Omega Seamaster Chronograph ST 176.007 (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of blogs devoted to Omega’s Seamaster Chronograph ST 176.007. Considered a classic of the 1970s, the model  has too many interesting features to set out in a single post.  A good starting place is to consider the piece’s  remarkable movement. In future blogs I will discuss some of the different versions produced by Omega and will also describe my experience owning a set of ‘twins’ (see illustration, below).

At the heart of the ST 176.007 lies a modified Lémania 1340: a haute horlogerie movement with a distinguished pedigree. Launched in early 1971, the caliber is the first of Omega’s high-frequency, self-winding chronographs and represents the company’s response to the Breitling/Heuer caliber 11 (‘Chronomatic’)  and Zenith El Primero  movements – both released in 1969 . The 1340  was manufactured at Lémania under the direction of engineer Raoul Henri Erard and designer Alburt Piguet.  Their joint efforts produced a three register, cam-switch actuated chronograph movement. The 1340  has two sub-dials: an hour-totaliser at 6 o’clock and a running seconds register (essential on a true chronometer) at 9 o’clock. Visually and technically, the most striking features are the fly-back chrono sweep second hand and central 60 minute totaliser with  cross (coloured white, blue, orange, or black depending on the dial design). The latter is a daring alternative to a more conventional sub-dial arrangement.

Caliber 1340’s famous bi-directional Lémania ball-bearing mounted rotor was invented by Marius Meylan-Piguet.  Application of ball-bearings increased the efficiency of automatic watch-winding, reducing the amount of wrist time per day needed to keep a movement ticking. A 45-hour reserve also assists performance. Power for the chrono mechanism is supplied by the driving and coupling wheels. The position of the cam regulates the raising and lowering of the coupling wheel on to the centre second wheel. To disengage, the reset hammer returns the centre second wheel to the zero position. A coupling yoke attached to the cam links to the hour and minute registers. The movement features a straight-line lever escapement (so-called because the arbors of the balance, lever and escape-wheel are in alignment), a monometallic Glucydur balance wheel, Incabloc shock protection (with striking mauve cap jewels), a micrometric index regulator with fine regulation via an eccentric screw, and a self-compensating balance spring. The latter is an alloy of nickel, chromium, berrylium, titanium, aluminium, and iron best known by its trade-name ‘Nivarox’. Springs made of premium-quality Niravox reduce the impact of temperature change on accuracy to around 0.3 seconds per day per degree centigrade, freeing watch makers to deploy smooth monometallic balance wheels (in place of bimetallic ones) since there is less need to exploit the expansion coefficients of different metals in order to compensate for timing errors generated by the spring.

The principal modifications Omega made to the Lémania base movement to produce the caliber 1040 were the addition of 5  jewels to the original 17, introduction of a day/night indicator by arrow on a revolving disk built into the permanent seconds sub-dial,   inclusion of a quick-set date function, and a splendid rose copper finish in place of the ébouche’s plain grey. This highly reliable, durable, and superbly assembled 81-piece movement is an exemplar, cam-operated, automatic chronograph. Its direct drive chrono functions can withstand appreciable shocks without the central second hand stopping or significant loss of accuracy occurring.

Despite its high quality, the 1040 proved relatively short-lived since the movement proved expensive to manufacture at a time when the Swiss watch industry started to encounter serious financial difficulties. Production ceased after 1975 and from 1978 Omega switched to the caliber 1045, based on the Lémania 5100. There is some debate over the respective merits of the 1040 versus the 1045 within vintage watch circles. Caliber 1040 lacks a hacking feature and a day function. It is also rarer since only approximately 82,200 movements were produced by Lémania for Omega. Caliber 1045 utilised synthetic (delrin) parts for day/date wheels, the related cams, and rotor supports  – a  commercial decision which offends some purists. Pillar construction was used to pin the stamped bridges and other parts to the main plate. A Kif shock absorbing system was also employed in place of Incabloc. Caliber 1045 powers highly desirable models in the Omega Speedmaster range,  including the Mark IV and Mark V. In truth, both the 1040 and 1045 are exceptional and four decades on are still favoured by some watch makers. Currently, 5100s power Sinn, Tutima, and Fortis chronographs. Between 1984 and 1999, ownership of Lémania passed from Heuer to Breguet and finally the Swatch group. This led to a revival of the 1340 in an adapted form, including addition of a fly-back capability. The resulting Lémania 1350 can be found in Breguet’s two type XX chronographs: the Aéronavale and Transatlantique.

