It was a project close to my heart,” says Ernst Baschung, director of the Beyer watch atelier. “It was something I simply had to do, and even postponed an important private matter because of it.” There are three reasons why Baschung becomes so emotional. Firstly, there aren’t many complex mechanical clocks left on which he can demonstrate his immense knowledge. Secondly, Baschung is due to retire next autumn; it might be the last opportunity he would get to work on a project of this kind. And thirdly, it was not just any old clock, but the “Kazès”.
The wall clock by artist Jean Kazès has hung in the elegant foyer of Patek Philippe in Geneva, the inner sanctum of watchmaking as it were, since 1989. Beyer Chronometrie had gifted it to the manufactory on the occasion of its 150th anniversary, also as a thank-you for an exceptional partnership. René Beyer and Philippe Stern, the then CEO of Patek Philippe, unveiled it during a special ceremony. And visitors to the manufactory could not help but admire it, so prominently was it displayed above the reception in the high-ceilinged room.
So it was all the more annoying when it stopped working entirely about two years ago. One in every two visitors who approached the Patek Philippe reception desk pointed up at the “Kazès” inquiringly. The receptionists said that they too were annoyed because they’d recently had the clock repaired by a local company. Don’t worry, we’ll get it running again on the next visit, they were told, so the company was called in again.
But it didn’t start running again that time either. That is, there was a whirring sound, but the hands didn’t budge. Neither Patek Philippe nor the service technicians could explain it. So they turned for help to the donor of the gift in Zurich. René Beyer announced: “If anyone can repair this clock, it’s our Ernst Baschung. We’ll send him over as soon as possible.”
PREPARED FOR SURPRISES
Baschung knew from experience that an operation of this nature often has its own particular dynamics. He was aware there could well be a surprise or two in store that would require a fair amount of creativity in addition to his expert knowledge. So he didn’t make the journey to Geneva alone, but took René Rietmann with him, a watchmaker friend from Zollikon, who does occasional jobs for Beyer at his workshop, that either take up a lot of space or a lot of time. Or both.
“Dismantling the clock in Geneva went surprisingly smoothly,” says Baschung. A lifting platform brought them so close to the movement that they could dismantle it piece by piece with great care, prepared for every eventuality. They decided to take the hands and the front part of the movement for servicing and to leave part of the movement behind, because it would have been practically impossible to dismantle it. “A lot of components were in a disastrous condition,” says Baschung. Wheels, arbors and levers rusted through, parts of the motor gummed up, axles jammed, pins worn through. And the striking mechanism was blocked with a cable tie. Baschung: “That’s what caused the whirring sound they heard at reception: the movement was running, the weights were wound up, but the striking mechanism did not react, although it was primed with energy. It’s a wonder it didn’t keep tripping the fuse at Patek Philippe.”
SOLVING THE PUZZLE
Over the course of the next month or so at René Rietmann’s workshop, they turned out a whole array of replacement parts, more beautiful and longer-lasting than those in the original movement. “A huge amount of work – but a treat for any watchmaker,” Baschung says with a laugh. Armed with the new parts, the new motors and ball bearings, Baschung and Rietmann travelled to Geneva again, installed the refurbished movement – and became increasingly nervous. Because the clock didn’t start. Well on into the evening they were still shaking their heads at the conundrum facing them. The motor of the striking mechanism was winding up in the wrong direction. They had done research, made phonecalls, read the servicing reports of the company that had performed the maintenance, but still couldn’t find the answer. So they decided to call it a day and carry on the following morning. After a more-or-less sleepless night and further experiments, Baschung and Rietmann discovered the root of the problem: the angle position of the stop pin on the locking-lever had been constructed wrong. After chiming, this pin should have brought the striking mechanism to a standstill, but failed to do so. Using a diamond grinder, the watchmakers corrected the angle position of the pin and solved the problem. To prevent jamming occurring when the hands are set in future, they installed idling running protection. They also gave the movement a correction device to set the time forward or back by an hour. For the next few decades, no one should ever look up at the “Kazès” with annoyance, but with admiration.
“We have refurbished, restored and modified the clock,” says Baschung with satisfaction. “You can’t see our work, but that’s normal for us watchmakers. For us, it’s enough to know that we have immortalised ourselves to some degree at Patek Philippe.” Baschung laughs, and pride is written all over his face. “Maybe one day, when we’re no longer around, they’ll say: those two old dinosaurs back then, they really knew their stuff.”