By Kathy Ortt
The Arcane Watch Company is a new venture by Sam Mostad, owner and operator of two watch stores in the Seattle, Washington, area called Arc Watch Works & Engraving. Though already running two successful stores, creating his own brand of watch manufacture was what Mostad saw in his future. After considering many approaches to achieving this goal, Mostad finally decided that the way to do this, horologically speaking, was to step into the past. His product merges an antique movement with a case and crystal design born of modern thinking. With the help of some of the now-defunct Illinois Watch Company’s movements and knowledge from Mostad’s college training, Arcane Watch Company was created.
Mostad had retail jobs since high school, although that wasn’t his area of study in college. He studied materials science but didn’t find it to be an inspiring choice. Mostad explains, “I never had a job in the materials science field except while in college. I designed a line of rings using a proprietary technique and that was what brought me to working for a jewelry company. From there I got to know a little of the repair world and was always the one called upon to do the watches when they came in.” He did have a brief foray into selling real estate. Mostad relates, “When you told somebody, ‘Hey I’m a real estate agent,’ they would kind of try to sidle away from you because they didn’t really want to be pitched to. But when you told them you’re a watchmaker, then it was like, ‘Oh, hey, wait a second, I’ve got something for you.’ Because they’d never met one, they always had something they could show you like their grandpa’s pocket watch or their wristwatch that hadn’t been working for a while.”
After real estate Mostad went back to watches. “After Batteries and Bands opened its fourth store in Northgate Mall in Seattle, I went to work for them bringing my sales background and learning the repair side.” After four years with Batteries and Bands, Mostad felt he had learned enough of what worked and didn’t work with owning a business. He opened his first store at Northgate Mall in Seattle. It was a success so six years later he expanded with his store in Bellevue, Washington. Mostad says, “Opening the new flagship store, we were faced with the challenges of a stand-alone store that has higher payroll needs in the repair center.” Somewhere in between the running of these two stores, Mostad decided he wanted to start his own watch brand, “We decided that a new American-made watch line is the way of our future and are happy to bring the integrity and dedication that a 100% American-made watch line requires to be done right.”
He decided that putting an Illinois pocket watch movement into a wristwatch case of his design was a unique way to appeal to collectors. However, using a 100-year-old movement would present challenges. “After many discussions with experienced watchmakers of vintage repairs, I was set to be okay with 30-seconds-a-day repairs and 1ms beat errors,” reveals Mostad. “In fact, I purchased about 70 different calibers when we started and observed all the various issues related to different quality and manufacturing levels over the years.”
Deciding on the size that would not only work best for customers but would also have the best availability of well-made designs, Mostad settled on a 12s movement. He says, “It was still large enough to have regulators and well-made bimetallic balances. While going through the movements from approximately 1915 we saw all the issues caused by guard pins and getting a single roller movement to run consistently.”
Mostad felt their choice for double-roller calibers would facilitate better running and more consistent results. He then determined that out of all the 12s movements, the 405 caliber by Illinois Watch Company had some of the best running and manufacturing characteristics. He also noted that the interchangeability of parts ran in well-documented large batches. The double roller was well marked on the mainplate and easy to confirm while gathering the watches off of eBay. “We chose the Autocrat for the first wave for a beautiful and consistent running with a solid-gold gear train,” Mostad elaborates, “After all of this research I was very pleased to find we had made the right choice when we serviced and restored several of them, and in one case were able to achieve a -.3 seconds-per-day average with an 8 second delta and .2ms beat errors.” Of the caliber chosen, Mostad explains, “This particular watch had a run time of approximately 42 hours and through the 24-hour mark did not deviate timing in any appreciable manner. Due to the large mainsprings and 17 jewels, we have great amplitudes of 300-315 in the flats and 280 in the verticals. In fact, we have had to move down to .17 millimeter thick mainsprings in some cases to keep from getting 330+ amplitudes with knocking occurring.” Mostad continues, “We developed initial guidelines to keep all watches within a +15 second to a -5 second average, with beat errors inside of .8ms and a delta of 30 seconds or better. We will continue to appraise these and likely look to tighten them down as we are able to determine the time and energy required to achieve the best results.”
