Slowly but surely I’ve been working my way through the various chronograph movements from the Golden Age of Chronographs. I’ve worked on the Valjoux, Venus, Landeron, and Lemania movements and today I can strike the elusive Excelsior Park movement off the to do list.
If you’ve started a collection of watches dating to the Golden Age (1940 – 1979) then you simply must acquire a Heuer, Breitling, and a Gallet as these three companies were the chronograph specialists of yesteryear. Now obviously I’ve tinkered with a Breitling, but finding a good Heuer or Gallet has been a challenge- especially since I wanted a model with a movement I’ve not yet serviced.
While Breitling used almost exclusively Venus movements for their chronographs, Heuer and Gallet are known to have taken pretty much anything that would get the job done. Gallet does seem to have favored Excelsior Park movements for their chronographs and there is evidence that the relationship between Gallet and Excelsior Park was quite close.
Gallet produced oodles of chronographs from the 1940’s up through the 1970’s using primarily Excelsior Park movements along with some Venus, Landeron, and Valjoux movements sprinkled in. This seems an odd business decision since Excelsior Park had a very limited portfolio of chronograph movements to choose from; however, there seems to have been close ties between the Gallet and Jeanneret (EP) families, and Excelsior Park flourished providing movements to Gallet (as well as Zenith, and Girard-Perregaux).
Everything had changed by the late 1970’s though as both Gallet and Excelsior Park were suffering from the ongoing Quartz Crisis and Gallet had switched almost entirely to the economical Valjoux 7730 family of movements. Zenith had moved on as well purchasing Martel who had provided hand-wound chronograph movements before developing the El Primero automatic chronograph.
Excelsior Park disappeared in the early 1980’s and had their inventory absorbed by Gallet who survived and continues to this day- although their offerings are limited and marketed at the high end.
The piece you see here today is not a watch marketed to the high end, but rather an everyman timepiece produced by Gallet in the early 1960’s. This is the Gallet Multichron 12… Or more accurately this was a Gallet Multichron 12 which has been ruined by rust.
I picked this piece up while on the hunt for a bargain as the discretionary fund was nearly empty. Things haven’t improved much since then but a supreme bit of luck allowed me to fix this watch and have a running Gallet at a reasonable cost.
Now there are three rules of watch collecting that one should always adhere to if he or she wants to have a collection to be proud of instead of a cigar box of junk. First and foremost, avoid watches with bad dials. There is no solution for a watch with a damaged dial other than replacing the dial. Repainting the dial can be done- but the watch will only be as valuable as the accumulated parts. Naturally I broke this rule and grabbed a watch with a damaged dial. In my mind I thought, “That stain will clean right off”.
Rule number two is to always factor in the cost of service. Parts can be expensive or difficult to find and replace. A good watchmaker may have a backlog of several months and the price of labor alone for a chronograph starts around $400. Water damage almost always means replacing the entire movement which is easily half the value of the whole watch. This piece was water damaged.
Lastly, buy the seller. This simply means you need to be able to trust the seller. I don’t know this seller. Apparently he runs an antique shop in Colorado.
So in short, I bought junk- but think of the savings!
Now, as grubby as this piece was, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I eagerly awaited it’s arrival from in the post. Once in hand, I quickly popped the Caseback off and took in the Excelsior Park movement in all of it’s glory, oh my…
So taking stock- it was clear the watch had been submerged in water at some point in the past and the water had entered the movement through the Pendant Tube and the cutouts for the Chronograph Pushers. Water had caused oxidation of the Chronograph Pushers, Stem, Flyback Lever, Operating Lever, Conveyer Spring, Flyback Lever Spring, and probably a lot more.
Most of this I had known already as the seller has posted images of the topside of the movement. I had already queried my usual suppliers and discovered the damaged parts were not available. Clearly insanity had taken hold of me. Worst of all, there was probably more water damage that I had not yet set eyes on.
At this point I still did not know how much water damage was hidden beneath the dial and the thought of what I might find gave me pause. For most mechanical watches the Keyless Works has the greatest concentration of steel in the movement. This part of the watch mechanism is adjacent to the Pendant Tube and therefore often is destroyed when water is introduced through the tube.
