Probably every watch collector knows about Chuck Maddox, have heard about him or knew him. On the 12th of May 2008, Chuck Maddox passed away at age 46 and because I knew him for quite some time (1999), it struck me really hard. I have had a lot of contact with Chuck ever since I bought my first Speedmaster Professional pre-Moon in 1999 and till a few weeks before he passed away, we were still in touch. Discussing all kinds of subjects, but mainly watches.
A picture of Chuck with astronauts Charlie Duke and Wally Schirra in 2007.
In 2004, when I started this blog, I did an interview with this Speedmaster legend and I decided to post it in full today, three years after his passing away.
A conversation with Chuck Maddox
Every time I read WatchTime or this Dutch magazine ‘Horloges’ for example, I think about the interviews in those magazines. Why do they pick celebrities like actors, footballers, self made businessmen? I would rather see some interviews with people who really know their watches and can inspire me to start a certain collection or to lean a bit on their experiences. I don’t care much for a movie star who added the 20th Patek Philippe to his collection.
With this thought, I decided to add an interview section to my blog. Once in a while I’d like to add an interview with someone who really cares about watches.
This first interview will be held with Chuck Maddox, known for his valuable contributions on TimeZone, On the Dash and other fora. He also hosts his own website about watches, http://www.xnet.com/~cmaddox/watch.html (now chronomaddox.com), which is definitely worth a visit (and bookmark)!
First of all thanks Chuck for cooperating with this interview for the Fratello weblog. You had to think about it at first, but decided to let me fire some questions at you, why did you hesitate?
Before I answer, I’d like to thank you for your kind words regarding me, my site and my efforts. I do appreciate them regardless of the source, but they mean a great deal when they come from another established member of the information providing community.
As for why I hesitated… I try not to be a person who “toot’s my own horn”, I prefer to let my posts/efforts stand on their own merit(s). When one is as visible and as involved at various places as I am, in addition to a touch of modesty I also have to consider the reactions and concerns of other people with whom I have regular communications, interactions and committments (real or felt) with. This is not to say that I probably come off less than modestly in some instances, [laughs] but I’m a big enough target already! I was also not entirely certain how I’d feel about certain questions and how I should answer them.
Like you RJ, I too don’t especially have a great deal of interest in which watches say a Martin Sheen or Cindy Crawford wears. I’d much rather hear what Burt Rutan or Dale Earnhardt Jr. or National Geographic correspondent wears and why. I think many of the print magazines forget the “Why?” part in their interviews.
I know you are from the mechanical watch era (I am not) and you told me once that you had a nice watch in high school but that it was stolen by someone. Did you care for wristwatches at that time, or wasn’t it until later when you bumped into a used Speedmaster Mark 2?
I was born during the mechanical watch era, my first watch was a wind up Timex Boy’s model with a brown dial (and luminous Arabic’s and hands) that I was given for my fifth birthday (which would have been in 1967). I am confident I still have that watch in a desk drawer somewhere buried underneath other stuff. The last time I wore it, probably when I was 11 or 12 it still worked and kept good time. But until the early 1970’s with the exception of Accutrons (which believe it or not I knew about in the late 1960’s – I read magazine ad’s), there were no Quartz watches. I remember when the first quartz watches were appearing on the market, and those were heady days. The minaturation of electronics to the point where one could wear a watch that was accurate to a second every 15-30 days was very impressive stuff.
My father was a hard-core car nut, so there were always AutoWeek, HotRod, MotorTrend, Road&Track, Car and Driver, magazines around the house. And I looked at the pictures of the cars, read some of the stories and looked at the ad’s for watches published within them. I’d never be able to afford them but I looked anyway. In the early 1970’s I discovered a company’s advert in a Comic Book, and sent off for a catalog from them. The company was the Johnson-Smith Company, and is still in business. They always had an interesting watch or two listed, I know I ordered a Cimier Chronograph from them at one point (I might still have it tucked away somewhere) that I bought with money I made mowing lawns and doing chores.
[Sigh] So I guess the short answer is I’ve been into wristwatches for as long as I can remember. Just didn’t have the money to do much about it until relatively recently.
Was the Speedmaster Mark 2 the start of your Speedmaster interest, or did that already happen when you was interested in the Moonlanding when you were a kid? If not, did you knew about the Speedmaster at the time?
Being a child of the 1960’s I was a BIG fan of the Space program and Space Exploration. I had a bunch of models, posters, books and other materials on the topic. I was fortunate to visit the Cape in the Spring of 1969 while they were preparing for Apollo’s 10 and 11 and visited the Johnson Space Center (Houston) in February of 1970. I remember “borrowing” some loose portable B&W TV set’s when Apollo 13 had trouble, and setting them up side by side tuned to a different channel so I could watch for news of their fate. So I was pretty into the Space program as a kid. I’ve often said I was born 10-20 years too late or 50 years too early. I don’t know that I have many personal heroes, but two of them are Jim Lovell, and another is the late Ed White. Jim Lovell has always been my favorite astronaut, Ed White was gone before I knew any of the astronauts as individuals, had he lived he could well have been my favorite. I think the greatest disappointment in my life has been how we (the U.S.) have largely turned away from the manned exploration of Space in the 30+ years since the Apollo missions.
I knew that the Speedmaster was used by the Astronauts, but I really didn’t know which specific model, only that I couldn’t afford one. Even at 1960’s and 1970’s prices, a Speedmaster of any stripe would be more than all of Christmas and Birthday combined. And by the time I was in High School, making money on my own, there were other interests that I had (LP’s, Radio’s/Stereo’s, Girls, Car’s, Car Insurance, etc.) that competed for my wallet’s attention.
So, I knew that Omega was a good brand. I’d seen enough of them, and Heuers, and Rolex’s, advertised in car magazines that I knew they were good watches. I just had to wait around until the time came when I could afford them and my other vices. It was a happy circumstance that I happened into that pawnshop that had that Mark II that cold December day in the early 1980’s.
Like I already mentioned in the introduction of this interview, you have a quite successful website about watches. A large list of dealers,
A lot of broken links I have to get around to fixing…
websites of collectors, watchfora and besides that, a great amount of articles you wrote on several watchrelated subjects.
I do have that…
My whole website has been centered around the fact that I had a problem in the middle 1990’s and I decided a website was the way to deal with it…
The problem I had was I had bookmarks and reference material on my computer at work, another set on my computer at home, and I also had a laptop computer that also had a set. The problem was keeping those bookmarks and reference material in a place where I could keep it up-to-date, synchronized and accessible no matter where I was. It dawned on me instead of trying to sync files and materials between three machines, to put it on the web where I could access it anywhere (even if it wasn’t my machine) anytime.
That my web pages have been useful to others is fine. It’s nice to be able to make posts like “I can’t post a link to that site here because of forum regulations, but if you go to my page and clink on the link for watch link” you’ll get there, and most moderators appreciate that I’m not contaminating their site with a direct link to a commercial site. But if a link is broken and I haven’t fixed it, realize that the site is mainly there to help me, and if something isn’t 100% pretty or working, it’s because I’ve had other things higher up on my list of things to address.
Your work is quite valuable, especially for collectors of chronographs, can we ever expect a book from your hands to replace the current ‘standard’ on chronographs by Gerd R Lang?
