Wristwatch restoration, servicing and repair

Seiko 6105-8119…

It’s been almost three years since I’ve written about a Seiko on the blog, so let’s have a look at this vintage 6105 diver.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Replacing the 62MAS, Seiko’s first ever diver, the 6105 was produced from 1968 until 1977 and has become something of a Seiko legend. Having seen a rise in popularity over the last few years, values have steadily increased and all original examples in good condition are now highly prized by Seiko enthusiasts.

The watch was produced in two flavours, the cushion cased 6105-8110/8119 seen here, and also a slimmer cased model, the 6105-8000/8009.

You may see the cushion cased model referred to as the ‘Captain Willard’, so named because Martin Sheen wore the same model in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now.

Unfortunately time hadn’t been kind to the subject of this post and it arrived in poor cosmetic condition. Still in the possession of the original owner who logged hundreds of hours of diving whilst wearing the watch, it was finally replaced in the late 1980’s and has been resting in a drawer since then.

Although the case was in decent shape, the crystal was heavily scratched and as is common to many 6105’s, the lume had deteriorated and the resulting ‘rot’ had eaten away the plating on the hands and frames of the hour markers. You’ll notice too that the SEIKO logo is also heavily tarnished.

With the caseback removed I was pleased to see that the movement was still in good condition with no sign of rust or heavy wear, just a few patches of light tarnish on the winding rotor. The movement in this watch is the cal. 6105A, a 17 jewel automatic which runs at 21,600 bph.

The movement required no more than a routine service, so the majority of the work on this watch was cosmetic.

As can be seen in the dial shot above, the tarnish on the hands and dial markers was extensive, so much so that the chrome plating on the hands had been completely eaten away. Consequently, the owner opted to replace them with a set of 6105 aftermarket hands on this occasion.

The hour markers had suffered too but not to the same extent, so with the old lume carefully removed and a little work done to clean up the tarnish, the new hands, dial markers and bezel pip could all be re-lumed to match. The last job on the dial was to replace the tarnished logo.

The case was then stripped down, cleaned and rebuilt with new gaskets for the crystal, bezel and caseback, but the crown gasket proved to be problematic.

The crown gasket on the 6105 is a known issue as the original crowns were never designed to be serviceable and Seiko never supplied replacement gaskets for them (the whole crown would have been replaced as part of a service). When the crown is made, the gasket is inserted first, a thick metal washer is then pressed over the gasket and the edge of the crown is then crimped/folded over to seal the gasket and washer inside.

The only way to fit a new gasket is to prise out the washer, replace the gasket and try and re-insert the washer – I’ve never attempted the manoeuvre myself, opting to either stick with the original crown, or fit an aftermarket replacement. Here’s a picture of a crown that has had the ‘operation’ and while it worked, the result isn’t pretty.

Genuine NOS (New Old Stock) crowns can still be found for the 6105 and one was included with this watch, but as the gasket inside is already 30+ years old it is known for them to have hardened in storage, and unfortunately that was the case here.

In the picture below the crown on the left is the original crown in which the old gasket is barely visible after decades of being stretched around the case tube. In the NOS crown on the right, the gasket is clearly visible and, with some silicon lube and moderate pressure, it should slide over the case tube making a tight seal. However, on this occasion the gasket was as hard as rock, rendering the crown useless.

Thankfully the seller of the NOS crown had some more in stock and the gasket in the replacement crown was still soft, so the watch could finally be rebuilt and fitted with a new Seiko strap to finish the job.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Paul Stevenson for letting me feature his watch on the blog, and also to Paul Briggs for his sterling work as the middle man. ;) **


Cyma W.W.W. (Cyma Cal. 234)…

This time it’s a Cyma W.W.W., another of the watches produced for the British Military.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

The abbreviation “W.W.W” stands for “Watch Wristlet Waterproof” which is used specifically to identify this style of watch. In the early 1940’s the British Ministry Of Defence issued a new specification for wristwatches for use by military personnel and Cyma were one of twelve manufacturers who submitted watches that were accepted for military use, the others being; Vertex, IWC, JLC, Grana, Timor, Longines, Omega, Buren, Eterna, Lemania and Record.