In addition to the Keyless Works, I had much reason to be concerned as the hour recording mechanism for the chronograph is located beneath the dial. If water had damaged this I would have to seriously consider parting out the movement.
I inhaled deeply as I pulled the hands from the dial one-by-one. Flecks of rust were visible everywhere.
Once the hands were removed, I pulled the dial away to reveal the full extent of the water damage.
I won’t sugar coat it; it looked bad- really bad, but looking closer I found most of the water damage to be superficial.
The Setting Lever seemed to get the worst of it but otherwise I discerned were no parts under the dial which required immediate replacement. Quite a bit of vinegar and elbow grease would be needed to do this movement proud though.
Things looked even worse once the movement was out of the case.
Both Chronograph Pushers were obviously beyond repair along with the Stem… but the Going Train appeared to be intact which is amazing considering how small most of the pivots are; I figured the humidity inside the watch case was enough to destroy them for sure.
Even if the Going Train moved freely, I wasn’t about to test this movement before breaking it down. Rusty debris had worked its way through the entire mechanism and fouled any remaining oil- winding it up in such a state would be folly.
For a little background- this particular movement is the Excelsior Park calibre EP40-68. Excelsior Park initially produced the calibre EP4– a two button chronograph movement with thirty minute counter. Later they produced the EP40 which was identical to the EP4 but added a twelve hour counter. The calibre EP40-68 came last, probably in the early 1960’s; it was identical to the EP40 except that a Beat Corrector had been added to the Balance Cock and the Balance Wheel was re-engineered to be of lower mass. Excelsior Park continued using a Breguet Hairspring in the Balance Assembly as they had before in the EP4 and EP40 movements.
The Breguet Hairspring is not the only flourish in this movement to make the Swiss proud though. Although it may be difficult to see (thanks in part to the rust stains) an exceptional Geneva Stripe finish adorns the Top Plate of the movement. The finish is applied with such precision that each of the stripes adorning the plate line up perfectly with the stripes on the Balance, Escape Wheel Cock, and Fourth Wheel Cock. It’s a nice touch that you won’t find in the affordable watches of today.
Getting back to my teardown- after removing the chronograph mechanism, I was disappointed to find the Center Wheel had not escaped water damage. Apparently a bit of H2O came in contact with the pivot passing through the Top Plate. The steel was pitted and flaky and I had to consider the Center Wheel for replacement.
Moving along I found that at times disassembly became a struggle. Despite my best efforts some of the rusted screws simply would not vacate the plate. I needed to pull every trick out of my bag to get these bits off in the end, cutting new slots for the screwdrivers, filling away damaged material, and utilizing alum to breakdown steel that couldn’t otherwise be extracted.
Flipping the movement over and turning my attention to the Bottom Plate, I began picking apart the Keyless Works. Initially I had assumed the entire assembly would be ruined but it was not so. Just about every part turned out to be free of substantial water damage. My initial assessment here of “lots of elbow grease” was downgraded to “maybe some Q-Tips and isopropyl alcohol will do”.
A review of all the parts damaged beyond repair was taken once the movement was fully apart. The Operating Lever, Flyback Lever, Conveyer Spring, Minute Recording Jumper, Pusher Spring, Chronograph Pushers, Stem, and various screws didn’t make it.
I had already queried my normal suppliers and discovered they did not have any Excelsior Park parts in their inventories. This makes sense Excelsior Park has been out of business for thirty years and the EP40 movement hasn’t been produced for even longer.
I turned to eBay (as one does) to see if I could find the parts I needed there. Sadly what I found was none of the parts I needed and any sellers who had Excelsior Park parts knew they had something special. Things looked pretty grim.
Then, as if by divine intervention, a seller showed up who was moving full lots of New Old Stock Excelsior Park parts, and best of all, he was selling the lots at a price I could afford. I jumped at the chance to grab one and found that the lot contained every single piece that I needed, plus over a dozen more! I was astounded by my luck.
I returned to the job with quite a bit of confidence. I knew I could get the chronograph working again so the survival of this watch would come down to state of the Escapement– if I could get the movement clean, and the Escapement functioned properly, I would have a real winner.
