Often times the unsung heroes of the watch industry are the movement manufacturers. Not every brand has the capacity to create in-house movements (or dials, cases, bracelet for that matter). This is when a movement manufacturer comes into play. As you know the largest companies these days catering for the whole industry are ETA (company of Swatch Group), Sellita and Seiko. Of course, many other brands offer calibers from Switzerland, Japan Germany and a bunch of various other countries. Brands outsourcing movements, however, is not a new thing. It has been going on since the beginning of times. Just think of the early Panerai watches which had Rolex movements inside them. To stay with Rolex, we have all seen the prices of the so-called “Zenith Daytonas” (Rolex Daytonas with a Zenith El Primero chronograph movement) skyrocketing in recent years. Those Zenith movements were also used by Ebel and Movado for example, but we’ve also seen them in watches from TAG Heuer and (again) Panerai.
Some vintage watches on the market are hotter than others simply because of the movement inside them. Zenith bi-compax chronographs that the Yugoslavian Air Force used has an Excelsior Park movement inside them. The watch looks nothing extraordinary; a nice large 37mm case, steel, black dial chronograph. Collectors love them though – partly – for what’s inside the case. Early Speedmasters have the Omega caliber 321 inside. If you are a frequent reader of Fratello – or a vintage Omega fan in general – you probably know that the 321 is a Lémania (caliber 2310) movement. The Swiss movement manufacturer was among the top companies to create calibers for various brands. Aside from that, they released their own watches under their company name; Lémania. Most of the timepiece shared cases, dials (aside from the logo) and, most importantly, movement with Tissot and Omega. Today’s watch is one such example, the Lémania ref. 174 vintage chronograph.
In 1930 Tissot and Omega formed a union and established SSIH as in Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (Swiss Association for the Watchmaking Industry). This assemblage was the base that would become the Swatch Group many years later. Their objective was to help each other’s business and through that improve their own. Lémania would join SSIH two years later, in 1932. Lemania was established in 1884 by Alfred Lugrin. The company bore his name, Lugrin SA, until 1930 when his son-in-law Marius Meylan renamed it to Lémania Watch Co. They did not only make movements but watches as well under their own name. The agreement between Omega, Tissot, and Lémania was that the latter would supply movements to the first two. Omega would aim for the luxury segment and Tissot would stay in the mid segment. Movements would come from Lémania which could also make and brand their own watches.
And now we finally arrive at my Lémania ref. 174 tri-compax vintage chronograph. As is the case of many vintage watches, this is no beast either in terms of size. The case measures exactly 35mm, excluding the crown. The lug tip to lug tip length is 41.6mm which allows the watch to have a very proportioned look on the wrist. My wrist is 7.5” so anything below 36mm looks a bit small on me. When I got the watch, I put it on a vintage beads-of-rice bracelet. While the look was great, on my wrist it felt like I was wearing a lady’s watch. So, I went back to a leather strap (18mm lug size). What a difference a strap can make. By the way, Tissot and Omega also used the same case back in the days. You can recognize them by the same pump pushers and large crown.
So much so that I even saw Tissot chronographs with the same ref. 174 as my Lémania has. I have an Omega ref. CK 2451, a chronograph, that collectors are surely familiar with. It is a watch we can associate with a number of air forces and other aeronautical associations. That Omega has the exact same case, sword hands and, obviously, movement as my watch. The case is simple, steel without any crazy beveling (other than one decorative line of the lugs). The lugs are drilled, a common practice of the times that makes the strap changing super easy. Screw-in case back with no inscription on the outside but the reference number (Lémania ref. 174) on the inside as well as the inscription of the manufacturer, “Lémania Watch Co, Swiss”.
27 CHRO C12
Inside my Lémania ref. 174 lies the legendary tri-copax caliber 27 CHRO. It served as a base for Omega’s equally legendary caliber 321 (as we wrote here) as well as many other movements. The official designation is 27 (referring to the diameter of the movement in millimeters) CHRO (for chronograph) C12 (for 12-hour recorder). The 27 CHRO had many different caliber designations (based on the movement’s features) the most used is probably the name “caliber 2520”. This would refer to a 27 CHRO movement with Inca bloc and 12-hour totalizator (C12). The movement itself is a 17-Jewel, manual wind chronograph caliber. It has about 44 hours of power reserve and 18.000vph. The Lémania ref. 174, as well as every other 27 CHRO watch, should have 3 sub dials. At 3 the 30-minute counter, at 6 o’clock the 12-hour and at 9 o’clock you can find the continuous seconds subdial.
We already talked a bit about the dial layout above. For a rather small dial the Lémania ref. 174 has a lot going on. Other than the three subdials (two for the chronograph, one for the seconds) the dial also has a tachymeter scale. Since my Lémania is coming from the US market (like the import code on the movement suggests; BOL standing for Bernard S. Lipmann as the importer) the measurement of the scale is in miles and not kilometers. This is often the case with US market vs. European market watches. The Lemania logo is under 12 o’clock with almost all 12 numerals on the dial covered in radium. Only 3-6-9 are missing due to the subdials. My Lémania’s dial developed a beautiful almost even brown tone, some might call tropical. I’m fairly sure the base color of the dial used to be white.
Small chronographs like the Lémania ref. 174 were not that popular until a few years ago. You could pick one up for a fairly low price. Nowadays with the vintage market booming, they tend to fetch a higher price. For obvious reasons, Omega models are the most expensive and while Tissots are more common, Lémania models started to catch up in prices due to their relative rarity. If you have a smaller wrist or the watch’s size doesn’t bother you, it’s a nice watch to have. The movement inside is not only legendary but also bulletproof. My watch probably comes from the 1940s which were the most years for these timepieces. Later on, larger models came to the market. This Lémania ref. 174 however with its drilled lugs, aged dial and blued hands is as elegant as a vintage chronograph gets.