Where Did the Affordable Manual Wind Chronograph Go?

ewc speedmaster movement

Although we have a serious love of vintage watches at Wound For Life, it’s not the only thing we think about. For example, just the other day, I got to thinking about how modern watchmakers have almost completely abandoned the affordable manual wind chronograph. Before the automatic chronograph was invented, that’s obviously all there was. But with how gorgeous manual wind chrono movements can look, it’s an absolute shame that they’re so hard to come across. Where did they go, and will we ever see them again?

Lange's Caliber L951.1

The folks who have lots of money to burn are still in luck; they can go out and choose from the most beautiful chronograph movements ever conceived. Unfortunately, mere mortals rarely have $70K to spend on a watch. What if you only have a $5,000 budget? You can always go vintage, but that’s not the point here. The easy answer is a Speedmaster. Of course, a lot of you probably already have a Speedmaster, so what else? Well, until you get down below $500, there doesn’t seem to be anything else out there. What madness!

If you go as far back as 2000, there have been some fantastic hand-wound chronographs available on the market: IWC’s Portuguese Rattrapante, Zenith’s Hand-Wound El Primero, various Lemania 1873-based watches, and a few others. But as the years went on, use of these movements has dried up. The Swatch Group, via ETA, owns most of the old movement manufactures you recognize from your vintage collections, and their old calibers are long out of production. Outside of the Lemania 1873, the last of their affordable manual wind movements was the ETA 7760, which was phased out quite some time ago. Even when considering the Lemania 1873, it’s currently only found in the Moonwatch. And while I think the Moonwatch is truly an icon, it’d be nice if it faced some competition.

 

ewc speedmaster movement

Omega Speedmaster Caliber 1861 — courtesy of European Watch Company

Alright, so what’s a collector to do? You can certainly look for used manual wind chronographs like I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Fortunately, they’re pretty affordable, and not too hard to find. The ones I mentioned are my favorites, but there are many others (Breitling and Eberhard come to mind). The next thing you can do is save up for an extra year, and try to grab a pre-owned Lemania 2310-based chronograph. We’re talking Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques Chronographs and Breguet Chronos. Definitely more pricey, but hey, desperate times call for maxed out credit cards (that was a joke; please don’t do that). I would be remiss not to mention Habring2 in this context, as they make all of their models available in manual wind configurations. Their base prices are right around the $5,000 mark – going up from there – and they remain a fantastic option in this ghost town segment of the market. (Editor’s note: I meant to include this originally, but Christopher Ward offers a hand-wound monopusher called the C900 Harrison Single Pusher, and Stowa has a hand-wound option for their chronographs.)

Next, you can resort to those sub-$500 chronographs I mentioned earlier. The Poljot 3133 and Seagull ST19 are two calibers used in a number of budget chronographs. Yes, I’m talking about Russian and Chinese made movements, respectively, but don’t count them out just yet. Both movements are based on old, reliable Venus calibers, and they’re worth a look if you aren’t a snob. A handful of companies use these calibers, like Junkers, Strela, Magrette, and more. “Bang for your buck” has never been more relevant.

seagull st19 watchtalk forums

Seagull ST19 — courtesy of Watch Talk Forums

With the rising popularity in vintage manual wind chronographs, I’m hoping to see more pop up in the near future. I mentioned in another article some time ago that NOMOS is one of the first brands that comes to mind for this undertaking. Of course, it’s no easy task to develop an in-house chronograph, but I can picture their theoretical chronograph, and I want one already. Another imaginary manual wind chronograph I’d like to see is an Omega Speedmaster with a manual wind version of the Caliber 9300. They’ve managed to fit the big movement into a 42mm case for the Speedmaster 57, but it’s still too thick. Removing the auto-wind assembly might shed enough girth to make it really wearable. I also think TAG Heuer is ripe for a manual wind chronograph with their recent March Madness-esque crowdsourcing of the upcoming Autavia design. Why not go the extra mile and make it a hand-winder? The possibilities are endless!

I know I’m not the only person who thinks about the disappearance of manual wind chronographs. As a vintage watch lover, I dream of modern versions of these gorgeous watches that are truly done right. Unfortunately, most of the calibers that could make it possible have been discontinued. The power is in the hands of the Swatch Group to kickstart production on some of the old movements, as well as some of the other manufactures daring enough to take the leap on their own. Will it happen? Who’s to say? But if there was ever a time, it would be now, given the massive popularity of vintage watches, and the already obvious emphasis on re-issued models. My fingers will be crossed until Baselworld 2017.

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Shane is one of the founding members of Wound For Life and a contributor to several other publications. A lover of all things mechanical, his true passions lie with watches and adventure. To keep up with the latest from Shane, you can follow him on Twitter (@shanegriffin1) or Instagram (@shanegriffin25). If you’d like to get in touch with Shane, email him at shane@woundforlife.com.

8 Comments

  • July 13, 2016

    Howard Marshall

    Just go vintage , you get a beautiful piece and it will/ mayne appreciate.

  • July 13, 2016

    Karl Stockton

    I have a few poljot chronograph watches, my buran moonphase with decorated movement being my favorite, seeing as they bought rolexes machines i think they are very good quality for the price.

  • July 13, 2016

    Kip

    You still have the Christopher Ward C9 Single Pusher chronograph available that is powered by Calibre JJ02. This is a modified version of the Unitas 6498 and can be had for $3190.00

    • July 13, 2016

      Shane Griffin

      Ah! Yes! I meant to put it in the article. I will update now!

      Thanks, Kip.

  • July 14, 2016

    Ken

    I have a Strela with the Poljot 3133. Nice piece of kit and a good value for a watch with a space pedigree.

  • July 14, 2016

    Richard Baptist

    Totally agree with you. I would love to get some manually wound Chronograph movements with exhibition backs in the 39 – 42mm range. I collect vintage chronograph movements, but they do tend to be smaller in the 35-37mm range. I would love to see a reissue of vintage Longines movements eg. the 13Z and 30ch with exhibition backs in a slightly larger case. However until then, vintage it is.

  • July 15, 2016

    Tim

    Breitling Transocean 1915?

    • July 20, 2016

      Shane Griffin

      That one didn’t come to mind. Nice work by Breitling. Now they just need to make a not limited version, and maybe a couple millimeters smaller than 43. Thanks!