Hairspring: 3 Vintage Picks Under $5,000 Available Right Now
An Explorer's Watch that Went to Greenland; a Caravelle 'Devil Diver'; a RAF-issued Seiko Chronograph
Back in January, we ran our first collab post with Hairspring, which curates an amazing look at interesting watches for sale around the internet. The goal was to regularly publish a round-up of Hairspring’s best finds here in Rescapement for your reading and viewing pleasure. Somewhere along the way, two months slipped through our fingers and we haven’t yet delivered another Hairspring x Rescapement digest.
With that caveat about the best-laid plans, here’s a look at three picks from Hairspring over the past week: All vintage watches, all under $5,000. If you like these issues, tap the heart or let me know and we’ll make an effort to do them more regularly.
All words by Erik at Hairspring, image credit to the respective seller
1960 Greenland Expedition-Issued Smiths Explorer
Greenland is an unrelenting place. Cold, wet, windy, rocky, and unconquered in places even today. We, the horological hardcore, know and love the fact of Smith’s co-ascension on Everest with an early Explorer. These were watches built for a purpose, that of weathering all conditions. This ref. A404 is in fact the same reference as that very watch that is thought to have been with Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on Everest’s first ascension. This A404, however, was set for a differing exploratory role: that of more accurately charting North-eastern Greenland. And I don’t mean this reference. I mean this exact watch.
The British North East Greenland Expedition commenced in 1960. Sir John Hunt of former Everest mountaineering fame took a crew of 38 to a relatively unknown land. The retailer offering this example was in fact able to make contact with one of the crewmembers on this mission, Alistair Brooks (who also wore a similar Smiths). The opening line of his letter perfectly encapsulates my love of this reference, stating, “The world may be fairly easily divided between those who are always on the lookout for the testing adventures life has to offer and the rest.” If you want to delve into the depths of this trip, check here and here. I simply cannot believe that this watch survives today, and running.
The A404 is an Explorer’s timepiece from the early 50s, decidedly for Alistair’s “those on the lookout of adventure.” It features a robust and basic calibre 1215, with then-advanced shock-proofing and dust resistance. Members of the expedition noted that these watches kept running despite partial submersion, falls, knocks, well-below zero temps, among other abuses. All this while wearing a ‘MADE IN ENGLAND’ signature at 6. The Swiss may have a neigh-on monopoly today, but it was not always so. The movement on this example sports a 12 under the movement serial, likely an indication of the 12th watch out of the issued 38. In addition, its back engraving tells a story like none other. Watches today are objects of fascination and charm. This Smiths, for what it’s worth, reminds us that watches can also be comfortingly reliable tools in the darkest of moments.
This is where I normally comment on condition; here, this watch’s story is its condition. Every mark on this case should be celebrated. Still, the dial is lovely — radium is still applied, the hands have only mild burn. The dial is clear of major degradation. The movement is clear of any visible red flags but is running out of adjustment, service advised. It comes from a well-regarded British retailer. A chance at real history.
Find this Greenland Expedition A404 here from Waecce Watches for 4995 GBP.
Caravelle ‘Devil Diver’ 666 Sea Hunter
If you’re anything like me, this isn’t really a vintage diver; it’s more akin to Colombian white powder. When a non-name brand 70s diver presents a certain level of design sense, history, and value I find it almost sinful to ignore. I don’t understand why a collector would opt for one of the mnay modern homages being produced nowadays when a dial like this was genuinely produced in period with a reliable name behind it, and for a reasonable price.
Caravelle was Bulova’s entry-level name, introduced in 1962. Caravelle was more successful in cracking the American market and became quite widely distributed by the early 70s. Bulova cased basic Swiss movements in slightly diminutive cases and sold them domestically to great success. However, some are more handsome than others. This 36.5mm case is married to a highly legible tritium dial, with an Explorer-ish layout. Its proportions, fonts, lollipop seconds, and rivet bracelet all feel very Cousteau-cool.
The bezel is sun-blasted to a grey ghost finish and its tritium an even cream. This is a lighthearted diver with no collector’s aspiration. Just a damn good watch with a handsome dial, certainly reserved for the enthusiasts among our market.
Find this 666 Sea Hunter here from Kibble Watches for 1250 GBP.
7A28-7120 Seiko RAF-Issued Gen I Chronograph
Highly collected, issued military watches do not necessarily have to come with prohibitive values. With a little careful research, one or two may actually provide value. As a rule, I tend to prefer mechanics to quartz for all the wrong romantic logic. However, provenance and history trump any attachment I have to mechanic escapements or even this site’s eponymous name. While this unassuming Seiko may appear benign, its story is a discourse in renegade 80s horology [Ed. note: In our Significant Watches Podcast episode discussing military watches, we home in on the Seiko 7A28 as a great budget military watch pick].
The 7A28 was in fact the world’s first analog quartz chronograph. As in ever, meaning the first chrono with its stopwatch hand powered by the quartz train. The first 7A28 movement appeared in 1983 and quickly attracted the MoD’s attention by 1984. That contract lasted until 1991. In total, 11,307 of these were produced with stamped numbers for the RAF. In part, the MoD sought the contract because the 7A28 used metal gears for its trains, which could be repaired instead of immediate scrapping. It was also highly legible and capable of a precise 1/10ths of a second measurement (with its own dedicated register).
Interestingly, two main variants exist. This example, with an encircled P (for Promethium luminous material), went to the actual RAF. A second version without luminous material was issued to the British Royal Navy, primarily for HM nuclear sub crews. Promethium was omitted to prevent radioactive interference with sensitive military equipment. Given that these Gen Is were in circulation on wrists of pilots during the Gulf War, Bosnian War, and even Operation Desert Fox, it is enticing to imagine exactly what a life this chrono may have endured.
This example hails from the end of the run in 1989. Its case is full with moderate surface wear throughout, as one might expect and even hope to see. The dial and handset are in excellent condition, with very little degradation visible at all. Rather importantly, its military engravings are still deep and highly legible across an unpolished case back. All told, this is a lovely example of a military chronograph with outrageous value to offer. It comes from a small, well-regarded English retailer who specializes in military-issued watches.
Find this RAF 7A28-7120 here from Finest Hour Timepieces for 1295 GBP.
For all of their latest finds, visit Hairspring.com.