1972 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel (Caliber 11BLACD)

Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel Feature

Over the years Bulova has managed to create a huge amount of iconic vintage models. This Oceanographer Snorkel is one of my favorites, and took a long while to track a good one down. During my years searching I saw a decent amount of them go by. Some with wrong hands, hands without lume, hands that were re-lumed, unoriginal crowns, rusted movements, unoriginal movements, and just about everything else under the sun. Then this one came up.

It was supposedly running well (see previous post for my thoughts on that claim) but that was less important than the fact that it was all original (except the crystal) and in phenomenal shape.

This watch is just so awesomely 70s. It’s very hard to imagine that Bulova was rolling out sleek Accutrons at the same time as this big automatic beauty. While the shape is stereotypically 70s, it is worth noting it was super early in the decade when this one rolled off the production line (1972) and this model was rolled out in 1969 making them one of the earliest trend-setters in the large 70s cases that followed. Usually watches have luminescent paint on the dials but Bulova did something I have never seen since which is an odd very raised luminescent pillar. The combination of hand shapes is also unique and the sweeping circular second hand is perfect on it. The combination of a bold, unique look, and a short production run time makes it one of the most sought after vintage Bulovas on the market.  

The watch itself ran for about a day after I got it. The unfortunate thing about Bulovas is that while parts are plentiful, and their movements can run for years, the failure rate is high, and they can prove to be very finicky pieces. Any Bulova collector must be prepared to be patient with what may come their way.

My caution with taking “serviced” or “running well” at face value is the following: those terms are really not specific enough to tell me anything meaningful if I don’t know who it is coming from. A service can mean it was fully disassembled, cleaned, lubricated, inspected, and tested. It can also mean a watchmaker looked it over said “it runs.” It can also mean that the movement was taken, placed in a cleaner, dried, re-lubricated and they called it a “service.” I’m not sure what this watch got before it came to me, but it certainly wasn’t the first scenario I listed. A cursory servicing does not help the issue as it does not indicate potential wheel failures or balance condition. As a result it needed a real service, a new mainspring and balance, and it was running beautifully again.

Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel Movement

Mechanically it was running well, but there was just one problem. The crystal. These models came with a magnifier over the date and this piece arrived without one. Fortunately I impulse buy rare bits for watches like this just in case I do one day need them. With the genuine original crystal installed I put the watch on a band whose color scheme I found appropriate.

Back together it is one of my favorite Bulovas and definitely one of my favorite 70s divers. It stands out as one of Bulovas most iconic and sought after pieces, and after a very long search, I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to work one a great example. It is also one of the most reasonably priced amongst the rare vintage divers of the 70s (but is getting more and more expensive quickly.) 

Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel Side CU Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel Side CD Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel Flat Left Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel Angle Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel Flat Right Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel Front

 

1950s IWC Caliber 402

IWC 402 Side

Before IWC was the avant-garde and aviation-inspired brand it is today, they made some uncharacteristically plain, but incredibly well executed ultra-thin and elegant calibers. Among those made were the Caliber 89, the 401, and the 402 to name a few. This 402 is so thin it almost disappears on its side. After spending a bit of time with this piece I am convinced that these vintage IWCs represent perhaps the best value for a solid gold, well-made dress watch on the market.

I got this watch in “running but not tested” condition, which almost always means it is in need of service, not running well, and that there will be at least one goodie I’ll find inside. This was no exception. It ran nearly five minutes off per day. Additionally the movement of second hand was incredibly erratic and it would appear to “fall.” This is usually caused by the second hand being too loose for the pinion it rests on, but in this watch the problem was different. IWC employs a hair-thin friction spring to keep the second hand aligned and running properly. This piece is so fragile that it took me two attempts (and expensive parts) to get it done right. That part, a new mainspring, and a thorough cleaning and oiling got this beautiful dress watch up and running well again.

