Wristwatch restoration, servicing and repair

Le Cheminant Master Mariner (Valjoux Cal. 92)…

This Le Cheminant Master Mariner was certainly in need of some attention.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Regular readers may recognise this model as I restored one around three years ago. I’m always impressed by how well this style of watch responds to some TLC so I thought it couldn’t hurt to write a post about another one.

In the previous article I covered the history of Le Cheminant and similar models from other manufacturers (that post here) so let’s get right down to business…

As you can see above the watch had its fair share of issues. The lume had deteriorated throughout, the crystal was cracked around the top edge, the bezel had lost most of its paint and the watch had a poor fitting crown and stem. Added to that, the watch was not running and would wind forever, a sure sign that the mainspring was broken.

Opening the watch revealed a Valjoux Cal. 92, the highest quality calibre that is found in this style of watch and it was in decent cosmetic condition too with just a hint of tarnish here and there. A good start.

It wasn’t long however before the problems started to arise, the first being the set lever spring which had snapped off meaning that the watch would not click out securely into the time setting position. Thankfully the majority of parts can still be sourced for the Valjoux 92 so this one was an easy fix.

The next problem however was a bit more serious. The last watchmaker to work on the watch had obviously snapped off the head of the click screw on the dial side of the movement (the click stops the mainspring from unwinding). In an attempt to remove the broken shaft, which can be troublesome at the best of times even with the right tool, he had drilled through the mainplate from the train side in an effort to drive out the broken shaft.

This had obviously been unsuccessful as the shaft was largely still in place and doing so had trashed the threads in the mainplate. To make matters worse, rather than repair the damage properly, as a workaround, the replacement click screw had been superglued into the hole. A nasty surprise for the next watchmaker… ie. me!

In cases like this the correct way to repair this kind of damage is to drill out the entire damaged section of the plate and insert a brass bush of the same thickness as the mainplate, giving a stable platform in which to drill and tap a new hole for the screw.

With limited material left to work with this proved to be quite difficult as the position of the click screw has to be exact or the click will jam in the teeth of the ratchet wheel. Thankfully it all worked out successfully so with the movement serviced and back up and running properly it was on to the cosmetic work.

It was decided that the dial, hands and bezel pip should be re-lumed with a green lume as they would have been originally and the case was fully stripped down, cleaned, and given a light buff to restore the shine. The crystal and gaskets were replaced and a new crown and stem were ordered after which the watch could be rebuilt.

The last thing to do was to remove the old paint and refresh the bezel markings. There was some discussion with the owner regarding the choice of colour scheme. On close inspection of the remaining paint fragments it appeared that originally the numbers were black and the minute track was red all the way around, so we went with that.

Here is the watch all finished up. Another great transformation from a pretty rough starting point.

 

Rich.

** Many thanks to Richard Whittaker for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Heuer Chronograph Ref. 3641 (Valjoux Cal. 92)…

An early candidate for this year’s “ugly duckling” award was this Heuer ref. 3641 which had obviously seen its fair share of action…

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The Heuer ref. 3641 was first produced in the early 1960’s and pre-dates the similarly styled Carrera models. When Heuer introduced the Carrera models in 1963 they also designated some of the existing models as their “economy line”. The main differences being that the Carrera models were all housed in solid stainless steel rather than plated cases and some were fitted with the higher quality, 3 register, Valjoux cal. 72 – the benefits of a solid stainless steel case are evident from the condition of the watch in this post, with extended use and exposure to the elements the plating eventually wears away exposing the base-metal case underneath.

The ref. 3641 underwent a number of design changes during its production run as shown in the comparison picture below. The early models had dauphine hands and the case had small diameter pushers whereas the hands were changed to baton hands and larger diameter pushers were fitted to the later models.

(Picture: OnTheDash)

As evidenced by the picture above the watch in this post is one of the earlier models and was probably made around 1964-65. The dial on this watch is different to all the others I’ve seen however as the minute track print is slightly different and the dial has shorter applied batons for all but the 6 and 12 hour markers.

The owner of this watch had initially approached Tag Heuer to restore the watch but they refused due to a lack of available parts so I was asked if I would consider taking it on. On one hand I can see why they refused – when a watch is presented in this kind of cosmetic condition, you never know what you’re going to find inside.

