1950s Universal Geneve Genta Polerouter (Cal. 218-2)

Genta Polerouter Feature

In the world of the Universal Geneve Polerouter there is one variation that all collectors have a particular affinity for: the Genta Polerouter.

Gerald Genta is a name all collectors know but few outside the collector’s circle do. He was a watch designer who created some of the most immortal and unique pieces. Today these pieces are the foundation of some watch brands. He designed the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patek Phillipe Nautillus, and the Cartier Pasha among others, but before these incredibly avante garde and iconic pieces was one of his first: the Universal Geneve Polerouter. At the age of 23 he created this beautiful, and insanely reasonably priced collectors piece.

The raised chapter ring gives the watch a sense of depth, which is a feat given how thin this was is for an automatic. The trapezoidal date window is another element Genta added to make this watch ever so slightly different from everything else on the market. It is very important to note should you be a stickler for all original, that the best way to know is to look at the crystal. Universal Geneve made crystals with specially shaped date magnifiers for these watches. They are impossible to find and so finding one with its original crystal is a huge plus. This piece unfortunately is without that crystal (but I am just getting into one with the original which will be photographed and posted soon.) Finally, the subtle sunburst streaks on the dial that radiate out from the center creates radiant streaks that sync up with the chapter ring and make this watch catch light different than most others.

Genta Polerouter Angle Genta Polerouter Side Genta Polerouter Date Window

My work on this piece consisted of a usual full service but no major repair work. When I got it I noticed a slight rattle in the automatic works which is totally normal with these pieces. The rotor wearing or the axle breaking is quite common. What I found however was significantly (and pleasantly) more minor. There are two screws that fix the automatic works to the mainplate. One of those screws was missing. Once that was in the piece worked and wound like a charm.

Genta Polerouter Offset Date Wheel Genta Polerouter Sans Rotor

While I generally have a strong preference for black bands, this watch just looked better with brown. While a black band can provide a very prominent contrast to help highlight some of a watch’s subtle details, this watch needs no such contrast and looks perfectly at home on its band.

All together this is a fantastic collector’s piece. It is an amazing design and considering that at the time Genta was in his early 20s, and it was most certainly a brilliant first step in the legacy of the watch world’s most revered designer. Its price point makes it one of the best deals in watch collecting. If you haven’t added one to your collection, I would very seriously consider it.

Genta Polerouter Front Genta Polerouter Movement Genta Polerouter Movement 2

Caveat Emptor (Caliber: Made-Up Ulysse Nardin)

Fake Ulysse Nardin Side

Occasionally in the course of my work, I wind up in a situation where I have a massive waiting time for parts to come in for the various projects and I find myself unable to complete a project really worth writing about (or i give it back to my customer before remembering to photograph it.) Given the amount of things awaiting completion on the bench I am confident that I will return to watchmaking adventures soon. In the meantime (and given a recent experience with a guy I do a lot of vintage work for) I think it is important to start writing about one of the most pervasive elements in collecting and one of the things that really keeps a lot of people out of this great world; forgeries. The vintage watch world is unfortunately rife with dishonesty, and there are many tricks people pull to make a buck. Some of these are incredibly obvious to spot like re-dials, and some are entirely unintentional mistakes like over-polishing, or not noticing a crown difference, but some can be crafty and downright sinister.

The Ulysse Nardin that this guy bought started off on the wrong foot. The watch he received was clearly not the watch pictured (it is also worth noting that this seller then listed another watch with the same picture.)

While this seller has often changed username and relisted the same watch, the original listing can be found here:

VINTAGE RARE 50′ ULYSSE NARDIN CHRONOGRAPH GREAT CONDITION WIDDING MEN’S WATCH

Fake Ulysse Nardin Bottom Dial Fake Ulysse Nardin Top Dial Fake Ulysse Nardin Flat

The dial was a bit more roughed up. When he showed it to me I was immediately suspect. It just didn’t feel right. Sometimes its easy to spot fakes because not everything is properly signed. In this instance however, the watch did fit all of the first general criteria: signed movement, signed case, and signed dial. Turns out however that this was an intentional and misleading tactic. The case didn’t match the movement condition. The case was in phenomenal shape but the dial and movement had seen better days. Generally the opposite is the case. This was some clear evidence that something was up.

Fake Ulysse Nardin Case Fake Ulysse Nardin Movement Bridge

Stylistically, the dial did not match the bezel. I have never before seen a watch that has a redundant tachymeter. It was more likely mounted in a more plain case as was common at that time. A professional opinion on the piece confirmed my suspicions that this was a “franken-watch” and while it is all technically Ulysse Nardin components (possibly) it is not a Ulysse Nardin as they had intended it and thus not an original piece, and has no value as a Ulysse Nardin.