 

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Illustrations:  (Left) Caliber 1040 with original rotor and serial number – example found online. (Right) the twins – for discussion in follow-up posts.

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Glycine Combat Subaqua-11, 3863.196N V-1

Glycine are a lesser-known brand, although the company was founded as long ago as 1914 by the distinguished horologist Eugène Meylan. Initially a designer of miniature movements for ladies’ watches and automatic dress watches for men, Meylan later devised models for military issue, his most famous contribution to this genre being the Airman series (1953 onwards). Following the Swiss watch crisis of the 1970s, Glycine was acquired in 1984 by Hans Brechbühler who initially oversaw production of quartz models. Aided by his daughter Katherina, mechanicals were re-introduced into the catalogue during the  ‘Phoenix era’ of the 1990s. Glycine did not, however, return to producing innovative movements in the manner of Meylan. Instead, Brechbühler followed other Swiss manufacturers and relied on ébauches.  Today, the company concentrates on a limited range of automatic models but offers them in a variety of different designs. The Airman and Combat (first produced in 1967) are revivals of older ranges;  Incursore (1998) and Lagunare (2003) are two new additions. Altus Uhren Holding AG  (CEO Stephan Lack) acquired Glycine in 2011 and at the present time (2014), total output is around 6,000 pieces per year. Relatively modest production runs help to sustain excellent build quality.  All Glycines carry serial numbers, this piece’s unique identifier being  #137,908.

In contrast to the Omega and Zenith in-house calibers, the 3863 series utilises a 25-jewel ébauche automatic movement. The English translation of ébauche is ‘blank’. The ETA 2824-2 and the ETA 2892 are the most widely used examples. ETA is a reference to Eterna, which founded one branch of the amalgam of ébauche producers whose complex history of mergers eventually resulted in a single company that is now a subsidiary of the Swatch Group. Owing to its dominant market share, ETA is currently obliged by Swiss anti-trust law to provide basic movements to independent manufactures, although this requirement is steadily being relaxed, enabling the company to restrict access to its ébauches  over time to preferential clients.

The Glycine Combat Subaqua employs the ETA 2824-2. This highly dependable movement is often described as ‘un tracteur’ (literally  ‘tractor’  but  better translated as ‘workhorse’). It is assembled and finished to different standards within the watch-making industry. There are four grades, classified according to the quality of materials used and (particularly at the higher end) on the degree of testing and regulation undertaken. In order of quality, the grades are: Standard (B), Élaboré (A), Top (A+), and Chronometer. Glycine’s execution is Élaboré. The specification includes a rhodium coated main plate and oscillating weight with ball bearing races. Rhodium is more durable than nickel and resistant to tarnishing; it is also an expensive material not found at B-grade. The movement, which Glycine prefer to call the ‘GL 224’,   carries ‘Côtes de Genève’  decorations (literally, Geneva bars or stripes: a series of wave-like etchings on a finely polished surface)  and is engraved with the company’s crown logo.

An Élaboré grade is regulated in three positions (dial up,  crown up, and 12 o’clock down) to stricter tolerance than standard, which is only regulated at two. For a high-beat caliber (frequency 28,800 bpm), three-position regulation is a guarantee of accuracy of 5-7 seconds per day worn on the left wrist, provided the movement is properly oiled and cleaned.  Time-keeping features little deviation according to the position the watch is in. Glycine also offer incabloc regular shock protection as an upgrade over the novodiac system. All 2824-2 movements are hackable (meaning the second hand can be stopped when setting the time) and utilise direct second hand drive,  preventing wrist movements from interfering with the watch’s running. The power reserve, at 38 hours, is only moderate and the watch needs daily wear to maintain performance. Nevertheless, the movement benefits from a ball-bearing mounted rotor that boosts the efficiency with which the strong main spring is wound, compensating for the power reserve constraint.

