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Trade Secrets

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, February, 1942

Trade Secrets


What are they, how do they benefit the holder, how do they react toward the attitude of the apprentice?

During the past years it was the custom of the watchmaker to cloud his craft in a cloak of secrecy. Even the apprentice under his direction could never be sure that he had acquired more than a working knowledge with which to face the world in his efforts to earn a living.

Most young apprentices had to be satisfied with just such information as the master chose to give them, some had the initiative and courage to get the masters secrets in any manner at hand, mostly by closely watching him when he, the master, did not know of the watchful attitude of the apprentice. Some apprentices managed to get certain information from the master by adroit questioning, feigning and ignorance that was quite an intelligent demonstration. It is commendable that in more recent years there has been an inclination to divulge these so-called trade secrets and rather to encourage students to inquire into the reasons and the whys of things horological.

The writer had the pleasure of being employed by a jeweler in Columbus, Ohio, for some time and as a new year tribute I claim this man is one of the fairest and squarest employers that ever established a business, he gave me much of his valuable time in correcting faults that J had fallen heir to in former connections and I have greatly profited by this employers good will and keen interest.

One of the items that has been under controversy for these many years has been the subject of cleaning watches; during my apprenticeship. I was taught that benzine was the only reliable watch cleaner, followed by the usual "dunking" in alcohol and endless brushing. Later on material houses "developed" cleaning solutions of their own and, properly labelled as a, cleaning solution was sold to watchmakers at $3.00 per gallon.

I am offering the following watch cleaning solution formula for the benefit of those watchmakers who have been unable to get a satisfactory solution, no doubt there are many in the craft who already have this formula but there are many of the newer men just coming along now that will find the solution beneficial in their work:

Oleic Acid _________________________2 oz.
Acetone __________________________.4 oz.
Ammonia., 28% ____________________18 oz.
Water, distilled, to make one gallon.

This solution will not tarnish or cause rust on any part of the steel work in watches, however, it is best to wash the parts immediately in cold water, direct from the faucet, and then immerse in alcohol to remove any water that may remain hidden in crevices-then dry and assemble.

After a light buffing of cases and jewelry, then a wash off in the above solution one will be astonished at the results; discolorations and stains are removed quickly after only a light brushing in this solution.

I am indebted to my former employer, Leland M. Swain, of Columbus, Ohio, for this formula.
Prices for this solution are as variable as the weather, it all depends upon the section where one may happen to be employed; for instance. one city has a fixed price of 80 cents per gallon, not so far distant another city charges $1.50, and I know of others that charge $1.00 and still another at $1.25.
I fail to see the reason for such variation since the cost of the chemicals when purchased in pound packages (standard weight designation by the largest chemical houses) would be approximately one-fourth the retail price of the lowest gallon charge stated above. 

The logical solution to the excessive cost would be for those jewelers employing several watchmakers to purchase the chemicals in bulk from a chemical distributor and mix the solutions in gallon lots, in their work rooms; for example, stores employing two active bench men should purchase the oleic acid and acetone in 10 pound containers and the ammonia in case lot of 10 nine pound bottles, the distilled water could be purchased from the local ice company in 5 gallon bottles or 10 gallon carboys, the initial cost per gallon of the solution would be greatly reduced and would amount to something like 40 cents per gallon. (Including time and glassware used in measuring and storage).

At the present time I am using the following system -

Tray No. l - Watch cleaning solution.
Tray No.2 - Naphtha gas.
Tray No.3 - Carbon tetrachloride.
Tray No.4 - Carbon tetrachloride. 

When solution in tray No.3 gets to the point where I think it should be changed I use this solution for washing off cases and jewelry after buffing and washing in solution No. 1, however, I use separate dishes for jewelry and use the discarded solutions for watch cleaning for this purpose. I do not use alcohol very often and then only for cases where I doubt the efficiency of the other solutions in the final washing and drying. I don't recall that I have had a single failure of sleeves or springs from rust traceable to the use of any of these solutions.

I do use alcohol as a precautionary measure on such cases as might harbor a trace of water in some hidden crevice.

If this formula benefits some member of the craft I will be amply repaid for the time and effort in writing it up as well as in detailing my experiences and observations from the use of the formula. 



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