Several hours spent cleaning parts elapsed before I was ready begin putting things back together again. Quite unexpectedly I didn’t need a new Mainspring as the original was in great condition!
The plates were never completely free of staining even after two runs through the L&R machine, one through the ultrasonic, and a lot of scrubbing by hand, but I’m happy with where they are now.
As I was putting things back together I took a bit of time to reflect on some of Excelsior Park’s engineering quirks. For example- the Driving Wheel which pushes the Chronograph Runner (which in turn moves the Sweep Second Hand) is typically friction fitted to the extended pivot of the Fourth Wheel. Such a design was not good enough for Excelsior Park. Nope, they designed a Driving Wheel that is permanently fitted to the Fourth Wheel in a stacked arrangement. Thus it will never become loose and/or lost.
I noticed also that many of the bridges and cocks in the movement were milled in a way that they fit to the plates like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. I’ve not seen such design considerations in any other movements thus far.
Even the cap jewels for the Balance Assembly were carefully engineered. Note the circular trough cut into the cap jewel in the image below. The jewel is lab grown sapphire- how one could cut such a perfect circle down to the hundredth of a millimeter in such a hard substance is beyond me.
I remediated the damage to the Center Wheel with a bit of pegwood and polish and reassembled the base movement, being extra careful to spot any rust or debris that might have escaped the cleaning effort.
Once back together I was ready to see if this movement could still keep time.
Right off the bat the Timegrapher registered an exceptional amplitude reading and with a little effort I was able to regulate the Escapement. This was as good an indication as any that the movement could be saved.
I moved onto assembling the chronograph mechanism which had to be done from memory as there is no technical sheet available or Esembl-o-graf course to lean on for an Excelsior Park movement.
If you have followed my Lemania, Landeron, Venus, or Valjoux posts then you probably have noticed this chronograph movement looks nothing like them. That’s one of the things I find invigorating about working on chronographs- each manufacturer has a slightly different method of solving the same problem. Here your eyes may deceive you though as the same parts are found on this movement as the Lemania, Landeron, Venus, and Valjoux movements- it’s really just the layout that has changed as the Excelsior Park movement is essentially a mirror image of the other movements. The Mainspring Barrel and Balance Assembly have flipped positions causing the location (and aesthetic design) of pretty much everything else to change as well. It’s why I consider this the Southpaw of chronograph movements.
If there is one clear difference to be spotted it is how the hour recording mechanism operates. In the chronographs I’ve serviced earlier the Hour Recording Runner is driven directly from the Mainspring Barrel. In this movement the Hour Recording Runner is pushed by the Hour Wheel from the Dial Train. It’s an logical solution.
With the movement together and ticking smartly, it was time to re-case it, install the Chronograph Pushers, and affix the dial.
I set the movement in the case and prepared to install the new pushers. These I found on eBay early during the beginning of the service and ordered straight away. They came in from Australia and initially were not a proper fit as the steel shafts were too long. I turned the shafts down on the lathe and put new threads on the ends. They were then installed and I tested the function of each button.
Before installing the dial I attempted to clear the rust stains with a bit of distilled water and a Q-Tip but was dismayed to find the blue Tachymetre, scale which circles the perimeter of the dial, came away with almost no effort at all. I had to stop before things got any worse and accept defeat. The dial still looks darn good for its age so I’m not complaining.
I reset the hands and installed a new high dome acrylic crystal to complete the job.
Thus at the end of many days and nights of hard work, I now have a functional Gallet Multichron 12 for the collection.
I took a gamble and thought if I started with a distressed piece I might save a little money. This watch was really more than “distressed” but it was available at a reasonable price for a thee register chronograph and would provide lot of salvageable parts if I couldn’t muster the repair. However, right before finishing this project I found an identical Gallet sold on eBay for nearly the same amount I paid for mine (when parts are factored in). That was a little disheartening. I must point out that my watch is now fully serviced and has New Old Stock Chronograph Pushers and that’s nothing to sneeze at. I have a lot of left over parts too. Most importantly, I’m proud of my latest accomplishment and thrilled to add and EP40-68 movement to my list of serviced chronographs. It’s a great looking watch which I plan to hold onto for many years.
So what’s next- perhaps a Movado 95M?