid.  The watch, however, is put together without my instructions, and returned to me.  I immediately sent 16s. 6d., the amount of the bill, but he refused it, stating that he had other charges to make for work which he had since done.  On this information I was struck with the disgusting attempt at imposition, and therefore refused to pay any additional charges.  Ultimately, however, I received a summons to appear at the Court of Requests; and, notwithstanding I had witnesses to swear that no acid or vapour had, or could, come into contact with my watch, and the watch produced to show that it was rendered useless by this watchmaker’s unskilful treatment, yet I was compelled to pay the unparalleled oppression, £1. 17s. 6d. for the destruction of my watch!
  From the conviction that I have not received that justice which ought to exist between man and man, “especially those who profess and call themselves Christians.”  I should esteem it an everlasting obligation if any of your readers would inform me, whether there be not a remedy which I might adopt in opposition to this decision, in order that similar impositions pass not with impunity.  I remain most respectfully, Sir, you most obedient servant. G.W. 

This reader’s letter appeared in The Times in October 1828.  So poor service was around back then to blight the watch owner, just as it is in 2015.  Today’s wristwatch forums frequently feature messages from owners complaining about poor treatment by repairers and indeed by the service arms of the most respected brand names in the Industry.  In the modern context the absorption of individual manufacturing houses into conglomerates has not helped – the high volume of transactions prevents genuine personalisation, and pride in workmanship associated with an individual brand is inevitably diluted.  I’m sure most watch enthusiasts find it disappointing that the famous names of Vacheron Constantin, Baume & Mercier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne, Cartier, Officine Panerai, IWC Schaffhausen and Piaget are all under a common ownership and share a service organisation.
Prices are often a source of dissatisfaction in their own right, regardless of the quality of work.  A service for a contemporary Speedmaster is £440 at Omega’s own facility.  Independents of good repute are likely to quote £200-£300 for the same thing. 
I read our Regency victim’s eventual bill as amounting to £1/17/6 – that’s about £170 in today’s terms, similar to what an independent will charge now for a Rolex timepiece. 
One positive benefit of a watchmaker’s service/repair in the early nineteenth century would have been the acquisition of one of his ornate papers – here are five particularly nice ones:
 (© Trustees of the British Museum)

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