Mostad has over 480 of the Illinois base caliber movements, including 250 Autocrats, which is the model they will be using on their main line. Mostad mentions, “This helps create the brand recognition that so many other brands are missing. These movements were beautifully built 100 years ago and can be restored to better than new with our current technology and know-how.” In combining the new old stock (NOS) and the movements that are too scratched up or oxidized for parts, they will be able to produce watches in this series for many years.
After selecting the particular movements for placement in the cases, they go through a detailed list of cleaning and servicing because, as Mostad notes, “Some of these movements have been through as many as 10-plus watchmakers in their life, and as we see not all watchmaking repair is created equal.”
The cleaning and servicing routine is as follows:
- At the end of life for the cleaning solution we preclean 10 of these movements per cycle for about 200 movements, and then change our solutions. Our Elmasolvex VA cleaning machine at pre-clean outpaces even final cleans of other machines. With balance wheels in place, the cap jewels are cleaned thanks to the vacuum assist pulling all air bubbles out of the cap jewels and crevices.
- We have then analyzed each movement and recorded the issues and separated according to difficulty of repair (e.g., broken staff, chipped jewels, or loose roller jewel).
- We then take a batch such as the loose roller jewel and re-shellac them and correct their attitudes and angles.
- After correcting this step, the movement gets moved to the next tray according to its most severe issue. Usually we will have to mount a NOS mainspring to determine further issues.
- Lots of the movements have set mainsprings from being fully wound for typically 30-plus years. So we replace them typically with NOS mainsprings. (We found a vendor with over 100 mainsprings.)
- We have even moved a lot of our best movements down to the .17 millimeter thick mainsprings to keep them out of the 330 amplitude range. Routinely we will have amplitudes of 300 flat and 280 in the verticals.
- We look to statically poise the balance wheel. Truing the arms and correcting the screws. (Time and again we find the timing screws tightened all the way in by someone trying to get the timing towards zero without fixing errors in the system.)
- After correcting all their issues, we aim to get the beat errors inside of .3ms, and my watchmaker will occasionally end up with some at zero error for all six positions.
- After adjusting for all the various complications, we then test the setting side and correct any issues.
- Once we have a decent, running gear train, we then address cosmetic issues deoxidizing the plates with a very fine silver polish cloth and then ultrasonic and finish with an ionic cleaner.
- We similarly refinish the screws, parts, and wheels that have black polish.
- Once we are satisfied with fit and finish, we put the parts through the final cleaning disassembled.
- We epilame the jewels and the escape wheels and then reassemble and run for a period to wear the epilame off.
- We have found the quality of these movements and the strength of the mainsprings allows us to use heavier synthetics and still achieve high amplitudes.
- After lubrication, we time them out in six positions. Running all cycles in about two minutes, we can make adjustments very quickly. (It would have taken eight hours minimum of observation per position 100 years ago.)
- Our expectations are inside of those for most current manufactures of wristwatches.
There were issues that Mostad came across while wearing his prototype, such as milling-quality issues, clearance issues, and an axial drift problem, but those have been cleared up. “We had multiple issues with the initial prototype, because no matter how many times and how many people measure that many dimensions, one of them is going to be off,” remarks Mostad. They made numerous minor changes to tolerances and clearances, and some edge refining for the final design. “We added a ring of additional depth to clear the winding pinion; we increased the front and back clearances to allow for variances in the case clamp screws and the cannon pinion heights. We increased the thickness of the crown edge to 2mm and left it brush-finished for better grip. If need be, we will add laser knurling,” says Mostad.
Having open case backs has always been a popular part of watch design, and Mostad wanted that for his design. “You’ll be able to see these movements that have been hidden away for a hundred years. It really adds to the visual. It fits against your wrist, but when you take it off, you’ll be able to sit there and watch your mechanism running. I think it’s beautiful. On a modern watch I think it’s okay to see that. In a vintage pocket watch, however, it’s got a big balance wheel—all those nice screws and everything. It really makes a fun visual,” asserts Mostad.
So he came up with his monoblock case design. The crystals for the Arcane watches are milled and polished from solid sapphire in the US by a laser-optics manufacturer. “The more unique part related to our crystal is that besides the crowns, the front and back sapphire close the only other openings,” reveals Mostad, “This feature of our monoblock case is part of what allows us to minimize cost on the case and eliminate the need for additional parts.” The crystals are removed through air pressure after the crown assembly has been unscrewed.
