If you like what you see and you have a vintage wind-up, or automatic watch that you would like to have fettled, then send a DM on Twitter @warrWatchCo anytime. Prices start at £35 for a basic clean, plus insured post of £6.50.
Or you can email; firstname.lastname@example.org and send as many photos as possible for a quote on repairs.
People ask me which is the best automatic Swiss watch to buy new, for say under £3000. Tough question. The short answer is buy what you like, because if you don’t love the dial, the colour, hands, bezel, bracelet links – all those details – then you won’t wear the watch much and it will languish in a box or on an automatic winder.
My own favourite is an Omega with George Daniels brilliant co-axial movement inside, such as the Seamaster/Speedmaster range. You can buy one from about £2600 which to me is a bargain for two reasons;
One, the co-axial movement runs at about 2500bph (beats per hour) which is significantly lower than may other Swiss watches that run at over 32,000bph. That means low friction, more time between services and that is a massive saving on the running costs of ownership with a service costing upwards of £600 at an Omega/Breitling/Rolex/Tudor etc dealership.
Two, the Omega Seamaster/Speedmaster is a well established brand name with the wider public, so if you decide to sell there will be a queue of trade, and public, keen to acquire your Omega. Try selling a used Franck Muller, Graham Chronofighter or a Breguet to Joe Public and you’ll find they haven’t really got a clue about the watch and its true value, plus it won’t impress their friends on Facebook, so they won’t offer you decent money.
That’s how it works; watches are a game of oneupmanship for many men, keen to brag that they’re considerably richer than you…
The Valjoux 7750 and All Its Children
OK, let’s move on to the amazing ETA Valjoux 7750 movement. Now this benchmark engine can be found in so many watches, even today, although manufacturers often try to disguise the base movement beneath a range of tweaks, tune-ups and in-house modifications.
Let me explain why the buying the best value Swiss watch featuring a Valjoux 7750 often means shelling out for the least fashionable;
You are investing long-term in the movement, and hoping it will be reliable, easy to service and hold its future value. Bells and whistles like a stronger mainspring, a silicon hairspring (non-magnetic is always useful) and perhaps some beautiful engine-turning/engraving on the bridgework or automatic rotor, is nice to have – but it doesn’t alter the fact that you’ve paid ten times as much for the same watch movement.
Ten times you say, really? Yep. If you buy a used IWC Portugieser, rather than a Hamilton Khaki, then you have probably bought a watch with the same base calibre 7750 movement inside the case. But your IWC will cost you maybe £4000 for those little IWC extra touches, whereas a used Hamilton can be had for £400, because it is seen as a deeply unfashionable brand in watch collecting. The IWC version of the ETA Valjoux 7750 is undoubtedly built to a higher spec, bit like an AMG Merc A Class – but it’s still an A Class, if you’re with me.
OK, before you splash out £3000 on a new Swiss watch ask yourself if the movement really matters, because if it does, then you really want to avoid buying something with a Valjoux 7750 base unit in there. You could buy a Tissot, Certina, Victorinox, Longines, Steinhart, Hamilton, Oris and many more for well under £1000, with the 7750 inside. So what will the future collectable value of those watches be? Answer, not likely to be as much as something bespoke, truly unique, and in short supply.
Don’t get me wrong, any watch with a well maintained Valjoux 7750 is a great timepiece – it just isn’t going to be described as being truly special, rare or a future classic in my view.
If you buy a modern Rolex, you get a watch with an in-house movement, not a Valjoux (or a Zenith) inside the case. Plus it’s the most well known watch brand in the world, so you’ll always be able to sell it – or have your Rolex stolen at knifepoint by moped thugs in London.
£3000 will get you a used Breitling Navitimer, with its own in-house 01 movement (manufactured post 2013) which again, is a fashionable watch, although they are expensive to service and look a bit big and gaudy unless you have a large wrist – in my humble opinion.
Assuming I had 3K to spare what would I buy? Probably something like a Jaeger Le Coultre bumper automatic from the 1950s. A mint example, with a gold case would probably be around that price and it ticks all the right boxes for me.
It looks understated and oozes sheer quality, the name itself is not so well known amongst the casual thug/criminal fraternity, so it reduces the risk of mugging or violent attack at home. Plus the bumper auto movement was unique to JLC, it wasn’t hawked around other manufacturers, and I reckon that it will always be truly collectable because of the prestige still attached to the JLC name today. The same cannot be said of many other 1950s Swiss watch brands that have faded into bankruptcy, or merger.
