Category Archives: Vintage Watch Tips

Vintage Quartz Watches, Yea or No Way?

There are some early quartz watches that fetch incredible prices. If you have an original Bulova Accurton, a Seiko Astron from the late 60s or a Casio calculator watch from the early 80s, then you’ll be happy to know that values are rising.

Of course these are ground-breaking watches of their time, and deserve respect from collectors. Seiko, more than any brand, revolutionised watch sales with their cheaper quartz watches. They were still expensive mond you, I recall buying a basic black Casio digital for £20 back in the early 80s – which was almost half a week’s wages – because the Seiko digital was too fancy at £29.99.

Naturally, that Casio went to the bin decades ago, just like all the digital watches I bought in the 1980s and the quartz watches I bought in the 1990s too. But recently I have bought a few old quartz models, generally the Lanco, Timex and Seiko SQ models, plus a brand new, big 43mm Pulsar I liked just because it had a groovy teal coloured chronograph.

Apart from Seiko SQ50/100 models, I always suggest people avoid the older quartz watches because they aren’t so reliable, or so easy to revive from their comatose state when people leave them in drawers and the batteries split open, then leak that green oxide shit all over the place.

I did buy a running Lanco from the early 70s, which has the Tissot 7067 movement in it, last year. This actually went OK after a little clean of the contacts and a new Renata 301 battery inside. But the time-setting malarkey on this watch is franly a bit silly.

You pull the crown out and it moves the hour hand, like many older Omega quartz watches by the way. But there is no second pull-out position to move the minute hand.

I googled the problem and found that you have to hold the crown down for 5 seconds, then release, then tap it again to make the minute hand twirl around.

Nope. No joy. The most likely cause is that the stepper  motor isn’t engaging with the gear wheel to make that magic happen, but considering the Lanco is probably worth under £75 at auction, I cannot be bothered taking it apart.

SPARES PROBLEMS

Another annoyance with this Lance is the usual Tissot/Omega/Lanco tension ring holding the crytal in, and it is a front-loader diassembly routine. So crystal off, hands off, crown n stem out etc and then release the movement. I will be blunt, I hate that obtuse thinking by the Tissot/Lanco group. Timex did the same thing for decades.

Basically it was a ploy to create work for their authorised repair network by making life difficult for the amateur watch fettler. The more you mess with old crystals held in by thin rings of metal, the more likely you are to scratch dials or break the tension rings or hands.

So yep, messing with old quartz watches is a good way to end up hunting for rare spare crystals, hands and tension rings too. All these delicate parts often rust into position after 50 years, or simply get brittle and begin to crumble away.

My solution to the hand-setting problem was to disconnect the battery and wait until exactly 2.41pm to re-fit and slide the connector tab across it, since that was where the minute hand had stopped at.

So I have a running Lanco quartz, kinda nice looking, new battery in place and a neat sort of Tiger’s Eye effect on the dial as well. Like many old watches, it isn’t perfect and it will probably never be worth more than £100 even if I live to be 90. By that time everyone will have a chip inserted in their arm that tells the time, reads your bad thoughts and automatically emails the Solyent Green factory when your fridge is out of vegan ping meals.

Enjoy your watches I say, it’s later than you think.

How To Fit A New Crystal to a Vintage Swiss Watch

There is one tweak that almost any watch enthusiast can do which adds value, and enjoyment, to their vintage Swiss watch; get rid of scratched or damaged crystals and fit a new one. It improves the appearance instantly and you’re learning stuff that saves a long wait at most UK jewellers or independent watch repair workshops.

It is relatively easy to do this job – even a novice can do it in 30 mins – although you will need the correct tools, as well as some expertise. I suggest you start with a bit of practice on some old scrap watches that don’t work before graduating to more precious family heirlooms.

If you want to learn watch repairs then I strongly suggest you invest in at least £300 worth of tools and equipment. You can’t do this work with a £5 mini-screwdriver set from a car boot, a case knife from Guandong and some WD40.

audax crystal replacement vintage swiss watch
You can see the clear cement glue in the top left of this pic – this one was a 310, but the correct fitment was a 314 size crystal. That’s why the old one was glued in.

