Friday, August 21, 2009

Zenith El Primero - the king of watch movements

My regular buyers are well aware of how passionate I am about Zenith watches.

I often say that a $5,000 Zenith El Primero is internally as good as any $50,000 Patek! When Rolex wanted the best chronograph movement money could buy, they went to Zenith - and until year 2000, the modified Zenith El Primero was powering hundreds of thousands of Rolex Daytona watches worldwide.

Zenith "El Primero" Chronomaster 02.0240.410

Monday, August 3, 2009

1968 Breitling Big Navitimer Ref. 816 First Edition

The very first Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 was manufactured on May 2, 1952. It was a revolutionary watch, providing pilots with a circular slide rule with a logarithmic scale which enabled them to perform all calculations linked to airborne navigation. Pilots were impressed with its functionality and reliability and the NAVITIMER (NAVIgation TIMER) soon became a must-have flying instrument they can rely on for calculation of ascent and descent rates, fuel consumption, average speed and distance conversion.

The watch was powered with one of the most tested and tried chronograph movements: a sparkling copper-red manual wind Venus Cal. 178. There was only one choice of dial colour: all-black.

Navitimer Ref. 806 was one of the best selling Breitling models and stayed in production until the mid 70s. Ref. 806 was fitted with other movements like Valjoux 72 and Valjoux 7736. The first Navitimer was an impressive watch - its 40mm case size stood out impressively in comparison with other pilots’ watches from the 1950s.

In 1967, Breitling introduced a new bold design: The BIG Navitimer, Ref. 816. This stunning, modern-looking watch was a daring step forward. Its 48mm case was very impressive - even for today's standard! Ref 816 was in production for only ten years and today, it is regarded as a sought-after model amongst watch collectors.

Case dimensions
Bezel diameter: 47.8mm
Case diameter: 49mm
Case including crown: 50mm
Case from lug to lug tip: 55mm
Lug spacing: 22mm

The dial diameter is 33mm.

It has a black dial with 3 white sundials and a unique styled hour and minute 'split hands' and red square-shaped hour and minute chrono counters.

The first edition of Ref. 816 had white markers on the dial and a red alignment marker on the rotating bezel.

The turning bezel was flat with rectangular notches on the octagonal stainless steel case. Despite being 48mm in size, the overall appearance is surpassingly 'low profile' – its overall thickness is just over 12mm. Also, the winding crown with chrono pushers are finely integrated for comfortable wear.

Navitimer Ref. 816 case back provides us with the following information:
Brevet Swiss Patent Number, DDE.BR Swiss Cross 11525 and Patent Year of 1967.
The patent was granted for Breitling's design of inner rotating bezel with ratched pinion.

The next line is 0816 which is the Model Reference number 816. The serial number of the watch is barely visible because it was only lightly etched, not engraved. This particular Big Navitimer bears the serial number 1244648 and according to Breitling production data, 1968 yearly production numbers are from 1204582 to 1262904. Hence, this watch was manufactured during that year, which makes it a very early production run of Reference 816.

Like the old Navitimer, the first Big Navitimer was fitted with the Venus 178 movement with a column wheel. The column wheel chronographs are regarded as the true "chronograph movements".

The Big Navitimer Ref. 816 was also issued as "left wound watch" so the case was drilled to allow positioning of the winding crown at both 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions. The second hole (in this particular case the one located at 9 o'clock) is used to accommodate the bezel rotating pinion. The hole is closed from outside and often mistaken as the "setting pusher".

Watchmakers repair markings often provide valuable information in regards to authenticity and servicing history. Unfortunately each watchmaker has his own dating code method. In the case of this particular Big Navitimer, at least two repair marks can be identified:

GH O/H 9/84 stands for: Completely overhauled (O/H) in September 1984 (9/84) by watchmaker G.H.
The signature above it is even more straight forward: serviced on 24 February, 1987.

Unfortunately the third signature P.195423N is impossible to translate.

As all timeless classic watches, forty years later the Big Navitimer looks and feels as attractive as ever. Its unique style has survived (and outlasted) the grotesque 70s, the pathetic 'slim line' of the 80s and the identity crisis of the Swiss manufacturing during the early 90s.

I am not a typical watch collector - I don't pile them for either pleasure or profit, but this one is definitely a keeper.