I am writing something a little different. What I have done here today is a little project of mine going a couple months back - the total restoration of a beautiful Glashutte GUB Spezichron from the period of the German Democratic Republc (GDR). I can confidently say that this has been one heck of an experience, and with the watch going of for one last set of repairs, an experience also. This review of the watch and chronicling of its development is a personal experience I want you to all indulge in with copious amounts of pictures! And of course all of it was made by a man I now safely consider a fine watch-dealer and personal friend: Sandor.
A bit about me: I am an avid fan of the Cold War and Cold War history. I like to read about Kruschev and his missiles, Nixon going to China, and Gorby tearing down his Wall and "evil Empire". Therefore I like to indulge in studying the various countries and conflicts of the times and only a few countries managed to capture my imagination for the period, but perhaps none moreso than the German Democratic Republic, or DDR in German, and Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, or SFRY. These two nations showed me such different images into the "lost world of communism" as did their modes of life. For all its authoritarianism, life in the DDR continued on and its people had time to indulge in such capitalist frivolities as nude bathing and wristwatch collecting. Indeed, the state-owned GUBs (Public Companies) produced tens of thousands of the things for foreign and domestic consumption. The SFRY on the other hand took the opposite view: as a benevolent "independent communist" state, they imported goods from the East and West alike.
Both of these captured my imagination, and so one day on WUS, when I saw a pretty little golden Glashutte GUB manual wind I had to have it. I contacted the seller, saxoo, and was first introduced to Sandor. Dealing with him was curt, professional and fast and he was more than able to accomodate all my requests about how the restoration should be done. Sadly, the goldie was almost-unrepairable and had been beset with setback; it's not in my possession yet, but it's cost me not even a dime extra and I am updated with its progress repeatedly. But that's all background.
I then got to talking with Sandor, who is from the former SFRY himself and it was through casual discussions of his homeland that he came to understand my lust for all watches GUB. I love these little things, which connect us to a lost "other" Germany which advanced into the 21st century leaving many of its origins behind. I love Glashutte Original and am happy Lange is back (though Marx help me afford one!) but these are too up-market for my tastes: I wanted a fun proletarian watch, something socialist and no-frills; elegant, utilitarian, in-house, and inexpensive. So he found me the perfect watch to scratch my itch: a 1980's automatic Spezichron. Despite it's rough condition, as you can see below, it was truly love at first sight:
Beat up, but still good
The markings on the back particularly excited me: it's not every day you say "Made in GDR" on a product!
As you can see, with its patina, the dial is just gorgeous
A wonderful in-house GUB socialist movement: it has some plastic bits but is still made from decent parts! At least it has none of that decadent capitalist stainless steel!
If anyone knows the exact caliber, it's kinda killing me at the moment as I don't read German and all the half-decent texts on the subject are in the language of Barbarossa, Wagner, and Honecke
Now restoring this beauty wasn't going to be an easy task: it needed new, GDR-made plexiglass. It needed a servicing on an old movement which had potentially broken parts. The stem had taken far too much during its multiple presumable tours on collective farms; it was in need of another. The strap was the epitome of nastiness, and the entire case needed a re-coating of chrome over its brass elements. I asked Sandor how much it would cost. His response shocked me.
...with how reasonable it was. The price of the watch itself was significantly lower than similar ones I had been pining for on ebay.de. So I thought "I hope this isn't too good to be true." By this time I knew by talking to Sandor he was a personable guy, and I shoudn't have let me stereotypes get the better of me but I guess I was thinking he might be the stereotypical "Eastern European bandit seller." But no: not even a tiny bit. Sandor updated me with all the photos I could stomach. He could vouch for all his products, and so could multiple other WUSers. After about 25 seconds checking that he was still as legitimate as he had been 2 minutes previous, I bit the bullet.
And boy was I in for a surprise. Sandor kept me up to date with every piece of the restoration process, all of which happened to his exacting demands. People weren't working fast enough? He made calls. Parts needed to come in? He scoured a Belgrade flea market and ebay and friends until he found one. I wanted a custom strap? He went out and hunted down the best strapmaker he could find in his area. Now of course, this would all truly be worthless without pictures, after all how does one know he's doing as one asks?
