Chronographs are likely one of the more useful and sexy mechanical movements that watch enthusiasts hanker after, with the other being a GMT movement. Flip over the back of any mechanical chronograph watch and watch all the mechanical attributes in all its glory (assuming you have a display case back of course). Compared to a GMT movement, a mechanical chronograph will likely put any mechanical GMT movement to shame. There is just something mesmerizing about the additional 2 buttons, the sub – dials depicting the elapsed minutes and hours and the stationary second hand (and for some 5100 movements, the minute hand) standing ever ready to start marking the fluid passing of time that simply demands your attention and adoration.
Yet mechanical chronographs do not come cheap. Most “reasonably priced” chronographs available in the market today uses the venerable Valjoux 7750 should you decide to go down the Swiss route.
In-house chronograph movements from the various Swiss powerhouse costs 5 figures (at the higher end of the price bracket) and up most of the time. However with the looming stoppage of movement supply from SWATCH’s ETA, more and more Swiss brands are looking to develop their own chronograph movements in-house (ie Breitling’s B01 and Tag Heuer’s 1969 movement), which will inevitably lead to higher prices for any chronograph movements, before mass production will cause prices to fall. An alternative route for Swiss watchmakers is to buy over the IP rights of existing chronograph movements such as Tag Heuer’s 1887, which is based on the blue print of Seiko’s 6s chronograph (TC78). Read more about it here and here.
The other way to obtain a mechanical chronograph is from Seiko with the options being the 6s (column wheel + tilting pinion + 12,6,9 subdials) and the 8r (column wheel + vertical clutch, 3,6,9 subdials). The more pricey 6s is mainly available in the guise of Brightz Ananta in the Japan Domestic Market (JDM), while the 8r is more widely available internationally in the form of the Ananta/Seiko series. The 6s chronograph models on offer are gradually being reduced as Seiko shifts their attention to having only 1 chronograph movement in the family. However prices for the cheapest 8r starts around USD 1,600 after the various discounts. As of today, there are no fully mechanical chronograph in the Grand Seiko range being offered (although spring drive models are available).
Russian mechanical chronographs are also available, such as the Strela.
Yet another alternative is to pursue the Chinese route, where companies such as Seagull are producing economically priced mechanical chronograph movements like the ST19. Please do not mistaken the ST19 to be a below par movement. The Seagull ST19 is the Venus 175 calibre produced by Seagull using Venus tooling machinery bought over in the 1960s when Venus was raising funds to develop other movements. Parts between modern day Seagull ST19 and vintage Venus 175 movements are hence interchangeable. In the words of watcharama : “In a nutshell the Precista PRS-5 houses a Swiss designed and tooled, old fashioned, traditionally laid out (and functioning) chronograph movement produced in China.”
Traditionally, the mechanical hand wound chronograph industry (automatic chronographs only came about after a three horse race in 1969) was dominated by Lemania (now absorbed by Breguet), Valjoux (now absorbed by ETA and also the producer of the current standard bearer of automatic chronograph movement, the Valjoux 7750) and Venus (no longer in existence, assets absorbed by Valjoux in 1966 ).
It is easy to distinguish a Venus column wheel chronograph from the offerings from Lemania and Valjoux. Upon resetting the chronograph, a very light touch is often all that is needed to reset the hands. This is because initially depressing the “Start” pusher also cocks the hammer lever. At a touch of the “Reset” pusher, this releases the already cocked hammer, which resets the hands, bringing them back to rest at zero. Another obvious visible hint is the “Y” shaped cock.
The difference in the amount of force required to depress the “Reset” pusher is also obvious in my own Seiko 6s chronograph, which requires more force, similar to Lemania and Valjoux movements. However similar to the Venus, the minute hand ticks over only at the end of each elapsed minute.
With my vague and incomplete knowledge of chronographs in hand, I proceeded to obtain a Seagull 1963 re-issue containing the Venus 175, now re-branded as the Seagull ST19.
