A Pair of Chinese Skeletons

by Rob Berkavicius (Rob B)

Repairing watches for a busy watch dealer here in Bangkok gives me the opportunity to play with lots of nice watches, many of which I could never afford to own myself. But don't for one minute think that makes me a watch snob...I find a lot of enjoyment can be had from even the cheapest watches to be found, and here are a couple of examples. I purchased these two skeleton watches the other day from street vendors, both powered by cal. 2650 movements of Chinese manufacture. How cheap? The larger chrome watch cost me 500 baht (US$12.50), and the slightly smaller gold one I bartered the price down from 1850 baht (US$46.50) down to 400 baht (US$10.00)!

The silver one has a chrome plated case, a stainless steel display back, and a folded link deployant bracelet of quite reasonable quality. The gold watch has a gold-plated base metal case and a leather strap. Both watches have screw backs, crowns with seals and are probably adequately water resistant. Various watch companies buy the movements from wholesalers, and case them up for sale. The overall finish of both watches is remarkably good, though I suspect the gold plating on the small gold case will probably wear off fairly quickly. This is a view of the display backs:

Here are a couple of views of the movement, this first one from the dial side. The cal 2650 beats at 21,600 bph, and has 17 jewels. This calibre is available in both skeletonized and standard versions, and in gold plate and nickel, and also a non-skeletonized automatic version too. The gold-plated skeleton version of the movement I think is the best looking one. They are supplied with a variety of shock protection systems, I have seen systems that look identical to Kif parechoc (as in the example below), Incabloc, and Seiko Diashock of both the old and newer type. And...hey! who needs a power reserve feature? All you have to do is look at the mainspring to see if it needs winding!

While the decorative finish on these movements may appear a little rough in these pics, in real life it is quite acceptable to the eye. In fact, the screw heads on these movements are very nicely polished black, ("black", meaning optically flat surfaces). The ratchet and upper crown wheels are snailed. The train wheels acceptable too, though just the plain finish of the sheet material they are made from, but gold plated.

Though cheap, these movements work very well indeed. Taking these two apart revealed that they are well engineered, everything fits properly, no sloppy tolerances were noticed and the escapement set up perfectly and "according to the book". The pivots were all oiled, sparingly I admit, though adequate. The factory that produces them obviously must have a exceptionally good manufacturing and quality control systems in place to be able to make movements like this in large quantities, and for such a low price. So how do they perform you ask? This example ran a few seconds per day slow "off the street" but a quick tweak on the timing machine saw it running dial-up at +1 sec/day and crown-down at +4 secs per day. A very good performance for sure. Add to that, it produces a perfect trace on the timing machine as good as any Eta you'll ever see. I have enjoyed wearing these watches a lot over the past few days...and will continue to do so yet!

Update...27th December 03...

Not being satisfied with having a skeleton watch which has some of the movement obscured by "styling" features, I decided to make a couple of small mods to improve visibility. So the cross has been cut from the centre of the dial, and the printed display back crystal has been changed with a plain one. A great improvement I think. I still like the idea of a chapter ring...without one skeleton watches can be difficult to read and therefore perhaps a little impractical for my taste. I found the gold skeleton watch almost impossible to read. So I allowed the chapter ring to stay, though I am contemplating making it a little narrower. And more than a week later, this watch is still firmly stuck to my wrist and running very well.

Text and Images copyright © 2003 by Rob Berkavicius (Rob B)
"Skeleton" Header Graphic by Paul Delury
December 28th 2003, Bangkok, Thailand