Wristwatch restoration, servicing and repair

Seiko 6105-8110…

There’s always room for another Seiko diver on the blog, even when it looks like this…

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Although I’ve written about this model before on the blog, as you’ve probably already guessed, this watch needed a little more work than usual to get it back up and running.

Time hadn’t been kind to this watch and neither had the water that had found its way inside. As you can see from the picture above, the moisture had caused some serious deterioration to the lume and also the hour frames and hands. Opening the watch too revealed something of a grim picture.

The automatic winding mechanism had broken off, probably due to the ball bearings rusting solid, and although the winding rotor and upper half of the mechanism were present, it was well beyond repair and would need to be replaced. In addition to being scored by the winding rotor, the balance cock too was incorrect for this calibre as it had the orange painted markings usually found on a 6106 or 6119 calibre, so that too would need to be replaced.

The case was still in reasonable condition although it had been polished by a previous owner and so had the crystal which is notoriously difficult to get right. In most cases, the crystal surface is left with scored lines or is slightly opaque which was the case here, so a replacement was ordered. The bezel insert although marked and missing its lume pip was original to the watch and deserved to stay.

Out of the case the true extent of the water damage to the dial and hands was clear. The lume was totally shot throughout and the dial surface had ‘bleached out’ due to the moisture sitting on it for what must have been at least couple of decades.

The ideal solution would have been to source a replacement dial but being one of the early models with the ‘water 150m proof’ text that would be no easy task. Watches from later in the production run were marked ‘water 150m resist’ due to a change in the US law regarding the water resistance markings for watches. In 1968 it was deemed that all watches sold in the US should be marked ‘water resistant’ rather than ‘water proof’.

Seiko responded quickly to this change and made the necessary corrections for all watches destined for the US in 1969 but they took their time with watches bound for other markets, most of the changes being made during 1970 and 1971.

It’s for this reason that you’ll often see early Seiko divers being referred to as ‘Proof/Proof’, meaning that both the caseback and dial are marked water proof rather than water resistant… and being less in number the collectability (and price!) goes up accordingly.

With no option for a replacement dial, the first job was to remove all the old lume from the dial markers and hands followed by as much cleaning as was possible. As I’ve written about before on the blog, the chrome plating on the markers and hands get tarnished and can’t be restored and while the dial marker frames can be repainted silver, it’s often better just to leave them as they are, this is a vintage watch after all.

With a cream lume applied across the board things were much improved but the bleached out dial remained a problem and would have spoiled the overall look of the watch, so it was decided to oil the dial to restore the colour.

This involves putting an very thin layer of oil across the dial surface so that the bleaching effect is removed. It’s very important to do this carefully as you don’t want to apply excessive oil or it may pool or worse, seep off the dial edge over time. This restoration technique will remain something of a last resort for me, but the results are surprisingly good when correctly applied. Here’s a before and after…

With all the cosmetic work taken care of, the movement was cleaned, serviced and the necessary parts replaced. The case was then cleaned and a new set of gaskets and crystal installed and the watch could be rebuilt. Although it’s not perfect, it’s always good to give a second chance to a watch that could easily have become a parts donor.


** Many thanks to Dieter Deschacht for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Baume & Mercier Baumatic (B&M Cal. 12820)…

Something a little different this time, a gold dress watch from Baume & Mercier.

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Judging by its cosmetic condition this watch must only have been used sparingly. Cases made from 18kt gold are very soft and the inevitable knocks and scrapes of daily use are normally evident after 30+ years, but the case on this watch was still in near perfect condition.

Inside the watch is a Baume & Mercier branded calibre, the B&M cal. 12820. A suitably high quality calibre decorated with perlage under the balance wheel and winding rotor, côtes de genève stripes across the bridges, and a sprinkling of blued screws. This is also the 30 jewel version of the calibre too, rather than the standard 21 jewel unit.

The perlage decoration is also applied to the calendar plate on the dial side of the movement, another sign of quality which is only normally seen and appreciated by the watchmaker.

