Three years ago, I was gratified to purchase a notable watch made by the famous brand Hy Moser & Cie. The timepiece in question was a vintage pocket watch movement with an enamel dial in a non-original wrist-wearing case.
Wrist-type case-making for old movements was a tradition in early Soviet Russia. Some small ateliers were working on the re-purposing of pocket watches into wristwatches, due to the high professional demand and lack of domestic watch production. They mainly produced stumpy, ugly brass cases that were strictly functional.
You can see that it came from a greedy antique dealer… It looks like just any piece of ridiculous horological junk!
The case looks to be in very poor condition. The nickel plating is worn and tarnished, and the lugs are rusty.
Here, the worn and dirty plastic crystal is on full show. Absolutely unacceptable.
There is also some bad news for the movement…
The steel winding wheels are scratched, every single screw head is damaged, and there are traces of rust and corrosion on all the steel parts.
Finally, there is some good news – underneath the grimy exterior is a nice, (mostly) undamaged enamel dial. I just fell in love with that deep red ‘12’ and the ‘4’ with the swirled end-pieces! Frankly speaking, these charming numerals were the only reason to buy the watch. I just couldn’t leave this beauty trapped inside such an ugly shell.
Note the terrible low-grade hands. They just don’t look worthy of such a gracious and elegant dial.
My plan for fixing up this watch was as follows:
- Build a new stainless-steel case with a glazed case-back
- Hide the outer enamel chip under the front bezel
- Replace the hands and crown with contemporary old stock parts
- Refinish all screw heads to plain mirror polish
- Grind the winding wheels with a fresh shiny pattern
- Do a full movement repair and service (fix all problems, some of which are as yet unknown)
- Add a nice strap for wearing on the wrist
Stage One: Making the Case
Making a new watch case isn’t very difficult for me as I do have some case-making skills. During this project I paid particular attention towards achieving the truly antique look of the bezels and lugs. The finished case must be styled similarly to the earliest wristwatches as they were being made as early as the 1910’s.
First, we take measurements and prepare the new watch case drawing:
Extensive lathe work needs to be done. We machined case ring blanks and fitted tolerances of bezel rings to snap properly on to the case body.
‘Olive’ pieces will hold the antique-style movable wire lugs. All of the parts are made from stainless-steel.
The case is ready to be assembled, and holes for the winding stem and setting button need to be drilled. Two mineral crystals are affixed with special UV-glue.
At this stage however, we encounter a problem with replacing the crown. The stem, badly damaged by previous repairs, needs replacing. So, we need to make a new stem.
On the right in the above picture is an old-stock winding crown from vintage repair kit. It is a true contemporary to the movement, unworn and looking like new.
Stage Two: Fixing Movement Troubles
You can never fully know what has been modified inside of the antique movement by the number of repairs. Some surprises are incredibly annoying. The first bad repair attempt that I found whilst disassembling the movement was an incorrect barrel arbor. The square shape of the arbor was way smaller than the square hole of the winding wheel.
So, I endeavoured to find a suitable wheel replacement that had a smaller square hole:
… Unlucky this time.
Instead, I had to make a new barrel arbor with a bigger square end-piece. A corroded screw-nut was also replaced with a better one.
The barrel arbor blank [main]; the barrel after hardening [bottom right].
Just have a look at the terribly damaged surfaces of the wheels, screws, and steel parts. None of these are signs of natural wear – these are the mistakes of previous repair persons, who did a bad job. It does all need to be redone, but I don’t believe that the movement must necessarily shine like new. Some dings and marks can be left where they are in order to prove the origins of the movement, as well as its impressive 100+ years of age.
A lot of work was done to make this movement look better using a glazed case-back.
This early 1900’s tool set is used for correcting the plain polish on screw heads.
Pictured below is a winding wheel for refinishing with a diamond grinding disc. It is a simple and effective method for making the wheel look fresh and new.
Take a moment to look at the difference between the movement before and after the refinish. It doesn’t look like new (but it shouldn’t look completely new), but it does have a nice vintage look to it. Never try to polish plates if you want to keep the original sand finished gold plating.
The remaining problems are very typical for antique watches:
The remaining problems are very typical for antique watches:
- Worn balance axle – a new high-quality axle was made
- Three cracked hole jewels – all were replaced
- Weak mainspring – was replaced with a new old-stock mainspring
- Cracked stem fixing spring – a new spring was made
- Extremely dirty movement – was cleaned and oiled after fully disassembled
Now it is time to assemble the watch in the newly made case, and to do some tests and adjustments. The next step is to pay some attention to the watch face.
Stage Three: Hands & Accessories
First of all, the enamel dial is cleaned. As you can see below, most of the dirty marks and scratches are gone!
What a beautiful new look in a nice fresh shell.
Finally, we can add the hands. The hands must be of correct length, age and style, and must correspond with the numerals’ ‘weight’ on the watch face. On this watch face in question we have some bold, fancy digits. Thus, the hands must be bold enough to easily read, while also bringing some interesting and fancy detail which corresponds to the sophisticated impression that the watch face gives off.
We chose some bold, yet classical ‘chronometer’ old-stock hands in a blue tempered finished steel. This combination looks harmonious with the whole look of the watch face, but there is a slight technical issue with the hole size in the hands, as they do not match the hand arbors.
These hands are actually from the older fusee English pocket watches which had larger hand arbors. Moreover, the minute hand has a square hole, which also needs to be fixed.
The solution: machine brass fitting pipes to add to the hands’ hole, which will adjust their size to fit the movement arbors. Here, we used a classic vintage small lathe – it’s a rather simple watchmaking job to be sure.
Here are the hands with the new brass fitting pipes pressed in.
The new appearance of this old watch is now complete. Re-cased and gently restored, it is now a lovely timepiece to wear.
After a few weeks of testing and adjustments, the watch will be fitted a new strap.
Hope you enjoy this review, any comments are appreciated =)