Timegrapher

One of the most important tools of a watchmaker is the timegrapher. You cannot only time each watch precisely to the second, you can also recognize erratic behaviour on a working movement or see, if a movement is due for a service.

The only thing, you cannot do with a timegrapher is, to precisely say how much the deviation on the worn watch will be. This is simply not possible due to too many interferences due to always changing positions.

The problem: New timegraphers are very expensive, and with vintage timegraphers, you’ll never know, what you buy. Nevertheless, a few specimen should be described here:

Modern timegrapher with display

This type of timegrapher with devices from Witschi, Elma & Co. was way too expensive for a hobbyist, and brand devices are in the four digit range.

Weishi 1900 timegrphar

Weishi 1900 timegrphar

Since a few years, there are also chinese manufacturers like Weishi, TYMC and MTG. The prices have a broad range here, too, but even the cheapest models from Weishi or MTG are useful and precise. A good recommendation is the Weishi 1900, which offers a high-res color display and the possibiliy to manually select the beating frequency.

If you want some more functions, like a printer or an automatic measuring microphone, you have to pay here 1000€ and more, too.

Weishi 1900 microphone

Weishi 1900 microphone

The useage is very simple: Put the watch onto the microphone, select the position of the microphone and read the display. That’s all!

Advantages:

  • Very reliable
  • robust, modern construction
  • low operating costs, consumables readily available
  • very precise, “magnifying glass function” also for printing or display on (please high-resolution!) Display
  • Delivery of further measured values such as amplitude and waste error
  • No problems with maintenance and spare parts supply
  • For a short time also affordable for normal users

Disadvantages:

  • Prices relatively high (starting from 200 € upward), brand devices only in the four-digit euro area
  • Devices often imported from China (customs, observe warranty processing)
  • Used equipment still comparatively rare available
  • On less expensive devices no long-term measurement possible

Modern analogue timegrapher with printer output

These devices, which are usually found under the name “Timomat”, are probably no longer produced since a few years. On the second hand market such devices are still relatively common to find, at correspondingly high prices.

Like their tube and transistor predecessors, the output is still written on paper strips, often with 100 times the magnifying glass function, so that you can determine the gear deviations and beat errors. For the amplitude measurement, however, additional equipment is needed.

Advantages:

  • Devices often in good condition, often can still be serviced
  • Proven, robust technology (quartz-controlled, IC)
  • relatively large used offer

Disadvantages:

  • May not be repairable on defects
  • no amplitude measurement
  • Consumables (paper roll, carbon paper roll) is scarce

Timegraphers for (Windows-) PCs

Before the advent of inexpensive standalone timegraphers from China (see above) such devices were a popular and inexpensive way to test clockworks even for hobbyists. With minimal use of materials (microphone and amplifier), professional measurements could already be carried out here.

The most known manufacturers of the first zimr, Mikl and Waschke, offer their products now no longer, as alternatives there’s currently (as of late 2014) mainly Biburo (software only, free, from Japan) left, however, with the new “Watchoscope” soon a new, very promising software solution shall enter the market. A reasonable special microphone (from 100 €, or in the DIY) is of course mandatory!

The great advantage of a PC timegraphers is that you can easily perform long-term measurements, even over several hours, and so can determine, for example, the influence of the calendar mechanism.

In contrast, there is the great disadvantage that all known solutions run only under Windows (ideally as the only application). What happens in Windows system updates, when the development is stopped someday, that’s in the stars …

The accuracy of these PC time scales stands and falls with the quality of the sound card and its clock. At a sampling rate of 44.1kHz, even one hertz deviation would result in a measurement inaccuracy of extrapolated 2 seconds per day. Of course, this will be compensated a little by longer measurement periods, but that the accuracy of the clock of a 20€ sound card does not come close to that of a temperature-compensated 10MHz quartz ‘a “real” time scale, one should consider.