There is much to be said for a low profile when it comes to watch collecting. Let the fashion victims chase the latest Tudor Black Bay deals, or lowest finance rates on a Rolex Daytona. There’s more to it than flash for cash, watches are also inherently beautiful pieces of miniature engineering, history made jewels and metal. Treasure the craft of watchmaking, not just the RRP.
When you start collecting vintage Swiss watches you’ll soon get confused. You see not all Swiss watches are equally good from a particular era, some were built like a Fiat Punto to fit a certain price point, whilst others were hand-crafted examples of the watchmakers art.
Almost everyone knows brands like Omega, Rolex, Patek Phillipe, Breitling, Longines, IWC or Cartier and most watch collectors are aware that Lemania, Minerva, Gruen, Lange & Sohne, Movado, Vacheron Constantin, Zenith, Heuer, Doxa and many more produced some outstanding, landmark watches in the past.
But what about more bread and butter Swiss brands? Here it gets slightly complicated and the reason for that is the well established Swiss ebauche system. What’s an ebauche? It’s a bit like a car engine and gearbox supplied as a complete unit, essentially an ebauche movement was supplied from a manufacturer to various Swiss – or other – brand names, who then added dials, hands, winders & stems, and cased the watch.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIMEPIECES
After the Great Depression hit the world economy in 1929-30, many movement and watch parts makers began to join the ASUAG association. This was a kind of cartel, where the price of movements and watches, plus the tricky business of international market share and distributor networks would all be agreed in private, so that more Swiss manufacturers could survive the bitter headwinds of the hungry 1930s. It worked, and continued to help lots of small Swiss companies stay in the watchmaking game after WW2, until the Japanese quartz revolution in the 1970s changed everything.
In just ten years hundreds of watch brands went bust in Switzerland, and over 60,000 people lost their jobs, as Seiko, Casio and others turned the watch market digital. ASUAG and SSIH hastily re-grouped as Swatch in 1983. Richemont was formed in the late 1980s and brands like Rolex and Patek chose to target the wealthy top end of the market and leave the everyday stuff to the overseas competition.
So when you’re collecting older mechanical and automatic Swiss watches from 1950-1985, you will find a vast array of brand names. A few made movements in-house, but many used ebauche movements from the ASUAG or SSIH groups because firstly it was cheaper, and secondly, they didn’t want to rock the boat politically. The most common movements you see tend to be ETA (originally Eterna), AS (A Schild) or Ebauches SA brands like Peseux, Unitas, FHF etc.
ASAUG formed a company called General Watch Co in the early 70s and so you’ll find that brands like Record, Rotary, Oris, Certina, Technos and more all share the same 17/21/25 jewel movements inside them.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD BUY?
For my money anything powered by an ETA or AS movement has the advantage of being fairly common, as millions of watches were made using very similar movements. If you have a serious problem with your 1960s/70s watch then the best way to fix it will be to obtain another working example and cannibalise it for spares. When you sstart collecting the more quirky or slow-selling models, then you can face a real struggle when you want another balance assembly say, or a crystal shaped like TV screen.
If you want to use the watch every day then something like a Vertex Revue, a Rotary 17/21 jewel model or perhaps an Accurist with the ETA 25 jewel movement inside is a good bet. With regular servicing these can all last 50-60 years, which is amazing given the relatively low cost they were brand new compared to say an Omega or Rolex.
Even more obscure brands, like say Hudson, Majex, Damas, Medana, Sandoz and many more all tended to use the same popular movements as better known rivals for their mainstream, run-of-the-mill production.
Buy the watch because you love the look of it, and the dial, hands and case all tell a story of care, maintenance or restoration, not neglect. Peeling dial paint, faded hands and cases lacking plating all betray the casual indifference of a previous owner, so without even looking inside at the movement, you pretty much know that problems lie ahead.
OK, here’s a dilemma; You have £100 to invest in a classic, collectable wristwatch, or maybe two and you check ebay, Fakebook Martketplace, Up a Gumtree, SchlockIt, plus your local Cash related High St shops.
