In the first of a new ongoing series of articles, we go ‘beneath’ the dial to follow the restoration of a particular watch, which today is a 1968 LeGant skin diver.
Technical Terms Used in This Article
Amplitude – How far the balance wheel is swinging back and forth and a good indicator of movement health and friction levels within the movement.
Balance Wheel – The wheel attached to the hairspring that oscillates back and forth as part of the escapement and is responsible for the accuracy of the watch’s time-keeping.
Barrel – A toothed casing for the watches mainspring. It drives the going train and escapement.
Bridge – A metal plate within the movement secured by multiple screws used to keep gears precisely in place.
Casing Ring – A metal ring around the movement that helps keep it secure within the watch case.
Cannon Pinion – A gear that fits tightly over the center wheel/second wheel axle to transmit power from the movement side to the dial side of the watch. It rotates once per hour like the second/center wheel.
Cock – Similar to a bridge but secured by a single screw.
Ebauche – French word meaning a watch’s movement/caliber.
Escape Wheel – The final wheel of the going train that interacts with the pallet fork to form the watch’s escapement.
Fourth Wheel – The fourth wheel in the going train. It is driven from the third wheel and in turn drives the escape wheel. It rotates once per minute.
Going Train – The series of gears that connect the mainspring to the escapement
Hour Wheel – A dial-side wheel that rotates the hour hand. Driven by the minute wheel.
Incabloc – A jeweled bearing with built-in shock absorption.
Keyless Work – The manual winding, time and date setting mechanism attached to the crown and stem
Main Plate – The central layer of the movement to which all other components are fixed
Minute Wheel – A dial-side wheel driven from the cannon pinion that in turn drives the hour wheel
Pallet Fork – The jewelled lever that rocks back and forth locking and unlocking the escapement.
Pallet Jewels – Jewels fitted to the pallet fork that interact with the teeth of the escape wheel.
Pivot – The polished end of a gear axle that sits in the jeweled bearings
Second Wheel – The second wheel in the going train and is also sometimes called the center wheel. It is driven from the barrel and rotates once per hour.
Winding Pinion – The gear that winds the mainspring when the crown is turned
Swiss Watches by Mail
LeGant was the watch brand of US-catalog retailer Montgomery Ward and was launched in 1968 using Swiss-sourced white label watches. During its lifetime, the brand included dress watches, chronographs and dive watches, all with highly-jewelled (compared to their domestic competition) Swiss movements. There were even some electric watches offered when that technology started to make in roads into the watch world. LeGant watches were available via mail order and were sold alongside Timex and LeJour in the catalog. The watch we have here is their 333ft skin diver sold in 1968 and 1969. Presumably, this model did not sell particularly well as it was replaced by a cheaper, less-jewelled Dorset-brand skin diver from 1970 onwards.
The skin diver was a well-established design style by the late 1960s. A flattish steel case with elongated lugs was topped with a narrow black rotating dive bezel surrounding a plain black dial with lumed markers and hands. Variations between different brands and models were not substantial, often limited to the design of the dial markers and hands. The hands on this LeGant example are particularly notable, having a rather striking, large arrow as an hour hand.
Dive Watches for the American Suburbs
Looking at the 1969 Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog, the LeGant was sold on a black tropic strap and was one of two skin diver watches available. At this point I have to mention the Muse Technical website which has painstakingly scanned the historical catalogs from Montgomery Ward as well as Sears and JCPenny. These companies sold all manner of goods, from cloths to housewares, electronics to boats throughout the 1960s and 70s to Americans via their mail-order catalogs. They were the Amazon of their time with very similar, sell everything, business models. The list price in 1968 was $25 which equates to around $200 in 2021. As a comparison, a roughly equivalent Seiko 70m diver was priced three times higher at $75 in 1969, so although being Swiss-made, these skin divers were decidedly low-end watches. Montgomery Ward did sell some more serious watches that in 1969 included a $50 Valjoux 7730 yacht timer and a $199 LeJour JURVAC-branded vacuum-sealed movement with a guaranteed accuracy for 5 years!
This example was purchased from eBay several years ago late one night when I was flicking through the results a ‘vintage skin diver’ search. I love the appearance of these old 37mm skin divers and their well-balanced and classic form. It is a design that has endured the years with the same basic form factor being re-issued many times by manufacturers as diverse as Oris with their Diver 65, to Seiko with their recent 62MAS homages, to Baltic with their iconic Aquascaphe.
Beyond the case shape, the broad arrow of the hour hand appealed enough for me to spend around $100 on the watch whose running was described by the seller as ‘intermittent’. Now, ‘intermittent is definitely not a good word to see in any watch description online but I did my research and I found out that these watches contained an Adolf Schild 1951 17-jewel, manually wound movement with ‘problematic’ date complication (more on that later). Knowing the watch had a properly-jeweled and documented Swiss movement gave me confidence that I could improve upon its current ‘intermittent’ operation. It looked like a commonly-used movement that would never win any awards for cosmetics but was known to be reliable.
