More on Mechanical Watches

Not to mention the times I’ve referred to my preference for mechanical watches in other venues, I have discussed it here several times. So much so in fact, that I just added “watches” as a category on this blog. When I was a child, I would get a cheap digital watch every now and then. These things would last for anywhere between two and six weeks when I wore them. It was terribly frustrating. When I was in high school, a friend of mine and I would often spend a Saturday hopping across the state border to Dallas, where we would check out record stores and the Galleria Mall. At the time, there was a store in the Galleria that sold Soviet surplus stuff. My friend bought a beautiful officer’s top coat in that store in extremely heavy gray wool. That coat had a double-breasted closure with red star buttons spaced at about four inches apart that buttoned all the way up to the chin. I bought my first mechanical watch in that store. It was a manual wind, Soviet paratrooper watch made in Russia by Vostok.

As I recall, this watch cost about $35 and was the first watch that I managed to wear longer than six weeks. I wore this one for two or three years, in fact. It has a nifty, gasketed, screw-down crown that keeps the water out when it is submerged. One time, I had a girl timing me with it while I held my breath underwater. She didn’t believe that I could hold my breath longer than five minutes. Somehow, the crown got unscrewed and the watch was ruined. At this point, it will wind and run, but it no longer keeps time, and will stop far sooner than it did when it was new. It’s probably not worth fixing, but I keep it around for the memories. It met its demise when Jennifer and I were dating. Seeing how much I had enjoyed my mechanical watch, Jennifer bought me a brand new Seiko Automatic Diver as a present. She often comments that it was more money than she had previously spent on a present for anyone.

One of the neat things about Seiko is the organization of their records keeping. With a little Google-fu, anyone can date a Seiko pretty closely. As far as I can tell, this one was made in August of 1994. Jennifer bought it for me in 1998, so it had been sitting in the jewelry case for a while. I had it overhauled a few years ago, and put a stainless steel bracelet on it after getting fed up with countless leather straps.

When we were getting ready for Christmas of 2007, we were doing pretty well for money at the time and decided to use the opportunity to buy nice anniversary gifts for each other. Our anniversary is on December 5, and even though that Christmas coordinated with our ninth anniversary, we thought that it would be nice to have the whole year to enjoy our ten-year anniversary gifts. Yes, we may be crazy. We’re having fun though. It was that Christmas that Jennifer gave me my first Swiss watch – a Tag Heuer chronograph.

This was a pre-owned unit that we had professionally overhauled shortly after purchase. Unfortunately, I think we could have found a more professional watchmaker for the task as this one has never kept time quite right, and the chronograph mechanism has never operated correctly since the overhaul. The bracelet has an ingenious expansion tab so it can be worn directly on a bare wrist or over a dive suit.

I’d really like to take this one to another watch shop so I can get more wrist time with it. It’s simply too nice a piece to not get use out of. I’ve had a few more novelty watches through the years too. One Christmas, Jennifer’s parents bought us a matching his & hers pair of no-name autos that were Chinese made junkers. They were pretty, in polished bi-metal with exhibition backs, but neither one would keep time, they weren’t water resistant, and I don’t even know where they landed. Jennifer once bought me a Pinky and The Brain themed wind-up pocket watch.

And yet, one of the strangest watches I’ve worn was a BMW-branded, fake Panerai Luminor GMT automatic. It had mineral crystals on the front and back and the construction seemed fairly solid. It was actually rather puzzling why the manufacturer chose to make an imitation of another product with unlicensed logos on it when they could have made a half way decent product of their own.

I accidentally broke the crystal seal out of the exhibition back on this watch and didn’t feel like it was worth attempting to fix. About three years ago, I kind of missed my old Soviet paratrooper watch and decided that I’d like another Vostok. As it turns out, the Vostok company survived the fall of communism and currently makes watches for the open market. I found a Vostok Amphibia automatic I liked on eBay and ordered it up.

This is a cool watch. The crown screws down just like its Soviet predecessor. Unfortunately, the crystal appears to be acrylic. Also, the bracelet was sized for a Siberian grizzly. I have sized a watch bracelet before, so I attacked the Vostok undaunted. The link pins were resistant to all manner of tooling I’ve ever used before on a watch bracelet. I wound up destroying one of the links beyond repair, and resolved myself to the notion that I would need to purchase a new bracelet for it. That was shortly before I got laid off from traditional employment, so this watch went to the back burner, i.e. my underwear drawer. Last weekend, I found a gold tone, 1970′s era Seiko 5 at a garage sale for fifty cents.

It’s certainly not in mint condition, but not only does it run, but it keeps time as well. In case you aren’t familiar with this iconic classic, Seiko’s “5″ designation means that it:
1. Has an automatic movement
2. Is waterproof
3. Is shock proof
4. Displays the calendar date
5. Displays the day of the week.
According to my questionable dating methods, this watch was made in January of 1970. It needs a new bracelet and it couldn’t hurt to have it overhauled and a new crystal installed. Still, the watch seems serviceable enough to justify this additional cost. I may just put the work into this one that it needs and make it Teen Bot’s first real watch. Jennifer has been wearing a 1981 Seiko 5 for the last 13 years that she received as a hand-me-down from her mother. I was searching the internet for a suitable bracelet for the Seiko 5, and decided to drag out the Vostok and look for a bracelet for it at the same time. That’s when I found this.

That is a pair of watch bracelet pin pliers that I ordered for $11.00 after shipping. I figured I’d wind up paying more than that for a bracelet for the Vostok and would likely use them more than a few times. And, they might just work on what was left on the factory Vostok bracelet for that matter! Well, they did actually. Within fifteen minutes of receiving the package, I had the Vostok bracelet sized and adjusted, and I’m wearing the watch right now!

It’s funny. I never thought that I’d be one of those guys who had a bunch of watches. And yet, they’ve kind of accumulated. I do intend to get the Tag fixed when I can afford to. I’ve probably worn the Seiko diver that Jennifer bought for me before we were married more than all the others combined. If you’d like to start wearing mechanical watches but you’re worried about the price, I’d encourage you to consider the options. The purchase price of my higher quality watches ranged from less than a dollar on up to around a thousand. And, I’ve spent very little time wearing the thousand dollar watch. Conventional wisdom might cause you to shy away from anything but a Swiss or Japanese movement. The Seiko that I have worn so much, my trusty workhorse, has a Singapore-made movement. Do an Amazon search for “Seiko automatic” and I suspect you’ll find something you like for less than $100.00. That watch should provide a half century of performance with a little maintenance.