Gustav Becker – All Wound Up

beckerGustav Becker it could be said are one of the best makers of clocks that existed in the Black Forrest in the last ¼ of the 19th century and the 1st ¼ of the 20th century. High quality movements were presented to the public with great fanfare and emphasis on the quality in their production. Gustav Becker was awarded many international prizes. One of the most common clock manufacturers asked for when it comes to Vienna regulators is Gustav Becker. The question of whether Gustav Becker clocks really are the best is a moot point. It is perhaps similar to answering the contemporary question of today as to whether Rolex are the best watchmakers of today. There is then and now a grey area between marketing and reality.

Gustav Becker did in my opinion make some fantastic clocks and without doubt, the appearance of a Gustav Becker dial is much better for the fact that the winding holes do not come out in the middle of the numbers. There are two critical observations that can be made when we get a Gustav Becker clock in for repair. Gustav Becker (like Rolex) is a special construction it is not a normal clock. This means that careful diagnosis and treatment is required. Second, as with Rolex we can charge premium rates for the extra work to correctly repair it. Gustav Becker clocks will, inevitably require, a little more attention to repair and will therefore need to be charged out at a higher rate. Our clients already know they own a special clock as Gustav Becker is so well known, so they wont mind the extra rate if the repair is done well. If the client does not know the significance of Gustav Becker, then this will give you the opportunity to let them know how prestigious their clock is.

How do we ensure the correct repair done? Apart from technical skills of restoration, the diagnosis as previously mentioned is critical. Repairing high quality clocks, as repairing high quality watches requires you to make observations where you know not only what you are looking at, but also what to look for. It is only possible to perform repairs on Gustav Becker clocks profitably if you do this.

Without doubt, Gustav Becker is attributed with some great ideas however some ideas were not so great. One example is the use of idler wheels in the winding systems, so that the winding squares of the clock were closer into the middle of the dial. Aesthetically, the idea of moving the winding squares into the centre of the dial is a good one, as it stops winding squares coming out through the middle of numbers. Winding wheels used in most cases, were made from brass. The consequence then is, these winding wheels, were not very strong. The force required in winding a clock over long periods, causes winding wheels often to become damaged. Typical damage to the wheels could be categorised into three areas. Firstly, wheels can be worn on the operating side of the tooth where it meets the next wheel in the train. Secondly, the teeth in the wheel can be bent. Thirdly, a tooth or teeth may be broken out. We will examine the various methods to repair the winding wheels in each of these categories.

1. Wear on the winding wheels.

This is the most common problem, and is the one most easily rectified. To solve the problem we need remember that these wheels are unidirectional, i.e. they only go in one direction, as we do not wind a clock backwards. The turning over of the wheel will result in the wheel using the opposite side of the tooth in the wheel. As winding wheels are unidirectional, the opposite side of the teeth in the wheel will not be worn. This is equivalent to providing a new wheel for the clock, but with much less effort. Of course, if the wheel has been reversed at some previous repair, the option is not open to you.

2. Bent teeth.

Winding wheels have large stresses put upon them and as such require strong wheels to wind them. Straightening the teeth is not a viable method of repair. The repair must be done in a manner that is best for the clock and the future operation of the clock. There is no alternative to replacing the wheel. Straightened teeth would make the wheel weaker, and cause you grief as a repairer because the clock will sooner or later return with not only with straightened teeth broken but the next wheel as well due to it being damaged by the previously repaired one. Suppliers overseas fortunately have an extensive range of winding wheels for Gustav Becker in stock. If there is no stock winding wheel to fit, the only alternative is to make a wheel to match the old one.

Making winding wheels is technically not difficult, but if you do not want to do it yourself, there are several people including Master Clockmakers who offer a wheel making service. When making winding wheels they do not have square bottom teeth (as do every other type of wheels in clockmaking). The backlash in the gear must be kept to a minimum to provide maximum strength to the winding wheel. The module for winding wheels is nearly always 0.75 for Gustav Becker. Ascertaining the diameter of the winding wheels is sometimes difficult but from the many that we have made in the past I have found that invariably they are in full or half millimetre sizes, for example 18mm or 18.5mm. When we make winding wheels we turn then on a rod as there will always be an occasion at a later date when you will need another and it is possible to part one more of the rod. The rod is predrilled to suit the winding squares, which are knocked in on a tapper and pinned, or to allow a square to be filed for the barrel arbour.

3. Tooth broken out of wheel.

Usually the problem of a tooth being broken out does not occur without some other damage existing to the wheel, but never the less it is possible. The wheel can have a tooth fitted in by slotting and soldering in a new tooth. This is done in the same method as used to fit a tooth in any wheel in the clock train. However if this method be used it is critical to cut the slot for fitting the new tooth at a good depth to get very good strength on the tooth. The risk with fitting a tooth is that the tooth, due to the high pressure on winding wheels may loosen and break out later. It is better to replace the wheel, particularly if a replacement is available ex-stock, but fitting a tooth to the wheel can be a viable repair.

When dealing with a Gustav Becker for repair check before you quote if the clock needs the winding wheels replaced or repaired so you can charge for the repair of them rather than have the problem of trying to repair them cheaply.

In conclusion, Gustav Becker clocks are prestige pieces. The use of idler wheels in winding systems, looked effective, but has proved a long-term practical problem. Good repairs will not attempt to change the idea. It is part of the Gustav Becker heritage. What we must do is manage the problem professionally. Gustav Becker clocks need repairers who not only know what they are looking at, but what to look for. This article has described one problem that can be overlooked, and what can be done about it. With correct diagnosis, and treatment Gustav Becker clocks can be profitable and enjoyable repairs.

Posted in: Tick-Talk

About the Author:

For over three decades Andrew and his staff at Master Clockmakers have been involved in the restoration and conservation of timepieces from historically important clocks such as Sydney Town Hall and the clocks for Sydney Central Railway to small intricate ladies watches made by watchmakers such as Patek Philippe.

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