In January 2016, I was browsing BidorBuy, the South African equivalent of Ebay.
I go onto BidorBuy at least once a week to look around for vintage watches, clocks, or anything interesting.
I scrolled through pages and pages of broken old useless crap, when something caught my attention.
There was a beautiful clean looking vintage watch. The brand on the dial read “Sampmar”.
I quickly opened the page and noticed that the watch was listed as “Not Working – Needs a Service”. My excitement immediately dropped and I was about to close the page when I noticed the price.
The seller was asking only R250 (about $20) for the watch. I decided that it’s worth the gamble. Even though it wasn’t working, I snapped it up before someone else took it.
After a few days of waiting, the watch arrived!
I quickly unwrapped it and opened the box. The watch was gorgeous!
As you can see above, the watch is absolutely stunning! It might be a little dirty and the case was a bit oxidized, but that dial…….OMG!
The dial took my breath away….and those gorgeous hands!!!!!!! (I struggled to breathe for a few seconds)
The dial is beautifully enamelled. I have never seen a watch with an enamel dial before. It looks almost wet and sticky. It’s a shame that more modern watch manufacturers don’t use this procedure to make their dials.
The hands and Arabic numerals are coated with radium paint. Over the years, this paint has aged into the most beautiful orange-brown colour.
I measured the watch, and the dimensions are:
Case Size: 33.5mm
Strap Size: 16mm
Lug to lug width: 38mm
Case Thickness: 11mm
Sure, it’s a bit small compared to modern watches, but it’s pretty old. In those days this size was normal.
I decided to wind the watch and see if there is any life left in it.
After giving it a few winds. It actually started ticking for a few seconds, but then it stopped.
I wound it a bit more….same result.
I knew the watch wasn’t working, but after my initial excitement, this did take a bit of the enthusiasm away.
I decided to open the caseback and have a look at the movement.
Once again, my breath was taken away!
All the parts inside the movement seemed to be intact.
After winding the watch, the balance wheel ticked for a few seconds and then stopped. I gave the balance wheel a bit of a nudge and it continued ticking again, but not for long.
I decided that I was going to take the watch for a service.
The following morning before work, I stopped at my local watchmaker, On Time Watch Services.
I handed it to one of the watchmakers and asked if they would be able to service it and make it run again.
He opened the caseback and said it seems all the parts are intact.
He was pretty confident that they would be able to breathe new life back into this watch.
After leaving the watch at the watchmaker, I decided to do some research and find all the information that I could gather about the watch.
I took many photos of the watch in order to do my research, but the most important images for the gathering of info turned out to be the stamps, or hallmarks, inside the caseback.
I made a post on Watchuseek (one of the biggest watch related forums on the internet).
I asked for help to identify the animal inside the caseback.
A few members responded, and one of them pointed me in exactly the right direction.
He showed me a page which has the following info regarding hallmarks inside Swiss watches made between 1880 and 1933.
Now I can place the watch within a certain date range! This means that the watch was made somewhere between 1880 to 1933.
Most people who I have spoken to would place it somewhere in the 1920’s. Using the above chart, I could also see that the watch case is made of silver!
The 0,935 inside the caseback means that it’s 93,5% silver.
I quote the following info from the same website where I found the above graph:
“The Swiss Precious Metals Control Act of 23 December 1880 introduced a uniform system of hallmarking for watch cases to be used throughout Switzerland with the marks shown in the picture here. These hallmarks marks are seen on the vast majority of Swiss watches with silver or gold cases imported to the UK between 1880 and 1907. The small “x” in each mark is replaced by the identifier of the assay office where the item was tested and marked; “G” for Geneva, “N” for Neuchâtel, “C” for La Chaux-de-Fonds, etc. Swiss hallmarks do not indicate dates. Items marked with the symbols introduced in 1880 must obviously have been marked after that date. These hallmarks are seen on the vast majority of Swiss watches with silver or gold cases imported to the UK between 1880 and 1907. As discussed above, from 1 June 1907 these Swiss marks are very rarely seen on imported watches and UK import hallmarks appear instead. The table reproduced here uses the “per mil” or parts per thousand symbol ‰. It is like a percentage sign % but with two zeros below the line indicating that the ratio is per thousand, rather than per hundred used for percentages.
Between 1880 and 1933 the Swiss hallmarks for silver were either a “bear rampant”, a bear standing on its hind legs, or a grouse. The bear mark indicates that the metal contains at least 0.875 or 87.5% pure silver, and the grouse that the metal contains at least 0.800 or 80% pure silver, the balance being an alloying element, usually copper, that gave the alloy greater strength and wearing ability.”
After the Service
2 Weeks later, I got a call from the watchmaker informing me that the watch was ready for collection (2 longest weeks of my life).
I jumped in my car and picked up the watch.
The watch was beautifully polished and the silver case was as clear as a mirror.
I almost couldn’t believe that it was the same watch!
It ran again, and according to the watchmaker it is keeping great time for such an old watch.
Now I needed a strap!
For this, I went to Savvas and Son in Kloof street, Cape Town.
They do custom watch straps.
After waiting another 2 weeks, I finally had the watch back.
In total spent R2750 ($200) on this watch. Totally worth it!
Watch purchase on BidorBuy: R250 ($20)
Service: R1500 ($110)
Custom strap: R1000 ($75)
Please let me know what you think in the comments below!