Thought I would offer some tips on bracelets and the typical problems that tend to crop up, let’s start with sizing issues, which often means removing/adding a link. On some watches that can be fairly easy to do, especially if the links are identical, not tapered so that the ones near the clasp get gradually narrower.
So you need a special link pin pusher tool, which you can get online for about a tenner. It’s good to have a vice, small hammer and a selection of pin-pusher tools so you can tap out some bracelet pins. Before you start look closely through a magnifying glass at the ends of the pins – are they already slotted for a screwdriver blade at one end? Good, don’t hit the pin!
Then they probably have tiny end caps on, which screw out. Don’t lose them, they are extremely small. They are often pins that only go in one way, wheras a cheaper watch might have pins that tap in from either end.
Some Swiss brands like to put pins inside little sleeves that sit inside the central link section. Almost like roller-bearing crankshafts in cars and motorbike engines. You often see this on two-tone or Jubilee type bracelets. As you remove the pin the insert sleeve will drop out – be ready to catch it on your bench or table. These are very difficult to get back in properly but you must fit them, or the pin will fall out when the watch is worn.
Many watches have little arrows next to the four-eight link pins that come out, indicating that they can only be removed in the direction of the arrow. Reverse that rocess when re-fitting the pins. Look closely and you will see one end is slightly bigger than the other and this is why they are a `one way’ fitment.
Adjusting the clasp on watch bracelets can also demand a delicate touch. One type of clasp that goives trouble is the type where a male end pin presses into a hole, and there is a spring loaded actuator mechanism, normally two tiny wings on the clasp, which act as a release.
Dirt can get inside and jam the lever that should grab the pin. Try watch movement cleaner, or a wash in warm water to get the dirt out. Be wary of using too much force in trying the get the gripping lever to slide across, it will need careful manipulation – very easy to damage it.
Some gents watches have a clasp that folds across, then a band goes over. Often the sides of this clasp have two or three holes where the end link can be moved along, thus making the bracelet a fraction smaller. Good in winter when your wrist will be samller in cold weather. You have to prise out one end of the pin in the end link, move it along the clasp to the next hole, then do the same at the other end. Be careful the pin doesn’t ping out as they are spring-loaded. A tiny screwdiver or pin pusher will help put pressure on the end of the pin, or a cocktail stick maybe.
Hope these tips help you, always take your time and buy decent tools.
I’ve been messing with pocket watches for about 6 years now and managed to fix a few. Some defeat me and there’s a simple reason; old age. The watch that is, not me.
You see pocket watches built back in the 1880-1920 period are genuine antiques and frankly, many of them were not built to last over a century. Owners skimp on servicing, the cases are hacked open with kitchen knives and cruder tools and dust, skin and hair sneaks in too. That often results in metal touching metal and the inevitable grinding paste effect that anyone who has stripped a BSA Bantam engine will be familiar with.
I digress. Here are some tips for those who have a vintage Waltham, Elgin, Thomas Russell, Omega or Lancashire Pocket Watch, and wish to keep it going.
Don’t adjust the timekeeping using the A/R lever. It’s tempting to press a screwdriver in and waggle it this way or that to try and compensate for poor running. But the problem is unlilely to be that simple and there is a danger of pulling the hairspring. Bang goes the timekeeping completely and most likely, the watch will stop after a few seconds of running.
Don’t oil or lubricate it, unless you have practised on other watches and use the correct tools and watch oil. Don’t drip lighter fluid in there either. It might help a sticky balance assembly, but it’s no substitute for a proper service.
Try not to wind the watch fully. You’re putting a 100% load on something that might not have been replaced since WW2, which was the last time the mainspring was replaced. It’s possible that it’s still using the original mainspring. So wind it ten turns, maybe eight – be kind to the old girl. When you feel a fair bit of resistance, then stop winding.
Don’t set the correct time by winding the hands backwards. It is just more load on ageing parts. Always advance the hands to set the time.
Does it have a winding key? Then there’s a fusee chain inside, wich if you imagine a mini bicycle chain, wrapped around a walnut whip, gives you a good idea of how it works. It is very delicate and most likely has stretched over 50-100 years. There are no factories in China making fusee chains for British or American pocket watches from the 1890s, so take care when winding it.
