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Thread: The SMITHS QUASAR "Constellation"

  1. #1
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    The SMITHS QUASAR "Constellation"



    The Quasar from The National 15 - The decline of British watchmaking and the role of Smiths*

    I am putting this image here first... as the ad on the right always squashes the first post and I wanted you to first see the Quasar "Constellation" in its full glory (below in the next post).



    Basically, before I saw these cases in the box here, the only Quasar by Smiths I was aware of, was the TV dialed rendering above from "The National 15 - The decline of British watchmaking and the role of Smiths in a hoped for discovery" by David Read.

    *On page 15/88
    https://ahsoc.contentfiles.net/media...-_Read_wm6.pdf

  2. #2
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    "On visiting a watch mate today got to wear a Smiths quasar prototype. Made in the early 70's it is the only ever English quartz watch ever made. Very high quality and extremely rare."
    https://www.imgrumweb.com/post/BViBH7bnq8w
    QUASAR "Constellation" by Smiths



    Smiths was well advanced in quartz cock movements for aviation, maritime and domestic clocks when Cheltenham watch production ended, but persevered with a quartz wristwatch at their secretive 'Delphina?' research lab in Cheltenham launching their Quasar at the 1973 International watch fair... these are not even signed 'Smiths' but, if my memory serves me well, 'Quasar Time Systems' of whom very little is known. Its was clear at the show that Smiths was wasting its time and money so the Quasar was abandoned shortly after... so the 1974 label is probably one of the last tests.

    Whether Smiths sold the 'Quasar' brand/project to Stephen Strauss, who gained Ingersoll, is another unresolved mystery.
    [#23 Barry - Brenellic2000]


    Links:

    Flyaway Smiths at Cotswold auction room today
    https://www.mwrforum.net/forums/show...ion-room-today

    Smiths' last days in the sun / but will they run ? (Lots of pics)
    https://www.mwrforum.net/forums/show...-will-they-run

    * * *



    MWR reckon that the Smiths case was based on the Omega Constellation 168.0054. But it has a serrated bezel...



    On the other hand the Omega Constellation 368.846 has a smooth bezel but is without the DAY complication. Here is a lovely one to study:
    https://www.poshtime.com/3028.001/Om...tic-c.1970.php

    * * *

    So,

    1. I love the two crowns of the Quasar. They change the look of the Omega case. By the way, the second crown is for adjusting the Day-Date.

    2. What is going on with all the Omega connections? And why Omega?

    3. How about a homage? The current and next big-thing is integrated bracelets, as per Naulilus, RO, VC Overseas, etc...


    The back of the Quasar.
    Last edited by abraxas; 3rd September 2019 at 14:07.

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    Thank you for posting this it's nice to see images of the fabled Quasar. That Cotswold auction has yet to release the hoped for information (by me anyway) that seemed to be potentially held in many of the lots.

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    Grand Master Dave+63's Avatar
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    Thatís very nice and not a watch I was aware of.
    It is very Omegaesque though although thatís no bad thing.

  5. #5
    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Hey... my Quasars !

    Edit to add:

    I still have pretty much everything over on the MWR thread and am happy to answer any questions anyone might have. They’re great cases and all very interesting but getting them running is an uphill struggle. Smiths obviously found the same !
    Last edited by HookedSeven; 4th September 2019 at 12:50.

  6. #6
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    I would really like to know the reason behind Smiths using the Omega case/bracelet design. Also, were they actually intending to sell the watch with this case?

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    The more you get into "watch appreciation" the more you realise how many different watches there are - millions upon millions must have been produced.

    Thanks for starting the thread - always something new to learn ........ as they say "everyday is a school day"

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    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by abraxas View Post
    I would really like to know the reason behind Smiths using the Omega case/bracelet design. Also, were they actually intending to sell the watch with this case?
    Agree this is an interesting question, but no idea how to research further. I scoured all the other lots in the auction looking for documentation, or for a lead as to who the items belonged too, but no luck. Also the auction house couldnít give me any details of the consignor.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HookedSeven View Post
    Agree this is an interesting question, but no idea how to research further. I scoured all the other lots in the auction looking for documentation, or for a lead as to who the items belonged too, but no luck. Also the auction house couldnít give me any details of the consignor.
    Did you get a good look at the lot with all the original drawings/specs in it? Maybe there was something in there.

  10. #10
    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by size11s View Post
    Did you get a good look at the lot with all the original drawings/specs in it? Maybe there was something in there.
    You mean from the original Cotswold auction ? These Quasars came later from an auction in the SW. I had high hopes for the original auction too but every man and his dog turned up !

  11. #11
    Grand Master snowman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by earlier
    Made in the early 70's it is the only ever English quartz watch ever made.
    Doesn't the Sinclair watch count?

    M

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    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snowman View Post
    Doesn't the Sinclair watch count?

    M
    No idea !

    Was it entirely UK built, or did the chip, LED module, or other bits come from abroad. Didnít they blow up or stop working after a week ? If so thatís better than Smiths managed ;-)

  13. #13
    Grand Master snowman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HookedSeven View Post
    No idea !

    Was it entirely UK built, or did the chip, LED module, or other bits come from abroad. Didnít they blow up or stop working after a week ? If so thatís better than Smiths managed ;-)
    No idea either, which is why I asked.

    M

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    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snowman View Post
    No idea either, which is why I asked.

    M
    Oh if Iíd known you had no idea Iíd have just made something up :-)

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    Quote Originally Posted by HookedSeven View Post
    You mean from the original Cotswold auction ? These Quasars came later from an auction in the SW. I had high hopes for the original auction too but every man and his dog turned up !
    Yes, I was thinking the Cotswold auction....bloody hell that's another interesting auction I missed then!!

  16. #16
    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by size11s View Post
    Yes, I was thinking the Cotswold auction....bloody hell that's another interesting auction I missed then!!
    Luckily EVERYONE else missed it too !

    Oh, and if you’re in Cirencester it can’t have been more than 20 miles from your front door !!
    Last edited by HookedSeven; 12th September 2019 at 13:49.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by HookedSeven View Post
    Luckily EVERYONE else missed it too !

    Oh, and if youíre in Cirencester it canít have been more than 20 miles from your front door !!
    Right....cheers for that...

    Been away quite a bit recently so not been on the ball. Was it at Stroud?

  18. #18
    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by size11s View Post
    Right....cheers for that...

    Been away quite a bit recently so not been on the ball. Was it at Stroud?
    It was back in 2017. Wotton-on-edge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HookedSeven View Post
    It was back in 2017. Wotton-on-edge.
    I know that auction house well. Congratulations on a fabulous, historic catch. How many have you got into working order if I may ask?

  20. #20
    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by size11s View Post
    I know that auction house well. Congratulations on a fabulous, historic catch. How many have you got into working order if I may ask?
    None :-(

  21. #21
    Grand Master snowman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HookedSeven View Post
    Oh if Iíd known you had no idea Iíd have just made something up :-)
    I remember it being 'the next big thing' when I was a kid and one of my friends got one for Christmas, but I could never understand the appeal of something you had to press the button to see the time, to be honest.

    I recall it being touted (by Sir Clive) as a 'Great British product', but I don't know how much was made here...

    M

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    Quote Originally Posted by HookedSeven View Post
    None :-(
    sent you a pm...

  23. #23
    Just been offered one of these. Means selling a few things to raise the funds but as I have a the first Smiths (Mk X made for the RAF in WW2) and a 1950 "Everest" pattern one (same dial as Hillary's) and GS De Luxe it would be nice to have the last one as well.

    I shall keep you all posted on developments! Nervous + fingers crossed emojis

  24. #24
    Oh, and I can confirm that the case and bracelet appear not to be by the same people who made the Omega ones.

    More to follow, all being well.

  25. #25
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    Just been offered one of these.

    .............
    Is it running? What type of dial?

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by abraxas View Post
    Is it running? What type of dial?
    Yep.

    The graphite grey dial.

    It's also got its original box!

    I'll post some pics when I get back from church.

  27. #27
    All being well -- and let's not count our chickens, there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip etc etc -- this should soon be mine.







    (Yes, that's FOURTEEN jewels)

    A very rare and interesting watch. Forgive the basic info below but it's worth a re-cap before I get to the good part:

    So, as you know, in the late 1960s people realised that electronic watches using quartz could be made.

    In the early 1970s these went into production and were retailed as the latest and greatest thing. It was new and cutting edge technology and is still the standard for all “battery-operated” watches today.

    At the time they very fiercely expensive and cost far, far more than traditional mechanical movements (i.e. clockwork: springs and gears). It was the computer replacing the typewriter.

    The first ones hit the market in, I think, 1969 and throughout the ‘70s it became easier to mass produce these quartz watches. So the price per unit plummeted. The Japanese got on to this very quickly and flooded the market with extremely cheap and very accurate watches that never needed winding. That send many traditional Swiss manufacturers to the wall. (Rolex, for example, realised that quartz was the future so they bought-in electronic modules form a third-party suppler and began retailing them in 1971. The didn't make their own in-house quartz movement till 1977.)

    Now Smiths had a problem. Should they buy-in Japanese modules? No! We’re British watchmakers and engineers! Let’s make our own and start with a blank sheet of paper!

    So they did and finally, in 1974 after lots of expensive investment in R&D, Smiths brought out the Quasar. All designed and made in brand new (and top secret) labs at Bishops Cleeve. The trouble is that they were a crucial couple of years too late to market (it took longer to develop than they thought) and way too expensive. At that time you could buy a Japanese quartz watch for £30; Smiths wanted £70 for the Quasar and were probably selling them at a loss even at that price. I don't think any were ever sent to jewellers and dealerships. Smiths staff seem to have been given the unsold stock. Total production was probably in the hundreds at most. How many survive is unknown. A whole box of incomplete ones were in an auction at Cheltenham a few years back, seemingly abandoned part way through production.

    "Smiths was well advanced in quartz cock movements for aviation, maritime and domestic clocks when Cheltenham watch production ended, but persevered with a quartz wristwatch at their secretive 'Delphina' research lab in Cheltenham launching their Quasar at the 1973 International watch fair... these are not even signed 'Smiths' but, if my memory serves me well, 'Quasar Time Systems' of whom very little is known. Its was clear at the show that Smiths was wasting its time and money so the Quasar was abandoned shortly after... so the 1974 label is probably one of the last tests."

    Source: post #23 here https://www.mwrforum.net/forums/show...om-today/page2

    See also: https://www.mwrforum.net/forums/show...-will-they-run

    And here is one of the few. Still works.

    The failure of the Quasar was the end of watchmaking in England. Smiths re-purposed their new electronic labs to make aerospace technology for use in RAF jets and civilian airliners. So this is the last ever all-English Smiths watch. A failure. And a very, very rare piece.

    Omega-esque in the case and integrated bracelet, yes, but Smiths were often a step or two behind the Swiss (the 1215 was developed by Lenoir who was ex-JLC and the automatic cal. 0144G was a rip-off of the IWC Pellaton rotor-winding system).

    Edited: new facts emerged!
    Last edited by Rev-O; 10th February 2020 at 16:59.

  28. #28
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    Really interesting to see Ollie and thanks for the writeup.

    Designing your own quartz movement at the time must have been a brilliant engineering challenge. I donít blame them at all for wanting to have a go.

    Looking forward to seeing some more pics and technical details when it arrives.

  29. #29
    Will do!

    Thanks for your interest -- these are of limited appeal but fascinating to me.

  30. #30
    BTW, I know very little about quartz watches.

    I understand that 14 jewels is a lot for a quartz but have no idea about the 1.5MHz thing. Is that "high frequency"? I'm guessing it's probably prehistoric by todays standards, but maybe not?

