#TBT: Meylan Chronograph
If you’ve never heard of a Meylan Chronograph, don’t be ashamed because up until recently, I hadn’t either! Well, I had never seen or heard of one until a few months ago when Andreas of LocalTime showed me something he had just found. It didn’t take long for me to decide I wanted it in my collection, but I had quite a wait on my hands as the watch had to travel from the USA and go through quite an extensive “spa treatment”. When the watch finally arrived, it was worth the patience because it’s really a fascinating chronograph. Of course, when you’re looking at a piece from a brand that’s essentially unheard of, some archaeological research is on order. In today’s #TBT on the Meylan Chronograph, we’ll take a brief look at the brand, the watch, and finally the restoration.
The Meylan Chronograph…digging for clues
When looking up the name “Meylan” in reference to watchmaking, it’s almost akin to looking up Smith in the UK or USA or Mueller in Germany. Yes, the name is prevalent and seems attached to all sorts of old registered names. There’s even a tie to Baume et Mercier, but my digging struggled to find a solid connection to anything in particular. What I did find out is that a Meylan family member from Switzerland ultimately moved to the USA – New York City to be exact – and began importing various timing devices for the local market. Well, in a search for clues, I looked at some pictures of the Meylan Chronograph before its restoration and I noticed “Meylan Stopwatch Corp.” on both the inside case back and the bridge of the movement. A quick web search brought me to the website of the Meylan Corporation that is now located in New Jersey just across the border from New York City. It states that the company was founded in 1921.
A quick glance at Meylan’s site shows all sorts of imported, private brand labeled timing implements for everything from timing horse races, machines and workplace productivity. I’ll mention a bit about that last purpose, workplace productivity, because it strikes a chord. My grandfather, during his career, worked primarily in the garment industry in the Northeast of the USA. During his lifetime, many employees were paid for piecework, but that didn’t stop companies from measuring and deciding on appropriate amounts of time for each step of a production process. Stopwatches were often used for timing and it all comes together because, upon my grandfather’s passing, I received a few older Minerva stopwatches that he likely used on the job. So, getting back to Meylan, it seems that they were a big supplier of timing whatever during the heyday of manufacturing in the USA. In fact, I decided to contact them about the Meylan Chronograph to ask if they could provide some history on this watch, but sadly they had no information. So, instead, you’re left with my theory on the genesis of this watch.
My theory on the history of the Meylan Chronograph isn’t so far-fetched. Quite simply, I’m guessing that Meylan ordered this watch from one of the several contacts in Switzerland that were already building stopwatches for them. While Meylan did not seem to offer many watches over their lifetime (@watchfred owns a non-bezel version), I suppose it was a niche offering that went along with offering other timing implements for things like races, etc. The fact that the watch looks like it’s from the late 60’s makes it a perfect fit for many of the activities that were popular at the time. To expand on that, let’s take a closer look at the dial and note that the outer ring, in red, measures something called “decimal time”.
Decimal Time on the Meylan Chronograph
On the simple end, decimal time breaks a day into 10 decimal hours where each hour contains 100 decimal minutes and each minute contains 100 seconds. Confused? Well, I was too, but it turns out that this method of calculating time is older than what we know as standard time (not universally accepted until roughly 1847!!!) and it’s still commonly used in activities such as aviation, accounting (perhaps used in those piecework calculations), and in science. I’m absolutely truncating the purpose for decimal time usage, but it seems that the best part of it is that it doesn’t require the translation of standard time (uses a base of 60) into base 10. It’s a simple way of displaying time (meaning 4 ½ minutes is actually 4 minutes 50 seconds, not 4 minutes 30 seconds), but I suppose it all depends on where you’re using it and why. Interestingly, this did finally bring home the purpose of the Gallet Decimal that I’ve come across from time to time in various forums. Also, it should be noted that this red ring is the only part of the watch that relates to its decimal capabilities – the watch doesn’t record minutes in decimal form.
