Wristwatch restoration, servicing and repair

Posts Tagged ‘Zodiac’

Zodiac Automatic Chronograph (Zodiac Cal. 90)…

Following on from the Hamilton Chrono-Matic last month, it’s another Calibre 12 powered automatic chronograph, this time from Zodiac.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

I wrote about this model back in 2010 and at the end of the post I expressed an interest in owning one some day (that post here). I was contacted through the blog by a seller in Germany who was looking to move the same watch on and had found my post when researching the model. A deal was quickly done and the watch was soon inbound.

On arrival I was pleased as the watch was running, the chronograph worked and it was in good overall cosmetic condition. It had a few marks and scrapes from its 40 years of life and was long overdue a service, but all-in-all it was an honest example.

As regular readers and vintage chronograph enthusiasts will know, these chronographs along with models from Hamilton, Clebar, Tradition and Le Jour are known as “Poor Man’s Heuers” because even though they were produced by Heuer, they can usually be bought for less than their Heuer branded counterparts.

Other models in the Zodiac range during the 1970’s were identical to their Heuer siblings in all but the dial print, a few examples being the Zodiac Autavia, Carrera, GMT and they also offered a model reminiscent of Hamilton’s Fontainebleau chronograph.

Though the model in this post was exclusive to Zodiac, it does share the case and movement with the Heuer Jarama (…thankfully the gold coin-edge bezel was omitted from the Zodiac!)

This Zodiac was also produced with two subtly different dial designs; one with red highlights in the left sub-dial and one without. They were also produced with both round and fluted pushers at different times during the production run.

As the watch arrived in relatively good condition, it needed little more than a good clean, a movement service, a crystal polish and some light work on the case to bring it back up to scratch.

Also included in the sale were the original bracelet, box and owners manuals which are always a bonus for any vintage watch enthusiast.


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

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

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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.


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

Zodiac Chronograph (Valjoux Cal. 72C/723)…

Another Zodiac on the blog, this time a triple date chronograph.

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Dating to sometime in the late 1960’s this Zodiac would have been near the top end of their model range. The watch arrived in running condition and things looked promising on opening the caseback, as the movement was relatively clean, and had no sign of corrosion or mishandling.

Although the calibre in this watch is labelled as a Zodiac Cal. 83, it is in fact a Valjoux 72C.  This calibre is known as a “triple date chronograph” as in addition to the 12 hour chronograph mechanism found in the Valjoux 72 on which this calibre is based, it also displays the date, day, and month on the dial.

This calibre was in production from 1946 until 1974, and was used in the watches of both large and small manufacturers in that time. Here are few more examples.

I’ve already covered most of the Valjoux chronograph calibres on the blog, but as this is the first 72C on blog, let’s have a closer look. This first picture shows the movement after the dial and hands have been removed.

While the day and month wheels are immediately recognisable, less so is the hour register at the bottom of the picture (or hour recording runner to give it it’s official name), which is powered directly from the mainspring barrel via a driving wheel when the chronograph is engaged. Also highlighted is the hammer mechanism which moves the hour register back to 12 when the reset pusher is pressed, and the date corrector which manually advances the date when the lower corrector on the left hand side of the watch case is pressed.

With the day and month wheels removed, you can see the components underneath.

The day and date driving wheels are powered by the hour wheel which sits underneath the date wheel, and their position is critical. If you look at them closely, you will see that both wheels have a pin protruding from them which advance the day and date forward as midnight approaches. If the wheels aren’t aligned correctly during re-assembly, the day and date won’t advance together.

The day, date and month jumpers with their associated springs are used to hold the wheels in place, and also provide the ‘flick’ of the registers when advanced.

You will notice that the month is not automatically advanced on this calibre. Given the differing number of days in the months, a fully automated calendar mechanism, or ‘perpetual calendar’, is definitely in high-end complication territory. In this calibre the month must be advanced manually using the upper corrector on the left hand side of the case.

