Wristwatch restoration, servicing and repair

Posts Tagged ‘Nivada Grenchen’

Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster 1000 (ETA Cal. 2472)…

I thought I’d round out 2015 by revisiting a somewhat quirky diver, the Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster 1000.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Long time readers may recognise this model as I wrote about a very similar restoration four years ago. I’ve worked on several of these watches since then so I thought I’d write a second post with a little more information about the model and its history.

Following the successful launch of the Depthomatic in 1964 (the first watch with a built in depth gauge), Nivada Grenchen introduced the Depthmaster the following year with advertisements claiming that it was “tested deeper than any other underwater watch” and it was “Probably the world’s most waterproof watch”.

Watches with high depth ratings were still in their infancy in the early 1960’s and manufacturers were just starting to introduce “extreme diver’s watches” into their model ranges. I’m sure Nivada Grenchen would have liked to have claimed the first 1000m rated watch but that title is thought to have gone to Sandoz who debuted a 1000m watch – using exactly the same case as the Depthmaster – in June 1963.

Sandoz wasn’t the only company to share the same case with the Depthmaster. While the manufacturer of the case is unknown it was used far and wide during the 1960 and 70’s with many companies producing very similar models; Jaquet-Droz, Alpha, Le Phare, Orient, Sylvana, Festina and Vetta to name but a few.

You’ll often see these watches referred to as ‘Baby Panerai’ due to the smaller, yet similar, cushion shaped case.

As you can see in the first picture, time hadn’t been kind to the watch in this post as moisture had found its way into the case at some point and corroded the lume in the hands, some of which had already fallen out. The majority of the bezel markings had worn away and the crystal had crazed as they have a tendency to do after several decades of use.

Inside the case things didn’t look too bad. The movement, an ETA cal. 2472, was complete and although running, obviously hadn’t been serviced for quite some time.

The movement service presented no significant issues so it was straight on to the cosmetic work. The hands were re-lumed to match the numerals on the dial and the remaining paint (and dirt!) was removed from the bezel markings which were then re-applied, a red enamel for the triangle at the top and black enamel for the rest.

With the movement serviced and the majority of the watch rebuilt, the last thing to do was clean the case and bracelet, and replace the crystal. As I mentioned in the previous Depthmaster post, the crystal on this watch is held in place by a threaded ring, screwed into the case from the inside. This has to be unscrewed first before the crystal can be removed (more details here).

It’s rare to find a Depthmaster with an original crystal that hasn’t crazed and as genuine replacements were discontinued years ago, I’ve seen all kinds of mis-matched crystals fitted to these watches to keep them up and running. As you can see below, the crystal has a specific side profile which makes finding a direct replacement near impossible these days.

However, I think it’s well worth making the effort to modify a suitable crystal to replicate the original as the extreme ‘top hat’ profile is one of the defining features of this watch. With the new crystal cut and installed things were already looking better…

… and here’s the watch all finished up.

While this watch was in for restoration, another Depthmaster arrived which gave me a rare chance to take this picture of the two dial designs together.

The ‘art deco’ style is a little more subtle and seems to be rarer in my experience. Two great watches.


** Many thanks to John Telling and Keith Johnson for the opportunity to write about their watches on the blog. **

Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster 1000 (ETA Cal. 2472)…

Kicking off the New Year is this Depthmaster 1000 from Nivada Grenchen.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Still in the possession of the original owner who received the watch as a gift from his wife in 1975, the watch had certainly seen some action over the years. After struggling to find someone local to take on the restoration, the watch found its way to me.

As well as a movement service, quite a bit of cosmetic work would be needed on this one; the crystal was heavily crazed and had a large chunk missing out of it, the case had taken its fair share of knocks, and the bezel markings had lost most of their paint.

Opening the caseback revealed an ETA Cal. 2472 in reasonable condition.

With the watch uncased, it was clear that there was more cosmetic work to be done. While the lume on the dial was in reasonable condition, the hands were in poor shape, with rotten lume and missing paint.

When new, this watch was water resistant to a depth of 1000m, which was quite a big deal in the 1970’s, and still exceeds the depth rating of the majority of watches made today.

