New Wine in Old Skins . . . New Movements in Old Watches

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.'” Luke, 5:37-39

In recent months, we have made considerable progress in understanding the development of the Caliber 11, 11-I and 12 movements, with the result that we are able to study the parts in a paritcular movement to determine the “correctness” of the movement. At the same time, we have begun compiling a database of Heuer serial numbers, which has allowed us to establish approximate dates for many of the Heuer chronographs.

Combining information about the movements and information about the cases and serial numbers, we have a new ability to determine whether the movement in a particular chronograph appears to be original for that chronograph or whether the movement might have been replaced at some point. For example, based on having a specific serial number, we can say that a particular chronograph should have a Caliber 11-I or Caliber 12 movement.

New Movements in Old Watches. Finding a newer movement in an older watch is fairly easily explained. As we have described in our webpage on the development of the Chronomatic movements, there were problems with the Caliber 11 movements, which led to the development of the Caliber 11-I movement, and there were problems with the Caliber 11-I movement which led to the development of the Caliber 12 movement. Even within the Caliber 12 movement, there were changes in certain components from one year to the next, as Heuer improved the movement.

In understanding how certain samples of vintage Heuer chronographs came to be as we now find them, it is important to understand how Heuer’s service department approached the Chronomatic movements. In simplest terms, in many instances when there were problems with a Caliber 11 or 11-I movement that was in for servicing, rather than retrofitting the movement with new parts (which would have required a considerable amount of labor), the service department simply replaced the older Caliber 11 or Caliber 11-I movement with a brand new Caliber 12 movement. So a Caliber 11 or 11-I chronograph that was sent in for the repair of a broken or poorly-functioning movement might be returned to the owner with a brand new Caliber 12 movement. In many instances, the service department would not have notified the customer that the movement had been replaced and the customer would not have been charged for the movement, as such. Rather than listing the replacement movement on the service ticket, the service department would have charged the customer for the price of a complete overhaul, but rather than overhauling the movement, the service department simply replaced the older Caliber 11 or 11-I movement with a brand new Caliber 12 movement. There was no charge for a watch that was under its one-year warranty; even after the warranty period expired, Heuer was generous in providing service for its watches at no charge; it was only when there was evidence of a watch being abused that Heuer charged for service, within the first few years of a watch’s life.  Heuer Switzerland supplied brand new Caliber 12 movements to its service centers around the world, so the the earlier movements could be replaced with the newer Caliber 12 movements.

As a result of these practices, we see many “early” chronographs that left the factory with Caliber 11 or Caliber 11-I movements, which were updated with later Caliber 12 movements, with the original owner not even being aware of the change.

Old Movements in New Watches. On occasion, we see a chronograph from a particular period that appears to have a movement from an earlier period (for example, a serial number dating a watch from 1972 or 1973, and a Caliber 11 or 11-I movement, the use of which was discontinued before that time). There appears to be no good explanation for a watch from a later period having a movement from an earlier period. We can only suggest that the movement has been replaced (and that only the earlier movements were available) or that the watch has been put together from parts.

The Point of All This. Many modern-day collectors are horrified when they learn that their older Heuer chronograph (that probably began life with a Caliber 11 or 11-I movement) is now powered by a Caliber 12 movement. We can expect accusations of fakery, with the image of some sinister character working in his dark basement, to assemble a chronograph from the parts bins. In fact, in many instances the movement may have been replaced by the Heuer service department, as a courtesy for the customer. Granted that most collectors would prefer to have an all-original watch; still, collectors should realize that when it comes to the Caliber 11, 11-I and 12 movements, new wine in old skins can be an acceptable approach.