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Alpha Movement Reassembly

Here's Part 2 of the Alpha Movement Project. This time Bayram made some mods to the movement, and then reassembled it! Below is Bayram's original post from Time Zone, along with the great pics he took.

Well, I don’t like today’s date that much, but hopefully everyone is having a good day and ready for some fun stuff – gotta spice the TZ Tuesdays up!

This is the long coming (been busy :0)) second installment of my adventures inside a Chinese made Alpha Explorer II watch that John Flynn graciously donated.

Just to recap, last time I took the movement apart and promised to try and put it back together along with some modifications. You probably wouldn’t be reading this were I to utterly fail my promises, so let’s just get to the business.

All in all, the process of reassembly is not that exciting (but frustrating), and once you’ve seen the disassembly steps, you could just scroll the previous post from bottom to the top, so I won’t bore you with that here. Instead I shall focus on the modifications.

From the onset of the project, I knew I wanted to go beyond simple disassembly-reassembly. As the movement looks rather plain in its original incarnation, I wanted to spice it up a bit – visually anyway. Having been substantially brainwashed by the Swiss watch industry, I wanted to blue the screws, apply some perlage (spotting), as well as throw in subtle anglage (edge beveling) here and there. Now, I’m not a pro by a looooooong shot, and if you want to see really good execution of these features, you should certainly stop by Don Corson’s watch project. As to me, I did what I could with the meager tooling I have to the point that it looked “kinda OK”. My standards aren’t high ;-)

Perlage

With the preface so disposed of, let’s finally get to looking at pictures! First, I applied some perlage to the dial side of the movement. Prior to me ruining it, the dial side looked like this:





If you’re not familiar with the technique, perlage is done by pressing a rotating wooden dowel onto the surface, lifting it up, offsetting the application point, pressing again, and so forth. This creates a series of circles with overlapping areas, which produces a nice visual effect, as well as supposedly keeping dirt away from the movement parts, because the dirt sticks to the perlaged surface. I’m not sure how effective is the latter statement, but perlage is often found on the insides of casebacks, as well as on bridges and plates. Ideally, one has an x-y table with the dowel properly secured above it. This should give the user pretty good precision in applying the spots. I, OTOH, am way too cheap/broke/poor/lazy/sloppy to buy an x-y table, so I get to hold a dremel-type tool above the plates and just hope that I can hold the tool steady enough for decent results, which…





…could be worse. The point is, IMHO, the movement has some personality now, as opposed to before.

Blued screws

The next item on the agenda is blueing the screws on the back side of the movement. From what I’ve read over time, there are two ways to give the screws that nice rich blue colour that many WISes across the globe lust after: 1) chemical blueing; 2) heat blueing. The latter is the more traditional way and the one I adopted. In essence, it involves heating the steel screw either in a direct flame, or placing it in a container to which you supply heat. Gradually, the screw will turn from shiny to beige/brown, purple, and deep blue (and if you overheat it, it will go to shallow blue, cyan, and gray, and nobody wants to be gray headed!). Once you get the proper colour, the key is to cool the screw right away, so the colour change does not progress. An easy way to do it is by dropping the screw into a cup with cold water. But be sure to dry it well afterwards! This is the theory. In practice, however, it is very easy to miss the cooling point, so it takes a number of iterations to get the colour right. But there is another problem. If you examine the screws in a typical movement, they appear extremely shiny. That’s because they’re plated. If you try to heat this type of screw, you won’t observe any colour change. Consequently, the plating has to be stripped off prior to heating. This is the tedious part. I suppose that a movement manufacturer has access to unplated screws, making the job of blueing much easier. But for an amateur like me, plating needs to be stripped off. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to remove the plating from the foot, the underside, or the slot of the screw. The only place where the plating can be stripped off is the screw head itself. The process is rather long and boring, where I alternate between several grades of sandpaper (and a narrow set of cuss words). The process is further complicated by the fact that it’s easier to take the plating off near the edges of the head than its center. Depending on the size of the screw, it can take me from 10 to 40 minutes just to get the plating removed. Okay, no more whining. Here are some pics. I just realized that I forgot to take any pics of the original screw. Sorry! Work in progress:



With plating taken off, prior to heating:



Next, I place the screw on a thin metal plate and hold the construction over a candle flame. Advocates of high horology would argue that all screws should be blued simultaneously, but for the life of me, that never seems to work. I go one at a time and get something like this:



Note that the screw head now has a rounded profile – a consequence of my sandpaper operations.

Anglage

Beveled edges look good! When done properly, that is. I’m not aware of any technical advantage that beveled bridges would give over non-beveled ones, but anglage gives the movement that aura of softness, so I figured I’d give it a shot. But as everywhere, there’s a problem here too. In most movements, the plates and bridges (not to mention wheels themselves) are made out of brass. There used to be times (about a century ago) that the said brass was left exposed for everyone to stare at. Those times are now gone, and most of the bridges you find today are plated, but plated very thinly. This implies that were I to file the edges down to a nice curve, I’ll expose the brass on the edges, while the rest of the bridge will remain plated, resulting in a bi-colour combination. Oh well, so be it! Here’s the original, un-beveled train bridge:



And here are some bevels:





This is the autowind system bridge. Original…







…and modified:









In general, the process involves scratching the plating off (this is the hardish part), then working it with a file, and finishing off with a couple grades of sandpaper. Not exactly rocket science, but you still need to be careful not to mess it up.

Reassembly

These are just pictures. Installing the geartrain and bridge:



Putting in the balance and mainspring bridges:





Installing the autowind gears and bridge:







Well, we’re almost done. Just need to throw the rotor on it. Originally, I didn’t plan to do anything to the rotor, except blueing the screw that holds it down. But in a strike of artistic creativity (which turned out to be not-so-artistic) I decided to mess with it too. I filed it, I perlaged a part of it, and I engraved (more like scratched) some stuff on it. Ready to see it?! For starters, here is the before shot:



And here’s the after:





In case you’re wondering, “B O” are my initials – pretty custom, isn’t it?

Before recasing the movement, I did some stuff to the case. What really bugged me, was the side of the case between the lugs. It was pretty unfinished originally:



But nothing that some sandpaper can’t fix:



Ready to close the coffin? One last look:





Curiosly, when putting the movement into the case, the luminous part of the 12 o'clock marker fell off. I had to superglue it in place ;-)

But here it is, all in one piece, running, setting, and keeping time.



Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading and questions are welcome.

Cheers! Bayram Orazov