Orsam Books

Harris on the Watch

I think it's worth me giving a separate page to Melvin Harris' comments on the watch.  Some people think he that he shouldn't have been allowed to comment on the views of 'experts' (albeit their provisional and heavily qualified views only) but there is no such thing as an expert on engravings in a watch and neither Turgoose nor Wild, as experts in metallurgy, could be expected to know everything on the subject of making and forging engravings. Harris explained that he had first hand knowledge of the subject.

Anyway, as first published in Not True, Funny How it Seems, here is what Harris said about the watch:

'The techniques of artificially ageing engravings on metal and of bare metal parts themselves, are simple ones, well-known to antique dealers, restorers and con-men.  Sometimes they are employed to fake replacement parts or engravings, but they are also used quite legitimately to blend any repairs or additions in with the prized piece.  Clients often ask for such blending.

That the sharp edges on the watch engravings or scratches could be artificially aged by polishing has been conceded by Dr Turgoose.  He is wrong, however, in believing this to be a complex process. I can vouch for that, first hand, since I have used such techniques often, when restoring musical instruments for museums, both private and public.

Thus the watch SCRATCHES cannot be dated and Turgoose grants this when he says "...it must be emphasized that there are no features observed which conclusively prove the age of the engravings." Despite this warning an attempt has been made to date the scratches by pointing to material that is not part of the casing of the watch. The attempt rests on the incredible claim that some tiny particles of brass embedded in the scratch marks were "blackened with age".

Now that claim assumes too much and provides too little.  Brass is not an element but a large class of alloys, thus the name does not apply to a standardised product. You can have yellow brass, red brass and a great variety of other brasses.  In its simplest form it is an alloy of copper and zinc; but other formulas can include tin, or other metals. So what type of brass was found embedded?  What proof is there that the particles were blackened WITH AGE? These questions are important and unanswered.  And I doubt if they can be answered since the blackened particle considered by Dr Wild was as  small as ONE MICRON, and a micron is a millionth part of a metre!  So how long does it take for such ultra-minute particle to tarnish?  Neither Turgoose or Wild faced that problem. Yet a fair scientific approach calls for the tarnishing of reference samples of one micron particles of brass made from a formula close to that used in the watch sample.

Yet I do not blame those gentlemen for failing to carry out such tests. I am sure that they realised that there is no possible way in which they, or anyone else, could determine the conditions under which the watch particle had been kept.  In fact a specimen of most of the brasses can be 'blackened' in minutes if brought into contact with the right atmosphere. But the whole issue has been muddled and taken off at a tangent because at no time have the possibilities been faced that the particle could have been deposited by either a tarnished brass scriber or by a grubby, contaminated cleaning cloth or buff. 

So the idea that these brass particles, invisible to the naked eye, would have to be implanted by a faker in order to provide proof of authenticity is grotesque.  The particles have no possible bearing on the age of the scratches.  And nothing else invests these scratches with age.  All the evidence points to a crude, modern, opportunistic fake that only appeared well AFTER the Maybrick/Ripper yarn was aired in the Liverpool press.

Indeed, the very state of the inside cover of the watch illuminates the crudity of the faking.  This is something not even mentioned by either Turgoose or Wild and it is certainly ignored by Feldman and Harrison.  Yet even the photograph reproduced by Harrison cries out "Fake!".  That photo clearly shows multiple scouring marks on the inside cover. But the inside cover is the one part that is PROTECTED from everyday wear. Any such wear is to be found on the OUTSIDE of the watch.  But here we see a mass of scouring scratches made by an inexpert, undisciplined hand, not by a skilled horologist. So why are they there, on this well-protected surface?  Well, you already know the answer; to take the burr off the modern scratches. To invest the fake with, what the forger imagined, was a semblance of ageing.  How wrong he was!  (This question of artificial wear was touched on recently by Lars Tharp, editor of "How to Spot a Fake" when he warned "Be suspicious of wear occurring in an area not exposed to use.")' .


Republished Orsam Day: 14 May 2022