With deep water watches, the weakest part is the crystal, which can fracture under pressure. To minimise the chance of this happening, Nivada fitted this watch with an acrylic crystal 3.4mm thick (regular acrylic watch crystals are around 1 mm thick), and to give it extra security, rather than being pressed into the case like a regular tension ring crystal, in this watch the crystal is held place by a metal ring screwed in from the inside.

There must be a specific tool for removing the securing ring, but I don’t have one (and I doubt I’ll ever see one), so two bits for the Bergeon 5700Z case opener were modified to provide a solution.

The bits were filed down to make two ‘prongs’ to fit exactly into the slots on the inner ring (see inset). With the watch case securely mounted in the opener, the ring could be unscrewed easily.

It came as no surprise that an original crystal couldn’t be sourced for this watch, so a thick divers crystal of the same diameter was modified to match the profile of the original and to create a lip on the outer edge. The crystal was secured in place using the case opener once again to tighten the ring.

With the crystal successfully replaced, the rest of the work was completed. After a little work on the case, the hands and bezel were re-painted and re-lumed, and the movement serviced. Here is the result.


** Many thanks to Ian Kemp for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Nivada Chronograph (TDBK Cal. 1369)…

Another interesting chronograph from Nivada, this one is from the mid 1970’s.

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Far from being what you might consider a watchmaking heavyweight, Nivada still had a broad range of watches with interesting calibres. Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of Nivada watches, and this chronograph is one of the most peculiar models I’ve encountered so far.

Just looking at the subdial layout it’s obvious that something out of the ordinary is lurking inside, and opening the caseback reveals a TDBK cal. 1369; a 17 jewel (modular) column wheel chronograph calibre which runs at 21,600bph.

The initials TDBK represent the four companies that were involved in its development; Tenor-Dorly, Dubois-Dépraz, Brac and Kelek. The base calibre, an automatic with date, was developed by Brac and Tenor-Dorly, the chronograph module was subsequently added by chronograph specialists Dubois-Dépraz, and Kelek were responsible for the production.

The calibre was first introduced in 1974 alongside another TDBK calibre, the 1376, which was even more peculiar, a mechanical digital with a 60 minute chronograph module.

With a diameter of just 24.8 cm and a height of 7.6 cm they were the smallest automatic calibres on the market, considerably smaller and thinner than their Heuer cal. 11/12 and Zenith 3019 “El Primero” counterparts.

However, after a production run of just 23,000, time was called on the 1369 and 1376 due to reliability issues, and to be honest I’m not surprised, as it’s not what you’d call robust…. let’s have a closer look. This first picture shows the movement with the winding rotor removed and the automatic mechanism and chronograph module highlighted.

Like the chronograph module in the Heuer Cal. 11/12 the three blued screws can be removed and the entire chronograph module can be lifted from the base calibre underneath. In an ideal world, rather than strip the chronograph module for servicing, it would simply have been replaced with a new one… but I’m not that lucky!

The second picture shows the movement with the chronograph top plate removed.

Under the top plate is the reset hammer for the minute and hour registers and the chronograph actuating lever/hour register brake. One thing to notice about this calibre is the number of click springs used – a click spring is a thin piece of wire used to spring load a lever, or hold a part in position.

Click springs are the enemy of the watchmaker as they are primed and ready to fire off into oblivion at the slightest provocation, so careful consideration has to be given to them during assembly and disassembly. The TDBK 1369 has 10 click springs in total, which has to be some kind of record. In high quality calibres click springs are either screwed down or designed out and replaced with more substantial steel springs, the Valjoux Cal. 72 and Lemania Cal. 2220 are good examples of this.

Going down one more level reveals the heart of the chronograph module…

When the start/stop button is pressed the column wheel is advanced and the actuating lever lowers the driving wheel onto the centre chronograph wheel, and the centre second hands start to rotate. At the same time the actuating lever also releases the brake on the hour register, and being powered directly from the mainspring barrel, it starts right up. The intermediate wheel rotates along with the centre chronograph wheel and the finger advances the minute register.

When the chronograph is stopped and the reset button is pressed, the reset hammer for the centre second moves across returning it to zero, along with the reset hammer for the minute and hour register two levels above.

When the watch arrived, it was running but the chronograph wasn’t working correctly. Thankfully no parts were broken as finding replacements for this one would have been difficult. The problem was that the mechanism had been assembled incorrectly, so after a service and some head scratching to get it all back together again, we were back in business.

