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 

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 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