First, forget about modern quartz watches like DKNY, Armani, Rotary, Michael Kors, Skagen, Storm, Cluse, Festina, Boss, Daniel Wellington, Fossil, Ted Baker and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. These are mass market fashion watches, mostly featuring Miyota movements, prettyy much the same `engine’ as you find inside £25 Sekonda in my shop. Yes really. It’s extremely unlikely that anything with Armani on the dial and a 377 battery inside will ever set a record on the Antiques Greedshow 2058.
So choose an automatic. It has gears and cogs inside. But wait – some modern ones like Seiko Kinetics and Citizen Eco-Drives have fancy power cells too. Your wrist movement charges a power cell, which gives the Kinetic extra hours of charge, so you can leave it on a desk for two days and it will still be going. Nice. But the trouble is the Kinetics keep breaking down, just Google `capacitor failure Seiko Kinetic’ if you like.
Genuine parts cost about £40 as a kit, then someone has to fit it – or you can buy all the tools necessary, watch a You Tube video and give it a go yourself. It isn’t that complicated, but without the correct case knife, screwdrivers and tweezers, you’ll probably come unstuck and do some damage to the watch. I certainly did a few years back when learning the basics of fettling watches – and I had the correct tools!
If you don’t like the idea of a possibly dodgy Kinetic, then there’s the Seiko 5 – classic automatics, tough movements, all gears and cogs, featuring a range of dials from the 70s TV square style, to the more modern, shimmering blue one I wear every day for work. It’s scratched, and dented from a collision with a cupboard as I rushed to the workshop, but it still goes. Bought it from a watch fair, £25.
ECO-DRIVE IS LIKE A PLANT, IT NEEDS LIGHT, OR DIES A SLOW DEATH
The Citizen Eco-Drive is a modern marvel of tech. Solar power charges the watch and away it goes, and you never need a battery. That’s what the adverts say.
True, but you will need a new battery one day, as they are re-chargeables and eventually, just like a laptop or phone battery, they lose the ability to hold charge. It’s physics and even Citizen cannot defeat physics.
Replacement varies from Eco-Drive model to model, but essentially it’s pretty similar to replacing a normal silver battery in a quartz watch, except the Citizen lithium has a tiny tab on the end of it, which needs to be aligned correctly. Before you go to that expense just try pulling the crown out on your Eco-Drive, and then exposing it to some direct sunshine for about 5 minutes. Give it 20 mins on a cloudy day. The push the crown back in and you might find it starts up again – many Eco-Drives go into a kind of shutdown mode when left abandoned in a box for months, so it’s worth a try.
It all adds up to more faffing about in my book, so again, my advice is spend your £100 buying two well looked after old school Citizen automatics, with real rotors spinning around powering up the movement.
These vintage Citizens often feature dazzling, colourful dials and they have a simplicity that means they will give you 50 years of service if you look after the movement and have it cleaned and lubricated once a decade.
You can still pick up excellent examples for £30-£50 each, but be aware that some could be re-painted models from India. Or save your cash up until you can afford a Citizen Bullhead, or a nice NY2300/NY0040 with the red/blue Pepsi style bezel, or the black dial/black case combo.
Always in demand with collectors and most likely, always will be.
I’m a sucker for project watches. Something lying in a drawer, in need of TLC, or simply unloved, slightly dusty and PX-ed in the shop against something shiny n new-ish.
This Lanco Electronic was a mystery to me, so I took a chance having shaken the watch and seen a few seconds of ticking from the second hand, before it fell lifeless again. Cash offer accepted. But the owner said it needed a battery – odd, I thought, as it said antimagnetic on the caseback, so there was a balance wheel in there. How could a watch need both battery and a balance assembly fettling?
OK, back at the ranch and I prised the back off, only to see a bizarre arrangement of electronic calculator parts, plus a chunky balance assembly and circlip type adjustment lever, similar to an Omega. Interesting.
Ten minutes Google clicking later I discovered this Electronic was launched in the mid-1970s, no doubt to help the Tissot/Lanco empire strike back against the Seiko/Casio guys busily taking the world watch market by storm with digital models.
But there’s no quartz crystal being vibrated in the Lanco, instead an electronic impulse tells the balance to get busy and the circuit board wizardry sees to the accuracy of the time. A gentle clean up ensued, and to be honest, I didn’t fancy taking it apart as resistors and wires bore me to tears, plus I know bog-all about them, having ditched physics at school in favour of art after the third year. The physics teacher had extremely hairy hands, and it put me off frankly…but that’s another story.