So here is what you need;

Workbench or table, good lighting, dust-free white paper or board to place things on.

Bergeon or similar crystal lift, plus base. These cost about £80-£90 on ebay.

Fine tweezers and cocktail sticks for teasing dirt out of the bezel.

Air blower or soft artists type brush

Head loupe or magnifying glass.

Replacement crystals – preferably high-dome acrylic, as these are easy to fit and you can buy job lots on ebay.

Polywatch or similar cleaning product, plus soft jewellers cloth

audax before 1
Red thread near the cannon pinion, plus glue at 6pm – not exactly George Daniels standard repair in the past on this Audax.

Here’s how I did this Audax earlier, which had an incorrect crystal glued into position by some heathen, who also managed to trap dust, glue residue and a red cotton thread fragment in there.

  1. Check the lift has gripped the edge of the crystal evenly, so it won’t slip off – then gently lift it away.
  2. Use the blower and brush to clean the dial – DO NOT use solvents to clean the dial, the paint will come off.
  3. Place the new crystal on the old one, do the rims match exactly? Use a micrometer to check your measurements ideally, but if not gently place the new one on the watch and feel how well it sits there. Is it a near perfect, but slightly too large fit? Good.
  4. Place your new crystal onto the sliding metal base plate and lock it securely, then ease the claws of the crystal lift onto the end of the dome, where it meets the rim. Screw in a little bit to compress the crystal – not too much. Check it sits evenly all the way around.
  5. Use the blower to clean the inside of the new crystal and the watch dial face again – you don’t want to lock in hairs or dust.
  6. Press the new one down firmly onto the bezel. It should pop in, overcoming resistance – you should feel this. Unscrew the lift claws.
  7. Check the new crystal doesn’t rotate or fall out if the watch is turned upside down.
  8. Clean it with Polywatch and a soft jewellers cloth.

audax after 1

That’s it, job done. Looks a whole lot better – now I can read the Swiss Made text at 6 o’clock, where previously a big dollop of glue obscured the view.

Happy watch fettling 😉

Motorsport History: The Story Behind Mike Hailwood’s Heuer Carrera

A Heuer Carrera was sold by Bonhams last year, making over £56,000, once the property of Mike Hailwood, arguably the greatest motorcycle road racer of all time. That’s Valentino Rossi saying it, not me by the way. The inscription on the 18ct caseback from watch boss Jack Heuer reads `For a Successful 1973,’ and the story of that roller-coaster season is a tale worth telling.

Mike The Bike was an amazing racer and could well have been F1 champion too, but for a terrible crash in 1974 at the Nurburgring, which saw one of his legs damaged badly, effectively ending his driving career – although he famously made a bike racing return in 1978 at the IOM TT.

heuer sponsored surtees F1 car
As well as Heuer watches, the Surtees team had money from Brooke Bond – a leading tea brand in 1970s Britain.

But the season before he was driving a Surtees in F1 and not having a great time in the underfunded team. John Surtees was a bike racing rival of Mike’s from the 60s, who had gone on to become the first man to ever win the top title on two wheels and four. Both Mike Hailwood and John Surtees respective fathers had been rivals back in the 1930s too, so there was friendly rivalry, even though Mike was employed by John Surtees. Deep down, Hailwood wanted to win the F1 title and perhaps a Le Mans 24 hours into the bargain, just to go one better.

In 1972 Mike Hailwood had secured a fourth place at Monza in the Surtees, demonstrating that his early attempts at car racing between 1969-71 didn’t do his talent justice. He was on the pace – when the car could handle the pace.

That 1973 season was a shocker for Surtees as the car proved to be unreliable, to the point where Mike would carry a paperback book inside the cockpit, in case he needed to spend an hour or so reading, rather than hiking all the way back to the pits on the longer circuits, like the Nurburgring. Hailwood had to retire from 10 of the GP races that year, due to the Surtees car breaking down, which of course begs the question, why did Jack Heuer congratulate Mike on a successful year?

