A Watch Collection Begins: GaryG And His Bucherer Chronometer
Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a collection, no matter its eventual size or value, begins with a single watch.
This is the story of the first watch that I bought for myself, one that I still own and wear 45 years later: a chronometer bearing the Bucherer (now Carl F. Bucherer) name.
The horn and the trip
Given my modest upbringing in an exurb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it was actually quite unlikely that I would ever come in contact with – let alone buy – a high-precision Swiss watch at the tender age of 15.
The catalyst in this case was a relatively unusual musical instrument, the alto clarinet. Even if you’ve played in a concert band, it’s possible that you’ve never even seen one of these creatures occupying the middle tonal range between the “normal” clarinet and its deep-throated brother, the bass clarinet.
I wasn’t that great an instrumentalist as a youth. Partly as a result, I took advantage of every opportunity to flee the back rows of our school band’s clarinet section and play various loaner instruments that included the bassoon and alto clarinet.
When it came time to audition for “honors” bands, I rode the rarity of my horns into a variety of local, all-state, and regional ensembles, culminating in the opportunity to tour Europe with the School Band and School Chorus of America.
Through a combination of odd jobs and the pre-Internet equivalent of a gofundme campaign, I managed to raise the thousand-dollar trip expense (almost $6,000 in today’s money) along with a spending money kitty of $48.
In late June of 1971, I met up in New York with my new musical colleagues and we took off for Brussels on my very first airplane flight to begin our adventure.
After a few days of rehearsals, we began to tour from city to city, riding in a caravan of buses by day and playing concerts in the evenings. We snaked through France and then made our way to Lucerne, where we were to stay for a few days while performing outdoors in a few of the surrounding towns.
I was immediately smitten with the Alps, the lakes, the flowers, and pretty much everything Swiss, a fascination that endures to this day. And one item in a small packet of welcome gifts we received, a small silver souvenir spoon bearing the name “Bucherer,” intrigued me enough that I made my way to the store of the same name on Schwanenplatz, Lucerne’s central square.
I did have some company on my visit: another member of the band from somewhat more well-off circumstances who was on a mission to buy his first Rolex.
While he made his way from display to display of gleaming Rolex watches, my attention was drawn to another piece: a steel-encased watch with a beautiful blue dial.
If the store were laid out with the same floor plan today, I could take you to the exact spot where I stood at rapt attention as the salesperson explained to me that this particular watch was very special because it had been certified to keep exceptional time.
There were other attractive pieces, but none of the rest had earned the same timekeeping laurels; and when I asked the price, I was delighted to learn that it amounted to US $42.
Of course, that left me with a meager six bucks for incidental expenses for the entire remainder of the trip, but little did I care, as I was now the owner of a fine Swiss watch that served as my daily wearer for a decade and still finds its way onto my wrist today.
In truth, I’m not entirely sure what’s inside of this watch, as the case has never been opened! I’ve tried to crack it open a few times over the past years, but without success. I’m content to allow a qualified watchmaker to do the honors rather than forcing the issue.
However, my research on near-identical watches from Bucherer made during this period indicates that the movement is most likely an ETA 2824 as shown in the image below.
I thought I’d check out how well this watch keeps time after all of these years, and I was fairly impressed. Using my usual non-scientific method (the Kello app on my iPhone), I determined that in both face-up and face-down positions the watch is keeping time to within +20 seconds per day or better.
It seems quite possible that with a thorough cleaning, oiling, and adjustment, this watch could well perform once again within the C.O.S.C. standards.
One thing to note: if you look carefully at the timing report above, you’ll see that the frequency is shown as 21,600 beats per hour, not the 28,800 beats per hour that we associate with modern versions of the ETA 2824; I can also report that my watch doesn’t hack.
This may suggest that the movement inside of my piece is another variant from within the ETA 28xx family or simply a lower-beat, non-hacking version of the 2824 that some sources suggest was made at the time; once I have the case opened I’ll provide any needed updates.
Regardless of the exact designator for the movement, this watch is chock-full of features that I wouldn’t remotely expect to find in a watch selling today for $249, the equivalent of that $42 in today’s dollars.
The chronometer-grade movement is certainly one, but there are others, including the distinctive Bucherer crests visible both at 12 o’clock on the dial and on the attractive steel buckle.
I’m still in love with the dial of this watch; the distinctive brushed blue surface is not too bland and not too vivid, and it’s only recently with my purchase of a similarly-colored piece from Ludovic Ballouard that I’ve found a blue dial that really suits my tastes the way that this one does.
The applied hour markers and tasteful fonts are very much to my liking, and while time has taken a bit of a toll on the tritium-lumed hands, they are completely suited to the rest of the watch and make for a coherent presentation.
On the wrist
This isn’t a huge watch by today’s standards, but with its wide bezel it has a great deal of wrist presence. When I measured it, I had to check several times to convince myself that the case really is only 33 millimeters across; as seen on the wrist it looks easily four or more millimeters greater in diameter.
Sadly, my very first watch, a Timex given to me by my Dad, seems to have slipped from my grasp; so in terms of watches that have been “mine” from the start rather than passed along from my ancestors, this watch is the earliest one that remains and will always be the very first piece that I purchased for myself.
Every time I wear it, I’m reminded of who I was in those days: brash but insecure; full of hope and plagued with doubts; and just beginning to have my eyes opened to the wonders of the world beyond my small town.
If for no other reason, this watch is, and will always be, precious to me for those feelings it reminds me of.
Update: the Bucherer movement mystery resolved
As I’m not one to leave any stone unturned, shortly after finishing this article I bought the appropriate tools and unscrewed the case back on my Bucherer chronometer.
What I found inside was a remarkably clean-looking ETA 2620 movement. As described in the ETA literature, it’s approximately 26 mm in diameter with automatic winding (which appears to be bi-directional), has a 42-hour power reserve, and (as confirmed by my timing app) an escapement frequency of 21,600 vibrations per hour.
In the photo above, you can see the “2620” stamped into the plate along with the movement serial number (a feature of chronometer-grade ETA movements), the ETA crest, and the designator “RR.” The latter is a bit of a remaining mystery, as my research so far hasn’t surfaced any documents that establish the meaning of the RR stamp. That said, I’ve only seen it in photos of movements in other Bucherer watches, so it may have been associated specifically with ETA production destined for Bucherer.
Case: stainless steel, 33 x 39 (including lugs) x approx. 10 mm; Plexiglas crystal, solid screw-in case back
Dial: brushed blue dial with applied hour markers, Bucherer crest and printed markings
Movement: automatic winding; ETA 2620; certified chronometer
Functions: hours, minutes, central sweep seconds
Price: original retail price approx. $42/180 CHF; recent online site listings for comparable watches approx. $225
Production year: 1971