So, long story short, I slotted in a 395 battery and away it went. Magic. Just spinning like a top and happy a sLarry after about 40 years. Bloody marvellous. One new strap and a set of pins later and she’s looking good. Not a museum piece in A1 condition, but a fine example of a rare watch that’s part of the Swiss industry’s roller-coaster story during the supersonic Seventies.
Yours for a mere £75. Probably cost almost that much back in the day. There y’go, not every Swiss watch is a fantastic long term investment. No, some wristwatches are just for fun, and you buy them because you like the look of its shape-shifting browny-gold dial, and the word `Electronic’ emblazoned on it, shouting to the world that Lanco were suddenly hip, with-it, getting on down with Kool and The Gang. Hell yeah.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Lot of watch for very little money – that was the advertising slogan behind Sekonda back in the 1970s, when thousands of these cheap, reliable Russian watches made their way to the UK as communist Russia passed the begging bowl around the developed world, looking for hard currency. They traded crude oil for albums with Abba, they sold furs and skins from animals, culled on an industrial, Stalinist scale, and sold Jawa/CZ motorcycles that emitted more smoke than Casey Jones locomotive at full throttle.
But Sekonda watches, unlike a Jawa 350, were actually very good products. The reasons are simple; they took Swiss watch designs, copied them – sometimes improved them a little – but generally cut corners to make their watches simple to service, as well as mass produce. So a Poljot movement was based on a Valjoux 7731 for example.
In the 1930s the Soviets bought in Jaeger Le Coultre chronoflights for their aircraft and ended up copying the movements for watches, manufacturing chronographs based on this design until the 1950s.
The most common mechanical Sekonda you’ll find knocking about for £30-£50 is a 19 jewel Raketa movement model, or sometimes an automatic Slava 27/25 jewel movement. Both are usually still ticking away even after 40 years of hard knock life, but if you strat to strip them down to repair them you’ll soon discover your only parts source is the pool of other working watches on ebay, or at car boot sales – why spend a day fixing a broken balance and meticulously cleaning a £30 Sekonda when you can simply buy another one?
So I say enjoy them while they’re still going and when you find one like the model pictured above, complete with its original box from the early 80s – keep it as a reminder of the era when Soviet Russia passed the hat around the West, simply to earn a few roubles. Very different now under Tsar Vladimir isn’t it?
You know how it is watch lovers. You wear a fave wristwatch for a special occasion and then bang – it picks up a scratch on its pristine crytsal. You will go through several stages of anger, loss, frustration, rewinding time, blaming the hotel for placing the wall so close to the lift door exit…all that stuff.
If you have a nice Seiko, Swiss watch, or perhaps a new British model like a Bremont or Harold Pinchbeck, you’ll be faced with two choices. Take it back to the dealer, or try a specialist watch repair shop. By specialist, I don’t mean Timpsons, OK? It’s important we need to rule cobblers and key cutters out of the equation – if they aren’t dealing with a variety of watch problems every day, then the chances are they don’t know what they’re doing.
There is a third way. Like Theresa May’s Brexit deal, it more or less works and unlike May’s dog’s breakfast this tip saves you money.
Now if you’ve tried Polywatch you’ll know it’s basically toothpaste for watch crytstals. Actually very good on acrylics, less good on mineral glass and sapphire. Why? Glass – reall glass – is very tough and it takes hours, lots of hours, to hand polish a scratch so it kinda fades into the background a bit.
Ehibit One; Seiko Automatic, everyday watch, bashed around my workshop, rattled along on my bicycle in the rain etc. It’s got a couple of tasty scratches on the crystal, so as the shop was quiet this afternoon I thought I would get busy with soft cotton pads, and some Polywatch.
In terms of action you simply squirt some on, rub clockwise, then anti-clockwise, then cross-hatch across the scratch. Repeat until your wrist and fingers ache like an Inbetweener watching the Stacy’s Mom video for the first time.
After two hours, I could see – and feel – that the main scratch was gradually being worn away. Drag your fingernail gently across the scratch and you can feel the `lip’ of it slowly recede. Keep going. Have a cuppa and biscuit. The polish some more. Yes, this is very tedious work, but given that a tube of Polywatch costs under £4 and cotton pads £1 per pack, it is vastly cheaper than rocking up at Goldsmiths and booking your watch in for a workshop polish and service.
