Wristwatch restoration, servicing and repair

Posts Tagged ‘Valjoux’

Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster (Valjoux Cal. 23)….

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

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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. **

Sicura Bullhead Chronograph (Valjoux Cal. 7734)…

Found hiding in a watch lot purchased by the owner, this 1970’s Sicura had obviously had a tough life.

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Sicura was started in the early 1960’s by Ernest Schneider, a pilot and micro-electronics specialist. Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s the company developed a wide range of diver’s watches, chronographs, world time watches, and also a range of mechanical digital, or ‘jump hour’ watches, often with funky styling (this one even has a built in light.)

The company grew quickly, offering models aimed mainly at the lower end of the market, which proved to be successful even when quartz watches appeared on the scene.

By the end of the 1970’s the quartz revolution had really taken hold, damaging the prospects of many long established watch manufacturers. Breitling was one such company who, despite offering high quality watches, were on the lookout for a buyer. Ernest Schneider recognised the potential of the renowned brand and stepped up to rescue Breitling. Though the companies remained completely separate, you will often see Sicura linked with Breitling (often in a bid to increase the perceived value of a Sicura!)

The majority of Sicura’s chrongraphs were fitted with pin lever calibres, like the EB cal. 8420, but during the 1970’s some models were fitted with higher quality Valjoux calibres. The watch in this post is one of them, fitted with a Valjoux cal. 7734 in this case.

The movement was intact and relatively clean, it just needed a service to bring it back to full working order. The majority of the work on this watch was on the case.

As you may have noticed in the first picture, the watch was missing both pushers, the crystal was cracked, and the crown had seen better days. Amazingly the chrome plated case had survived more or less intact with just minor wear through on the back.

The first problem I encountered was with the pushers. Just like the Zodiac I wrote about recently (see here), the large size of the case meant that standard pushers were too short to reach the movement. A different solution was needed this time as the pushers on this watch weren’t the “screw-in”, but the “drive-in” type.  With screw-in pushers the central screw can be unscrewed from the pusher head and modified or replaced, but that wasn’t the case here as drive-in pushers are often sealed units.

The solution was to make two end caps for the pushers to extend their reach. Not the most elegant of solutions, but effective all the same.

The second problem to overcome was with the crystal. Like the Zodiac chronograph, this is another large watch with a very large glass, and just like the Zodiac, the crystal is secured in the case by the tachymeter ring around the dial which doubles as a tension ring.

Ordinarily the diameter of the old crystal is measured and a new crystal is ordered in the same size. However, at 37.6mm, the crystal in this watch is bigger than the largest tension ring crystal commercially available. The solution was to order a different kind of crystal and cut a lip into the inner edge for the tachymeter ring, effectively converting it into a tension ring crystal. The size of the lip had to be exactly right, too deep and the tension ring wouldn’t work and crystal would fall out, too shallow and it would crack when pressed in.

All went well, and with the casing problems solved and the movement serviced, fitting a new crown finished the job.

If you are a fan of 1970’s Bullhead chronographs, you may be interested in this post that I wrote a couple of years ago.


** Many thanks to Jürgen Kamerman for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

V.I.P. Memosail (Valjoux Cal. 7737)…

Still in use by a regular sailor this Memosail had one taken one wave too many.

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The owner first noticed condensation appearing inside the watch in May and the watch found its way to me in October. Opening the caseback I was amazed how much rust had developed in such a short amount of time.

The movement inside this watch is a Valjoux cal. 7737 which is modified version of the Valjoux cal. 7733/34. I explained the modifications to the base calibre in a previous post, interested parties can read that post here.

Close inspection of the dial also revealed that the water had got under the edges of the dial paint too.

In some cases, like the Zenith Surf that I wrote about recently, you can get lucky and only the outer parts of the movement are affected, but when the dial is damaged that is a sign that water has made its way right through the watch, and sure enough, digging further into the movement wasn’t a pretty sight.

In cases like this it would be best to order a new part, but specific parts for the cal. 7737 aren’t so easy to find these days, so the only option was to clean up and polish the chronograph heart as much as possible, and repair the pivot using a Jacot tool.

A Jacot tool is used to repair and refinish pivots in clocks and watches. It would be much too long a post to include a detailed description of how it works, but here is a picture of it.