Together these watches are known as the “Dirty Dozen” by military watch enthusiasts and collecting an example of all twelve is difficult as some were only made in small numbers. Here is one such set belonging to a military watch collector in the US.

Picture: Roger Glickman (Click to enlarge)

The Cyma, as you can see in the picture above, is the largest of the set at 38mm and is one of the models with a solid steel case. Most of the watches had plated cases which makes finding a full set all in good condition more difficult.

As you can see in the first picture, the watch arrived in a pretty scruffy state with the lume scattered all over the dial. The watch did tick, albeit weakly, and judging by the condition of the sub-second hand which had obviously been very clumsily removed in the past, I was curious about the condition of the movement.

As is common to many military watches, the movement is protected by an anti-magnetic dust cover and the military markings are engraved on both sides of the caseback.

Once inside, I was quite relieved to find that the movement, a 15 jewel Cyma cal. 234 was intact and in relatively good order. It obviously hadn’t been serviced for a long time but everything was present and correct.

Many of the calibres used in military watches are good quality and this one is no exception. The edges of the plates are bevelled, the train wheel and anchor jewels are all mounted in chatons and the movement plates are decorated with broad geneva stripes. (The dial side of the main plate is also decorated with perlage.)

As you can also see in the first picture, the case was very dirty and a lot of dirt had built up between the crystal and case. The crystal would need to be removed before the case could be cleaned in the ultrasonic tank.

Similar to the Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster which I wrote about a couple of years ago, the crystal in this watch is held in place by a securing ring screwed into the inside of the case. As these rings are rarely removed, typically only when the crystal gets damaged, the securing ring can be very difficult to remove – a bench mounted case opener is the best way to tackle the job.

The lume on the dial and hands was in particularly poor shape and there was no option but to remove it all and renew it, this time in a vintage beige/brown similar to the original.

With the case cleaned and crystal polished, the movement serviced and the re-luming work done, the final job was to repair the sub-second hand before the watch could be rebuilt. Here is it all back in one piece.

One final point to note about the calibre in this Cyma is that it has an unusual fine regulating mechanism mounted on the balance cock.

Rather than moving the regulator arm back and forth as in most micro-adjusters, this system moves the pinning point back and forth, effectively moving the hairspring between the curb pin and boot of the regulator, increasing or decreasing its effective length.

The mechanism pivots around the small screw in the centre with the hairspring pinning point on the left hand side. The large screw on the right (the screw next to the ‘F’) is eccentric and turning it moves the pinning point in and out. Once the timekeeping has been regulated successfully, the small screw of the side of the balance cock locks the eccentric screw in place.

It is certainly an unconventional mechanism and I believe it is unique to this calibre.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Kai Chew for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Lip Galaxie (Durowé Cal. 7525/2)…

Something contemporary on the blog for a change, a Lip Galaxie.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Ok, maybe not – although this watch has something of a modern ‘Swatch’ look about it, it was actually made in 1975. I’ve written about quite a few whacky designs from the 1970’s, some of which wouldn’t grace many wrists these days, but the Lip Galaxie certainly isn’t one of them and is an excellent example of how some designs age better than others.

Lip have an interesting history dating back to 1867. Their horological achievements include working with Pierre and Marie Curie to develop the first phosphorescent dials in 1904 (the birth of lume!) and developing the first electronic wristwatch movement, the cal. R27 in 1958.

Like many others, Lip suffered during the quartz revolution and things came to a head in April 1973. On discovering the management’s plans to restructure the business and make a third of the workforce redundant, the workers took matters into their own hands, taking three hostages and barricading themselves inside the factory.

Riot police stormed the building on the very first night, freeing the hostages, but the workers didn’t stop there as they seized 65,000 watches along with the manufacturing plans and started day and night occupation of the factory.

The whole incident was reported in the national press which lead to public outrage at the treatment of the workers, followed by a 12,000 strong demonstration in the town of Besançon. Buoyed by the popular support, the workers decided to move the business forward under worker control, resuming production and selling the seized 65,000 watches at cost price to raise capital.

The government attempted to calm the situation and restore order, but the workers refused to cooperate. Consequently, the workers were forcefully expelled from the factory by the Mobile Gendarmerie (military unit) in September 1973, and despite a second protest – this time numbering 100,000 – the Mobile Gendarmerie remained in the building until February 1974.