The answer is that Hailwood was awarded the George Medal for his heroic attempts to free Clay Reggazoni from his burning car at Kyalami in South Africa, after a collision on the opening lap. Mike’s legs and hands caught fire as petrol engulfed the car, and he arrived back at the pits with burn markings on his driving kit. His widow Pauline later recollected;

“Mike came into the pits stony faced, he didn’t mention the rescue of Clay, he just got the motorbike we used for transport and we went back to Paddy Driver’s house. I only found out what happened when I read the papers the next day.”

Although incredibly modest, Hailwood accepted the George Medal for his brave actions that day at Kayalami and that was also the reason Jack Heuer gave Mike the solid gold Carrera watch.

It was a a kind of Legion d’Honneur medal from a sponsor to a driver who was willing to risk his life in every race, because that’s how dangerous F1 was back then. Roger Williamson and Francois Cevert both died in that 1973 season and a multi-car pile-up at the start of the British GP also highlighted how risky the sport was and how little had been accomplished in terms of car or track safety.

Jack Heuer wanted to acknowledge Mike’s personal courage on that day in South Africa and salute the camaraderie of the track; the spirit of racing for its own sake and the brotherhood that F1 drivers shared.

It’s more than just a watch.

 

 

Affordable Vintage Watches For Men? We Have Some Winners For You

Like a nice cheap runabout car, everyone wants an affordable vintage watch. Preferably a Rolex. Only joking, even the old 1940s Rolex models are now getting expensive and given that spare parts for them can ONLY be sourced by breaking up similar examples, that isn’t a great option if you’ve got a few hundred pounds to spend on old tickers.

So here are some relatively cheap vintage watches for blokes. Plus, a few reasons as to why we rate them so highly.

accurist swiss movement ETA crop

  1. Accurist 21 jewel 1950s/60 slimline style

The main reason we rate the older Accurist watches is that they all feature Swiss movements. Some have ETA, some AS, and there were a few high end divers watches with Landeron chronograph movements inside. Those Landeron powered Accurist models tend to go for silly money now, about £700-£1000, which compared to a Landeron powered Chronograph Suisse for around £400 seems expensive to us.

But the humble, elegantly simple, Accurist Shockmaster series, do a great job of timekeeping if you find a cherished example, and can be found on ebay from aorund £50 upwards. It’s worth paying £100 for a really superb example in our view, expect to pay £300 plus a for a 9ct gold case version.

lanco 5

2. Lanco 1970s mechanicals

Now lots of watch collectors know Lanco was absorbed into the Omega-Tissot empire in the 1960s as the Swiss watch industry began to contract from its 1950s heyday. It became a sister brand to Tissot, with models like the Lanco Astrolon being a rebadged Tissot Actualis Autolub – the plastic movement experiment that began as IDEA 2001.

The 1970s Lanco models were built to a price of course, but they were still sharing movements and build tech with Tissot-Omega. There was cost-cutting in the industry as the Swiss coped with an onslaught of Japanese digital watches, but Lanco watches can make sturdy reliable vintage watches, with some nice retro 70s touches in terms of styling. You can find a clunker for £40-£60, or pay £100 for something that bears very few marks from the last 40-49 years of use.

sekonda header

3. Sekonda 1970s/80s Mechanicals and Automatics

There’s a great deal of snobbery regarding vintage wind-up Sekonda watches. These watches were built to last, in a Soviet era when people had to wait in line to buy outdated groceries and be grateful for whatever consumer goods they were allowed to purchase. Bit like Huddersfield under lockdown today.

The thing that Sekonda watch movements offer is tractor-like reliability and strength. You can bash these watches up, submerge them briefly, or simply not service the movement for about 40 years. Take it apart, clean everything, add some watch oil to a few jewels and generally speaking, away it goes. Just tremendously durable, tough watches. Given that you can buy runners foir £25 on ebay, Sekonda makes a great entry level watch for collectors.