The wheel with the damaged pivot is mounted in the tool and the bow on the left is used to spin the wheel back and forth by hand while working on the pivot with a pivot file or burnisher.

With the rust removed and the rest of the movement serviced, it was back up and running again. The last thing to do was some repair work on the dial. Without a compete repaint it will never be perfect, but the repair isn’t noticeable in daily use.


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

Dugena Chronograph (Valjoux Cal. 7733)…

There has been quite a few Valjoux powered chronographs on the blog, and here is another one, this time from Dugena.

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Dugena are a German watch company with over a 100 year history. They were originally part of the ‘Union Horlogere’, a watchmakers guild founded in Switzerland in 1900, but after merging with the company Glashütten Alpina in 1917 they traded under the name Alpina as part of the ‘Deutsche Uhrmachergenossenschaft’ (German Watchmakers Guild).

The company changed their name back to Dugena in 1942, and during the 1970’s they produced a number of good quality divers watches, one of the most interesting being this Watertrip model with a mechanical depth meter.

The company is still trading today, but like many other well respected brands from the past, the mechanical part of the range has gone and the company only produces quartz watches these days. You can visit their website here.

When disassembling this watch I discovered an unexpected problem, the crystal was cracked all around the base. Though this isn’t ordinarily a problem and is quickly solved by fitting a new crystal, on this watch it was a potential problem as the crystal has a step on the outside to hold the bezel in place.

Generally these friction bezels are pressed over a lip on the upper edge of the case and a thin wire underneath provides tension to stop them from turning unintentionally. I was prepared for a long search for a replacement crystal as this isn’t a model seen regularly, but I was lucky to find one in a relatively short time.

Mechanically the movement was in good condition but the chronograph didn’t work and would stop working as soon as the minute counter was due to advance. On closer inspection I could see that someone had moved all the eccentric screws and the meshing depths were all wrong for the chronograph wheels. Aside from making minor adjustments there should be little need to alter the position of the eccentric screws during a regular service.

After a full service for the movement and setting up the chronograph mechanism properly again it was on to the cosmetic issues. The hands and dial markers were repainted and the bezel dot was repainted and lacquered. After cleaning the case, fitting the new crystal and re-assembling, here is the result.


** Many thanks to Menno van Rij for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Welsbro Chronograph (Valjoux Cal. 7736)…

Continuing to ride my ‘blurry eBay picture’ luck, I was tempted by this Welsbro chronograph.

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Though not a recognised brand name, I had restored another Welsbro chronograph in the past (see that post here), so I knew that there was a good chance that the movement inside would be of decent quality. When it arrived I wasn’t disappointed, the crystal was damaged and the case had some scratches, but the dial and hands underneath were in perfect condition.

… and the good news continued as opening the caseback revealed a nice clean Valjoux cal. 7736.

You’ll notice in the picture above that the case threads are covered in a black tar-like ‘goo’ which, believe it or not, used to be the caseback gasket. You see this quite often on vintage watches, it is caused by the sealant used on the caseback gasket. After a couple of decades the rubber seems to break down due to a chemical reaction between the two. If you’ve ever experienced this stuff you’ll know just how horrible it is, it seems to get everywhere and is impossible to remove without using solvent. Thankfully it hadn’t found its way onto the movement this time.

The Valjoux cal. 7736 is the big brother of the Valjoux 7733/4 calibres which appear quite regularly on the blog. The difference between the calibres is that the 7736 has an additional hour register which allows the timing of events up to 12hrs.

Comparing the cal. 7736 to a cal. 7734 they are visually very similar, with just an additional lever underneath the cam. Like many other chronograph calibres, the parts for the 12hr register are on the dial side of the movement.

The picture above shows the fully assembled mechanism, and highlighted is the reset hammer which moves across and sets the subdial back to zero when the reset button is pressed. The following picture shows the mechanism with the cover plate removed.

You can see that the hour recording runner is powered directly from the mainspring barrel, and also pictured is the stop lever which is lifted from the runner when the chronograph is engaged, allowing it to turn along with the mainspring barrel. When disengaged, the stop lever arrests the runner and under the gear on the mainspring barrel arbor is a friction washer so the barrel can continue to rotate unimpeded.