I have been asked this one quite a bit and for quite a while…
The situation is I personally consider myself a student of the topic at hand. Maybe I’m a good student, perhaps even a “gifted” student (your mileage will vary), but a student nonetheless. When I crack open a book by the likes of James Dowling, Mr. Imai, Marco Richon or a number of others, I know that I personally would not be satisfied putting ink to paper on anything that can’t sit on the same shelf as one of their books and not be personally embarrassed about it being there. I know to create such a calibre of book would require a great deal of research, detailing, documenting, etc. that would likely require me to spend a great deal of time, effort, expense and travel to achieve. For example, a Speedmaster book would probably require a week (or several) of prowling around NASA files, the Smithsonian and other museums, etc. a through examination of the Omega Museum and associated “getting information out of Omega” that would probably take weeks if not months, and so forth. Thus far I haven’t been especially keen on bankrolling such an undertaking or disrupting my life to do so.
It’s far easier for me to fire up my HTML editor, and whip up a quick page than it would be for me to buckle down and do all of that infrastructure research that a print book the depth and breadth would require to get that rightful place on the shelf with Messers Dowling, Imai and Richon…
Bottom line… I won’t say it won’t ever happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Print out copies of my stuff and put them in a comb or 3-ring binder in stead. That’s perfectly acceptable for personal use, I said so! Just don’t sell it or claim it as your own work/distribute it.
I guess I am one of the guys that have put some of your work into a 3-ring binder, which I did so I could read some of your articles when I was traveling by train.
At one time I did excactly the same thing so I could proofread what I had written up to then and I could take notes as to what needed revision… This is probably something I should do again as things have been revised and grown a lot since then…
You and I have been mailing a lot in the last 5 years, so I know you have a very broad interest. What interests do you have besides watches? And are you as accurate and detailed in those interests as well?
Well, I’ve already touched on cars. My interest is not nearly as acute as my fathers, but I do have some interest in the automotive industry. I’m a long time Shortwave Radio Listener, I hold a No-Code Technician’s Ham Radio License. I’ve been strongly interested in computers since the late 1970’s, which is where my college education is in, computer programing. I was in the computer/information technology support industry for 15 years full time and I still do consulting in that field. I also have a strong interest in modern history (since the Victorian age) and military history. I do also collect other things, firearms, vintage Shortwave radios, among others… I’m also a Chicago Bear’s fan and have been known to enjoy other sporting events.
As for my accuracy and depth of interest in those fields… Hmmm… I can probably pull out of the static a hard to hear station with the best of them, pick out the best equipment for which application (both radio and electronics) if asked, and can likely bore anyone to tears on 20th century and military history. Probably not well enough to always make a good living at anything other than the computer gig though.
The fairest and simplest description of my interests would be I’m a “Gadget pfreak”.
Did you ever consider to take the step to become a watchseller for profession? Like James Dowling seems to be the authority on Rolex watches, he also buys and sells them via the internet. Is this something you would like to do? Or would you become best customer of your own shop?
[Laughs]… Were I in that situation I could see I’d be working to use my store credit or price break. Have I considered it? Sure I’ve had thoughts about that. However, for me, at this time, it’s a hobby. Which means I might sell a watch or a part that I have to someone, but it would be because it was surplus to my needs, the other person wanted or had a use for the item and I wouldn’t profit more than the cost of a fast food meal. I do what I do for the love of the topic at hand, not to make money off of friends. At least not yet.
On the topic of Rolex. I do look forward to the day when I have enough money in my account, my other expenses covered and all my other chronograph wishes satiated enough that I can email James D. and say “James, we all knew this day would come, I’d like to enlist your aid in finding a nice condition all original Rolex Daytona/Cosmograph of one (or hopefully more) of the following types…”. It won’t be 2004 or likely 2005, but I look forward to that day.
I’ve had several opportunities to become involved in “sales” or “retail” in the past and I’ve always stuck with the support side of things. Not because I wouldn’t be a decent sales person (I probably would do well), but because I feel more comfortable about trying to help people than trying to sell them something.
Besides owning lots of great watches (mostly chronographs), do you also wear all of them?
I’d be lying if I said I wore all of them, but I do try to cycle through them all so they do at the very least get some wrist time, even it it’s only while I’m typing at my computer. With the number I own, such time isn’t nearly as frequent or as long as I’d like or it should be. But I do try to run through them every couple of months or so.
For example, I once helped you out getting a digital LCD Speedmaster from the late 70s, did you ever wear it? Or are those kind of timepieces just for fun?
Well a few watches because of their nature I’m exceedingly careful about. I have a Tissot Sidereal Chronograph with a Fiberglass case and a very unique comform band that is impossible to source. So that one doesn’t get much wrist time. I have a minty 20th Anniversary Moonwatch (1169/2000) that gets worn on Apollo Anniversaries and that’s about it. The LCD Speedmaster had the same problem as many of my quartz watches. I don’t wear them very much so they run the risk of he battery running flat. So I do wear it from time to time, but not as often as I would like to.
On the topic of watches for fun. There are certain watches I only wear when I’m in a “fun” or wacky mood. My Bullhead chronographs are cases in point. Their design is so “Funky” that I nearly have to be in an “Austin Powers” type of mood to wear them.
I recall that you have been to Europe some time ago. Ever considered to go back there and visit Omega and meet Marco Richon and other European watchfriends you have?
Yes, I’d love to do that at some point and it may well happen some day. There are wagon loads of people whom I’ve never met face to face but feel I know thanks to the Internet. The flip side of the coin is that Europe is a long flight away (and a long flight back), I’m John Candy sized so the thought of funneling my backside into a coach class seat for 7-9 hours is a less than comforting thought, plus the hassles of airport security, in particular to a gadget freak like myself is another draw back. Besides… Who’s going to answer my email while I’m off the grid?!?!?
I’d look forward to the day I’m in a position when I can lock away the bulk of my collection, pick out a couple of watches to travel with, pick up my ticket, passport, digital camera and laptop; fly over to Europe for a month or three, with a high-quality map, a list of people and places, a rental car that’s fun to drive and an open-ended return date… Hopefully I’ll be able to do that although this isn’t in the works for the near-term.
If that day comes, let me know.
You are on that list I mentioned, RJ, I’ll phone or email ahead.
A little closer to your home, how do you look at watchmeetings and watchfairs in general?
It depends on the kind of meeting…
I’ve been to a TZ affair or two, and met with a number of collectors I know for lunch/dinner a number of times, and I always enjoy those sort of events.
More general watchmeetings are a bit problematic for me… As I’m pretty narrowly focused on Chronographs, it’s tough for me to get as much out of them as most do. Even though I’ve broadened my horizons as time has gone on in terms of my interests, I’ve also narrowed them in certain aspects as I’m not usually looking for items I’ve already have in my collection. For rxample: I’m not really looking to buy any more German Speedmasters. So I can go to a modest sized local watch meeting say the monthly one 10 miles away from my place, and I might find one or two things that I’d look twice at, I can go to the Chicagoland Chapter meetings (about once every 3-4 months & about 40 miles away from me) and find maybe two or three things that interest me, and might walk away with one thing. Then I could go to a Annual NAWCC Regional (like the Milwaukee show) which is about 120 miles away, takes about three hours of driving each way, spend about two to three hours visiting all of the tables and maybe seeing 6 things of interest and having to decide between three or maybe four things worth bringing home with me.
I guess I’d sum up, for me, there is a lot of chaff that has to be separated from the wheat at these shows. It’s the same thing on an Internet Sales Corner or eBay, but net sites are easier to comb through quickly.
I try to organize one every year, which have been successful for three times now and soon I am going to attend the P-Day (for Panerai lovers) in Frankfurt/Germany and consider these meetings quite educative and fun. How about you?
I find I enjoy myself at all of these meetings, and sometimes they can be educational, but in retrospect some of the local meetings are not the best use of my time. But one never knows when they are going to find that one thing that makes your collecting month or year. So that keeps you goin’ to them. On the other hand it’s a good social occasion, one tends to develop relationships with people you meet/know at the meetings and it’s always good to sit down, touch base and get caught up with them and their activities… So I do value the meetings, even the ones where the pickings are slim.
You seem to use a lot of links and refers in your forum posts and e-mails, which is a great thing to do (optimal use of resources in my opinion).
I’m not always 100% certain my method is always the best course of action. If people were to read the post, click on the links and say “Geez! I have to book mark this site and remember to check here first” it’d be great. But I don’t always remember to bookmark (or where I’ve book marked) some interesting tidbit of information. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing myself and others any favors by serving up so much information to them on demand…
Then on the other hand if I have any regret over the past couple of years (other than bidder/buyer remorse) it would be that I didn’t create a diary or blog dealing with the entire c.33xx affair. I really do wish I could say, “I’ve tallied exactly xx number of problems and hear is the specific breakdown with dates and referenced links” instead of I’ve seen between xx and yy problems and you’ll have to search through the archives to find them.
Another term that you used above that I’m going to key on is refers. One of the things I’ve seen on the web, and have seen make print too, are people who will grab something off the web, make a few cosmetic changes and pass it off as their own work. The nice word for these people are opportunists, the accurate one is plagiarists. I can’t really understand this much at all… There is absolutely no shame in acknowledging a source for your material and in fact it strengthens your work because it is collaborated! Plus it brings a little attention to the people you name as a source which strengthens the information providing community. I’m thrilled whenever I can cite Eric So’s site or something that Steve Waddington has developed, or a NASA website that people might not otherwise know about, or some pictures that someone emailed me about. It’s no skin off my nose and the benefits of giving someone who helped you an “attaboy” pat of the back is Ginormous, Hugantic! (Humongous, Gigantic… LOL!). People are typically thrilled to be thanked publically on a webpage.
There are just so many good reasons to reference your sources whenever you can and so few to steal them and claim them for yourself that it boggles my mind the people persist in doing this and risk the potential of being found out.
I guess you get a great amount of emails, are you never tired of answering them?
Just so people have an idea…
Since I went to bed last night, and not counting some 100 spam email’s, I’ve received 23 watch related emails this Monday morning, out of 30 non-spam email messages total, many requiring detailed responses. I’ve posted a half a dozen forum posts, had an IM session with Bill Sohne of TZ’s Omega Forum (about how best to ship a certain watch), and a phone conversation with Jeff Stein about his latest purchase and the potential purchase for a similar model. and it’s only noon. Today I’m squeezing in this interview, on other days, I’d be working on more posts in forums, eBay auctions, writing or documenting.
Thus I have to tell you… There are days… There are days I get pretty frazzled. It’s rare the days I say “I’m going to have to wait a couple of hours or until morning to attack that pile, because I just can’t do it now” but that does happen. I get tired in a physical sense, I get fatigued in a mental sense, I get weary in a spiritual or emotional sense when there’s a flamewar or someone who’s had a cherished purchase break on them. But usually I bounce back fairly well after a break or a good night’s sleep, and I think I bounce-back better than I did a couple of years ago when I get frazzled.
You could make a full time job out of replying to messages in fora, replying e-mails and maintaining a watch related website.
And I do get some pretty “out of the pale” questions too… Like I ‘have a watch it’s called a “no name I’ve ever heard of” where can I find more information about it?’ I really have no idea how people get of the mindset to email me or to think I’d know about some of these things that are only marginally related to what I write about, like they are timekeeping devices.
Too bad it pays so badly.
Not that such doesn’t have it’s benefits though. I remember the first Gallet Chronograph I bought off of eBay a couple of years back… I won the auction, knew the seller was associated with a watch dealer who’s website I had listed on my watch page. So I pulled up their site, located their phone number after the auction and called them, I figured it would be faster than typing an email. When the phone was answered I had a conversation that went something like this (about 3pm my time, 4pm theirs):
“Hello, I’m Chuck Maddox and I just won the eBay auction for the Gallet and was wondering what shipping would be so I can go out to the Post Office to get a Money Order out to you”
“[Long Silence] ¿The Chuck Maddox who wrote the article on which watches were worn on the moon??? I literally just printed out a copy of that page to show to my boss (the owner of the watch/site/etc.).”
“Well, for better or worse, that’s me.”
Hold on a second… [about a 30 second pause] Yeah, Chuck… Send us your address straight away, we’re going to express mail out your watch right now, before the Post Office closes. Just send us $10 more than your high bid and we’ll get it out to you insured so you’ll have it tomorrow. Thanks for that article, great stuff!”
So one does develop a bit of a reputation that can proceed oneself and can sometimes have a benefit. Not that I “name drop” but I’m sure if you called to order a watch at a central European web dealer they might say “the bloke who’s over at Watch-U-Seek?” and get a little better response than someone with less visability.
So I’d be lying if I said there aren’t some benefits every once in a while.
Do you use some sort of ‘templates’ for the questions you get over and over again?
It depends on the method they come to me. For the most part if people post a query in a forum, it’s pretty public what they get from me in reply. I do have some very basic HTML templates for formatting a reply. I have a basic TZ Omega Forum reply template (since my default TZ post has a Omega theme .signature footer), I have a separate one for Rolex topic posts (with a Tudor Oyster date) to remind people that I do collect brands other than Omega and Heuer. I have one with a Heuer .sig for generic posts or for posting on OnTheDash. I also have a couple of templates for iFrame posts, a basic one that’s just a bare bones iframe, and a second which has my standard query and reply format along with a .sig.
These basic reply templates look exactly like this (between the horizonal lines):
poster’s name goes here
Subject goes here [Date/Time Stamp goes here]:
Replace with reply
In fact, this template is what I used to paste your questions into so I could reply.
This sort of “template” allows me to reply in a consistant format and fashion in short order. I also include the name/subject/time/date stamp information most times in reply because it’s important for the context and continuity of the post. I go to the trouble to format many of my posts in HTML with the complete text included and formatted so that I may comment in context and accurately. Sooner or later I know I’ll likely be called upon to cite the reasons/sources. I find that when I need to quote or include a passage of text in a post in the future, having that “Posted By: Robert Jan Broer [Date: 18 October 2004 15:48 GMT]” already formatted and at the beginning of a quotation really saves a lot of time, and adds to the impact of my posts/reply aids reading comprehension and accessability and makes my posts more pleasant and fun to read. If it isn’t fun and/or useful, why bother. The templates I use allow me to keep on course and reply quickly so I can go to the next topic at hand.
