Review: The alarm wristwatch, the history of an undervalued feature, by M.P. Hor

Richard Watkins

NAWCC Fellow
May 2, 2004
The alarm wristwatch, the history of an undervalued feature, M.P. Horlbeck, Schiffer, 2007.

I cannot restrain myself. Many books disappoint me, but very few make me angry.

Over the years Schiffer has used Dr. Edward Force to produce English translations of German books. But it is clear that Force knows absolutely nothing about horology and even less English horological terminology. Since 1991, when he translated Bertele “Marine and pocket chronometers”, he hasn’t bothered to learn anything about this subject. Even though I am sure he has an excellent grasp of both English and German, his translations are terrible.

Why has Schiffer used him? Perhaps he is the only, or cheapest, person available? Or perhaps the publisher simple doesn’t care? After all, Schiffer books are primarily coffee-table picture-books and perhaps the publisher thinks no-one will bother to read the words? Whatever is the reason, such books are an insult to the those with some knowledge and largely incomprehensible to those with none.

This book is a good example. What does “three slightly wound pivots slide backwards into three slits provided for them” mean? And it is nice to know that Eterna used a “knee lever” so that “clock time could be set with just one hand”, presumably because the wearer used his knee to assist him. It appears there are watches with some sort of magnifying property, as “Technically and optically [the Bulova] is a Junghans”. And a prototype of the Vulcain Cricket used a free-swinging tone spring. It is also nice to know most of the watches have a big amplitude of 18,000 or more and at least one has a hand-wound anchor (presumably it is a marine watch).

With a bit of effort we can make sense of most of these oddities. A hook anchor is a pin lever escapement; a knee lever is a setting lever; optically means visually; a tone spring is a gong; free-swinging means freely vibrating; and a pivot can be a rocking bar (but the word seems to have other uses). But why should we have to do the work to make the text intelligible? Why didn’t Schiffer have the text proof-read and checked?

The other main point about this book is its lack of useful technical information. In his introduction, Horlbeck states “This book, which was originally intended to be just a small guide to technical service ...”. One might assume that in expanding it Horlbeck retained such technical information. But there is not one diagram or useful photograph of an alarm mechanism anywhere in the entire book. Indeed, only five pages are spent on the mechanisms and these are largely incomprehensible (except where they are superficial). Time and time again, there are vague statements in bad English about mechanisms which are not explained, and the reader is left totally in the dark. The main problem is that the alarm mechanism is usually hidden under bridges and other dial work, like normal motion work and date rings. So, without diagrams and photographs of partially stripped down movements, the reader has no chance of understanding different mechanisms. All that Horlbeck provides are the basic movement specifications of height, diameter, jewelling and so on. These specifications might give the book an air of technicality, but it is clear that what he terms “technical service” has nothing whatever to do with servicing. This is a great pity, because there are no other books that describe alarm mechanisms.

So, like all good coffee-table books, real knowledge is suppressed for the sake of prettiness. And it is assumed that the “reader” is only interested in getting that warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness which comes from discovering that a watch he owns is displayed in a book!

John Weigel

Registered User
Apr 17, 2005
N California
Re: Review: The alarm wristwatch, the history of an undervalued feature, by M.P.

Bravo. Another thing S is inacapable of producing is a decent index! Neither can Callwey . I have written them several times. No reply. Robey's Mayfield in comparison is fantastic! Even the prices are reasonable.
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