In past market updates, I’ve mentioned that one of the greatest attributes within the hobby relates to the fact that there are always “new” old models to discover. A daily browse on eBay or any number of forums will often reveal models for sale from brands long gone or slight model variants that may strike one’s fancy. This near-continuous ability for discovery keeps the hobby fresh and also allows new entrants a way to buy something credible, while keeping things on a more affordable level. So, it’s with this theme in mind that I bring you today’s #TBT. You see, I hadn’t come across today’s subject until several months ago, but once I saw it, I knew I had to have one. I’ll take you through the uncovering of this watch, some wild coincidences that have occurred since and, finally, will walk through the details of this interesting piece. Today’s #TBT is about a peculiar watch with some truly attractive attributes; let’s welcome the Nivada Grenchen Datomaster.
Stumbling upon my unicorn…
I wish I could remember how I actually came upon pictures of the Nivada Grenchen Datomaster, but it was either via Instagram on its main search page or on Google Images when searching for something else. Either way, when I did come upon it, I froze. The dial colors and the overall design were very different to most late 60’s chronographs and I loved the 12:00 date window. I thought to myself, “I’m a late night web junkie who devours information at a fairly alarming rate, I read most sites and forums, and know a decent number of folks who have large chronograph collections….so, WHY have I never seen or heard of this watch before?” Yes, this is exactly what I thought and though I didn’t have an immediate answer to my own questions, things would ultimately become slightly clearer. It was time time to set my priorities, though, and job #1 meant finding a Datomaster.
I’ve mentioned that finding popular vintage chronographs can be a struggle right now due to demand, no matter how much you’re willing to pay, but the Nivada Grenchen Datomaster was a different kettle of fish altogether. Honestly, there were no traces of them other than a couple for-sale ads that were either about to celebrate their first birthday or start Kindergarten. I really thought that I was fighting a losing battle when, in an instance of pure luck, I spied one on eBay and hit the buy-it-now button after about 30 seconds of perusal.
I still had a wait on my hands to actually get the watch from the USA, but in the meantime, I had decided to post the watch on my Instagram account. Sure, I was excited, but I was also curious to see if anyone had any comments. In fact, people did comment…
6 degrees of Datomaster
Here’s where the coincidences started to show. Chase, of Oak and Oscar, had just picked up a Nivada Grenchen Datomaster after a very lengthy search and he sent his congrats. Even closer to home, fellow Fratelli, Blaise knew of a Datomaster in his home country of Hungary and promptly decided to add it to his collection. So, here were three Datomasters all owned by people who know each other and often work together. So far, you’re probably asking why your author is so excited about this because there are loads of people with the same watch who also happen to know each other. Well, you wouldn’t be wrong that loads of people own similar timepieces, but the reason for my excitement is that after copious amounts of Internet research, we have only found one other Datomaster in the wild. That’s right…one. (The fourth owner, by the way, is @subsea57 on Instagram.) Aside from this, the only other similar piece is a c-cased model with the same dial that shows up from time to time on a German watch forum. For sure, there must be more of these in existence, but they’re in hiding (hint: if you have one, let us know…we’d love to see more pictures!) and are clearly not as prevalent as many other other period chronographs. In fact, Nivada made one of the more popular 60’s chronographs in Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver, but they strangely did not make a lot of these.
The Datomaster…what is it?
Ok, so hopefully I’ve convinced you that the Nivada Grenchen Datomaster is fairly rare, but I’ve long preached that rarity and desirability are often mutually exclusive. So, why, in my opinion, is this watch so desirable? Well, it’s a combination of movement and looks. Personally, I think that the looks alone make it a stunner because, after all, that’s what cajoled me into buying it, but it’s that oculus at 12:00 that points to something a bit deeper to a WIS. When I saw the date window in its relatively non-customary position, I immediately thought of a highly desirable (and expensive) watch: the Heuer Carrera Dato. Then, during my ensuing research, I came to find out that both watches used similar Landeron movements. Heuer used the Landeron 189 and Nivada used the 187. The movements are similar in their 18,800 bph frequency, they’re cam-operated, and feature 17 jewels. I believe their base movements differ, but the functionality is the same. So, yes, there are interesting bones within the watch…or, at least are thematically similar to a highly collectible piece in the Heuer.