They also made a nice alarm function Sekonda in the 70s, plus a succession of chunky case automatics. Budget £70-£80 for a nice example. You also see some late 70s and 1980s UK Sekonda watches, complete with their distinctive red watch boxes for sale sometimes. Always worth considering as an everyday vintage watch.

seiko 5 1

4. Seiko 5 Auto

The new Seiko 5 automatics are a better watch. There we said it, but it’s true. Modern machine tools and robot quality control on parts production all help to make a new Seiko 5 at £220-ish a bargain, compared to older models.

That said, if you want a vintage Japanese watch with a variety of eye-catching coloured dials, plus relaibility, then the vintage Seiko 5 models deliver. True, they need that mad shaking from side-to-side for 20 times or so to get going – you can’t wind them. But once running they tend to ekep going – and spare parts are plentiful and cheap.

So if you want to learn a little bit about watch repair, then the Seiko 5 is another great choice. Buy a job lot of non-runners and you’ll probably figure out how to get something working again. Even if it does just tick over for 3 hours or so before stopping.

There are some crazy prices being asked on ebay for some nice Seiko 5 watches. It’s also wise to steer clear of refurbished dial Indian models – these often have suffered a hard life, and a new lick of paint doesn’t mean that the movement has been thoroughly cleaned and oiled properly. The typical price of £16 is a clue as to the quality of these watches.

So spend £50-£75 and get yourself a nice, looked after Seiko 5. You’ll find it’s light on the wrist, takes abuse all day long, and just keeps ticking.

Have fun – be lucky!

 

 

Yes, Russian Watches Are Worth Collecting. Chrono Values Rising

Russian watches? Cheap and cheerful, that’s what you’re thinking. Well, you are right, but they’re also very reliable and built to last like a T34 tank or an AK47. Many of these watches make perfect starter collection material, and fantastic value daily watches you can wear and enjoy. Yes, they aren’t Swiss level COSC certified chrono models that are going to fetch thousands at auction, but let me give you three good reasons to buy a used Sekonda, Poljot, Bostok/Vostok or Molnija.

  1. Good Examples Start at £25

Yep, you can get a very nice Vostok Komandirskie model on ebay or Gumtree, often including the original box and leaflet for £25 or so. This watch is still being manufactured brand new today by the way, costing about £60 or so online.

It has a few interesting features, such as the `wobbly’ crown, which is designed to bend like a tree, rather than break under pressure from cack-handed attempts at screwing down the crown. You’ll also notice the crystal is dome shaped, this is for water resistance – yep, you can dive down to attach a small IED to your enemies submarine or ship, whilst wearing this watch. Handy for all you Putin sponsored freelance asssasins.

The Komandirskie also has an automatic movement inside its sturdy case, which I’ve tested over 24 hours and is accurate to within 30 seconds. Not Rolex standard, but hey, what do you want for £25 quid Comrade Corbyn?

vostok flat 1

2. Ultra reliable

Here is another factoid for you. First watch I ever fixed was a dead Sekonda – TV dial model similar to the Raketa – which was clogged with dirt and fully wound up. All that was needed was a basic clean with the back off, no movement removal, a drop of oil on the end of the balance staff and off it went. Still running OK today five years later, which just shows how you can abuse these watches with no proper servicing and they still work. That non-runner cost a mere fiver at a watch fair by the way.

3. Good Original Chronographs Are Set to Rocket in Value

Sturmanskie and Poljot made some excellent chronograph models, many of which have movements inside that closely resemble Valjoux or Glashutte originals. Glashutte watch factory was captured by the Russians in the late stages of WWII, so just as the Russians took the second division scientists from the V2/V3 rocket programme, materials and expertise was taken back to Moscow.

poljot valjoux movement
Poljot chrono movement

Gagarin apparently wore a Sturmanskie in space, and the Poljot Strela is another model with astronaut connections. If you can find a good example of a 50s/60s chronograph that hasn’t been movement-swapped, bodged up with non-original parts etc then that could be a good investment.

I say could because considering you can buy a 1960s Valjoux 7733 powered Swiss watch, running nicely, for about £300-£500, paying well over £1000 for a Russian chrono with essentially the SAME movement inside doesn’t seem like a bargain to me. Having said that people pay £1000 for Sicura models based on the Breitling connection, which is of course complete nonsense.

The upside with a Poljot chrono watch is that any decent watchmaker will be able to service your watch for years to come, as there are still plenty of Valjoux 7733 movements available as spares and the stripdown and re-assembly will be bread n butter work for your local watch fettler.

 

 

 

Charity Shops vs Real Shops – It’s Your Choice

People blame the internet for the decline in the UK High Street, which is partly true. Other factors to consider are the change in lifestyle, with more people owning cheap cars and therefore shopping out of town where parking is free.

Then there’s the charity shops racket. Many employees are volunteers, or people serving community service. Charities are largely exempt from rigorous checks on their accounts – the Charity Commission states on its own website that it hopes to check just one in ten each year. Free rent too – my shop pays £1050 a month.

Once charity shops only sold donated used goods. Not now, much of their stock is brand new and they’re selling on ebay too, using the strapline that sopme proceeds go to charity. I could say the same thing, our shop donates to St Roccos hospice charity, by fitting batteries at £1 a go and passing on customer’s donated watch and jewellery boxes.

I’m all for helping people but charities are now businesses, with CEOs on 100K a year and shop managers earning more than I am. It’s time the government levelled the playing field and insisted that detailed turnover accounts are made public every year, trustees are made directors and subject to checks, and prosecution or striking off. At least 50% of all stock sold, b y any means, should be pre-owned, because it isn’t fair that charities are undercutting businesses that are paying taxes for local roads, schools and the NHS.Then there’s rent – it’s time they paid their way.

So next time you feel like donating old watches or jewellery to a charity shop bear two things in mind;

1. I have several charity shop workers coming into my shop every month trying to sell jewellery, or check something is gold/gold plated – where does that stuff come from I wonder?

2. Charity shops will give you nothing but a temporary halo of goodness when you give away your old gold watch. I will give you money. It’s a tough world and we all live by the kindness of strangers, but in the end, your choice – do you want a High Street, or not?

 

Watch Collecting: Don’t Be a Slave to Fashion, Buy Because You Like It

There is one golden rule I follow with old watches, well actually there are two. First is the basic stuff; look at the watch closely under a magnifying glass, because the marks and scratches often tell a story of woe and neglect. How does it wind, cleanly, or like stirring a bag of rusty nails with an egg whisk? Even if the watch is running apparently perfectly, it probably has several problems lurking inside its case, so quiz the owner carefully about work that’s been done.

The second is more controversial; don’t be a slave to fashion, because guys trying to outdo each other on bragging rights down the pub with an `iconic’ watch often don’t really know much about the watches they own. You can apply the same rule to classic anything in fact; cars, guitars, motorbikes, Lambrettas etc.

Take for example the recent rapid rise in Tissot Seastar Visodate models from the 60s/70s. Once you could only get about £200 retail for a gold case one, as many enthusiasts thought they were `workhorse’ models, and poor relations to an extent within the Omega empire. A recent search online revealed people asking £300-£350 for the same watch…not they are guaranteed to get it of course.

tissot visodate 1

In fact the Cal 784-2 Visodate is no better or worse than a similar era vintage Omega Geneve, Rotary, Vertex Revue, Bulova, Oriosa, Uno or a hundred and one other Swiss brands from that `golden age’ of Swiss watchmaking, before the Japanese kicked their ass with cheap quartz models. Another important thing to remember is that any watch that may have been used for half a century, could be physically wearing out, even if the dial and hands look nice.