The same corrector is used to manually advance both the day and month; pressing the corrector half way down advances the day, and pressing it fully in advances the month.

Cosmetically the watch was in decent condition, though the lume had fallen out of the hands, and blue paint was missing from the crescent on the date hand. After these minor problems had been sorted out, and the movement fully serviced, the case was cleaned and the crystal polished before reassembly. It does show some signs of age on close inspection, but overall it’s still a fine looking timepiece.


** Many thanks to Tjeerd Jellema for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **

Zodiac Astrographic SST (Zodiac Cal. 88D)…

I don’t mind the odd eBay gamble, but this Zodiac Astrographic SST was a real punt.

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The watch arrived complete but in decidedly average condition and showing no signs of life. It couldn’t be wound either via the crown or the automatic winding mechanism, and the crown and stem pulled straight out of the watch – not the best of starts.

Zodiac first introduced the Astrographic SST in 1969, and as this early advertisement shows they were initially available in two case styles, the square cased model in this post, and a round cased version – the smaller versions are of course ladies models.

Gold plated models were added a few years later, and so was the “Astrodigit”, a further development of the concept which displayed an additional ‘digital’ readout of the time in the centre of the dial.

As you may have noticed, the unique selling point of these watches is that the time is displayed as “floating” batons for the hours and minutes, and an orbiting red dot for the seconds… very 1970’s.

With the watch removed from the case you can see that the floating effect is created by using three transparent discs in place of regular hands, each one visible through the next. Inset you can see the individual discs and dial.

The movement inside is a Zodiac cal. 88D which was derived from the manually wound A. Schild cal. 1687/88 and was specially modified for the Astrographic watches as extra height was needed on the dial side to accommodate the discs. The cal. 88D is one of the high beat calibres found in all of Zodiac’s SST (Split Second Timing) models. It runs at 36,000 bph or 10 beats/second, which as well as other technical advantages, gives the red seconds dot a smooth sweeping action around the dial.

On disassembling the watch I found that two parts in the automatic winding mechanism were damaged, but I had a parts movement from a previous Zodiac SST project that provided all parts required, so the problems were quickly solved, and after a service the movement was up and running again.

Cosmetically the watch was in poor shape too. The case had seen its fair share of ‘action’, and as you can see in the picture below, the crystal was pretty badly scratched.

Replacing non-round crystals isn’t straight forward, but for this watch it is even more difficult as the minute track and Zodiac symbol are transfer printed onto the underside of the glass, meaning that a genuine Zodiac replacement crystal would be needed, but they are long discontinued.

I did eventually track down a genuine crystal in the US, but with shipping costs factored in, the overall price was more than I’d paid for the watch, so I thought I’d try to polish out the scratches instead – not a simple process for mineral glass.

Increasingly finer grades of emery/polishing paper are used to remove the scratches and the final finish is achieved with a damp felt mop charged with cerium oxide. That process generates a lot of heat, and I was afraid that the transfers would melt, so I completed the whole process by hand. Considering how much time the entire polishing process took, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve got endless patience!

With the major marks removed from the case and after a re-brush, the watch was finally rebuilt. It still has its original Zodiac signed bracelet too which is a bonus.


Zodiac Spacetronic (ESA Cal. 9150)…

Battery powered watches are a bit of a rarity on the blog, this Zodiac Spacetronic is only the second.

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The founder of Zodiac, Ariste Calame, set up his first watchmaking workshop in 1864, but it wasn’t until 1908 that he registered the company name “Montres Zodiac”. Joined by his son, Louis Ariste Calame, and various other family members shortly afterwards, the company started to grow and developed strong export connections with the US.

A new factory was opened in Le Locle in 1951 and around that time, two significant models were gaining recognition; the “Autographic”, an automatic model with a power reserve indicator, and the watch for which Zodiac is probably best known, the “Sea Wolf” diver, first introduced in 1953.