On the wrist it is almost too light (even for solid gold!) It is a perfect watch for people who do not like heft or a watch that doesn’t easily glide in and out of a shirtsleeve. It is without question a dress watch. I think someone would be very hard pressed to pull this off in jeans and a t-shirt. The dial speaks to the elegance of the overall piece. It is plain and simple yet the International Watch Co font gives this watch its tone. The only real external flaws on this watch are the unfortunate scratches someone gave it trying to open it. Watches like this tend to have a very small notch where the case opener has to be wedged. For this purpose I obtained a tool and spared no expense in doing so. It is a very small and very sharp lever that is capable of opening almost any snap off case without making a mark. The person before me was not as gentle, and clearly didn’t look for the ledge. The result was a scratch down the back. Then when they found the notch, it took a few tries, resulting in the smaller scratches that can be seen. Fortunately they are on the back, and do very little to ruin the impression this piece gives on the wrist.

IWC 402 Dial Close up

IWC 402 Caseback

Back together this is one of my favorite vintage dress watches that I have had the chance to work on. It has a remarkably well-made movement (albeit fragile) and its wafer thin construction makes it one of the most comfortable and unassuming solid gold pieces on can own.

IWC 402 Movement IWC 402 Movement 2

Next up on my IWC list is definitely a Caliber 89. This great piece definitely changed my perceptions on IWC as a brand.

IWC 402 Angle Right IWC 402 Angle Left IWC 402 Side IWC 402 Front   

 

Vintage Tissot Navigator Chronograph (Cal. Lemania 1343)

Tissot Navigator Feature

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)

IMG_4416IMG_4447 IMG_4449Tissot Navigator Date Wheel

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.

Tissot Navigator Back Tissot Navigator Chrono

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. 

Tissot Navigator Rotor

Tissot Navigator Side 

That time I fell in love with the A. Lange & Sohne 1815 Up/Down (ref. 221.025)

Lange 1815 Movement Feature

Watch shows can feel a bit like a meat market. Everything you are told is rare, precious, etc. somehow appears under one roof. Watches are traded, bought, and sold for business. There is no marketing or sentimentality. For many the experience can be intimidating and disenchanting. Admittedly, even after attending several of them, I am still the former. What I love about the shows is the ability to experience so many different watches without all the pretention, a pushy salesperson, or a PR guy with white gloves telling you what’s so special about a particular watch.

Usually I spend the first hour or so meandering around trying to find some pieces to work on and write about. After that I park my self behind the booth of one of the most trusted and prominent dealers in the vintage world where I know I will get to see some of the most interesting pieces coming and going. Matthew Bain has spent decades building one of the most solid reputations in the business. He is unquestionably one of the most knowledgeable individuals on vintage pieces, but most importantly (for me at least) he has a true passion for what he does from six and seven figure Pateks to the four figure wacky pieces from the 70s. He can appreciate a watch regardless of the price. The best metaphor I can think of is he is like an exotic car dealer who is also smitten by a Wood-Paneled Wagoneer. More important than any of that is that he is a nice guy who is willing to share his knowledge. A very close childhood friend of mine is his right-hand man Morgan (which probably has a lot to do with why Matt puts up my loitering and endless questions), which is how I got introduced to Matt’s operation and the watch shows.

Now that I have set the scene at some length, its time to get to the watch I fell in love with. While talking to my friend another dealer handed him a non-descript clear plastic envelope. Inside it there were two watches. One instantly caught my eye so I asked if I could pull it out and take a closer look. It turned out to be a classic A. Lange & Sohne 1815 with an up/down wind indicator. It is such a clean simple and perfectly executed watch. The dial side contains two sub-dials; one for the seconds at 4 and one for the power reserve at 8. As a big fan of tasteful standard bucking, I love the placement of the sub-second dial. The two-tiered dial is beautiful and reminiscent of old top grade pocket watches. The hands for me are perfection. They are so dead simple and classic. Their incredibly narrow sharp points give an ever so subtle air of precision. The different hands on the sub-dials are also a great touch.

