Base metal

Thread: Base metal

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  1. #1
    Member stratct's Avatar
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    Base metal

    So, I was wondering, I know that base metal is frowned upon nowadays but what about way back in the day? Like 50s? What was it like then? I know aluminum was known as cheap/er. What were omega, Rolex, Bulova, Benrus, and all those companies cases made from and how did base metal compare back then? I just thought it would be a cool topic


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    Shane
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  2. #2
    Member Eeeb's Avatar
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    Re: Base metal

    Stainless cases nowadays are cold formed or machined. The former technology did not exist in commercial form until post WWII. The latter is economical only with NC (numeric control) equipment which is also relatively recent.

    Brass was normally used as a base because it is very easy to work with - soft but not too soft. Aluminum in the 30s and 40s was a premium material and not used too frequently. I have seen an Omega aluminum case from the late 40s but these are so rare some in the Omega forum denounced it as a fake. I suspect it was just very rare.

    There are other base metals that have been used over time... but 99+% appear to have been brass.
    "Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

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  3. #3
    Member DragonDan's Avatar
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    Re: Base metal

    So it can be looked at from (at least) two viewpoints: Was base metal used for ease of manufacture and price point, or was stainless used to increase longevity or add value over "lower quality" cases.
    My knowledge of metallurgy is quite limited, but I feel that the horological community has had the ability to machine cases made from pretty much anything we want for many decades. One does not need CNC machines to perform intricate tasks, it just makes it easier/ more cost efficient.
    I've a Gallet watch from 1942, it's stainless case is very professionally done.
    I do have a watch (a Gallet pilot model from mid 1980's) that has a brass case and blackened coating. I think this was done to meet a price point to obtain the government contract. Certainly nothing wrong with this approach, the movement is a V7750 and has a mineral crystal installed. When properly done, base metal with a good coating will last for a long time. Now, there are companies making cases equivalent to those die-cast matchbox cars of our youth - those I do not hold in high respect, although they do serve a purpose.
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  5. #4
    Vintage & NAWCC Forum moderator Ben_hutcherson's Avatar
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    Re: Base metal

    Depending on the definition you use, stainless steel CAN be considered base metal(if you consider base metals to be any non-precious metal).

    In fact, Hamilton's #15 stainless steel case for the 992B(introduced in 1952) was marked base metal inside the back cover.

    All that aside, most old "base metal" cases that you find are brass plated with a non-precious metal like chrome. These cases were, at the time, really low end and tended to not hold up very well.

    The various nickel silver/german silver alloys(known by various trade names, most of which include "silver" somewhere in them) would also be considered base metal. This sort of case was inexpensive when new, but tends to be well regarded since it looks nice when polished and wears very well.
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  6. #5
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    Re: Base metal

    Personally, I dislike plated Base metal. As soon as the plating is worn through, they start getting pitted.

    Plated Brass cases were made on cheap watches after WW2, and are still made untill today.

    Assuming S/s is not called Base metal, which it technically is as pointed out earler!

  7. #6
    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: Base metal

    Every word on a case is put there for a specific (and usually legal or marketing) reason. It costs money to engrave/stamp something, so you don't do it unless you need to. In the case of "base metal", that's usually only seen on case backs for plated cases so that the purchaser couldn't claim they thought the case was solid "whatever". The generic "base metal" text allowed the same caseback to be used for a broad range of case construction types. It's notable that stainless steel (and it's various trade variants like staybright, etc) was usually called out specifically. Instances of stainless steel cases with "Base metal" references may have been done for simplicity (reusable caseback), or franken.
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  8. #7
    Member stratct's Avatar
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    So what I'm getting out of this is that "base metal" could be anything?
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  9. #8
    Member Marrick's Avatar
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    Re: Base metal

    My understanding is that 'base metal' would be anything except 'precious metal' which would be gold, silver, platinum and kryptonite.
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  10. #9
    Member stratct's Avatar
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    I guess what I'm trying to ask is, If it's an early 50s (1952) and it has plated brass does that mean it's a cheap watch? Even though the case is nicely finished and the movement is a nice movement (ETA 1256 niverox type 1 hairspring)?
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  11. #10
    Member stratct's Avatar
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    Looks like mine is platter brass... :( lol oh well
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