The Glycine Combat Subaqua-11 is one of the best-value dive or tool watches currently available at the price point. ‘Combat’ is a reference to Glycine’s history as a preferred supplier of pieces to police and armed forces capable of withstanding exacting conditions of wear and use. ‘Subaqua’ indictates that the watch is pressure tested to remain water-resistant at depths of up to 200 meters (20 ATM, diving depth). Drilled and curved lugs mesh well with the SS SEL (sold end links) bracelet, which has a double-lock, push-button deployment clasp signed with the Glycine crown.  Polished and brushed SS case 42mm in diameter (47mm including the crown) but with a thickness of only 10.6mm, giving the watch a streamlined appearance. SS screw-on solid caseback engraved with the Glycine twin-dolphin subaqua logo.  Uni-directional, 60-click ratcheted, rotating milled-edge bezel, iterated to the first 15 minutes and with a black aluminium insert. Matt black dial with faint yellow hour dots and two sets of small white and deep orange Arabic numerals circling the inner (hour) and outer (seconds) tracks.

Many realisations of the Combat Subaqua are available but the 3863.196 version presents an attractive, uncluttered face – a common feature of all my watches.  The lay-out, with deep orange hour counter unusually commencing at 13, evokes the famous Heuer 844 Monnin mid-1970s diver, distancing the model from cruder homages to the Rolex submariner. Quick-set date window at 3pm with rapid date adjustment. White hour and minute hands with sweep white second hand  spanning the full width of the dial, permitting easy reading of the second counters. Screened Super LumiNova coating on all hands, hour markers, and bezel pip. Super LumiNova is a phosphorescent pigment, produced from strontium aluminova, and activated by either sunlight or artificial light. Unlike tritium, the after-glow effect is repeatable over time with no loss of efficiency. Luminosity, however, is not permanent: brightness levels fall below that of tritium within 45 minutes and legibility ceases after 8 or 9 hours. Screw-down over-size crown and guards with serrated edge and Glycine logo. Scratch-resistant sapphire flat glass crystal, flush with the bezel.

An ETA 2824-2 in a 42mm stainless steel case is a classic ‘poor man’s watch’. Glycine do a far better job, however, than most other manufacturers of this combination. The brand carries very low marketing costs and cannot be found in high street jewellers, who prefer to stock products with stronger brand awareness and more lucrative margins. The only snag to report is a broken pin causing the fold-over clasp to detach itself. Although this was easily fixed it draws attention to the over-complicated fastening mechanism. A few Glycine combat sub owners have also complained about a misaligned bezel pip but this was not a problem I encountered.

This very robust performer stays on the wrist in the gym or when our running. A flexible piece, it can be worn equally well with either black tie or T-shirt and shorts on a sandy beach.

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Omega 132.5017

My first ‘serious’ piece was an Omega gold manual calendar strap watch, model number 132.5017. I acquired it in 1999 after passing a pawn broker’s shop one day in the Yorkshire town of Selby.  Suddenly I recalled the fine watches I had seen as a child in jewellers’ windows and I realised I could purchase now what was unaffordable back in 1977 when the model that caught my eye was made. The saleswoman who showed me the Omega remarked, as she wound up the movement and set it running,  how smoothly the second hand on mechanicals glided in comparison with quartz analogues. This truth of this simple remark converted me and I purchased immediately.

Without realising it, my debut acquisition was a creditable choice. The 17 jewel movement, a caliber 1030 manual wind, is a respected one and a high-beater. In watch-making, a high beat has greater potential for accuracy than a low beat; there is a trade-off, however, between time-keeping and durability, since high frequency generates more wear. A beat rate of 28,800 beats per hour  (or 8 per beats second, or 4 Hz) became the industry standard during the 1970s and all of my mechanicals share this frequency. Watch dealers, as soon as they pick up a piece and turn it in their hands, start to describe the model features. The patter for a 132.5017 might runs something like this:

‘Circular 9ct gold case, 34.5mm in diameter, with polished bezel. Gold coloured dial with applied black and gold hour batons. Matching baton minute and hour hand; gold sweep second hand. Date window at 3pm. Gilt crown signed with Omega logo.  Stainless steel (SS)  brushed solid caseback. Domed hesalite crystal. Worn on a black leather strap and Omega gold buckle with logo.’

It was a great starter piece yet like many collectors I sold it because I desired something better and need to sell to fund the purchase. Now I wish I had kept it and share the nostalgia for my first vintage so many aficionados feel. At the time though I wanted an automatic and a switch from gold to stainless steel.

Sadly, I have no usable images of the 132.5017 and so have appended an illustration found on line to this blog.

