Recovered memories, blunders and saves: The Orient Star Sky Sports WZ0021FZ World Timer

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A leisurely commute, peddling a pushbike or sauntering along on Shanks’ pony provides ample opportunity to allow one’s mind to wonder, entirely undirected. On one such occasion a few months ago, I recalled a fleeting hankering from my early years as a watch obsessive, something unusual, quirky even, but that memory quickly dissolved once more into background noise. Later, a thread catches my eye once again, the memory surfacing briefly and I think I have a hold. It was an Orient. An Orient Star, I’m pretty sure. Perhaps PVD, a variation in red, one in gold plate. My initial Google turns up nothing. But I remember it must have been about 2008 or 2009. And then I recall that the watch in question had a GMT function, perhaps a world timer. The addition of that detail turned up trumps and I found an image that crystallised my memory, restoring it sufficiently to gain purchase.

For a short time back then, the Orient watch brand held a degree of fascination for me. I’d owned an Orient Star Somès for a few months following the failure of a Citizen Eco-Drive that I’d bought myself for my 40th birthday. The Orient was supposed to be a stop-gap while my Citizen was being repaired and while its time in my possession did turn out to be rather short-lived, it succeeded in catalysing my interest in matters horological from peripheral to centre stage. My next watch after that was a Seiko 6105 and I was doomed.

Orient catalogue

In my perusal of online Orient watch catalogues at the time, I came across the Orient Sky Sports series of world timers. These watches assumed a sort of cult status, in part because of their unconventional design, the fact that they were JDM-only but also because they were exotically expensive for something produced by Japan’s minor player in the mass watch market. And it was the potential expense that diverted me from any real intent at the time to acquire one.

Orient Sky Sports Catalogue

110,000 Yen back in 2009 was a pretty hefty sum to sink into a watch, comfortably more than I was prepared to spend at the time.

The re-piquing of my interest in these watches prompted some idle surfing and in another demonstration of unlikely serendipity, I stumbled upon an auction on Yahoo Japan for a broken Orient Star World Time. The model in question is the WZ0021FZ featuring a PVD mid-case paired with a steel bezel and panda dial. I landed the auction with a determined bid that sat comfortably within my budget, probably aided by the description that highlighted the necessity of repair and the immobility of the movement. Here it is then, in the condition as received.

Orient WZ0021FZ

What you may not appreciate from this image is that this is a hefty old thing at about 44mm across the beam, not including the twin crowns. The face of the watch is unquestionably busy. Starting from the outer edge, we have an inner world time, rotatable bezel operated by the crown at 4. In-board from that is an independently settable 24 hour GMT ring, operated by the crown at 3 pulled out to its first click. The dial itself features three sub-dials: the one at 12 is the power reserve; the one at 9 the date (quick-set) and the one at 6, sub-seconds.

An initial outward inspection of the watch revealed quite a lot of debris beneath the domed sapphire crystal and some bluish discoloration towards the edge of the underside of the crystal.

Marks on a watch crystal

The case backs on these watches are fitted with a yellow-tinted sapphire window marked with a cruising altitude chart used to define safe vertical separation between aircraft. The chart shows the standard altitude intervals for aircraft flying either eastbound (magnetic track 000 to 179 degrees) or westbound (magnetic track 180 to 359 degrees), depending on whether the aircraft is flying using visual flight rules (VFR) or instrument flight rules (IFR).

Orient WZ0021FZ caseback

The movement is the Orient 48H50, a 23 jewel automatic, equipped with seconds hacking, a GMT function, quickset date calendar and sub-seconds. It is not equipped with hand wind facility. With the case back removed, it quickly becomes evident that this Orient movement contains a lot of Seiko DNA. It resembles to a significant extent, the Seiko 7000 series, dating from the early 1970’s, with a goodly amount of 7S26 in the mix. The autowinder uses the Seiko magic lever mechanism but using a design much more closely aligned to that used in the 62 series than 7000 series.

Orient autowinder mechanism

However, as we’ll discover as we work our way through this one, there is also a lot of bespoke Orient content here too. The narrative accompanying the auction advert made clear that the movement was immobile and as it turned out, I was able to obtain a vital clue about why as soon as I removed the case back.

Recovered roller jewel

The roller jewel had detached itself from the balance wheel and migrated to the inner side of the case back. No roller jewel, no means to transfer power from the mainspring to the balance. Before proceeding further, I borrowed a balance wheel from a spare Seiko 7005, fitted it to the Orient balance cock and thence to the movement and straightaway, the movement sprung into life. Diagnosis complete. Here is the original balance wheel, devoid of its roller jewel (and at this point also its hairspring).

Balance wheel missing its roller jewel

In principle, the Seiko balance could provide a permanent solution but its hairspring was out of form and not sitting flat. I knew I would struggle to get it properly adjusted and so I was left with the need to source either a better Seiko part or somehow find an Orient balance. You will notice that the Orient balance has three spokes. All of the potential Seiko substitutes are two spoke designs.

The movement is otherwise clearly in need of a proper service and so the next steps are to remove the movement from the case and start its deconstruction. As with the Seiko 7S series, the stem release lever pops into view only when the crown is pulled out to its time setting position.