For the most part, email queries also get live replies, however the past four or five months or so, I’ve created some “boilerplate” footers that have the basic text for sources for specific questions… Who do you use for a watchmaker? Where do you get those generic Oyster bracelets you use? Where can I get a watch/bracelet re-PVDed? Where can I find a Moonwatch display back?, here is an example of the text for a referral to “Pro-Time” which is the LVMH (Heuer/TAG-Heuer) service center in the US:
Pro-Time (LVMH’s facility for watch repair in the US) can probably repair your watch:
Here is the address and phone number, I am not aware of any website…
Pro Time Service
966 South Springfield Avenue
Springfield, New Jersey 07081-3556
Give them a call and see what they say. I know that they sometimes “farm out” older Heuer’s to a semi-retired watchmaker who founded Pro-Time (for the old Heuer) back in the 1960’s. But it’s best to go through Pro-Time first.
Best of fortune on your repair/restoration!
I simply reached the the point where I was typing or copying and pasting the same information over and over again a number of times in the week and it’s really dumb to do it that way when you can create a footer and save yourself so much time. I have fewer than 10 of these although that number will likely grow. Everyone else gets a reply of some sort even if it’s a referral to a person who knows more about the topic than I do, a link to the answer or a simple “Sorry, I don’t know”.
In the first part we discussed interests and how this watch thing started, this part will be more focused on brands and collecting.
Do you have a maximum budget for a watch (in general)? So a single watch never will be more expensive then (let’s say) 5000 Euro or USD?
Thus far I haven’t spent more than $3,300 on a watch (prior to getting it in my hands anyway). I haven’t bid above $4,000 thus far. Those aren’t fixed limits, but it’s been where I’ve been comfortable on the high end with Internet transactions thus far. Those aren’t “limits” or “budget maximums” just where my comfort level has bailed out on me in the past…
One of the things as a collector you have to keep a mind on is not only what is called “the Stein point” named for OnTheDash owner Jeff Stein… Jeff councils people to bid to your point of indifference about winning a watch on eBay and not winning the watch. This is the point were if you win the watch you feel exactly the same (i.e. indifferent) as if you are the first runner up. With the scarcity of some of the models I’m collecting, I’ve had to create in my mind a “Stein plus 3 month” and a “Stein plus 6 month point” which is the same point, but will you feel the same way about being the first runner up on a watch 3 and 6 months down the line when another one doesn’t show up to be bid upon.
Counterbalancing those “bidder’s remorse” points are some other considerations. I would guess like many collectors there is a short list of watches that I’d like to add to my collection. I try to keep enough money on hand so that if one of those other watches appears on eBay just after I’ve made a purchase I have enough funds I can consider putting in a serious bid on the second watch. Or you’ve just spent $3k on a watch and one of the other one’s on your list comes up, you might have to pass on it. One of the positions a collector never wants to get into is when you see a model of watch you feel you need or the deal is too good to pass up and not really think you can afford the watch and you go ahead and do a “I’ll buy it and figure out how to pay it later”. That’s probably a danger sign you’re a little more addicted to this hobby than is healthy.
And it works both ways… If you drop a sizable stack of chips on a triple-date Moonphase you might feel the need to pass on some lesser cost items that come along soon after.
So, like many other things in life, bidding and purchasing is a bit of a balancing act. Bidders remorse balancing buyer remorse, and so forth. And while those figures I have mentioned above have been what my maximums have been so far, under the right conditions and for the right watch, they could be topped.
On the other hand some of my most interesting and fun watches have come at the other end of the spectrum. I own at least 5 chronographs (five automatic, one manual wind, three Swiss three Japanese) that I have less than $200 into. They are great fun to wear, work great, keep good time and while you’d be sad if one of them broke or were stolen, it wouldn’t be as hard of a hit as if you suffered a loss on a nice Speedmaster/Carrera/IWC/Zenith. A lot of collectors are hung up on expensive brands and minty watches. The inexpensive watches with some usage marks are GREAT FUN! You don’t have to have big bucks to find cool and interesting watches to collect! You can have much more fun with a cheap beat-up old Jeep than you can in a brand new Range Rover.
Do you forget about rational ‘rules’ sometimes, when bidding or buying a watch you really like?
The only really fixed notion I have in my (likely less than) rational mind when I’m considering a watch is to consider how much money I have on my person, how much money I have in my various bank accounts, and how much money I can reasonably count on having in the near future.
As for my interests, for the most part, I’m very happy and content in a certain niche of chronographs… I like chronographs basically from within or near my life span, mainly of the middle to upper middle of the field when it comes to the quality level of Swiss brands. I don’t own a Rolex Daytona, but if I live long enough to accumulate the funds to purchase one of the models I like I would like to someday. Some brands you’ll never see me go for unless I win the lottery… I doubt you’ll ever see me wearing a AP, Lange, Bruget or Blancplan, UN or VC either. I like the looks of the Reverso so I won’t rule out a JLC, I like certain Universal Geneve’s although I only own a single Space-Compax. There always seems to be brands I can explore. There are also many lesser known and lesser appreciated and often underpriced brands that I find fascinating: Tissot, Zodiac, Certina, and even more obscure brands that many people haven’t discovered. Their loss…
Since I know you as one of the Speedmaster-meisters on the net, can you tell me what you think about the way Omega is heading?
Yes, you may. I think if I were to come up with a single word to describe Omega at this time it would be unfocused. In the past, even recent past they had specific product lines and particular niches for most, if not all of the models in that product line. Their approach was identify a niche and develop a product to fill that niche perfectly with a level of quality, dependability and supportability that we can easily attain and maintain with a level of service that takes people’s breath away.
In the past couple of years, Omega, with a number of other brands have been trying to reposition their brand to some extent… Breitling, TAG-Heuer, Zenith, are the names most people are familiar with. Each have gone about it a different way. For Breitling, they’ve sought to “add-value” by having all of their products pass C.O.S.C. testing. TAG-Heuer and Zenith are now both owned by LVMH. TAG is doing an interesting thing… They are growing both upscale and downscale. They now use an El-Primero base movement in some models of their chronographs, and they’ve reintroduced some F1 models to reestablish their entry level models. Zenith finished up supplying chronograph movements to Rolex, entered the US market and said “We supplied movements for Rolex, so our products are priced close to Rolex now” which has increased the values of Zeniths new and vintage. The latter doesn’t particularly make me happy as there are some models of El-Primero that I still seek.
Into this fierce higher competition steps Omega. Omega seems to have listened to people who have bemoaned “Omega doesn’t use their own movements” and with fellow Swatch Group division Fredric Piguet conceived of a new movement that they could claim is “an Omega Exclusive”. Which is fine if it functionality, usability, durability and reliability is on par with your existing product. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem the resulting c.33xx is.
So between trying to position the product upscale, and dealing with a dicey movement, Omega has come out with a slew of new models and variations that overlap so much that I honestly don’t think the customer can decide between them. I mean on the Speedmaster moonwatch line alone I had to create a table to explain all of the differences between Omega’s offerings within the Moonwatches…
There are 10 variations of the basic Moonwatch in Stainless Steel that have been/are/will soon be offered by Omega in the past 20 months or so. Add 3 more if you count Gold models, 3 more if you count Moonphase models in steel, another if you count the gold Moonphase, and if you want to go back to 1999 you can add the 30th Anniversary edition and the 1957 Re-Edition. Whew!
And this is just the moonwatch line!
