December 12th, 2019 - Authored By: Dale E. Malick
When people think of vintage watches, the brands that usually come to mind are Rolex, Omega, Breitling, and Heuer. However, there are several vintage watch brands that not only represent a tremendous value, but are extremely well crafted and often overlooked.
Okay, some of these overlooked brands may not appreciate in value over time like a Rolex Daytona, or the Heuer Carrera, but like their contemporaries, they share the same movements and components. It was not unusual for watch brands in the 1960s to share components with multiple watch brands.
Take for example, the Zodiac Triple Date Chronograph from the 1960s. Both the stainless steel case and the movement, the Valjoux 72 Calendar, are the same used in the sought-after Heuer Carrera 12 Dato. The only main difference is practically the name on the dial.
So, keeping this in mind, it is easy to see why several vintage watch brands are overlooked and undoubtedly undervalued.
The first brand is the Hamilton Watch Company. Hamilton was founded in the year 1892 in Lancaster Pennsylvania. At the time, Hamilton was primarily known for its pocket watches and then in the year 1917, Hamilton introduced its first wristwatch. It was primarily designed to appeal for young men enlisting in World War I.
Subsequently, in 1966, Hamilton purchased the Buren watch company. This acquisition provided Hamilton with the competitive edge they needed to compete with popular Swiss watch brands; as Hamilton could now use Swiss made movements for their American made watches.
One undervalued and often overlooked Hamilton watch is the Chrono-Matic. The Chrono-Matic was the direct result of the collaboration between Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton (its subsidiary Buren) and Dubois-Depraz.
The Chrono-Matic, Reference Number 11002-3, has a modest stainless steel case diameter of 37mm that balances the effect of its chunky 14mm height. It is powered by Hamilton’s Chrono-Matic/Heuer Calibre 11 automatic chronograph movement. There is a date function at the 6 o’clock position, a 30 minute counter at the 3 o’clock position and a 12 hour counter at the 9 o’clock position. Conspicuously missing is an active seconds counter. The crown is located at the 9 o’clock position, which is typical of the Calibre 11 movement.
The second brand is the Zenith watch company. Born in the year 1865; one of the biggest milestones for Zenith took place in the year 1948 when Zenith launched its legendary Caliber 135 Chronometer movement that featured a small seconds function.
In the year 1969, Zenith introduced the El Primero. The El Primero was the first ever integrated automatic chronograph movement. Because of its balance oscillating at a frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour (vph), the movement was able to measure short times to the nearest tenth of a second. The movement was only 6.5mm in height and had an estimated power reserve of 50 hours.
Unfortunately, in the 1970s when the watch industry faced the quartz crisis, Zenith decided to table it's manufacturing of mechanical movements. However, one watchmaker in particular, Charles Vermot, saw beyond the quartz crisis and archived all relevant materials used to produce the legendary movement.
Consequently, in the late 1980s, Rolex used the El Primero’s movement in a modified version for its beloved Rolex Daytona.
Another overlooked brand is the Zodiac watch company. Zodiac was founded in the year 1882 by Ariste Calame. However, it wasn't until the year 1908 that the Zodiac name was first registered.
Primarily known for its Seawolf dive watch, the Zodiac watch company also produced several other vintage chronograph watches. As previously mentioned, the Zodiac triple date was practically the same watch as the Heuer Carrera 12 Dato. In a similar way, several vintage Zodiac Chronograph watches were dubbed the "Poor Man's Carrera". Like the old saying, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck”, is it a duck?
In the 1960s, Heuer manufactured many chronograph watches that were branded for and sold by other watch companies, and one of those companies was Zodiac. These watches were powered by the legendary Valjoux 7733 manually wound chronograph movement and the dial configuration, for the most part, was identical to the Heuer Carrera. However, there is one huge difference, the price! A panda dial Zodiac Poor Man's Carrera is one tenth of the price of the iconic Heuer Carrera, Reference Number 7753SN.
Finally, there is the Vulcain watch company. Founded in the year 1858, the Vulcain watch company was known for its mechanical alarm movement and it's popular alarm watch, the Cricket.
First introduced in 1947, the famous Cricket Calibre definitely has a unique place in history and is notably known as the President’s watch. Presidents including Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon B. Johnson all donned the Vulcain Cricket. Not only was the Cricket worn by diplomats, but it was also worn by several explorers and adventurers.
In 1959, Vulcain wanted to expand the Cricket model range into a dive watch. Working in collaboration with Hannes Keller, the Vulcain Nautical was born in 1961. Keller wore the Nautical on several deep sea dives and it is said that the watch’s alarm was so loud, that it could be heard at 730 feet below the waves.
The Nautical, was in fact one of the most impressive dive watches of its day. It was water resistant up to 300 meters, sported a triple case back and had a large case diameter of 42mm. In comparison, the Rolex Submariner, at the time, had a case diameter of 39mm and was water-resistant up to 200 meters. The Nautical also used a plastic crystal instead of the typical mineral glass, as a plastic crystal provided better longevity.
Vulcain also produced several chronograph watches. Like the Zodiac watch company, several Vulcain chronograph watches used the Valjoux 7733 manually wound chronograph movement.
The various dial designs ranged from both panda and reverse panda and even a surfboard racing dial that Breitling later made famous with its 1970’s Top Time, Reference Number 2211.
Article Written By: Dale E. Malick Founder & CEO of Watch2Wear
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