Dead Brand Chronographs

An interesting subject in collecting vintage watches for me has always been those so called "dead" watch brands that made chronographs pre-1970's.

Once the quartz crisis took hold, only a few managed to actually survive, and the majority of those were bought by the Swatch Group or other large conglomerates. 

The rest, all gone (unless their names alone have been revived for some marketing reason).

Names like Nicolet, Gigadnet, Wakmann, Cyma, Gallet, Zodiac, etc. There were literally hundreds of these brand names that popup up pre-1970s. Some were owned by bigger brands, for example, Wakmann, which belongs to Breitling. This brand was used to assemble watches in the USA to avoid certain taxes when the watches entered assembled.

While others (often times referred to as "poor man's" something or another), were made by a bigger brand name for someone else, like the "poor man's" Heuer branded watches sold under Aristo, Clebar, or LeJour, to name a few...

But, what makes all these watches interesting is their chronograph movements.

Because the expense to create your own chronograph was so high, most of these chronograph watches all used the same few movements.

So, the Valjoux 72 found in a vintage Rolex Daytona is the exact same Valjoux 72 found in a Heuer 2447, which also happens to be the exact same Valjoux 72 found in a Gigandet or Clebar from the same era.

And as the chronograph manufacturers evolved their movements, these brands followed suit (that is to say before the Valjoux 72 was invented, most of these brands would have used the Valjoux 71, or moved on to the Valjoux 92 once that was invented, etc.).

In essence, these were in a way all the same watch. Of course, some manufacturers made better cases than others, and some had better looking dials (although thats subjective). But still, the guts, the heart of the watch, easily the most important part of the watch was the exact same.

And this was true whether it was brands using Valjoux, Lemania, Landeron, Venus, etc.

But, because they're "dead", the majority of these watches can be had for fractions of what the others that survived are worth.

For example, a vintage Rolex Daytona will start at around $25k, but go up to over $100k.

A Heuer 2447 will grab at least $5k on eBay, and at some vintage shops, online or otherwise go into double-digits.

Yet, a gorgeous Nivada Grenchen with a Valjoux 23 (I love the red triangle in the subdial), can easily be had under $1000.

So, imagine the collection one can build?

The other plus is these are fairly common movements due to the fact they were used everywhere, even the Landeron movements are fairly common, so servicing them is not as complicated as would otherwise be the case. There are exceptions to the rule (this and every other rule), but at the price point we're talking about, who cares?

One important point, however, is to learn as much as possible about all these brands and movements before choosing the brands and movements you want to focus on. For example, I love Landeron movements, but I prefer their 'pillar' or 'column' wheel chronos to their 'cam' or 'lever' shaft chronos. 

Yet, when it comes to Lemania, yes their 321 column wheel found in the Speedmaster is probably (arguably) the greatest manual chronograph ever made, but their cam lever 861 is equally impressive.

And finally, being tool watches, a lot of these are up to 38mm in diameter (very contemporary), and will also show their fair share of wear and tear. Add a high quality vintage leather strap, and these look amazingly cool and stylish. 

In other words, there is no better bang for your buck style wise too. Just think of the crap -- literal crap -- you can buy between $500 and $1000, and then imagine the substance and interest that comes with any of these. Some models, cased in 18K gold can even be had under $2000.

So, if you don't have the Ferrari-level bucks to start collecting Patek Philippe's, this just may be the perfect category to focus on.