Now we also have a slew of new Seamaster Chronographs, Railmaster Chronographs, DeVille Chronographs, Constellation Chronographs, Aqua Terra’s, Apnea’s, many of these broad product lines with many sub-lines that no one can keep straight or even find, other than they know Omega offers/offered ’em. And all of this, 80-90% of the non-moonwatch line that I mentioned in the previous sentence is prior to the slew of special editions that Omega has come out with… Schumacher special editions every time he wins a world championship (which puts the 1990’s Chicago Bulls to shame I’ll add), all of the Olympic Special Editions, the Ernie Els special edition Connie’s, etc.
I’m all for diversity, but there comes a point when it becomes ridiculous.
And the net effect is Omega painting themselves in a corner if one of those special editions becomes popular. Take for example the “Black Eyed/White Dialed” Speedmasters that have come out in special editions this past year… Towards the end of 2003 Omega made a Special run of 300 Black Sub-dial/White Dial Speedmasters for the Mitsukoshi department store chain. With such a small production run in Japan (there are no more rabid collectors anywhere) a sell out was guaranteed. Omega decided to make the 35th Anniversary Moonwatch have a very similar look, with the addition of “July 20, 1969” in red on the dial. This time with a limited edition run of 3500 units. The United States is going to be allocated 568 of these watches and Omega has 1,000 authorized dealers in the US. One dealer I know has the credit card numbers on file for ten of them. In other words when they receive shipment of these watches towards the end of the month if they get ten watches, they will immediately go out the door to waiting customers. If the store only gets one only one will go out. Supply will be very tight and if you want one and don’t have your name on a list already chances are you won’t be able to get one.
So here is a situation where Omega has a hot product, one it’s customers would love to get an example of, but they’ve already done two nearly identical models in limited production special editions! They can’t really release a general production version of this watch without seriously ticking off the collector community. Now granted, I don’t believe this basic look of watch is one Omega could expect to have enough sales of to make it a permanent addition to the product line for the next 15 or 25 years. But Omega could probably easily sell 10,000 or 20,000 of this basic watch annually for the next five years or more. Unless they’ve painted themselves in a corner with their special edition versions of this watch, like they have! The same thing with the Legend, the Olympic special editions… If one of them takes off, they may not be able to exploit the demand and sell watches to people who want them. This is not a company that is thinking ahead of the next quarter, the next Basel fair… At least from my perspective.
Thus, In a word, unfocused.
To use a computer analogy… in 1997 when Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computer after being deposed for 12 years Apple had between 15 and 18 product lines… With 6 months they had four: Pro/Consumer – Desktop/laptop… Today, six later… Apple has Five computer product lines: the same as before and a special model geared for Education. Five focused lines better serve Apple’s customer needs than 15 or 18 unfocused ones. It is that simple.
Don’t you think they have too many models around at the moment, to me it seems like they are going to make the same mistake as they did in the 1970s.
Yes, but not for the same reasons as the 1970’s…
I don’t think the problems that Omega had in the 1970’s were because of the many models they offered back then… The 1970’s were a different time and there were many other and different market forces involved. In a vast majority of the world the 1970’s were a time of economic turmoil, a time of vast changes in the market place. A switch from a high precision mechanics to high-technology electronics. The entire Swiss watch industry may not have been blind sided by the Quartz/Japanese invasion, but for the most part they were powerless to stop if. For the most part only Rolex in the middle range luxury brand landscape survived largely unchanged. Everyone else in this range either defaulted (Breitling, Gallet, many others) others significantly restructured or bought out (Omega, Heuer->TAG-Heuer), shrunk or simply disappeared. Omega’s strategy for survival was to have a lot of different irons (manual wind, automatics, quartz, tuning fork) in the fire so that they had their money on all horses. The problem they then had was they didn’t have enough in any one winning entrant.
The problem today is that there are so many other brands out there with similar products the way to really win new/repeat customers is to distinguish oneself with either better product, better quality/support or a better all around deal. Because Omega is concentrating on so many different models and sub-lines they are distracted enough that their quality control and customer support appears to be slipping very noticeably. And this was one of Omega’s strong suits not very long ago (5 years).
Is there a company who has a strategy you like best? Rolex for not changing a thing (only minor changes) through the years, or Blancpain for never making a quartz watch or Tag Heuer to reproduce the watches they made in the 60s (Monaco, Carrera etc.)?
[laughing] Let me run through the examples you give…
[Laughs] It always comes back to Rolex and Omega! There is a lot to be said about Rolex’s philosophy of sticking with the classics. There is a reason why the Model T, the VW Beetle, Jeep CJ, and Porsche 911 have been largely unchanged for many many years. Because like them or hate them they did something very well and people bought them because of that. I know I’d like to see Rolex be a little more experimental in nature, but I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up… I know Rolex offers a multitude of ways to customize their watches with different dials/bezels etc. But I can’t get a Chronograph with a date feature unless I go to a 1950’s model.
Blancpain… Quartz movements aren’t a sin. Nor are they anything to be ashamed to have produced. They serve a valid need for people and some are pretty cool. While I certainly have preferences, I don’t have problems with Quartz or electronic movements (Tuning Forks).
TAG-Heuer… Up until four or five years ago TAG had a strategy I liked… Survival. I hear people bemoan all the time how they like (the old) Heuers but hate TAG-Heuer. I’ve always been of the mind set regardless of how I’ve felt about the current TAG-Heuer line, I prefer a live TAG-Heuer to a dead and buried Heuer. I believe TAG has the right idea with the Classics line but I think the implementation can be improved. I’d like to see them develop close versions of the original, not some of the “manufactured” classics like the Monza which only shares the name of the original Monza. I’d like to see a Carrera re-edition featuring a manual wind version of a Zenith movement instead of an ETA/Dubois-Depraz piggyback model. With some of their new models and concepts though, in particular the Monaco V.4 and the Aquagraph 2000, that TAG-Heuer isn’t afraid to innovate on movements or with the state of the art of what a serious tool watch can be.
One firm that I frequently mention as one that I am very fond of is Ventura. They too are a niche player in the market place. They have one very defined niche: Bauhaus watch design that I just absolutely love. The only Ventura models I don’t like are some of the more recent garish gold and Diamond encrusted models which I feel break the Bauhaus mold. What I like about their designs is that they are so striking and beautiful they are going to still look modern and beautiful in 30 years. They are timeless. (I moved this paragraph/answer up one question… This is where it belongs)
How about the road that independent watch companies like Sinn, Tutima, Fortis, Bell&Ross, Chronoswiss take, to name a few?
All of the firms you mention have a perceived market niche and work hard to keep their products great standard bearers for that niche. Of the ones you mention, I personally group the first four: Sinn, Bell & Ross, Tutima and Fortis together a lot… In fact I sometimes call them the four little Germanic firms… Sinn has obvious German roots, Bell & Ross were essentially re-branded Sinn up until the introduction of the Space three about five years back. Tutima is German, and the Fortis product line and reason to be is so close to the other three it seems natural to group them together. Of those four Bell & Ross is the only brand I don’t own an example of.
Chronoswiss is another interesting brand that has a narrow prescribed niche in which it operates in and sticks with it. I love their products, very pretty and a wonder to look at, I hope some day to own one some day. But they aren’t my typical “big and bold, rough and rugged watch” fare.