Regular readers with a sharp eye may have noticed the similarity between this calibre and another which has appeared several times on the blog, the automatic chronograph produced by Breitling/Heuer/Buren/Dubois Dépraz (an example here).  With the chronograph module removed, it’s obvious that the two watches are derived from the same base calibre, the Buren cal. 1280.

In both cases the use of micro-rotor acts as a space saver, allowing the automatic winding mechanism to be integrated into the calibre rather than sitting on top and in the case of the Baume & Mercier ensuring that the overall thickness of the watch is kept to a minimum.

The Baume & Mercier cal. 12820 has an overall thickness of 3.25mm and the cased watch is 6.7mm which compares favourably with Piaget’s renowned Ultra-Thin Automatic. The movement in the Ultra-Thin, the Piaget cal. 1205 also features a micro-rotor design and is currently the thinnest automatic calibre in the world at just 2.35mm. (The cased watch is 6.35mm.)

Having sat around unused for a couple of decades, the watch in this post needed no more than a routine service, after which and a light polish for the case it could be rebuilt.


Dodane Type 21 Chronograph (Valjoux Cal. 235)…

Another military watch on the blog and another new brand, this time it’s Dodane.

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Dodane is a French watchmaking company with a rich history. Founded in 1857, five generations of the family have been involved with the development of the Dodane brand which is still in business today. Originally opened as a watchmaking and ebauche workshop in the Doubs region of France, the company has relocated twice, first to Morteau in 1905 and later to Besançon where the company is still located today.

Well known for their links with the armed forces and aviation in particular, Dodane has been supplying chronographs and instruments to military personnel for decades, making them one of the longest standing suppliers to NATO.

The watch in this post, the Type 21, is something of a classic and was developed in response to a request from the French military for a flyback chronograph. The predecessor to this watch, the Type 20 was the first model to meet the specifications in the 1950’s and the Type 21 followed in the 1960’s after a request for improved readability and easier maintenance. The new brief was met by six manufacturers; Breguet, Dodane, Auricoste, Vixa, Airain and Boullier so you’ll see vintage Type 21 models from all these brands, the Breguet being arguably the most collectible.

The watch in this post is a model from the 1970’s which arrived running and in reasonable cosmetic condition. Inside the case is a Valjoux cal. 235 which is effectively a Valjoux cal. 23, modified to increase the beat rate from 18,000 to 21,600 bph and to include a flyback lever.

A flyback lever (highlighted below) allows the chronograph to be reset without having to stop the chronograph first, which is particularly useful when timing operations in quick succession.

When the reset button is pressed the flyback lever pivots and lifts the coupling clutch away from the chronograph runner and the reset hammer moves across its normal arc, resetting both the chronograph runner and minute register to zero. When the reset button is released, the reset hammer returns and the coupling clutch is lowered once more onto the chronograph runner and timing restarts.

As you can see from the picture above, the movement was in good condition and needed no more than a routine service and a new mainspring to bring it back to its best.

From a cosmetic point of view the watch wasn’t in bad shape either, although there were a few areas that needed to be addressed. The first two were straight forward; the pushers had tarnished and were brought back up to spec. by carefully removing the discolouration with a scratch brush, and the triangle on the bezel had been filled in with paint at some point which was not right. On this model the bezel markings should all be unfilled, so the paint was removed.

The final issue was a little more involved as there were patches of rust visible under the crystal.

A little rust had formed under the bezel so I assumed that rusty water had seeped into the gap between the crystal and case and it would be an easy clean-up job once the crystal had been pressed out. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. When the crystal was removed from the case, I found that the discolouration was actually inside the body of the crystal itself.

Being an original crystal, after 40 or so years the acrylic becomes brittle and shrinks. Small cracks had formed towards the lower edge of the crystal allowing the rusty water to seep into the body of the crystal over time. I like to keep things original wherever possible, but with no way of removing these stains, the only option was to fit a new crystal.

With the movement service and the cosmetic issues resolved the watch could be rebuilt, here’s the result.