Lange 1815 Dial

On the movement side, I think it is fair to say there are few watches that can show so little and be so strikingly beautiful. Their movements are made from untreated German silver that takes on an amazing patina over time. The finishing is impeccable (as one would expect.) When it comes to exhibition backs, one can clearly see the divide between the Swiss and the Germans. The Germans reveal relatively little about the movement, but what they do show is an attention to aesthetic and detail that lets you know that what you don’t see is just fine away from your prying eyes. The hand engraved balance cock combined with the silver plate does well to indicate that what lies beneath is what one would expect from German attention to detail and precision. The more recent versions of the 1815 reveal a bit more, but I personally prefer this movement. This one remains ever so slightly truer to the German style. For a comparison see the link: http://www.hodinkee.com/blog/hands-on-with-the-a-lange-shne-1815-updown-full-specs-live-pics-official-pricing

Lange 1815 Movement

Finally and most importantly is how the watch fits. Like everything else on the watch it just seems to fit perfectly. I was really sad to have to take it off and hand it back. It sits on the wrist like it belongs. At 36mm it is small by most standards, but its just right on the wrist. The Platinum gives it just enough heft to let you know something special is there, but it’s for you to know and appreciate, not for everyone else. After my experience with this watch I can definitely say one will be in my collection one day. In the meantime, I will return to the pictures on this post, and remember the time I became enamored with the 1815. I can only hope that this piece goes to an owner who will appreciate its beauty the way I did when I had the opportunity to handle it.

Lange 1815 Side

This piece is currently for sale by Matthew Bain and can be found at:

http://www.chrono24.com/en/alangesoehne/1815-up–down-platinum–id2878784.htm

1972 Omega f300 Electronic Constellation (Reference 198.002)

Omega f300 Feature

A few months back I wrote about the famous Bulova Accutron and the bitter rivalry between Bulova and Omega. What I love so much about this watch is that it is a piece of historical irony on your wrist. After their bitter rivalry, Omega went on to use the very technology they fought against in the Horological Space Race. It is more or less an Accutron in Omega clothing. If nothing else, it really speaks to the advanced technological feat that Bulova achieved with their tuning fork movements. Omega swallowed their pride and put a Bulova movement in their Chronometers. To be fair it was not technically a Bulova movement but was a movement made by ESA with technology licensed from Bulova. It is in tiny wording on the inside of the case back, but Omega did pay homage to the Accutron movement and its creator in the way any Swiss watch company would (secretly and in a way that most customers wouldn’t know they borrowed the technology from an American company.)

Omega f300 Caseback

The more detailed story behind the movement in this piece is that in 1970 an ex-Bulova developer named Max Hetzel licensed the tuning for technology from Bulova and improved it to make it more robust and reliable. Nicknamed the Mosaba (Montres Sans Balanciers) the ESA tuning fork movement improved on the positional fix of the tuning forks allowing for little to no deviation in time keeping due to slight positional errors. Additionally, they greatly decreased the length of the index finger (which anyone who has ever worked on an Accutron can tell you is a blessing.) This fragile tendril on an Accutron could easily be knocked out of alignment by a shock making them particularly fragile.

Omega f300 Movement 1 Omega f300 movement 2

The f300 tuning for Omegas are fantastic pieces that provide the great styling of a 70s Omega with the seductive hum of an Accutron. It’s a perfect watch for someone who wants the innovation of the Accutron with the name of an Omega.

I got this watch in relatively rough external shape and was unsure of its running ability. The gasket was melted, and the crystal was incredibly scratched and unoriginal, but I knew that with enough care it could be a great looking 70s showpiece. That it was on the original band was a huge bonus. I figured that if I could get the right parts and clean it up enough I would have a great complete and original piece.

Sure enough with a cleaning, a genuine Omega crystal, and a fresh battery this chronometer is humming once again. It has a few scratches, but is in unpolished condition, and is a fantastic piece of Constellation history.