We recently serviced a Tissot Visodate and a good thing too, as the owner insists on using it as an everyday watch. He places it by a radio and his smartphone at night, exposing it to magnetic fields, it’s also worn inside a modern car – again alive with magnetic fields, as that’s how the ECU sends/receives data to all parts of the car’s electrical system, monitors the brakes, lights, steering, fuel injection etc.

Bear in mind the Visodate, or a nice Omega Constellation, is a watch designed in an era when a radio or TV was perhaps the greatest source of magnetism that the owner could expose the timepiece too – unless he lived under an electricity pylon. So if you use a vintage Swiss watch, then expect the demands of modern life to take their toll on it, as well as the general wear and tear that anything 50 years old suffers from.

So long story short, the Visodate ran perfectly again, but the owner knocked the watch, and then brought it back saying it was gaining lots of time. Indeed it was, and we figured out the problem; The fault lay in the hairspring, which had moved from its perfect position where two tiny pins, that are actuated by the regulator, sort of clasp the spring. Having moved from its correct position, the coil had `jumped’ closer to its centre, off one pin. The coils were now touching, the beat was all over the shop, and the result was a gain of an hour a day. Now the solution was to remove the spring and delicately attempt to uncoil it, to a more concentric shape, then carefully re-fit the regulator and balance assembly. The ideal alternative would have been a complete new balance assembly; spring, wheel, staff, cap jewel etc – but it’s 50 years old, so where can you get new Tissot Cal 784 parts off the shelf?

You cannot. The answer is you end up using other old examples that appear to be running well and have been serviced, but buying another runner, just for parts, then paying a watchmaker to fit everything means spending more than the nominal £300 value of the watch.

This is what I mean about fashion trumping real value in classic watches. These are NOT everyday timekeepers, in the same way classic cars are not everyday motorway commuters. Only a fool would drive a 1960s Austin 1100 to work everyday, because it would go wrong, almost every week in winter. Then it would rust away, fail its MoT and off to the scrapyard – why do that? Use your Austin car, Triumph Tiger Cub or Tissot Visodate sparingly, save it for best, cherish its potentially finite lifespan.

If you find a nice example of an old Rotary, Longines, Hudson, Montine, Seiko, Citizen, Accurist, or heck – even a basic Timex – then enjoy looking at it far more than you enjoy winding it fully and checking its accuracy against your mobile phone. Have it serviced once every 5 years if you really love it, but don’t kid yourself that it’s some gold plated investment on par with an ex-Steve McQueen Heuer.

 

Most of us aren’t ever going to be collecting at that level, so accept that mainstream Swiss, US, British, German and Japanese mechanicals/automatics are decent old watches that were mass-produced, in their thousands, not hand-crafted by trained artisans wearing half-moon spectacles and calico aprons, slaving away in some fabled House of Horology.

timex nov 14 008
Retro style, reliable auto movement and years of use – all for about £30-£50. 

Here’s a fact for you; I have a £20 Timex automatic in the shop that is more accurate, and runs for three hours longer on a full wind than that 9ct gold Visodate. Classic watches are, to an extent a lucky dip, because you don’t know the half a century of history that lies behind the face of that vintage watch. So buy assuming that you’ll have to spend money one day getting it fixed, because you will – it’s only a question of when. If you decide to walk away and throw the watch in a drawer then you’ve lost £20-£50 on a Timex, a Buler, Seiko 5, Ricoh, Citizen or many other cooking models, not the hundreds that a fashionable model like a Tissot or Omega will cost you.

That’s the true value of watch collecting; the fun-per-pound factor, not playing a game of oneupmanship down the club.

Keep ticking over.

 

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Old Quartz Watches?

Chuck `em in a skip obviously! OK, I’m being flippant, but in reality, you often need to fit a new movement – assuming there is a compatible Miyota/Ronda. This can be pricey to do, which is why many people do bin old watches – a great shame as not all them are useless, some just need a battery and some TLC.