Collective enthusiasm bears fruit (Illustration: Dargaud)

After much political wrangling behind the scenes, a buyer was finally found for the company, the European Clockwork Company, who agreed to hire 850 of the former employees in March 1974 and the remainder of the workforce in December, finally laying the whole incident to rest. However, after all the trouble the company was still crippled by previous debts and survived for just three more years, closing it’s doors in Besançon for the last time in 1977.

Ok, after that historical detour, let’s get back to the watches… ;)

In early 1970’s Lip commissioned a number respected designers to develop a series of avant garde wristwatches, a couple of which I’ve written about before on the blog. The De Baschmakoff which started the ball rolling in 1971, and arguably the most collectible model, the Mach 2000 developed by Roger Tallon.

The Galaxie was developed by the Swiss designer Rudolph (Rudi) Meyer, known for his work on commercial posters, trademarks and company logos.

Meyer designed the Galaxie in 1974 and the watch was made in four base versions (and variations thereof); the one in this post, a model with spherical hour markers, one with recessed chrome discs and a model with arabic numerals and a plastic coated case.

Inside the watch is a Durowé cal. 7525/2, a 25 jewel, automatic calibre with beat rate of 21,600 bph which needed no more than a regular service this time. The crystal was also cracked and needed to be replaced, but with no major hurdles, the watch was soon back in service.

The watch also needed a new strap which was more difficult to find than I imagined due to shape of the case. Genuine Lip straps are long discontinued and all the curved straps that I could find were shaped to fit between extended lugs, so were quickly ruled out. Several regular straps that I tried were too thick to be bent around the case without buckling, but I eventually found a thin leather strap with a contrasting stitch which worked well and proved to be a good match for the watch. All in all, not a bad result.

Rich.

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


Glycine Airman SST “Pumpkin” (A.Schild Cal. 1903)…

Every watch collection should have a splash of colour, and this watch certainly ticks that box: a Glycine Airman SST.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

The history of the Glycine Airman dates back to 1953, and although I’ve written about one of the later models before on the blog (see here), I thought this one deserved a mention as it’s a watch you won’t see every day. Made between 1967-71, this Airman is one of the rarer SST models and is nicknamed the “Pumpkin” among collectors.

As you may have noticed in the picture above, this is a 24hr watch (the hour hand only travels once around the dial every 24 hours rather than twice) and the dial is divided into lighter and darker sections for the the AM/PM hours.

The watch also has a rotating internal bezel which can be used to track a second time zone, not only useful for airmen, but for any international traveller. The inner bezel is rotated left or right to denote the number of hours that the second time zone is +/- the current time zone. The hour hand then points to the time in both zones simultaneously.

The inner bezel is rotated using the upper crown which is slotted rather than formed to prevent it being moved accidentally. According to the owners manual it should be operated with either a fingernail or a coin. Also, the bright orange colour of the inner bezel is no fashion statement, but proved to be the most legible colour combination when tested under night-flying conditions.

The SST branding stands for “Super Sonic Transportation” and commemorates the early attempts to create the worlds first passenger jet that would travel faster than the speed of sound. The SST project started in the 1960’s when Boeing won the contract to produce a flagship aircraft for the US market. Codenamed 2707, the aircraft was designed with a ‘swing wing’ which would split for take off and low speed manoeuvres and would pivot backwards at high speeds to form one solid wing, allowing for a theoretical top speed of Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound).

However, Boeing only got as far as building a prototype before the project was abandoned due to design and environmental concerns. More  significantly Boeing had already been beaten to the SST punch by the Russian Tupolev Tu-144 which first went supersonic in June 1968, and government funding was finally withdrawn from the US SST project in 1971.

In keeping with SST branding, the caseback of this watch features an embossed picture of the ill-fated Boeing 2707.

Inside the watch is an A. Schild calibre, the 1903 which runs at 21,600 bph and has a limited quickset (the hands must be moved back and forth between 8pm and midnight to advance the date). In the later versions of the watch produced from 1971-76, the movement was upgraded twice; first to the cal. 2063, and in the final version to the cal. 2163 which increased the beat rate to 28,800 bph and added a quickset for the date via the crown.

Not much of a restoration story this time as the watch only needed a routine movement service, so here it is back in one piece.