Advemtages:

  • relatively cheap
  • pragmatic solution for hobbyists
  • virtually no operating costs (even when using a normal printer)
  • almost unlimited analysis functions via software
  • ideal for long-term measurements

Disadvantages:

  • require a computer that is running and not otherwise used
  • Software bound to Windows (often in a specific version)
  • Updates not secured in the long term
  • not really cheap, cost ~ 300€
  • Meanwhile most of the suppliers (Waschke, Mikl) are out of the market, but there are new promising suppliers

Timegrapher Apps

For some time, various apps for Android and iOS are on the market, which sound quite promising and are very cheap. With reasonable microphones (from € 100 upwards, or DIY) are good results to achieve good results. Maybe some older smartphone can experience a second spring, because during the measurements you should of course not make phone calls.

Advantages:

  • No hardware costs (except for microphone), as it runs on popular Android smartphones and iPhones
  • Software either free of charge (usually functionally limited) or quite cheap
  • various analysis functions

Disadvantages:

  • Problematic signal recording with on-board resources (better: use a dedicated timegrapher microphone!)
  • Quality of the measured values and evaluations does not always come up to a real timegraphers without much effort
  • Still little professional experience

Vintage tube timegrapher

Bandelin T45, ~1955

Bandelin T45, ~1955

Greiner Vibrograf B100 (Le Porte Echappement), 1964

Greiner Vibrograf B100 (Le Porte Echappement), 1964

The classic among the time scales are tube units, as they were produced until the mid-60s. The best known of course are the Vibrograf models from Greiner (B100), but also the Bandelin devices and many others. At that time, the devices were almost priceless, so there are still many in usable condition today.

A big advantage of these devices is the comparatively simple electronics that is used there. Defective tubes are still easy to get and replace, and changing aging capacitors requires only limited electronics knowledge.

However, should the mechanics (synchronous motor) or the special quartz (at that time only a few kilohertz - not available anymore) fail, it looks dull.

Measuring-wise, one must not make too great demands, more than a rough estimate of the deviation (plus minus two seconds) is hardly possible, but therefore - long paper strips provided - even longer measurements are possible. The noise caused by these devices, however, should not be underestimated!

Advantages:

  • easy to get
  • inexpensive, usually <100 €
  • robust mechanical design
  • Simple electronics, <10 tubes, good spare parts supply
  • only a few parts that can go irreparably defective (quartz, mechanics)
  • always output via printer

Disadvantages:

  • Component aging
  • Real defects (motor with special windings, low-frequency quartz, mechanics) normally leads to a write-off
  • expensive to operate (often special ribbons, special paper rolls)
  • Due to age no maintenance by manufacturer any more
  • buy the “cat in a poke”

Old transistor timegrapher

The successors of the tube devices were transistorized time scales, which are hardly different in the circuits, but often already offered extended functions such as a magnifying glass function or extended beat numbers (just think of electromechanical clocks).

In contrast to tubes, where the spare parts supply is still good, it looks a bit more difficult with early transistor circuits. Germanium transistors are no longer manufactured and are also subject to a certain aging.

Advantages:

  • still relatively cheap
  • robust mechanical design
  • still maintainable electronics, but not as easy as with tube models
  • Output always via printer

Disadvantages:

  • Component aging
  • In case of defects, possibly problematic repairs (no longer available transistors, more complex electronic structure than with tube models)
  • Operating costs through special ribbons and special paper rolls
  • Possibly no maintenance by manufacturer
  • buy the “cat in a poke”

Old “Computer” timegrapher with ICs and digital readout

Such devices are more likely to be seen as a curiosity, their primary purpose was in the 70s, the adjustment of quartz and tuning fork works, which is not possible with the conventional printing and rather coarse-resolution timegraphers.

Patek Philippe Multicapt, ~1975

Patek Philippe Multicapt, ~1975

Therefore, apart from a few (expensive!) Models, they do not offer the possibility to print, but only show the current gear deviation in the display (LED or Nixie tubes). There is no beat error on quartz watches or tuning fork works, therefore this is not indicated.

Not infrequently, these devices also contain other electrical measurement options (voltage, current, resistance), for mechanical watches, these are uninteresting.

Advantages:

  • robust, modern construction
  • very precise, deviation with digital readout in 1/10 or 1/100 seconds measurable
  • without printer very low operating costs
  • few problems with component aging.

Disadvantages:

  • rare to get in functional condition, and if so, then quite expensive
  • in case of electronic defects more or less irreparable
  • since originally intended mainly for quartz watches, normally no possibility for printouts on paper strips
  • For printerless models, no long term measurements possible