You should buy an aircraft clock

Yes, YouShouldBuy is now a tag here. It suits me. This post is hand-reposted from the WatchOtaku site after discovering that blog posts will be lost; this one was worth the effort of saving.

Buy yourself an aircraft clock

Created by Paul HubbardLast updated Aug 05, 2013

Waltham 8-day clock

The Story Until Now, and What I’m looking for

I’ve had decidedly poor luck with my quest for the perfect desk clock. I want a mechanical clock, preferably with an audible tick-tock, with an 8-day or greater power reserve. I want to have the enjoyable routine of winding it Monday morning and starting off the work week happy. It needs to not lose more than 2-3 minutes per week, otherwise I’ll miss phone calls. This is totally a desk toy, so budget is limited.

This started when my wife’s mother gave us a ship’s clock her father bought in 1954, but it needs a $400 service and isn’t going to keep time very well. (More of a change-the-watch clock than a navigation chronometer). It gave me the idea of a nice clock, though, dang it.

Next I bought and enjoyed the Omega calibre 59.8D 1940s clock

but have gone through hell with it too. It initially kept OK time, but after a few weeks starting gaining or losing minutes per day, and even finding someone who’d service it was very tough. In the end, Chelsea Clock was willing to service it, but quoted me $900 to do so. I love that clock, but really not sure I’m willing to spend that much on it.

I talked to the nice people at Timekeepers locally, who tell me that Omega a few years stopped selling parts to non-Omega watch and clockmakers. BOO OMEGA. YOU SUCK.

Especially since I’ve emailed Omega and they’re unwilling to service it, for any price. DOUBLE BOO OMEGA. QUIT BEING DICKS.

A New Hope

Timekeepers has a large stock of Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clocks, which I would totally adore as a mantle or desk clock. The unfinished-case models are $650, and refinished ones around $1,100 so I’ll wait and ponder that. I’ve also looked into carriage clocks, and deck watches, but hadn’t found anything good. Most were too worn, needed expensive servicing, or were too expensive.

As I’ve said before, for a while I was a student pilot at the Fox Flying Club in Illinois. Had a grand time flying Piper Archers like this one:

Check out the dash:

I’ve left that image huge so you can see details.In addition to the flight-specific bits, there’s a nice legible clock in the upper left. If you think about it, aircraft clocks need to be robust: There’s a ton of vibration and temperature variation. Modern ones like this are quartz, but they were mechanical for decades… 

An eBay search for “vintage 8 days” eventually led me to buying this one.

It’s made by Waltham (squint and you can see the name on the dial), a famous now-bankrupt American brand better known for pocket watches. I would guess that they used modified pocket watch movements for these but that’s purely speculation right now.

This one is mil-spec for the US Navy, which should mean super-tough and reliable. Model number 22809-A, military part number AN5743-1. 9 jewels! 

Visually, I’m in love. Uncluttered, two colors, great contrast and legibility, zero extra. Perfect.

Read the listing, and it gets much better:

Clock was completely dis-assembled, all parts cleaned very well, re-assembled and lubed properly with 5 kinds of Moebius oils. The best! All clocks I sell are GUARANTEED to keep good time.

Yay! That’s what I want. At $199 it’s incredibly cheap for a fully serviced 8-day clock.

Did a bit more research and bought a cheap acrylic stand too. Different seller, $15:

A Turn for the Worse And Then Better Again

Clock bought, paid, arrived in two days flat… and it won’t start. WHY?

Contacted the seller (quiche_le_poodle on eBay), a very nice guy, who promptly offered to fix it free:

Hi. Should have been running when you got it. Yes, return it. I don’t know  

why it quit so soon! Usually they last a long time, many years. I have sold 

hundreds of them with no problems. Sorry about that. 

 

Ray 

So it’s headed out today. I will post a followup. I’m optimistic, but then aren’t I always?

Update 8/1/13 – Ray got the clock and reports

Hi. Got the clock. Mainspring busted. That is very uncommon on this model.  

Will send it back with new, not used, spring installed tomorrow. 

Update 8/5/13 – Got the repaired clock today, running and looks perfect. Ray even tucked $12 in the box to cover my shipping! Now that is a nice guy. Highly recommended.

Learn More and Things To Know

Aircraft clocks seem to be as-yet-undiscovered. There’s not a lot of info on the net, and prices are quite modest for what you get. They come in different sizes and different function sets. I got the most-basic, as that matches what I want on my desk, but I’ve also seen 24-hour dials, timers (chronographs), dual-time, ones with 5VDC dial lighting, etc, etc. Prices go from $200 for this one to $1000 for a Breitling from United Airlines with all sorts of coolness:

This page has a comprehensive listing of clocks, part numbers and most-basic specs, but that’s it. Like I said, there’s not much information out there. I think this Waltham dates from the mid-1940’s, which is pretty darn cool.

Ray notes that these are calibrated to run in the vertical position. So make sure and get a stand or make one yourself.

Ray seems to be an excellent seller – his home page shows that this is his hobby, along with electronics, so his margins are probably tiny. I love finding a kindred soul in it for the love. (I can say that; after all this site is free!)

Buying Advice

Start with Ray. Make sure anything you bid on is fully serviced, cleaned, lubed and warrantied to keep good time. And do leave a comment here if you have information to share, please.

Posted by

Computer engineer from San Diego. Obsessed with hardware, software, timekeeping and elegance.

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