Well he thought of that too, the following pictures were meticulously taken to detail every moment of the restoration process he could get a camera close to:
The watch bereft of its chrome coating
The case was recoated... in a 400L vat which is also used by the Serbian Army to chrome the guns which come from the world-famous Zastava Arsenal. How's that for neat?
The Spezichron with three issues fixed: the new stem, found in a flea market, the case completely re-coated and looking ready for a whole new 5 Year Plan, and a gorgeous strap befitting an Apparatchik!
Couldn't forget the movement now could we? Here it is dissassembled and undergoing servicing: the glorious proletarian red date-wheel was a bit of an issue for the watchmaker, but nothing that Sandor couldn't sort out quickly. The austere lack of decoration, but still high-quality finishing, gives it a distinctly socialist feel but with the Teutonic attention to detail we all love in our Glashutte watches.
The watch was at last finished and ready to be delivered into my hands. Sandor shipped it quickly with tracking, and it managed to arrive to me on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed the next day and my Boxing Day shopping with it proudly strapped to my wrist - alas I was too busy to take many good wrist shots but here are some more professional ones of its completion, the very ones Sandor teased me with before its arrival.
In all its glory
The caseback looks like it was worn at a Party function just yesterday!
Even the lovely graphite face was cleaned - for not a cent extra
A crown worthy of a Comrade watch
All in all, I loved the watch when it arrived. The journey of restoration, the photos, the building anticipation had all mesmerized me and when it came in I was a little surprised. I knew older watches were small - but this! This felt tiny on my 7.75" wrist! Then something happend... I wore it. I realized that 35mm isn't too small - we're just used to having them way too big! Especially compared to the German tool watches I wear (Sinn 856 and Damasko DA 44 Black) this was tiny! But you know what? It was gorgeous, and fit under the cuff of a shirt fine despite its thicker width. A perfect dress watch - even by today's standards. Patek step aside, the Revolution has come, 30 years early! Ok I kid I kid, it's hardly the same level but I would compare it as being on par with some vintage Swiss pieces I've seen and, for theprice, can hardly be beaten.
One thing did feel odd though: I was hoping the rotor wasn't broken, because it felt like it was spinning at the velocity of a MiG-29. Moreover, when I finally detached it from my wrist, the watch despite its ~30 hr power reserve kept having problems with the second hand getting stuck! I contacted Sandor, and dilligent as ever, he dropped everything to look into it (And watches aren't even his main business). He came back, apologizing profusely after a few hours that he didn't have the solution and went to bed time as it was late in Serbia. I feel bad, I truly do and hope he did't lose too muh sleep over me as, the next morning, he was still messaging me. He was mad not at me or the watch, but the problem. He'd poured out his heart to bring this to life and felt annoyed it had dared screw up on this side of the Atlantic! Well at once, he insisted it come back because he'd found the problem: that overactive rotor tired out the main spring. He' have a new one shipped, or even made if necessary, but would fix it if it was the last thing he did. So not too long later, my wonderufl watch was out the door, alongside a 2414 Komandirskie having a similar problem, to be serviced in Serbia by a very reasonably-priced watchmaker all for one decent price.
To say I have been impressed is an understatement: this watch was an amazing experience, and I had it brought back to its full potental for less than a beat-up one could be found on ebay. Sandor took every precaution at all times to ensure my watch was serviced and restored properly. He really put me the customer first, and through our many e-mail exchanges we forged a friendship linked by mutual love of fine but affordable horology, its connection to a lost political past, and a desire to discuss history all while bringing out the potential in an amazing piece of human history.
I'll never forget what fixing this Spezichron was like, and I know it will only be the first of many such projects. I love high-end, but until the day I am enough of a successful capitalist for Rolex or even one of the Glashutte GUB's capitalist younger brothers, it will be restored Iron Curtain watches all the way (when I don't need to beat them, for that there is good old fashioned German tool watchmaking).
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did typing it, and if anyone would like to talk GDR watches or educate my ignorant anti-Party revisionist mind, I'd be more than delighted.