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The mysterious Speedmaster hour counter

  1. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jan 18, 2021

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    I've been meaning to put together some information about one of the features of Speedsters that seems to generate the most questions - the hour counter. I’ve posted details of this in various places over the years, but since questions about this function keep coming up, I wanted to consolidate it all in one thread.

    There are often questions about how it’s not centered, why it isn’t accurate, why it creeps when the chronograph isn’t running, so I wanted to show some details of how this counter works, so you can all understand why it might do some of the things it does.

    So the first thing to show is how the chronograph functions are operated on a Speedmaster, and for illustration purposes I will show photos from a Cal. 861 below.

    Here is the back side of a Cal. 861 Speedmaster:

    [​IMG]

    This first video will show the start, stop and reset sequence:



    There are really two key points here:

    1 – The seconds counting hand and the minute counting hand are driven by a wheel that is on an extended post from the fourth wheel of the movement. That wheel in turn drives a wheel on the coupling yoke, and the cam moves that yoke in and out to make contact with the chronograph wheel, to start the chronograph running.

    2 – In the reset state, the hammer that resets both the seconds and minute counting hands is at rest against the cams of those wheels. You can see the hammer swing up and away from the cams when the chronograph has been started, and on the reset the hammer quickly swings down to reset those two wheels. The hammer movement on the reset comes from a long spring, so the hammer speed is determined by that spring.

    So the one thing I don’t mention here is the hour counter, and that’s because it has no real direct connection to any of the parts I just mentioned. That’s because the hour counter is driven off the mainspring barrel, not from the wheel that is on the fourth wheel post, so it is driven independently of the seconds and minutes counting wheels.

    Here is the dial side of a Cal. 861, and this is only partially assembled:

    [​IMG]

    And here it is with the remainder of the parts in place:

    [​IMG]

    The various parts have letters on them, so here is a list with descriptions:

    A – mainspring barrel
    B – friction spring for driving pinion
    C – driving pinion
    D – hour counting wheel
    E – hour hammer
    F – hour counter lock

    The mainspring barrel A turns all the time that the watch is running, and so does the friction spring B that is screwed into that barrel cover. That spring will make the driving pinion C turn, if it is able to, and if that pinion is blocked, it will slip against the mainspring barrel.

    The driving pinion C will turn the hour counting wheel D, but only if not blocked by the hour counter lock F. The hour hammer E is what resets the hour counting wheel D.

    So when the chronograph is switched off, and the watch is reset, the parts are in the positions you see them in this photo I used above:

    [​IMG]

    The hour counter lock F is sitting firmly against the hour counting wheel D, which means that the wheel is not turning, the driving pinion C is not turning. You will note that the hour hammer E is retracted out of the way, so that the hammer is not resting on the cam of the hour counting wheel. If you recall the seconds and minute counters, when reset the wheels are held in place by the hammer, but that is not the case for the hour counter so this is a major difference.

    So when the chronograph has been started, the hour counter lock F is moved, which allows the hour counting wheel D to be driven by the driving pinion C, and the hour counter starts to move. It moves continuously, so there is no jumping feature on these watches for the hour counter. When the chronograph is stopped, the hour counter lock F comes back in contact with the hour counting wheel D, and it holds that wheel in place so that the user can look at the hand to determine the elapsed time.

    On reset, the hour hammer E swings down and contacts the hour counter lock F, and pushes it out of the way. The hammer then carries on and strikes the cam on the hour counting wheel D, and resets the wheel to it’s home position. Now remember that the driving pinion C is only connected to the mainspring barrel A, by the friction spring B. This allows the hour counting wheel teeth to stay engaged with the driving pinion, and the driving pinion spins under the friction spring as it’s being reset.

    You can see the reset portion of this sequence here – note the hole that is in the hour counting wheel moves when the hammer comes down onto the cam:



    Now one thing to note is that the reset sequence as you would use the watch looks to be all one thing, but in reality it's in two parts. Remember the hammer for the seconds and minute counters is spring loaded to reset, so when you push the reset pusher, this will move a part called the stem bolt for hammer out of the way of the hammer, and the spring snaps the hammer down on the cams.

    Back to this photo again now:

    [​IMG]

    If you look at the letter E on the hour hammer, there is a part with a hole in it directly to the right of the hammer - this is the hour hammer operating lever, and it is moved by the pusher stem for zero action. These two parts are moved by the pusher that you press.

    So as the reset pusher continues to move in towards the case, and after the hammer for the seconds and minute counters has reset, the pusher stem for zero action presses on the hour hammer operating lever, and this moves the hammer down to reset the hour counting wheel. These are two distinct operations, and I showed this is a video I took some time ago:



    You can see here that I was able to reset the seconds and minutes, without resetting the hour counter. I sometimes get questions about why the hour counter reset is sluggish, and the speed that it resets is directly related to how quickly you press the pusher in.

    So this is an overview of the basic operation, and in subsequent posts I'll go over some of the common problems seen with this function.

    Cheers, Al
     
  2. Zanzibar Jan 18, 2021

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    Very informative, thank you sir.
     
  3. scapa Jan 18, 2021

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    Great to have a detailed answer that addresses many concerns in one place. Deserves a spot on "A watchmaker answers your most common Omega questions..." sticky, IMO. Many thanks for all you bring to this forum.
     
  4. rcb Jan 18, 2021

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    Thank you for this post. What a wealth of information.
     
  5. chuckp06 Jan 18, 2021

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    Excellent write-up, thank you! I think this also helps explain the different feel of the reset depending on how long the chronograph has been running. Curious if there's a practical use for the "partial reset" you demonstrated?
     
