WS 1: Opening Tricky Watch Cases
Please go here to see the pictures of that Watch Hunt

Dear All

Today Rob and I were working on the watches I had found yesterday in that small watch shop in the outskirts of Bangkok with the help of Khun Bud: A square vintage Seiko Caliber 5606-5400T and a vintage Orient Quartz.

Vintage Seiko Cal. 5606-5400T from the 70ies

I had held that Seiko Movement in my hands in the shop but obviously I did not pay enough attention on how the watchmaker opened the case and released the crown. Getting the watch movement out of the case was actually quite easy, but finding the crown release lever turned out to be a real adventure.
There was only a tiny opening between the plastic ring and the watch case. You can see that extra cut-out with the movement already removed

And another view of that little extra space used to press down the crown release lever from a top view:

And this cut-out was actually filled with the plastic ring under the movement. There was a very tiny opening, about 1 mm wide and we were trying to ogle through that little opening with the loupe to make out any lever that could be pressed down to release the crown. Finally Rob had a good idea. Since we had not been succeeding in locating anything while the crown was pulled out in the second (setting position), the trick maybe was to try to find something with the crown in position 0, that is the crown pushed in.
And yes, finally we found a small little opening and thought, well that was not too difficult, just use a small pusher and push down. But no, it should be a bit more difficult then that. Because what ever tool fitted through the little gap between plastic ring and case would go straight through that hole. You have to imagine, we were not familiar with this movement and did not know, whether that was the lever or not. We just had to assume, since nothing else was accessible through that tiny gap between the movement and the case.

Finally we decided to use a thicker pusher (the pusher used to push though link bars from the Wenger Watchmaker's Knife) and that finally did the trick. While the crown was in position 0, pressing down that lever, freed the crown immediately. Wow, that was really tricky. I took this picture of that lever with the movement out of the case, you have to imagine, we only had a 1 mm gap to sneak down from the arrow's direction. After removing the crown and movement, it was of course clear how that worked.

What we still do not understand is, why Seiko punched such a big hole into that lever. Because a little cavity would have done a much better job, since the pushers would not just go through and letting you guess what is going to happen. Well, it shows that sometimes even removing a movement without service manual can be a really tricky job. Btw. those blank brass areas behind the arrow were from previous attempts to remove the movement. Previous service people obviously used much thicker tools and thus were probably luckier. But of course, they also left some traces on that dial's side. We only managed to create that fine scratch on the left of the arrow on the dial, but luckily this in an area which is completely covered with the O-ring. Gasket ring is probably more appropriate for this rectangular "O-ring". At least we had some luck today :-) And of course we used a black permanent OHP pen to correct that hairline, so if you do not know it is there, you will not find it, even with the "O-ring" removed.

Rob and I agreed that this was one of the most original case constructions we had ever encountered. The movement is first put into the round opening in the case back which also serves as case. Then the O-ring is placed onto the dial, and finally the crystal and cover is put on and pressed down perpendicularly and the springs in the case back will snap on after applying a bit of additional pressure. That pressure will also press the O-ring onto the dial and the watch is sealed. This is in fact a very unusual case construction where the sealing ring sits on the dial, where the case back also serves as the case and where there is no back cover but rather a top cover which also holds the crystal. Of course I was very happy to have found such an unusual vintage Seiko with such an unusual case construction. That exotic construction also consoled me about the fact, that the crystal was frosty. In the shop I had assumed that would be some dirt inside the dial, but actually someone had tried to buff that crystal. Maybe to remove some deep scratches, but obviously did not do a very good job. The crystal is a bit milky, but this can of course only be seen in certain angles. Well, another consolation was the great movement: hand winding, hackable and with bi-directional winding. In other words, a very good Seiko movements. Yesterday night I had quickly googled 5606 and found that the Seiko Lordmatic also used the Caliber 5606, a quite noble movement it seemed to be.

Sorry for the light which is not 100% perfect here, but when I am working on watches, I really do not want to interrupt the work for endless picture taking sessions. So please accept those rather documentary pictures. The good news, the following Orient movement pictures are perfectly lit :-)
5606A, where A stands for top quality is the caliber number. I really like that diagonal finish on the top bridge. This movement shows a much better finish then e.g. the 7S26A found in the Seiko 5s of today. But then of course, this is the movement of a watch of a different quality and price level.

The most interesting part of this watch is certainly the case with no case back, here again from a different angle

This quite massive spring in the front guarantees, that the watch cover holding the crystal is held in place with sufficient force. You also see the angled tops of the two spring heads and you will know that it is quite expensive to bevel hardened steel. Seiko really did a great job creating this unique casing. Before we will see the Orient movement, a last picture of the really unique case turned up-side down

From this angle, the beveled top edges of the springs are even better visible.

I also took some new pictures of the closed case in July 2005, since this was my last chance before I gave the watch away. Here is the view showing the two square openings between the lugs. This is where you need to push with two pushers at the same time to remove the case with integrated case back. By the way, the markings on the left side are not from us. Somebody had tried to push using a pusher in one hole only and then tried to prey the case out. No, one really has to push at both openings at the same time and then one is able to lift and turn the case with integrated case back out.