Stem release lever

The dial and hands look pretty much new, as you would expect of a watch less than 10 years old.

Orient Sky Sports dial and hands

All of the hands detached straightforwardly using a pair of hand levers, the dial protected using a thin clear plastic bag. The first head-scratcher presented itself next: how to remove the dial? The dial feet were clearly not held in place by friction alone and there is no way to safely lever the dial off with the GMT ring in position. However, some scouting around the underside of the dial revealed a pair of horizontally-operated levers, one on each side.

Dial feet levers beneath the dial

With both levers rotated through about 90 degrees clockwise as viewed from the dial side, the dial lifted cooperatively from the movement to an extent that I was able to lever it free.

Dial removed from the Orient movement

The GMT ring as well as all of the dial-side functions are protected and held in place with a single dial guard, itself held in place by three small slotted screws. With this out of the way, we get an unobstructed view of much of the machinery controlling the GMT, calendar and quick-set functionality.

GMT functions beneath the dial guard

We also get a better view of the dial foot securing levers.

Closer view of one dial foot lever

A great deal of what is on view at this point is supported on an auxiliary plate and we need to remove this to get to the setting functions as well as the power reserve machinery.

Power reserve function on Orient movement

The shock protection for the balance is clearly a conventional three-prong sprung Seiko Diashock setting. The wheel towards the top is the power reserve indicator, comprising five separate parts.

Power reserve wheel in pieces

The balance side of the movement looks like conventional Seiko-fare and throws up no real surprises. We note the presence of a pair of Diafix settings on the train bridge serving the escape and third wheels as well as a seconds hacking lever that operates against the escape wheel shaft.

Decontruction of the balance side of the movement

It is worth observing at this point that with the autowinding mechanism removed, the train wheel bridge is held in place with just a single screw. The correct operation of this movement can therefore only really be assessed with the autowinding mechanism in place, its two securing screws serving the multi-purpose roles of providing two out of the three train bridge securing points and two out of four for the centre wheel bridge one deck further down. You should also be able to see in the bottom right photo in the sequence above, the sub-seconds pinion adjacent to the third wheel, acting against a sprung film washer.

The centre wheel bridge extends over quite a lot of real estate, secured by a single screw.

Centre wheel bridge

Having completed the disassembly of the movement, we can now turn our attention to the case and it is here that I made the first of two significant blunders.

[By way of an aside, I am regularly asked whether I would accept third party repair work but I consistently (but politely) decline. A lack of time and inclination provides a substantial element of why I do so but another is that in working only on my own watches, I am free to make the sort of errors of judgement or execution, the consequences of which are only answerable to the person committing the mistake. I do know that professionals fairly routinely make mistakes, some of which are confessed to, the majority of which I suspect not! But I don’t need the grief.]

Anyway, back to our tale. In the absence of any technical guide to the case construction of this rather unique-looking watch, I was having to proceed cautiously. The screws visible on the case sides appear to be dummies, playing no role in the case construction. The external steel bezel provides absolutely no hint externally that it is removable. And so after a spot of head scratching, I concluded that the only way to gain access to the inner rotating bezel was to remove the crystal directly. A survey of its periphery revealed the presence of a nylon gasket and so I concluded that the crystal is simply pressed out from inside. This is what I then did but in doing so, somehow, and I still don’t really understand how, some of the printing on the world time ring was damaged – specifically, the RIS of PARIS and the RO of CAIRO. There being no turning back of time available, I simply have to take this on the chin and press on.

Disassembled watch case parts

The casing and movement parts were at this point ready for cleaning, prior to commencing the reassembly process. In the back of my mind, I know that I have not yet quite solved the balance wheel problem but we’ll come back to that in due course. Let’s start with the case reconstruction. The World Time bezel is driven by the crown at 4, whose toothed wheel engages with serrations on the underside of the bezel. The first order of business therefore is to fit the crown, and screw in the toothed wheel, secured by a blob of Loctite on its thread. The bezel drops in next and the whole lot secured into place by the crystal, which simply presses back into place against its nylon gasket. No lubrication required.

Watch case reconstruction

The case is now ready to receive the movement once I’ve reconciled any and all remaining issues. Incidentally, the damage to the world time bezel I now view as in keeping with the patina that is evident around the rest of this well-used watch.

Reassembly initially proceeds as simply the reverse as laid out above. We begin with the mainspring, laid out in its uncoiled state initially and then refitted to the barrel.

A watch mainspring, uncoiled and fitted

No challenges or problems presented themselves in piecing together the main elements of the gear train (other than in achieving a sensible white balance in the photos!).

Reassembling a watch movement

The autowinding bridge has more in common with a 1960’s 6206 than a 2008 development of a 7 series – and all the better for it.

Autowinder bridge from an automatic watch

The autowinding bridge, once fitted, then provides the structural integrity needed to secure the centre wheel and train bridges.

Autowinder fitted to watch movement

We enter now the most challenging part of the process, the scene set by our survey of the dial side of the movement, the key setting parts fitted.

Setting parts of an Orient watch movement

The next step is to refit the power reserve wheel(s). In fitting the upper of the two wheels, the prong at the base of the pinion needs to be pointing towards the indicated hole in the main plate.

