There are a few replicas that are so good that they are termed NWBIG (Not Worth Buying In Genuine) in the replica watch community.
Many Breitlings fall into that category, because apart from the bling, Breitling, until recently, put stock ETA movements inside, which means you can buy a top quality ETA movement and a replica watch, then combine them with very little hassle. If you are really trying to go the extra mile, you can buy the genuine dial and (potentially) hands, making your watch practically indistinguishable from the genuine, for a third of the cost. I am not saying you should – whatever boils your noodle. Buying and owning a replica is illegal in many countries. So, think carefully. Also, replica makers do not invest into research and marketing as swiss makers do. I like to tinker, so for me buying a replica is part of the fun. And that sometimes leads me to make financially unwise decisions. But I still enjoy myself.
Case in point is the Omega Seamaster PRO Chronograph (SMP Chrono for short). I generally like Omega’s. I have genuine ones and plenty of replicas / frankens. I actually also have a SMP chrono with a quartz movement, because I don’t really know how to fix Valjoux 7750 movements and their derivatives. Replica watches with mechanical movements tend to have Asian 7750 (or A7750) inside. Generally, Chinese movements in replicas are not all that bad, but they usually are not lubricated and the assembly is not as meticulous (see this post by excellent watchmaker Christian Dannemann for comparison between Asian and Swiss movements). There are companies, like Tianjin Seagull that have a lot better quality control than some others. Therefore, I tend to buy a replica with a Chinese clone of an ETA movement (an A2836) and then buy a Seagull movement and chuck it in, removing a non lubricated and somewhat shoddy movement originally inside. However, Seagull does not make a 7750 clone. Thus, I so far avoided replicas with A7750 inside.
I was, however, aware that SMP Chronos are considered to be excellent replicas out of the box, basically in NWBIG territory. See the following reviews: here and here. But these replicas were made in 2006 and they stopped making them a few years later. No replica seller has them in stock anymore. Oh well, I decided not to worry – there are some watches that are out of reach, sometimes. But then, someone in a replica-watch forum I frequent posted a sale for a 2006 Noob Seamaster Chrono. Here is one of the photos from the sale:
The seller said that the movement needed servicing, but otherwise the watch works perfectly. I jumped on the opportunity, because this watch is really rare and people just don’t sell them. The price was about 20% of a genuine used one. Either watch would need servicing and a service for a genuine one would cost about 800 EUR if serviced at an Omega boutique, so a better deal. Perhaps there are alternatives? I immediately bought the replica watch, figuring that I would sort everything later.
I then went looking for a movement. My preference would be for a new Swiss 7750 (about 250 EUR), a used one would be also fine (about 150 EUR), but then I would need to have it serviced first (at least 300 EUR). In a pinch I would be willing to buy A7750 (they cost about 80 EUR) and service it (a few hundred EUR if you can find someone who is willing to work on Chinese movements – no Swiss-authorized watchmaker is willing). I got lucky, in a sense, because someone was advertising a NOS (new old stock) Swiss ETA Valjoux 7750 on ebay for about 380 EUR. The price seemed steep to me, especially for a generic eta 7750, but I still clicked on the link. What do you know, it is an actual Omega 1155 movement :), which is a direct clone of 7750.
Admittedly, no SMP Chronos ever had the calibre 1155 inside (they were used in some Omega Speedmasters), but as far as I can tell the 1164 that was used in SMP Chrono’s is identical, except for the calibre number. I am willing to pay extra for a suitable Omega movement. Because Omega movements are exquisitely refinished and very well regulated (read on, to see just how well). They are also all chronometer grade, or better, accurate. So I bought it.
While I was at it, I also looked for a genuine dial. The replica one is supposedly fine (only the orange accents are not as orange, but then the genuine one is genuine, after all. After a bit of a search, I found the only genuine dial available was for the first gen of SMP chronos. I bought the second gen replica. Dials are hard to get – the official Omega resellers do not sell dials, cases, and some hands (like GMT) to the regular public. They are impossible to get through official channels. So, you get what you get. It costs a considerable sum, but it has a lot of fine detail and chrono dials tend to be more expensive compared to regular ones. The difference between the rep and the genuine dial I bought is that the genuine dial has a printed logo and is all white, while the rep is of the next generation SMP chrono that has a silver omega logo attached and red “Seamaster” wording. Oh well. I bought the dial too.