The Largest Movement House of Them All
The Schild company was an important Swiss ébauche (movement) manufacturer from the 1890s to the 1970s. Started by Adolf Schild upon his leaving Eterna, by the 1920s his company was the largest manufacturer of movements in Switzerland supplying many different watch maisons at all levels, include Jaeger-LeCoultre. A number of mergers and consolidations during the 1960s and the 70s led to A Schild becoming the largest partner in Ebauches SA which eventually merged with Eterna to create the ETA company as a reaction to the quartz crisis. This final consolidation completed the Schild family circle by reunifying the Schild movement company with the Eterna watch company again.
First, the Movement Disassembly
So on to the restoration… I was hoping that the watch would just require a clean and lubrication to get running again and I would not have to deal with any serious issues. Opening up the back of the case revealed a movement that was welcomingly clean. The train bridge is engraved “UNADJUSTED MONTGOMERY WARD SEVENTEEN JEWELS. The state of the movement could certainly have been a lot worse! I immediately noticed that the case screws were missing. This would prove to be immaterial as I quickly learned that the casing ring securing the movement was stuck solid keeping the movement fairly well held in place even without the screws.
I have never worked on such a movement before so I proceeded in a logical, but general order. Overall, the movement looked somewhat industrial but well-designed. First, I removed the balance for safekeeping revealing the shield logo and the movement number 1950/51 underneath. The 1950 is the no-date variant of this with-date 1951. The bridges were impressively machined with very tight tolerances to their locating studs. Less impressive was the pallet fork cock which looked like it had been stamped out if some very cheap steel indeed.
Problems Begin Early
Issue number one was the stem which refused to withdraw after backing off the small release screw. This screw goes through the plate to the calendar side where it attaches the stem retainer. Loosening the screw and depressing it should allow the stem to be pulled out passing through the loosened retainer. No such luck this time. The crown moved slightly and then stopped fast. I decided to continue with the movement side while I pondered the stuck stem.
Removing the going train bridge was straightforward although the surprisingly tight tolerances meant levering up the bridge bit-by-bit to avoid damaging the pivots of the wheels. The jewels looked in good shape with no visible damage. The going train under the bridge looked very compact without a conventional center (second) wheel driving the minute hand. On this movement the second wheel is moved off-center towards the winding pinion which enables the other wheels of the gear train to move towards the center, giving the compact layout. From the positions of the gears and the baseplate, it appears that this movement was originally designed for a smaller watch than the 37mm Montgomery Ward. Everything below the bridge was very grey, very plain and relatively uninteresting apart from that gear train organization. Observant readers will notice the hint of brown around the stem as it disappears into the main plate but more of that later.
The crown and stem eventually succumbed to brute force once the retaining screw was fully removed. Once out, the reason for the reluctance was clear: a ring of rust around the neck of the stem where it entered the movement. The movement in general was free from signs of water ingress, so the state of the stem came as a bit of a surprise. On closer inspection, corrosion had also got to the movement ring which was also stuck solidly inside the case. Moisture had clearly got past the crown seal and wicked around the inside of the ring but thankfully, not enough to reach the movement.
The Spare Part Dilema
I fully expected to have to replace some parts in the movement and since I had no spares on hand for a Schild 1951, I had searched online for a second donor movement to use for spare parts while the watch was sitting in my project drawer. Sacrificing donor watches is the unfortunate truth for movements where the manufacturers no longer produce the parts. I suspect I could maybe have tracked down some new replacement Schild parts since they eventually became part of ETA and ETA generally has good spare part support. However, I did not know what I would need, so buying a complete donor movement seemed expedient.
Bizarrely, the next Schild 1951 I found for sale, was also a LeGant skin diver. The dial and hands were still attached and the hands in particular were in better shape than the ones I already had. My watch had a rather mangled minute hand whose lume had long been deposited around the dial and a stained hour hand. The second movement by contrast, had good hands with nicely aged lume.
A Choice of Dial
A small amount of moisture had got to the edge of the original dial. In particular the T SWISS T type at 6 o’clock had been consumed and the lume at 6 and 9 had started to degrade close to the edge. There was also some deep scratches and some minor bubbling in the clearcoat. The second dial from the spare movement had no water damage but did have lume discoloration, dull patches in the clearcoat, deep scratches and was missing a small amount of print on its depth rating. Both dials were a compromise since neither was perfect. Unfortunately, the scratches in the lacquer on the second dial were just too deep to remove after polishing so I decided to continue the restoration using the original dial.
Full Speed Ahead
Under the dial, the 1951 movement has quite a large number of gears visible for a simple three-hand watch. As I mentioned earlier, there is no central cannon pinion here because of the off-center second wheel is located over towards 3 o’clock.
The cannon pinion meshes with both an intermediate winding wheel and an intermediate drive wheel, which then rotates the minute wheel and the hour wheel simultaneously. Finally, the hour wheel drives the date finger over towards where 9 o’clock would be via another intermediate wheel. With all the wheels removed from the dial side of the movement, the off-center cannon pinion is clearly visible south-east of the large barrel.
