Every time I try to reassure my spouse that I’m close to the end of my journey collecting and servicing chronographs I tick off the movements still on the “To Do List”- Angelus, Minerva, Longines, Eberhard, Citizen, Poljot… and it goes downhill from there.
Continuing this saga I have today a Hamilton Chrono-Matic from around 1969- and to elevate this piece from the others we’ll note that this watch has one of the first Automatic Chronograph movements beating inside of it.
What’s an Automatic Chronograph you ask? Well, an Automatic Watch is a mechanical watch which is self-winding and a Chronograph is a watch that also functions as a Stopwatch, so logically an Automatic Chronograph is a self-winding watch that also functions as a stopwatch.
Serial production of automatic chronographs lagged behind standard automatic watches by more than a decade. This delay was due to the fact that within the movement, the chronograph works reside on top of the Going Train and it is in this area that the autowinding mechanism typically must be. The skilled engineers who designed chronograph movements had not yet figured out how to shoehorn in the autowinding mechanism without upsetting the chronograph works.
Initially there probably was not much incentive to solve this problem. Chronographs were a niche market and the profit margin on these watches were quite small; however, in the 1960’s this market exploded due to the growth in popularity of general aviation and auto racing. Quietly several companies began the research and development of an automatic chronograph movement and in 1969 three separate entities brought a solution to market- Seiko, Zenith, and the Project 99 group.
Zenith, a small watchmaking company with a long and prestigious history was the first to announce their automatic chronograph movement which they dubbed the 3019 PHC or “El Primero”. The movement was something special too as it was a fully integrated high-beat chronograph movement, vibrating at 36,000 beats per hour. The movement was “integrated” in the sense that the chronograph mechanism was engineered as part of the base watch movement and not a stand alone module which would be bolted on or “married” to the base movement (I haven’t spent a lot of time explaining modules but the Movado Sub Sea Chronograph I serviced earlier is the perfect example of a standard watch movement that becomes a chronograph movement with the addition of a chronograph module).
Zenith’s announcement came in January of 1969 but just two months later the Project 99 group announced their automatic chronograph movement known as the Calibre 11 or Chronomatic. This movment was quite different from Zenith’s offering; it had a lower beat rate, modular construction, a micro-rotor winding system, and the most obvious eccentricity- the Crown was on the left side of the movement.
The Project 99 group began as a joint venture between Heuer and Buren. A large port of Heuer’s sales portfolio was comprised of chronographs and by the 1960’s customers were clamoring for a chronograph that they didn’t need to wind each morning. Buren had developed a very thin movement which used a micro-rotor to rewind the mainspring. Most automatic watch movements put the rotor on the back of the movement- it’s generally the same diameter as the movement itself and resides on it’s own plane which makes the whole movement taller or thicker. This is a problem because chronograph movements already have to put all the gears for the chronograph works on their own plane and adding an automatic winding system would make a tall movement (thick) the movement even taller (thicker).
Heuer recognized that it might be possible to marry a chronograph module to Buren’s micro rotor movement to create an automatic chronograph. Dubois-Depraz, another Swiss company whose expertise is is engineering complications, joined the venture for the purpose of designing this chronograph module. When it became apparent more capital would be needed for the project, Heuer asked Breitling to join the venture.
Now you may be asking yourself why I’ve spent so much time laying out the backstory for the Calibre 11 movement. Well, in 1966 the Hamilton Watch Company acquired Buren and and itself joined the Project 99 joint venture. In March of 1969 when the Project 99 group announced their new automatic chronograph movement Hamilton was on hand reveal their Chrono-Matic line-up and this watch here happened to be one of the newly revealed chronographs (OnTheDash has a great write-up on the development of the Chronomatic movement).
Sadly this piece, as it arrived, is not without its flaws. For example the tachymètre ring, which runs the circumference of the dial, has gone missing as had crystal (the loss of the latter obviously resulting in the loss of the former). Thankfully the watch was still ticking and that’s more than can be said of some of the watches that have passed through here.
