1958 Rolex Oyster Perpetual 1500 Cal. 1570

Rolex 1500 Feature

The actual title for this piece was going to be “My First Rolex (or How I Learned About Center Wheel Pinion Wear and Then About The Importance of Absolute Cleanliness)” but I opted to keep format and stick with the basic title. This 1500 was a great step for me as it is a huge confidence builder to have the service of a Rolex under one’s belt and be able to take one from  +35 seconds/day to within chronometer specs. I look forward to servicing many more in the future.

Although people rarely get to see what is inside their Rolex, it is what makes the brand what it is. They have phenomenally well-built and finished movements that are the lynchpin of their reputation. Beyond the marketing and beyond the prestige, Rolex would not be Rolex without the magic that is their movements and manufacturing. They are able to produce these movements in mind-boggling quantities with the same standard of precision over and over and over. It is for this reason that they have been able to keep their name atop the list of luxury watch brands for so long. That being said, I’m not sure how happy they would be with me for servicing one of their movements as they have become increasingly hostile towards anyone other than Rolex touching the inside of their watches. This has become a huge point of contention between independent watchmakers and Rolex (as well as many other top-tier brands.) A fantastic watchmaker and writer put together a very good piece about this, which can be found at: http://nickhacko.blogspot.com/2012/05/preserving-our-dignity.html

Rolex 1500 Movement 1 Rolex 1500 Movement 2 Rolex 1500 Movement 3 Rolex 1500 Movement 4 Rolex 1500 Movement on Bench

When I first got this watch, it appeared to be running fine, but it was fast by 35 seconds. This is not out of the ordinary for a watch that has not been serviced in a long time. With that knowledge I set about taking it apart. The main plate is finished incredibly well with perlage of differing diameters in different places. As this was an earlier version of the Caliber 1570 movement, this watch did not contain a hack function.

As a general rule, when servicing watches of this caliber, a new mainspring is a must. Once that was done I set about reassembly in the most delicate manner I could muster. A single mistake could have mean that I would be unable to finish this watch. As Rolex is unreasonably restrictive on their parts, if I broke, dropped, or lost anything, I would either have to pay an exorbitant amount if the part was available or give up and sell the watch for parts. With that in mind I proceeded like porcupines mate (very carefully.) Unfortunately upon inspection of the gears I found something that made my heart sink. The center wheel had so much wear that it was wobbling in its place. For some reason unknown to me the caliber 1570 does not contain a jewel for the center wheel on the main plate. This means that the wheel experiences metal-on-metal friction. Running time plus dry/no oil equals this kind of wear.

The wear can be seen near the base of the pinion

The wear can be seen near the base of the pinion

The only fix is a new center wheel. Fortunately there is a limited secondary market for genuine Rolex parts and I was able to get my hands on one. I think it was during this time (even though it was covered and protected) that the second problem arose.

Once the new center wheel came in I cleaned it and got the watch together, I wound it up and installed the balance. If my heart sank before, this time it dropped through to the sub-basement. Everything was supposedly great and yet the movement would not run at all.

I disassembled the watch and re-inspected everything. Then something caught my eye under the microscope: a hair had become lodged around one of the gear’s pinions. This teeny tiny little hair had the capacity to bring such a magnificent piece of engineering to its knees. With the hair removed I reassembled the gear train and sure enough the problem was solved and the watch ran beautifully and accurately.

You can just faintly make out the hair wrapped around the top

You can just faintly make out the hair wrapped around the top

Once that whole fiasco was done, I put the dial and hands on and cased the movement. Back together it is a beautiful vintage Datejust that showcases the timeless elegance of the classic Rolex pieces.

As far as the cleanliness aspect, I upped the filtration; installed sticky mats on the floor; clean the bench at least once daily with compressed air plus now apply an extra diligence to cleaning the pieces as I go about installation. Lesson well learned.

Rolex 1500 Dial Rolex 1500 Angle Rolex 1500 Front

1969 Bulova Sea King Caliber 11BLC

When I choose watches to purchase, I usually have at least some idea of what I am getting into. When I do repairs for others it is always a guessing game. My most recent “restore” truly lived up to its name. It was a full on restore. I took a watch from scratched, rusted out, and not running to beautiful working order (If I may say so myself.) While work this extensive can be expensive it is really worth it if you are attached to the piece, and want more than a rusted lump sitting in the drawer. That being said this watch owner was relatively lucky. The rust did not penetrate into the more delicate (and expensive) bits, and as a result the replacements were mostly confined to the keyless works (the setting and winding bits of the watch.)

I was contacted about this Bulova Sea King from a person who had purchased it in knowingly bad cosmetic shape with a missing the crown. They had the belief that underneath the dirt and all back together, this watch would be a great vintage gem. They were right. The case was dirty but in fantastic condition, and underneath the scratched crystal was a near perfect movement. The real unknown was what the movement looked like.