Yeah, you see those big name jewellers generally don’t do one simple job. No, they like to persuade you that your precious Swiss timepiece needs a general makeover; new bezel, movement clean, bracelet links dismantling and polishing. Ker-ching, you just agreed to spend about £650. On a TAG Monaco that’s OK, it’s a £3000 watch, but on a £300 Seiko Pepsi or a 10 year old Raymond Weil quartz worth about £150? Hmmm, maybe not.
OK, bottom line – the Polywatch has NOT eradicated the main scratch completely. It is there, like a faint shadow of misery playing at being a smile on Lily Allen’s lips, but there is undoubtedly a big improvement in the overall appearance of my workaday Seiko.
You can DIY this same anti-scratch therapy yourself, or pay Warrington Watch Co the handsome sum of £15 and we will set elves to work at night, slowly and methodically polishing your watch, until they achieve a Zen-like state of grace.
Paint a fence Daniel-san. Or Polywatch my crystal. Your choice.
Long ago, most watches made in Britain were essentially hand-built as one-off items, with a watchmaker making almost every part himself. Making slightly more affordable watches involved assembling enamel dials, movements, fusee chains, hands, verge escapements, balance wheels, springs etc all produced by skilled workers who simply did one thing exceptionally well.
Gathering all these components together meant picking tiny parts from trays, testing everything fitted, and then placing the hand-built movement inside a sterling silver, gold plated, or solid 9ct/18ct gold case. Maybe add a portrait on the case for a particularly wealthy customer too.
Then in the USA around 1850 Waltham changed everything, creating new machine tools and organising the mass production of pocket watches. They got cheaper. The Civil War and the expansion of the railways across the US and Europe from 1850-1880 also boosted demand for accurate timekeeping that was affordable to the working man.
The Swiss caught on and they also streamlined their canton or valley system, where freelancers did specific jobs. New factories were constructed in Swiss valleys, like the Val Joux – or valley of joy – where women and children with small hands and good eyesight could assemble watches pocket watches under big windows and skylights.
In Britain watchmaking was firmly stuck in the 18th century, with both Warrington and Prescot – just a few miles away near St Helens – suffering a slow decline in business as the Americans and Swiss gradually undercut them. In 1889 a group of investors had one last roll of the dice, and put money into a new factory, complete with rows of electric powered machine tools, lathes, wire-drawing machines, staking sets, polishers and so on. They also built a warehouse, styled as a flat iron type building in Prescot town centre. It stll stands today actually – pictured above – although there’s no watchmaking going on inside.
Looking at the huge door you can imagine that this was a kind of Head Office, where trade visitors could be wined and dined, before enjoying a tour of the Lancs Watch Co factory. (That was later used as a barracks in World War One, and then demolished by the way – all gone.)
About one million movements were produced at Prescot between 1899 and 1910 when the Lancs Watch Co closed its doors. Many of these reliable top winders went in their own branded watches, but some were supplied to jewellers, who would buy a job lot of cases, get their name printed on enamel dial plates, some winding crowns and hey presto – you were a watch manufacturer!
The Palatine keyless movements, with their decorative plating, nicely jewelled staffs and pivots, plus beautiful regulator lever, is an example of the finest Lancs engineering for my money – very collectable. They made some key winders too, but the fusee chains are always less durable in my book, and seem rather dated in terms of design for something made in the early 20th century.
There was a basic three-quarter plate Lancs movement, very similar to the Waltham Traveler, which doesn’t look anything special but can be very reliable if restored properly, or just looked after for a century or more!
The Lancs Watch Company was never really financially secure, and always struggled to compete with the Swiss, who by 1900 or therabouts were frankly better at innovation, winning timekeeping trials and marketing, with teams of agents and salesmen travelling Europe selling ebauche movements (basic movements ready to fit standard size 11-18 cases). So the Prescot factory closed, bringing the curtain down on a bold attempt to make pocket watches as efficiently as Waltham or Elgin could.
The next serious attempt at creating a world-beating British watchmaking enterprise was the Harwood automatic in the 1920s. We will get into that fascinating story another time. Keep ticking over…