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My First Watch

I remember receiving my first watch (who doesn’t?) as a child of six in 1971. It was a gift from my uncle in return for acting as page boy at his Scottish wedding. I agreed to wear a kilt for the ceremony – quite a big deal back then. The debut piece was a Timex, boy-size, manual-wind-up, strap watch. Back then, Timex were the world’s single largest producer and the company shifted millions of units across the globe accounting for half of all new sales. My example had a black face and gold hands, including a sweep second hand. Other details are hard to recall and my strongest memory is of the plastic blister box that all Timex’s of the 1970s came in, along with the cubed display cases on shop counters into which these mini-containers slotted.

Texas LEDs started to appear on a school friends’ wrists around the time I moved into secondary education in 1977. I was never keen on them and preferred the look of classical analogue designs on display in jeweller’s windows or in the pages of glossy mail-order catalogues. Nevertheless, in 1980 I succumbed to the electronic revolution and switched from mechanical to quartz. For nearly two decades, I wore a battery-powered Casio ‘digi-ana’ (digital and analogue) combination. This piece incorporated a stop-watch function and possessed a dual alarm and back-light. It looked similar to the illustration to this blog except that mine came on a brown strap rather than a bracelet.

The quartz timepiece was completely reliable and its gold-tone thin case felt light on the wrist. I feel no embarrassment at all in recalling this ‘retro’ watch. I was completely happy with it. Between the ages of 16 and 21, I worked through a sequence of mocks, exams, more mocks, and final exams. On each occasion the digi-ani helped ensure I wrote answers within the time allowed. It also delivered me punctually to my dull part-time jobs that provided funds for nights out and even the odd date. One day, I looked down at my wrist and noticed that the Casio had lost nearly all of its gold plate. The digital timer was also faulty. I realised my youth had passed.

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Tudor Prince Oysterdate 72033

Tudor 72033

This is the most controversial watch I have owned for three reasons:

1)      it is mid-size;

2)      it is two-tone;

3)      it is often dismissed as a ‘poor man’s Rolex’.

Tudor launched the Prince Oyster – the company’s longest-running collection – in 1952 with a watch that combined a Rolex Oyster case with an automatic 390 caliber movement (based on the Fleurier FEF 350). In 1950s advertising material, Tudor emphasised the range’s resilience and elegance. To reinforce the former marketing message, 30 Prince Oysters 7809s were presented to members of the Royal Navy’s 1952-54 North Greenland Expedition. By 1990, when the 72033 model first appeared, Tudor had developed the Prince Submariner and also experimented with the Prince Ranger models. In consequence, the Prince Oysterdate was presented as a dress watch without designation – a  timepiece an arctic explorer might slip wear with a dinner jacket in a trip to the casino after  returning to civilisation. By the time this example was manufactured (the serial number, B400675,  suggests a date of 1992/3) the model’s elegance had been accentuated by a shift from a rounded to a fluted bezel.

Tudor produced 32mm cases quite early in the series. The ‘Oyster Prince Junior’, for example, dates from c.1957. Models in the 34-36mm range, however, have always been more popular.  Mid-size watches (32-34mm) are regularly misclassified as boys’/cadet or unisex.  For much of the second half of the 20th century, however, men’s watches were commonly produced in sizes of between 30 and  32mm, with true boys’ size being around 28mm. The fashion for large watches (40mm plus) developed only from the late 1990s onwards and is associated with a certain machismo. For someone with a slender wrist, 32mm (35mm including crown) is extremely comfortable. Only the ‘cocktail’ or ‘ladies’ watches of 28mm or below (some a mere 12mm!) are truly small watches: pieces that have become increasingly rare sights on the wrists of either sex.

The fashion for larger cases means that mid-size offers high-specification at a comparatively modest price. Points to note include the following:

i. 316L stainless steel (SS) case with polished sides and brushed top with drilled lugs, pressure-tested to 100 metres (10 ATM, swimming and snorkelling depth) .

ii. Brushed finished solid SS caseback with serrations engraved ‘original oyster case by Rolex Geneva’ and the Rolex logo.

iii. Screw-down twin-lock gold crown signed with Rolex logo.

iv. 18 carat gold fluted fixed bezel.

iv. Champagne mosaic dial with applied tritium-tipped gold hour baton markers and Tudor shield  logo at 12.

v. Gold sweep second hand and matching gold baton minute and hour hands with tritium inlays. Residual energy generated by the tritium  is minimal owing to tritium’s half-life of 12.32 years. Most of the luminosity is an after-glow effect lasting only a few minutes, created by sunlight activating the phosphorescence in the zink sulphide pigment.