  6. flw history nerd Jan 18, 2021

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    One of the reasons I enjoy the forum as much as I do is the education I receive here. Very interesting and informative. Thanks for exercising my brain!
     
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  7. alefar Jan 18, 2021

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    Wow, that was an interesting read, thank you!
     
  8. GadgetGuy88 Jan 18, 2021

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    Thank you for explaining the inner workings of the inner workings!
     
  9. EricCsN Jan 18, 2021

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    Gosh. marvellously outstanding . a most comprehensive post.
    forgive me if it will take me a while to understand, if i can understand it being a layman ( my head is swimming).
     
  10. 105012 Jan 18, 2021

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    Thank you for the explication. Presumably the calibre 321 is the same? My 321 has always been very crisp and accurate in moving the counter hands, no slippage or issues on start, stop or reset --- presumably just well adjusted by the watchmaker who serviced my 321.
     
  11. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jan 18, 2021

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    No practical purpose, I just did that to illustrate that the reset happens in two stages.
     
  12. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jan 18, 2021

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    Same in principle yes, although some parts look slightly different. This design, or a version of it, is common in chronograph watches. For example the ETA 7750 also has the hour counter driven off the mainspring barrel, but the arrangement is slightly different. I’ll talk about that design in a subsequent post.
     
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  13. nzshadow Stowaway Jan 18, 2021

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    Reading about 861 movements with a friend.

    20210119_115753 (1).jpg
     
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  14. toolr Jan 18, 2021

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    Thanks Archer, very interesting explanation! So I'm guessing the proper way to reset is to press the reset button fully and firmly, then release?
     
  15. cvalue13 Jan 18, 2021

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    It ain’t “partially and weakly, don’t release” ;)
     
  16. Marsimaxam Jan 18, 2021

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    Loved your explanation... thanks
     
  17. toolr Jan 19, 2021

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    Like one might do with the start/stop pusher. I'm guessing a quick push of the reset pusher would result in the chrono second and minute counters to reset and hour counter not to, resulting in the same condition shown in the video.
     
  18. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jan 19, 2021

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    Yes, but don't overdo it when you press the reset - I'll get to why in a subsequent post...
     
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  19. Archer Omega Qualified Watchmaker Jan 19, 2021

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    Okay, part 2...

    In numerous threads there are a number of frequent issues that come up. The first one is hour counter creep, and this is seen when the chronograph is completely reset, and not running, but the hour counter hand moves. This can happen for a few of reasons:

    1 – Improper adjustment of the hour counter lock – there is an eccentric screw that can be used to increase or decrease the pressure that the hour counter lock puts on the hour counter wheel, to keep it from turning.

    2 – Wear – the hour counter lock or the hour counter wheel can be worn, leading to the inability of the hour counter lock to prevent the hour counter from advancing.

    3 – Improper cleaning and lubrication – if the interfaces between the parts that are meant to slip aren’t properly cleaned lubricated, and old dried oils are present, this can cause the creep.

    4 – Imperfections/damage to barrel cover – if there are any raised burrs on the barrel cover, this would cause the creep.

    So the first two examples are about insufficient holding force, and the last two are about excessive driving force. For the vast majority of the watches I get in for servicing that have this problem, the solution is to properly clean and lubricate the parts – usually nothing else is required. I have come across the odd time where a raised burr on the barrel cover has caused problems, and this is easily resolved by stoning that burr off.

    Wear to the hour counter lock or hour counting wheel do happen, but they are not terribly common. The least common issue is improper adjustment of the hour counter lock, this is rarely the cause of this problem in my experience, but it’s easy enough to adjust if it is.

    Here is an example of wear in the teeth of the hour counting wheel, where it meets the hour counter lock:

    [​IMG]

    And this is what it should look like:

    [​IMG]


    So another common complaint regarding the hour counter is that it doesn’t stay in sync with the minute counter. The most common reason for that is that the hour counter hand isn’t 100% aligned properly when it’s installed, so in most cases just installing the hand correctly is enough to make things line up fine.

    But one thing to keep in mind is that as I explained in post 1, the driving of the hour counter is based purely on friction. So in addition to having too much friction and drive causing problems, too little can as well. This isn’t so much about lubrication, but about wear of the friction spring for the driving pinion. There are two tabs on this spring that grip the top of the driving pinion:

    [​IMG]

    It’s not uncommon to see wear on these tabs where they ride on that pinion - this is the underside of a worn tab:

    [​IMG]

    This can sometimes be compensated for by flipping the spring over, or bending the tabs to make then have more contact, but replacing the spring is the preferred solution. There is no really direct check of the friction required here, so it comes with a bit of experience the know if this feels right. I do recommend checking the operation of the hour recorder before putting the dial and hands on, and I personally do this by mounting an old hour recording hand to the bare movement:

    [​IMG]

    I then check to make sure that the hour counter doesn’t creep with the chronograph stopped, and also that the hour counter does advance when the chronograph is running. Additional checks are done once the watch is fully assembled, but this catches any gross problem before I have mounted the dial and hands.

    More to come in another post...
     
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  20. GadgetGuy88 Jan 19, 2021

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    @Archer

    Have you ever done a pictorial of the backside or side views of a variety of moonwatch dials? I don’t know if it’s visually interesting, but I’ve always been curious to see if they are all the same material, thickness or finish. Can you see the prongs for the applied items? ...that sort of thing.

    As you know, Moonwatch Only doesn’t show that view.

    Thanks!