Described herein is a one-of-a-kind reclamation project I undertook to save both a vintage chronometer movement, orphaned by gold scrappers, and an 18k Universal Genève watch case that had been acquired without a movement.
First, I'll describe this elegant watch case:
I would say it was probably made in the late 1940s, judging by the style and need for female spring bars. It was produced by the venerable Universal Genève company (of Polerouter & Tri-Compax fame) and is stamped as such inside; the outside shows hallmarks for 18k gold. I bought this with the hope of having a custom watch built with an ultra-thin Piaget 12P movement I owned, but the project never got off the ground. Thus, I decided to find a high-grade classic movement of 11.5''' to marry with this exceptionally sleek and unusual case.
The condition of the donor case (Ref. 112124) was very good--there were a couple light marks, some evidence of having been opened with a case knife, and a bit of tarnishing under a couple lugs, but no significant damage or signs of age. Dimensions follow and plenty of photos of the case by itself are provided below:
5mm thick (without crystal)
17mm strap width
Weight: 0.7 ounces (20g)
As you can see, the shape is unusual. The elegant curved lugs are reminiscent of early-20th century fixed-lug cases, and the lugs' surface width is quite well matched with the width of the bezel. The full effect is of solid construction, even though it is a rather old and delicate item of soft precious metal.
Taking the crystal and metal ring into account, I would guess this contains a little under ½ ounce of gold which an early 2017 price-check valued at ~$1220/oz. Because this is 18k and not pure, I value it at something around $400 worth of gold.
Next, let's talk about the heart of this watch:
The watch case houses an original Britix chronometer movement and dial/hands set. The movement is a chronometer-certified version of ETA Caliber 2370, most likely from the late 1950s. I searched for some time to locate a good quality movement to meet my criteria: 1) not so obscure that parts would be scarce; 2) something top-quality with a high jewel count, preferably a chronometer; 3) including the original dial in presentable shape, preferably with some character. Luckily, this uncased Britix turned up and met most of my needs, thus ending my search. I did have to find another good parts movement of the same caliber and, luckily, its finish matches that of the original movement, because the chronometer movement had arrived with a barrel bridge of a different color. Some work was needed to swap a couple parts and find the right size screws, etc.--but nothing terribly complicated or time-consuming.
It is a strong-running movement that has not been serviced because, frankly, when I received it from my source, it arrived clean and running quite accurately (still is--see images below), so I didn't want to mess with a good thing or jack up the price to cover the cost I would incur sending it out for service. (I can build 'em and regulate 'em, but I leave the eventual full service to others who have more recent practice at it...and I know lots of collectors have arrangements with local watchmakers for better prices than I get here in the Philadelphia area.) The movement is a high-grade version of Cal. 2370, with 21 jewels. The movement number (necessary for chronometer testing & identification) is 5706 but no chronometer paperwork is available, unfortunately. This movement was obtained after its original case had been scrapped for gold content, presumably, so no accessories were present.
Happily, I was able to save it from being forgotten in a drawer, rattling around with other movements, until it was nigh on worthless. Now, though it has a few marks and evidence of prior service, it is blissfully married to the gold case described above and protected from further exposure. This little timekeeping wonder undertakes its renewed duty with obvious pleasure.
And a little about its face:
The patina of the dial and case give this the right amount of 'Wabi-sabi,' in my opinion. There are many small 'age spots' and tarnish on some of the hour markers, but the overall condition is quite in line with that of the case. I felt quite lucky to have located a donor movement with its original dial and hands in such condition and I gave no thought to polishing the case or refinishing the dial Nor would I consider selling any of the components separately--this was a labor of love, and I was keen to see the project through to completion.
Since writing this, I found a good home for this watch, with a new owner who will appreciate its uniqueness and mongrel characteristics. Much as hot-rodders and resto-modders enjoy combining disparate parts to make a car of whose uniqueness they can be proud, this watch is sort of a vintage hot-rod itself. It's not exactly a '32 Ford with a Jag rear-end and later small-block Chevy motor, but the inspiration was similar, in my mind.
Please see the photos below (click for larger). Note: a little Interweb sleuthing has turned up an original UG watch with the same case that was offered on-line—it can be found by following this link.
The case and crystal as found: