Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?
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  1. #1
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    Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    If you buy a vintage piece and it happens to have a badly scratched caseback, is it easy for a watchmaker/repair shop to replace the caseback with one of the same size, even if not from the same brand/model? It's sometimes not easy, I imagine, to source a very specific brand's caseback (particularly a defunct brand). But if a watch measures 36mm, are there generic 36mm casebacks that will fit most watches? I get there is a difference between a simple pressure caseback and a screw-on, but within a basic type like the screw-on back, is it easy to swap out a part on one watch brand with a generic piece?

    And I guess I'd ask a similar question about bezels--easy to replace the 40mm bezel on a vintage watch with a generic 40mm bezel, or are most watch cases built so that they need the specific bezel intended for them?

  2. #2
    Member DragonDan's Avatar
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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    In a word: no.
    So many types, different diameters, different thread types. Snap on, Compressor - the list goes on
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  3. #3
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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    Generic case backs? Nope. Sometimes case backs are interchangeable within watches from one manufacturer, regardless of the case style- if the case back diameter fits, the rest will as well. For example, there were cases of Tissot watches from the 1930s- very 1930s case, dial, movement with a serial from the 1930s... And a case back from the mid-1940s. That kind of proves that they as a matter of fact could be interchangeable. But on a wider scale, no, this doesn't usually happen.

    Also, scratches can be polished off, unless someone worked really hard to damage the case back beyond any repair. Chrome-plated case backs tend to get damaged with time, with a rather horrible effect- for example, "Metal Chrome" Zenith cases from the 1930s. A few scratches, and the sweat from the wrist does the rest. But a stainless steel case back... Wrenches can leave marks, so can knives, if one doesn't use them properly- and still, I'd rather not see anything sharp around my watches. A blunt case-knife is the right tool- though many watches that I've seen at flea market stalls prove, that so many watch owners weren't able to control their outbursts of curiosity, "what-is-inside" type of curiosity in particular.

    Bezels? Yep, you can get a replacement bezel, and that's a good thing. The bad news is, that usually this means that you need to have one made specifically for the watch. Which in many cases costs more than the watch itself.
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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    Sometimes it' easier to manufacture new snap-on caseback instead of spending $$$ while trying to find spare one.
    Screw caseback is the most complex to make, even more hard to find. No "generics" indeed 8(
    Last edited by german; November 22nd, 2015 at 03:01.
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  6. #5
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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    I have a large bucket of case backs I bought from a watchmaker - his lifetime collection I guess.

    I have yet to find one that will fit, when I have needed it (except of course when I've needed one of the right brand/model and by luck this has happened exactly once).

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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    Bloody hell. That explains where all the case backs have gone to! Do you sometimes buy backless watches just for the satisfaction of being able to right the wrong?

    Quote Originally Posted by trim View Post
    I have a large bucket of case backs I bought from a watchmaker - his lifetime collection I guess.

    I have yet to find one that will fit, when I have needed it (except of course when I've needed one of the right brand/model and by luck this has happened exactly once).
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  8. #7
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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    This makes a lot of sense, thanks all.

    I'd seen a Wittnauer chrono on eBay in rough shape, non-functioning, missing a case back and pretty dinged up/dirty case, and a missing pusher. Wondered whether it was worth it to buy and fix it up. In any event the last I looked the bidding had gone over $200, which for a non-functioning piece seems a bit crazy to me for an amateur collector like myself. I'm assuming whoever buys it must be a watchmaker or have comparable skills, because it's hard to imagine it being worth the purchase plus the repair, cleaning, and sourcing replacement part costs.

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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    Walk away, in brief. Everyone here has been there and most of us have fallen into that way of thinking at some point.

    So… let's say a Wittnauer Chrono is "worth" around USD $500 in the market place (a really good one is worth more, from what I've seen, but we're in the ball park). You need to get a back made (USD $100 min), a new pusher (USD $12 min) case polish or TLC of some kind (USD $80 min) service movement (USD $150 min) = total restoration costs, not including any as yet undiscovered faults, is something in the region of USD $300. I don't think this is a particularly economically viable way to go about it.

    Wait for a good one. Be patient. Wait and wait and wait. One will show up, for more than you wanted to pay, ideally, but a good model with few problems. The game in vintage watches is long and slow. Spend wisely and appreciate at length. Few project watches get finished and fewer still get finished for less than a comparable ready-to-wear one would have.

    Quote Originally Posted by gouverneur View Post
    This makes a lot of sense, thanks all.

    I'd seen a Wittnauer chrono on eBay in rough shape, non-functioning, missing a case back and pretty dinged up/dirty case, and a missing pusher. Wondered whether it was worth it to buy and fix it up. In any event the last I looked the bidding had gone over $200, which for a non-functioning piece seems a bit crazy to me for an amateur collector like myself. I'm assuming whoever buys it must be a watchmaker or have comparable skills, because it's hard to imagine it being worth the purchase plus the repair, cleaning, and sourcing replacement part costs.
    Last edited by Habitant; November 23rd, 2015 at 18:22.
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  10. #9
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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    I've got few gems with the backs missing , was holding out hope. Often wondered what happens to them as I don't imagine that they just fall off and are lost. Is there a stainless case back underground I am unaware of?

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    Re: Are casebacks for vintage watches somewhat interchangeable?

    Yep. They are funnelled into cargo ships and cross the Pacific, ending their days in a sleepy town in New Zealand. There's not much crime in New Zealand, but case back hoarding seems rife.

    Quote Originally Posted by Charon View Post
    I've got few gems with the backs missing , was holding out hope. Often wondered what happens to them as I don't imagine that they just fall off and are lost. Is there a stainless case back underground I am unaware of?
    Last edited by Habitant; November 24th, 2015 at 15:45.

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