Tip Of The Day: Any older quartz watch that’s behaving erratically, showing symptoms like a twitching second hand, that freezes, then jumps 2-3 seconds in one go, is often a sign that the movement is on the way out. A new battery will only delay the inevitable, so if you love it, get a price on a movement swap.

Generally a quartz movement will last about 20-30 years, depending on how well it was made in the first place, plus how well the owner cares for their watch: Bashing it against stuff at work, or doing DIY, dunking it in swimming pools on holiday, or leaving it in sweaty kitchens – these can all kill a watch fairly rapidly. Even ladies lotions, creams and scent can see off a quality Citizen, Michael Kors, DKNY, Skagen, Armani or similar decently made fashionista watch.

This slow death-by-moisture even happens to Swiss quartz watches too, eventually killing off £1000 Longines, Omega, TAG, Rado, Tissot and many more, which is why I’m always wary about buying them in.

I once bought a slightly shabby ladies Omega for £60 at an auction and put a new crystal & battery in, cleaned it inside etc. It ran for a while, we cleaned it again, it stopped again, fresh battery…you get the picture. It’s in my spares/junk box under the sink – just in case the dial and hands ever come in useful – the rest of it is basically scrap.

Damage to the gold plating on a Swiss quartz often means perfume or scent has attacked it and wealthy ladies love to squirt that stuff on every date night! So, lesson learned there.

YOUR BASIC BITCH QUARTZ WATCH – ANY GOOD?

Hell yeah, we’ve got customers getting new batteries in a £10 Sekonda that’s 25 years old. Still ticking reliably. Some brands, like say Bench or ICE watches, don’t tend to last a quarter of a century, but you can get a decade from them. Not bad on a £20 watch I’d say.

vostok 1

Today I took a chance and bought in three fashion quartz watches; a Vostok with a tank on the dial, an unbranded Chinese gents, and a 2010 England footie themed watch. All dead, non runners. Customer wanted to trade them for a links swap job on his Citizen, which is normally a fiver in our shop – so I did the deal.

The Vostok and Chinese budget special ran fine. The Vostok still had its protective film on the crystal and caseback – never used! Result. The England watch howver ran for a while, then the second hand caught the minute hand at the twenty-to the hour position. Bent hand. OK, movement out..nope, pressing stem button did nothing, no resistance, no pressure. Hmm, OK…join the ladies Omega then in the dark side of the sink matey!

random quartz 1
Tells the time, dummy buttons do nothing, clean as a whistle, new Renata battery in and yours for £8. I love to recycle just like the charity shops do!

That’s watch dealing folks – win some, lose some.

 

Wired is Talking Garbage About Refurbished Vintage Watches & Here’s Why

As a former jounalist and editor, I have very little time for most mens’ lifestyle magazines. Buzzword-infested copy, lavishly photoshopped tech porn pictures and page after page of thinly disguised press releases, sponsored by big brand advertisers keen to sell gadgetry to men with `all the gear and no idea.’

Wired is a classic of this genre, with cod-scientific articles predicting various prism-shifting vistas of utopian city-dweller futures, where soy-boys compare their latest purchases on Instagram until the poorer guy cracks up and starts smoking Spice in back alleyways.

Here’s a link to a recent promo piece in Wired, which sells the idea that pre-owned, even truly vintage 100 year old watches, will be bigger than the new watch market one day. Total BS. For one thing consumers will soon tire of owning a watch that doesn’t keep accurate time. But we will get to that later.

In the Wired feature the guy from Armand Nicolet asserts that by changing the mainspring and hairspring, many decades of life may be miraculously extended from vintage movements. Hmmm, well maybe. Another bloke claims that vintage pocket watches are in some ways superior to modern examples.

OK, allow me to present a bit of reality into the equation readers, because this grade A baloney is giving me a headache;

silver tarnish degrades
Old silver and gold cases can degrade and pit badly over a century, it takes a skilled jeweller to restore them. Things like bows and hinges can be incredibly difficult to find – try getting a quote on having them hand made to original spec.