** Many thanks to David Budd for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Marathon GG-W-113 (ETA Cal. 2801-2)…

Made by the Marathon Watch Co. for the US forces, this military watch is something of a rarity.

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Since the Vietnam war, mechanical watches were produced for US military personnel under the specification “GG-W-113” mainly by three US based manufacturers, Benrus, Hamilton and to a lesser extent, Waltham.

Produced for a period of just one year, between 1984-5, the watch in this post is somewhat unusual as although produced by the Marathon Watch Co. under the same specification, it varies significantly from the near identical watches produced by the other manufacturers.

The most noticeable difference is the dial text which is plentiful on the Marathon. As well as the brand name and jewel count, it also states that the watch was produced for the US Government along with a H3 and radiation symbol (used on US military watches to denote that tritium is used in the luminous compound).

In comparison, the Hamilton is ‘sterile’ with nothing more than the hour markings.

The case on the Marathon is also a different design to the Hamilton and Benrus watches and is thought to be a modified version of the case used on the CWC G10 quartz watch issued to British Military personnel during the same period. The most noticeable modification being the lug width which is reduced to just 16mm on the Marathon.

Rather being a one piece case design where the watch is removed from the case via the crystal, like the CWC G10, the Marathon case has a very secure snap-back case on which the military markings are engraved. As well as the model and federal stock numbers, the issue date of March 1985 can be clearly seen on the last line.

Inside the Marathon is a Gallet branded ETA cal. 2801-2, a 17 jewel manual wind calibre with a beat rate of 28,800 bph.

This too is something of a diversion from the other manufacturers who all used the ETA cal. 2750, still a fine calibre but with a lower beat rate of 21,600 bph. In both cases the calibres were fitted with hacking levers to conform to the military specification.

The watch needed no more than a routine service and a small tweak to the hacking lever which was reluctant to release its grip on the balance when the crown was returned to the winding position. So, a straight forward job this time but not a watch you’ll see every day.

Here it is after a clean for the case, crystal polish and rebuild.

Finding an original version of one of these watches may be tricky, so it’s worth noting that Marathon released an re-issue of the watch last year in a limited edition run of just 600. You can pick one up via their website here.


** Many thanks to Stephen Brown for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Zenith Sub-Sea Diver (Zenith Cal. 48.5)…

I still keep a speculative eye on eBay and was tempted by this collection of vintage Zenith Sub-Sea oddments, all listed separately by the same seller.

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Mention the word Sub-Sea to any Zenith enthusiast and the watch that comes to mind is likely to be this gents model which is one of the most desirable vintage Zenith watches. Unmistakably a 1970’s watch from the design alone, both the diver and chronograph models are now highly prized by collectors and can be difficult to find in good condition.

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The ladies Sub-Sea diver in this post is more of an enigma. While ladies watches don’t get the coverage of their male counterparts, there is usually information to be unearthed about them. Not in this case however, as there was no information to be found anywhere about this model – pretty rare then I’d say. 😉

Competition for such a parts jumble is always less than for a complete watch (and especially so for ladies watches), so I was pleased to win all the lots without too much of a battle. Buying a collection like this is always a gamble as nine times out of ten you’ll find that parts are either damaged or missing in every movement and you still need additional parts to finish the project.

As the date is displayed between the 4 and 5 markers on this model it was essential that I won the gold dialled parts movement to ensure that I had at least one movement with the correct date ring. The majority of watches have the date aperture at 3 o’clock which means that date rings aren’t generally interchangeable as they would be out of alignment for a 4.5 date display.

When the parts arrived I was pretty pleased with my haul as the case and bracelet were in near perfect condition and I had almost three complete movements, albeit in varying states of repair. I was still missing a winding stem, second hand and crown, but all in all, not too bad.

I was also pleased to find that the casing ring was still inside the case. Without this the movement can’t be properly secured and I would probably have had to make one as sourcing an original would have been difficult.

The movement in this watch is a Zenith cal. 48.5, a 17 jewel automatic with a beat rate of 28,800 bph. The majority of vintage Zenith movements were developed in-house but this one is based on the ETA cal. 2671, a Swiss high-beat calibre that was first produced in 1971 and is still in production today. The only differences appear to be the mainplate which is stamped ‘48.5’ and the winding rotor which is Zenith branded.

The movement above was the worst of the three which was encouraging as, apart from the broken stem and the tarnished weight on the winding rotor, the rest of the movement looked to be ok. The first job was to disassemble all three movements and select the best parts from what was available. The resulting parts were then cleaned and the rest of the build was handled just like a regular service job.

I rustled up a suitable second hand from my parts stock and a Zenith branded crown in the right size was quickly sourced too, so everything was starting to take shape.

Being an ETA based movement that is still in production, the winding stem was easy to source too so the rest of the job was plain sailing from there, Here’s the result – not bad at all from a collection of parts.

Just after completing the project I was surprised to find another identical NOS (New/Old Stock) dial, hands and case set for sale on eBay, this time in Italy. I was confident that I could still make another good movement from the remaining parts, so I put in my bid again and was pleased to be the only bidder.

As with the first one I was missing a winding crown and stem, but at least I knew where to source them so they were  duly ordered and I started the whole service and rebuild process again… a case of horological déjà vu!

Here they are together.


Breitling Cosmonaute Chrono-Matic Ref 1809 (Breitling Cal. 14)…

There have been quite a few aviation watches on the blog, but we’re going even higher this time with a Breitling Cosmonaute Chrono-Matic.

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The Cosmonaute along with the Navitimer, are stalwarts in Breitling’s model line-up. In 1958, NASA astronaut Lt Cmdr Scott Carpenter contacted Breitling to suggest that they make a 24 hour version of their already popular (regular 12 hour) Navitimer chronograph. In 1961 Breitling did just that and registered the name “Cosmonaute” with the Swiss Office of Intellectual Property later in the same year.

Breitling also supplied Lt Cmdr Carpenter with his own Cosmonaute in 1962 for use in NASA’s Mercury program and he wore the watch during the Mercury 7 mission in May of that year, orbiting the earth 3 times during a 5 hour space flight. This short film shows details of the mission along with a re-issued model released in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

However, the Mercury 7 mission was to be the Cosmonaute’s only trip into space as after being submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during the splash-down recovery, the watch failed. It was subsequently returned to Breitling by NASA for examination but was never returned, and its current whereabouts is unknown.

Despite this, the success of the mission cemented the Cosmonaute’s place in the model range and the achievement was used in Breitling’s promotional activities throughout the 1960’s. More models were to follow in stainless steel, gold capped and 18kt gold cases, most powered by the tried and trusted Venus cal. 178.

By 1968 a new version of the Cosmonaute was in the pipeline, this time in a more robust case. It was to be produced in both automatic and manual versions; the automatic featuring the new to market Breitling cal. 14 (developed in association with Heuer, Buren and Dubois Dépraz) and the manual continuing with the Venus cal. 178 as before.

The sharp-eyed may have noticed that the crown is on the left hand side of the case for the automatic, and on the right hand side for the manual. To avoid having to manufacture two different cases, the cases were all drilled on both sides and a black plastic plug inserted into either one side of the case or the other (you can just see the plug on the right hand side of the case in the picture below).

The watch in this post arrived in non-running condition and the chronograph wouldn’t start, stop or reset – not the best of starts. However, on opening the watch things were more encouraging…

The reason that the chronograph wasn’t working was down to one of the case clamps having fallen out, the watch was sitting too deep in the case, and so the pushers were no longer in line with the operating levers.

Inspecting the condition of the oils under the microscope it was obvious that the watch hadn’t been serviced for many years. However, when applying a little pressure to the wheel train the watch would tick weakly which was a good sign that there were no major problems ie. broken pivots.

Sure enough, after a full service the movement started right up and all functions operated as expected. I even found the missing clamp and securing screw rattling around inside the movement which was an added bonus.