The Seagull 1963 was first released in 2011 (yes I know its 2 years early) to commemorate the 50th year anniversary of the original 1963 Seagull issued to the Chinese Air Force.
The silver hour markers are beautifully applied with numbers appearing at every even number and triangular markers at 1,5,7,11. There is a train track running at the circumference of the white dial with slightly longer hashes to demarcate the second/minute markers. There are also small numbers printed on the inner track stating the time at every 5 second/minute mark to aid in the telling of time.
Starting at the top, the red “communist” star (circumference with a silver border) is present, followed by the words 21 Jewels “Zuan being HanYu PinYin for Jewels”. This is followed by 4 Chinese characters which simply means “Made in China”. Right at the bottom, bordering the 6 o’clock marker on the left and right are the 2 words “Zhong” and “Guo”, which simply means “China”. This is a play on the “Swiss Made” and “Japan Made” designation which can commonly be found in the same location. I find it very ironic that a mixture of HanYu PinYin and Chinese characters are used on the same dial, I rather they stick to using solely Chinese characters.
There are 2 black subdials at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. The 3 o’clock indicates the elapsed time in minutes (up to 30 mins), while the 9 o’clock represents the constant running seconds.
The white dial with 2 black sub-dial layout is commonly referred to as the “panda” dial.
The squared off lugs are beautifully polished on the outside and even on the inside of the lugs. This is a feature not commonly found in watches many times its price, as it is usually neglected. Also no scratches were found on the inside of the lugs upon further observation.
The case is 42mm across (excluding the crown) and it concaves gently at the edge of the dial towards the case back (see above picture). The case is also polished all over. The finishing is generally acceptable, however it cannot be compared to the polishing found on the Ananta, which is also many times pricier. Also due to the lack of brushing or other alternative forms of polishing, I’m certain the cost of the finishing here is much lower than that found on watches with more varied finishing.
Hardened mineral crystal covers both the dial and the case back. A sapphire option is also available at a higher price point.
The hands are simply rectangles with thin strips of lume found in the middle of the hour and minute hands. The lume will not match that of Seiko, but is just sufficient for night time visiblity in the first hour or so. An all red second hand and 2 silver hands for indicating the elapsed minute and constant seconds completes the package.
Crown and pushers
Upon closer examination of the movement, which looks pretty on cursory examination, it soon becomes apparent that at this price point, the movement finishing leaves much to be desired. There are scratches that can be seen at the tip of the Y-shaped cock close to the middle- top of the picture.
There are also scratches/dust that can be seen on other parts of the movement. The Chinese strips also appear to be not as deeply engraved nor as consistent as that found on my Ananta/Credor.
However the cock appears to be beveled all round by machine, and the screws are (probably) chemically blued.
Specifications of the ST1901 movement is as follows:
19 Jewels /21 Jewels mentioned on the watch dial, but 19 mentioned in other posts.
Power Reserve: approximately 38 hours (from my own example, the power reserve easily runs between 48h and 52h. I suspect that Seagull might have change the mainspring in later examples of the 42mm 1963 Seagull re-issue.)
Shock resistance (Incabloc style)
Beats Per Hour: 21,600
Constant seconds at 9 o’clock
30 minute chronograph at 3 o’clock
Chronograph seconds by central hand
Column wheel control + tilting pinion
It came in a simple wooden box which is something that I was not expecting at this price point. It also came with a Black/Red stripped NATO strap. The leather strap in the above pictures belong to me.
At this price point, the finishing of the movement and case leaves much to be desired but is entirely understandable. More importantly, is the fact that the buyer is buying a piece of chronograph history at a very very accessible price point, which should rightly be of more importance to watch enthusiasts.
Other possible options include the Timefactor’s PRS-5, which uses the same movement. Released in 2008, this had also long being sold out and can only occasionally be obtained from sales forums or eBay.