Top winders are more durable, as this is late Victorian tech, so made with more precision as machine tool manufacturing advanced. Any excess clicking, resistance or `crunching’ is a bad sign. Don’t wind it, don’t try to fix it with WD40.
If your old Waltham runs for 15-18 hours it’s doing well. Don’t expect it to run for a full day, or kep the right time. Many lost 1-2mins a day when they were new, so losing 5 mins a century later is acceptable. Be kind when you wind!
If you have a pocket watch problem then email me at; firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe I can help. Or it may need the A Team. Estimates and sympathy are free!
The Omega Constellation is one of the most popular ladies watch models out there. Nice combination of diamonds on the dial, two-tone bracelet and longevity make this a winner. Ladies tend to shun automatic or mechanical watches in general, unless of course they are made by Cartier or Rolex. But for around £1000-£1500 you can get a prestige pre-owned, Omega Manhattan quartz, with box and papers etc. It’s all good, as a new one is about £4500.
But after a few years it may need some TLC and a new battery and this can come as a shock to many ladies used to paying £12 at Timpsons on their Michael Kors. Many Omega dealers will ask about £60-£90 for a battery change and it gets sent away to a service centre, often for three to six weeks, to accomplish this fairly simple task;. There is a better way, get an independent watch fettler on the job – like me.
First I remove any excess dirt from around the caseback, this is because when I prise it open some may fall inside and get into the movement. Once that’s done, open using a special caseknife. This Omega features a battery held in place by a very thin metal strip and great care is needed when removing it. You have to turn the tiny screw to loosen it, then push it across – without causing damage.
Use tweezers to remove the old battery, bin it, then screw in the retaining nut again, as you don’t want to lose it. Now inspect and clean up the movement if needed. Obviously you need a magnifying glass or head loupe to see tiny gragments of dust or dirt in there. I use an air puffer as well.
This Omega takes a 321 sized battery and I always use Swiss ones, as it’s a false economy using other makes.
Very careful when fitting the new battery not to touch the copper coil near the battery holder. Quartz movements are quite delicate so tweezers and a steady hand is required. Once the thin retaining strip is in place then the nut just needs a turn and a half to secure it in position. Another go with the air puffer and use the special tool to press the caseback on again.
Omegas have a thin silicone seal on the back and this needs inspection for damage – and dirt – before refitting. It’s a tight fit, so again, extra care needed not to damage this sealing ring, as genuine Omega parts are expensive.
Now we begin to clean the bracelet. This one has gold plated sections on the linkage pins and the bezel, so attacking it with a power tool and a selection of polishing mops isn’t a good idea. The plating on modern Swiss watches is generally very thin, say 10 microns, compared to 40 microns 30 years ago. So it doesn’t take much speed or pressure to take the plating off.
I use cocktail stick, with a soft cloth wrapped around the end and dipped in a cleaning solution, to get into those tricky areas, like the sliding clasp mechanism. On this watch there was a build-up of hair and skin in there, plus gunk stuck to the quick release mechanism. Nasty. It takes time, about an hour, to deal with sticky skin based residue, then add some polish as well. But it’s well worth it.
Check out the before and after pics on the clasp.
Final task is using Polywatch on the crystal and bezel area. I tend to use one cloth to apply, use a cross-hatch pattern and then circular motions on watch crytsals, or `the glass’ as some call them.
I’ve experimented in the past using a Dremel and soft mops, plus jewellers rouge, but the heat transfer on mineral or sapphire crystal means that you have just a few seconds before some watches are hot to the touch. That’s bad news. Even worse, you can crack the crystal as the heat makes it try to expand beyond the bezel. That’s my feeling anyway, slow and steady is best.
All done and a great looking watch, ready to wear.
If you have a watch problem, or you’re a trader looking for help with trickier jobs in your jewellers or ebay shop, then email me at email@example.com.