Regular readers will undoubtedly have seen this before but the automatic winding mechanism on this calibre is ‘hidden’ in the centre of the calibre under the chronograph module. Here is a picture of the movement with and without the module in place, as you can see it’s in great shape after a full service.

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One interesting technical detail of this calibre is the way that the 24 hr hand is implemented. A secondary pinion is mounted on top of the normal minute wheel, geared to rotate the 24hr wheel once per day.

In watches with a both an hour hand and a 24hr hand, like this Seiko Navigator Timer, the 24hr wheel has less height than the hour wheel to allow both hands to be mounted. In the Cosmonaute, as there is no regular hour hand, the 24hr wheel is the same height as the hour wheel – the hour wheel only drives the calendar in this watch.

With the movement serviced, the case cleaned and the crystal polished, the watch was ready for re-assembly.

Finally, what isn’t clear from the pictures is the size of this watch. With a case diameter of 47mm and a huge crystal, it makes these two WIS favourites look like ladies watches. Well, not quite but you get the idea… it’s a bruiser alright!


** Many thanks to Dominic McAleenan for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Zenith Defy Automatic (Zenith Cal. 2552 PC)…

Another Zenith on the blog, this time a vintage Defy.

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The Defy is a long serving model in the Zenith range (the name being an anglicization of the French word “Defi” meaning “Challenge”) and the subject of this post is the first Defy model which was introduced in 1968 at a time when Zenith were looking to break into the sports watch market.

With a screw down crown, hardened mineral crystal, water resistance to 300 metres and built-in shock absorption, it’s clear that the watch pulled no punches in terms of toughness… a terrible segue into this advert there, apologies!

The first model was introduced with a choice of dial colours and additional Defy models were produced during the 1970’s in a variety of case designs.

Opening the watch reveals a Zenith cal. 2552 PC, an in-house 23 jewel automatic calibre with a beat rate of 21,600 bph. (Notice that around the movement is a rubber spacer which acts as the aforementioned shock absorber.)

Only the early watches were fitted with this calibre as from 1971 onwards it was replaced by the cal. 2562 PC and 2572 PC both of which had an increased beat rate of 28,800 bph. You may see “28 800” printed on the dial of some models to reflect this.

The watch arrived in running condition, but the gaskets had deteriorated into a black paste and judging by the condition of the oils, the movement hadn’t been serviced for quite some time.

While the movement showed no sign of corrosion, the gaskets had obviously been in poor shape for a long time as the dial and hands did show some deterioration due to moisture ingress; the lume had discoloured slightly (albeit not in an unpleasant way) and the hands were tarnished.

You’ll often see the word ‘tarnished’ associated with hands and dial markers on vintage watches and it generally refers to the plated surfaces having corroded. Under the microscope you can see that the top layer of the chrome plating has become pitted due to tiny droplets of water sitting on the hands for an extended period – effectively “eating away” the plated surface over time.

There isn’t really much that can be done to improve the finish once this has occurred as most hands are either chrome or gold plated and any attempt to polish out the pitting simply wears through what is left of the plating to the base metal underneath. The only solution is to have the hands re-plated, but that means losing the original luminous filling. In most cases it’s often best just accept the tarnish and polish the remaining plate as much as possible, and that was the preferred option here.

The movement was in good condition and it needed no more than a routine service, and the case too was still in good order and only needed an ultrasonic clean and light buff to restore the shine. The crystal however had a few scratches and chips around the edge which isn’t uncommon for this model as the crystal sits a long way above the bezel and even though hardened, is still susceptible to knocks and scrapes.

As the watch is long discontinued, finding original mineral crystals can be very difficult and often an acrylic aftermarket replacement is the only alternative, but even they can be difficult to source. Thankfully the owner of this watch tracked down a replacement crystal which made my job a little easier this time.

With the movement serviced and the new crystal and gaskets fitted, the watch could be rebuilt.


** Many thanks to Francois Canters for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Wakmann Regate (Lemania Cal. 1341)…

For the second month in a row there’s a new brand on the blog, this time it’s Wakmann.

