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Thread: A Deck Watch

  1. #1
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    Default A Deck Watch

    Being an old bore who likes to play at using a sextant, I have the paraphernalia that goes with it - sight reduction tables and a mechanical deck watch.

    A deck watch is simply a very accurate watch with a lever escapement, as opposed to the chronometer's detent escapement.

    What were they for? For navigating battleships. A chronometer movement is delicate and the concussion of firing big guns can make the detent escapement jump, so the chronometers were stowed far below and a deck watch, corrected from them, used to take the time for navigation.

    The very very best deck watches were hand made in England in the years running up to WW1 and supplied to the Admiralty, who submitted them to the Royal Observatory at Kew for testing, in a tradition started by George III, who himself (he was an expert) tested Harrison's H4 chronometer there and finding it good pressed for the money to be paid. If you have an English made deck watch by one of the great makers - Usher and Cole, perhaps - ideally with Bonniksen's karrusel escapement - rated by the Kew Observatory, then you have one of the great pieces of the watch maker's art and craft and it is too valuable to be taken to sea in a boat.

    The Admiralty found that deck watches were also better than chronometers for small ships, which like yachts have a violent motion and get chucked about, so they supplied them to destroyers and such.

    The development of radio time signals meant that deck watches could be used in place of chronometers and so they were, in smaller naval ships.

    The quality of the watch meant that they very often got stolen, despite the broad arrow on the movement, so the RN put a stop to that by mounting them, not in silver watch cases in boxes, but in specially made metal mounts in boxes.

    The USN did the same. The USA had a highly developed watch making industry which was given a huge push by the Federal laws governing railroad watches, which had to be made to, effectively, chronometer standards under the legislation.

    So when the US Navy expanded its ships were supplied with US made deck watches; Waltham and Elgin made many such. These are quite excellent and they do come on the market in larger numbers than the English ones because more were made. They can be taken to sea if they are still in the original box - either in a nickel case in a flat deck watch box or sometimes mounted like a chronometer in gimbals in a three decker box (open the upper lid to see the time, open the lower lid to wind the watch). US watches are often eight day.

    Demand in WW2 was so big that the Swiss got in on the act supplying watches for the RN; these were flown out of Switzerland like ball bearings were flown out of Sweden.

    A chronometer is no use in a yacht for the same reason that it is no use in a battleship - the detent movement jumps - so before quartz watches anyone making a long passage had to carry a deck watch.

    A few were made and supplied to yachts from the outset. I suspect that mine is one such, an eight day Swiss made watch supplied by Elliott Bros who were a firm of instrument makers (they went on to become one of the leaders in early computing, and are still part of BAE Systems) From the style of the name it would have been supplied between 1853 and 1916 - nearer 1916 since it is Swiss made. It still does the job - holds its rate and does not give silly answers. So if GPS gives up the ghost I could still navigate...
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Andrew, you really should get out more, but for all our sakes please don't

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    I'm sitting in my living room, there are 1:1200 scale models of a fair portion of the Grand Fleet on top of the chair rail. I enjoyed this post very much, thank you Andrew.
    Yachting, the only sport where you get to be a mechanic, electrician, plumber and carpenter

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    To illustate what I have been talking about:

    This is the website of David Penney,a respected dealer and expert on old watches:

    http://www.antiquewatchshop.co.uk/pr...roducts_id/866

    The Matthews watch is an example of "the best of the best", a karrusel deck watch still in its deck watch box and having been sold by the Admiralty before they changed the type of case to discourage theft.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    I like it!

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Turned up a nice Internet article by a collector, here - these are all WW2 deck watches:

    http://www.ninanet.net/watches/other...ms/mdecks.html
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Are there any modern mechanical deck watches or mechanical wrist watches which could serve the same purpose? It seems that modern mechanical wrist watches use a lever escapement and would thus not be effected by jarring?

    Lance
    "Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors". African Proverb

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Lance, the lever escapement is used in almost all* modern mechanical watches, for just that reason. There was a fashion for pocket watches with the chronometer detent escapement in the late Georgian and early Victorian periods, but they are unreliable. The other type of watch escapement** was the cylinder escapement, invented by George Graham, who helped Harrison, but that went out by the 1860's, as it is hard to make and needs regular servicing. The detent escapement is the "best" for timekeeping as it is more nearly perfectly isochronous, having the least connection with the powertrain, but it is only "safe" in a chronometer.

    There's an article on the usual escapements here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escapement

    Now, basically, you can use any modern good quality watch to navigate provided that you don't wear it on your wrist!

    The reasons are, firstly, that different positions (dial up, winder up, winder down, face down, etc) affect the rate of going as indeed does being chucked about, and secondly the rate is affected by temperature - see below.

