Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?
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  1. #1
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    Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    Greetings, this is my first post.

    I've got a birthday coming up, and I'm looking into a grownup watch. For a number of reasons*, I've got my mind set on a vintage (pre-quartz) mechanical chronograph somewhere in the $500 range. I'm fine with a non-automatic and I'm fine with a watch that shows some wear, so long as it works (as well as a 50-80 year old mechanical does).

    I'm not looking to start round out a collection, I don't think I'm investing, I'm not beholden to any specific brand. I deal with older cars regularly, so I've been on the other side of this question from newbies before. I know enough to know to ask before I have a tough learning experience.

    Getting the "best" I can isn't so critical as avoiding picking up a costly mistake.

    I'm starting with eBay because...well just because. Here's my saved search: LINK
    Aesthetically, here's what I'm going for:
    Vintage Delbana Chronograph Classic Dial Completely Restored | eBay
    Landeron 148 Two Register Chronograph Elmont C 1940's 50'S | eBay
    Vintage Cuervo Y Sobrinos Chronograph Classic Silver Dial Just Serviced | eBay
    Vintage 1940's Alsta Up and Down Chronograph Manual Venus 170 Very Nice WOW | eBay
    Vintage Thoresen Recipro Register Chronograph Telemeter Dial 17J Manual Watch | eBay
    Vintage 1940's Lemania 15TL Steel Men's Chronograph Pilot Watch Auricoste 2040 | eBay
    Overhauled All Original 1940's Bovet 17 Jewel Chronograph w Tropic Sport Strap | eBay

    These two initially caught my eye...then did the typical eBay exponential price rise in the last hour:
    Omega Chronograph Manual Wind Vintage C 1950 Tachymetre Gents Wrist Watch | eBay
    Excellent Vintage Stainless Steel Breitling Premier Chronograph Model 760 | eBay

    I have done a little homework, here are my current guiding principles:
    • If a mechanical piece lasted and was cared about enough to make it this far, it's probably a decent brand with decent quality. The lousy ones died off long ago, obsessing over "is ____ a good brand/movement?" probably isn't a concern
    • Avoid non-functional, incomplete or obviously "beat" looking units. I don't know enough to differentiate between a basket case and a "just needs ___ and it's great" example
    • Only buy from US sellers
    • If it hasn't been recently cleaned and serviced by a 100% feedback high-volume vintage watch seller, assume it'll need servicing in the near future


    Questions:
    • What am I missing or mistaken on?
    • Is eBay too risky of a market?
    • Does it make more sense to spend less or more? e.g., are the $500 examples just overpriced $250 examples or crappy $750 examples?


    Sorry for the long post, thanks in advance!



    *I'm an engineer and have a hard time wrapping my mind around something costly that functions worse, but costs more (e.g. a mechanical watch Vs my $35 timex). That said, I love old mechanical things, and use a '64 Ford Falcon with manual steering/brakes/transmission is my daily driver. I love engineering history and old tools. In that context, a functional piece (chronograph, tachymeter) from an era when they were tools for pilots, drivers and engineers makes sense as a historical tool. To me, post-quartz mechanical pieces seem a bit gratuitous.

  2. #2
    Member Eeeb's Avatar
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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    I saw your response to Rolland in the other thread and jumped over to this one. I note sometimes big posts have a harder time getting responded to than shorter ones. I think this is fairly normal in forums. This post has a lot of meat to it and that makes it harder to give quick responses, which is what most responses are. Forums tend to be conversational and this post is a speech! LOL

    Your analysis seems pretty astute. You see a lot more than most new members.

    Focusing on vintage chonographs is still a broad focus, but it is a doable one. What I have found is research over time develops an appreciation and evaluation skills which are necessary for a serious collector. You have a good start! Persevere!

    eBay is the wholesale market of watches. It rewards those that know what they are doing and punishes those who don't.

    Ask about watches in smaller clumps than the list you present. It is a lot of work trying to comment on one or two listings than on nine.

    Never buy a non-working watch unless you are pretty SURE you can make it work for an economical amount of effort.

    Never spend more money than you can afford. That leads to dissatisfaction very quickly.

    Develop a modicum of watchmaking skills. You should be able to switch bands, open cases, and regulate escapements as a minimum.

    A 64 Falcon, eh? My high school car (well, actually not mine but my mother's) was a Futura Convertible. Oh I wished I still had that car
    "Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

    "The watch has to be surrounded by a history.
    You need more than just a great design. You need to create an atmosphere around the product.
    Who is the company behind it? Why are they using this material?
    People need to be able to identify the watch with themselves. It's based on emotion." - Ralph Furter

    ...that's just my opinion and I've been wrong before and will be again and might be now!

  3. #3
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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    Thanks.

    I "went long" because the usual response to "I'm new and looking for X" is the batch of a few questions I tried to answer there. I can process through a similar list of cars to get a feel for what someone likes and what they're obviously ignorant to and help point them in the right direction :).

    The breadth of selection is what's so attractive with eBay. I can pick between 30 similarly priced, similarly featured watches whereas a local dealer might only have 1. Generally I come back and search here for information on any brand/model/movement that catches my eye. I'm soaking up quite a bit.

    When there's a specific one I'm seriously considering, I'll create a thread for it.

    Is there a basic tool set/kit and manual you could point me towards?

    Thanks

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    Member Sparcster's Avatar
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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    Hi and Welcome,

    Eeeb has started the ball rolling.....

    As already pointed out... you seem to have a good handle on what you are doing... even posting here before bidding on a watch is a step ahead of most new members!

    to comment/respond to your thoughts and questions... my comments would be:


    • If a mechanical piece lasted and was cared about enough to make it this far, it's probably a decent brand with decent quality. The lousy ones died off long ago, obsessing over "is ____ a good brand/movement?" probably isn't a concern.


    You may find there are still some lousy ones out there.... but your cautious approach should keep you ahead of the game. I would say the 2 you missed Omega/Breitling was not the worst thing to happen.

    Firstly, you are paying a premium for the name... generally, for the era you are looking at, you can find lesser known brands with exactly the same movements as you would find in a Breitling. Also, the Omega you missed out on had a very poor redial and the Breitling had no movement pics - a movement shot is needed, unless you are happy to risk your money!



    • Avoid non-functional, incomplete or obviously "beat" looking units. I don't know enough to differentiate between a basket case and a "just needs ___ and it's great" example


    Probably wise. If you dont have a good relationship (knowing what he will work on, what his skill is, what parts he has or is likely to get hold of...) with a watch guy, its probably best to stick to complete watches as you say.



    • Only buy from US sellers


    Being from the UK, my field of play is slightly different.... Sad truth is, you can buy duds from anywhere... but as I say, your cautious approach will help you out.



    • If it hasn't been recently cleaned and serviced by a 100% feedback high-volume vintage watch seller, assume it'll need servicing in the near future



    I think you should always assume it needs a service - unless a service receipt/guarantee is provided.


    • What am I missing or mistaken on?


    I think you are pretty much there... more and more research (to spot fakes/redials/frankens.. etc) is always needed. But I would suggest posting individual threads on 1 or 2 watches at a time, asking for input. I would look for a non 'mainstream' brand. Generally, you will get the same quality watch at a fraction of the price.



    • Is eBay too risky of a market?


    Not if you know what to look for, do your research and ask questions if needed.



    • Does it make more sense to spend less or more? e.g., are the $500 examples just overpriced $250 examples or crappy $750 examples?


    Impossible to really answer without examples. I know some views are to buy the best you can afford. Which is sound advice! However, you need the knowledge to know if what you are spending presents good value for money. I Have bought great quality Landeron/Valjoux non branded Chronographs for around £100. The addition of Breitling (for example) on the dial may have meant I spent 4X 5X... ?X the amount, for basically the same watch. That is something you need to decide - how important is the 'name'

    Good luck and hopefully others will give their opinions to.



    Quote Originally Posted by Eeeb View Post
    Never buy a non-working watch unless you are pretty SURE you can make it work for an economical amount of effort.
    Thats where I have been going wrong....
    A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away...

    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    Twitter: quickpicmarc

  6. #5
    Member HOROLOGIST007's Avatar
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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    Hi
    All good advice above
    I clicked the first link. - Fully Restored - that includes a re-worked dial.
    My advice (to add) do not by Frankens, Marriage watches or re-worked dials.
    Try to stick with 100% original timepieces

    Good Luck
    Feel free to ask advice PRIOR to buying - no one will steal your options.
    A
    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT. FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL. THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE.

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    "Owning a vintage watch is great, understanding where it sits in Horology is magnificent"
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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    Look at Gallet: they were arguably the best most toolish chronographs during the 40s and 50s. When my father joined Monsanto as a research chemist in 1961 they gave him this Gallet. It was a lab essential:

    "Can we bless or at least not curse whatever struggles to stay alive on this planet of struggles?"

    "To live and to die in gratefulness if in no other virtue."

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  8. #7
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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sean779 View Post
    Look at Gallet: they were arguably the best most toolish chronographs during the 40s and 50s. When my father joined Monsanto as a research chemist in 1961 they gave him this Gallet. It was a lab essential:

    True. But for $500?
    I dont think so. More like $2000+
    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT. FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL. THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE.

    "Failure is not an option" - Gene Kranz
    "Owning a vintage watch is great, understanding where it sits in Horology is magnificent"
    and
    "By Teaching Others, We Teach Ourselves"
    Adam

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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    Quote Originally Posted by HOROLOGIST007 View Post
    True. But for $500?
    I dont think so. More like $2000+
    In that condition, yes $2000 :). Here's my father's actual watch ~$900. There certainly are lesser priced Gallet chronos.

    "Can we bless or at least not curse whatever struggles to stay alive on this planet of struggles?"

    "To live and to die in gratefulness if in no other virtue."

    -Galway Kinnell

  10. #9
    Member HOROLOGIST007's Avatar
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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    When did he buy it for $900? May I ask.
    Its a re-worked dial, but $900 is still good
    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT. FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL. THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE.

    "Failure is not an option" - Gene Kranz
    "Owning a vintage watch is great, understanding where it sits in Horology is magnificent"
    and
    "By Teaching Others, We Teach Ourselves"
    Adam

  11. #10
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    Re: Looking for a 40s-50s mechanical chronograph: what to look for/avoid?

    Quote Originally Posted by HOROLOGIST007 View Post
    When did he buy it for $900? May I ask.
    Its a re-worked dial, but $900 is still good
    $900 is about what my father's Gallet is worth now. Monsanto gave it to him in 1961 for lab work. Why do you say it's a re-worked dial? The only time it's been serviced was in 1976, which was by Gallet, which replaced the movement for free. I can't imagine they would have re-worked the dial.
    "Can we bless or at least not curse whatever struggles to stay alive on this planet of struggles?"

    "To live and to die in gratefulness if in no other virtue."

    -Galway Kinnell

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