A great source for more information about this movement can be found at: http://members.iinet.net.au/~fotoplot/acctechesa.htm

Omega f300 Leaned Omega f300 Band  Omega f300 Front

Omega f300 Side

 

3D Printed Horology (The 1000% Tourbillon)

NM Tourbillon Feature 2

Horology and 3D printing share one of the same common misconceptions: neither of these activities is as easy as they may appear from the surface. We are led to believe that all you need is a 3D printer and your child will never need a new toy. The reality, like the gears or electronics behind the watch dial, is far more complex. 3D printing does however come with very significant advantages. Bottom up manufacturing means that once the hugely time consuming design and manufacturing phase is complete, you transfer the file over to your printer and the rest is no-waste, automated manufacturing requiring little to no human intervention.

Given the amazing ingenuity of watch and clock mechanics it was only a matter of time until someone took the time to engineer and reproduce watch complications in huge magnification so that their innovation can be fully appreciated. Huge tourbillions for educational purposes are ironically much more rare than the actual tourbillions in breathtakingly expensive watches, and are a sight usually seen only in watch schools after hours upon hours upon hours of hard and precise manual labor. Someone finally took the time to combine two difficult skills and is now making 3D printed horological models has shattered this status quo of hard to obtain educational/entertainment models for horology.

To explain what a tourbillon does is far easier than explaining how. It is not a far-fetched claim to say many people who buy them do not fully comprehend the mechanical intricacy of the complication that is on their wrist. For one thing, it’s incredibly hard to see in its entirety by virtue of its size. Fortunately, with scale, complexity becomes understandable, it just took someone with the skills to put it all together; an engineer/watchmaker.

Nicholas Manousos has used 3D printing to create the awe-inspiring Tourbillon 1000% model. More than just any tourbillon he has created a Daniel’s (co-axial) Symmetrical Tourbillon. It is truly a sight to behold. Seeing a Tourbillon at 1000% scale in motion really puts into perspective the complication involved with horological innovation and fabrication.

Originally educated as an engineer, Nick decided to take the plunge and go to Watchmaking School. After that, he dropped his tweezers, metal movements, and bench and started his lab where he now devotes his full time to designing and building 3D printed complications.

I had the chance to have coffee with Nicholas to talk about his perspective on horology, 3D printing, and to see the model in person. All three were fascinating. It took him 3 years of design, prototyping, and improvements to land where he is today, but he still sees it as an ever-evolving innovative process. The advantage of 3D printing is that you modify, print, try, and repeat until its right. I am pretty sure that since we had coffee he has made several tweaks to the design. The result is a stunning model that very quickly rekindled the mechanical fascination that got me into watchmaking in the first place. Rarely does one think of such beautiful innovations coming in plastic, but it is truly awe-inspiring.

Because of its size and construction, I was able to disassemble it (at Nick’s encouragement) easily and look at the various components, and reassemble it. It seems strange, but it was easier to assemble the 1000% Tourbillon than it is to assemble many simple clocks. It seems so simple, but there was so much that went into it. One can only imagine what Nick’s graveyard of gears must look like this far into his work. Fortunately, unlike physical fabrication, the reproducibility of 3D printed objects is far easier, and all one has to do is print. Therein lies the promise of this combination of technology with horology, but it is a double-edged sword.

NM Tourbillon Screws NM Tourbillon Balance NM Tourbillon Escape Wheel NM Tourbillon Escape wheel Close UP

What makes complicated watches so expensive is a combination of marketing, rarity, and difficulty of manufacture and assembly. Mechanical innovations come at very steep prices (think about the GP Constant Force Escapement or the Patek Philippe Advanced Research pieces.) The reproducibility of pieces like Grande Complications are very difficult and each new one must start from pieces of metal that are shaped by incredible machines and more incredible humans. Design and prototyping takes a very long time because after something is conceptualized, it must be fabricated by machine and hand and tested. Finally, rarity is maintained because of the various different set of expertise involved with creating these masterpieces. 3D printing jumps over these manufacturing steps and potentially allows for anyone with a printer to manufacture their own (or someone else’s) creations with some plastic and the push of a button and for just the cost of the polymer and whatever extras there may be. While the technology is still very far from being able to let people print even the simplest wristwatch, it should not be too long. It will take a huge increase in the resolution of the printer, but it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Given the speed of the rendering relative to the old-school manufacturing process, one can easily reproduce and improve on designs. The improvements that may be recognized by this process and by being able to have a nearly infinite amount of horologists and engineers print, analyze, and improve designs. Unfortunately this means that the dollar value of innovation is drastically decreased, and the value of being a first-mover can be nil. Nick is acutely aware of the potential and the dilemma he is creating by being able to prototype, build, and share his innovation so rapidly and at such a large scale.