After some thought and research, Mostad settled on titanium for his monoblock design. According to Mostad, “The choice of titanium was prompted by my background in materials. I started playing with using the lasers in combination with the titanium, developing a technique to heat-treat the titanium to get colors.” Those experiments with the lasers and coloring led to the final design of his case. “I could make all of my dial design work with the laser which now meant that I could make my entire casing out of one piece of metal so my dial and case are a monoblock design,” declares Mostad, “If you did that with most modern pieces, you’re typically printing on the dial, and you need the dial to be flat so you can print on it.” Mostad continues, “In this case I’m using the laser; I can take it in and out of focus. I can do different levels to my dial. So the dial that we’re using is all one with the case, and its actually quadruple sunk.” Mostad explains his Arcane dial, “It goes from our case rim where the crystal fits flush down on the minute track, steps to the hour track, and then down to the center of the watch, and finally there’s one more step down to the subdial.”
Mostad contacted many machine shops and came to many dead ends because the shops couldn’t get the tight tolerance requirements, or if they could, they weren’t willing to take on his smaller product run. However, Mostad finally found a shop about an hour south of his store that had the capability, and they also had machines and employees they wanted to keep busy. “They were willing to take on a small project like mine that they won't make any real money from until we get going, so that they can build a future client base,” Mostad states.
Mostad lives in an area where it is pretty easy to get used aircraft titanium. Mostad says, “Lucky for us we live in the aerospace capital of the world.” He gathers up the titanium useful to his needs from a recycling company in downtown Seattle. “I use Ti64 (6% aluminum and 4% vanadium) and another designated 15333. The numbers represent the percentage of other major metals. The 15333 is high-vanadium-content titanium (15%). This is a harder metal that gives a better hardness in thin parts and sheet, so we use this for the hands,” adds Mostad.
“These are antique 100-year-old movements but were built very robustly and should be able to handle another 100 years,” remarks Mostad. “That being said, they are not modern shock-protected movements, so sharp impacts should be avoided as with even modern mechanical watches.” According to Mostad, though the staff is most susceptible to damage, especially from abuse, he feels lucky that the 12s staff of the 405 caliber is more heavy-duty than a staff in a modern wristwatch. Arcane will offer a one-year warranty and will do any staff replacements at $100 with no other charge for recleaning. Part of the concept for longevity of these watches is the technique for coloring. “Most current ion plating will hold up well but will always eventually wear through, and since they are done in a process requiring a large batch of 100 pieces or more (typical minimum for economic feasibility), it is nearly impossible to re-plate a watch that has worn through,” says Mostad, “Our case design being a perfect disc with removable lugs will facilitate refinishing the watch at a customer’s request. With the titanium oxide, the layer may wear more quickly but is infinitely recolorable since it is done in a single item process that is able to be redone time after time to the same specific color.”
If this line is successful, he does have plans to utilize other antique movements and put them on the wrists of his contemporaries so that more beautiful movements can be admired for another hundred years. “We are unlikely to run dry of current movements,” asserts Mostad, “but we do have plans for three additional generations of this particular line. The next movement will be the Marquise Autocrat, which is the 1930s Illinois replacement for the Autocrat. It is about two-thirds the thickness and beautifully finished.” Mostad continues, “The third generation will be based on the Elgin 543, which is one of the last real American movements made, and its plainer plates and bridges inspire us to start doing the decoration of the plates.” Mostad concludes, “The final plan for this line is to have bridges milled in titanium and start using the same technique we use on the dials to do colored decoration and finishing of the movements.”
At the time of writing this, Mostad was in the final stages of preparing for his Kickstarter campaign on July 16, 2016. The campaign was designed to launch his line, but Mostad also wanted to partner with a worthy cause. He chose Seattle Children’s Hospital. The event was ticketed and net proceeds for the tickets went to Seattle Children’s. Half of the auction proceeds for the first three movements were also donated to Seattle Children's. When the Kickstarter campaign completes in 30 days of the start date, then production on the watches begins. Mostad expects to have watches assembled and delivered by year end. He hopes that his novel approach to 100% American-made watches will place Arcane watches on the wrists of many people who appreciate the ability to see the movements of so many years ago merged with the manufacture of a new American watch company.