On the timegrapher things looked great for pre-service. The amplitude was good, the timing was only slightly out of spec and the beat error was minimal. This was about the best reading I’ve seen prior to a good cleaning and lubrication. This movement almost certainly had an adjustable Hairspring stud (beat corrector) which trivializes putting it back in beat. I suppose if my interest didn’t ultimately lie in seeing how these things worked, I could just reset the beat error, regulate the timing and call it a day.
Beneath the screw down caseback is none other than the original Calibre 11 noted earlier. Surprisingly these movements can be hard to find in the wild. The Calibre 11 came to market a little underbaked and was quickly replaced with the Calibre 11-I and then Calibre 12. There were a lot of issues with the original iteration. Among these was an overpowered Mainspring and a temperamental quick-change calendar mechanism. The Calibre 11-I resolved these issues and the Calibre 12 introduced further improvements. Despite the evolution by the end of the 1970’s none of these three calibres were still being produced- quartz movements had taken over. Even Zenith had packed up production of the El Primero by then. Zenith would restart production of the El Primero a few years later but the Calibre 11, 11-I, and 12 were not so lucky.
The seventies were a challenging time for most of the watch industry. By the end of it, the Hamilton Watch Company had moved across the Atlantic (sold to the Swiss) and their revolutionary Pulsar brand had essentially moved across the Pacific (sold to Seiko). Jack Heuer was forced out of his company by the bankers who in turn sold Heuer to TAG. Breitling didn’t fair any better; a multigenerational family business like Heuer, it went bankrupt and what was left was sold to Sicura.
Much has changed since then and many of the companies named above are now thriving again, but few of the movements which were in production fifty years ago are still in production today. The industry has moved on and therefore finding parts for some older movements is not be possible. The Calibre 11 wasn’t produced for very long and when it was the production volume was low. Today, used parts can be hard to come by and New-Old-Stock parts are as rare as hen’s teeth. The point here being that I’d better hold my breath and hope nothing inside is broken!
Getting straight into it and removing the movement from the case I noted it is quite thick despite it’s micro-rotor powered base and this is one of the problems of adding complications with modules- each will require its own plate and bridges which can significantly add to the movement’s height.
Looking under the dial I begin by disassembling the calendar works; the method for displaying the date via a Date Wheel is pretty much the same for all calendar watches and it’s driven by the Hour Wheel. Here I do find the first bit of modern sensibility though- a plastic spacing ring under the dial. Plastic will become brittle after a few decades so I’m generally not thrilled to see it in the movement.
As always, I take pictures of the setting mechanism before disassembly as each watch has a slightly different solution here and there’s usually a few springs I’ll need to keep track of.
I found inside this movement two of the largest jewels I’ve ever come across. These two flat jewels sandwich the Wig-Wag Pinion in the autowinding mechanism. The pinion moves between the jewels when the Oscillating Weight reverses direction. You can just make out one of the jewels in the top left of the image below.
Once the calendar works and setting mechanism were apart I could begin on the chronograph works.
The chronograph module covers the entirety of the base movement except for the Balance Wheel which is still visible. The works are utilitarian in appearance and the design does away with some earlier conventions. The hour recording mechanism is incorporated into the chronograph module and not under the dial as we’ve seen with most chronographs. Also, an Oscillating Pinion is used to drive the Chronograph Runner instead of the typical Driving Wheel and Coupling Clutch setup. Lastly – and this the big one for chronograph collectors – there is no Pillar Wheel.
The chronograph module can be removed from the base movement by undoing the three blued screws. As with the Movado, I took the module to pieces in situ since it needed to come apart for cleaning anyway.
Despite its different appearance, disassembly proceeded the same way it always does with the springs coming off first, then the levers and gears. I took many photographs to ensure I got it all back together in the proper fashion.
The hour recording mechanism was taken down first and followed by the Chronograph Runner and Oscillating Pinion. I worked from left to right to disassemble the chronograph module and reveal the base movement.
