International School of Gemology August 13, 2022

ISG: Where Gemology Meets Horology

Part of our series to help retail jewelers through quality education.

It is usually the same scenario: A new ISG Registered Gemologist Appraiser student contacts me and says, "I don't really care about I have to take that course?" My answer is always the same: "You have to study watches if you are ever going to be worth your salt as an appraiser, so the answer is...yes, you have to take this course." Later on, I hear that the student loved the study of watches and did not realize just how much the study of gemology meets the study of horology.

In truth, these two "ology's" have been an integral part of each other for centuries. Watches have been an important part of the jewelry industry since watches were invented. The artistry that goes into creating a fine timepiece rivals even the finest jewelry design artistry, with intricacies that go far beyond what many students understand in the beginning.

Perhaps most important to our study of watches is how gemology has played a major role in some of the most important developments in the watch industry. Consider the image below. At left is an old Westclox pin lever watch movement with metal pins at the points of friction. Below right is a 17 jewel Omega® watch movement with lab created rubies at the friction or pivot points. Prior to the early 1900s these would have had to be high quality natural rubies that were very costly and sometimes difficult to find. However, based on the gemological work of August Verneuil to create the world's first lab created ruby, the cost of the jeweled movement was made affordable to far more consumers. Gemology met Horology.

One of the topics of study of our Introduction to Watches course is the variety of mechanical watch designs surrounding lab created rubies with the incabloc® movement. This is a design that puts a shock absorber at the point of the bearings that support the balance staff. ( Notice the image below. Top left is a pivot point without the incabloc design. In the event of a hard knock this could cause the ruby pivot point to break. Rubies are hard to scratch but can be broken fairly easily. At top right and the two below you see images of various designs of incabloc movement protection. This design innovation allowed watch movements to become far more resistant to damage from shock events such as getting dropped.

A lot of personal history can also be found in some of the old watch cases. Below is a 1920s era Le Coultre watch from Switzerland. When watches are repaired or serviced the watchmaker will usually put a mark inside the case to denote who worked on the watch and the date, just for future reference. As you can see below right, this watch was serviced on April 3, 1943....during World War II. It would be interesting to know just where this watch has been, who owned it, and what stories it could tell.

Perhaps the most important meeting of gemology and horology is beyond the pivot points. Look again at our Omega watch movement at left. No, not the round jewels of the movement, look deeper into the movement....way down inside the intricate wheels and springs.

OK, we need our Meiji Techno microscope to get a really good look. So let's look again through the microscope....

Now you can see it. That rectangular, clear red shaped gizmo just to the left of center in the image. That is one of the key elements of why jeweled watch movements last so long. There is some serious friction going on inside even the finest, hand-made Swiss watch movement.

Here is another look in a different light source that shows the ruby gizmo. OK, it is really known as the "pallet."

Here is a graphic of what you are seeing to better demonstrate where in the movement you are viewing.

Below is a wide angle shot of the pallet in action. Here you see the contact point between the escape wheel and the pallet where the friction happens over and over and over and over get the point. Without the tenacity of the lab created ruby, this old Omega watch would most likely have had far more trips to the watchmaker for repair, and would most likely not have been nearly as special to the owner.

This gizmo moves back and forth to stop and start a wheel that moves forward one click each second. Back and forth. Back and forth. All through your New Year's Celebration, your summer vacation and right into those cold winter nights. Back and forth, back, and forth. Takes something with a lot of tenacity to withstand that. It takes a lab created ruby, which is what this rectangular gizmo is made from.

Beyond the need for jewelry appraisers to know and understand the value of a watch, there is also the need to understand the artistry and history that goes with every watch they appraise. It is not just the mechanical history or value; it is also the personal history and value that can be found in every watch.

So, the answer is.....Yes, you do have to study watches if you are ever going to be worth your salt as an appraiser.

Perhaps the more important issue is that almost every ISG Registered Gemologist Appraiser student who has completed our Introduction to Watches course has come out of it asking for more. the mark of someone who I know is going to become an excellent jewelry appraiser.

That is where gemology meets horology. 

I hope you enjoyed this fun look of how gemology plays an important part in all phases of a jewelry store operation. If you are interested in the world's most amazing (and affordable) study of gemology and jewelry appraisal, we invite you to review our program by clicking the ISG icon below.

Robert James FGA, GG

President, International School of Gemology

Global Claims Associates

Property and Casualty Adjuster, Texas Department of Insurance #1300433

View this educational page on our website: ISG Where Gemology Meets Horology

We are adding every week. View additional educational pages on our website:

ISG The Story of Abalone

ISG The Story of Aquamarine

Visit the ISG website to learn more about our world-class programs in gemology and jewelry appraisal at our low tuition rates. International School of Gemology

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