In the looks department, I find the Nivada Grenchen Datomaster to be a real head turner. The dominant colors of battleship grey, orange, white and black are relatively unique when compared to so many of the watches I own, but they look great. In fact, the Datomaster contains the same color scheme found on the popular Tudor Monte Carlos from the early 1970’s. The flat grey dial is of a nice shade contrasted against the white dual sub registers; the rightmost of which contains the sharply contrasting orange shown as an arc covering the first 5 minutes and “45” in a similar hue. The orange is echoed on the central chrono hand, but in this case, the hand has aged greatly.
Indices are applied at each hour and contain a black stripe down the middle. This design is continued on the hands, although those also contain a stripe of lume. It should be known that the dial should likely contain lume pips applied directly to the dial on the outside of the hour markers, but I believe a watchmaker has removed them. A shame, but in this case, beggars can’t be choosers.
The fairly thick ~36mm case with tallish, domed crystal is fully stainless. This shouldn’t be taken lightly as a lot of “off brand” pieces from this era are chrome plated base metal, so it speaks to the higher quality intentions of the Nivada Grenchen Datomaster. The same attention to detail can be found on the screw-down case back with its branded inscription and verbiage. Also, another non-given nicety for a piece of this age is the signed crown. It contains the shielded “N” that is also found on the back of the watch. The case itself is fairly simple, but has chunky lugs that help the watch look and wear a little larger. The lug width is an appropriate 19mm.
A few words about the Landeron 187 are necessary because it’s my first movement from the brand. Landeron tends to pop up as a common 2-register movement that was often used by the likes Wakmann, Croton, Nivada, and Wittnauer. Its use on the latter three was common on the same-cased diver chronos such as the burgundy bezel piece and the Chronomaster. On those pieces, it was often used aside both column-wheeled and cam-lever versions from Valjoux. Value-wise, collectors have always looked down on Landerons because the company had the reputation of providing a jeweled, chronograph movement for the common person. Well, perhaps think of Landeron as a trailblazing company because they actually debuted the first cam-lever chronograph in 1947 and they went on to produces millions of reliable, lower-cost movements during the company’s lifetime. So, shun the brand if you wish, but they’re nice movements, keep great time, and work very well. Plus, it winds very smoothly and works sharply. They are a little different, though; from an operating perspective, the top pusher starts the chronograph while the bottom pusher stops and resets it. It should be noted that the there is no good way to change the date other than giving your thumb and forefinger a proper workout!
With colors like this, anything pairs well
When I ordered the watch you see here from an eBay seller in California, it arrived with a fresh service and a really nice grey leather NATO strap. I wore the watch on this for about a week and it looked really nice, but I made the switch to the black stingray that you see here from GLC Straps. I think it looks nice and gives the watch a slightly dressy edge. I’ll soon also try it on brown suede from Giuliano and I happen to think that it could end up being my favorite. Still, just like last week’s Hamilton, grey works well with almost anything so feel free to get creative. I mentioned that the watch wears well because of a fairly chunky case design. The pushers and thick crown help as well. I’ve really grown (or shrunk…) to like cases of this size because they’re very wearable with almost anything and fit well under a shirt cuff. So, yes, I find the Nivada Grenchen Datomaster versatile and comfortable.
Finding a Datomaster…this could take awhile
It’s really hard to give you a buying guide on the Nivada Grenchen Datomaster because of the small, referenced, population. Normally, I’d say to be picky on condition, but the lack of choice means that you’ll likely need to make some concessions. Of the three pieces I’ve now seen, all have their warts, but ultimately present well on the wrist and that is likely due to the strong colors. Finding a Datomaster is hard enough, so I cannot imagine finding parts such as dials, hands, etc. For all I know, some things could be shared with other models, but it would take some serious diligence. Value-wise, due to the sample size, I’ve seen pricing from roughly $1,100 – 2,000. So, the Datomaster isn’t a bargain basement piece, but it’s not bad considering the great looks and what seems like a small production run. Plus, go take a look at a 2-register Heuer Carrera Dato and you’ll be ponying up roughly 3x on a good day.
I realize it’s not overly fair to dedicate an entire article on a watch that’s not easily found, but I wanted to share the circumstances of how I discovered it and the happenstance that occurred related to friends having them without my prior knowledge. So, I hope you enjoyed a look at this interesting Nivada Grenchen Datomaster. As mentioned above, we’d really like to see if anyone else out there has one of these pieces, so please let us know! If you’re planning on heading to Basel in 2016, there’s a very good chance that three of these pieces will be in the same room at some point…exciting stuff for watch nerds! Happy hunting and until next week…