Wristwatch restoration, servicing and repair

Posts Tagged ‘Valjoux’

Le Cheminant Master Mariner (Valjoux Cal. 92)…

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

(Click pictures to enlarge)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rich.

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


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

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

(Click pictures to enlarge)

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

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

(Picture: OnTheDash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich.

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


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

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

(Click pictures to enlarge)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich.

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


Heuer Camaro 7220T (Valjoux Cal. 72)…

Another classic vintage Heuer chronograph, this time it’s a Camaro.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

It could be argued that the Camaro is something of a hidden gem among vintage Heuer chronographs. Though it is essentially the same watch as the eternally popular Carrera, the Camaro doesn’t seem to have the same appeal among enthusiasts. Surprising really as at 37mm it’s only 1mm larger than the Carrera and the cushion shaped case makes it ‘wear bigger’ which should appeal to many given the current affinity for larger watches.

In contrast to the majority of Heuer chronographs which were named after motor racing events or circuits ie. Monaco, Carrera, Silverstone, Monza, Jarama, the Camaro was named after the Chevrolet Camaro in an attempt to appeal to US motor racing fans – the Chevrolet Camaro was the pace car at the Indy 500 at the time.

First introduced in 1968, the Camaro was the last model released before Heuer brought automatic chronographs to market in 1969. Against stiff competition from within, sales of the Camaro would I suspect have suffered and as a consequence production stopped in 1972 after a run of just 4 years.

Given that it had such a short production run there were lots of Camaro variants. The early models were all fitted with the excellent Valjoux cal. 72 and there was also a two sub-dial model fitted with the Valjoux 92. As production moved into the 1970’s the calibres were switched to the Valjoux 77xx family – V7733, V7734 (date) and V7736 (12hr chronograph).

Most models were offered with black, white or panda dials and there were also both solid and gold plated models available. Later models also had the fluted pushers seen on the Autavia chronographs rather than traditional round heads, which can be used as a good indicator as to the age and calibre that may be inside.

Here are a few examples of other models:

Getting back to the subject of this post, you may have noticed in the first picture that the watch arrived without a crown and stem, so it wasn’t known if the watch was fully functional. Opening the watch was encouraging as the movement, a Valjoux Cal. 72, was complete and in good cosmetic order with no sign of rust or damage. However, under the microscope I could see that the oils had all turned to dust so the watch hadn’t been serviced in many years.

Inserting a suitable stem and crown into the movement from another V72 chronograph, the movement started ticking right away and all the chronograph functions worked which was a good start.

There weren’t any hidden surprises this time so once a crown and stem had been sourced and fitted, the watch only needed a movement service, a thorough clean and a new crystal to bring it back to full working order.

The case had picked up a few marks over the years, mostly on the case sides and chamfered section between the brushed case top and sides. Polishing this area by hand is tricky as it’s all too easy to remove case edge definition on the sides or chamfer, but patience prevailed and it was well worth the effort in the final result.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Paul Denham for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Breitling Superocean Ref. 2005 (Valjoux Cal. 7731)…

Something of a rarity this time on the blog, a Breitling Superocean Ref. 2005.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

The name ‘Superocean’ will be recognised by any Breitling enthusiast as it has been a model in their line-up since 1957. Releasing a diver and a chronograph in that year, the new models proved popular and it’s not hard to see why… how cool are these two?

Fast forward a decade or so and Breitling released the first version of the watch in this post, the Superocean Ref. 2005, featuring a Venus cal. 188 which had been modified specifically for Breitling to incorporate a unique diving timer (more on that later). The main differences between the two versions are that the early model has no running seconds subdial and has a plain diving bezel rather than the yachting bezel found on the later model.

As you can see in the first picture, the watch in this post arrived in pretty poor condition. The watch didn’t run at all, the timer wouldn’t operate and the crystal was heavily crazed. Once out of the case, judging by the condition of the dial and the missing lume, it was clear that the watch had also had some moisture in it at some time.

Inside the watch is a Valjoux cal. 7731 which is based on the Valjoux cal. 7730 cam lever chronograph. Like the Venus 188 used in the early model, the caliber in this watch was again modified specifically for the Breitling Ref 2005.

Thankfully the movement was still in decent condition and showed no sign of rust, though it did have it’s fair share of issues. The hairspring was broken, a part of the diving timer was missing and the pusher tab on the operating lever had broken off. All of these items would need to be replaced.