Thankfully in this case the movement, a Valjoux Cal. 92, wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected. The loss of plating was even more obvious on the rear of the watch case but once inside, aside from a little tarnish on a few of the parts the movement was in decent shape. The watch was still ticking, albeit weakly and the chronograph functions were all working, but the oils had all dried to dust so the movement was long overdue a service.

Out of the case the condition of the dial and hands was a concern. You can see in the first picture that the acrylic crystal had a number of cracks around the edge which had let water seep into the case over time, damaging the minute track on the outer edge of the dial and degrading the lume throughout. Curiously, the lume in the hands was two different colours which suggests that one of them must have been re-lumed or replaced at some time in the past.

One option would have been to send the dial out for refinishing i.e. stripping back to bare metal and re-printing, but I’m not a fan of that process as it’s rarely possible to replicate the original dial layout and fonts exactly. It also removes the history of the watch and often decreases its value so refinishing will remain a last resort for me.

Removing the debris and as many marks as possible was the chosen course of action this time as well as re-luming the hour markers and hands with a vintage cream lume. Given the starting point the result was never going to be perfect but I think it was the right thing to do in this case. (You can judge for yourself in the pictures below!)

As you have already seen the case was in very poor condition so while the service and cosmetic work was under way I placed a ‘Want To Buy’ ad for a replacement case on the OnTheDash forum – it was a long shot but worth a try. The Heuer community came through for me once again and within 24 hours an enthusiast in Italy had offered a complete early 3641 case in near perfect condition. Payment and postage was swiftly arranged and the case was soon en-route.

With the movement serviced and the cosmetic work complete, the watch was ready to be rebuilt as soon as the case arrived. Here’s the result.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Chris Nunn for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Longines Admiral Ref. 8557 (Longines Cal. 508)…

This Longines Admiral diver is certainly a colourful start to the new year.

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Much of the vintage output from Longines had a very classical feel but for brief period between 1968-75 a range of colourful divers and chronographs crept into the model line up, this Admiral diver being one of them. The blue dial and bright orange bezel certainly make a statement but given how few of them are around these days compared with other models in the range, I wonder if the large oval case and contrasting design may have been a step too far, even for the early 1970’s.

Before becoming part of the Swatch group and switching to ETA based calibres, Longines produced some excellent quality in-house calibres. Like the 30L and Ultra-Chron models I’ve written about in the past, the movement in this Admiral diver is another fine example of their work, the cal. 508 – a 21 jewel, bi-directional winding automatic with a beat rate of 21,600 bph and a micrometer regulator. The watch also has a quickset for the date activated by depressing the crown.

As you can see from the pictures above, the case was in decent shape but pretty scruffy and the mineral crystal had picked up a few scratches from daily use. The movement inside was running and relatively clean but looking at the condition of the oils under the microscope I could see that it hadn’t had a full service for quite some time.

The case was fully disassembled and cleaned in the ultrasonic tank and a new crystal and gaskets were ordered to replace the tired originals – it’s worth noting that care should always be taken when levering off the friction fit bezels on all these colourful diver’s watches as the bezel insert is made from acrylic (or bakelite maybe?) and can crack if flexed too much.

The movement service was straight forward with no hidden surprises so the only thing left to do was refresh the tired lume in the hands with a vintage cream lume before the watch could be rebuilt.

With a case size of 44 x 49mm and a lug width of 24mm, strap choices are limited but the Rodania strap found by the owner was a good match and is a similar design to the Longines strap that would have been originally fitted. The watch was also available originally with a full stainless steel bracelet which is near impossible to find these days.

To finish off this post, here is the watch with a couple of the other colourful stable mates from the same period.

On the left is an early 1970’s Ultronic diver (ref. 8484), powered by a pre-quartz, electronic tuning fork or ‘hummer’ calibre, the cal. 6312, and on the right is another popular vintage diver, the Ultra-Chron “Super Compressor” (ref. 8221-2) powered by Longines’ high beat cal. 431 . It may be of interest to any fans of this watch that Longines re-issued a modern version of this model (along with its chronograph sibling) in 2014, albeit with red rather than orange accents.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Chris Harrison for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Seasons Greetings…

Here we are again! Another year has rolled by and it’s time to wish all readers a Happy Christmas and a successful 2017.

Have fun out there!

Rich.


Bulova MIL-W-3818A (Bulova Cal. 10BNCH)…

I’ve written about a couple of US military issued watches in the past and here’s another one, this time from Bulova.

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Bulova produced watches for ‘general purpose use’ by the US Army, Navy and Air Force in accordance with the US military specification MIL-W-3818A. Although the year of production isn’t engraved on the caseback of this model they can be dated quite accurately as the MIL-W3818A specification was first introduced in March 1956 and was revised to become the MIL-W-3818B in October 1962, meaning that any Bulova bearing a MIL-W-3818A inscription will have been made between those two dates.

Although Bulova submitted a watch in 1962 for testing against the new requirements, it didn’t meet the exacting standard and the Benrus DTU-2A/P became the watch issued under the MIL-W-3818B specification. (For any interested parties I wrote about the Benrus DTU-2A/P on the blog a few years ago, that post here.)

As with previous US military watches the caseback on the Bulova is engraved with plenty of information including the MIL-W-3818A specification number, the Serial Number, Federal Stock Number and the Contract Number under which the watch was produced.

Inside the caseback the movement is protected by a substantial dust cover…

… which when removed, reveals a 15 jewel manually wound calibre, the Bulova cal. 10BNCH. In this case complete and running but quite dirty.

The cal. 10BNCH was produced in two variants, the 15 jewel calibre seen here and also a 17 jewel version which was used in another military watch, the A17A, produced by Bulova specifically for use by the US Air Force.

It’s worth taking a small detour here to point out the differences between the two as they appear almost identical and it’s important to know what to look out for if you were to buy (or sell) one of these watches. As well as having the 17 jewel 10BNCH movement, the A17A was fitted with straight hands with a defined point and a second hand with a ball at one end and an luminous arrow at the tip.

They were produced in accordance with the MIL-W-6433A specification which was more stringent in terms of testing than the 3818 specification. All A17A watches should be clearly marked on the caseback with the model and specification numbers and also with ‘WATCH NAVIG.’ which denotes that they were produced specifically for use by navigators and pilots.

Getting back to the 10BNCH calibre, in most cases manufacturers modified an existing ‘civilian’ calibre to make it adhere to the military specification, ie. adding shock protection and/or a hacking mechanism. However  from my limited research it seems that Bulova produced the cal. 10BNCH specifically for use in their military wristwatches.

I’m always intrigued by the diversity of hacking mechanisms designs in mechanical watches and the one in the 10BNCH consists of two pivoting levers and a shared tension spring.

When the crown is pulled out the tension on the spring is released and the levers are forced apart, the lever on the left arresting the balance. Simple but effective.

With the movement serviced, the case cleaned and the crystal polished it was time to rebuild. Although the lume on the dial numerals had obviously deteriorated and the lume in the hands had been replaced at some point, it was all still in a stable condition and was left to preserve the history of the watch.

One thing I like about this watch is that the crown gasket isn’t contained inside the crown as it is in most watches making it very difficult to get out once it has hardened after several decades in-situ. On the Bulova case the gasket is contained inside a screwed-in section in the case tube, the seal being made between the gasket and the central section of the crown which makes changing it a breeze regardless of how hard it is – great!

Here’s the watch all cleaned up. What isn’t clear from the pictures is the size of the watch. At just 32mm in diameter (excluding the crown) and with a lug width of 16mm it is pretty small by modern standards but perfectly wearable.

Finally, it’s worth noting that most Bulova watches can be dated accurately as they have a coded date letter and number on either the case or movement – the movement in this watch has the code “M1”, dating it to 1961. The letter “L” denotes the 1950’s, “M” the 60’s, “N” the 70’s and so on. For example, “L5” would be 1955, “M7” 1967 and “N1”, 1971.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Rick Cole for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Seiko 5740-8000 (Lord Marvel 36000)…

This Seiko Lord Marvel 36000 is the first red dialled watch to feature on the blog and if I think about it now I can’t recall working on more than two or three watches with red dials. I don’t know why they aren’t more popular as I think this watch looks great!

(Click pictures to enlarge)

The Lord Marvel 36000 is quite small by todays standards (35mm) but if you can live with that then there’s a lot to like here. The case lines are sharp and the overall design is crisp with the simple hour batons, dauphine hands and an unfussy dial script.

However, under the hood is where the real action is as inside is Seiko’s 23 jewel, manually wound, cal. 5740C.