Your preferences for chronograph movements is probably no secret, you like the Lemania movements best,
hmmm…. Yeah I guess. I like Lemania’s a lot, probably best too.
especially the out-of-production Lemania 5100 movement.
I do have a fondness for that model, more so than many collectors, but there are other very strong 5100 fans out there.
What are you thoughts on Lemania movements in general (i.e. Omega/Lemania caliber 321, 861, 1861, 1040, Lemania 134x, Lemania 5100)?
Let me run through them in order too…
c.321: A beautiful classic chronograph movement (along with the 27 CHRO c12, it’s predecessor). A beautiful movement to behold, neither the Valjoux 72 series nor the Zenith HP146 movements (both fine movements) are as handsome as this movement. Tough as nails, has the column wheel instead of the c.861’s lever-cam arrangement. Now, while 99 out of 100 chronograph collectors will tell you that they prefer the Column Wheel and the looks of an arched bridge, in terms of function there is little if any difference in actual day to day usage in my experience. This, I’m easy going on the Column-Wheel/Lever-Cam question.
c.861 Family: Remember there are a number of variants of this movement. If Omega replaced the c.321 with anyone else, people would have descended on Bienne with torches and pitchforks. Every bit as tough s the c.321, easier to manufacture, higher beat movement, not as pretty as the c.321. Some people have accused me of having a preference for the c.321 in the past. I like them both. Both are great movements. c.1861… I’m odd that for some reason, I personally prefer silvery colored watches (Steel and Titanium) but I prefer gilt plated (Gold colored) movements. I can’t explain why but I do. Aside from the color Rhodium is a superior material for plating watch movements [full stop].
c.1040/c.1041 (Lemania 1342): Kinda the odd man out in Lemania’s chronograph lineup. It has an odd “common-axial” subdial at 9 o’clock that leads to a asymmetrical subdial layout that is, well… Odd. Hard to get used to, especially if you’re used to the 5100 or Valjoux 7750 layouts. However, when you look at the movement in comparison to the 5100 the 1040/1041 is has a much nicer look and better level of finish than any 5100 I’ve seen save for the Alain Silberstein models. A very nice movement that is frequently lost in the shuffle because of it’s odd dial-layout. Aside from the odd subdial layout the one thing I really don’t care for on this base movement is the “quick change” date feature… On the c.134x models, it seems to have a heavy “camming” motion to the quick change, while on the 5100 and Valjoux 7750 it’s a light crisp “snick-snick” feel to the action. I only have one of the c.1341 model Lemania’s in a Wakmann perpetual calendar model. I haven’t been particularly impressed with the Wakmann’s performance. Perhaps I’ll sample a Tissot c.1341 in the future.
Lemania 5100: The “AK-47” of chronograph movements: accurate, dependable, reliable, can take punishment that no other watch can survive and keeps on ticking. Certainly not the prettiest movement in the world, or the most elegant of operation, but provides a multitude of information in the easiest to read layout of any watch with so complex of a feature set.
You didn’t mention a couple of movements RJ, so I will… Valjoux 7750 family…
Correct, it was left out by purpose, since I am personally not very fond about it 🙂
Hmmm… Besides it’s commonality is there any particular reason why you don’t like it? I’m curious…
I also think it is not a very interesting movement to discuss, because like the non-chronograph ETA2892-A2 movement, it is very common. And quality wise it is probably a great movement, as it has proven itself over the years in a diversity of watch brands like Omega, IWC, Breitling, Sinn, Chronoswiss and a whole lot of other brands. However, I think the competition, like the Lemania 5100 is just more interesting.
I suppose I can see that. I’m not a big fan of the Chevy small-block V-8 (I’m a Ford sort of guy) but even I admit that the Chevy is sound, a good design and the choice of many.
My personal ‘against’ the 7750 is the free spinning direction of this movement, the wobble it gives on the wrist doesn’t feel ‘good’ for me. Anyway, at least one watch on my want-list is a Valjoux 7750 driven Panerai, so it is absolutely not the case that I don’t want to own a 7750.
[Laughs] Danger RJ Broer DANGER! this is where the trouble starts, and the next thing you know you have handful’s of them. Like a peanut, it’s hard to stop after just having one.
However, feel free to talk about the 7750..
[Smiles] Ok, If the 5100 is the AK-47 of chronograph movements, the 7750 is the Swiss Army knife of chronograph movements. I’ll run out of digits to count variations on before Swatch Group runs out of variations of this ubiquitous movement. While personally I prefer the 5100 for durability, ease of reading (that center chronograph minute hand again), and 24-Hour register, I also am fond of the 7750. Recently I purchased a Katun limited production run of the Sinn 144 GMT which has a GMT complication of the Valjoux 7750 and I really REALLY like that watch. If you are looking for a great full featured watch that has all the bells and whistles (but you can’t get a 5100) the Sinn 144 GMT is a candidate worth considering. I know that nearly as many people in the “Haute Horology” crowd look down their collective noses at the 7750 as the Lemania 5100. Admittedly this is about the most common chronograph movement out there these days. But some movement has to be. It’s a good solid movement, perhaps not the easiest or most exciting movement to service, but it gives a lot of bang for the buck and is a strong performer. I don’t feel the 7750 family is as easy to read quickly or able to endure as much abuse as a 5100, but aside from those things it does everything else well in my book.
And then we have the piggybacking chronograph movements, the ETA/Dubois-Depraz movements. I handled a few, amongst them a Speedmaster Automatic. I never heard much complaints (except for accuracy, which is more or less different per movement of course) on these piggybacking movements. How do you look at these movements?
I suspect that my experience mirror’s yours… I hear good things from owners about it being a good performer (timekeeping and operation), and I hear the other side (the chronograph module is a bear to work on and most watchmakers won’t touch the module and will pitch and replace to the tune of $150 in cost). As I don’t usually go for smaller chronographs I haven’t felt compelled to own one. The other thing that bothers me about the Reduced (and hence other watches with this movement) is the swapping of the minute and small seconds on the dial. I’m sure it would be something I could get used to, but it must be like using a left-handed pair of sissors if you’re a righty, it just seems odd.
On the larger issue of “Piggy-Back” vs. “ground-up” chronographs, I guess I don’t have a big problem with Piggy-Back movements. I have a slew of Micro-Rotor chronographs (Heuer, Hamilton as well as Chrono-sport and even a Bulova “Parking Meter” Bullhead) as well as a couple of Heuer/TAG-Heuer’s with the LWO 283 movement which features an ETA 2890 or ETA 2892 base timekeeping movement with a Lemania made piggyback chronograph movement. I’ve found the LWO’s are excellent performers and I like them even though their subdial’s have a different layout than the Lemania 7750. And of course there are the Tuning fork Chronographs I own which also have a piggy-back arrangement on a Tuning fork movement.
I guess to sum up, I think I’d recommend people stick with a “purpose-made” chronograph to start out unless a particular model really excites them. They can always explore piggybacks as they coutinue their collecting journey.
The Omega c.33xx movement (c.3303, c.3313, and c.3301)… This subject is one that I’ve probably spent more time on and experienced more contention than any other since I started collecting watches. A couple of years back Omega announced with much fanfare that they were going to be releasing a new chronograph using a movement codeveloped with Frederic Piguet. Piguet had developed and sold to some higher end brands a movement called the c.1185. The new Omega-Piguet movement was a new movement incorporating many of the features that the 1185 possessed but was to be a new movement. Omega came out with the watches and a bunch of people jumped on the “in-house movement” (a bit of a misnomer, it’s an Omega Exclusive, but in-house could be, and has been, debated) bandwagon and bought one. At the time I urged people be cautious because there were frequently problems with new movements and it seemed to me to make sense to hold off purchase for a year, maybe two to see if there were any problems with the movement.