While I was at it, I looked for the model number and case reference. The official sellers only sell parts if you have a case reference. It is a bitch to find it – the model is fairly easy to find (in our case it is 2599.80.00), but the case reference is not listed on official channels, because the assumption is that the certified watchmakers and resellers have this information already. After some searching on replica forums, I found the case reference, which is: 178.0514)
With the case reference, I could go to an official watch parts site and find out whether I can get the genuine hands. And I can, but the little chronograph hands cost 15 GBP each! And I need three. Plus hour, minute and sweep seconds hand. Plus, while I am at it, I need the back gasket and the front gasket in case I decide to put in a genuine crystal (a new one is 212 GBP, but I have three spare genuine ones for regular SMP’s. I don’t know if they fit. They should, as the dials are exactly the same size in chrono and regular versions). I might not install the genuine crystal as it does not have anti-reflective coating, but the rep crystal does. It is not exactly correct, bit looks nicer.
I read the reviews and it seems that the most common point of water ingress are the chrono pushers. I still need to test it, but it wouldn’t hurt if I bought genuine ones, for the right price. They are quite expensive, usually costing about 50 EUR a piece. I found a few used ones that were cheaper than that. So I bought those too.
Now the wait began. After a curious set of events that included the watch being returned to the seller, because of “unknown address” it so happened that I received all the parts before the watch itself. But it did finally arrive, well packed and just as it was advertised. I put it on and wore it for a day, but it was losing about three seconds per hour. The movement did need a service. Luckily, I have a pristine Omega one.
Things to do:
- Replace movement, dial and hands.
- Replace pushers.
- Replace crystal?
- Test for WR.
I won’t replace pushers this time round, because I cannot be bothered until I know I need to. Unfortunately my WR tester broke during my move. So, I cannot yet test for WR and don’t know whether the watch is water resistant as is. I won’t replace the crystal, because no anti-reflective coating. But I’ll do everything else.
Before we begin:
- The stems of A7750 and Omega 1155 are compatible. But Omega stem is thicker crown side – does not fit the genuine SMP chrono crown. I was told the crown is gen, but it is hard to tell.
- The Omega 1155 and 1164 have the same dial spacing (as does the ETA Valjoux 7750).
First the replacement parts. Here is the movement:
Very nice perlage, immaculate finish. Next, here is the dial, back and front (still in a plastic pouch).
I take it out of the wrapper and put it on the movement in the movement holder. There are no marks on it. The feet were slightly bent, but I have straightened them.
I prepare the hands.
Now, I first set the chronograph hands. First the one at 12.
Then, running seconds at 9. Notice a speck of dust at around 2? I cleaned it afterwards.
Then the last chronograph hand.
Now move onto the main stack. First, the hour hand.
Then, the minute hand.
And finally, the sweep seconds.
Now, set the completed assembly to one side. Note that I haven’t wound the movement yet, that is why the seconds are not moving.
I will now start on the watch. Partially remove the bracelet and put the watch into the holder.
It has an anti-magnetic back. Very cool. Later on, the replica makers stopped bothering with this, but this is still old school. I appreciate it.
Here it is, the A7750. Not as fancy as the Omega, but still functional. Finish is rougher, and if I put it on the timeographer, I am sure I would be horrified :).
Remove the stem and crown.
Then remove the holder ring and washers that hold it.
I took out the movement with the dial and hands in place. And put in the Omega. See how nicely finished it is?
Put in the ring holder and the stem. Lubricated the pushers beforehand.
Crystal up, it gets better. 0 s/d, 298 amplitude, 0.0 beat error. This is very good!
At this point, I took the watch off the timegrapher, because, what would be the point of looking at other three positions. But then decided to put it back on and see what it does on the side. Again, amazing, +1s/d, 282 degrees amplitude, 0.0 beat error. Someone at Omega really made an effort with this movement.
The only thing that remained was to lubricate the back gasket, put on the anti-magnetic shield and close it up. Once my WR tester is functional again, I’ll test for WR and then replace the pushers if need be. But otherwise, I am done for now. A few on the wrist shots to close this up.