The watch came with a SS and gold-plated bracelet  (reference 6248-17) stamped ‘Tudor Watch Co. Geneva Switzerland’  with two-tone hollow end links (reference 601) and folding buckle.  While the two-tone decoration is ideal for formal wear,  care is needed to preserve the  gold plating which (sadly) is not the real thing.  For a while, I was rather self-conscious about this piece and wore it on a black leather strap with a 14mm SS butterfly deployment clasp. This was not ideal, however, because the gap between the lugs is noticeable and sourcing a curved end 17mm strap proved difficult. A thicker (3mm) NATO strap would camouflage the lug problem but looks odd on a dress watch. I considered switching to a Tudor strap and gold buckle  – but a price quote of  £200 gave me pause for thought. My next experiment consisted of good-quality 316L SS aftermarket Jubilee watch band with SEL.  Although the results were acceptable not everyone agrees with matching a SS band with a SS case and gold bezel. In the end, I returned to the Tudor bracelet. Although the look has an element of ‘bling’, the style is true to the spirit of the watch.

The Oyster Prince has an ETA 2824-2 movement, demonstrating this ébauche’s ability to fit a wide range of case sizes. The Tudor elaboration is assembled and finished to a high specification. Top (A+) is functionally equivalent to Chronometer standard except that the movement is not officially certified as such. All 2824-2 A+ grades are regulated in five positions, have balance wheels made from Glucydur  (rather than nickel) and a hairspring and mainspring made from Niravox. Glucydur is an alloy of beryllium, copper, and iron; Niravox is an anti-magnetic alloy (for details, see above). The low thermal expansion of the former material and low thermal coefficient of elasticity of the latter cancel each other out,  enabling temperature changes to be compensated for. In addition, the movement incorporates incabloc shock absorbant springs to protect delicate pivots and jewel bearings against impact damage. It has a Triovis fine-adjustment regulator on the balance cock.

Despite the ETA 2824-2’s high quality, the differences between this movement and the caliber 3130 used in an Oyster Perpetual (the Rolex equivalent model) are significant. The 3130 has a crescent-shaped balance bridge,  rather than a balance cock. This is more effective in preventing the rotor’s edge from hitting the balance wheel’s rim in the event of a perpendicular impact. Kif or Paraflex shock absorbers also provide greater protection than incabloc systems. However, Rolex’s preference for an oscillating axle (to boost winding efficient) over ball bearing races requires these additions since the oscillating weight tends to collide with the movement bridges as a result of shocks. Older Rolex models feature a Breguet overcoil hairspring made from Nivarox. Newer ones employ an in-house Parachrom Blu hairspring. Both combat the tendency for a watch to speed up when the mainspring winds down, owing to reduced pull on the hairspring.  The 3130 is regulated in the same number of positions as the 2824-2. In the case of the ETA movement, however, regulation is achieved using a sliding spring inhibitor that adjusts the balance spring. The Rolex movement, in contrast, leaves the balance wheel free sprung and utilises weighted, rotatable Microstella screws mounted on pins at the junction of the balance arms and rim. Regulation is achieved by turning the mass of the weight towards the inside or outside of the balance. The absence of protruding screws on the rim permits the balance wheel to be larger and more aerodynamic. Oyster Perpetual’s also have a longer main spring, increasing the power reserve. Other elaborations include a more sophisticated date change mechanism. Consequently, a caliber  3130 is a more accurate and refined movement than a 2824-2.  In this respect, therefore, a Tudor can be considered a poor man’s Oyster Perpetual. The ETA, however, can be serviced independently of Rolex’s Service Centres, keeping maintenance costs low. Currently, the only difficult part to source is the Acrylic crystal which has to be obtained from authorised workshops (sapphire aftermarket alternatives with gaskets pose waterproofing issues).  The Cyclops 141 provides two-tone 2½ magnification of the quick-set date window at 3pm.

I liked to slip the 72033  on during the evening after work: reducing weight on the wrist helped take weight off the mind. As with the Omega 1030, however, I found a gold watch difficult to keep long-term and eventually decided to make a similar part-exchange which will be described in a future blog.