Spare parts and servicing may sound a tad dull, but it gets exciting if your £10,000 Breguet, Vacheron or Patek cannot be serviced by an independent watchmaker – instead you have to send it away and pay whatever the manufacturer demands. That can easily cost £800-£1500, depending on which parts the manufacturer decides need upgrading. It’s a kick in the wallet that many Rolex owners are familiar with nowadays, as it’s been difficult for indie watchmakers to get factory parts since 2016.
Some might say that watch manufacturers want their products serviced by authorised dealers only – but that argument fell to pieces when car makers tried to lock out independent garages from their parts supply chains a few years ago. However UK trade supplier Cousins took on Swatch Group (owners of Omega, Breguet, Longines, Glashutte, Mido, Harry Winston, ETA, Hamilton and others) in a legal battle in 2016, here’s the latest update;
“Our fight with Swatch over the supply of parts has only been slightly delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak. Because the Swiss judicial system relies on written submissions rather than Court appearances, the impact on our case has been less than expected. The deadlines for submission of documents were extended for an extra four weeks by the Swiss Federal authorities. Then an extra two weeks extension was granted by the Judge in Bern.
All the formal submissions by both sides have now been completed. The remainder of the process consists of informal comments by both sides (Swatch are due to submit theirs in the next two weeks and we will reply after that), and then a hearing in the Bern Court. We would expect the written verdict from the Judge around two to four months after that.
The date for the hearing has not yet been set. The summer recess for the Courts runs from mid-July to mid-August and we expect it will be some time after that. A lot will depend on travel restrictions and quarantine issues, but hopefully by the Autumn this will not be a factor.
As we said in our last News update, we were happy that our first submission was a very robust defence. As before, we can’t go into detail, but we can say that we think our second submission is even stronger than the first, and are very confident that the judge will reach the right verdict.”
Our view is that every serious watch collector deserves the right to make their own choice on service and repair. Some watches may well benefit from keeping their old hands and patina-pickled dials. It might actually increase their resale value long term. Others want their Rolex, Omega, TAG, AP or Hublot pristine, and why not?
The key issue is that customers willing to spend up to £100,000 on a watch should not be restricted as regards choosing their watchmaker. If they want Roger Smith to personally strip and inspect it, then so be it – and Roger should be able to order a new winding stem, or chrono pusher if required. As the EU constantly bangs on about free trade, and Switzerland is obliged to toe the line regarding EU regulations on all kinds of matters, the sensible thing would be to allow customer choice. Servicing locally also saves on air miles, therefore saving emissions – another point that the court should consider.
Updated with some auction values at the end of the article 23.06.21
These are good questions, and for those who don’t know Sicura let me summarise by saying they are the watch company that bought Breitling and rescued the brand name from oblivion when the quartz crisis wreaked havoc in Switzerland during the 1970s. Here’s a brief history lesson;
Sicura in the mid-70s were sitting pretty, selling about 1 million units a year and still mainly using mechanical movements. They offered basic pin-pallet watches for the everyday person, plus some fancier looking divers watches, again with fairly average Swiss movements inside, and then some top of the range items with Valjoux/Venus movements in their cases.
Sicura got on the quartz train in the late 70s, with a `something for everyone’ approach, that saw basic battery powered quartz watches, alongside things like the solar powered VIP2000 model, which promised eternal power from the sun! As any Eco-Drive owner knows only too well, the power cells cannot defeat physics and they don’t last forever. Nothing does, except Remainer tears.
When Breitling hit financial hard times in the late 70s and finally closed their factory in 1979, Sicura’s boss Mr Ernest Schneider bought the brand. Schneider was a pilot and admired Breitling models like the Navitimer, and he wanted to keep that Swiss name alive. It says a great deal about Schneider that he stopped selling Sicra watches and switched to Breitling a short time after striking the deal – he could see that Breitling had a greater long term profit potential. In fact Ernest’s son, Teddy Schneider sold Breitling to CVO venture capital for $790 million in 2018.
SO, ARE SICURA WATCHES WORTH COLLECTING?