    Just put the watch somewhere out of the way, where the temperature does not change much and which is secure from vibration (put it on a small cushion in a box) and wind it at the same time every day, and all should be well.

    You do need a good quality watch because there are other things that affect timekeeping. "17 jewels" is what you want. More jewels than that serve no purpose except marketing. The key thing is to make a log comparing the watch with the time signal daily; this will give you the rate - don't reset the watch to GMT but make a daily note of the cumulative error and apply that. If you lose the time signal, keep applying the error adding the same amount each day.

    The rate at which the watch gains or loses is what matters.

    For obvious reasons, three watches are better than one but two are worse than one.

    A good quality watch is better adjusted for temperature error. There is a problem with the lever escapement called Middle Tmperature Error ("MT Error") which in essence is that even a very good watch is accurate at two temperatures only - this is now such an obscure subject that a Google search drew a blank, but it is covered in the standard navigational textbooks.

    * There is a new modern escapement, the Daniels coaxial escapement, used in Omega watches since 1990. This is the best of the best in watch escapements.

    **Disregarding the verge escapement, in use from the middle ages to the 19th century, which is nowhere near good enough for navigation with the curious and heroic exception of Harrison's H4, which is in fact a verge watch - but a very very special one, with all sorts of special features, including a seven and a half second remontoire (a subsidiary spring that is wound up every seven and a half seconds) to even the impulse on the verge.
    Last edited by Andrew Craig-Bennett; 12-14-2010 at 12:32 PM.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Great thread, very educational!

    It inspired me adjust my wall clock:

    I'll make a daily note of the error and see how close I can get it. It would also be interesting to note the difference in the summer.
    1947 Nordic Folkboat "Nina"

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    It's a case of two hobbies colliding, for me.

    I have a long case clock that I can date to between 1812 and 1819 - this makes it a "late" long case clock; nothing special. It has anchor escapement rather than deadbeat and a simple, noncompensated, pendulum and whilst it is accurate to within a minute a week a track of its rate shows that it loses in the summer and gains in the winter, which is just what one would expect. If I were to replace its original pendulum rod with one made of 36% nickel steel ("invar") it would not do that. But in that case it would be a less original clock.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Very informative, thanks ACB.
    The definition of stupid has got to be the belief that more guns will negate the bloodshed done with guns.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    I have a Model 22 (Hamilton) in a three tiered box. These are among the most reliable and affordable deck watches available and boast superb build. I enjoy looking at mine and consider it one of my treasures. Like so many, mine is marked "Mounted Watch, Bureau of Ships, 7563-1941 US Navy."

    I wonder about it's story.

    Edited to add:

    Here is a place specializing in deck watches, and with a good number for sale at (I think) top dollar.

    Deck watch link (heavy on Hamiltons)
    Last edited by Lew Barrett; 12-14-2010 at 07:42 PM.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Holy cow! Doesn't look like I will be joining this exclusive club anytime soon!

    Neat thread though.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Threads like this always get me thinking very impractical things.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Just to clarify, and very much subject to Lew's correction, the Hamilton Type 21 is a chronometer, with a detent escapement, and the Hamilton Type 22 is a deck watch, with a lever escapement. IIRC, Hamiltons, confronted with a flood of orders generated by WW2 (remember, every Liberty Ship needed a chronometer) had awful trouble gearing up for volume production of chronometers, but they found that by "breathing on" their already excellent railroad watch, they could produce, in volume, a deck watch that was able to perform as well as most chronometers, with the added benefit of the increased ruggedness (don't over-estimate this - handle with extreme care all the same) of the lever escapement, at which point it was fitted in gimbals and supplied to small ships as the primary timekeeper.

    I believe I am right in saying that Elgin and Waltham also based their deck watch on their railroad watch; I don't know anything about their production of true chronometers.

    The "household name" in British chronometer making was Thomas Mercer, who did not make deck watches, but who did make an awful lot of chronometers. There is a slight simplification in the chronometer history page on the site that Lew links to - whilst Harrison's H4 was the first sucessful chronometer, later mechanical chronometers do not descend directly from this design, which required such exquisite workmanship that it was difficult to produce in volume, even at horrendous cost. Larcum Kendal made two copies of H4. One, K1, was the chronometer supplied to Thomas Cook; it is an exact copy. The other, K2, was an attempt by Kendal to cut the cost by cutting corners - to be precise he omitted the remontoire (see above) and consequently it was less accurate. This was supplied to Bligh, who as we all know had been Cook's own navigating officer (not that he needed one) and was consequently a superb navigator in his own right. Fletcher Christian kept K2 when he took over the "Bounty" and used it to good purpose because he found with its aid that Pitcairn was incorrectly charted, so he would be safe there. The subsequent history of K2 is romantic, see here:

    http://www.winthrop.dk/chrono.html

    To repeat - never take a chronometer on anything under 500 tons - at best it won't keep time and at worst it will be damaged. A deck watch is what you want if you want a mechanical timekeeper.
    Last edited by Andrew Craig-Bennett; 12-15-2010 at 11:16 AM.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    What happened to one hand on an old alarm clock?

