1. When did your interest in horology begin, and who or what inspired you?
I have always been fascinated by the concept of time. We know almost nothing about it, we do not know if it even exists. It is obviously not the 'fourth dimension' as it is so often called.
Time. We can not measure it, we can not travel through it, we can not exert any control over it. All we can do is record its passing, with ever greater accuracy.
When young I restored a beautiful, non-working, antique pocket watch. English lever, barrel and fusee movement. Hand making broken components. It worked well until smashed by a jealous younger brother.
Around the same time I became interested in free pendulum clocks. Realising that they have greater potential accuracy.
2. Do you have a shop or home workshop that you work from?
We have two workshops, on an industrial estate at the back of our house. The newer one is a commemorative building, originally a medical facility. Very well built, looks like a small church.
Horological work is done at home.
3. What are your favourite timepieces and why?
Our Kieninger wall clock, three train spring wound, full chimes. Far better than the radio clocks around the house. Brought new around forty years ago, as a birthday present for my wife. Well built, inspired by early Victorian clocks.
My Omega stopwatch, brought new, about fifty years ago, to time dark-room exposures. Solid, accurate, one fifth of a second resolution.
A modern hunter pocket watch, given to me by my wife for a major birthday. Stainless steel, 17 rubies, special because of its purpose.
4. What tools could you not live without?
There are no tools I could not live without. In my 'real' work a soldering iron, screwdrivers, voltmeter and various hand tools are required.
For working on clocks our small lathe is indispensable, as just discovered when the motor pulley stripped all its teeth in the middle of parting a pivot block.
Our small vertical mill, with rotary table and indexer is very useful.
1) Chinese lathe, moderately accurate. More noisy now the stripped plastic motor pulley has been replaced, with an aluminium timing pulley. Pictured just after finally parting off the pendulum pivot block that finally stripped the original pulley.
2) Chinese micro-mill. Does the job, very useful. More spent on accessories than the original cost. Pictured just after milling the lathe's new timing pulley.
3) Hunter Woodford watch, 17 rubies, stainless steel.
5. What do you find the most frustrating or difficult repair job or task?
Most frustrating is working on over-complex, poorly made/designed, old musical instruments etc. The kind I can't see the point in, but who's owners force us to service them, by threatening us with money.
6. Do you feel concerned about the future of the watch and clock industry and if so why?
I am not concerned about the future of the clock and watch making industry. Years ago many firms were having a hard time, partly due to the advent of cheaper, more accurate, quartz clocks and then watches.
Once LCDs came into use for watches, allowing long power cell life, the writing was on the wall for mechanical time-pieces at the low price end of the market.
The situation was compounded by the entry of far eastern countries into the equation. Their lower labour and material costs forced some European firms out of the market.
Some firms managed to maintain their position, by moving production over to electronic watch and clocks or creating a niche market for people able to afford higher priced mechanical time-pieces.
The situation eventually stabilised to end up with what we have now. A multi-tier market catering for customers at all levels.
Cheaper, almost throw-away watches at the low end. Digital clocks, frequently as part of a radio or general sound system, in the low to middle area. More expensive mechanical or digital pseudo-analogue time-pieces for the many who can afford them.
At the top end are companies catering to those for whom only the best is good enough. Value is often added by lavish cases or other distinguishing features. Again other, possibly cheaper, makers gain a foothold in this market, keeping the top builders on their toes.
Cell-phones tell the time, but not as conveniently as a wrist watch. Radio clocks do not have the cachet of polished cases and shiny precision mechanisms.
The market is alive and well. We should not assume this will always be the case. As in all things, change is inevitable, those who welcome and initiate it may do well. Those who resent change may be on the 'back foot'.
All manufacturers need to decide on their market and cater for it well. That is the recipe for success, as long as the chosen market actually exists.
7. What's next? Any interesting projects or dreams you wish to fulfil?
When our long case clock is running fully, the next job may be a small 'mantle' or table clock. Partly glass mechanism and all glass case. Timed by dual or possibly triple pendulums. This latter choice depends on my theory, regarding triples, being proved correct or otherwise.
The two pendulums are tentatively planned to be one second stroke. Using a 'compound' overhead design for compactness. Again this depends on the measured accuracy of such an arrangement.
So, after several centuries of pendulum clock evolution, I am attempting to break new ground. Looking at an old problem from a slightly different angle. I may be right or wrong. Only 'time' will tell.
The current long case clock, a work in progress, is intended to refine my ideas on clock design. To fullfil a long held ambition, delayed by insufficient 'time', to design and build the ultimate mechanical clock.
It will require no external source of power, drawing all its energy from nature. Truly an atmospheric clock, plus it will use sunlight.
It will make use of centuries of knowledge, accumulated and added to by many great people. To that storehouse will be added my contribution, which may be an improvement.
A 1921 Shortt clock was thoroughly tested by someone who knew just what he was doing. It was found to achieve an accuracy to within 220 microseconds per day. Better than virtually any production quartz clock.
My original ambition was accuracy to within one millisecond per week, slightly better than that old Shorrt. This I hope to achieve without a vacuum tank.
Note: The clocks design is being documented, bit by bit, on another company's Web site. By arrangement with the owners of the company, who have been very helpful. Because of this arrangement, I do not feel able to copy those details to you or anyone else.
I hope you will understand this, I include here the address of the site, page and sub-page concerned.
www.true-point.co.uk Go to 'Horology' then to 'Ron's Atmospheric Clock'.Part way down the page, in the section dated 08/06/2014 is a link to 'Q' factor. This opens a glossary, with some of my thoughts on pendulums.
Amongst many other items, True Point make very good precision synthetic jewels and pivots.
A number of dual pendulum clocks have been designed and built over the years. Some use synchronised pendulums, some are master and slave, more than one design uses the very clever 'hit and miss' principle.
When these have been long term tested, using electronic recording timers, they work well, accuracy is so good that any timing error 'spikes' recorded have been found to correspond to earth tremors. So they are able to detect distant seismic activity.
I am hoping that the three pendulum design will eliminate that one remaining source of error. To produce a clock immune to earth tremors. A clock that will faithfully record the exact instant the roof falls on it.
Thanks very much to Ron for sharing his thoughts and answering our questions.