I have dismantled quite a few Orient watches in the six years or so that I’ve been fettling old timepieces. Many online sellers will big up the Seiko connection when it comes to Orient, but although the modern Orients are on par with a Seiko 5, the older models definitely are not.
One glance inside the typical Orient 3 Star auto movement shows you why. You will find quite crude, almost unfinished metal parts there, with basic bridge work and automatic rotors that look stamped out by a factory making washers, not watch parts.
That said, many Orient watches can run perfectly well, even ones from the 1970s. But in my experience the good ones account for about 50% of the available stock out there at watch shows and online auctions. Many Orient autos can be stripped down, cleaned three or four times and still keep stopping after say three or four hours. The better Orient models tend to be ones with the date quickset button on the case, and this feature is definitely worth testing before you buy as getting to day/date wheels, then dealing with any spring clip/stiction problems is no easy task.
My feeling is that, just like a 1960s/70s Timex, these watches were not built to run forever with no maintenance. They come from a time when there was a watchmaker on every street, and you could get a budget watch like this cleaned and adjusted for just a few pounds.
The Worldtimers are arguably the best Orients to collect, certainly they fetch higher prices pre-owned and they look better built inside.
Buying one? My advice is shake an Orient gently before you buy it, and see if the second hand moves for 30 seconds or so. That’s a good sign of a well balanced movement. Do the hands set nicely, does the watch feel like it has the movement sitting securely in the case – no looseness at all, or noisy whirring from the automatic winding rotor? Most importantly, how dirty or dusty does it look under the crystal?
A gradual accumulation of dust, coupled with no proper cleaning and oiling is what produces a grinding paste that wears out staffs and clogs jewel holes with crud. On a vintage Jaeger Le Coultre it is well worth a day long stripdown to clean it, oil the correct parts and check the timekeeping. But on a £30-£50 Orient? Nope.
There are better watches out there that deserve your attention, even if they don’t have funky 1970s purple dials! Be lucky.