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    I too thank you for this thread Andrew! We need a good martime focused horology thread every few years, and aren't the clocks some of man's most beautiful creations?

    Elgin and Waltham made Model 22s during the war in the same manner in which Ford built Jeeps. The country needed these devices and all who could build them were set to work. There are fewer Model 21s, and most collectors acknowledge the superior reliability (if not desirability) of the Model 22. Model 21s seem to fetch just a bit more on the market, probably owing to their rarity, but they are not superior in function. As Andrew has said, the major difference is the escapement.

    I prefer a gimbal mounted watch although those are not necessarily the most expensive. Dan, I see good looking Model 22s on EBay regularly for between 500-800 dollars. Buying locally from a collector will run you a bit more but then you have a chance to look at the wares. Prices of these watches are stable; they seem neither to be shrinking nor rising. Those top prices on the website are for mint, recently serviced watches with both boxes (inner and outer, and probably a warranty) and if you note, they charge a premium for their own newly manufactured boxes.A good original three tier box is all a user really needs (though the shipping box is nice to have). You can budget less than half odf what is wanted on the web site and come away with a very respectable Hamilton. However, you should also keep a couple of hundred dollars in reserve to have the watch cleaned by a trusted watchmaker unless you know it has been properly serviced in the last five years.

    English best watches tend to be much more expensive, as do older American and Swiss watches. The Hamilton is the way to own a fine one for under a thousand bucks. Long term, prices can only go up.
    Last edited by Lew Barrett; 12-15-2010 at 11:39 AM.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan McCosh View Post
    What happened to one hand on an old alarm clock?
    One of Josh Slocum's leg pulls!

    He is gently letting his professional reader know that he is one of the generation of Master Mariners who could work a "lunar" - a sight to obtain time from the lunar distance, the alternative to the "Long by Chron" method which was developed by Harrison's "arch enemy", the Astronmoer Royal, Neville Maskelyne. Lunar distance tables were still included in the Almanac at this time. Men like Slocum looked down on "mere" chronometer navigators much as today's sextant navigator looks down on one who uses GPS.
    Last edited by Andrew Craig-Bennett; 12-15-2010 at 12:04 PM.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    FWIW, Lew's advice, above, is excellent. Unless you are a collector, go for a Hamiton Model 22 in gimbals in the three tier box (the outer box was just for transport - a well padded suitcase does as well) and do be sure to have it cleaned by a good watch repairer.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Back in the 60s when I took my first boat "up the islands" I made sure I had enough money to bargain with Suva duty free shopkeepers for something called a "Bulova Accutron", a watch with a battery and some sort of tuning fork action. It was accurate enough for celestial navigation, and lasted for about a decade before succumbing to "salt water poisoning".

    Nowadays I can go to the local branch of "The Warehouse" and buy a $20 electronic watch that keeps just as good time.

    We all know how to use an analogue watch to find north/south, don't we? You can do the same with a digital job by the following method;
    1) Tie 1.55m of stout cod-line or heavy marline to the watch strap.
    2) Hold the other end of the line in your right hand and twirl the watch in circles until it's spinning fairly fast.
    3) Let go the line.
    4) Extend your right arm in the direction the watch went.
    5) Turn so your body is at right angles to this direction, i.e. your arm is now pointing to your right.
    6) Your watch has gone West - you are facing South.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Capn, your method only works in the southern hemisphere.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Maybe there's a book here. "The Search for Longitude", or something like that.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    BTDT
    Quote Originally Posted by Dan McCosh View Post
    Maybe there's a book here. "The Search for Longitude", or something like that.
    Heute ist so ein schöne Tag...

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Craig-Bennett View Post
    One of Josh Slocum's leg pulls!

    He is gently letting his professional reader know that he is one of the generation of Master Mariners who could work a "lunar" - a sight to obtain time from the lunar distance, the alternative to the "Long by Chron" method which was developed by Harrison's "arch enemy", the Astronmoer Royal, Neville Maskelyne. Lunar distance tables were still included in the Almanac at this time. Men like Slocum looked down on "mere" chronometer navigators much as today's sextant navigator looks down on one who uses GPS.
    I've just recently learned how to do "Long by Chron". How would I go about learning to do lunars? I gather from your comment that the data needed to do them is no longer included in the Almanac. Where could I find the requisite data?