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    It looks spectacular Ollie, very many congratulations. The box is a fabulous extra bonus too even with its ('just got out of bed') bed sheet surround . I remember John Senior saying that he thought the movement was very good quality after the Cotswold auction.

  32. #32
    Grand Master Daddelvirks's Avatar
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    Thanks for a very interesting read.

    I really didn't know Smiths were even involved in quartz at all.
    And with its original box, wow, a real gem added to your Smiths collection.
    Got a new watch, divers watch it is, had to drown the bastard to get it!

  33. #33
    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    BTW, I know very little about quartz watches.

    I understand that 14 jewels is a lot for a quartz but have no idea about the 1.5MHz thing. Is that "high frequency"? I'm guessing it's probably prehistoric by todays standards, but maybe not?

    It seems that the standard for quartz watches is 32768Hz (32.768kHz), which is 2 to the power of 15.

    Iím not sure if there are higher frequencies in different types, but if the Smiths is running at 1.5MHz then thatís a heck of a lot faster. Thereís even a 4 MHz labeled example amongst my Quasar bits so they were obviously playing with frequency. But maybe itís wrong to assume that a lower frequency is prehistoric. It might be easier to get better stability from crystals with lower frequencies. Iím sure somebody knows...

  34. #34
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    The SMITHS QUASAR "Constellation"

    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    BTW, I know very little about quartz watches.

    I understand that 14 jewels is a lot for a quartz but have no idea about the 1.5MHz thing. Is that "high frequency"? I'm guessing it's probably prehistoric by todays standards, but maybe not?
    Iíd wondered about that. Iím way out of date on this stuff. But it stood out for me so I did a bit of Googling. Most modern quartz watches are 32kHz which I guess everyone knows. 262kHz is considered Ultra High Frequency for watches. Therefore 1.5MHz = 1500kHz must be extremely high frequency.

    Multiple Megahertz quartz oscillators these days are more likely to be used in different applications like communications etc.

    Another interesting angle is that a designer would cut a quite different shape quartz crystal for a low frequency application (eg 32kHz) vs high frequency (1MHz +). The physical vibration modes are different. There are also different basic circuit designs depending on how your crystal is cut and how you want it to perform.

    I found this article which explains quite a bit of it if you can navigate the physics.

    https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a256373.pdf

    I deduce from this it is quite likely that the Smiths engineers may have made a unique design of crystal and circuit, no doubt to the highest purist principles, while the rest of the world was gravitating towards the easy-to-mass produce Ďtuning forkí shaped low frequency crystals and associated circuits.

    That said I may have misinterpreted this; I am a bit rusty and some of the forum quartz experts may be able to clarify.

  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by alfat33 View Post
    Iíd wondered about that. Iím way out of date on this stuff. But it stood out for me so I did a bit of Googling. Most modern quartz watches are 32kHz which I guess everyone knows. 262kHz is considered Ultra High Frequency for watches. Therefore 1.5MHz = 1500kHz must be extremely high frequency.

    Multiple Megahertz quartz oscillators these days are more likely to be used in different applications like communications etc.

    Another interesting angle is that a designer would cut a quite different shape quartz crystal for a low frequency application (eg 32kHz) vs high frequency (1MHz +). The physical vibration modes are different. There are also different basic circuit designs depending on how your crystal is cut and how you want it to perform.

    I found this article which explains quite a bit of it if you can navigate the physics.

    https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a256373.pdf

    I deduce from this it is quite likely that the Smiths engineers may have made a unique design of crystal and circuit, no doubt to the highest purist principles, while the rest of the world was gravitating towards the easy-to-mass produce Ďtuning forkí shaped low frequency crystals and associated circuits.

    That said I may have misinterpreted this; I am a bit rusty and some of the forum quartz experts may be able to clarify.

    For the period it wasnít that high. Omega produced a 2.4 MHz Marine Chronometer, while Junghans, Citizen and even Casio produced a range of watches at 4.19Mhz, all with lenticular crystals rather than tuning forks.

