Luxury watchmaking is a matter of attention to detail, with thousands of man-hours lavished on the finest quality of hand-finishing. So why, when everything else is pristine, are the slots of dial-side screws are haphazardly oriented, rather than perfectly aligned like everything else?
It must drive watchmakers mad. If you think that’s overstatement, visit the workshops of A. Lange & Sohne, or Vacheron Constantin, or any other high-end manufacture. You will find rooms full of the most experienced hands in the business, labouring with the patience of saints on bevelling, polishing and engraving components measuring mere fractions of a millimetre across.
If they make a single mistake, they must give up and start again. When they have finished, all being well they will have contributed to a piece of hand craftsmanship that you could pore over with a loupe for hours without finding anything out of place.
So imagine what it must be like to sit back and admire one’s handiwork, to be greeted by the sight of half a dozen screw-heads (painstakingly hand-blued in a naked flame) all pointing in random directions.
We asked Roger Smith – a man not known for accepting compromise in the finishing of his watches – what the answer could be.
Why has the world of watchmaking never eradicated this aesthetic flaw? Here is his comprehensive answer:
“The screws are never aligned because it would be a very difficult engineering task to make sure that the start of each thread within the dial plate began in exactly the same orientation.”
“Also, you would have to make sure that the start of the thread on every single screw aligned perfectly with its slot on the screw head. Additionally, the length of the screw thread from the start of its thread to the underside of the screw-head would be critical and you would have to achieve ridiculously close tolerances.”
“Even if this were possible you would then have watchmakers tightening each screw to a slightly differing torque which would then misalign the screw slots causing all sorts of visual issues.”
The one famous counter-example – of sorts – is that of the “screws” on an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, which are aligned perfectly. But of course as anyone who has looked at a Royal Oak for more than a couple of seconds can appreciate, those aren’t screws at all (think about it – hexagonal holes?).
The reason all eight are in perfect alignment (and they are aligned, not horizontally or vertically but perpendicular to the axis connecting the centre of the screw-head with the centre of the watch, i.e. they all face inwards towards the hands) is that they are bolt-heads, onto which the screws connecting the bezel to the caseband are affixed, within the watch.