The best models featuring movements like the Valjoux 7734 definitely are. These are just as well built as a Cauny, Gruen, Oriosa, GHC, Atlantic, Tressa, Lip, Wakmann and dare we say it, Breitling too? Maybe a Breitling or a Heuer had an build quality edge on a Sicura 7734 back in the 70s, but after 45 years of wear n tear, it comes down to servicing, owner care and luck as regards condition and accuracy.
Consider this though; you can’t go far wrong with any Valjoux 7734 powered wristwatch, as there still plenty of spare movements around, which means that repairing a vintage model on a reasonable budget of say under £250 is a possibility. Pushers and crowns are the things that need checking above all else – that’s where cack-handed owners do the damage, and water can get in too of course.
The budget independent watchmaker repairs that you can spend on a Sicura cannot be carried out a vintage Breitling – not if you want to retain its auction value. So in that regard, a Sicura is arguably a cheaper way to collect a watch with the same Valjoux 7733 movement as a Breitling Top Time.
There’s also a bullhead variant Sicura Pilot style model, plus a four crown model, which has a bezel release crown set on the left side of the case, so you can click-stop the tachymetre around. All the Sicura chrono watches are pretty looking, not too big, but still have visual impact even today. Good examples are fetching £500-£950 depending on condition, dial colour, original box etc. Tropical dials seem very in demand right now – that could change in a year or two.
Things get trickier when it comes to models like the Sicura Submarine 400. This homage to the Rolex Submariner certainly looks the part, but inside the case there is a fairly budget movement. It proudly states that it’s been vacuum tested and can dive up to 400 metres, which was pretty unlikely, even when the thing was brand new, given the overall build quality of the watch.
Inside the Sicura Submarine there’s a 23 jewel movement, which has a basic pin pallet fork, rather than a jewelled type of pallet lever clipping the escapement wheel. Even the balance wheel itself looks like something from a Josmar, a real flat lump of metal – unpolished and unloved.
That bit of cost-cutting by Sicura shows how the company stayed afloat when many rivals went bust in the 70s. It also makes the Submarine 400 something of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. A nice looking example can fetch £170-£220 online and for that money you could buy a mint Tissot Seastar Seven, which is arguably a much better watch. It just doesn’t look as chunky and James Bond-ish.
When you get down to models like the Sicura jump hour watches from the late 60s and early 70s, these are really on par with an entry level 17 jewel Rotary, Montine, Hudson, Lucerne, Omax etc model. Perfectly durable movements, but nothing special inside that funky 70s chunky case, so don’t pay more than £50 for a mint example, as it’s never really going to be worth a fortune. Buy one because you love the New Avengers styling of it, not the technology inside.
The solar powered Sicura is arguably as collectible as many other early Swiss – or Japanese – quartz watches. The sheer rarity of working examples makes them true museum pieces.
The big problem is of course that any quartz movement eventually packs in, the crystal stops vibrating, condensation works its way inside, and the result is a dead movement. Where do you get NOS spare movements for such watches? All the independent jewellers who took these hi-tech quartz watches on as brands back in the 1970s are either retired, or long since closed up shop.
The best advice is if you find a working example of a VIP2000, then hide it away in a cool, dry, dark place – and remove the solar cell just in case it starts to oxidise inside the case.
We came back to this article and added some recent auction prices just FYI;
A Sicura Submarine Tritium, looking a bit battered but working made 440 euros on Catwiki recently, which is fairly impressive. A nicely preserved Jump Hour mpdel from teh 70s was at 113 euros with justa few hours to go – higher than we thought.
Over on Chrono24 we found the cheapest Sicura was a Submarine model at £425 asking price. Next up was a Chrono Computer at £719, plus £95 shipping and import duties from the USA. So you are looking at over a grand in total.
Fact is, you could buy a really nice Swiss watch for that sort of money – new!
On eBay we found a 17 jewel Sicura auto, with a blue dial, in fairly decent nick at £155 – that was in Kiev, Ukraine, so form your own view on the guarantee on that one. The other model we thought was interesting on eBay was a digital Melody Alarm model, which a UK antiques dealer had on offer at £185. Fully working, vgc.
That has got investment potential and we think it’s worth an offer, as you only have to look at Bulova Accutron prices over the last two or three years to see how they have rocketed upwards.
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.
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.