Fake Ulysse Nardin Tach Close up

If you are in doubt, walk away. In my experience if it either looks too good to be true (like a perfect dial from the 50s), or something seems just a little off, it’s generally not a collectible piece.

The best advice I can ever give is: educate, educate, educate, and consult a collector or professional. Most of all, find a dealer and a watchmaker you can trust.

 

 

Glycine Airman Special (Cal. AS 1700/01)

Glycine Airman Feature

Within military watches there are two sub-divisions. There are military specification and then there are watches that were common among G.I.s, SEALs, pilots, etc. This Glycine, like the Zodiac Sea Wolf, belongs in the latter category, but you wouldn’t know it from the design and build. The 24-hour dial is unmistakably military, and the bezel and hands fit perfectly on the wrist of a pilot, and that is exactly where these gained their popularity during the Vietnam War.

According to Hans Brechbuler, the managing director of the company (and its purchaser in 1984) the Airman evolved based on feedback directly from pilots. According to him, US fighter pilots were very active in providing feedback on their needs from a timepiece in the cockpit. While this watch gained significant popularity between its introduction in 1953 and the 70s, like so many others on this blog, it came to a very abrupt drop-off when quartz hit the market. Things got so bad for the company that they where whittled down to a skeleton staff, and eventually purchased by their current owner. Fortunately, our fascination with mechanical pieces has picked up drastically, and modern Glycine watches are still available and can be found at a very reasonable price/quality ratio.

Glycine built a a hack function around the movement making it a somewhat unique mechanism. Unlike other hack functions this one stopped the hand only at 0 (or 24 or 12 depending on your perspective.) The idea being that like with other hack functions, squadrons could precisely coordinate time. Unlike most hack mechanisms Glycine built their function into the case rather than the movement.  Because of this there is no way to get the necessary part should something go wrong. This has led to an unfortunately large amount of these fantastic watches to not have a working hack function. This watch came without it, but that didn’t stop me from restoring or appreciating it. In addition to the hack function, they also built a locking bezel and a small GMT spike off the back of the hour hand to coordinate with the bezel.

Glycine used two different base calibers. One from AS and one from Felsa. The one here is an AS 1700/01 movement with the slight modification of the motion works (the gears where the hands are attached) which makes it revolve only once every 24 hours. Although it is slightly odd at first, once you are used to the dial it is fantastic, and its look really does have a style befitting a cockpit (see the Hamilton 37500 for reference.)

Glycine Airman Movement 1 Glycine Airman Movement 2

As with all military watches, I put a canvas band on this one as well, but thought black was better than the green.  Also, as this is the most valuable military wristwatch I have worked on, I opted for the padded rather than plain. Unlike the other military pieces, this one combines history with utility. It is sized and wears on the wrist like a modern piece.

Glycine Airman Side Angle

While I am not positive, I believe this is probably one of the last really famous mechanical military wristwatches before they all switched to quartz. Back together it is one of the most wearable military timepieces I have worked on. It will be a tough call whether to sell this one or add it to the personal collection….

Glycine Airman Bezel 2 Glycine Airman Side Glycine Airman Side Angle Glycine Airman Dial

1970s Tissot Astrolon (Caliber 2250)

Tissot 2250 Feature

Sometimes innovations do not succeed simply because they are ahead of their time. The Tissot 2250 is a great example of an innovation that was sabotaged due to poor marketing and timing. It came out right as Quartz was killing the middle and lower markets. Most of the technologically advanced pieces killed by quartz that I have written about to date dealt with transitional integration of electronics into timepieces. This watch used polymer technology to overcome one of the most long-standing and unavoidable problems of mechanical watches: lubrication. Also referred to as the SYTAL (Systeme Total d’Autolubrification) it was designed to never need to be oiled. This was as much of a benefit to watchmakers as it was to consumers. Not only is oiling a watch crucial to its proper function, but as with any task that requires a huge amount of diligence and care, some people look to take shortcuts or genuinely don’t care, and invariably screw it up. I cannot tell you how many watches I have opened up to find literally doused with oil, have oil where it shouldn’t be, or where the oil is improperly applied.

Taken out of its historical context, this is a fantastic piece of mechanical innovation, the likes of which would not reappear until just recently with the Swatch Sisteme51. This new innovation (soon to be reviewed here) is the first mechanical watch to be assembled entirely by machine. Additionally it is claimed that it will run for 20 years without need for service. Forgive my skepticism, but this is the same industry that has brought us the “Lifetime Mainspring” which as any watchmaker knows is one of the least true statements in watchmaking history. While somewhat cynical on claims based off of these types of innovations, this Tissot restores some of my faith in the next generation of technology as after more than 30 years it is still running strong and accurately which Is more than I can say about many of the quartz movements of the time that have crossed my bench.

