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.
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.