Aligning the power reserve wheel

This is because the prong sits within a shaped hollow in the rear of the auxiliary plate.

The rear of the auxiliary plate from a watch movement

The auxiliary plate seats next and I secure it down prior to testing the running of the watch.

The auxiliary plate on an Orient watch movement

At this point, the movement was struggling to run properly. The amplitude was initially poor and then the movement kept stopping. And it was at this point that I made my second blunder. I had faffed about, trying to figure out what was going on and lost track of how much power I’d wound into the mainspring. At that point, I had figured out that perhaps the auxiliary plate had not seated correctly and was impeding the operation of the movement. So I dismantled the auxiliary plate parts, with the watch stopped, forgetting, or rather not appreciating, that there was still a considerable amount of torque acting on the power reserve wheels. It did not take much of a nudge for that pent up power to release, the result of which was two broken teeth on one of the power reserve transmission wheels.

Missing teeth on an intermediate wheel

This was a potential show-stopper. It is essentially impossible for plebs such as myself to obtain Orient parts for contemporary movements. They are simply not available through watch materials houses and most of the stuff on eBay or Yahoo is for vintage. I needed a bit of a rethink at this point. I could finish the watch but with a non-functioning power reserve indicator but that would be a highly unsatisfactory outcome. So, where on earth was I to find the correct part? The only possible solution that I could think of was to try to find a used Orient fitted with a power reserve indicator and to scavenge that for the transmission wheel, hoping of course that the parts are interchangeable between different calibres. However, pretty much everything on eBay and Yahoo Japan was too expensive, particularly given that all I needed was a part about 2.5 mm in diameter.

It did occur to me at this point that I wasn’t just in need of this transmission wheel. I also needed an Orient balance wheel with an unmolested hairspring. What about a new parts donor watch? The problem there is that power reserves seemed only to feature on the higher-level Orient Star models and those are prohibitively expensive to buy just as a source of parts. But I persisted in my foraging and eventually found myself on Creation Watches website (a reseller based in Singapore). A search of the cheapest Orient watches on their site turned up a properly horrid specimen but one featuring a power reserve indicator. What’s more, I found a promotional voucher and ended up securing the watch for about what I might reasonably have expected to pay for the two parts, say, from a parts seller on Yahoo. Delivery was free, to boot.

I will spare you any pictures of the watch in question, but here’s a shot of the top of its movement, its power reserve mechanism already having been extracted.

Dial side of an Orient watch movement

Happily, the power reserve mechanism is identical in this movement (a 46N40) to that in my Sky Sports model but the shaft fitted to the top of the upper wheel is of the wrong length and profile. All I needed though was the transmission wheel and this was identical to the broken part.

Power reserve wheels

Here’s the repaired part back in position, ready for the auxiliary plate to be refitted.

Power reserve wheel refitted to the movement

I took extra care to make sure the plate was seated properly before tightening it down once again. This time, the movement kicked back to life with no hesitation and what’s more, showing an amplitude between 270 and 280 degrees. What a massive relief!

Orient movement running again

The next steps require a degree of coordination: the 24 hour wheel needs to synchronise with the transition of the date at midnight and so first I set the watch just at the point of date transition and then fitted the 24 hour ring with the crescent moon aligned to the power reserve shaft at the 12 o’clock position.

Aligning the 24 hour ring

This state can then be secured by fitting the dial guard and clipping the date jumper into the serrations around the edge of the centrally positioned intermediate date wheel.

Fitting the dial guard

The dial is placed into position, dial feet levers set to their former positions and the hands refitted: date hand first, carefully aligned; then seconds; power reserve aligned to the zero position, mainspring power having been completely released and finally the hour and minute hand, aligned to the 24 hour wheel and date change positions.

All hands refitted to Orient movement

The final piece of the jigsaw is to replace the temporary Seiko balance wheel with the brand new balance wheel removed from the balance cock of the donor Orient 46N40.

Balance wheel removed from donor movement

With some power wound back into the mainspring, the movement finds itself performing unbelievably well, with zero beat error, very small positional variations in timing and hefty amplitude.

Movement balance restored and running

Here is a broader view of the movement reinstalled into the case.

Movement refitted to the case

Close the case, fit the cleaned bracelet and we are finally over the finish line.

Orient Start Sky Sports finished

This has been an itch scratched that has found me skirting around the edges of my comfort zone. To work on a brand for which the parts and resource support is so sparse is unnerving but somehow we seem to have muddled our way through.

Crown side view of the Orient WZ0021FZ

I am not habitually a fan of large watches and have a rule of thumb to avoid watches with lug widths larger than 20mm but here we have a large watch with 22mm lugs but one that seems to sit on my wrist naturally without the need to constantly assert its presence.

Wrist shot of the Orient Sky SportsI think this is partly down to the fact that it is pretty low profile, in spite of its girth, but perhaps also because it is probably a watch I was meant to have acquired all those years ago but which managed to escape. I’ve now set that right and in the process acquired a proper respect for Orient as a brand and in particular for the singular way it has struck along its own distinctive path.