At the end of the day to really make a difference will require more people like Nick, who have the skills to push the bounds of horology with this new method of manufacture, and a nurturing group of experts to help would be innovators over the steep learning curves of both horology and 3D printing expertise.

In the meantime, I am fully content to watch Nicholas’ tourbillon oscillate while I wait for his next creation.

(I am also getting a printer…….)

I encourage you to visit his site to see more about his process and his lab at www.nicholasmanousos.com and if you are interested, drop him a line about purchasing one.

NM Tourbillon Cased NM Tourbillon Printer NM Tourbillon Printing NM Tourbillon Case

1964 Rolex Tru-Beat (Caliber 1040)

Rolex Tru-Beat Side-Angle

One of the best things about watchmaking is that when people realize it is something you do, they always have a watch that needs fixing. Usually it’s a non-working sentimental heirloom piece that has sat in a drawer for years. Unfortunately, the world of watch repair can be so opaque that many people are scared to approach it unless they know someone. It’s not hard to either get taken advantage of or to wind up with a bill that far outstrips the value of the piece. Furthermore, watchmakers usually can’t give a price until they have put in a significant amount of work, making it very hard to back out. All of these issues make people very comfortable with coming to me with a watch that needs fixing. Most of the time it is a relatively simple watch, but occasionally it is an unbelievable rarity, and a privilege to work on. This Rolex Tru-Beat was certainly one of the most exceptional rarities I have yet had the pleasure to work on.

I was handed this watch in non-running condition and although it needed a huge amount of work, it was worth every bit of it. I am personally a bit wary of the Rolex collector market for several reasons. One of the major reasons being that what seems to determine the value of the pieces is not mechanical but purely aesthetic. It’s all about the dial, or the bezel, or the crown. To me that’s all well and good, but I like interesting content not a $60,000 price tag for a bake-lite bezel. This fact in Rolex collecting also makes it much easier to fake things (change a dial and the price goes up 10x.) This makes it all the more important that you go to a trusted vintage dealer like Matthew Bain, etc. For evidence of just how big the sums can be, see the current lawsuit between John Mayer and vintage dealer Bob Maron.

The Tru-Beat is a little different than typical Rolex, and that is what I love about it. It has a dead-second complication, meaning the second hand “ticks” rather than flows. It was only produced for a very short period, and it is rare for its guts more than its dial (the dial however is nice too.) The caliber is a 1040. This is based off of a 1030 but has some additional height issues to accommodate the delicate and beautiful dead-second components. Watching it in motion it amazing. Fortunately for me (and more so for its owner) the dead-second components were totally fine and functional, so getting parts from a 1030 would be no problem. The only 1040-specific part I needed was the higher transfer wheel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Rolex Tru-Beat Movement 2 Rolex Tru-Beat Movement 3

After a thorough cleaning and inspection I found the things that were in dire need of replacement. Years of sitting in a box and running without oil undoubtedly cause wear. In the end I needed a new mainspring, transfer wheel, escape wheel, and automatic gear train. Even if an automatic watch doesn’t run, the rotor still does. Fortunately, all these parts were obtainable and the final repair bill was less than just about any modern Rolex service. Additionally I put a new crystal on it do the near perfect condition of the dial and hands could be fully showcased.

Back together, the “tick” of the dead-second is incredible to see. It was a pleasure to work on. I continue to be amazed by the phenomenal variety of pieces people bring to me and that I get to work on, but this one was Tru-ly special.

Rolex Tru-Beat Feature Rolex Tru-Beat Side 2 Rolex Tru-Beat Side