I feel that there are two major problems with this watch, both of which are a result of the plastic construction. There is virtually no weight to the watch making it feel insignificant on the wrist. It is a hard sensation to describe, but it is similar to when you service a quartz movement. The weight just isn’t there to give it any feeling of significance. Additionally the plastic, while certainly innovative, makes the watch look a touch cheap. That being said it is still a fantastic piece and watching the escapement through the back, though it does not have the same significance of watching metal move, still remains a mesmerizing site.

While not all innovations (especially those in horology) become standard or successful even if they are indeed an improvement on the status quo it does not diminish the importance of this movement and the research that went into it. This is most certainly a great oddball piece to add to the collection right next to the electrics, electronics, and Accutrons.

Tissot 2250 Back Tissot 2250 Movement Tissot 2250 Angled Tissot 2250 Movement 2

Tissot 2250 Front

1970s Girard Perregaux Electronic (Caliber ESA 9154)

Girard Perregaux Electronic Feature

My fascination with  short-lived technological transition pieces continues with this Girard Perregaux Electronic. Unlike the original Hamiltons, the electronic movements designed by this maker (ESA) that came out in the 70s were easy to service, robust, and way less temperamental. They also have a much higher beat rate than their predecessor. At 28,800 vph they run accurately and unbelievably smooth. It also comes with a crude but efficient hacking mechanism. One interesting thing about these movements is that the gear train must fit into a seemingly small portion of the movement in order to accommodate the electronics and the coil. It was a relatively straightforward service, but a fully enjoyable one nonetheless.

Generally when I work on a movement for the first time, I try to get one that is in running condition. In my conversations with many hobbyists who became quickly frustrated with the craft, the common thread was that they made the choice to buy broken movements and learn from there. The problem with this approach is that it is difficult to diagnose why something is not working if you have not taken the initial time to learn what makes it work, and how to properly take down, clean, and assemble a movement. The advantage to starting with a running movement is that you know that if you did everything right the piece will tick when you are done. That was my hope with this one.

I bought this watch as just a head in “working order.” Once again, a victim of believing everything you read in an eBay description, I found that while this watch was in absolutely pristine condition externally and on the dial, the electronics didn’t seem to want to work. I also noticed immediately that the circuit insulator had blistering on it from heat. Fortunately the ESA 9154 was a commonly used movement (unlike the super rare ESA 9176 which I am dying to get my hands on) and so I was able to get a harvester movement for at least the circuit insulator.

 

Next I set about disassembling the movement. While the electronics in these are a bit of a mystery to me, the rest of the mechanism is like any other watch, and so I took it all apart, cleaned everything (other than the electronics of course), gave it an inspection, oiling and reassembly. I then did what I assumed would be a logical step which was to inspect the coil for any defects or dirt. When I found none, I proceeded to put the whole thing back together (with the new circuit insulator) and with a fresh battery it came back to life.

Girard Perregaux Electronic Main Plate Girard Perregaux Electronic New Circuit Insulator

I am unsure entirely why, but I love the balance on this watch. Its construction so perfectly encompasses classic and unchangeable balance elements with modern technology. It feels much more like a balance wheel than the Hamilton electric balances, and is much cleaner aesthetically. The movement of this balance wheel is also mesmerizing.

Girard Perregaux Electronic Balance Wheel

 

 

The only odd problem with this movement is the absence of a quick release for the stem. It was quite a procedure to take out the stem, fit the movement in the case and then refit the whole works. Other than that though I love this movement. It runs super smooth and accurately.

Girard Perregaux Electronic Battery Bridge Girard Perregaux Electronic Movement 1 Girard Perregaux Electronic Movement 2

All together it is a wonderful watch from the 70s. The case and dial are in phenomenal condition and the faded brown band helps to complement the watch without further accentuating how gold, clunky, and 70s it is as a gold band would have done. Although this is from a time when Girard Perregaux was not yet the brand it is today, it is still a great looking, well made, and accurate runner and a great piece of Girard Perregaux and horlogical history.

Girard Perregaux Electronic DialGirard Perregaux Electronic SideGirard Perregaux Electronic Angled

Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet Microtor Caliber 215-9

Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet Feature

There are few amazing pieces as under-appreciated (and well priced) as the Universal Genève Polerouter Jet. Finally after years in the under-rated pile of vintage watches, it is getting its time in the spotlight. As a fan of innovators and clever engineering feats, this watch was impossible to pass up on when it crossed my path. The flawless and rare dial combined with my desire to work on one of these movements made this restore a fantastic experience.

Universal Genève filed their patent for the Microtor in 1955. While they are certainly the most cited for the pioneering of this type of movement, the real credit actually belongs to the Buren Company (which made the movement that powers some of the Hamilton Thinline series and Bulova Ambassadors, among others) who filed their patent just a year before UG. As a result they were the winners of a patent infringement case that followed. While Buren may have won the innovation race by almost a year, Universal Genève it would seem was taking their time to not only perfect the mechanics, but also the aesthetics of their movement. The iteration they put out was impeccably finished (fittingly with Geneva Stripes) and is absolutely beautiful mechanically and visually.

Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet Movement 1 Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet Movement 2

The original purpose of the smaller rotor set into the movement is that it saves big on the total thickness of an automatic watch. A quick Google of the world’s thinnest automatic watch will bring up the Piaget Altiplano that unsurprisingly utilizes the Microtor technology. A secondary benefit utilized by the finest of watchmakers (such as Patek Philippe, A. Lange and Sohne, and others) is that minimizing the space needed for the automatic rotor increases the room available for complications as well as the display-ability of the movement through a sapphire back. Usually a rotor will eat up about 30-50% of the viewing space at a time but the Microtor requires much less and usually allows for an unobstructed view of the hairspring and the other mechanics.

I got this watch in running condition but in need of a full service. The balance was sluggish and under the microscope it was easy to see why. Sometimes oil just migrates and dries up but sometimes it collects dirt and becomes extra viscous or dries up, creating resistance where it is supposed to be there for the opposite reason. Oil had caked up in the balance jewels and was prohibiting free movement of the balance. A thorough cleaning and oiling took care of the problem and after a slight regulation the watch was running beautifully.

On the wrist this watch is fantastic. It expectedly wears very lightly. The smaller profile comes out on the wrist. The brushed dial is different from the typical iterations of this watch and the rose gold markers and hands it gives the piece an added elegance.

All together, this is a wonderful vintage piece that showcases innovation, timeless styling, and easily one of my favorite movements to work on. If you are a stickler for slim watches but want an automatic, you can’t go wrong with one of these vintage beauties.

Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet Flat Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet Dial Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet Angle Universal Geneve Polerouter Jet Side

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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

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

1965 Bulova Railroad Approved Accutron Caliber 214

Bulova RR Approved Side

Ever since they were able to, Omega has boasted that they made “the first watch worn on the moon.” Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Speedmaster (and am wearing one as I write this piece) but their marketing slogan, while technically accurate, is still a bit misleading as to the full spectrum of horological instruments created for the space program. Among them was one of the greatest inventions in horology that wound up doing most of the horological “heavy lifting” for NASA. While Neil Armstrong was wearing an Omega caliber 321 Speedmaster when he took the first steps on the moon, the Bulova Accutron caliber 214 was powering the clock on the space shuttle, the clock and timer on the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), and just about every timer and clock used in every major satellite launched at the time. In essence, Bulova did all the major work, but Omega stole the spotlight at the last minute.

Two TE-12 Accutron clocks used by NASA

Two TE-12 Accutron clocks used by NASA

The Accutron 214 revolutionized timepiece accuracy. While Hamilton figured out how to replace the mainspring, their electric watches did not solve any of the major problems with the regulation and accuracy of wristwatches. Bulova’s tuning fork approach not only replaced the mainspring, it replaced the balance. In place of the balance are tuning forks that oscillate at 360Hz. To put this in perspective, a high-beat watch, like the Longines Ultra-Chron oscillates at 5Hz. This very high rate combined with a 320-toothed index wheel makes for the most stable rates and smoothest running second hand on a wristwatch. The movement was accurate to within a minute a month (or +/- 2 seconds/day.) When running, the coils produce the characteristic “hum” that many Accutron enthusiasts are seduced by. This innovation was unfortunately short lived as the quartz watch came to mass market just a few years after the Accutron series. The look of these watches however remains one of beautiful electrical and horological engineering that fits as well on the wrist as it does as Sci-Fi prop.

This particular 214 came to me in working condition, but in dire need of a cleaning and service. The fragile gear train and sensitive electronics necessitate keeping these pieces in tip-top internal shape to maintain their perfect working abilities. Fortunately Bulova did a fantastic job at making sure that the right tools were available for watchmakers to be able to service their watches. The 214 kits and manual make sure that the service of this watch is as easy as possible for a skilled watchmaker. Bulova also designed the 214 to not require full disassembly for a full service and cleaning. Since it had been so long since the watch was serviced however, I ignored that, and took the thing entirely apart for cleaning and inspection. After a full cleaning and reassembly, this Railroad Approved 214 was in action and ready to go for another 5 years.

The Bulova Accutron Tools.

The Bulova Accutron Tools.

Bulova RR Approved Holder Bulova RR Approved Disassembled

This 214 is a remarkable piece of working history, and as parts get harder and more expensive to come by (and unlike mechanical watches, parts cant be machined), it is always nice to be able to hand a beautiful working example back to its cherishing owner to be enjoyed for years to come.

Bulova RR Approved Movement Bulova RR Approved Front