The watch needed little more than a service and a clean up this time, so here’s the finished product after fitting a new crystal and doing some refinishing work on the case.


Wittnauer Chrono-Date (Valjoux Cal. 7734)…

As regular readers will know, I don’t mind taking a gamble on a ‘blurry’ eBay item now and then. I took a chance this time on a Wittnauer Professional Chrono-Date from the 1970’s.

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In the eBay listing the seller’s description was worded ‘economically’ to say the least, here it is in its entirety: “Does not run but the movement looks great.” The second picture wasn’t much better than the first but I still thought it was worth the risk.

Albert Wittnauer created the Wittnauer brand in 1880 after spotting a gap in market for an affordable Swiss watch designed specifically for US buyers. The watches were designed and produced in Geneve, and as he was already working for a watch importer, getting his watches into the US was no problem. Priced lower than Swiss competitors at that time, the brand was an instant success.

The popularity of the brand continued to grow over the following decades and when Wittnauer timepieces were fitted to the aeroplanes using during World War I it began a strong link with aviation, their timepieces being used in later historic flights such as Amelia Earhart’s solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1932, and Howard Hughes’ coast to coast speed crossing of the US in 1937.

In terms of notable wristwatches, Wittnauer released the world’s first waterproof, shockproof, anti-magnetic wristwatch, the “All-Proof”, in 1918…

… and the first Swiss made electric watch available in the US, and still a candidate for the watch with the coolest hands ever, the Electro-Chron in 1957.

Wittnauer are still producing watches but they are now owned by Bulova who took over the company in 2001. If you would like to read more about the history of the Wittnauer brand, you can do that here.

When my watch arrived I was pleased that the risk had paid off, the case, dial and hands were in great condition and the seller had been true to his word, the movement did indeed look great.

All the watch needed was a full movement service and a thorough cleaning of the case. Here’s the watch after fitting a new crystal and strap….. “Retro!”


CWC Chronograph (Valjoux Cal. 7733)…

This chronograph from CWC is the first British military watch to feature on the blog.

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The brand name “CWC” stands for Cabot Watch Company, who were established in 1972 and have been providing equipment to the British military for over 30 years.

As you would imagine, a wristwatch is an important piece of equipment for any defence force and performance specifications have to be met before any timepiece is deemed fit for military use.

Every country has its own specifications (and suppliers) which have evolved as technology has advanced. The British forces have been supplied by several companies over the years, namely Lemania, Rolex, Hamilton, CWC, Jaeger Lecoultre, Tudor, Newmark, Precista, Seiko and Pulsar.

Any watch issued to a member of the armed forces is marked with a designation number and a serial number which includes the year of issue. In addition to this, equipment issued to British personnel is marked with the “Broad Arrow” symbol. As you can see, the watch is marked with the Broad Arrow symbol on both the dial and caseback in this case.

The Broad Arrow symbol is used to denote British Government property or more specifically Ordnance; weapons, ammunition, combat vehicles and equipment. The history of the symbol dates back to 1553 when Sir Thomas Gresham, the founder of the Royal Exchange, smuggled gunpowder into England in barrels marked with the symbol “(/\)”. In 1633 it became the universal marking for Ordnance when it was used on all small arms and ammunition, and the symbol has developed over the years into the Broad Arrow symbol used today.

The watch in this post arrived in a pretty sorry looking state, it did run, but the chronograph didn’t work or reset. Opening the caseback revealed a relatively clean Valjoux Cal. 7733…

As you can see the caseback gasket had deteriorated into black gunge but it had managed to keep the moisture out.  Mechanically the movement was sound with no damage or signs of  corrosion, so a regular service restored it to fully working condition.

The case needed two cycles through the ultrasonic to remove the build up of dirt and the pushers had to be taken out and relubricated, but after that, all that was left to do was install a new crystal and the job was complete.

It is still possible to find these watches on auction sites and sales forums in a variety of conditions, but you may need to open your wallet wider than you think as most military watches are extremely collectible.

It is also possible to buy a modern interpretation of this watch (fitted with a ETA cal. 7760) directly from CWC… but go for the original I say!


** Many thanks to Lee Curtis 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).

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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.