Sea King Before  Bulova 1969 Sea King Before 2 Bulova 1969 Sea King Before 3

I received it without having seen the movement, so when I opened it up I was sad, but not shocked to see a lot of rust in the movement. When I see damage like this I feel it is important to contact the person and give them an honest assessment before proceeding. I believe that there is nothing worse than not knowing what costs to expect when dealing with restorations or services in general. It also provides an out should the person decide that the potential cost exceeds their expectations. Fortunately, this collector, while not entirely happy, chose to proceed.

Bulova 1969 Sea King Rust 2 Bulova 1969 Sea King Rust 1

My first step was to entirely disassemble and pre-inspect the parts. As I had said earlier, the rust was fortunately not on the balance, gears, or mainspring barrel. I replaced all the rusted out parts and then cleaned everything and reassembled.

Bulova 1969 Sea King Keyless Works Bulova 1969 Sea King Movement

Once the movement was done I got to the case. As can be seen in the original pictures sent to me the case tube had been crushed. It often does not look like it but the case and the case tube are often separate pieces. I did not know this until I had an unfortunate accident with my crystal press a few years ago. I accidentally crushed the tube on the case I was working on while I was fitting the crystal. After fitting a new tube, I cleaned the case thoroughly. This required several trips through the ultrasonic cleaner and the removal of a melted (and hardened) gasket and rust from the inside of the case. Additionally, there was some caked dirt that the cleaner just wasn’t getting rid of on its own. Once this was done I used a very fine abrasive and gently stayed with the grain of the case and brought the shine back without ruining or obscuring the finish. While the result is not as deep and precise as sand blasting (which is how that grain is put there in the first place) it is preserved and reflects light in the way the design intended. Underneath the dirt there were a few case scratches, but nothing major. Once I finally got the casework done I fit the crystal (obviously being mindful of the crown tube.)

Bulova 1969 Sea King Case-back

After I tracked down the crown I was able to complete this watch. Fortunately this was one of the rare instances where a repair comes in well under estimate. Back together this watch is an instance where its owner took a risk and was right. Beneath the dirt, scratches, and rust, it is a great vintage Bulova gem.

Bulova 1969 Sea King Finished Bulova 1969 Sea King Side Bulova 1969 Sea King Angle Bulova 1969 Sea King Front

Review: AVI-8 Watches

The mid to high-end of fashion watches is littered with either watches made to look like much pricier brands or with pieces that are simply too plain to stand out or justify their pricing. UK-based AVI-8 Watches has managed to break this mold with a bold series of designs inspired by military aviation. In a short period of time they have managed to roll out an extensive line of original timepieces with a particular attention to detail and a definitive flight-inspired look.

I was given two pieces from them to get a feel for their Hawker Hurricane line and their Lancaster Bomber line. Convinced on the merits of those two, I have since added a piece from the Flyboy collection to my own collection.

From left to right: Flyboy, Lancaster Bomber, Hawker Hurricane

From left to right: Flyboy, Lancaster Bomber, Hawker Hurricane

As a sucker for canvas bands, I was immediately drawn to the Hawker Hurricane Ref. AV-4017-04. The shade of green on the band is definitively vintage military. While it is a pretty large watch at 44mm, with a substantial thickness, it wears lighter than one might expect. The dial is easy-to-read and the Arabic numerals are very well selected for the time period they are trying to represent. The outer 0-60 index ring fits in very well around the prominent numerals, and I am always a fan of a second sub-dial at 9 o’clock. The thickness of the case is used to create a very well executed sense of depth between the crystal and the dial. The lugs have a small flare that helps to distinguish an otherwise plain (but well built and finished) steel case.

AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Side  AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Front  AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Dial

Small but noticeable flare on the lug

Small but noticeable flare on the lug

It runs well on what I originally thought to be a Japanese Miyota (Citizen) Automatic movement, but a little further digging by a reader revealed that contrary to the literature claiming this to be a Japanese Automatic, it is actually a slightly cheaper Chinese automatic movement.  It includes a quick-set date as well as a hack function (which almost feels obligatory on any timepiece that is aviation-related.)

AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane Movement

There are a few very minor things I might highlight as issues. Firstly, the date display is set very low in a small porthole at 3 o’clock that can be difficult to read. For such a large-featured watch the date is a bit lost. Secondly, the hand design differs between the second hand and the hour and minute hand. The latter are sharp and angular while the second hand is more of the round style seen in Panerai sub-dial hands. Finally, while I love exhibition backs the canvas band obscures this one. This is not true with any of their other automatic models that utilize leather bands.

