Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Leonidas Chronograph

It's wednesday again... So soon! Got to work today and realized I'm wearing the Breitling Aerospace again! Which means I can't use last week's criteria for figuring out which watch I'm going to talk about today.

So, instead, I'm going to describe my most recent acquisition. My Leonidas chronograph.

I bought this at a local auction, for very little. I think part of the reason is the face - which shows a LOT of oxidation (i.e. rust) coming through. You can barely read the name of the watch. In fact, the auction house had it wrong, listing it as a Leonadas or something. Not that many people going to that particular auction would think a Leonidas is something to write home about...

I love the way this watch looks. There's something about the oxidation that adds to the character of the dial. I was thinking about refinishing it, or putting a new dial on it (something NOS from Heuer would probably be most appropriate, for reasons I'll get to later) but the more I think about this, the more I think I'm keeping the dial as is.

The most impressive thing about this watch is that, despite the oxidation on the dial, it's in immaculate shape. The movement is running very strongly, and the chronograph registers snap back exactly to where they should, immediately and precisely. The ticking is even and strong. I've never seen a chronograph this old act this way - either it was worn regularly or it has recently been cleaned and serviced. I think the watch was pampered over the last 50 plus years - the case is in great shape, as are the crown and buttons. The acrylic crystal doesn't have a single scratch on it, and the hands look great. Maybe this was a project watch for someone who really knew what they were doing? Who knows. If it was a project watch, they had a lot of class - keeping the dial as is, and the speidel band... Some people would have changed both.

But let me get to a description of the watch itself, rather than its condition... Leonidas was a well known, well reputed Swiss house; they were bought by Heuer; I think in the 50's. Heuer continued to use the Leonidas name for a while, as a "second tier" brand (kind of like Rolex/Tudor) but after a while dropped it. Heuer itself was purchased by Tag in the 80's, and became the marketing marvel it is today (though it's just a marketing house today - Tag's are only gorgeous because they re-issue some of their watches from the 60s and 70s. I can't think of a single modern Tag I'd want in my collection - even the "ana-digi" Tags are less desirable than the ones from other companies... And don't get me started on the French Champagne and canvas bag company that bought Tag in 1999... But I digress).

So this watch is either a pre-Heuer Leonidas (from the 40's), or a Leonidas made recently after the Heuer purchase (50's, possibly 60's). I really can't tell. If anyone has seen this watch before, or can provide more information about its origins, year of manufacture, or anything else, it would be appreciated - just post it to the comments section and I'll edit the post to add.

Based on the hand placement and approximate year of manufacture, I would guess this has a Valjoux 72 in it. I haven't opened the watch up yet to confirm. The three registers are a second hand register (at 9), a thirty minute register for the chronograph (at 3), and a 12 hour register for the chronograph (at 6). The second hand acts as the chronograph second hand register, and stays at 12 when the chronograph is not in use. Many, many watches have a similar register pattern - the Omega Speedmaster, the Rolex Daytona, etc., though they may have used other movements (the Daytona famously was based on a modified Zenith el primero movement). I doubt the movement in my watch is a Zenith, though that would be an amazing find.

The minute register "clicks" into place, rather than sweeping, making it very easy to read. The watch also has tachymeter markings (in blue) and telemeter markings (in red) around the outside of the dial. The tachymeter is used to determine conversion of distance to speed, based on the time it takes for travelling one unit of distance. For example, you would start the chronograph at a mile marker on the road, stop the chronograph at the next mile marker, and read the tachymeter dial. It would tell you how fast you were going, in miles per hour. By using a km marker instead of a mile marker, you would find out how fast you were going in km/hr. You can use it for any unit of distance - for example, if you were measuring parsecs, it would tell you how many parsecs you were travelling per hour. Unfortunately, it only works for distances travelled in 60 seconds or less, since the tachymeter marker only goes around the dial once.

The telemeter converts speed of sound into distance. Basically, you use this to determine how far the German cannons are (or, more mundanely, how far away the lightning is striking). Start the chronograph when you see the lightning; stop it when you hear the thunder. The telemeter will tell you how far away the lightning strike was, in miles. It's an approximate reading, I think it assumes the speed of light is instantaneous and the speed of sound is 330 ft/sec (which, I think, is the speed of sound at 20 degrees celcius). But I'm not entirely sure what the exact assumptions are. The only downside to the telemeter is that it gives you markings that go to 12.5 - which are easily confused with the hour hand markings, especially if there are no hour hand markings, such as on this watch (well, it does have hour hand markings for 11, 12, and 1, but that's about it). No big deal - I don't think it affects time reading, but it's a bit annoying.

Inside the telemeter register is a minute hand register with markings in arabic at 5 minute intervals, and line markings, at 20 second intervals (5 per minute).

The dial is just drop dead gorgeous. The interplay and overlap between the chrono subsidiary dials and the telemeter/minute hand registers is a work of art - it took a lot of time and effort to get this right. The minute register is amazingly fine and accurate. The hands complement the dial perfectly - simple stick hands with tapered ends for the chronograph registers; the same, with a luminescent insert, for the minute and hour hands; and a simple thin hand, extending beyond the centre of the dial, for the second hand.

The case is nice too, though nothing to write home about. The part of the case that holds the crystal, and the back of the case, are polished stainless steel; the rest (i.e. middle part) of the case also appears to be stainless steel, but not as polished (possibly cast?). The lugs are simple and functional.

The watch is complemented, I think, by the vintage Speidel stainless steel band, which is in great shape. I always thought bands like this (stretchy, spring loaded bands) would pinch, or, at the very least, catch the hairs on my wrist, but for some reason, these older ones don't. It's remarkably comfortable to wear, even on a relatively hairy wrist like mine. I might eventually replace the band with something in leather, but I haven't quite decided yet.

Anyway, there it is! My Leonidas chronograph.

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