Before we get into the aesthetic qualities of the Meylan Chronograph, I want to discuss one other oddity about this watch. When I received the piece from Andreas, I gave it a close inspection and immediately noticed a Zodiac crown. Now, I’ve purchased a number of old watches with what I presume as wrong crowns, but they’re rarely signed – they’re usually the wrong shape – and typically not with a brand name that’s fairly desirable. I chalked it up to a watchmaker who, along the way, just used whatever he had that was stainless steel. Not so fast, though… I started looking at the case and what I found, via more searching is that the Meylan uses the same exact case – well, aside from pusher location due to different movement usage – as the Zodiac Sea Chron. So, do I think that Zodiac may have made this watch or it was made wherever Zodiacs were made? I think there’s a chance and that’s pretty cool in itself. To be fair, I’ve seen 2-3 other exampples of this watch in varying condition and the crowns have been plain, so who knows. Is it archaeology? You betcha…
So, now that I’ve gone complete nerd on you, what are we looking at with the Meylan Chronograph? What attracted me from the get-go was the fact that this is a triple-register chronograph in white with a rotating bezel. If you’ve read my other #TBT articles, or scroll through the headers of articles, you will see a very strong preference for this style. I know of very few white dialed, rotating bezel pieces aside from the Gallet Multichron Pilot and a Universal Geneve with Venus 178. That was one factor and the other was the beautifully aged ghost (I hate that hackneyed term) bezel. It’s aluminum, fairly soft as noted by the wear, and nicely detailed with its lume pip at 12:00. This feature also reminds me a lot of the one found on the Zenith/Movado 146 Super Sub Seas. Lastly, coming back to the dial, there’s a heck of a lot of detail to be found. Check out those amazing “torch” applied indices – they’re even tailored to fit so as not to overhang the subdials. Then, look at the applied “12”; it’s unique and of very high quality. The main hands are well designed and the minutes hand, especially, looks great with its slender tip. Finally, kudos are in order for Meylan, or whoever designed this, for keeping the nomenclature down to just the brand name. There’s no “Incabloc”, “17 jewels” or anything else; it’s all very purposeful, which is very rare for a brand that really has no reputation in wristwatches.
I mentioned the case of the Meylan Chronograph and the fact that it is shared with a Zodiac. It is fully stainless steel, comes in at roughly 38.5mm in diameter and features a practical 20mm lug width. The case back is screw-down. Interestingly, instead of housing a Valjoux 72 as in the case of the Zodiac, the Meylan utilizes a Lemania 1873. Omega fans – or fans of this site – should recognize this as being the same as the Omega 861 calibre used in, you guessed it, the Speedmaster Professional amongst others. The 1873 was released in 1968 per Chuck Maddox’s site, so that puts the age of this watch somewhere after that – I’ll guess around 1970 if I look at the heart of Zodiac Sea Chron production. It’s a workhorse movement that features a cam-lever instead of a column wheel. Yes, that makes the Meylan a bit more economical, but it’s a workhorse.
I mentioned that this Meylan Chronograph had quite the journey before ultimately landing on my wrist. It’s a tale of tenacity by Andreas Gregoriades and it’s not uncommon of the lengths that he’ll go to in order to fix or restore a watch. This piece was found on eBay in the sad condition above. The dial, missing a lot of its detail, would have turned me off immediately, but Andreas is patient. This time, though, he didn’t have to wait long as a friend alerted him to a NOS dial on sale within a forum or site in the USA. He snapped both up and the pieces slowly made their way to Cyprus. Upon arrival, Andreas sent the watch and dial to Athens to Dimitris Tsapalos, his trusty watchmaker of choice, for repair.
When the watch was opened up, it was a bit of a mess as there was obviously some water intrusion and the grease had congealed into something downright disgusting. Thankfully, though, the 1873 is truly a resilient little engine and it came back to life under a skilled watchmaker. Once it was finished, the Meylan shipped back to Cyprus, but not before getting waylaid due to a Greek Postal strike. Finally, it ended up with me and I was really awed upon opening it.
As you can imagine, it wears beautifully and works with a lot of different straps. As of this writing, I have it on a crownandbuckle one-piece Horween Chromexcel strap. It looks great, and with 20mm lugs, I’ll be trying all sorts of things over time. By the way, if I didn’t say it, well done to Andreas for putting this Meylan Chronograph back together with all the right parts; it would have been a shame to see this watch waste away into oblivion.
There’s not much to say on buying a Meylan Chronograph such as this because they come up so rarely. Bloomberg recently featured an article on this exact model and the watch sold quickly at HQ Milton for what I’d assume was near the nearly $3,000 asking price. Aside from that, there’s a piece on eBay out of Hong Kong for $2,999 with some spotting/water damage on the dial. I did see older pieces offered for far less in old for sale ads, but these were well over a year old and these are likely gone. Finding a dial was lucky for this watch, but I’d steer clear of Meylan’s with missing cosmetic pieces, as they can’t be overly common. The movement, on the other hand, is highly repairable. I’d assume somewhere in the range of $2,500 – 3,500 for this watch in nice condition. On the one hand, that’s not inexpensive for a watch with a relatively commonplace movement and ne that lacks brand appeal, but I think you’d agree that the looks and rarity up the desirability quotient. With pieces like this, I think they fall under the “if you want it and it looks good to you, you go for it” category.
I hope today’s #TBT on the Meylan Chronograph proved interesting. As always, I’m interesting in learning more about the subject of the article, so feel free to comment and prove or disprove my various theories. If not, just enjoy the watch! Until next week…
A big thanks to Andreas of LocalTime and his trusty watchmaker for providing the “before” pictures.