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After creating a successful watch company in Portugal, Icko Wakmann travelled to New York in 1943 with the ambition of establishing a presence in the US market. He founded the Wakmann Watch Company in 1946 and listed the company on the US Stock Exchange in 1947.

At the end of WWII in an effort to protect US watch manufacturers, the government was imposing heavy duties on any Swiss watches imported for sale within the United States. The only way to avoid these duties was to have watches assembled and/or finished in the US. So, in October 1947 a joint venture between Breitling SA in Switzerland and the Wakmann Watch Company was established (called the Breitling Watch Company of America) which allowed Breitling to send watches to Wakmann in New York for ‘final finishing’ and distribution throughout the US under the Wakmann name – consequently, you’ll see many Wakmann watches for sale where the seller is claiming that it is a “Breitling in disguise” even if it has no link to Breitling whatsoever.

The same legislation didn’t apply to other aviation instruments so the bond between the companies was more evident and both company names were displayed prominently on the dials of cockpit clocks and other timers.

Wakmann didn’t have full watch production facilities and instead contracted their watches out to a number of European manufacturers over the years. As a result, their watches often resembled watches from other producers but they all had good quality Swiss calibres inside from respected manufacturers such as ETA, Valjoux, Lemania, Venus and Landeron.

The Regate (or Regatta) model featured in this post is one of the more popular Wakmann models and an interesting feature of the watch is the multi-functional inner bezel, which I believe is unique to this watch – though I’m happy to be corrected on that.

On the outer edge are two scales to be used in conjunction with the chronograph, a Tachymetre scale that is commonly seen on chronographs (used to time speed in km/h or miles/h when measured over a distance of 1km/1 mile) and also a Regate scale used in competitive sailing. As the minute register is mounted on a separate hand rather than in a subdial on this calibre it makes it ideal for use as a sailing timer where the first fifteen minutes can easily be measured against an external Regate scale (see this post for an explanation of how sailing timers are used).

The inner track of the bezel is printed with the days of the week in five coloured sections and is used as a month planner. The numerical days of the month are printed on the outer edge of the dial and the idea is to rotate the inner bezel using the crown on the left hand side of the watch until the correct day of the week is aligned with ‘1’ on the dial. It is then very easy to see at-a-glance what day a certain date will fall on in the coming month ie. in the picture below, the 8th will be on a Sunday this month, and so on – I suppose in this day and age you’d probably just ask ‘Siri’ but back in the 1970’s when this watch was made it would save you breaking out the calendar. 😉

Despite being something of an eye catcher already with the coloured inner bezel, the watch was also available with a white dial in the stainless steel case, and also a gold dial/hands in a gold plated case for those requiring that bit extra bling.

The watch in this post was sent in primarily because condensation was forming on the inside of the crystal when worn. As you may have seen in previous posts, when left unchecked rust quickly forms and with steel pivots on the train wheels being little thicker than a human hair, it can do a lot of damage in a short space of time (here is one example).

Opening the case it was immediately obvious that the gasket inside the caseback was at fault as it hadn’t been changed for many years and was now more like plastic than rubber. You can see in the picture below that rust had started to form on the inside of the caseback too.

Although there was some pitting evident on the case, the movement, a Lemania cal. 1341, was quite dirty but showed no immediate signs of corrosion, though the chronograph wouldn’t reset to zero and the hands had lost some of their paint due to moisture settling on them.

The Lemania cal. 1341 is a calibre that I’ve covered before on the blog, so rather than repeat the description of how it works, I’ll redirect any interested parties to this post about a Tissot Navigator that I wrote a few years ago.

The owner of this watch had sent it in just in time as rust was starting to form on some of the movement parts, but it was only surface rust at this stage and easy to remove. The chronograph reset problem was only due to a lack of recent servicing.

Once the movement had been serviced, the case was ultrasonically cleaned and the crystal polished, the paint on the hands repaired, new gaskets fitted, and the watch was re-assembled.

Finally, if you think this watch is cool you’re in good company as Clint Eastwood wore the same watch in the 1995 movie The Bridges of Madison County.


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