Movements of vintage Chronographs

For a collector, the most interesting vintage chronographs are those produced in the period between 1920 and 1970. In the ’20s, with the increased use of the wristwatch, all major producers began to offer their customers wrist chronographs, with some manufacturers specializing in the production of chronograph movements. It’s interesting to know that the factories producing these movements in the period between 1920 and 1970 were very few (about a dozen).

IGP5127-e1341569861765Valjoux 77 movement used in a non-brand chronograph (Chronograph Suisse)

Anticipating what is happening today in the automotive industry, where the same engines are assembled, albeit with modifications, in various makes and models of cars (think Ford engines fitted to Jaguar) the great names of Swiss watch making, except for rare exceptions we shall see later, fitted in their chronographs movements produced by third parties. In fact, the main producers of quality chronograph mechanisms (Valjoux, Lemania, Venus, Martel), provided raw mechanisms (so called ebauches) to almost all the big houses.

IGP7019Valjoux 72 in modification 6 in a Certina Chronolympic

Rolex, from 1920 to 1986, used only movements by Valjoux (mainly the Valjoux 22, 14 lines and the Valjoux 23, 13 lines – both chronographs with two counters – and the Valjoux 72, 13 lines chronograph with three counters). In rare models like the “Gabus” Rolex used the smaller (10,5 lines) Valjoux 69, while the Valjoux 72c was used in the chronographs with calendar – day, date and month. Even Patek Philippe used Ebauches Valjoux in its classic chronographs albeit with modifications and finishing such as to cost more than the raw chronograph mechanism (unlike Rolex, that made very slight modifications).

IGP73991Valjoux 23 in modification 4 in an Enicar Chronograph

Ebauches Valjoux were also used by Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet (in the Type XX), Enicar (in the Jet Graph and Sherpa Graph), Heuer, (in the three counters – or Compax according to the name used for three counters by Universal Geneve note 1 – Carrera and Camaro), Ulysse Nardin, Universal Geneve (especially after the sale of Martel to Zenith) and Vacheron Constantin (but in older chronographs a highly refinished Universal 281 ebauche was used).

 Lecoultre (later Jaeger Lecoultre) first used ebauches Martel, then Valjoux 23 and 72. The manufacture Martel was later acquired by Universal Genève and finally by Zenith. These last two maisons can therefore rightly claim to have used some of their own manufacture chronograph movements, Breitling used ebauches Venus (especially Venus 170, 175 and 178), although it is possible to find some rare mechanical chronographs with Valjoux 72, produced in the ’60s and highly sought after by collectors. Omega always used movements Lemania, renaming  them: 33.3, 320, 321 and later 861 (without column wheel) and now are the best and most sought after.

IGP74781Lemania 1873 used by Bucherer

Eberhard, deserves a special place for Italian collectors, while Eberhard watches were used by the Royal navy (and the chronographs extra-fort used a very peculiar movement, caliber 14.000). The movements Valjoux 23 and 72, despite a large production and a mass usage by the most disparate manufacturers, are of good quality. As well,  good quality ebauches were produced by Martel (i.e. Universal 281, 285 or Zenith 146). Poor quality ebauches were in the same period produced by Landeron.

Among the manufacturers that used their own in-house movements, in order of quality – according to my personal opinion – there are  Excelsior Park (caliber 40), Angelus (caliber 215 and 217, this latter used in the Chronodato, with day, date and month), Minerva (caliber 13-20), Movado and – on top – Longines. Movado, with movements 90M and 95M (designed by Frédéric Piguet between 1936 and 1939), created the first modular mechanism. Longines, already one of the best manufacturers of pocket chronographs, had no difficulty to develop its own wristwatch movements. In the opinion of many collectors, 13 ZN and the subsequent 30 CH (produced since 1948), are the best in terms of technology and quality. However, since the late ’60s, Longines also ceased to mount its ebauches and started to use Valjoux 23 (in the chronograph for the Munich Olympic games) and Valjoux 72, although refined and “renamed” Longines 330.

IGP6526A common Landeron 248 in an non brand chronograph

The fact that an identical mechanism, with the same finishes, be prese    nt, for example, in the Rolex Oyster Chronograph “Datocompax” Reference 6036, or in similar watches produced by less noble manufactures such as Baume & Mercier, Doxa, Marvin or Mathey Tissot, does not prevent that the prices of these watches be very different. In fact, if a Rolex Datocompax in good condition is worth about € 120,000.00, the value of Baume & Mercier, Doxa,  Marvin or Mathey Tissot is hardly about € 6,000.00. A bit higher is the value of chronographs with the same ebauches produced by artisanal producers, like Meylan and Record.

Any collector should take into account the very simple fact that the value of a wristwatch depends on the allure of its maker, the rarity, the beauty of the case and dial, the quality and the overall conditions. A choice is a matter of personal taste and – of course – budget.

Note 1 Universal named Uni-compax chronographs with two counters, Compax with three counters and Tri-compax with day, date, month and moon phases.

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Date: December 29, 2012
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10 Comments

  1. Andreas says:

    Nice feature on classic chronographs 🙂 Thank you!

    Is there a reason why you didn’t mention Pierce among the in-house manufacturers? And, while I’m at it, very early Breitling chronograph wristwatches feature Landeron movements – Gustav Hahn had bought Breitling’s patents in 1923 or 1924 and used them to start his own line of chronograph movements. In the early 1930s, however, Breitling switched to Venus and Valjoux for their chronograph movements.

    Best regards
    Andreas

    Reply
  2. Mike says:

    Agree on the Pierce chronos. They are clearly somewhere in the middle among the Swiss movements mentioned. Neither Venus 170 or Landeron 48 were as good as Pierce 134 movements.