Finally, it is interesting to note that although the watch in this post is quite rare, it is trumped in the rarity stakes not once but twice in the same series by two chronograph versions of the Airman SST, both of which were made in 1968-69.

The case design is reminiscent of the chronographs being produced by Longines around the same time, and the watches too are powered by the same base calibre, the Valjoux cal. 72. The inner bezel on both watches is rotated by the crown on the lower left hand side of the case.

It is thought that only around 100 of these watches were sold worldwide and given the disappointing sales they were withdrawn from the market after just 2 years making them a real catch…  if can find one.

Rich.

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


Lemania Tg 195 Chronograph (Lemania Cal. 2225)…

This Lemania Tg 195 chronograph arrived in a pretty sorry looking state.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Made in the 1950’s this watch was issued to Swedish military personnel, as evidenced by three large crowns which can be found on the caseback of all Swedish military watches. There are two versions of the Tg 195 caseback; the earlier models have three small crowns (inset) and the later models have the three large crowns seen here (this watch was issued in 1957).

The watch can be found with four different dials too, all identical apart from the Tg 195 markings. The earliest watches had no Tg 195 at all, and subsequent watches were marked either “tg 195″, “Tg 195″ or “TG 195″.

The meaning of the Tg 195 isn’t clear and there is little confirmed information to be found online, but the watch is often described as a ‘bomb timer’ and is said to have been issued exclusively to the Swedish Army bomb squad. The Tg part is thought to mean Tid Givare (“Giving Time” in Swedish) but the exact meaning of 195 is unknown. There may well be more information to be found through Swedish sources, but my Swedish isn’t all that it could be. ;)

Underneath the caseback is a dust cover which when lifted uncovers a 16 jewel Lemania cal. 2225, derived from the Lemania cal. 2220 single pusher chronograph which I’ve described before (see here).

The calibre 2225 has a unique hacking mechanism added specifically for Swedish military requirements. When the pusher is pressed, the sweep second hand is reset instantly to 12 o’clock, the crown pops out to the time setting position, and the watch hacks.

Let’s have a closer look at how that works…

With the balance assembly removed you can see that under the balance wheel is a hacking lever with a thin wire on the end. When the pusher is pressed, the operating lever moves clockwise around the large pivot screw, moving the hacking lever backwards so that the wire arrests the balance. At the same time, the reset hammer moves across and disengages the intermediate driving wheel from the centre chronograph wheel. Under power from the large click spring, the reset hammer moves further across and contacts the heart on the centre chronograph wheel, resetting the second hand to zero.

There is a second screw on the operating lever (marked secondary set lever screw in the picture above) which passes through the entire calibre and into the keyless works section on the dial side of the movement, emerging in a hole in the setting lever.

When the pusher is pressed this screw also moves the setting lever forward, forcing the stem and crown to pop out into the time setting position. The watch is now hacked and ready to be synchronised.

When the crown is pressed back in, the watch is restarted; the operating lever and reset hammer are returned to their starting positions on the train side of the movement, the hacking lever moves forwards releasing the balance, and the chronograph is re-engaged.

The watch was in pretty poor shape from a cosmetic perspective and out of the case it was clear to see that the dial and hands were in poor shape. The dial was covered in a layer of dirt, the lume on the numerals had crumbled to dust, and the hands were tarnished.

From such a rough starting point the results were never going to be perfect, but with all the old lume removed, the dial cleaned and the tarnish removed from the hands, things were much improved. As the numerals on the dial now matched the patina of the rest of the dial markings, a decision was made to leave them and just the re-lume the hands.

Another problem with the watch was the crown and stem. Although the original crown was included with the watch, the stem had sheared off flush with the crown, leaving a section of the stem still inside the crown. Soaking the crown in an alum solution for a week or so to ‘eat away’ the stem inside saved the original crown, but finding a replacement stem proved difficult as the stem is unique to this calibre.

While I could have made a new stem, it was more time/cost effective to modify a stem extender to increase the length of the stem by the required amount. The steel section just below the crown is the extender and an unmodified extender is included in the picture below for reference.

Aside from the problems with the crown and stem, the movement was in reasonable condition and just needed a service and some of the tarnished parts refinishing /polishing. Here’s the watch watch all back in one piece.