As with all posts on this site, please do use the comment form if you spot any errors in my discussion of the model or would like to make additional comments.

 

 

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Zenith ‘Blue Surf’ 01.1291.380

This Zenith was purchased in 2005 as ‘new old stock’ (NOS) from West Coast Time. Although relatively inexpensive to acquire, it has some interesting features that I would like to highlight.  Please do add comments or corrections to this post – there is always something new to be learned about any timepiece!

The watch’s date of manufacture is most likely mid-1970s since between 1972 and 1973 Zenith switched from a single star to a square star logo at 12 o’clock and started to engrave ##.####.### model numbers on the caseback. These design changes were adopted following the controversial acquisition of the Zenith-Movado-Mondia partnership by the US Zenith Electronics Corporation. It should be noted that vintage Zeniths of this period possess no unique serial number; the caseback features only a model identifier, while a second caliber number appears on the movement itself.  Unfortunately, Zenith produced relatively few catalogues, making it difficult to de-code the 9-digit sequence in its entirety. If any reader can add anything to the following suggestive commentary, please post your comments! The first two integers  refer to the case material: 01 denoting stainless steel. The middle four numbers refer primarily to the case shape and dial colour. 1290 and 1291, describe barrel or tonneau shaped cases with white and blue dials respectively. In contrast, 1280 is applied to pieces with a round case and white dial, while 1250 denotes a tank-style case with a white dial. 1311 is a blue dial with curved lugs, while a 1541 has a blue dial, round case, and a date window at 3pm. In other models, dials are similarly blue if the middle series ends in one; for example 01.0011.380 (Pilot) and 01.1301.380 (Scania). The last three digits in the sequence reference the movement, 380 being the code for the 2572 PC caliber.

West Coast Time advertised this piece as a  ‘Blue Surf’ – a description commonly applied to the model. The term surf, however,  is merely an abbreviation of ‘surface stainless steel’. The case is made from molybdenum-bearing grade stainless steel (316L) and has a machined finish. Molybdenum is highly resistant to corrosion, while the ‘L’ after 316 indicates that the steel is low carbon, which renders it easier to machine and offers increased tensile strength across a wide temperature range. It is the standard grade of steel in modern watch-making. The crown is not screw-down and nor is the piece pressure tested to withstand water immersion beyond 30 metres (3 ATM, accidental splashes only). ‘Auto Sport’ is another false descriptor sometimes applied to what is a dress watch without designation.

As indicated by the model number, time is regulated by a 17 jewel in-house 2572 PC movement. This is the final iteration in the 25X2 series produced for Zenith’s three-handed mechanicals between 1958 and 1978, where X denotes the movement version. A base 25X2 is hand-wound, P (perpetual or power) signifies the watch is an automatic, and C (calendar disk) that it incorporates a date function. The dates of the series, grouped by frequency, are as follows: 2511 (1958) and 2522 PC (1958-62) are both 18,000 bph and were originally developed by the Martel company, which Zenith acquired in 1960. 2532 PC (1961-4), 2542 PC (1964-9), and 2552 PC (1969-72) are all 21,600 bph. The last two incarnations, the 2562 PC (1972-5), and 2572 PC (1975-8), operate at high-frequency 28,800 bph. Many 2572 PC’s have ‘unadjusted’ engraved on them. An unadjusted movement does not incorporate any attempts to ensure that the error rate in different orientations (for example, dial up and crown down) is minimised. A few examples have a model number which ends 382 instead of 380. These denote the slightly higher grade 2572 PC ‘E’, which incorporates kif trior shock protection.

After the mid-1970s, under the direction of its new owners, Zenith began a disastrous attempt to compete in the quartz market. American Zenith ended the Swiss branch’s capacity to produce in-house movements by ordering the destruction of equipment, selling the Martel factory, and making skilled craftsmen redundant. For several decades afterwards, ébauches were used in the company’s mechanicals. In consequence, production of the 2572 PC ceased in 1978. After exhausting left-over stock, Zenith began installing the ETA 2892 in its Port Royal model from the early 1980s. From 1985, however, in-house calibers were reintroduced, commencing with chronographs. The revival of the El Primero was aided by the survival of original tools famously saved by Charles Vermot (head of Swiss movement production) in defiance of his American masters. In 1994, the ultra-thin Elite caliber began appearing in three-hand automatics. Incredibly, after a hiatus of 36 years, in 2011 Zenith’s CEO, Jean-Frédéric Dufour, announced plans resurrect caliber 2572 following the company’s re-acquisition of movement manufacturer Martel. It now features in entry-level Port Royal models. Since the 1970s original also featured close collaboration between Zenith and Universal Genève/Martel, the reissued movement (that features a modified rotor but is otherwise essentially unchanged) springs from the same historical stable as the old.