As any Seiko enthusiast will know, the 4xxx and 5xxx series calibres are some of the best calibres that Seiko produced and can be found in the majority of the vintage Grand, King and Lord Matic models, watches well worth seeking out.

The cal. 5740C however is quite significant as it marked Seiko’s entry into the high-beat arena and is said to have been the “proving ground” for the cal. 4420 – the high-beat calibre used in subsequent chronometer rated, Grand and King Seiko models.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in an attempt to increase the accuracy of mechanical movements a small number of manufacturers, 12 to be precise, produced calibres with a beat rate of 36,000 beats per hour (10 beats per second), which became known as “high-beat” (or “hi-beat”) calibres.

Although many manufacturers had already started producing calibres with either 19,800 or 21,600 bph, the industry standard beat rate at the time was still 18,000 bph for watch calibres, so when high-beat calibres doubled the beat rate they were seen by many as the pinnacle of mechanical watchmaking used in mass production. Sadly however the quartz revolution curbed any further development in that area.

Rather than get side-tracked into the technical merits of high-beat calibres, I’ll point any interested readers to this post about the excellent Longines Ultra-Chron which I wrote a few years ago. I’ve written about several other high beat watches on blog in the past too including the Zenith El Primero A385, Favre-Leuba Sea Raider 36000 and the Zodiac Astrographic SST to name a few.

Getting back to the Lord Marvel 36000, it actually started life with more ‘low tech’ beginnings. Although the first Lord Marvel models were released in 1958, the first one with a cal. 5740 appeared in 1964 with the “low beat” version of the calibre inside, the cal. 5740A, which ran at 18,000 bph.

A revised version of the calibre, the 5740B, was introduced in 1966 increasing the beat rate to 19,800, and the final version of the calibre, the 5740C, was released in 1967 and featured exclusively in the 5740-8000 model seen here.

This third and last generation of the Lord Marvel 36000 was produced from 1967-1978 in both stainless steel and gold plated cases and with a range of dial colours. Later versions were also produced with linen patterned dials and arabic dial markers.

If you try and track down a Lord Marvel 36000 it’s worth noting that the earliest models had the seahorse embossed caseback found on some early vintage Seikos.

Finding one in good condition may be tricky however as these embossed casebacks wore away quickly when worn, so many are now either severely faded or polished smooth.

As the watch in this post was already in great condition, it needed no more than a routine movement service this time and a case clean to bring it back up to scratch so here it is all finished up. Perhaps I’m just smitten, but what’s not to like here? 😉

Rich.

** Many thanks to Peter Owen for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Heuer Autavia 73663T ‘Villeneuve’ (Valjoux Cal. 7736)…

Still in the possession of the original owner, this Heuer Autavia was in need of a little freshening up.

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This particular model is known as the ‘Villeneuve’ among Heuer enthusiasts because it was the choice of Canadian Formula 1 driver Gilles Villeneuve. The watch is clearly in view in this iconic picture of the man himself.

Villeneuve was among a group of Formula 1 drivers who were effectively brand ambassadors for Heuer before the term had even been invented. Heuer chronographs adorned the wrists of many famous drivers in the 1960’s and 70’s, names such as Niki Lauda, Jody Scheckter, Derek Bell, Clay Regazzoni, Jochen Rindt and Jo Siffert to name but a few – I wrote about the popular and now highly sought after ‘Siffert’ Autavia in a previous post, see that post here.

Although Heuer did evolve into a full sponsor in Formula 1, in the early days, rather than being presented with the watches, the drivers purchased the watches simply because they liked them and they were regularly bought and sold in the paddock.

As well as an Autavia, Villeneuve is known to have worn other Heuer models too, namely a solid gold Carrera 1158 presented to him when he was a Ferrari driver in the late 70’s and an early quartz, the Heuer Chronosplit LCD.

Heuer enthusiasts and regular readers will have spotted that although the 73663 Autavia shares the same case as many of the other Autavia models, the crown is on the right hand side of the case between the pushers rather than the left and the watch has the hour register rather than a date in the bottom half  of the dial.

The reason is that inside this model is a Heuer Leonidas branded Valjoux cal. 7736, an 18,000 bph, manually wound, three register chronograph, rather than the Heuer cal. 11 and 12 automatic found in the majority of the Autavia range.

The movement was in decent shape but as the watch had been relegated to a drawer around 20 years ago, it was long overdue a service as the oils had completely dried out.

