The Blue Bell. A very small but perfectly formed, no nonsense traditional Edwardian pub in the heart of York. Hyacinthoides non-scripta, a wild woodland flower, native to Western Europe, almost half the world’s population of which is found in the UK. Neither of these, you won’t be surprised to hear, is the subject of today’s post. However, they do provide a source of inspiration as we anticipate the light of spring emerging from the long dark tunnel of winter, as our inclination shifts from the draw of a burning fire in a cosy hostelry, nursing a pint of real ale, to the anticipation of carpets of blue announcing the arrival of a new season.
And what better way to celebrate that prospect, than to combine both the visual and sonic pleasure that can be had from a Seiko Bell-Matic: the visual, from the colourful flamboyance of a blue bezel inlay combining with a glossy blue dial encircled by green; the sonic from the anachronistic sound of a mechanical alarm trying to make itself heard over the bleeps, shrieks and electronic burps of the modern age. With that out of my system, may I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, our subject, a 17 jewel Seiko Bell-Matic 4006-6029 dating from February 1971.
The Bell-Matic and I have some history insofar as my earliest memories of the watch as an object of tactile fascination were of my father’s 4006-7010, worn by him for 20 years or so through my formative years. That watch is thus largely responsible for my current infatuation with vintage Seiko watches, yet, ironically I’ve never quite fallen for the Bell-Matic as a staple wearer. I like the model range enormously, I admire the clever engineering, but for some reason they’ve never quite lit my fuse. Having serviced my first a couple of years ago, I felt at the time that perhaps the Bell-Matic and I had run our course. There was, however, the small question remaining of the two or three Bell-Matics sitting in my to-do box awaiting attention. One of these, the watch you see above, I’ve had for ages, yet continued to pass over partly for lack of obvious incentive to attend to it but also because the hands looked irredeemably grotty and I was waiting for a new set to appear from one of the usual sources before pressing on.
So why now? Well, taking inspiration from the jolly green giant of our previous post, I thought it would be nice to continue our colour theme, but shift a little further towards the shorter wavelength end of the visible spectrum. The tipping point in prompting action was the realisation, upon closer inspection, that the grotty hands were not in fact grotty, but simply smeared in liberal quantities of grease, easily removed. But I am getting ahead of myself. The watch itself looks fine externally, barring some conspicuous impact damage to the lower left side from which the bezel has clearly born most of the brunt.
The inlay in the region of the depression had compressed and cracked and so a fresh bezel will be needed further down the line. To get a sense of the state of the innards, I popped it on the Timegrapher on a full wind.
As you can see, very decent amplitude and beat error but running very slow. The view from the rear with the case back removed reveals a degree of tarnishing commensurate with a considerable period of time having past since its last service, but it otherwise looks very tidy.
With the autowinder mechanism removed, we get a good impression of just how well this movement fills the case. It does so not because the case is small but because the movement is impressively girthsome; 13.5 ligne (30.4 mm diameter) plays the 12 ligne of the 61 series (27 mm) and the 11 ligne of the rather more diminutive 51 series (24.8 mm) we met a few posts back.
Before we can separate the movement from the mid case, we need to remove both the crown and the alarm/quickset button, the latter providing an unpleasant clue as to the length of time that has passed since the last service.
The dial and hands come off in conventional fashion, providing access to the calendar workings. I’ve covered much of what follows in some detail before and so I’ll try to condense the dismantling from this point (or at least cover details I may not have emphasised last time). Fast forwarding to exposure of the calendar plate follows:
The condition on the movement on this side is entirely consistent with my initial impressions. Plenty of tarnishing but everything otherwise appearing to be in fine fettle. It is worth pausing to observe what lies beneath the calendar plate.
It’s not exactly a work of art but undeniably complex. It somehow brings to mind the view under the bonnet of a 1970’s Jaguar XJS V12. Plumbing all over the place with no sense at all that a V12 should be an objet d’art, there to stir the soul in how it appears as much as in how it performs and sounds. But the design here is born of application not aesthetics and it does its job admirably. I’ll skip the rest of the process, stopping only to take a gander at the near naked main plate, with the barrel containing the mainspring proper still in place, in close proximity to the second mainspring, this one powering the alarm hammer.
While the movement parts percolate in the cleaning machine, I turn my attention to the case. The absence of the bezel in the shot below highlights the crystal profile, as well as providing another view of just how unsanitary watches can become if left to their own devices as depositories for a diverse collection of detritus.
