Since the day I set out on my horological journey I’ve worked on a lot of chronograph movements so it may come as a surprise, four years in, that there are still many I have yet to get my hands on. Beautiful movements by Minerva, Longines, and Angelus have yet to cross my bench as well sturdy workhorses from Seiko, Citizen, and Poljot. Today I’m pleased to check yet one more off the list and present a Movado Sub Sea chronograph dating from the 1960’s and powered by Movado’s own in-house chronograph movement.
Today Movado is a company that doesn’t get much respect among watch aficionados. This is a result of Movado’s star falling after the quartz crisis of the 1970’s. Movado survived the crisis, primarily by turning out quartz watches, but that strategy led to the upturned noses of today. despite this their back catalogue is full of intriguing timepieces and as an admirer of vintage chronographs my interest fell immediately upon Movado’s 1960’s Sub Sea line-up.
To be sure, Movado’s chronograph line dating from the 1930’s all the way to the 1970’s is exceptional, the later pieces being powered by none other than the greatest chronograph movement of them all (the Zenith 3019PHC) but prior to Movado and Zenith joining forces in the late 1960’s, Movado utilized an in-house movement designed by Frederic Piguet SA. This movement is a modular chronograph movement as the entire chronograph works reside on a separate plate which can be serviced independent of the base watch movement.
Movado produced two versions of their in-house chronograph movement, the 90M and 95M; the difference between the two being that the 95M has an elapsed hour counter. The 90/95M chronograph movements were produced from the 1930’s up through the mid-1960’s (a wonderful article on the history of the 90/95M chronograph can be found via Rescapement) and the attractive Movado here dates from approximately 1967.
I purchased this chronograph just days after acquiring the Gallet Multichron which I serviced in July of last year and it was stretch to find the funds for two vintage chronographs in the same week. Despite this, I was pleased as punch to land this watch although those who are familiar with vintage Movado chronographs may spot a red flag in the seller’s image above.
Back in the day when water proofing was not a trivial matter, Movado housed their movements in cases made by Taubert & Fils (Another great article on the history of Taubert watch cases can be found via Vintage Watchstraps linked here). These watch cases, sometimes referred to as Borgel Cases, used lead and cork seals to keep moisture from getting into the movement. The Pendant Tube and Chronograph Pusher Tubes were silver-soldered to the stainless steel case and inside each tube resided a cork seal. The tubes are a uniquely large diameter and therefore require specially made Crown and Chronograph Pusher sets. Obvious from the image above is the fact that the crown on my watch is not original.
I wouldn’t realize what this meant until I started breaking down the watch for service. Initially things looked good- the watch ran and the chronograph reset appropriately. Close inspection revealed what appeared to be glue on both the Chronograph Hand and two of the three Sub-Register Hands. The glue was ugly but I counted on it cleaning up without much fuss. I was a little concerned it would make make removal of the hands difficult but this proved not to be a problem.
Flipping the watch over I removed of the Caseback to reveal the Taubert designed movement holder still in place. These movement holders can be mistaken for “dust shields” and end up needlessly discarded by an ignorant watchmaker even though they are critical to secure the movement firmly in the case.
The movement holder lifted away with little effort to reveal what is in my eye one of the most beautifully engineered chronograph movements.
Sitting proudly on top of the base movement, the Chronograph Module takes up most of the real estate but peeking out beneath it one can just make out the edge of the Balance Wheel. Taking it all in, I recoiled from the multitude of scratches but saw no obviously broken springs or levers. More glue was sighted where the Dial Feet meet the screws to secure them. Sadly I didn’t snap a picture of this odd phenomenon- that of glue where it should not be.
Everything seemed to be in good order but things took a turn when I removed the crown and Stem in order to turn the movement out from the case. The pendant tube had been utterly destroyed- filed away by a feckless watchmaker in the distant past.
Why the violence? I suppose the original crown was lost at some point and the person tasked with locating another couldn’t find the proper replacement to fit the oversized tube. His (or her) workaround involved filing off the end of the pendant tube to fit the wrong crown thus losing the cork seal and any chance of water resistance.
To correct this a new pendant tube would need to be fabricated and secured in place. My preference would be to have the stub of the original removed from the case and a new one soldered in its place but I lacked the skill for this repair, however, a bit of research led me to a talented watchmaker on the other side of the country who accepted the job.
To get him started I procured a proper crown and turned a new pendant tube on the lathe. I shipped off the watch case, pendant tube, and crown to his care and returned to servicing the movement.
With the knowledge that the movement was in good running condition when I started I was free from the task of fault finding usually required by my project pieces. As expected a few issues still cropped up that needed attention.
First discovered was a broken jewel in the Chronograph Bridge. This almost certainly resulted from the action of securing the Chronograph Hand (the large sweep second hand) to the extended pivot of the Chronograph Runner. Pressing too hard on the hand will transmit the force back through the runner and onto jeweled bearing. It doesn’t take much pressure to crack or chip a jewel. Fortunately I already had a replacement in my parts supply.
Excessive oil on the various levers and shouldered screws of the chronograph works was another problem. Honestly I’d rather see too much oil than too little but too much will attract debris and can lead to early wear. It also fouls the pricey cleaning solutions in the L&R machine. Before putting these bits in the cleaner a wipe down with isopropyl alcohol would be in order.
