Thursday, February 20, 2014

Valjoux 7750 are not all created equal.....or are they?

I recently had a conversation with a friend about how various watch makers use the Valjoux 7750 and that sparked the idea for this post. For the uninitiated the 7750 is an automatic chronograph movement designed by Edmond Capt for Valjoux and released July 1, 1974 only to be discontinued shortly after its release due to the watch industry's quartz crisis. When the watch industry stabilized the movement was revived and put back into production in the 80's and various models of it exist today that offer GMT, moon phase, power reserve indicator, tricompax layout, etc.

Chronograph movements aren't exactly a new concept with the very first one invented by Louis Moinet in 1816 to solve the issue with tracking astronomical objects against an accurate time plot. The first automatic chronograph was introduce by Zenith with the El Primo on March 1, 1969 that still incorporated a column wheel design. The 7750 came five years later and solved a design hurdle which was a movement that can be manufactured easier, cheaper, and faster. Initially designed as a workhorse movement and still referred as such by watch makers the 7750's initial intention was not to be a high end movement, but an affordable chronograph ebauche.

What made the 7750 easier to manufacture was the use of a cam and lever known as the coulisse lever system to replace the column wheel. The column wheel is a very precisely created piece and took tens of hours by a single person to finish and polish by hand elsewhere the coulisse lever system required far less precision in manufacturing yet maintained high accuracy. Not only was it easier to manufacture it is far more rugged than the column wheel and is the only type of mechanical chronograph to pass military standards. A draw back to the coulisse lever was that it wouldn't consistently reset the chronograph hands back to zero and Capt solved this by utilizing an existing patent from Henri Jacot-Guyot who filed his patent in 1940 that of a heart shaped cam now ubiquitous to the 7750 that accurately resets the hands to zero.

Despite its humble start the 7750 has become synonymous with a high grade movement and the workhorse gained popularity among manufactures and watch enthusiasts alike for reliability and accuracy. While column wheel chronographs remain to be the highest echelon of chronograph movements the 7750 in various incarnations and modifications has found its way into many high grade watches. This is where the distinction begins within the 7750. Because it is a common ebauche you often hear advice from collectors to thosee interested in an automatic chronograph to purchase a 7750 based watch at the best price point, or that how IWC calibres 790x,791x, and 792x are just 7750s and no need to spend that kind of money. This is a common and unfortunate misconception and it is making the same statement when buying car that all V-8 engines are the same and it doesn't matter which one you buy, or when selecting a mobile phone that all smart phones are identical and that it makes no difference if you purchase an iPhone or an Android.

To be fair there are many custom options that can be ordered directly from ETA ranging from Geneva stripes to blued screws and that there are many watches with stock 7750s and its variants dropped straight in. I wanted to mention this because depending on the watch it is just a 7750 and you are quite possibly paying for the branding. An example of this is the Swatch Group to whom I often compare them as the Pepsi Co of the watch world due to the number of brands it owns. As of this writing Swatch Group owns Breguet, Harry Winston, Blancpain, Glashutte Original, Jaquet Droz, Leon Hatot, Omega, Longines, Rado, Union Glashutte, Tissot, Balmain, Certina, Mido, Hamilton, Calvin Klein Watches & Jewelry, Swatch, and Flik Flak along with several movement manufactures namely ETA. For this writing I am looking very specifically at those watch makers who does modify the movement and worthy of assigning their own in-house calibre name.

IWC is one of those companies that uses ebauches form ETA and modifies them in house with their 792xx calibres fitted with the Trovis regulator among other changes. Sinn is another manufacture with modifications to the 7750 that sets it apart from a stock ETA offering by using a proprietary blend of materials that allows the escapement to never need lubrication. Back to the column wheel discussion Longines overhauled the 7750 through ETA (both owned by Swatch Group) as the Longines L.688.2 or ETA model code A08.231 with the major change being the retrofit of a column wheel to replace the coulisse lever system and market it as an entry column wheel automatic chronograph.

Helmut Sinn made the prediction that the market will be flooded with too many 'luxury' watches and this is the precipice we are seeing and where many draw the incorrect conclusion of 7750 based watches. ETA currently offers 7750 with and without day/date, 7751 moon phase, 7753 tricompax, and 7754 ETACHRON regulator along with additional component variation at the factory in an attempt to distinguish one 7750 from another. The quartz crisis forced many brands to go under and those that survived did so because they cut costs by ceasing R&D and production of in-house calibres in favor of using ebauches from ETA. In retrospect without the quartz crisis the proliferation of the 7750 wouldn't have been possible. Omega was one of those companies when facing bankruptcy in the 80's began using ETA ebauches to cut costs and in recent years returned to in-house movements when the market was favorable and profitable again. With growing sales of mechanical watches companies are less timid of taking financial risks in developing their own in-house caliber and this coupled with the desire to stand out in the market we are seeing for the first time in many years the development and production of in-house calibres. Breitling who is known for chronograph watches and practically made the style fashionable finally replaced the B13 which is a 7750 for their in-house movement the B01.

Another factor to using the 7750 is a simple supply and demand issue where companies that are either getting back into or are getting into manufacturing in-house movements and does not have the production capacity. Tag Heuer has been struggling to cease use of Calibre 16 which is a 7750. They began by acquiring rights to existing movements and one of the acquisitions was the Seiko 6S78 which Tag Heuer modified and produce in Switzerland as the Calibre 1887. Tag Heuer didn't anticipate the growth well and went back to using Calibre 16 in some of their watches to keep up with demand. Conversely another strategy that took advantage of the supply issue was Panerai who purposely stunted production that essentially created a limited run. Panerai began developing their own in-house movements in 2002 and rapidly developed a replacement for every ebauche they were using from ETA all at their own pace with the exception of a 7750 reference design which it removes the chronograph functions and maintains a subdial seconds at 9'o clock as the OP III. Even ETA couldn't keep up with the demand and outsourced some of their manufacturing to other companies. To qualify as Swiss made movements the companies it outsourced to had to be in Switzerland such as Sellita.

The venerable 7750 will be seen less due to ETA's decision to no longer sell ebauches but complete movements only to new clients beginning in 2011. They have also been cutting back on 7750 production because the Swatch Group no longer wants to support their competition when they have a number of their own brands to support. Timing however couldn't be better when it was discovered that several patents expired under ETA and that some of the affected patents were for the ETA 2824 and 7750. Sellita being an outsourcing vendor for ETA already had manufacturing capabilities for those movements and began producing exact clones of those movements under their own brand name and calibres as SW-200 and SW-500 respectively. Sellita SW-500 has already been showing up in watches that formerly used 7750s such as the Sinn 356.

Can you find stock 7750s in various brands? Yes you can, but you can also find interestingly modified movements where the 7750 is a reference design. With the watch industry changing towards in-house movements and ETA withdrawing from the ebauche business, we may soon find the 7750 to be an in-house movement to Swatch Group companies only. Now to track down a Lemania 5100 next.....


I came across this amazing article on the 7750 and it's worth a read