A ghost bezel Seiko Navigator Timer 6117-8000 from 1969

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Occasionally I ruminate over what combination of features might contribute to rendering the perfect watch.  This is, of course, a fruitless undertaking because the only way to achieve that nirvana is not to allow yourself you be dragged down the whole horological rabbit hole in the first place and make do with one watch in the way that the vast majority of watch wearers do quite happily.  Nevertheless, let’s indulge the premise of the exercise.

What do I like in a watch?  Well, let’s tick things off by category and see where we get to.

  1. Modern or vintage:  Vintage.
  2. Era:  1960s
  3. Size:  Between 36 and 38mm in diameter
  4. Lug width:  Between 18mm and 20mm but the sweet spot is 19mm.  22mm or larger is absolutely verboten (except when it’s not).
  5. Bezel:  I am agnostic on this issue, enjoying watches with either fixed or rotating bezels.
  6. Dial colour:  In a dress watch, silver; in a bezeled watch, black or something close to black.
  7. Crystal:  Acrylic, preferably soft-domed.
  8. Crown position:  3 or 4 but probably 4 just pips it on the basis of comfort.
  9. Movement type:  I love both hand wind and automatic mechanical watches but for convenience, tend to favour automatic.  I do love a good quartz though.
  10. Three hander or chronograph:  Three hander.  I do like chronographs but to be honest, find almost no use at all for the chronograph functionality.
  11. Calendar complications:  Historically, I have favoured watches with date (and day) complications but as my near vision has degraded with the progression of middle age, I find that I have embraced watches without calendars and currently about one third of the watches in my collection have no calendar function.  For watches with calendar functions, I prefer date only with the date aperture at the 3 o’clock position.
  12. Other complications:  GMT, although currently just one of the 50 or so watches in my circulation has a GMT function.

That list might reasonably converge to something like a Grand Seiko Self-Dater but an optimised distillation conjures up a 1960s 38mm, crown at 4 automatic, with date-only at 3 o’clock, 19 mm lugs, ideally GMT and if so, then bezeled and if bezeled then black dial, all topped off with a domed acrylic crystal.  A (possibly) unique embodiment of that lot lies in the Seiko Navigator Timer 6117-8000.  This model has featured here on one occasion before but in bringing that one back to life, I then failed to recognise it as the perfect watch and sold it.  Happily, I have two other examples in reserve, one of which has been sitting patiently in the waiting room for the better part of a decade and the other, for four and half years.  The more recent arrival was donated to me by a very kind reader in Germany and it is this watch, a Seiko 6117-8000 from October 1969, that forms the basis of the present entry (as well as an accompanying YouTube video).

First impressions are of a watch with a very patinated and very dirty exterior but with what appears to be a clean dial and handset.  The markings on the bezel insert are completely weathered away which renders the GMT function somewhat redundant but nevertheless, the ghost bezel imparts a charisma to the watch that I think will be worth preserving.

The movement was not running and neither did it respond to the usual gentle agitation that would feed in enough power to kick start some action.  Time to take a look under the hood.

It all looks tidy enough, but I noted a lack of resistance to rotation of the automatic winding weight and a similar lack of reciprocating motion to the ratchet wheel.  Both of those observations are symptoms of something afoot with the autowinding mechanism.

The tantalising promise of the dial and hands, up to now obscured by the fog of the battered acrylic crystal, is revealed to be mostly justified.  The dial itself is in very good, if not mint, condition, marred by a minor gouge or two and what appears to be a fingerprint around the date aperture.  Similarly, the hands are in very good shape apart from a conspicuous hole in the lume of the minute hand (all of these flaws indicated in the photo below).

There is no useful purpose to be served in illustrating in full the dismemberment of the movement, this having been documented on numerous occasions for this family of calibres in the past, but I will pause to note salient features, faults, flaws and breakages.  First up, we note the presence of the 24-hour wheel, driven by a modified intermediate date wheel.

The 24-hour wheel stands proud of the hour wheel beneath and, in order to accommodate the additional protuberance, an enlarged recess is machined in the centre of the rear of the dial.

You may note additionally that the date stamp on the rear of the dial matches exactly the first two digits of the serial number on the case back, dating the watch manufacture to October 1969.

Our first order of business should be to investigate the state of the autowinding mechanism, to get to the bottom of its lack of function.  In removing the winding mechanism from the train wheel bridge, I noticed immediately that the end of the click spring was bent and that the plating on the bridge below was quite badly scored.

Either of those issues might be causing the click spring to fail to engage with the ratchet wheel which would mean that any power wound into the mainspring would be immediately lost.  Inverting the autowinding bridge reveals a far more serious problem.

The pawl lever is completely bent out of shape which means that it is incapable of gaining purchase on the transmission wheel and therefore of transferring power to the mainspring.  In further dismantling the gear train, removal of the barrel reveals some marked wear to the barrel arbor hole in the mainplate.

This is a classic wear point on this family of movements and a popular remedy is to ream out the hole and fit a jewelled bearing.  However, I am not yet equipped to properly centre the hole in the main plate, either on a lathe or using an appropriately sized stump on my jeweling tool and so this movement will have to soldier on with the rough edges polished out.  We shall see to what extent the performance suffers as a result in due course.

A closer view of the train wheel bridge reveals the extent of the scoring to the lip on which the tip of the click spring rests and which had been impeding a return to the rest position at the end of each click. 

The final order of business at the completion of the dismantling of the movement, is to liberate and inspect the mainspring.

The mainspring looked to be in fine fettle, with lots of spring still in its step.  Both upper and lower parts of the photo above, but particularly the lower, reveal the extent to which these mainsprings were caked in sticky molybdenum grease at the factory.

At this point, all of the movement parts are ready to be cleaned, following the usual pegwood cleaning of jewels and holes. 

Following the usual four-stage cleaning and drying cycle, the movement parts emerge and reassembly can begin, starting with the installation of the mainspring into the barrel.

There being no Diafix settings in this movement, the assembly process from this point is pretty routine, starting with the setting parts, then centre wheel and its bridge, the barrel and gear train, a replacement barrel and train wheel bridge, free from the scoring to the click spring shelf and finally the pallet fork and its bridge (clockwise from top left, below).

The pallet stones are lubricated with the aid of a stereo microscope.  Using my finest Bergeon Ergonomic oiler, a tiny amount of 9415 is deposited on the face of the exit jewel and the escape wheel advanced five teeth at which point the process is repeated until all the teeth have an even coating of lubricant.

The two Diashock settings are oiled and assembled next.

The dial side is fitted first and secured in place with the Diashock spring, followed by the gear train-side, the balance in situ with the movement at that point running.  The remaining steps in the assembly of the movement follow: autowinder mechanism fitted with a replacement pawl lever and then the completion of the calendar side, topped off with that important 24-hour wheel.

At this point, we can leave the movement running to work out any gremlins and turn our attention to the case.  The main task here is cleaning years of grime from every crevice.  This is one very dirty case.  The bezel ring is secured to the case with a bezel spring but the part that emerges when I lever off the bezel appears not to be original.

The removal of the bezel exposes the full extent of the task ahead.

This is clearly not pleasant but, as we shall see, the caking of grease and other unmentionables appears to have insulated the watch from the effects of water intrusion to the extent that the case appears completely free of any signs of corrosion.

The cleaning process required some determined manual degrunging using sharpened pegwood sticks, followed by enthusiastic use of a toothbrush and toothpaste under a hot-running tap.  The coating of film on the bezel insert required the use of a kitchen towel-wrapped pair of tweezers dipped in acetone.  You will see in the photo below that the case back gasket was well past serving any useful purpose.

The cleaned case is now ready to receive a fresh acrylic crystal.  The correct part is 310T14ANS but I am using a Sternkreuz XAG 311.625 which comes with a gold tension ring and so I recycled the original tension ring from the original crystal.

The nylon insert that sits in the groove beneath the bezel was very dirty but has cleaned up nicely.  This sits back into place followed by a new bezel retaining spring which sits in the groove around the dial aperture.  I have found it easier to fit the spring to the case first with this type of bezel retention mechanism than to the bezel first, but your mileage may vary.  Once the spring is in position, it is a matter of hooking one of the bends in the spring into the groove in the bezel and then rotating around, using a casing knife to encourage the spring to slip into position.  Eventually the bezel is securely attached to the case.

We are ready now to return to the movement and fit the dial and hands and then to reunite the movement with the case.  With the dial fitted, the first order of business is to fit the 24 hour hand, aligned to the 12 marker at precisely the point that the date flips over.

Before the remaining hands can be fitted, we need to plug that hole in the lume in the hour hand.  I performed that repair with a small dollop of Bergeon green lume, mixed 50:50 with white.

With that done, the remaining hands are fitted, the chapter ring placed into position and the movement then reunited with the case.

The watch is now complete and looking a great deal more presentable than at the start of the process.  It is also now fit for purpose – or at least as fit as it can be with a bezel insert denuded of any markings.

As is always the case, the final decision to be made is the choice of strap.  To my mind, there was only ever going to be one option and that is a good quality 19mm rubber tropic.

It is all very well coming up with a list of criteria for the perfect watch, but the proof of the pudding is always in the eating and for me, the latter ties to a significant extent to how inconspicuous and comfortable a presence the watch makes on the wrist. 

38mm diameter, a low profile and a recessed crown at 4 all contribute to this being a watch that sits very comfortably on the bony landscape of my wrist.  In surveying the completed project, the one area that remains unresolved is the question of the (lack of) functionality of the GMT function given the complete absence of markings on the bezel insert.  I am torn here between the aesthetic appeal of the ghost bezel and the clear extent to which that ghosting undermines the navigator credentials of this watch.  In the end though, for me, the visual appeal outweighs that shortcoming and I can enjoy this one even if it falls somewhat short of perfect.

The accompanying YouTube video can be found here: https://youtu.be/plKFe5jl0Qo