Wristwatch restoration, servicing and repair

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.

Rich.


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!

Rich.

** 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.

Rich.

** 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.

Rich.

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


Aero Neuchatel Chronograph (Valjoux Cal. 7733)…

Another vintage chronograph and new brand on the blog, an Aero Neuchatel.

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The brand name ‘Aero Neuchatel’ is owned by the company Aerowatch S.A. and was first registered in 1973. With the introduction of quartz watches in the early 1970’s, I can only speculate that Aerowatch S.A. set up this sub-brand to focus solely on contemporary wristwatches given that the parent company had built a reputation for creating more classical timepieces.

Aerowatch S.A. has been in existence since 1910 and has produced mainly high quality pocket watches for sale in international markets. The company was owned and run by the Crevoisier family before being sold to the Denis Bolzli in 2001. The change of ownership proved to be something of a new beginning for the brand and by 2005 a new range of wristwatches had been developed, drawing heavily on the classical styling of previous Aerowatch timepieces.

Production was moved from Neuchatel to Signelegier in 2008 and since then the company has continued to create mainly mechanical watches in the classical style. Here is an example from their current collection.

You can see the rest of their current range on the website: www.aerowatch.com.

The watch in this post arrived running but the chronograph wouldn’t start, stop or reset so something was obviously amiss.

Opening the watch revealed a Valjoux cal. 7733 in decent order but the caseback gasket had turned to mush and the two chronograph operating levers were both loose on the movement – Sherlock Holmes wasn’t needed this time to help figure out why the chronograph wasn’t working anyway!

The previous owner must have really forced the pushers as the heads of both retaining screws had been broken off and were rattling around inside the case, one is highlighted in the picture above and the second was trapped deeper inside the movement.

Once out of the case, I noticed that the entire movement and the inside of the case were covered in a film of oil. Close inspection of the dial and hands revealed that they too were covered in oil. Not good.

After prolonged exposure it’s possible that the dial print or paint could lift from the dial during cleaning, but on this occasion I had no choice but to ‘bite the bullet’ and remove the oil as the coverage was too heavy to leave it as it was.

Here is a picture of the dial half way through cleaning – you can see the difference between the original matt finish on the left and the oil covered shine on the right.

The case was stripped down and cleaned too, and all traces of the oil were also removed from the hands and the inside of the crystal.

Once the movement had been fully disassembled, the cause of the oil slick was pretty obvious…

I can only assume that oil must have been “pumped” into the barrel the last time the watch was serviced as it was still half full even though a good percentage of it had already seeped out.

With the movement serviced, the operating lever screws replaced and everything cleaned up, the watch could be rebuilt. The last thing to do was to fit a new caseback gasket and the job was complete.

Regular readers may have noticed that the watch bears a resemblance to another vintage chronograph which I’ve written about several times on the blog, the Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster (an example here).

Side by side, while almost identical in terms of case size, the Aero has a larger diameter dial and slimmer bezel which makes it wear larger on the wrist.

They are both great chronographs and well worth adding to your collection if you get the chance.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Phil Johnson for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Jaquet-Droz Chronograph (Landeron Cal. 149)…

Another rather tired looking vintage chronograph on the blog, this time from Jaquet-Droz.

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Regular readers may have a sense of déjà-vu here as the case on this watch is one that was supplied to a number of manufacturers over the years and I’ve written about two such examples before on the blog, a Rotary and a Le Cheminant Master Mariner. Here are a few more examples of watches which share the same case; values vary and some are easier to find than others.

This is however the first time I’ve seen such a chronograph from Jaquet-Droz. The history of Jaquet-Droz is very interesting but rather than repeat myself, I’ll direct any interested parties to this blog post about another J-D chronograph in which I covered their background.

The watch in this post is still in the possession of the original owner who had it bought for him as a 21st birthday gift in 1968. At that time the brand was enjoying the early years of its first rise from the ashes before the quartz revolution came along and wiped them out, along with many others. Watches from this period are easy to recognise as they all have the ‘arrow’ logo on the dial.

Inside the watch is a Landeron cal. 149, a cam-lever chronograph and one of the few Landeron calibres with a traditional operation ie. the top pusher starts and stops the chronograph and the lower pusher performs the reset. The more commonly used 48, 51, 148 and 248 calibres were designed such that the top pusher starts that chronograph and the lower pusher is used for both the stop and reset functions.

Although the movement was in decent condition, you may have noticed in the first picture that the hand for the chronograph minute register had fallen off and was rattling around at the bottom of the dial.

Once the movement had been disassembled the cause was immediately obvious, the lower pivot for the chronograph minute runner had been broken off. Though the hand may have stayed in place initially, with no clearance above the dial it wouldn’t have taken long to work its way off the shaft in daily wear.

Being the 45 minute rather than the 30 minute version of the chronograph I expected to have some difficulty in finding a new part, but that wasn’t the case (which made a pleasant change .. and even more pleasant, the owner found it for me!), so a replacement was ordered from overseas while I serviced the rest of the movement.