Old watches are generally worn out. By this I don’t just mean the hairspring is gummed up with WD40 and the mainspring is slacker than the knicker elastic on a Love Island detainee. This is especially true of things like Victorian key-wind pocket watches. Think about 120 years of coal fires, rattletrap train journeys, factory machinery and tools hitting the poor old Elgin or Waltham, raggedy children winding the thing until the fusee hooks beg for mercy.

About 50% of the project pocket watches I’ve bought from car boot sales, customers in the shop, or at antique fairs, never – that’s NEVER – manage to go for more than 4 hours and keep the right time. It isn’t just about replacing mainsprings, and stripping and cleaning the parts. Once you wash all the gunk out of old pocket watches you find worn out jewels, allowing the balance staff and other pins/pivots to run out of true, plus gears have worn teeth, escapement wheels and pallet stones are also usually clapped out.

For those who don’t know – such as hipster-bearded, Birra Moretti drinking Wired readers – let me explain that the balance assembly, with the lever and the pallet stones flicking the escapement wheel with total precision, is where the power of the mainspring is weakest. ANY resistance, any wear, anything out of alingnment, will make the watch stop as the spring uncoils and obviously the power is reduced.

That explanation is physics, not casual opinion sponsored by advertisers.

You don’t get to by-pass the overall wear and tear, the myriad problems an old watch has, simply by replacing two springs. It ain’t that easy. Even top winder pocket watches, which are generally more resiliant than fusee chain types, cannot cope with modern life.

Here’s another fact, modern pocket watches, made by computer aided machines, virtually untouched by human hand, are much more reliable timekeepers, and in need of less cleaning and oiling than old pocket watches. The tolerances are far, far closer, the parts are lighter and much more resistant to magnetism too. Even an unsigned, Chinese made basic mechanical pocket watch with a Seagull movement can whup the ass of a 100 year old Waltham in everyday life. Less fragile, more accurate, longer power reserve – no character of course, but definitely better at doing the thing a watch should do, tell the bloody time.

rotary service 1
Decades of ingrained dirt, moisture, skin and grease can kill off most watches. Some will cost three times the value to restore properly – spend because you love it, it isn’t an investment.

No Wristwatch Born Before 1970 Was Designed To Survive a Digital World

Here is another fact of life regarding classic mechanical and automatic wristwatches. Most of them, even the ones that say anti-magnetic on the dial, are in no way equipped to handle modern life. Every month we get buyers coming into the shop with Breitlings, or Tissots, gaining vast amounts of time. The owners usually work with computers, tablets, park the watch next their phone overnight etc. That screws up your watch, even the nice one you bought from Chrono24 for over £400.

There’s no escape in the open too. Phone masts, on-street wifi in shops, businesses and pubs. Even your modern car has magnetic fields buzzing around inside as it manages all the engine management functions, warning lights, Sat Nav, phone commands etc. Your vintage watch, even after a full overhaul, may still be useless as a timekeeper if you insist on being a dipstick and wearing it every day in an office full of computers – it isn’t designed for that life!

thos russell movement

The Problem of Parts Supply

You can refurbish popular old watches by essentially pillaging the supply of dead watches still knocking around ebay, Etsy, car boot sales and contacting specialist companies. But let me explain the reality of classic watch ownership for you.

Dials that peel and pickle require highly skilled re-enamelling, or repainting. Obtaining a genuine mineral crystal for many less popular Swiss automatics is another wild goose chase – then you have to pay someone to fit it. Who is going to set up a factory and mass-produce parts for all these vintage watches? Amazon? Don’t make me laugh.

No, the truth is that if a simple service with new springs and a clean gets an old watch going nicely, then there’s little wrong with it – you dropped lucky. Take my advice and use that watch sparingly. Keep it well away from microwaves, pesky kids, workplaces, drunken nights out with the lads or magnetic fields. Treasure it as a piece of engineering history like an Alfa 164, a Ducati 750SS or a Foden lorry and know that servicing it every five years, or restoring after damage,  will almost certainly cost you hundreds of pounds.