If anyone has any more information about the history of the Tg 195, it would be great to hear from you.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Dave Charlton for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Sterile 6BB ‘Lost’ Navigator (A. Schild Cal. 2160)…

Another British Military watch on the blog this time, and something of an enigma.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

I’ve written about several of the watches that were issued to British Military personnel from well known makers such as Lemania, Hamilton and CWC, but the origins of the watch in this post are unknown – who made it? And why?

At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking it is a modern watch made in a ‘military style’, quartz powered and dare I say cheaply made, but that certainly isn’t the case.

The watch is very similar in style and size to the W10 made by Hamilton from 1973-76 and subsequently by CWC from 1976-80 and it shares all of the attributes required to adhere to the strict standards for military use.

The dial is missing a makers mark or brand name which is why this watch is known as the ‘Sterile’ Navigator, but it still adheres to military standards; the dial has the Broad Arrow symbol, arabic numerals inside a clear minute track, a luminous triangle at 12 and the hands and hour markers are all lumed – in this case with a Tritium based lume as evidenced by the circled ‘T’ on the dial.

I’ve serviced several of these watches now and in all cases the dial print was still crisp and the lume retained its original bright green colour, suggesting that they age better than the Hamilton/CWC watches, particularly the lume which has often deteriorated/darkened on the W10’s after several decades of use.

Turning the watch over, the military markings are clear; the Broad Arrow symbol, ’6BB’ denotes that this watch was issued to a member of the RAF, the next 13 digits are the NSN (NATO Stock Number) and underneath issue number and year.

The case is opened by removing the crystal and splitting the two-piece stem, and inside is a 17 jewel, manually wound calibre made by A. Schild, the cal. 2160.

The cal. 2160 is a step up in quality over the ETA cal. 2750 found in the Hamilton and CWC. It has a higher beat rate, 28,800 bph as opposed to 21,600 bph, and also has a micro-adjustment mechanism mounted on the balance cock for more accurate regulation.

The inclusion of the micro-adjuster isn’t standard across the whole 21xx range. I’ve had identical calibres with and without the micro-adjuster over the years, and I suspect it was added later in the production run. As the 21xx’s were pretty much the top of the line for A. Schild calibres during the 1970’s, they probably deserved a few functional enhancements. Here is a picture of a cal. 2162 from an Aquastar Benthos 500 which also has the micro-adjuster.

The cal. 2160 also has a hacking mechanism which was another MOD requirement to allow all wristwatches to be quickly and efficiently synchronised. I’ve serviced most of A. Schild’s 21xx calibres now and I’ve never seen a hacking mechanism on any calibre except the 2160, which suggests that it was added specifically for use in this watch.

Looking at the hacking mechanism you can see that it was designed into the calibre, rather than being something of an afterthought (as would appear to be the case with the Benrus DTU-2A/P!)

In the picture above, the stem is pushed all the way in – in the winding position – and so the stem presses on hacking lever, it pivots around the fixed axis (just above the castle wheel) and the lower arm of the lever releases the balance allowing it to rotate freely.

When the stem is pulled out – to the time setting position – the winding stem is withdrawn, the upper arm of the hacking lever provides the tension necessary to press the lower arm into contact with the balance wheel, arresting its rotation and ‘hacking’ the watch.

The watch arrived in decent condition and needed no more than a movement service, a crystal polish and an ultrasonic clean for the case, so here it is all back in one piece.

So, who made these watches? With no markings on the dial, movement or inside the case, the jury is still out.

It is thought that around 2000 were made, all of which were issued in 1976. This is around the time that the contract with Hamilton ended, and the new contract with CWC began, so could it be that this watch was a potential replacement for the Hamilton W10? Was an order for 2000 pieces placed as a trial before the contract was finally awarded to CWC? If so, why was it completely unbranded?

If anyone has any information about the history of these watches, it would be great to hear from you.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Lee Curtis for letting me feature his watch on the blog, and to Terry Andrews whose article on the same subject provided valuable information for this post. **


Universal Genève Space-Compax (Valjoux Cal. 72)…

This Universal Genève Space-Compax is undoubtedly one of the best looking vintage chronographs to appear on the blog so far.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Founded as “Universal Watch” by Ulysse Georges Perret and Numa-Emile Descombes in 1894, the company only really established themselves as a watch manufacturer after the recruitment of Louis Edouard Berthoud as a co-manufacturer of complications in 1897. The company relocated from Le Locle to Geneva in 1919, and registered the name “Universal Genève” in 1937.

