Before joining the echelon of luxury Swiss watchmakers, Breitling was one of the earliest purveyors of chronographs for the common man. In the late 1920’s they sold their patent portfolio to Hann-Landeron and began using movements almost exclusively from the Venus company. Chronographs from Breitling were very much in demand during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. Their most popular models were the Navitimer, Top Time, and Chronomat.
This Navitimer I purchased off the internet for a fair sum despite its non-working condition. This was a bit of a risk and is generally not advisable (especially since I hadn’t seen the movement and for all I knew it was a rusted mess on the inside) but in the end luck prevailed and I had found a hidden gem.
I was impressed with the overall condition of the watch when it arrived in the post although there was certainly cause for concern. Despite being able to wind the mainspring, the watch failed to run and the chronograph pushers were both jammed in place. Peering through the loupe I noted with growing anxiety that the dial was not properly seated on the movement.
Removal of the caseback brought a bit of relief as I discovered one of the case screws used to secure the movement in place had sheared off and gummed up the works.
Careful extraction of the screw head brought the movement back to life.
Pleased with the reading on the timegrapher I proceeded to break down the watch for a full service. First to come off was the rotating bezel and crystal. Beneath the cracked acrylic I found a wonderfully preserved dial.
Lesser timepieces have given my heart palpitations when it comes to the removal of the hands and dial- in this case a stiff drink was needed before proceeding.
With the dial off the movement was carefully extracted from the case.
Placing the movement in a holder for inspection I noted the lack of a beat corrector on the balance cock and the delicate architecture minute jumper. There was some debris, but otherwise the movement was in fine shape.
In many ways the Venus 178 movement resembles the Landeron 48 I worked on before; both have the running seconds at 9 o’clock and minute register at 3 o’clock, both are dual pusher chronographs utilizing a lateral clutch, and both have the same design for minute recording and resetting. Where the Venus 178 differs is in the switching mechanism (as it utilizes a column wheel switch) and its ability to record elapsed hours.
Having gained experience disassembling the Landeron earlier, I proceeded using the same methodology here- first removing a spring to release tension, then removing the associated lever. Screws were returned to their respective holes in order to keep them from getting mixed up later. I began with the top side of the movement.
Once the chronograph works had been removed from the top plate, I moved to the dial side to disassemble the hour recording mechanism and keyless works.
Considering that there was a screw broken off in the plate, I stopped returning screws to their respective holds as I assumed that I would need to bath the plate in an alum solution (which would dissolve anything fabricated from carbon steel); however, I pleasantly discovered that I was able to extract the broken screw with tweezers once the barrel plate had been removed.
Being able to remove the broken screw with tweezers was a big time saver. Unfortunately I lost a bit of time upon reassembly when I mixed up several of the dial side screws!
Once the movement was completely broken down it was off to the L&R machine for a thorough cleaning.
With the movement off to be cleaned in the L&R machine, I broke the case down for an ultrasonic bath. The pusher shafts were of differing lengths so I snapped a quick picture for later reference.
Following cleaning the entire movement was laid out for inspection. This is an important step to make sure all the parts are together and none require repair or replacement prior to assembly.
Reassembly procedes in the exact opposite direction as disassembly. Typically any service and repair job will require at least two replacement parts- the mainspring and watch crystal. In this case I opted to reuse the original mainspring as it seemed to have quite a bit of life left in it.
My assumption regarding the mainspring turned out to be correct during testing as the base movement had a very strong beat. A 3.1ms beat error needed correction however, and that turned out to be quite a chore. The hairspring has a Breguet overcoil which causes the hairspring to sit quite low on the balance. This resulted in a bit of difficulty when it came to spotting the roller jewel for proper positioning. A bit of trial and error was needed to get the desired result.
With the base movement ticking merrily along I proceeded to reassemble the chronograph works without incident.
Once the movement was complete the dial was fitted and dusted with a bit of Rodico.
A new crystal was installed in the bezel containing the slide rule.
And the bezel was pressed onto the case using a crystal press.
To complete the effort I replaced the expanding bracelet with a new black leather band.
I’ve now completed a Lemania, Landeron, Pierce, and Venus chronograph repair. Next on the agenda is either an Valjoux or Excelsior Park movement. Both are hard to come by and can be budget breakers though. Thankfully I have a drawer full of broken watches in the meantime!