Like many companies, the 1960’s and 70’s were the golden era for the brand with many visually and technically interesting models hitting the market, the Super Sea Wolf, Astrographic, and SST (Split Second Timing) models in particular. There were also some great mechanical chronographs sprinkled throughout the line-up, like this Cal. 90 powered model I repaired a couple of years ago.

For much more information about the Zodiac brand and their history, check out the site Vintage Zodiacs.

The Spacetronic model in this post is from the early 1970’s, a period when the line between mechanical and electric/electronic watches was blurring, resulting in hybrid calibres – battery powered watches with a traditional mechanical escapements. The calibre inside this watch is one such hybrid, the ESA Cal. 9150, also known as a “Dynotron”. I’ve written a description of how a Dynotron calibre works in a previous post, anyone interested can read that post here.

The watch arrived in good clean condition. The upper jewel and Incabloc shock spring were missing, but I had parts left over from my previous Dynotron project so that wouldn’t be a problem.  Even with a new battery fitted, the watch showed no signs of life, and on close inspection I could see that the oil had completely dried out, so the first step was to service the movement.

After servicing, the watch would run in two or three positions, but would stop almost immediately in others. Watching the balance wheel in motion revealed that the magnets on the balance wheel were scraping on the induction coils, too much end shake perhaps?

Alas, I wasn’t that lucky as under the microscope I could see that the tip of the upper balance staff pivot had been broken off, possibly at the same time that the shock spring was damaged, so parts would be needed after all. However, my luck was in as a search on eBay quickly unearthed a brand new complete balance.

Once the balance arrived it was plain sailing from there and the movement was back up and running again. The dial and hands were fitted, the case cleaned, and the crystal polished to finish the job.

And finally, just to finish off this post, here’s an advert from 1970 showing the white dialled version of this watch, along with a couple of other models in the range.


Zodiac Chronograph (Zodiac Cal. 90)…

Here is a great looking watch from the 1970’s, a Zodiac chronograph.

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Although running on arrival, the watch had a number of problems; it was missing a pusher, and the crystal, stem, and one of the chronograph levers were all broken. Parts would be needed to put this one right.

Inside this watch is a Zodiac Cal. 90 which I’m sure the sharp-eyed among you will spot immediately bears more than a passing resemblance to a Heuer Cal. 12.

During the 1970’s Heuer produced watches for other brands such as Clebar, Zodiac, Hamilton and Tradition, often identical to their own models but sold at a lower price point. These watches are referred to as “Poor Man’s Heuers” by the Heuer collecting community as they sell for significantly less than their Heuer branded counterparts these days, but represent great value for money if you can find them.

Tracking down a chronograph lever and new stem was quite easy, but finding a suitable tension ring crystal proved harder than I thought. The pictures don’t really show it, but this is a large watch, the face of which is nearly all dial. Because the tachymeter ring on this model is inside the crystal rather than being mounted on an external bezel, a much larger crystal is needed, and finding one locally proved difficult. I eventually had to order one from overseas.

Finding a replacement ‘fluted’ pusher was also difficult as the same style of pusher is used on Heuer’s Autavia models so they are quite a sought after item. To get the watch up and running again, a decision was made to replace both pushers with standard round headed pushers as it wouldn’t be much work to replace the pushers at a later date should a second fluted pusher be found.

However, as is often the case with work-around solutions, that wasn’t the end of the story. When the new pushers were installed they were nowhere near long enough to reach the movement due to the large size of the case, so I had to make some pusher screws with longer heads to solve the problem.

In the inset picture above you can see that the tip from the original stem has broken off. Though the stem may still work without the tip in some cases, it is essential for keeping the stem in line. Any lateral movement while winding or time setting would very quickly wear parts in the keyless works, so the stem should be replaced as soon as possible.

With all the replacement parts sourced, the movement was serviced, the case cleaned, and the watch re-assembled. It may be a Poor Man’s Heuer to some, but I wish I had a bag full of them!


** Many thanks to Henrik de Keizer for letting me feature his watch on the blog. **