It looks like someone has been trying to establish a vegetable patch in there. This seems like an appropriate time to acknowledge that we have reached the half-way point in proceedings. With all parts clean, and free from as much besmirchment as I can manage, we start as is conventional, with the reinstatement of the now cleaned and lubricated mainspring, noting that it has to be wound clockwise, as entry is gained from above rather than below when opening the barrel. As in the case of the 5106 recently encountered, this requires that my right handed mainspring winder be used in a left-handed fashion, completely counter to its design.
What follows, I am afraid, is all rather disappointingly straightforward, this particular movement reluctant to throw too many curve balls my way. The assembly of the setting parts, centre wheel, barrel and train wheels, train wheel bridge and alarm mainspring winding train all proceeded smoothly. The only minor fly in the ointment was that many of the small parts were heavily magnetised and I had to demagnetise them part-by-part before fitting.
The movement is ready at this point to receive the balance and so with the two Diashock settings complete (and inserted the correct way round, the calendar side cap jewel being thinner than the balance side cap), we can wind in some power and make a provisional assessment of the health of the movement post clean.
And away she goes, decent amplitude, timing curves free from noise but with a touch of beat error. The full timing adjustment can wait until the movement is complete, installed in the case and fully demagnetised.
Setting the movement aside for the moment, I can turn my attention to the case. A thorough clean has purged all of the mulch and a light refresh of the damaged lower left side has smoothed away some of the scarring from its historic impact. We are ready to instate a new crystal, this one my last remaining original Seiko 325T02ANS.
The acrylic crystal comes pre-fitted with a fresh tension ring and so having removed as much paper residue fluff sticking to its surface as I can, it is out with the crystal press to install the crystal into its new home.
One of the very small number of virtues I have acquired in my middle age is the ability to play the long game. Some time after buying this particular watch, my search for a new old stock bezel with blue inlay paid off, and it has been waiting patiently to be put to use. The payoff of that patience is the satisfying clack as the new bezel clicks home.
The only problematic part of this exercise is getting the alarm hammer and alarm wheel pinions to locate in their respective holes in the calendar plate before tightening down. I ought to mention at this point that working on the 4006A is hugely aided by the availability of a dedicated movement holder, sourced from an enthusiast in Australia. In the fourth photo above (lower right), you should be able to see the hour wheel in the centre, with its three characteristic projections standing proud of the surface of the wheel. These need to be lubricated before fitting the unlocking wheel.
In the bottom half of the photo above, we see the date finger mounted (incorrectly) on the day and date driving wheel. The role of the finger is to flick the date over more or less simultaneously with the action of the pin on the wheel on the day wheel. If you fit the finger with the pin located on its right hand side (as above) then the day will flick over about 12 hours after the date. The technical manual warns the watchmaker to ‘be sure to position the date finger against the day driving pin correctly’. This is the sort of instruction that is all to easy to miss or ignore and you only discover your error when you notice a lack of synchronicity between the date and day wheels (fortunately I double checked and was able to back track before I got too much further).
So that is the movement pretty much complete, barring the fitment of the autowinding mechanism, and we can now move on to fit the hands and dial. You will remember I mentioned the apparently sorry state of the hands earlier.
What I took for damage and corrosion when initially appraising the watch has turned out to be nothing more sinister than grease and this cleans off quite easily. With both hour and minute hands looking a great deal better, I refitted the dial and hands.
The correct alignment of the alarm setting wheel requires that the hands first be to set to 12 o’clock, following which the crown is pushed into the second position to allow rotation of the intermediate alarm setting wheel until the alarm sounds (having wound in power to the alarm mainspring and primed the alarm by pulling out the alarm button). At this point the alarm setting wheel is set into position with its indicator aligned with the 12 marker, fixed into position with the two holders and then tested again for correct alignment. Plus or minus 5 minutes is deemed good enough according to the technical manual.
The crown gasket on these watches is captured and very difficult to replace (more so even than on the 62MAS crowns). Fortunately, I’d squirreled away a new crown complete with still supple gasket for this particular rainy day.
I’d been somewhat worried about what to do on the strap front. This is a model that I don’t think works particularly well on any sort of leather strap and so for once I opt to keep with the original specification and fit a steel bracelet whose design is as close as possible to the original. Fortunately, I’d bought one such, intending to use it with another 6139 project lurking in the wings, and had been oblivious when I bought it to just how perfectly it would complement this Bell-Matic. The finishing on this new bracelet leaves a little to be desired but I cannot complain really at the price and its design is absolutely spot on.
I’ve been wearing this all week and think that just maybe I’ve found a Bell-Matic that pushes all the right buttons. It’s comfortable, slightly quirky, colourful and just about the perfect size for me.