Universal Genève are recognised for their chronographs and are said to have produced the first ever chronograph wristwatch in 1917. The term “Compax” too, although often used to describe any chronograph with one or more subdials, can be attributed to Universal Genève as it was the cornerstone of their range.

The Compax range comprised five models, the most complicated being the Tri-Compax which featured running seconds, a 12 hour chronograph, perpetual calendar, and moon phase.

The other models were, in ascending order of complexity; the Uni-Compax (single minute-recording subdial), Compax (12 hr chronograph), Dato-Compax (12 hr chronograph and date subdial) and Aero-Compax (12 hr chronograph and second time zone subdial)

Another watch that UG are famous for is the Polerouter. First introduced in 1954 and designed by the legendary watch designer Gerald Genta, the Polerouter started life with a bumper automatic calibre, the 138SS, before being updated in 1955 with a calibre that UG has become renowned for, the cal. 215 ‘Microtor”. The micro-rotor design integrates the winding mechanism into the calibre resulting in a much thinner watch.

Though the majority of Polerouters manufactured during the 15 year production run were dress watches, two diver’s models were also produced, both branded “Polerouter Sub”; one featuring a super-compressor case with and internal bezel, and another similar in style to the chronograph in this post.

Despite an almost unbroken track record of success, the ‘wheels came off’ for UG as a company due to a number of ill judged management decisions. In the late 1960’s with electronic watches on the horizon, UG made the bold decision of going all-in and replaced the majority of the mechanical models in their line-up with electronic equivalents which were much cheaper to produce; initially with tuning fork calibres (the Unisonic range) and later with quartz calibres.

As UG was owned by the company at the forefront of electronic developments at the time, Bulova, the decision was not unsurprising but it proved disastrous for UG as their reputation for quality (often being cited as the “poor man’s Patek Philippe”) was very quickly lost.

The company did survive, but it never really recovered its reputation and consequently the vintage UG watches are now much more popular with collectors.

 

The subject of this post, the Space-Compax, was a later edition to the Compax range and despite the somewhat confusing ‘Space’ moniker, was designed primarily as a diver’s chronograph as it incorporated a rotating external bezel, a screw down crown, and rubber capped pushers for additional water resistance.

The model in this post is referred to as the second generation Space-Compax, the first having a different dial design featuring a much more prominent ’12’ marker and contrasting subdials.

Both versions were introduced in what was arguably the most interesting period of the Compax story, the 1960’s, when the whole range was redesigned, resulting in much bolder dial designs and more imposing hands. All the Compax models were revised accordingly, but the Uni-Compax in particular became a real eye-catcher.

(Picture: Paul Gavin at Heuerworld.com)

Inside the Space-Compax is a calibre that I’ve written about several times on the blog, the excellent Valjoux cal. 72, which just needed a regular service this time. From a cosmetic perspective the watch was in excellent condition too, the only negatives being slight deterioration of the lume in the subdial hands and a greasy residue covering the hands which just needed to be carefully removed.

Here’s the watch all finished up… another watch on my ever expanding wish list! :)

Rich.

** Many thanks to Ben Molyneux for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Gruen Precision Diver (Gruen Cal. 560 RSS)…

Like the Philip Caribbean 1500 I wrote about a couple of months ago, this Gruen Precision is another diver that you won’t see very often.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Capitalising on a patent granted for an improved safety pinion, Dietrich Gruen founded the Columbus Watch Manufacturing Company in Ohio, USA in 1876. Using movements imported from Switzerland, Gruen produced good quality pocket watches for the American market, and went on to introduce the first stem-wind pocket watch into the USA. His watches proved popular, and in less than a decade he decided to take on new partners and move to larger facilities, after which the company quickly grew to 150 employees and were producing 300 watches per day.

However, all was not well behind the scenes and after a series of disagreements with the other partners, Gruen and his son (Fred) left the company in 1894 and formed the partnership “D. Gruen & Son”.