The last thing to do was polish the crystal and clean the case. One rescued, 22,999 to go…. 😉


** Many thanks to Daniel Spiegel for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster (Valjoux Cal. 23)….

Arriving in a sorry looking state, this Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster certainly needed a bit of TLC.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

The Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster is one of my favourite watches and I’ve written a couple of posts about them in the past, this one containing information about the company and the various Chronomaster models. I won’t miss another chance to include a link to this excellent post on the website Inventit Et Fecit too, which gives a comprehensive history on the model.

The movement inside the watch this time was one of the best found in Chronomasters, a Valjoux cal. 23. The movement was in good cosmetic shape and needed little more than a service.

Obviously the watch was missing some parts, namely the crown and stem and the main hands. These parts would have been hard to find, particularly the correct hands, but thankfully they were included in a zip-loc bag along with the watch. The hands were in poor shape though and needed to be completely repainted and re-lumed.

Here is the watch after the service and cosmetic work, and fitting a new crystal.

While this watch was in for repair, I also had two other Nivada chronographs to service, which gave me a rare chance to take this group shot.

The watch at the top of the picture is a Nivada Chronoking, which is rarer than the Chronomaster. Very similar in style and still powered by a Valjoux cal. 23, but in a slightly larger case.

The watch on the bottom left is one of the first models from the early 1960’s, distinguishable by its broad-arrow style hands. This watch is powered by a Valjoux cal. 92.

An interesting trio.


** Many thanks to Steve Gillman for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster (Valjoux Cal. 23)…

This Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver from Nivada Grenchen arrived in pretty much the same condition as the last one (that post here).

(Click pictures to enlarge)

The Chronomaster was first introduced in 1963 and remained in the Nivada lineup until 1978. During that time it changed significantly both in terms of styling and the calibres used inside. The main changes being that the broad arrow hands were eventually replaced by baton style hands, and the column wheel chronograph calibres were replaced by cam-lever chronograph calibres which were significantly cheaper to produce.  (For a detailed history of the Chronomaster check out this excellent post on the website Inventit Et Fecit).

I bought this watch as a restoration project based on a few pictures and an email discussion with the seller. Overall the condition looked to be relatively good, but the calibre inside remained a mystery until the watch arrived. While there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ Chronomaster (in my opinion!), I knew based on the style of dial and hands that this watch was one of the earlier models which gave me hope that one of the better column wheel chronograph calibres would be inside.

Opening the caseback I was pleased to see a Valjoux cal. 23, still in excellent condition and with no sign of abuse or corrosion… always a bonus.

In terms of the cosmetic condition, things looked good too. The case had a few marks, but no major dents, and the bezel insert was still in decent condition which is not always the case on these watches. I’ve yet to see a Chronomaster with a perfect original bezel insert as the bezel insert sits slightly above the level of the bezel it is subject to wear, especially on the outer edge.

The dial was still in near perfect condition, the lume on the hour markers had darkened but was still intact. The lume in the hands was well past its sell by date and had deteriorated to the point of falling out.  You may have noticed in the first picture that the hand for the minute register was missing. When a hand is floating around the dial there is always a chance that the tip of an axle has been broken off, but thankfully that wasn’t the case here, the hand was just loose.

While the watch did run and the chronograph was working, looking at the condition of the oil under the microscope I could see that it had completely dried out, a sure sign that the movement hadn’t been serviced for quite some time. A full service followed and the movement was looking good again.

All that was left to do was to tidy up the cosmetic issues. The hands were relumed, the case cleaned and the crystal polished, here is the result.

To finish off this post, here is a 1960’s advertisement I found for the Chronomaster… a watch for all time.


Nivada Autochron (Lemania Cal. 1341)…

Another great looking chronograph from Nivada, this time a Taravana Autochron.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Bought while on vacation in Australia in 1973, this watch is still in the possession of its original owner. It was worn daily until the early 80’s when an accident while repairing a tractor left the glass broken and the wearer with a badly sprained wrist. (It must have been some impact as the crystal on this watch is 3mm thick).

Nivada are an under-rated brand in my opinion as they produced a variety of great looking chronographs over the years, all fitted with good quality calibres. Although the movements were often marked Nivada they never actually produced their own calibres, opting instead to re-brand ebauches from well known Swiss manufacturers such as ETA, Valjoux, and Lemania.