From a cosmetic perspective, despite having had many years of use, the case was still in decent condition but the bezel had lost some most of its markings and the crystal was cracked. The bezel pip was missing too and so was the filling in the minute sub-dial hand, both of which would need to be re-lumed to match the rest of the (original) lume.

Once the replacement minute runner arrived, the movement could finally be rebuilt and regulated/tested. In the meantime, the bezel pip and hand had been re-lumed, the case cleaned and given a light buff to restore the shine, a new crystal fitted and the bezel markings re-painted.

I’ve restored quite a few of these watches now and I’m always impressed with how well they clean up, this one being no exception. With a case diameter of 38mm (40mm including the crown) they may be considered quite small by today’s standards, but with prices still being relatively modest on most models, they are a good entry into the world of vintage chronographs.

Rich.

** Many thanks to John Dawes for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Heuer Monnin (FE Cal. 4611A)…

An iconic diver to kick off the New Year, a Heuer Monnin.

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The Monnin is something of an enigma in the Heuer back catalogue, as the time-line of its production history hasn’t been fully determined.

What is known is that in the mid-late 1970’s Heuer were being approached regularly by diving enthusiasts asking why there was no Heuer diver? Recognising a potential gap in the market, Heuer approached the French manufacturer G. Monnin to re-brand one their existing diver’s watches so they could test the market. Monnin agreed as they were already doing the same for other manufacturers (you’ll see almost identical watches from other brands such as Alfex, Bessa and Le Cheminant) which suited Heuer perfectly as it gave them an entry into the diver arena without the pre-production cost of tooling.

To say the watch was a success is an understatement. At a time when Heuer was struggling to stay afloat during the quartz revolution, the sales of the Monnin saved the company. To quote Jack Heuer from a recent interview “…and would you believe it, these watches started selling like crazy. The company came out of trouble because of these watches. You know, Bo Derek wore one; we have it now in the museum”.

The earliest printed record of the Monnin is this Heuer catalogue from 1979 which featured the watch on the cover.

(Picture: OnTheDash)

Much of the confusion around the Monnin exists because the dial, hand and bezel insert designs were changed during the brief production cycle, resulting in a variety of combinations being used in the watches sold.

Comparing the watch in this post to the picture above it has all the hallmarks of an early model. A ‘cathedral’ hour hand, the early style bezel insert and the ‘professionel’ text is in lower case letters on the dial.

Curiously, the subject of this post also has a second hand with a large lume ‘lollipop’ whereas most of the automatic Monnins have a much smaller one like in the picture above. The owner says that this second hand has been fitted since new – he had the watch bought for him as an 18th birthday present by his father in the late 1970’s (from Harrods no less!).

For comparison, here is a picture of a later model with the Rolex Submariner style bezel insert, a ‘Mercedes’ hour hand and a dial with capitalised text and “Made in France” printed at the bottom.

(Picture: Heuerville)

The watch in this post received regular maintenance throughout its life, but due to the caseback not being fully screwed down after a movement service, the watch suffered an ingress of sea water during a dive several years ago. On returning to the surface the owner immediately unscrewed the caseback by hand and rinsed the watch out with fresh water in an attempt to minimise the damage.

Fast forward to the current day and after hearing the story I was still expecting to see a significant amount of rust. With the caseback removed, some rust was evident but I was expecting it to be worse.

The calibre in this watch is the French Ebauche (FE) cal. 4611A. A Swiss mid-level 17 jewel automatic with a beat rate of 21,000 bph. This calibre was only used in the Monnin as the calibre was replaced by the ETA cal. 2872 when production moved to Switzerland and the watch became an ‘official’ Heuer model, the 844.

With the automatic winding mechanism removed, the signs of rust were increasing; several of the screwheads were rusty and the balance cock / regulator showed signs of corrosion. Seeing this, I was already concerned about the condition of the pivots on the train wheels and other delicate steel parts…

Sure enough, with the train bridge removed I could see that all the train wheel pivots were corroded, along with the balance staff pivots, the mainspring, the barrel arbor, and several parts in the automatic winding mechanism. Here are some of the parts that we beyond salvation.

Thankfully, parts for the FE 4611A are still available, so the majority could be replaced without a lengthy search this time. Some effort was still required to remove rust from other parts, but the movement could then be cleaned and rebuilt.

From a cosmetic perspective the lume on the dial and hands were largely unaffected by the salt water, but the dial did have some staining where water had dried on the surface.

Deciding what to do in these situations is never easy as attempting to remove any staining can make it worse, or damage the dial print or paint. After consulting the owner we decided to re-wet the stain and try to remove it. As the dial dried I was pleased to see that the staining was disappearing before my eyes… phew!

With the movement back up and running, the case was cleaned and the watch rebuilt. Finally a new caseback gasket was fitted… and the caseback secured properly this time.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Nigel Glen for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Seasons Greetings…

Another year has rolled on by…. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone out there, and best wishes for 2015.

Rich.