What isn’t obvious in the first picture and certainly isn’t immediately recognisable when looking at the movement is that this watch doesn’t have a regular chronograph function but a unique diving timer – the main sweep second hand doesn’t rotate once per minute like a regular Valjoux 773x chronograph but once per hour, eliminating the need for a minute subdial. What also isn’t immediately obvious is that the watch also has a hole in the dial under the ‘Superocean’ script showing the current state of the timer.

Let’s have a closer look at the components which make this possible…

With the dial removed, you can see the modifications made to the dial side of the base calibre. A recessed area has been cut into the mainplate to incorporate the timer state indicator.

When the dial is in place the indicator underneath shows one of three states depending on the current operation of the timer; running, stopped or reset.

The indicator is moved back and forth between states by a modified chronograph hammer on the going side of the movement. The hammer has an extended pin that passes through a hole in the mainplate (again modified for this calibre) and moves the state indicator under the dial accordingly.

The final modification is to the driving mechanism which dispenses with the regular parts found in the base chronograph calibre. The third wheel is modified to extend the upper pivot onto which a driving wheel is mounted and the coupling clutch is replaced with a completely new part which incorporates two internal wheels geared to rotate the centre chronograph wheel just once per hour rather than once per minute.

Sadly the driving wheel was missing from the watch and I knew that sourcing a replacement would be very hard indeed. Although Breitling confirmed that they had the missing part in stock, they refused to supply the part unless the watch was sent to their service centre for assessment and a full restoration.

Six months of fruitless searching rolled by and not having the means to manufacture such a wheel, I decided to make a work-around ‘wheel’ comprising a slotted brass bush with a rubber gasket mounted on it to provide the friction needed to drive the timer. Perhaps not the most elegant solution, but it worked a treat and allowed me to continue with the rest of the work.

With all the movement problems solved, it was on to the cosmetic work. The dial was cleaned (as much as was possible), the hands were re-painted and the hands and timer state indicator were re-lumed. Finally, the case was cleaned and a new crystal and caseback gasket fitted before the watch was rebuilt.

The owner decided subsequently to send the watch to the vintage department at Breitling who inspected the watch and finally agreed to supply and fit the correct driving wheel after all.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Bryce Clayton for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Zodiac Sea-Chron Chronograph (Valjoux cal. 726)…

Missing a crystal, this vintage chronograph from Zodiac arrived looking pretty sorry for itself.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

The Sea-Chron is something of a hidden gem among vintage Zodiacs as there is very little information about the watch online, most of the screen-inches being dominated by the more popular Sea Wolf and Astrographic models.

Digging around online I did find this vintage advert which shows the Sea-Chron nestled amongst a range of Sea Wolf divers. I’m guessing from the models available that this advert dates to the late seventies.

Priced at $160 the Sea-Chron was only $50 more than a ‘standard’ Sea Wolf diver at the time which offered incredible value for money, especially as its value these days could exceed the same Sea Wolf diver by up to a factor of ten… I really need to get started on building that time machine!

The Sea-Chron was available with a black bezel too which is a more traditional look, though personally I prefer the silver/grey bezel.

The watch in this post is still in the possession of the original owner, though it hadn’t been used for many years. The crystal was lost more than 30 years ago at which point the watch found its way into a drawer and was only discovered again last year.

Amazingly the dial and hands had survived more or less unscathed. As you can see above, the lume had fallen out of the minute hand and the sweep second hand was bent but the dial, although covered in debris, had survived with barely a mark on it which is rarely the case.

Inside the watch is a Valjoux cal. 726, a great quality movement and pretty much top of the line for production chronograph calibres in the 1970’s. Based on Valjoux’s cal. 72, the 726 is an upgraded version that was released in 1974, the improvements being a smaller balance wheel and an increased beat rate of 21,600 beat per hour (the cal. 72 being 18,000 bph).

After 30 years in a drawer it was no surprise that the movement needed a service as all the oils had completely dried out and the caseback gasket had been in there so long that it had emulsified and then solidified again into a hard plastic… nasty!

With the movement serviced it was on to the cosmetic issues. After chipping out the old caseback gasket, all the casing parts were given a few laps in the ultrasonic cleaner, after which the crystal aperture was measured and a new crystal ordered. The hands were re-lumed to match the hour markers and the sweep second hand bent back into shape before the watch was rebuilt.

I think this watch is great and represents everything that a vintage chronograph should be; it looks great, is a sensible size (39mm without the crown/pushers) and has a great calibre inside. I hope you agree.

Rich.

** Many thanks to Christopher Bourke for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **


Dodane Type 21 Chronograph (Valjoux Cal. 235)…

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

(Click pictures to enlarge)

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.

Rich.

** Many thanks to David Budd 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.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

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. **