Molnija Pocket Watch or the like
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  1. #1
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    Molnija Pocket Watch or the like

    I am not new here, but have not been active in a long time. I am interested in a mechanical pocket watch, but don't want to break the bank in case I decide down the road that I don't really like carrying it. I have read that the Molnija watches are an OK value if purchased from a reputable seller on eBay. Just looking for some advice on these and curious if they might be a good choice as an option for an inexpensive foray into mechanical pocket watches.

    Any other options in this same space and price range, $50-$100? I know this is a pretty low price point, and I may not be able to expect much for this amount of money, but I don't want to get crazy and find out these are not my cup of tea.

  2. #2
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    Re: Molnija Pocket Watch or the like

    Hi there,

    there are two basic Molnia movements (or Molnija depending on transliteration):
    1) A simple and a bit delicate, made between ca. 1949 and 1967. It is rarer and accordingly less watch for the buck.
    2) A more sophisticated and rugged with Breguet hairspring, and in the first years even a cam-disc precision regulator. It was made between ca. 1960 and 2008. Already the first are no real beauties, but finished faily. And the finish was degraded continuously during the years. After 1975 the durable big crown-wheel bearing was replaced by a single screw with tiny bushing. But these are still not old enough to make troubles for this reason. Only stay away from rather late samples. Many are cobbled together from stock parts by amateurs, no promising imagination.

    If you actually want to wear it, I'd recommend the second type. It has the reputation that it runs forever without maintenance, and unfortunately this is true to a certain extent: Most actually were never serviced, and almost all still run, but a good fraction with poor performance due to worn balance pivots.

    I bought a couple of them to get this overview into my archive:
    bidfun-db Archive: Watch Movements : Molnia 3602
    All ran, but half of them had worn balance pivots. Regarding $50 as attractive price for replacing a balance staff, a well kept sample for $50 is the better choice than one with with worn pivots for free.

    So you can either buy watches until you have one that performs well, and sell those which fail, or pay a premium for a return privilege. You need no timing machine to check the pivots. A remarkably worn pivot is toggling in its jewel hole enough to see it clearly with a loupe. If you are lucky, the first is fine, but if you're not, you should not be sure that you can resell the worn without loss. Prices are pretty stable, and ebay asks fees.

    My favorite is the more durable type with precision regulator. And I actually educated a sample for my collection to chronometer specs. The movement has the capability, it needs just patience and a timing machine. Keep in mind that it is based on a Cortebert design which was even applied in Rolex pocket watches - no bad pedigree though.

    Regards, Roland Ranfft
    Last edited by Roland Ranfft; November 20th, 2013 at 01:35.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Molnija Pocket Watch or the like

    Wow, thanks for the great response Roland. Not sure I actually understand all you wrote, but sounds like I want to look for one from the 70's or 80's maybe?

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  5. #4
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    Re: Molnija Pocket Watch or the like

    Hi there,

    until 1970 there were no major changes, only the finish was degraded step by step. In 1970 it lost the precision regulator, and in 1975 the crown-wheel bearing was replaced by a less durable (cheaper) design. Morover it got a lighter balance around 1975 (not precisely known when). This allowed higher friction loss for gear and escapement - longer running without service, but less accuracy.

    I'd prefer one from the 60s. The price deference is noticable, but doesn't reflect the quality difference. So you simply get the more Molnia for the buck the older it is. Another extreme choice is one of the last. They can be identified by wheels without any finish - just the surface of the sheetmetal they were punched from. These will still run some 30 years with limited accuracy and without service, but then are ready for the bin.

    Regards, Roland Ranfft

  6. #5
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    Re: Molnija Pocket Watch or the like

    Thanks again for the great info. I think I am going to try to catch a nice one and try it out.

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