The other lug view does not show any openings inside the lugs, just two rounded grooves that might be mistaken for grooves to remove the case back. Quite tricky! The grooves are nothing else then "guiders" to allow the beveled springs to enter the case nicely when reassembling the case.

And here is a top view of this quite unique case construction:

July 2005 Update and Time to say "Good Bye!": Since I am not that fond of rectangular watches - I think they make my already bony wrist look even edgier - and since I have a Thai watch friend that is very fond of all rectangular and square watch cases, I decided to give it away. I dressed this lovely Caliber 5606 (automatic and handwinding and hacking, thus also used in higher end Seikos like the King Seiko) with a 22 mm (the actually lug width is 24 mm) Croc print strap that Anders from Gnomon Watches had sent to me earlier. Thanks Anders, that strap is made for this Seiko! As you can see from the two wrist shots below, even that strap is actually 2 mm too narrow, it fits perfectly! A 24 mm strap would probably have been to thick and too stiff for a smaller wrist and the 22 mm Croc print leather strap from Gnomon Watches was really a lucky match! And If I decided to give watches away, I want them to look good with the new wearer. Rather then stacking vintage watches and not wearing them, I prefer to make a fellow WIS that enjoys to wear it happy!

Vintage Orient Quartz from the 70ies

Like the Seiko, the Orient really proved to be an almost unbreakable Oyster! After inspecting that case thoroughly, we finally found a very small groove neatly hidden opposite an end link of the bracelet which was consequently removed. That groove was so tiny and probably the reason why this NOS Orient was in that card box. Because we could find some traces of somebody trying to open it, obviously with little success. We will use Wet & Dry paper 1200 to polish those little scratches out later on.
After trying to lift that cover with the Bergeon case knife Nr. 6403, we started to understand why those previous attempts had been unsuccessful. The blade of the case knife was much too thick for that tiny groove. After that tricky Seiko crown release experience, we were very careful not to add any additional scratches to this NOS watch. I had just polished and buffed that case with Crystal Clear and again, this product did a great job to remove those fine handling hairlines from the shop.

Rob used a wet stone to slim that front edge of the case opener knife and of course making sure, the knife would not be sharp, just slimmer. Still, no chance to get that knife into that groove. We needed another tool: I remembered that I had a Victorinox Mini Champion that was quite old and that I was willing to "sacrifice" to finally see that Orient movement. The nail file on that knife looked like the perfect blade to modify. Rob filed of the tip of the nail file. Not leaving the original square shape but also making the tip slightly curved, that it would fit perfectly into the tiny opening between case back and case.

And here is another view of the nail file we modified into the "vintage Orient case opener" :-)

With this self-made tool, that opening was a piece of cake. I learned a very important lesson from Rob here. If something does not work, it makes absolutely no sense to try and mess things up with existing tools. Be patient and think and then create a tool that does the job. It will take a bit more time, but the case will remain unscratched and the opening will not leave any markings. And then this nice view opened up to our eyes, finally!

A board with a very nice layout, real quality work from Orient. On the right of the green movement tag, you will find 3J for 3 Jewels, later you will see that those are the gear train jewels. Also typical early quartz movements, a big and easy to adjust regulator capacitor (two headed arrow). A nicely packed chip and a similarly nicely wrapped and screw mounted coil, at least that is what it looked like. But those screws are actually holding the circuit board. The other two screws are the ones of the battery cover. A very clean design of the board and components.

The little nudge on the case at the bottom at around 7:30 is an alignment marking. There is a cut-out on the case back and if this one is aligned with that little marking in the case, the lettering on the case back is perfectly horizontal. Quite remarkable what kind of esthetic considerations went into the design of a quartz watch in the 70ies!

And this is the underlying mechanical movement of this "transitional early quartz movement" as Rob put it perfectly. The engineers during those early quartz years were still thinking "mechanical" and that quartz module was basically popped on top of a mechanical watch. The design structure of this watch are a very good sample for an early quartz movement.

And now we are really getting closer, and I have to mention those excellent macro qualities of the Coolpix 995. I took this shots very quickly and without thinking too much about the perfect light, but I have to say, that the reflector screen we used for the Orient pictures really paid off very well in my opinion.
Why this extreme close-up, well look at that tiny gear train! It is so miniscule! Why? Because a small gear train means less battery drain, quite simple a question of saving energy and prolong the battery's life. On the next picture you can really see how small that gear train is, compared to the head of a match!

I hope you enjoyed this travel into the "bowels" of two Japanese vintage watches from the 70ies. Two watches that proved to be  extremely difficult to open. But once you succeeded, all those difficulties are forgotten so quickly. And the watch passion keeps burning ... :-)

Best regards

Reto Castellazzi, August 7th, 2002, Bangkok

Please go here to see the pictures of that Watch Hunt