I recently had the good fortune to work on a rare Tissot Navigator Chronograph. There is not much to say about this watch. It’s a rare, really cool looking, and badass vintage chrono. Inside it however was a dark past that serves as a stern warning to those wading into the vintage watch world. Pieces like this have been around long enough to have that eye-catching vintage appeal, but that also means they have been around long enough to visit a terrible or careless watchmaker or three.
Vintage chronographs are always great challenges. In addition to providing a complication at a relatively low cost, the variety of chronographs out there makes them an endless source of fun. Equipped with a Lemania 1343 (most like an Omega 1010 minus the hour counter) this movement proved to be the great balance of enjoyable, educational, frustrating, and infuriating that keeps me from ever getting bored with watchmaking.
When I got it this rare piece, the chronograph did not reset properly, it ran almost 30 seconds/day off, and the keyless works were jammed up. Once I had the movement out and gave it an inspection several things caught my attention. Firstly, and not unusually, it was dirty and lacked any oil. One of the worst and most common mistakes people make when buying vintage pieces is they take ticking to mean working. There was also a hair on the hairspring and tons and tons of scratches and some filing marks. There were unfortunately more problems to come. The chronograph runner was bent. Instead of correcting the problem on the arbor assembly, the prior watchmaker lazily just bent the hand to compensate. Problems like this infuriate me. It takes an extra 30 minutes to fix this problem, why is it such a big deal? Instead the watchmaker was satisfied with a sub-par job that could have been easily corrected with no new parts needed and no extra cost to the owner. The second problem like this was that the stem was bent. The bend was causing the issues with the function of the watch. Once again, the watchmaker had to know this. For this problem, I got a new one. The stem also happened to be heavily oxidized. Finally there was a careless gouge on the date wheel. What else would you expect from the “workmanship” of the prior “watchmaker.”
(If you play the stem video turn your sound off! I had my ultrasonic cleaner running which created a really loud buzz)
The movement itself was a pretty challenging assembly. The gear train bridge is enormous. It is almost as big as the main plate because it combines the normal train bridge with the barrel bridge and puts several additional gears under it such as some that are necessary for the rotor. This assembly is typical of Lemania calibers, but doesn’t make it any easier. Once that was done I got the rest of the movement back together fairly quickly, but then noticed another problem. The canon pinion had lost all friction. A quick adjustment to that, and the movement and hands were running well together.
All back together it is a fantastically rare and great looking vintage piece. I was happy to be able to work on it and learn the mechanics of the Lemania 134x family. It is also a warning I give often which is to know what you buy, know who you are buying from, and know the history. When you buy a vintage piece, know you are getting its history (good or bad) along with it.