The more observant will have spotted that the chronograph start/stop pusher cap was also missing and being one of the Heuer specific ‘fluted’ pushers I was concerned that sourcing one would be a problem. However, just a couple of hours after placing a WTB ad on the excellent OnTheDash forum, a Heuer enthusiast in the US came to our aid and payment/shipping was quickly arranged.

While the pusher was en-route the movement was fully serviced and thankfully contained no hidden surprises. (I wrote a post several years ago showing how the hour register functions on the cal. 7736, click here if you would like to read it.)

The case was then disassembled and cleaned in the ultrasonic tank and the last job was to tackle the crazed crystal. As you can see clearly in the first picture, the original crystal had crazed quite badly but being of sufficient thickness it was possible to carefully sand out all the crazing and polish the crystal back up to a clear finish.

Here’s the watch all finished up and sporting a new strap.

As a final note, the ‘T’ at the end of the model number denotes that the watch has a Tachymeter bezel. It was also sold with a minute/hour bezel with the model reference 73663MH.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Jill Sparks for letting me feature her watch on the blog and to David Bull for providing the pusher. **


Hamilton Odyssee 2001 (Hamilton Cal. 694)…

A Hamilton this time and one with something of a back story as I’m sure that the Odyssee 2001 name hasn’t gone unnoticed by any film buffs out there.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

In 1966, before filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey began, Stanley Kubrick (who incidentally always wore two watches, one on each wrist) approached Hamilton to produce a futuristic wristwatch to be worn by the astronauts in the movie. Designs were submitted and approved and when released to the press, potential customers were clamouring to buy the space-aged wonder.

As a result of the interest, Hamilton planned to release an identical model to the market in conjunction with the film release in 1968, but it quickly became apparent that it wouldn’t be cost effective, so the watch in this post was produced instead.

The name ‘Odyssee 2001’ was apparently chosen by Hamilton to avoid any potential copyright issues. It also transpired that although the prop watch was produced, delivered and used in promotional events, it never actually appeared in the movie.

Although nothing like the original design, the Odyssee 2001 had a futuristic appearance for the time with its circular, well… everything, and triangular hands. What isn’t apparent from the face-on shot is the shape of the case which has a ‘wedged’ profile and could well have been the inspiration for the 1970’s Camy Superautomatic Airport which I wrote about on the blog a few years ago (that post here).

The watch in this post was the first model, introduced in 1968, and a more reserved model followed with the same case but more mainstream dial markers and hands.

The watches also fit nicely into Hamilton’s quirky Fontainebleau range which were on sale at the time. Although not pictured here, the caseback on the Odyssee 2001 also bears the Fontainebleau name.

The fun began pretty early on with this one as due to the case design, it case proved very difficult to open. I’m sure Hamilton will have produced a specific case holder for the watch and I certainly could have used one here! Being completely round, having no external lugs and one hidden lug being higher than the other, it didn’t fit any of my case openers. Add the fact that it was rusted together too made it a real tough nut to crack.

I eventually got it open, and without damaging anything too which was a relief. Here’s a picture of the complete case and I’ll offer a little advice to anyone else attempting to open one of these.

Although the securing ring looks like a regular screwback, it isn’t. The ring has two tabs on the sides which slot into a lip in the upper case holding it all together. When the ring is turned anti-clockwise 90 degress (so that the tabs are in the lugs), the upper case, crystal and gaskets can be lifted off, leaving the watch in the inner mono-bloc case. The split stem is then separated like a traditional one-piece case and the watch can finally be removed.

Once inside, things didn’t look too bad. The movement is a Hamilton cal. 694, which is essentially just a rebranded ETA cal. 2472. It obviously hadn’t been serviced for quite some time, as evidenced by the amount of rust on the case too I guess.

A full movement service was all that was needed to get it back up and running so with all the rust removed and the case thoroughly cleaned, the watch could be rebuilt.

The watch still had its original Hamilton signed mesh bracelet too which is always nice to see.

All in all, an interesting and rare watch that you won’t see too often.

To round off this post it may be of interest to know that Hamilton did release a version of the original prop watch in 2006 as a 40 year anniversary model, the ODC X-01. The main watch is powered by a mechanical ETA cal. 2824-2 and each subdial is driven by a quartz movement. The watch was limited (somewhat predictably!) to 2001 pieces.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Justin Swale for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **