Step-by-Step Disassembly of a Chronomatic Movement

In a November 5, 2015 posting on the OnTheDash vintage Heuer discussion forum, one of the members of our community (Gianluca) provided a beautifully illustrated, step-by-step description showing the disassembly of a Caliber 15 chronograph movement (known as the “Chronomatic” movement).  The Chronomatic was the first automatic chronograph movement, and this family of movements was used by Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton and several other brands from 1969 into the 1980s.

While few of us collectors would even consider undertaking such a project, all of us can learn some important lessons from this posting.  Learning about the parts and construction of the Chronomatic movement will help us understand how these machines work, and will also facilitate communications with our watchmakers and other collectors.

ChronomaticDisHeader11

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Remember the Good Old Days . . . Before OnTheDash?

We launched OnTheDash on February 12, 2003, with an email message to 80 recipients.  A few days ago, I received a message from one of these recipients, who I have been in touch with from time to time over the years.  In his message he reminisced about the good old days, shared some thoughts about the state of the current market, and also posed a few questions for me.  To mark the 12th birthday of OnTheDash, let me publish the message that I sent to this gentleman.

 

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Found – Heuer’s Very First Automatic Chronograph (Chronomatic Autavia)

For years, Heuer collectors have stared at the image – its shows three Heuer chronographs, each bearing only the Heuer shield at the top of the dial and the word “Chronomatic” at the bottom of the dial.  There are no model names on the dials, but the Heuer enthusiasts know exactly what they are – the Carrera, the Monaco and the Autavia that Heuer introduced in 1969, as the world’s first automatic chronographs.

Advertisement from March 1969, showing Heuer’s three automatic chronographs (Chronomatics)

This was the first image that Heuer used to market its first automatic chronographs – the Chronomatics.  The images of these three watches appeared in the March 3, 1969 press release in which Heuer introduced its first automatic chronographs and in industry publications that first presented these watches to the world, including the Swiss Watch and Jewelry Journal, the official publication of the March 1969 Basel Fair.

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The Chronomatics -- Rarest of the Vintage Heuers

For vintage watch collectors, the difference between a “grail” watch and an ordinary watch is often a matter of small details. The texture of the paint, the length of a hash mark, the style of the serifs or the aging of the lume can all affect the collectability and value of a vintage watch. The 10x loupe has become standard equipment for examining the rare ones; sometimes, we need the extra power of a microscope, just to be sure. We showed you how little details can make a difference in the Black PVD Heuer Monaco.

It’s not so nuanced, however, for those pursuing the rarest of the vintage Heuer chronographs. There is one word — located at the top dead center of the dial — that evidences the rarest of the rare in the world of vintage Heuers. The word “Chronomatic” alerts the collector that he or she has found the ultimate vintage Heuer chronograph. In this posting, we will consider where the origins of the word “Chronomatic” and provide an overview of the four (or five) models that bear this special designation.

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Mark Moss Explores Serial Numbers and Batches of Viceroy Autavias

This post is supplementary to Jeff’s article on the Heuer / Viceroy Autavia promotion, which has been published on the Hodinkee website.  In this post, I use dates and figures from Jeff’s article and attempt to reference those against serial numbers to provide further context.

The First Three Batches of Reference 1163 Autavia Cases.  There are three clear batches of automatic Autavias before we routinely start seeing the characteristics of the watches sold through the Viceroy promotion.

At launch in 1969, ranges are clearly defined for the three launch models (Autavia, Carrera and Monaco). It is worth noting that the allocated ranges also allow for numbers of manual watches in each of the ranges too (2446s in the case of the Autavia, 73353/73453/73653 Carreras and the 73633 Monacos).

The Autavias range from 141xxx through 143xxx, Chronomatic dials only appearing in the 141xxx part of that range. White dials with black registers (aka “Sifferts”) dominate the Chronomatic dials but the  mix between these and black dialled MHs tends to even out as serials get deeper into the range, with dials now marked “Automatic Chronograph”.

Chronomatic Autavia -- SN 141206  Chronomatic Autavia -- SN 141206 (Detail)

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Leap Day 2012 -- Wrist-Shot Wednesday, at Last

“Leap Day” (February 29th) is a special day that only occurs every four years.  Watch guys who own perpetual calendars marvel as the “29” arrives at midnight; 24 hours, they are even more impressed when the date moves to “1”.  This year, I marked Leap Day by playing hooky from work — traveling to New York City to take care of a couple of non-work related matters.  I mean, in most years (or 75% of them, to be precise), 28 days are enough for February, so I decided to end February 2012 on the 28th and declare the 29th to be a free day . . . off the calendar.

During the course of the day, I saw a “Watch You Wearing” message on our discussion forum, so I decided to take some wrist shots, all along the way.  [I usually don’t take wrist-shots, but maybe I will make an exception every February 29th.]

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Field Guide to the Heuer Autavia, Reference 1163 (Black Dial)

Yesterday, on the TZ-UK Watch Talk discussion forum, I posted a photo showing four versions of the Heuer Autavia, Reference 1163, each with a black dial.  A reader of that forum (under the name “even neve”) posted a message, stating, “Very nice – but don’t see the point in having four watches looking all the same. Maybe you could mod some of them ?”  Well, that would be an interesting idea . . . “modding” (modifying) a vintage Autavia.  Two of the watches have the same polished steel hands, so perhaps I would replace one set with some bright orange or red hands?  Three of them have the same black Minutes / Hours (MH) bezel, so perhaps I could find a more colorful bezel for one of them, perhaps something in the “Pepsi” colors?  Four stainless steel cases?  Maybe one of them would look nice in black PVD. 

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Mark Moss Analyzes a Rare Chronomatic Dial

On November 3, 2011, Rich Crosthwaite — one of our Monaco experts — posted a message on our discussion forum regarding the Carrera Chronomatic dial shown immediately below.  While our community had seen a handful of Chronomatic Carrera chronographs, all these had a gray-blue dial, with white registers, we had never seen a Chronomatic Carrera in the white-on-white design.

 

Chronomatic Carrera Dial -- Front Chronomatic Carrera Dial -- Back

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Communicate Well with Your Watchmaker (or be Prepared to Suffer the Consequences)

Shown below is an eBay listing for a Chronomatic Carrera, that should teach all of us a lesson.  The Chronomatics are among the rarest of the vintage Heuers, with no more than 20 samples known within the community of collectors.  Of these, the Chronomatic Carreras are especially rare, with only three or four having been spotted over the past decade.

Read the eBay listing below, to see how a local jeweler — hoping to surprise the owner with a little extra work on the dial – destroyed the watch.  It ended up selling on eBay for $1,200; an original Chronomatic Carrera in decent condition would probably have been worth at least five times that amount

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