    Iíd presume first that the Smiths is sporting a lenticular crystal and second that the excessive jewels and odd frequency (for base 2) suggests that it wasnít entirely relying on an IC for stepping down to 1 Hz. Does anyone know whether it used a stepper motor, a small escapement or a small tuning fork to transition from solid state to mechanical? Does it tick or is it watch smooth or tuning fork smooth?

    If there are parts, has anyone seen the tooth counts on the wheels and cogs of the train? Did Smiths buy in their IC or did they develop their own? Smiths instruments would have had good reason to develop a UK IC for military uses, but would that have been passed to a dying Smiths? More to the point, does anyone have the 1973 issue of the HJ in which the watch is described?

    Whatever the answers, itís a fine looking watch both outside and, especially, inside. Congratulations.

  36. #36
    Thanks Matt. I think there's scope for a proper article about these watches. Some wider history and how that relates to the particulars of the story of Smiths plus a a tear-down and technical explanation of these movements.

    And I think you're the man to do it! (I'm always impressed with your work.)

    I'd be happy to help and put you in touch with people who could give you further information (e.g. John Senior, James Nye, Barry Jones).

    Tracking down the HJ from '73 would be a start, and easy enough too (I think BHI members have access to a digitised archive of back issues?)

    Fancy it?

    I'd love to find out more about Smiths final fling with wristwatches; having stopped all in-house production of mechanical movements in early 1971 this, it seems to me, represents an attempt to re-engage and embrace the newfangled quartz revolution. Doubtless the MoD were somewhere in the background, subsidising the R&D and hoping for a military application or at the very least the preservation of on-shore British technology that was deemed to be a matter of national security . . . .

  37. #37
    Grand Master Mr Curta's Avatar
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    HookedSeven's collection of circuit boards and development models must have some stories to tell. One of them is labelled as 4MHz.

  38. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    Thanks Matt. I think there's scope for a proper article about these watches. Some wider history and how that relates to the particulars of the story of Smiths plus a a tear-down and technical explanation of these movements.

    And I think you're the man to do it! (I'm always impressed with your work.)

    I'd be happy to help and put you in touch with people who could give you further information (e.g. John Senior, James Nye, Barry Jones).

    Tracking down the HJ from '73 would be a start, and easy enough too (I think BHI members have access to a digitised archive of back issues?)

    Fancy it?

    I'd love to find out more about Smiths final fling with wristwatches; having stopped all in-house production of mechanical movements in early 1971 this, it seems to me, represents an attempt to re-engage and embrace the newfangled quartz revolution. Doubtless the MoD were somewhere in the background, subsidising the R&D and hoping for a military application or at the very least the preservation of on-shore British technology that was deemed to be a matter of national security . . . .
    If no one gets around to it and the resources come my way then perhaps at some point. As I assume you know, I was very keen on this stuff a decade or so ago, but itís been a while. At the moment, in between life, Iím currently at about 27,000 feet on Everest in 1924 trying to precisely plot where the very first fossils were found so as to get an accurate picture of precisely where Odell was when he saw Mallory, because perspective matters when trying to work out where someone is.

    However, Iíd be keen to have a go if you can fire the resources my way. Iím out at the theatre tonight and may be busy tomorrow, but the weekend would be good. Incidentally, Iím not sure about Lenoirís design role, but any further evidence would rock.

    https://www.intlwatchleague.com/showthread.php?1556-So-what-is-the-relationship-between-Smiths-Jaeger-Lecoultre-and-Jaeger-leCoultre

    Talking of JLC do you know if Elgin recased any of their UK military style movements and dials in lovely stainless screwback cases. I picked on up out of curiosity and it knocks spots of the UK original if it is real...

  39. #39
    OK! I'll pull what I have together. I'm also really hoping to be able to interview an ex-Smiths employee who worked on the Q project

    Cheers!

  40. #40
    Craftsman HookedSeven's Avatar
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    Can I help with lending any bits ?

  41. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by HookedSeven View Post
    Can I help with lending any bits ?
    Thereís a whole lot of expertise here, so possibly the most useful thing would be decent resolution images of all the loose bits, especially the bits that are a bit mysterious. This way everyone can work towards a consensus and give the wisdom of crowds a chance.

    This has to have some sort of Ďmotorí, some sort of IC and so on. With fifteen jewels, it obviously has a considerable train as well. Ultimately both the IC and train are doing maths and clearly more of that maths is being done by the train as 1.5khz isnít on a base two progression.

    Does anyone know how long the battery lasted, I bet itís far less than a year.

  42. #42
    Grand Master Mr Curta's Avatar
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    You mean MHz, and it's a power of two geometric progression (albeit utilised in base-2) that usually determines the oscillator frequency that quartz timing circuits employ to derive a pulse, but I understand your thinking.

    However it doesn't have to be powers of two, as MSBs can effectively be ignored by generating a pulse using a binary digital counter that has fewer bits than the frequency. Rather neatly the 16 LSBs of a binary counter driven at 1.507328MHz lend themselves very well to counting in seconds, half seconds, quarter seconds and so on, depending on the number of bits employed by the counter.

    1507328(10) = 101110000000000000000(2)

  43. #43
    OK! I've got the relevent issues of HJ from 1974 -- will post scans later

    May I suggest we start a new thread either over at Watch Talk OR (better) at the specialist Smiths subforum on mwr?

    That would give better exposure, access to experts and stop us from cluttering up the Time Factors forum!

    I'm a mod at mwr so could (I think) move the contents of this thread over there.

    With the info from HJ and access to some parts (or at least pics of parts) we'd have a very good start.

  44. #44
    All material copyright BHI / HJ









  45. #45
    Grand Master Mr Curta's Avatar
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    1.548288MHz - very useful info! 13 LSBs for pulse creation.

    1011110100000000000002

  46. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Curta View Post
    You mean MHz, and it's a power of two geometric progression (albeit utilised in base-2) that usually determines the oscillator frequency that quartz timing circuits employ to derive a pulse, but I understand your thinking.

    However it doesn't have to be powers of two, as MSBs can effectively be ignored by generating a pulse using a binary digital counter that has fewer bits than the frequency. Rather neatly the 16 LSBs of a binary counter driven at 1.507328MHz lend themselves very well to counting in seconds, half seconds, quarter seconds and so on, depending on the number of bits employed by the counter.

    1507328(10) = 101110000000000000000(2)
    Ok, I think I see the logic, even though I was always taught that the LSB and MSB were singular, I see what you mean. but I'm unclear how that would be instantiated in the sort of simple IC overflow counter that was available at the time. I'm not disagreeing, only asking for an explanation.

    Sorry about the daft mistakes, I'd just struggled through an RSC production of Taming of The Shrew with all the sexes reversed, which was interesting, but surprisingly hard going. I was probably unwise to post before flopping into bed.

  47. #47
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    So it's an AT cut lenticular crystal. The same as the Omega 2.4. Hardly suspicious at all!

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    Ok, if my French is up to it, I've got the seminal patent:

    https://worldwide.espacenet.com/publ...A1&KC=A1&ND=4#

    I also notice that Smiths patented a bloody tuning fork too - now there's a Smiths to be looking out for!

  49. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by M4tt View Post
    Ok, if my French is up to it, I've got the seminal patent:

    https://worldwide.espacenet.com/publ...A1&KC=A1&ND=4#

    I also notice that Smiths patented a bloody tuning fork too - now there's a Smiths to be looking out for!
    That's interesting, I know about the Smiths tuning fork clock movement but not one for a watch.

  50. #50
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Curta View Post
    That's interesting, I know about the Smiths tuning fork clock movement but not one for a watch.
    Ah, it may well be for the clock. I just saw a patent for a tuning fork, I didn't investigate as I was winnowing rather a lot of patents.

    Have a look at the circuit diagram at the back.

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