The calibre in this watch is a Lemania Cal. 1341 which I described recently in a post about a Tissot Navigator which has the same calibre. If you want to see a bit more ‘tech’ stuff, you can read that post here.

This Autochron has a rotating inner bezel which can be used as a timer, and is turned using the second crown on the left hand side of the case. Other models were also available in the same series, one with a fixed Tachymeter inner bezel…

… and also a model with a ‘square’ case, reminiscent of the Heuer Silverstone chronograph from the same period.

The Autochron also bears more than a passing resemblance to the popular Sinn 142 which featured the same case and a reworked version of the Lemania cal. 1341, the Lemania cal. 5100.

With regard to the work required on this watch, needless to say that a new crystal would be needed, along with a service after it’s 25 year ‘retirement from active duty’. As a piece of the glass was floating around inside the watch, and I was concerned that it may have scratched the dial or hands, but luckily that wasn’t the case. So, with a new glass fitted and the movement serviced, the watch was back to its best.


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

Nivada Grenchen Taravana (ETA Cal. 2472)…

Another interesting model from Nivada Grenchen, this time a Taravana Diver from the 1970’s.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Though the watch was in generally good condition, as you can see above the crystal had a few stress cracks, so would have to be replaced.

Unlike most dive watches these days this watch has an acrylic rather than a mineral glass crystal. You wouldn’t imagine that a regular acrylic crystal would be strong enough to resist the pressure of scuba diving, particularly as this watch is rated to a depth of 200m…. and you’d be right!

A much more substantial crystal is needed in this case, an armed diver crystal, which is around 3 times thicker than a regular acrylic crystal and made specifically for the job.

I’m really starting to appreciate Nivada Grenchen watches, from what I’ve seen they always used good quality movements, the one in this watch being no exception; a nicely decorated 21 jewel ETA cal. 2472 automatic calibre with a Nivada marked rotor.

I’m sure the retro styling of this watch won’t be to everyone’s taste but it certainly has all attributes of a good diving watch; a rotating bezel, a screwdown crown and a rock solid case.

… and one of the funkiest casebacks I’ve seen in a while… great!

In case you were wondering… ‘Taravana’ is a Polynesian word meaning ‘to fall crazily’ and is used to describe a rare form of decompression sickness suffered by breath-hold divers in that region. The symptoms of Taravana are vertigo, nausea, lethargy, paralysis and death… yikes! Read more about it here.


Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster (Valjoux Cal. 92)…

I bought this Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver (what a title!) from the 1960’s which was certainly in need of some attention.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Although not one of the major Swiss players, Nivada started production in Grenchen, Switzerland in 1925. Over the years, the company released a number of good looking models with catchy names such as ‘Antarctic’, ‘Depthmaster’, ‘Chronoking’, ‘Taravana’ and ‘Alertamatic’.

Like many others, things were going well until the company was hit hard by the quartz revolution, and it eventually closed it’s doors in the late 70’s or early 80’s.

You’ll often see the Nivada name linked with another watch company, Croton, who were actually the US distributor for Nivada watches. It’s not uncommon to see some of the Nivada watches branded Croton (or sometimes Croton Nivada Grenchen) for the US market, the Chronomaster being one of them.

The Chronomaster was produced with a host well respected calibres over the years, namely the Landeron Cal. 210 & 248, the Venus 210 and the Valjoux Cal. 23, 92, & 7733. In my watch is one of the best, a Valjoux Cal. 92; a manually wound, 17 jewel column wheel chronograph which was also used in many of the Heuer chronographs from the same era.

My watch had two main issues, the keyless works were jammed so the watch wouldn’t wind, and the reset mechanism had been set up incorrectly meaning that the watch would automatically reset when stopping the chronograph. Thankfully, no parts were damaged so after a service the movement was back up and running again.

With the movement finished the rest of the work was cosmetic, starting with a relume for the hands and a polish for the crystal. There wasn’t too much I could do to repair the dial, but I did the best I could to patch in the faded area. It isn’t perfect but it isn’t noticeable in daily wear.

I didn’t polish the case on this one, with the wear on the edge of the bezel, a mark free case wouldn’t have looked right, but a good clean certainly made a big difference.