    Reply
  3. Ted says:

    Goodmorning, thank you for this interesting article. We have an older watch with Audemars Piguet Valjoux 23, adjusted to 6 positions and 2 temperatures. The manufacturer stated that it is chronograph quality, and also mentioned that it was an Audemars Piguet Caliber VCSS.
    Would you happen to know, and share, if this is a fairly commonly used caliber?
    Thanks, and have a great day,
    Kind regards,
    TEd

    Reply
    • Alfredo says:

      Dear Ted,
      If indeed your watch is original, you have a very rare and valuable chronograph indeed. “Chronograph quality” means nothing at all. “Chronometer quality” means that the watch is particularly precise, within the COSC specifications. If you send me a few pictures of the watch and mevement at alfredo.tocchi@gmail.com, I can give you my final opinion. Best regards, Alfredo Tocchi

      Reply
    • Mr. Tissot says:

      Hi Ted,

      Your movement is indeed interesting and uncommon. Eventhough many high end brands like Audemars Piguet and for instance Rolex and Omega, made their own handwind/automatic movements they did not design and make their own chronograph movements. These were bought from suppliers like Valjoux, Venus and Landeron. To be altered, improved and even modified with additional features to create their own movement. This is something that still happens today eventhough it became economically interesting for brands like Breitling and Rolex to produce their own chronograph movements. So what you have is a common high quality base with tweeking from AP….making this a much more rare execution of the Valjoux 23.

      Best regards,

      Kevin van der Zouwen

      Reply
  4. SK says:

    Thank you for a good read. I am relatively new to this watch hobby. My watches has always been hand-me-down, never really taken much interest etc.
    But recently i developed an interest and acquired a Jager LeCoultre chronograph Valjoux 72. I can find much more information on LeCoultre (US market) models on the net but very little Jaeger LeCoultre (non US) chronograph model information. Is it they didn’t sell as much non-US model?

    Can you enlighten me on Jaeger LeCoultre chronograph; are they the same quality and build as the US model? why is there so little information on the net on them?

    Sk

    Reply
    • Mr. Tissot says:

      Hi there. Glad you like my article! For as far as I know the difference between leCoultre and JeagerLeCoultre is just marketing…targeting differnet countries/continents differently. It is an old brand so a bit strange that they used this tactic through the 1940-1970 era…certainly not something they would like to explain to the public…

      Warm regards,

      Kevin

      Reply
  5. Alfredo Tocchi says:

    Dear all, Jaeger Lecoultre is among the oldest and most prestigious Swiss manufactureres. The reason why I tend not to recommend to buy Jaeger Lecoultre or Lecoultre (name used in the US for watches assembled there), is that a chronograph is more sought after if it has a history. Omega Speedmaster used by NASA, Porsche Design used by Mario Andretti, Heuer Monaco used by Steve McQueen, Breitling Navitimer used by Scott Carpenter, Enicar used by Jim Clark and of course Rolex Daytona used by Paul Newman have a better chance to incresse their value. I have nothing against some Lecoultre with a Valjoux 72 caliber, the quality is very good, but they are simply an oddity in the production of the manufacturer, watches without an in house movement. It’s a bit lke a Ferrari sedan or a Jeep coupe! Coming to our times, I like the new Heuer Autavia presented in Basel 2017 and the Porsche Design Dashboard P6620 used by Patrick Dempsey and his racing team.

    Reply
  6. Nicholas says:

    Nice article.
    A few errors but who is perfect!
    Rolex did Not only use Valjoux.
    The wrongly called “Rolex 2722” used a Venus 140 supplied via the Only company in the world with legal rights to the movement , Gallet …… the world’s oldest clock/watch Co.
    They , Gallet , infact handed the FINISHED product/s to Rolex & Rolex had Zero to do with making the watch , Absolutely Zero!!
    Y do some clowns pay over a 1/4 of a million $ for …… a watch that you can buy for $4,000 …. read the definition of stupidity & you will see Y.

    The “Rolex 2727” / Venus 140 ~ did NOT touch Rolex’es hands during Any process of the watches manufacturing ,, the Only thing they did do , to any aspect of regulator chrono with the V140 fitted , was sell the finished product.
    NO more than a retailers or at best , semi wholesalers on this occasion.
    Sorry Rolex buffs , But the Truth does actually matter. {to some}.

    BUT STILL some Fools still pay the same for the GALLET MADE ROLEX 2727 that is more than enough to buy a 3bedrm house in my state of residence for.
    AND the ONLY Rolex aspect of the watch , is their name on the dial & movement that they paid GALLET to put on the model for them , so 70 yr’s later , some people with FAR more money than brains….. pay for Gallets , marked Rolex ….. and pay just a little bit more for the “privilege” of owning a “rare Galllet , oop’s Rolex …. and the price difference of over au$260,000.00 !

    Who said Many {not all} Rolex collectors were breed from bogan moths , simply attracted to the bight lights & pay a BIG price for such?
    I think I did,

    Reply
  7. Nicholas says:

    Moeris also made some handy chrono’s during the same period mentioned & were certainly equal & actually better than many brand , being ‘all over’ aderon as 1 example.
    Admittedly , they did not produce the quantities of the “better advertised brands” but that takes Zero away from their quality & sustained quality.
    The sooner more people “open their minds” to not focusing on the ‘more well known brands’ , the sooner / faster real knowledge will become more common & the focus will be taken off the “big budgeted brands” that too many ppl seem to Solely focus on & other , currently lesser known & insufficiently respected/revered companies will eventually be given the kudos which they deserve.
    Such as Marvin , Record , Pierce , Moeris etc just to name a few.
    Happy collecting And Learning to all watch nerds , like me.

    Reply

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