    Thanks!

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by BETTY-B View Post
    Holy cow! Doesn't look like I will be joining this exclusive club anytime soon!

    Neat thread though.
    yea....expensive toys.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    My first "navigation clock" was made by Kieninger & Obergfell in Germany. It was recovered from a scuttled U-Boat in Thailand by an uncle...about 4 1/2 inches in diameter, brass case, with an eagle and swastika on the face. I ran 6 month checks to assesss the losses or gains. It was stolen from my house in the late 60's while at class. At present I have a pair of Weems and Plath clocks, one gimballed, that I've had for 30 plus years, and two Rolex wrist watches that are checked annually. The one that I wear is the submariner and the other is a GMT master. I have done a complete circumnavigation using the submariner without making an adjustment. I also have a couple of Tag Heuers that I have found to be generally as accurate as the Rolexes. They do not keep perfect time, but the loss (or gain) is constant.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    John Letcher's book "Self-contained Celestial Navigation with HO 208"( ISBN number0-87742-082-3) has details for "time by lunars". I very much doubt it is still in print (published 1977), but may be found via Abe Books etc. The book also contains the complete HO 208 tables. A little more arithmatic than HO 249 etc but all latitudes covered in a small volume of tables.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Craig-Bennett View Post
    Turned up a nice Internet article by a collector, here - these are all WW2 deck watches:

    http://www.ninanet.net/watches/other...ms/mdecks.html

    If you haven't followed the link provided by ACB, I highly recommend you do! Incredible images of some incredible watch works.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Most people don't realize that if you've got a modern cellphone with a gps built in ...you've got the most accurate timepiece that you can find right there, as it will pull the time from the network and/or gps signal.

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by cap'nRod View Post
    Most people don't realize that if you've got a modern cellphone with a gps built in ...you've got the most accurate timepiece that you can find right there, as it will pull the time from the network and/or gps signal.
    Cell phones don'r need GPS in order to be on time with the planet.
    ..don't judge a man till you've walked a mile in his shoes..

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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    I got a very strange look when I told a friend to rate his deck watch from his GPS - but I was being perfectly serious! If you drop the hand held GPS overboard and tread on the aerial of the fitted one, you will know your chronometer rate!
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Quote Originally Posted by Lew Barrett View Post
    Capn, your method only works in the southern hemisphere.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    I found this thread on Google (!) so I read it and decided to bump it up...
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    Here’s a link to an account of how Germany, Britain and the United States approached the problem of accurate navigational timekeeping in WW2 - with a walk on part for Switzerland.

    Germany had an industry organised on the 19th century British pattern, which was revived to make the German standard chronometer and deck watch. The Russians grabbed the equipment and the people as they advanced across Germany and their Poljot chronometers are to the German standard design just as their SNO(T) sextant is a clone of a WW2 Plath.

    Britain had let its watch making industry collapse in favour of Swiss imports, but had one chronometer maker, Mercer, who, uniquely in the world, could and did make every component “in house”, and the United States had the three great railroad watch makers but no chronometer maker. The US Government asked the railroad watch makers to make a chronometer; Elgin did so on a modest scale, Waltham, who were owned and managed by a notorious Scrooge-like character, didn’t bother, and Hamilton succeeded brilliantly, making the Model 21 detent chronometer by mass production methods as well as the Model 22 deck watch, both using the ovalising balance from the Hamilton 992 railroad watch...(which by the way was a brilliant invention, the first real step forward in balances since Harrison’s bi-metallic strip).

    Switzerland had Ulysse Nardin who made chronometers and who also made deck watches and sold them to the British (and I suspect to anyone else who asked!) and of course other watch makers. I’ve got an Ulysse Nardin antimagnetic deck watch in a British Admiralty pattern deck box but without a broad arrow or a CW mark or an HS2 marking anywhere. Maybe they were just in a hurry - its serial number dates it to 1940.

    Hamiltons WW2 products deserve to be up there with the Liberty Ship, the Jeep, the C47 and the Sherman tank, but nobody remembers them.

    http://www.knirim.de/chapman.htm
    Last edited by Andrew Craig-Bennett; 05-30-2018 at 09:52 AM.
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    Default Re: A Deck Watch

    This is a fascinating thread, the only addition to it that I have is that I have heard that when Hamilton agreed to sippy watches to the war effort they specified that they were only on loan as they otherwise realized that by freely giving out so many of their own products they would have killed any future market.

    Nicholas

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