Fabrication of dial work, compilation of work 2008 through January 2012 - June 2013,
There are only four components in this project which have been outsourced.
The first are the pivot bearings. There are two types used in this project
the first are jewels which are used in those areas where the arbors will
turn slowly (less than once per hour) and are lightly loaded. Because of
these factors we will be using them without lubricants. Buchanan ordered
several hundred synthetic ruby jewels from Switzerland. The other type of
bearing are ceramic
roller bearings used in all other pivot points where the rotational period
is greater than once per hour and or the there is greater than a light load. A compelling feature
of these is the fact that they too can be used without the need for
The second outsourced component are the strike train bells. These were
ordered from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London.
The third are the four pendulum balance springs, these are made of a special
a type of Elinvar wire. It is actually
Ni-Span-C® alloy 902. a
nickel-iron-chromium-titanium alloy made precipitation (42%, 47%, ±5.25%,
±2.5% plus several other trace elements), hardenable by additions of
aluminum and titanium. The titanium content also helps provide a
controllable thermoelastic coefficient, which is the alloy's outstanding
characteristic. The alloy can be processed to have a constant modulus of
elasticity at temperatures from -50°F to 150°F (-45 to 65°C). That makes it
ideal in the use of precision springs and is similar to the alloy Elinvar
used in watch balance hair springs, and is exactly what is needed for this
application giving the pendulums isochronism.
The fourth outsourced component is the enamel dials. This project will use
fourteen dials to illustrate the various complications both for time and the
celestial functions. During the initial development of this project during
2004 -2006 we had planned for engraved silver dials. However, by mid 2006 I
began to formulate the idea of substituting the silvered dials for real,
fired enamel dials. It began as I contemplated how an engraved plate would
look for the planisphere and began to think that something in color, in
enamel might be better. This change would add a classical element to the design.
Most clocks that are hand made include engraved dials. A competent
clockmaker can, with the right equipment, make very presentable engraved
dials. Particularly if they do not involve freehand script.
Enamel dials, on the other hand, requires a skill set and equipment that is
not normally a part of the clockmakers expertise. For this reason,
throughout horological history, whenever a clock was made that had fired
enamel dials this job was outsourced to a dial making firm.
At the time I made this decision, I had no idea who did such work, with the
exception of the firm of Donzé Cadrans in Switzerland. They had completed a
set of lovely dials for a prior project Buchanan had completed on a dual
pendulum regulator. There were some other dial houses here in the United
States, but they were generally dial repair firms, or reproducing damaged
dials, but not creating unique, one off dials to design. We approached Donzé
2007 and found them impossible to work with. They seemed uninterested in
responding to our requests. It was quite frustrating. It later turns out
that they were in the midst of an internal reshuffle and in 2011 the owners
had sold the firm to the watchmaker firm Ulysse Nardin so they were no
longer available for outside work.
I had seen advertisements for replica skeleton clocks by the firm of
ProClocks and many of their clocks had enamel dials. Their firm also had
examples of their clocks at the National Association of Watch and Clock
Collectors (NAWCC) clock fairs. They also promoted their dial making, repair
and replication services. Bob Crowder, the proprietor, expressed an interest
in being a part of this project and I thought this could be a good fit. Bob
was accessible, not to mention spoke English! He had a facility in China
that produced fired enamel dials and he was enthusiastic to make his firm a
part of this project. I liked the fact that the dials would be hand painted
and fired and China is a country steeped in this tradition.
I decided to give ProClocks as a first trial what I thought to be the most
difficult dial to make. This was the dial for the planisphere which has a
depiction of the stars at the latitude of Chicago, along with their names,
the signs of the zodiac and constellations. There are literally hundreds of
separate diagrammatic components to this dial.
I started out with a planisphere that I had downloaded from a website on the
internet in late 2007. There are many sites that allow one to 'build you own' star gazing
planisphere adjusted to your exact latitude. Chicago is 41.8819
degrees. This download served as the basis for our design.
These two photos from February 2008 are an early design concept for the
planisphere as it would look like within the context of that subassembly and
the overall movement. Note that the clock looks very different from its
current incarnation. This design had the entire movement within two large
fretted frames following a conventional plate and spacer concept. That was abandoned in early 2009 as
impractical in exchange for the current pillar design. In this early mockup the
planisphere also contains the sidereal and celestial demonstration
functions. This would also later be revised. It looks too much like the main
character's face in the famous Norwegian painter's work, Edvard Munch,
In September of 2011 I received the hand painted artwork from Buchanan. It
was over-sized at eleven inches across. The actual dial is about five
This picture is my changes made on the computer to color-adjust and accentuate the
gradual blue shading toward the edge of the dial.
Next the artwork for the mean solar time dial (main time dial) is created
and displayed in a wood mockup bezel on the clock movement. This was later
redesigned to substitute the "Made by Buchanan' to simply 'Buchanan
All of the the dials that are in the form of a ring will have a slight
curvature to the surface. Buchanan makes an replica ring with the proper
curvature from plastic and then glues the artwork to that ring so the dial
makers have an exact one-to-one master to copy from. The next pictures show
the fabrication of the planisphere dial in China. This dial was a flat disc.
The expert enameling is carried out by Mr. and Mrs. Feng. First Mrs. Feng
prepares the copper substrate. All of the dial work has a copper
substrate and this is the same way dials have been made for centuries.
It was decided to make a pair of these dials simultaneously in case there
was a problem in the fabrication process with one of them. Things can
go wrong, especially in the kiln after repeated firings for each color so
the decision was made to make a pair just in case one was ruined. Cracking
bubbling or warping of the dial can occur. Sometimes colors simply come out
of the kiln in unexpected ways.
The third photo shows one of the enamellers, Mr. Gao
Feng painting in the figural outlines, lettering and star fields all on a
copper blank. The dial has already been fired once in a kiln to produce blue
background. He accurately picked up all the detail in Buchanan’s original
artwork, from over a thousand various sized star dots for the Milky Way,
right down to the calligraphic lettering and the correct star constellation
representing each figure of the zodiac and then it is again fired.
Next the detailing is painted on, as mentioned above the
enamels are a husband wife team, Mr. and Mrs. Feng. He does the lettering
and she does the figures. Note that the lettering we supplied in the artwork
was anything but plain. It has a calligraphic style; very difficult to make especially at such a
After the white outlining is done it goes into the kiln, one can just see
the zodiac figures glowing, (second photo below).
Here we see the artwork near completion.
Mrs. Feng adds the black
accenting, then another firing, and then the brown figural coloring. A
fourth, green color is added last and then the final firing. Of course
things can go wrong, especially in the kiln after repeated firings -
cracking, bubbling or warping of the dial can occur. Sometimes colors simply
come out of the kiln in unexpected ways, so the decision was made to make a
pair just in case one was ruined.
Afterward the final firing in the
kiln. One can see zodiacal figures glowing against the background. The
last photo shows Bob Crowder along with the dial painters, Mr. and Mrs. Feng,
to the right and their children.
The dials were sent to Buchanan in January 2012 were installed into a wood
mockup bezel and mounted onto the clock. Notice the correct curvature of the
dial. This is due to the
curvature of the copper blank upon which the enameling is applied. One of
the completed planisphere dials is shown below.