After a successful period creating watches for the US military, in 1917 the company moved to a new custom built factory in Cincinnati named “Time Hill”. Between 1921 and 1958 they produced the majority of the watches that Gruen are famous for; the Veri-thin range of pocket and wristwatches, the rectangular Quadron range, and undoubtedly their biggest success, the Curvex.

Introduced in the 1935, the Curvex was the first watch with a curved movement to better match the profile of the wrist.

After the death of Fred Gruen in 1945, the company began to lose focus and despite achieving its highest sales figures to date, it was sold by the family in 1953. The company then entered a turbulent 5 year period which saw high level mismanagement, and the legal battles between the board members and stock holders often made newspaper headlines. The company changed ownership several times in quick succession and was slowly stripped of its assets, the huge debts eventually forced the company to lay off employees and close down manufacturing facilities – incredibly, all the factory records prior to 1958 were considered ‘no longer of any use’ and were destroyed.

The company eventually found a new owner based in New York and mechanical watches were manufactured again under the Gruen name. As well as ‘Precision’ dress watches, several diver’s watches also were produced. Here are a few more examples.

Unfortunately, Gruen’s ‘phoenix from the ashes’ story ends before it really got started as the company was swept aside by the quartz revolution and was forced to close its doors for the final time in 1976.

The calibre inside the watch in this post is a Gruen cal. 560 RSS. Although Gruen did produce their own calibres, by the time this watch was produced all the manufacturing facilities had been sold off and Gruen were sourcing calibres from other manufacturers and re-branding them as their own. The base caliber of the 560 RSS is a 17 jewel Bidlingmaier ebauche, with an added automatic winding mechanism (a 23 jewel version was also available).

Although running on arrival it wasn’t possible to set the time, and cosmetically it was in pretty rough shape with poor lume throughout. Though it’s not immediately obvious from the pictures above, the lugs had also been bent inwards at some point – in all likelihood by some ‘genius’ with a pair of pliers as the case still had deep gouges on the outside of the lugs… correctly sized spring bars must have been in short supply that day. :(

As the damage was pretty bad, the case was sent out for restoration while I completed the rest of the work.

During the movement service the problem with the keyless works was quickly uncovered; a click spring had been fitted which was way too big, preventing the stem from being pulled all the way out to set the time.

A click spring of the right size quickly put things right and the rest of the service was straight forward, so it was on to the cosmetic work.

As is clear in the first picture, the lume had fallen out of the hands and had deteriorated badly on the 3, 6 ,9 and 12 hour markers (the other hour markers are painted triangles). Ordinarily all traces of the old lume would be removed first before re-luming, which was no problem with the hands, but on the dial the lume on the hour markers was rock hard. So, rather than risk damaging the dial or the painted markers underneath the lume, a new layer of vintage cream lume was applied on top of the old. Not ideal, but given the situation (ie. the chances of finding a replacement dial being zero!), it was the right choice.

With both the servicing and cosmetic work completed, and the case back from the restorer, the watch could finally be rebuilt. However, that isn’t the end of the story as an unexpected problem occurred during testing.

As part of the post-service checks, every automatic watch is tested on a winding machine to ensure that the winding and calendar mechanisms are working correctly. During this testing, the Gruen kept stopping at irregular intervals, and on opening the watch I found that the winding rotor was jammed. It only took the slightest nudge to get it started again, but it hinted at a bigger problem with the automatic winding mechanism.

It’s not uncommon to see some wear in an automatic winding mechanism, especially after decades of daily use, but in this case the wear was not obvious without magnification. The picture below shows one of the transfer wheels at 30 times magnification and as you can see, the tops of the teeth in the top right quadrant have worn away.

At 90 times magnification, you can see that some teeth were in particularly poor shape, and some even had grooves worn into them which were causing the rotor to jam.

As parts for this calibre are long discontinued, I tried to reshape the worst of the teeth with a cutting broach to at least get the watch up and running until a donor mechanism could be found. Despite several attempts it didn’t work as the wheel was just too worn, and the rotor continued to jam while on the winding machine.

Thankfully a donor movement was quickly found in the US and arrived after a couple of weeks. The winding mechanism on the donor proved to be in better condition than the original, so the whole mechanism was stripped, cleaned, lubricated and installed to finally finish the job.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Daniel Spiegel for letting me feature his watch on the blog, and to Paul McRae for his work on the case. **