The tried and tested SW500 movement that powers our Triple-Four Racing Chronograph is among the most robust and dependable in the business, so when a customer brought his watch back to us recently because it was running slightly fast, it deserved further investigation.
We solved the problem almost immediately: his watch was magnetised. We demagnetised it, and it is now running nicely within our limit of 0 to +5 seconds per day, which compares well with the COSC (“Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres”) limit of -4 to +6 seconds per day. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s not to put your watch near highly magnetised things such as hi-fi speakers… or your phone when it’s vibrating.
A watch that’s running slightly fast is not a matter of life and death, but magnetism during the Second World War was – and there’s a Brooklands connection here. In 1940, the Germans had begun to produce magnetic mines and drop them in the Thames Estuary. In fact, HMS Belfast – which you can still visit near Tower Bridge today – was one of the first victims of a magnetic mine. All metal ships become magnetised over a 6-month period, which makes them vulnerable to mines. It is possible to demagnetise a ship – but as you will imagine, it’s a far more complicated process than demagnetising a watch.
George Edwards (centre) with his team at Brooklands
Winston Churchill demanded an immediate solution to this threat to British seaways and Vickers, based at Brooklands, was tasked with providing the solution. George Edwards, their brilliant Experimental Department Manager, installed a 48-foot diameter, 2-ton electromagnetic hoop under a Wellington bomber, powered by a generator driven by a Ford V8 engine in the fuselage. The brave pilot’s job was to fly the plane across the sea at a height of 30-60 feet, whereupon the magnetic field produced by the hoop would “fool” the mine into thinking that a ship’s hull was nearby and explode harmlessly.
The “Magnetic Wellington” prepares for take off
The Wellington set off over 24 mines and saved many lives before the Royal Navy rolled out an improved ship de-Gaussing programme. From start to finish, Edwards’ magnetic Wellington project was delivered in under two months, a brilliant example of British engineering innovation.
In 1945 George Edwards became Chief Designer of the Vickers-Armstrong team, going on to produce the Viking and Viscount airliners and the Valiant strategic bomber. He later became managing director of the company, and was knighted in 1957.