Watch #9 – My Memosail Chronograph

It’s no secret that I love chronographs. It’s the one complication that I just can’t get enough of. There are countless variants and approaches and I love the beauty and complexity of the differing systems of levers and springs. I’m amazed at how many different styles and types of chronographs are out there. All doing a similar function of timing something. Column wheels and vertical clutches, cam systems and automatic integration. It’s poetry really.

This Memosail regatta timer is one such chronograph that is so weird and obscure that I just had to have it. It has such a specific job that it’s hard to imagine possible alternatives and other uses, other than the intended one. It’s made to time Regatta race starts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Regatta race, even by accident, and I had no idea there was enough of a market to warrant producing such a watch but apparently there was and still is. There are still several companies making this type of watch.

Here’s how it works.

This chronograph is more of a countdown rather than a time “collector”. As shown above, it has a disc under the dial with a 10 minute countdown followed by a 5 minute start. The beginning of a regatta race can be quite chaotic because the boats can’t line up like a car race but rather, they share the water and jockey for a spot as close to the starting line as possible when the race begins. Somehow, the countdown timer of 10 minutes can help the skipper find the best starting place. It’s still a mystery to me, perhaps this article with Worn and Wound might clear it up.

I purchased this watch in need of repair last year. It contains the Valjoux 7737. This is a variation of the 7733/34 which is a very common cam based chronograph (seen in some of my past entries). The difference with this calibre is the centre chronograph recorder has an extra tooth that moves the minute recorder every 30 seconds. The minute recorder is a little shorter so that it doesn’t poke through the dial, and attached to it is a wheel that feeds to the countdown disc. While servicing it, I discovered the minute recording wheel was jammed in its pivot hole. It seemed the stem may have been forced in place and over time had squished the pivot hole causing the minute recording wheel to get stuck. I had to hammer out and then ream the hole to allow it to move freely. After I finished the service and the required repairs, everything functioned nicely and I was off to the races (I mean regatta). Once I put it all back together, that’s when I encountered an ethical question… Do I re-plate it?

Messing with the condition of the watch case is such a heated topic, mostly among collectors. Some feel that the watch should show its wear with pride and it somehow romanticizes its history and increases its value (debatable). In this instance, the case looked like someone had put it through the washing machine one too many times. It was badly pitted and the brass base metal was showing through, especially on the lugs. My first thought was to polish off the plating, allowing the brass to show and wear it like that. This can present an issue because the luster of brass is very short-lived and it starts to oxidize almost immediately. Bronze will do this too but when it changes it looks much nicer.

I polished off the plating and kept it with its brass case for about a month when I decided that it needed to be re-plated. Plating is tough and requires a whole infrastructure of fluids, metals, and controlled electricity. At some point, I’d love to set up a workstation to do this, but at the moment I just decided to go with Acme plating in the town of Abbotsford BC. I think they did a splendid job and it looks boss. It has a nice thick coat of nickel and the brushed finish is still intact.

So what do you think? To re-plate or not?

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