Back Together Again
Re-assembly should have been the reverse of disassembly of course but two problems were apparent after cleaning. Firstly, the fourth wheel axle was clearly bent so that was swapped with the one from the spare movement. Secondly, and the more major issue, was the state of the incabloc spring on the lower balance wheel cap jewel. It looked damage under the loupe and sure enough, it broke when I tried to unclip it. Replacing an incabloc bearing requires pushing the complete fitment out of the main plate and reinserting another. Given that I did not have a spare incabloc fitting but I did have a spare identical main plate on the bench meant I stripped down the second movement’s main plate and put through the washer for use as a replacement.
The mainspring was in good condition too so all that was needed after the bad parts were replaced was to lubricate the various bearings, posts and levers and begin re-assembly. Without a specific oiling document, I took a generic approach: Mobius 9010 oil for fast moving jewel bearings, Mobius 9104 oil on posts, setting levers and high pressure areas and finally Mobius 941 for the pallet jewels. With the going train assembled and lubricated it was time to put the rebuilt movement on the timegrapher to check rates, amplitude and errors… and to see if cleaning had fixed the intermittent running.
Before service the movement was barely running and would then stop after just a few minutes. The timegrapher could not get a reading either and the display resembled a snow storm whenever the watch was running. Post service and after 24 hours to bed-in, the movement was running within 10s/day with zero beat error. The line was smooth, and while not perfectly straight was good enough. The amplitude of 240 degrees seemed a little low in general for a Swiss movement, but perhaps it was reasonable for an AS 1951 of this age. Overall, the improvement in performance was massive and certainly good enough I felt, for a 51 year low end movement.
The 1951’s Achilles Heel
With adequate performance from the going train, I moved on to reassembling the dial side and a third issue quickly stopped proceedings. Remember how the movement was described as having a problematic date change? Well, it’s problematic alright! To quote the 17jewels.info website: the 1951 movement has a “fragile date mechanism which makes every watchmaker sweat due to flying clicks and springs”. Well, sweat I did, and cry, and swear and cry again as I assembled, tested, re-assembled and unsuccessfully re-tested the failing date advance until both the original click spring and the second movement’s spare click spring had departed into orbit somewhere above my desk, temporarily halting the restoration.
Please Pass the Bag of Spare Springs
In the end, the date advance issue I was trying to solve turned out to be down to those springs. Not only were they prone to flying out of the movement when I so much as looked at them, they also did not seem to work very well when in place. Once I fitted a generic shepherds crook spring instead, the date advance began to work flawlessly. Admittedly the generic springs were stiffer and so maybe the originals had lost a little of their performance. Getting the spring to stay put though was even more difficult with the higher tension and took more than a few attempts before I could get the cover plate on and screwed down safely. The lost spring count was up to four. Seriously, the AS 1951 date mechanism would try the patience of a saint! With another spring safely secured I was now into the home stretch. The original dial with its replacement hands went back on to the watch which was then re-cased after removing the last vestiges of corrosion from the movement ring.
Home and Dry? Not a Chance!
And that should have been it but this watch was not going to succumb so easily. The stem was the next component to try my patience. After casing the movement the stem would not latch in place. After some period of denial I concluded the keyless work yoke was not in the correct place or the yoke spring was not working well. The reason for my state of denial was that checking the keyless work would mean removing the dial and hands… and that date guard that kept the errant date click spring in place. Should I dare exposing it again, with the risk of yet more lost springs and frustration? … Yes, if I was to have any prospect of having a working watch.
So I disassembled the dial side again and the winding yoke was indeed no longer engaged correctly on the winding stem. Removing the date guard of course removes all the protection for the date click spring which is free to escape. Typically the date dial moves first and the spring simply pops out from its indent and stays on the main plate. The problem is always getting it back in the correct place to refit the date guard. Two more lost springs later (bringing the total used to 7), the date guard was back in place and I could resume refitting the dial, hands and re-casing. Which finally went smoothly.
Finished at Last
So, how did I feel after this epic service was completed? I suppose the biggest surprise of this restoration was just how well the movement ran after a basic service, given how badly it ran before. In the end I had to replace the main plate due to the broken incabloc, the fourth wheel due to a bent pinion and multiple date click springs. Everything else was simply cleaned and lubricated and after several days on my wrist, the watch is running consistently -3 seconds per day. The final timegrapher results indicated between -10 and +12 error depending on position, and a fully-wound amplitude of 268 degrees and a beat error of around 0.2ms.
Even with brand new seals fitted, the only diving that this old watch will be doing now is desk-diving, and when not doing that, it will occupy it’s own little niche within my predominantly Japanese collection as a Swiss white-label tool watch made for an American mail order company with pretensions of grandeur, with its simple black and silver color scheme and big arrow hand that I will always adore.
So, all in all, a good result. However, I will not be rushing to working on any watch containing a Schild 1951 movement. The finickiness of the keyless work and THAT… DAMN… DATE… SPRING were enough to give me horological nightmares for weeks to come.