It didn’t take long, but the first reports of problems started coming in… … and they continued to come in, and have kept on coming in, and while we are in a lull currently (about 6 weeks since we’ve heard of a new problem) we have come to expect a new problem report every couple of weeks.
A TZ Omega Forum regular was kind enough to post a service bulletin that detailed four main problems with these movements.
To sum up there are some parts that these movements were shipped with that have since been revised to correct problems that were discovered after these watches were delivered to dealers and customers. While Omega says they have taken steps to correct these issues, it is at the very least debatable if they are enough for a firm who wishes to keep the kind of customer relation rapport they have enjoyed in the past.
I feel the c.33xx has potential, but unfortunately, thus far, it hasn’t lived up to expectations that people had for it. Omega/Piguet may be able to overcome the problems they’ve experienced in time, but they have a ways to go… There is more they could be doing to minimize this issue from a dealer and from a customer standpoint.
I recently had an email conversation with Jean-Michael the owner of both lemania5100.net and navitimer.net and this is how I summed up my feelings on the c.33xx movement:
Thus far, it’s been my observation that the c.33xx is the antithesis of the 5100… Where the c.33xx is beautiful, the 5100 is comparatively crude and where the c.33xx is sophisticated, the 5100 is basic. However, where the 5100 is dependable, the c.33xx has been flaky and where the 5100 is rugged, the c.33xx is fragile.
That is my impression of the c.33xx movement family based on what I’ve seen.
Have you ever seen a Lemania movement used in Patek Philippe watches seen up close & personal?
I’ve only had quick glimpses of Patek’s and never had an opportunity to closely examine the movement.
What did you think of it, did it gave you a thrill?
They are nice watches, but they are really out of my interest sphere. It would be like me looking at vintage Bugatti’s, they are so outside my interest sphere, I can appreciate their beauty on a certain level, but my tastes are more blue collar than white tie and tails.
And the size… aside from the fact that they are a bit ‘vintage Bugatti’, and thus with ditto price tag, they are small!!
Well the price tags are certainly anything but small! The are really outside my serious interest sphere, and as such while I’ll give them a glance in a display case, they won’t get much other scrutiny. On the other hand, even though I’m not exactly going to me mistaken for a jockey being John Candy sized as I am, I have bought some smaller chronographs the past couple of years. A Bucherer, a couple of Tissot’s and a couple of Tourneau’s that are on the smaller side (smaller than a 1960’s Seamaster or Carrera) and they are nice watches and great to wear as a change of pace.
Back to the Valjoux-series, are you fond of the older Valjoux movements, like the Valjoux 72 family?
Yes, I am. I own a number of Valjoux 72’s as well as the many variations: v.721 (Seafarer), v.723 (triple-date), several c.724’s (GMT Complication), c.726 (Improved c.72), and a c.728 (single register with a center pinion chronograph minute counter (similar to the Lemania 5100 and 1341/2) and the v.88 (triple-date Moonphase. A very good solid movement. I don’t feel it is as pretty as the Lemania 321 but it’s very nice, more variation in features. The Valjoux has a number of very long and delicate levers that the Lemania either doesn’t have or are shorter or much thicker, which contribute to the Lemania’s reputation for robust movements that can take punishment well. BTW, for those who are interested the v.727 refers to the Rolex version of the Valjoux 72 typically.
I’ve said in the past, and drawn the ire of some moonwatch fans, when I’ve said I’m not comfortable blaming the 72 for the failure of Rolex and Longines in the NASA astronaut watch tests. One can’t easily lay the blame for the disqualification of the Longines-Wittnauer (popped crystal) and Rolex (warped hands) competitors for the NASA testing at the feet of the Valjoux 72 because their failures were non-movement related issues. We may never know if, say, a Omega manufactured v.72 might have been able to have pass the NASA tests.
As for Zenith, you have a few El Primero driven watches,
A few. I received one between parts 1 and 2 of this conversation.
what do you think about this movement quality wise?
I think in terms of technical design it’s still the high water mark. Manufacture quality… It’s the equal of anyone else’s work in my opinion.
Is the movement hyped do you think,
Certainly it’s acclaimed, in my opinion for good reason. Hyped? Perhaps, but not over hyped. I mean no other movement in mass production can do what it does, and it has done it for 35 years now.
or does it really live up to its quality-image on the several watchfora?
I feel it does, and I feel many other people would feel the same way.
Let me put it this way. How many Omega fans would line up to buy a moonwatch equipped with an El-Primero movement, how many Breitling owners? IWC? I think the line would go out the door.
Rolex used the Zenith El Primero movement for a while in their Daytona.
Yes, and they labored for a number of years to develop their own in-house movement. A move I applaud. That’s a significant investment in resources and faith that the ends will justify the means.
Why would Rolex have downgraded the bph to 28800 instead of maintaining the 36000 bph and did some more changes in construction (like the escapement and balance), to maintain a certain quality in their Daytona models?
My knowledge of Rolex’s motives is probably at the competent guessing level. But it’s been my observation that Rolex prefers tradition, durability and ease of servicing over other considerations when there is a conflict. So they fine-tuned the movement to their tastes. No different than Carroll Shelby making changes in the GT-40’s he was supplied in Ford’s quest to win LeMans in the 1960’s. A watch beating at 28,800 is not going to need service as frequently or as exotic of lubricants as Zenith uses in it’s tune of the El-Primero.
An aside: I read a post in a Rolex forum this morning where someone posted the papers for a Bond Sub they had just acquired… The text of the service center page illustrates well Rolex’s mindset:
OIL CHANGE EVERY 7000 MILES
The rim of a balance wheel travels 7000 miles in 18 months. That’s time for an oil change. Every year to 18 months take your watch to an official Rolex servicing agent for oiling and cleaning, and if it’s an Oyster, a waterproof check.
Rolex owners are known for using their watches the way an adventurer would use a Land Rover. Zenith has a different market segment it prefers. You’ll notice the near complete lack of sports models in Zeniths more recent product lineups. Sport’s models: Sub’s, GMT’s, ‘Dwellers, Daytona’s are Rolex’s bread and butter.
What is your opinion on servicing chronograph watches? You have quite a few vintage chronograph watches, and ‘specialties’ as well (Speedmaster (Pro) caliber 321 models,
Well, certainly not just c.321’s on the Speedmasters… I have some Seamasters too.
Breitling Navitimer ref. 806, Zenith El Primero). Maintaining these watches isn’t cheap, have you got a schedule for this, or do you only service the pieces who get regular ‘wristtime’?
I inspect virtually all of my watches under high-magnification upon receipt. If the watch looks clean and lubricated properly (damp in the right places, but not dry or wet), I’ll wear them, testing for function, accuracy and reliability. If I have any doubts I’ll take/send it to one of four people I’ve sought out and trust. Two of the fellows are Chicagoland local for me, one is in New England, the other in the greater Toronto Canada metroplex. Baring them I’ll send it to the factory or an authorized service center.
I do keep my watches in a safe climate controlled location with adequate heating/cooling humidity controls to keep the watches happy. And remember that with very few exceptions most of my watches get very scarce wrist time. So they don’t get a lot of wear. If I haven’t worn a watch in a long time and it’s turn is up, I’ll wind it up, give it a whirl and if I have any cause to suspect something amiss I’ll inspect and deal with it.
Aside from that I’m working to establish a regular schedule for my watches to get at least a clean and lube every couple of years. I’m not entirely there yet, and it is far from automatic, but that’s the long term plan.
Back to a more general point of view on watches and the watch business. Can you give me a quick thought on the Swiss watch industry, the German watch industry and the Japanese watch industry?
I’m not going to take these in order… But, hmmm…
Japanese watch industry… I think there was a time where they were incredibly innovative and aggressive in the marketplace, being among the first to develop an automatic chronograph movement, an early adopter of LED and LCD quartz technology, as well as realizing the benefits of analog quartz offerings, then for the most part they rested on their laurels for a while evolving instead of innovating. The past couple of years I’ve seen some really interesting ideas and things coming from Seiko and Citizen (especially) as well as Casio and even Timex. I’ve long said that one would be hard pressed to find a better deal “bang for the buck” than a Casio G-Shock watch. It’s good to see some of the nifty new things, both technological and quality wise on the Japanese front.
The German brands… I’m going to assume you mean the German brands we were talking about earlier…
Well, I meant the German watch industry in general, which includes A. Lange & Söhne, Glashuette Original, Nomos etc.
For the most part these brands are outside my usual interest sphere. I admire the quality and inventiveness of their movement and configurations. They watches each create are technological a tour-de-force. However with these three they aren’t going to be mistaken for tool watches. I will say that I personally consider Nomos to be one of the hidden gems of the watch industry. They make beautiful watches at a reasonable cost and every owner I’ve ever talked to has been thrilled with their purchase.
As for the German “Tool Watch” brands… The big problem they face is the supply of ebauches. Which involves the Swiss watch industry… Up until a couple of years ago all four of these brands: Sinn, Bell & Ross, Tutima and Fortis were heavily dependent on the Lemania 5100. Bell & Ross started transitioning about the same time they were cutting their ties with Sinn, and seem to be completely 7750 based. Sinn still has a few 5100 models available but they are getting scarce, and once they are gone… They are gone. Fortis started transitioning after Bell & Ross and with the exception of a limited edition B-42 is completely over to the 7750. Which leaves Tutima… I really don’t know what Tutima’s plans are. They are probably the smallest of these brands in terms of size and sales. It’s possible they have a surplus of 5100’s and can continue production for the time being and perhaps into the future. But sooner or later they too will have to switch to something.
A moment of rage here for the 5100… It’s a shame that Swatch either with intent or neglect is putting the 5100 out to pasture. The reasons aren’t because the watch is a failure, or unpopular or there is a lack of demand for it, but rather it isn’t pretty in the opinion of the watch movement appreciation society and no one within Swatch or Lemania is interested in putting their wing over it and protecting it. It’s a fine movement, a better performer than many of it’s replacements (c.33xx among them) are. If Swatch, or Lemania can’t be bothered to make it, then license it or sell it off like they did the LWO 283 movement to Dubois-Depraz! There aren’t a huge number of automatic-chronograph movements around that watch firms can use to make watches. We need more choices not fewer. If I ever win the lottery maybe I’ll approach Swatch.
The Swiss watch industry… The biggest cloud on the horizon for the Swiss watch industry is Swatch’s decision to stop supplying base ebauches to anyone willing to pay for them. I forget the exact date, but in the near future, Swatch will only sell assembled movements to non-Swatch group firms. I understand and empathize with their situation… Unscrupulous groups have been purchasing base movements and making convincing replicas out of them. But what does this mean to firms using them? Higher costs for movements they incorporate into their watches. What does that mean to the customer? Higher prices. With the exception of Rolex, Zenith, some of the high-end manufacturers, all of whom make their own movements, and of course Swatch Group companies themselves this means they either have to pay Swatch Group for their reluctance to support the Swatch/ETA movement conglomerate, find a new movement supplier, or make their own. Will this cause a flurry of movement development among non-Swatch firms? Perhaps for simpler movements, less likely for chronographs. Which I believe for most firms and for consumers expect prices to rise significantly in the next couple of years. On the other hand, the global economy, which had been in something of a funk ever since the “Asian Contagion” of the higher prices without difficulty. Hard to say.
I also think that some of the Watch conglomerates will continue to cherry pick independent firms to add to their portfolio. With some of the firms we’ve mentioned going up stream in the niche market place I can see “the bigs” looking for other firms, set up and ready to go to fill in the areas that those firms have started to neglect. Wittnauer, Waltham, Oris, Limes, Glycine, Revue Thommen among others might be good candidates with followings, enough heritage and fame to be valued additions.
Are you aware of the “new” Dutch watch company called Van der Gang, which is besides Christiaan van der Klaauw our own watch company in The Netherlands?
While I’ve heard of Christiaan van der Klaauw, I was unfamiliar with Van der Gang. I guess I have to do some Google searching! This is why I consider myself a student of the topic at hand. For I’m always learning new things.
What do you think about their chronograph and the fact that their influences are very obvious (IWC Portugieser Chronograph)?
I have no problems with people making their own interpretation of the “classics”, but I don’t think it’s very bright for an unknown to make a copy with a movement that is likely as common as dirt, add little value and charge the same price. I love “Poor-Man’s” interpretations, I am not likely to fall for no-name copies at the same price.
Do you like the IWC Portugieser line any way, as a chronograph-nut?
I think the Portugieser line is an interesting line/watch and very very beautiful. I am not as big of a fan as many people are because I’m an hour-register sort of guy and I feel a chronograph lacking an hour register is of limited utility. I own several Porsche-Design/IWC Chronographs which I am very fond of. I wish they were still available new and still easily findable used at reasonable prices.
Ironically of the current IWC models the one I really like the most is the Da Vinci line. I think the Da Vinci (either the original or the Rattrapante) in Gold is the ultimate dress watch… In fact one I’ve heard my Ed. Heuer & Co. 125th Jubilee chronograph likened to a “Little Da Vinci”, and if you look at the “Small Da Vinci” you can see why…
Reference 3736 from IWC. The small Da Vinci in 18 ct. yellow gold with brown crocodile leather strap.
Ed. Heuer & Co. 125th Jubilee (1985) Chronograph
Thanks for answering my questions Chuck, and I hope we can continue having these ‘public’ conversations in the future. We still left some subjects untouched!
Unfortunately, we kept it at these two interviews (merged them together for today) for the time being. The content of the interview might be dated at some levels and not up to standard as I would do it now, but it was certainly fun to work on with Chuck Maddox. To honor my watch friend, I will be wearing my Omega Seamaster Professional Titanium diver all day.
This is one of the watches that was in his daily rotation programme and one of the ‘modern’ watches he liked very much. Thanks to Bill Sohne who brought this type of watch to my attention again last year in New York, bought one right after we discussed it.
Ever since he was a young child, Robert-Jan was drawn to watches, even though it were digital Casio and quartz Swatch models at the time. In the mid-1990s, his interest increased when he started to read about mechanical watches in... read more