Roger Smith’s lecture at HSNY

When I moved from Geneva to New York City 3 months ago, my first action as a watchmaker freshly arrived in the Big Apple was to become a member of the HSNY (Horological Society of New York).

By Jérôme Meier
Special Contributor

(Editor’s note: We are delighted to welcome Jérôme Meier to our contributor’s team. A newly minted New Yorker, Jérôme brings over a decade of historical and technical expertise to Watchonista. Jérôme will be supplementing our technical and education efforts. Welcome aboard Jérôme!)

A few days only after landing in New York, I was given my lapel pin by Nicholas Manousos, President of America's first watchmaking guild, and was invited to attend my first monthly meeting.

I picked a great night to attend my first meeting, because that night (December 4th, 2017), the society was hosting master British watchmaker Roger W. Smith. Founder of his eponymous brand, and protégé of the great George Daniels, for a lecture entitled “The Development of a Practical Watch Escapement.” Nearly 200 guests had registered for Roger’s fascinating in-depth look at the single wheel co-axial escapement developed by Smith. At 7pm sharp, Smith took place behind the microphone under the watchful eyes of the audience.

As an introduction, the master watchmaker reminded us all how sensitive the escapement is and how much it is linked to the accuracy of a timepiece. Although the inventor of the first escapement is unknown, there is no doubt that numerous watchmakers spent their entire lives trying to improve the performances of such a key element. Smith achieved this feat some years ago (he is only 47!)

Based on diagrams and technical drawings, Smith illustrated the main types of escapements found in early watches as well as in more modern pieces. A distinction can be made between the frictional rest escapements (e.g. the verge or cylinder escapements) and the detached escapements (e.g. the detent of lever escapements). Smith’s single wheel co-axial escapement, resulting from his close collaboration with George Daniels, is part of the second type, as the contacts between the escapement and the regulating organ are brief and enable the balance and balance-spring to oscillate freely. The friction between the steel components and the ones made with rubies are limited to minimum distribution of optimal energy and avoiding as much friction as possible, which can limit watch precision


Smith mentioned that high-frequency timepieces (36,000 vph and more), have increased movement density leading to more frequent maintenance as well as a shortened lifespans. For those reasons, all watches made by Roger W. Smith have a frequency of 18,000 vph.

The master watchmaker continued his presentation by drawing sketches on a blackboard (which was actually green), enhancing the benefits of his escapement whose performances is about 10 times higher thanlever escapements. While the lever escapement exerts a sliding friction, the co-axial escapement utilizes a pushing action. 

This enables watchmakers to optimize the quantity of transmitted energy and reduce lubrication, ensuring better precision and reliability over time.

Before concluding, Smith described the various improvements of the co-axial escapement since its invention by George Daniels in 1974. He illustrated the transition from the double-wheel conception (whose concentricity is highly difficult to guarantee) to the single-wheel versions, increasing the efficiency of the escapement and further developing a low energy demanding movement. The real beneficiary of these upgrades is the owner of the watch who will note the less frequent maintenance intervals and consequently the decrease in maintenance costs

As he came to the end of his 50-minute lecture, Smith gave his last words to Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” maybe the most appropriate way to summarize the challenge which watchmakers confront every day. 

After a well-deserved round of thunderous applause, the time came for questions. Some of them, particularly theoretical, moved Smith who gladly admitted his world was much more on the practical side.  He then confirmed that his Isle of Man based workshop was about to expand but the expansion would never affect the quality and the exclusivity of his timepieces. The Series 5 collection is already occupying his thoughts

While the first people were leaving HSNY’s historical building at around 8:30pm, a long queue was forming towards Roger W. Smith, waiting for an autograph or a selfie together with the Man of the Night.

Here at Watchonista, we can’t wait for HSNY’s 2018 lectures !

All Photos by Atom Moore

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