Slight stylistic mismatch between the sundial hand and the large hands

Slight stylistic mismatch between the sundial hand and the large hands

With the canvas band on the movement is hidden

With the canvas band on the movement is hidden

The date size is relatively small for the watch

The date size is relatively small for the watch

All in all these design issues are minor, and do very little to detract from the overall beauty and utility of this piece. It’s a comfortable wear, great style, and can be had at a reasonable price point. While their listed retail price is perhaps higher than it should be, a quick search online and you can find this watch at a price point that makes it well worth the purchase.

AVI-8 Hawker Hurricane flat

Retail Price: $520 (Currently available at Amazon.com for $141.75 at that discount its hard to pass up on this watch)


While many of AVI-8s collections are extensive and diverse (the Hawker Harrier line has 33 references), the Lancaster Bomber stands out as the exception. They have just done one design in five different dial/case/band variations. The Lancaster Bomber was an iconic warplane for the RAF and unquestionably the most legendary of the British fleet during WWII. It holds a similar place in aviation history as the Boeing B-17 and B-29. They were the “flying fortresses” that won the war

AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Feature   AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Front

The presence on the wrist matches the grandeur of this aircraft. While it is smaller from lug-to-lug than the Hawker Hurricane reviewed above, it feels and wears noticeably larger. The crown proudly displays the logo and the colors of the RAF, which is a small but fantastic detail on the watch. Its hands are very much like those found on aviation instruments and setting the time feels like setting a gauge in a cockpit (in a good way.) They recapture the distinctive “bubble” underneath the cockpit with a pronounced date magnifier, and add an interesting “riveted” side to the case. All together it is a very well thought out and executed tribute to the aircraft it is based off of.

AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber "rivets" AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber RAF Crown

There are only two things that I found issue with on this watch. Firstly, the disproportion between the date magnifier and the date window is slightly off-putting. Secondly, such a legendary aircraft tribute should have a movement to match. Quartz seems to detract from the image of the Lancaster Bomber. Other than that it is a very nicely designed piece that is definitively not a dress watch and definitively not a casual sports watch. It is a watch that would go very well with a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Dial AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Back AVI-8 Lancaster Bomber Side 2

Retail Price: $320

After handling and wearing some of their watches I think AVI-8 is a brand with great promise. Their watches are unique, well conceived, and well executed. They stand out against the backdrop of the myriad of other watch companies competing in the “fashion” watch market that they do. The one thing I really wish they had was better movements. At the end of the day, the meticulous design detail that they put into their pieces is not matched by the quality of movements they utilize. Fortunately that is something one can add in due time. You can always add better movements to great designs, and with AVI-8 the combination of their design acumen with a high quality ébauche would make these truly amazing pieces. An ETA would change the class of these watches entirely. Wether or not this is a place they want to go, I am unsure, but they have an attention to detail that appears to be unmatched in the market segment they compete in, and they would be more than qualified to make the step from fashion to collectible. I for one am hoping they choose to fly into that stratosphere, and will certainly keep an eye on what they keep churning out.

1970s Tissot PR516 GL

Tissot PR516 GL Feature

While Tissot has done a great job with some of their Heritage series (such as The Navigator) there are timepieces that represent their era so well that remaking them only produces expensive anachronisms. This 70s Tissot PR516 GL should have been left alone. It is thick, chunky, oddly angled, and just about everything else awesome about pieces from the 70s. The remake is just not the same, and while the movement was certainly improved, some design elements were eliminated, and the metal band they chose to go with really did a disservice to the overall aesthetic.

I got this watch in relatively good external condition but not running and in need of a service. One of the major things for me with watches with a “grained” finish like this one is to always check for signs of polishing. If it has been polished it will never look the same (unless a specialist works on it but the cost of that relative to this watch is nonsensical.) Although there are some dings and scratches, the original grain is present and perfectly matches that of the band. The dial was also in great condition under the badly mangled crystal above. I knew that all back together it would be a fantastic finished piece that had that perfect and unmistakable “stuck in time” look to it.

Tissot PR516 GL Finish

The great thing about vintage Tissot is that they almost all use similar calibers. They are well built, easy to service, and run like champions. The only bad thing about them is the lack of a quickset day and date on some models.

Tissot PR516 GL Movement

The dial, hands, and tension ring all together create an interesting 3D layering that I had not seen prior to working on this watch. The minute hand passes underneath the tension ring’s notches to create a unique sense of depth to the watch. This touch appears to have been taken away in the re-issue.

Tissot PR516 GL Dial

Finally, the band very well matches the feel of the head. The same cannot be said for the new heritage re-issue. My call for a heritage series would have been a thinned down version of this classic piece with the same band style rather than the “racing” bands.

Rolex is loved because they have never really change their impeccable and timeless designs, but brands that were willing to design pieces meant for their era deserve their credit as well. While this watch is way too big to work on my wrist, it is certainly a timepiece that I can appreciate.

Tissot PR516 GL Side Tissot PR516 GL Angle