The automatic is a tidy piece. SS case, 36mm in diameter, 11.5 mm thickness, and solid screw-on caseback. Blue dial with the Zenith logo at 12 o’clock and annotated ‘Zenith’, ‘Automatic’, and ‘Swiss Made T’. The latter initial stands for tritium (H-3) – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that emits low-energy beta particles. When chemically bonded with phosphorous, the beta-decay electrons issued from the tritium cause the phosphorous to fluoresce. Since tritium has a half-life of 12.32 years, a watch manufactured in 1975 would in practical terms have lost most of its brightness by 2000. Steel tritium-tipped hour batons and matching baton minute and hour hands with tritium inserts. Steel sweep second hand. Two-click (non-hackable) crown signed with Zenith logo. Acrylic crystal. The piece is worn on a (non-Zenith) black leather strap and deployment clasp.

The 2572 PC improved on its predecessor in the 25X2 series in three main respects. Firstly, it incorporates a kif ultraflex anti-shock protection system rather than incabloc. Secondly, it employs a micrometer regulator (a fine-tuning screw) to adjust the poise of the balance wheel, thereby controlling the watch’s rate of oscillation. This replaced the excenter fine adjustment regulator used in both the 2552 PC and 2562 PC calibers. The excenter consisted of an off-centre pin with a screw head that, when turned clockwise or counter clockwise, engaged a fork, speeding up or slowing down the balance wheel. Thirdly, the caliber features a quick-set date capability in both directions. Characteristically, for a Zenith, the  date window is positioned between 4 and 5 o’clock. The rapidity with which the date changes is a further distinctive trait of this movement. Both the 2562 and 2572 have a power reserve of 43 hours (the re-issued 2572 PC raises this to 48 hours) and efficiency is boosted by a ball bearing rotor. A ball bearing crown wheel (introduced from the 2552 PC onwards) also reduces the force needed to wind up the movement.

Despite only light use, this watch did not wear well immediately post-purchase. The following issues are fairly typical of what vintage owners must expect to encounter, from time to time. Specks appeared on the dial, probably the result of a patina problem. The crystal picked up light scratches and the winding crown stiffened, raising concerns it might break. Initially, the piece kept time to within 5-10 seconds per day but accuracy deteriorated relatively quickly. The movement’s performance is typical of NOS where discontinued watches come on to the market after spending long periods in storage and oils dry up, necessitating a service. To resolve these issues the piece was sent for repair to the UK Zenith and Movado specialists, West Repairs. Post-service, however, water droplets appeared on the inside of the crystal despite the piece passing a condensation test. The watch was returned for further work and at the same time a decision was also taken to re-finish the dial, in view of a number of blemishes around the rim. Re-finishing is controversial and on a more valuable model it would have been preferable to retain the original version, even in a less than pristine condition. Restoration revealed that the colouring was iodised blue and no company could be sourced in the UK still using iodisation techniques. The re-finished dial is a colour-matched blue spray. It is an adequate job but the appearance is a tiny bit duller, lacking the shimmer of an iodised equivalent. The restoration also omitted the ‘T’ after ‘Swiss Made’ at 6 and has left the date window un-framed.

My experiences with the 01.1291.380 are part and parcel of vintage ownership. At some point, maintenance issues arise, requiring the attention of a sympathetic and reliable repairer. Nevertheless, I can recommend 1970s Zenith three-handers to anyone wishing to start a watch collection. These modestly-priced pieces offer interesting features and practical time-keeping. They sit well on the wrist and can be worn both professionally and in a casual setting. A note of caution, however, to would-be buyers. Presumably because of the availability of stock photos, the 01.1291.380 model features on a number of ‘replica watch’ websites. Some sellers even offer a choice of a 2572PC or an ETA 2824 movement! The images depict the genuine item but the watch you receive (if you receive anything) will be fake. Always buy from a reputable dealer and remember that if something looks too good to be true…

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