With the module off I could get my first glimpse of the Buren engineered micro rotor movement- it’s something else. The small Oscillating Weight provides enough energy to rewind the Mainspring and is completely hidden from view. It’s small mass makes it’s rotation invisible to the wearer too. I wonder why this form of automatic never really became popular?
Everything seemed to be in order and there were no failed parts to find inside the movement. I did notice that although the base movement appeared to be a lot cleaner than the chronograph works close inspection of the bearings suggested otherwise. A good strong bath and some new oil was definitely in order.
With the movement in pieces it was off to the ultrasonic cleaner and then the venerable old L&R watch cleaning machine. This machine is probably sixty years old and it shows it. It utilizes an AC motor that does not get along well with the Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor (“GFCI”) breakers in my new home. A rewiring is definitely in order but I’ll tell you what- between working in the garage, which is an sauna in the summer, and all of my second hand tools- it’s got me thinking. Less money needs to be spent on watches and more on upgrading the workspace.
Anyhow, since there were no broken parts, reassembly was a breeze but naturally I didn’t take any pictures of that process- except for the one below.
There were still a few issues which required attention such as the dial.
The original dial had lost its tachymètre ring and looked it naked without it. Optimistically, I figured I would find a replacement in short order through the internet but was quickly disabused. The tachymètre ring is riveted to the dial so to find one you must find another dial and this I had more luck with.
I managed to source an NOS replacement dial that was perfect in every way but one- it was missing the Hamilton logo. No matter, I figured I would pull the tachymètre ring off the new dial and rivet it to the old one… Well maybe not. The new dial looked so good I couldn’t stomach doing this. I decided to go with the unbranded dial and wait until a proper Hamilton replacement comes available.
Next up I needed to replace the mismatched Chronograph Pushers on the case. I could have settled for replacing just one but a new matched pair would be better as they would have all new seals inside an no pitting of the metal.
The replacements came from Jules Borel, my favorite vendor here in the states. I needed to shorten the shafts of both pushers (this is normal) so that they would activate and reset the chronograph appropriately. This resizing of the pusher shafts was accomplished on the lathe as it produces the cleanest and most professional finish.
With the new Chronograph Pushers installed it was time to secure the movement in the case and this is done with two small tabs that are screwed to the movement itself. One tab was broken when I got the watch so I ordered a pair of replacements through eBay.
With the movement secured back in the case it was about time to button it up. I still had not quite eradicated the beat error I began with; to do so would require turning the collet to which the Hairspring was connected. Generally this exercise is only needed when a watch movement does not have a moveable Hairspring Stud (beat corrector)- in this case the stud had already been moved to its extreme position and could be moved no further. I found this to be a bit odd as I don’t think it came from the factory that way but considering it’s only 0.6ms of beat error it’s acceptable to leave it that way.
The Caseback was reinstalled with a new rubber gasket thus completing the service.
I found a beautiful Hamilton bracelet which will go perfectly with this watch but it’s missing the end links. I’ll keep my eyes open but could spend a hundred years looking for them on eBay. In the meantime a nice black leather strap should suffice.
And that completes the service of the first Swiss automatic chronograph to cross my workbench- it’s a fine piece too.
If you’ve gotten this far though you may have noticed I didn’t go into any detail regarding the third and final automatic chronograph movement released in 1969. Well that’s because it was Seiko’s 6139 chronograph movement and Seiko were quite tight lipped about it too!
There’s a bit of debate as to when Seiko released their automatic chronograph. No one debates that it was in 1969- we know that from the serial numbers on the watches and the codes printed on the backs of the dials, but Seiko didn’t release it with any fanfare. They just started selling a better chronograph than what was out there before. I dig that.
Some day in the future I will feature a 6139 chronograph on this blog but in the meantime you can read about the service of the 6138-8021 Seiko chronograph I did earlier. The 6138 movement is a derivative of the 6139 and shares a lot of design elements with the addition of an hour recorder. The 6138-8021 is a beautiful watch too- get one if you haven’t already.
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