Had I desired it, I could have removed the entire chronograph module as a single unit and serviced it separately but considering the whole movement was going to get cleaned and lubricated it didn’t make much sense to proceed that way. Going bit by bit and top to bottom did have a payoff as once all of the levers and springs were clear of the module the beauty of an entirely unnecessary bit of artistry came into view.
I removed the exquisitely engine turned plate that provided the foundation of the chronograph works to reveal the base movement, which I believe is a modified version of Movado’s 470 movement.
The base movement lacked the artistic flair of the chronograph module but it was mostly free of scratches although the area of the Barrel Bridge around the Set Screw was terribly scarred. I blamed this on the same person who destroyed the pendant tube.
One thing I’m always on the lookout for in an older watch is whether or not a Breguet Hairspring has been used in the Escapement. Developed by Abraham-Louis Breguet in the eighteenth century, the Breguet or Overcoil Hairspring was found to provide more accurate timekeeping as the Mainspring unwound and the escapement lost amplitude. By the end of the twentieth century the materials used in the manufacture of balance wheels and hairsprings had more or less negated the need for overcoil hairsprings and most watches were manufactured with a flat hairspring instead. The flat hairspring is easier to produce though slightly less attractive than an overcoil. Movado opted for the overcoil hairspring and so I had to take a picture.
As I continued breaking down the movement no further issues were uncovered but I did notices a little more flair when I removed the barrel bridge; this is the first movement I’ve seen since the Hampden to have perlage on the Mainspring Barrel.
In pieces, the movement got the normal cleaning treatment before assembly. I didn’t have an oiling chart for this movement so I defaulted to the Moebius standard.
With the base movement back together, it immediately came to life and offered up a good reading on the timegrapher.
I assembled the chronograph works as if it were integrated into the base movement. I could have done the module separately but I think that would have been a fidgety process and it was just easier to bolt the plate to the base movement and go from there. Apparently I didn’t take many picks of the assembly because these two are all I’ve got!
Each lever and spring was lubricated with a touch of Moebius 9501 grease to keep things running smoothly. In a chronograph there are a lot of levers and springs so you must proceed slowly and methodically to ensure you don’t fail to lubricate when needed.
I managed to misplace all of the under the dial pictures I took during disassembly but did have a couple from reassembly to share. The hour recording mechanism for the 95M movement is run from the Minute Recording Wheel and this is unique from other movements where the hour recorder is powered by either the mainspring barrel or Hour Wheel. It’s nothing exceptional, just a unique way of solving a common problem, but I will say that this method imparts less power to the hour recorder and so even the slightest amount of drag must be eradicated.
Having completed the movement I needed to be patient for many months before the case was returned and I could assemble the watch. This gave me time to hunt down bits that I felt were missing when I started- first and foremost being the correct hands.
Now as you’l recall from the beginning of this post some of the hands were ill fitted and secured with glue. Two of these hands, the Minute Recording Hand and Hour Recording Hand were not original and although they probably would have cleaned up nicely, the ones I really wanted were the Kris hands that would have adorned the watch upon its initial release from the Movado factory.
These snake-like hands were a staple on Movado’s vintage chronographs and are darn near impossible to find second hand so I hedged my bet and purchased two small red hands (straight red hands being an acceptable Movado alternative). I had lot of time to hunt though and eventually managed to locate a pair although for one of the hands I had to buy an entire stock of old Movado parts. On the bright side, this stock included an extra chronograph module so now I have a picture of an assembled module (sans the base movement) to share.
After several months and a bit of gentle prodding the watch case was returned with the new pendant tube installed. The new tube is micro welded in place much like the original would have been brazed but since I don’t possess the tool for seating the cork pendant tube gasket I had to proceed without it. I hope to fabricate the tool and gasket at a later date and then finish waterproofing the watch case.
A new crystal was installed and the movement turned into the case bringing this project close to completion.
Taubert cases require special lead caseback gaskets which are no longer available from my parts vendor. In a pinch a flat rubber gasket can be used but since the gasket resides on the inside lip of the case there’s not much to keep an aging rubber gasket from crumbling and fouling the movement. Searching for an alternative, I found some new old stock Omega lead gaskets that looked like they would fit the case on eBay. I purchased these in the hopes that one would be the right fit.
The number 19 gasket fit like a glove and all I needed was a watch band to finish the project off. Fortunate for me, a new old stock bracelet came on the market while I awaited return of the case.
It’s probably a bit of a cliché to say this is my favorite watch but as of this moment the sheen certainly hasn’t warn off and it’s the one in my collection that gets all of the attention. I love the stocky Taubert case and am fond of the oversized pushers and crown with its angled coin edge. The Kris hands in particular add a touch of character that other chronographs lack and in hand this watch feels like a million bucks.
Good examples of Movado Sub Sea chronographs can be difficult to find and this one certainly has its scars but when one looks at vintage chronographs, and the prices they now command, an old Movado can be considered a steal. So much so in fact I couldn’t settle for just one. I have no regrets though. Well except for the pictures- I’ll try and do better next time!