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Thread: The decline of British watchmaking and the role of Smiths

  1. #1

    Default The decline of British watchmaking and the role of Smiths

    Current issue of Antiquarian Horology (Volume 38, Issue 1, March 2017) has an informative article on Smiths, including a major focus military timepieces.

    The National 15. The decline of British watchmaking and the role of Smiths in a hoped for recovery
    by David Read (pages 74-89)
    Summary: By 1870, the development of factory based manufacturing in the USA had changed the nature of the horological industry. The Swiss responded and modernised, but the trade in the UK resisted change, and declined dramatically as a result. In consequence the United Kingdom entered World War Two without a horological industry that could provide the high grade watches that were an essential strategic resource. A significant proportion of what was left of British clock and watchmaking, including H. Williamson Ltd, had been acquired by Smiths and the government was keen to support a national revival of the high quality segment of the industry that would match the specifications laid down by the Armed Forces and would, in due course, form the basis for successful domestic sales. How this was achieved forms the subject matter for this article.

  2. #2
    Moderator Revo's Avatar
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    Interesting that I think this article lays to rest the myth of Smiths "stealing" the design of the 25j automatic winding from IWC.

    Also a brilliant article in last December's AH by James Nye on Robert Lenoir: Smiths, JLC and two world wars.

    Smiths are becoming quite the thing to study and appreciate. Just hope Hodinkee don't do a puff piece and talk up the prices.
    "Early this year I saw ex-army watches exhibited in a showcase at a little under 4 each. A week or two later I succeeded in buying one of them for 5. Recently their price seems to have risen to 8." (George Orwell, "As I Please", Tribune, 29th November 1946)

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    Moderator lambstew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Revo View Post
    Interesting that I think this article lays to rest the myth of Smiths "stealing" the design of the 25j automatic winding from IWC.

    Also a brilliant article in last December's AH by James Nye on Robert Lenoir: Smiths, JLC and two world wars.

    Smiths are becoming quite the thing to study and appreciate. Just hope Hodinkee don't do a puff piece and talk up the prices.
    Like death & taxes I hope that doesn't happen either..

  4. #4

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    @revo the article is very interesting, and although it puts to bed the idea that IWC sued Smiths it doesn't alter the face that the Smiths automatic winding mechanism is very, very similar to the IWC calibre 85 which was first released in 1950 (not in all respects, but in the key part where the rotary motion of the rotor is converted into winding action of the mainspring)

    Whether you see this as inspired by or copied from kind of depends on how favourably you view Smiths...

  5. #5

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    meant to add this as well from the IWC site which has quite a lot on the development of the cal85, this part explaining the ingenuity of Albert Pellaton's design:

    "By using a heart-shaped eccentric similar to the one already found in watchmaking as the cam for resetting a chronograph, it was possible to maximize the energy yield. Other designs used a complicated reducing gear to transmit the energy produced by the movement of the rotor to the barrel. But this led to losses of power and efficiency. The heart-shaped, eccentrically mounted cam adopted by Pellaton was by far the best design to date because it converted the revolutions of the rotor into to-and-fro motions of a rocking bar. "

    full story here

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    Moderator Revo's Avatar
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    Yes, I meant to say Smiths weren't accused -- much less convicted -- of "stealing" but whether they were culpable of theft is a different matter.

    So: de jure - no; but de facto? Maybe. It's possible that someone at Smiths went to Garrard and procured an IWC and took it apart and reverse engineered it (as I was told). Also, I believe Pellaton was personally known to a number of Smiths people (Lenior, Amis, Good -- I forget but can check). But the main evidence is Peter Amis' own admission: he said that he and Richard Good developed a prototype and the "self-winding work was based on that of a contemporary IWC automatic" (HJ Nov 99 p.373)

    So. No law suit -- but probably a good case for one!
    "Early this year I saw ex-army watches exhibited in a showcase at a little under 4 each. A week or two later I succeeded in buying one of them for 5. Recently their price seems to have risen to 8." (George Orwell, "As I Please", Tribune, 29th November 1946)

  7. #7

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    I was trying to hunt out the Peter Amis text about the development of the Smiths auto, for some reason I thought it was in the AHS journal, but thanks for the (correct) link!

    To me it seems kind of odd that IWC didn't sue - the page on their site mentions the patent that Pellaton filed (254578), perhaps it was chiefly to protect them from another Swiss company copying their work.

    From my limited experience with patents I know you have to file in each country individually, so perhaps it was as simple as they never filed in England and Smiths sales to Switzerland were probably non-existent...

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    Moderator Revo's Avatar
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    Yes, that and the friendship between Pellaton and the Smiths chaps.

    Sounds like it is a more or less direct copy though.
    "Early this year I saw ex-army watches exhibited in a showcase at a little under 4 each. A week or two later I succeeded in buying one of them for 5. Recently their price seems to have risen to 8." (George Orwell, "As I Please", Tribune, 29th November 1946)

  9. #9

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    Would think most vintage watch repairers and buffs would have it down as a IWC copy

    Love mine..


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    Moderator Revo's Avatar
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    I'll see your watch and raise you one





    "Early this year I saw ex-army watches exhibited in a showcase at a little under 4 each. A week or two later I succeeded in buying one of them for 5. Recently their price seems to have risen to 8." (George Orwell, "As I Please", Tribune, 29th November 1946)

  11. #11

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    There is a world of difference between a Registered design, copying/passing off, and Patent infringement! And yes, you do need to register in each country. IWC possibly didn't bother to register in Britain as their patent dates to 1946/48 when there was no British watch-making industry.

    There is little new under the sun and the vast majority of patents are 'Improvements to...' someone else's patent: ie they have discovered a legitimate loop-hole. The crucial bit is in the 'What we claim is...' paragraphs.

    To understand Smiths you need to understand their empire, not just their wristwatch microcosym. They excelled in buying good ideas either by buying the patent, or buying into/taking over the company - they had around 100 subsidiaries. Smith's expertise was production engineering, hence they engineered mass production of Ingersoll's basic watches at Ystradgynlais to meet a government peace-time requirement for a fuze/movement industry in the event of another war.

    Barry

  12. #12

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    Smiths service manual page for the automatic, winding design is near 100% IWC 85


  13. #13
    Moderator Revo's Avatar
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    I'm sure Smiths invented it first and showed some rough sketches of it to Uncle Albert (Pellaton) who quickly filed patents and went into production.

    I mean, whose side are you on here?!

    (The post above may contain post-truth, fake news and pro-Brexit sentiments.)
    "Early this year I saw ex-army watches exhibited in a showcase at a little under 4 each. A week or two later I succeeded in buying one of them for 5. Recently their price seems to have risen to 8." (George Orwell, "As I Please", Tribune, 29th November 1946)

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