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The Great Grandfather of Quartz- Girard Perregaux Calibre 352 Project

I spotted this for sale a while back and being a sucker for these 1970’s cases I just couldn’t resist it! The other interesting aspect was the quartz movement inside, I wasn’t aware of the GP calibre 352 but a bit of research soon showed how special it was.  The fact that it didn’t work made it a perfect project for an enthusiast and watchmaker in training like me. It was definitely going to be one of my biggest challenges yet though!

The watch in question…

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The calibre 352 was developed by Girard Perregaux at the time when the quartz revolution was in its infancy. The quartz technology was only just being developed for use in wristwatches and the majority of the Swiss watchmaking industry joined forces on the BETA 21 project. Girard Perregaux were widely recognised as having one of the best research and development departments in the industry which pioneered new technology. Due to this in house expertise, GP decided to go it alone and with the added financial backing of one Jaeger Le Coultre they set about developing their own quartz movement.

They created the Electronic Research Department and hired electronics engineer Georges Vuffray, the aim was to develop at first a quartz master clock, then a small quartz clock and  and finally a wrist watch. The company acquired new premises, machines and complex tools, and also began training staff in the new technology. The rival CEH group had already progressed significantly with their quartz project and the race was on to be the first to market. At this time the Japanese were already submitting quart watches for testing at the Neuchâtel Observatory in Switzerland.

With the help of Motorola USA and Thomson-C.S.F. of Paris,France, Girard Perregaux succeeded in miniaturising there quartz technology for use in a wrist watch and managed to present their prototype Elcron movement at the 1970 Basel Fair. The Elcron featured a quartz oscillator vibrating at a frequency of 8,192 Hz. The Elcron was the first quartz movement to come out of GP’s Electronic Research Division and ultimately laid the foundations for their first commercial quartz watch, the calibre 350. Girard Perregaux were beaten in the race to release the first production Swiss quartz watch though as CEH launched just that, at the same Basel Fair, in the form of the BETA 1. This used the same frequency of 8,192 Hz.

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The calibre 350 arrived a year or so later and was not only less complex than the BETA movement but also utilised what proved to be the optimal quartz frequency of 32,786 Hz. The frequency later became the universal industry standard and all modern quartz watches still use this frequency. The movement was equipped with an integrated circuit produced by Motorola and its power consumption was reduced signficantly, enabling sufficient battery life. The timekeeping of this movement was amazing when compared to a mechanical watch with a deviation of just one minute per year. GP submitted the movement to the Neuchâtel Observatory in order to test out its new cutting edge technology and for the first time, a quartz wrist watch passed both the static and dynamic tests. After 38 days of testing, GP quartz watches were recognised certified chronometers by the Neuchâtel Observatory in 1971-1972, a testament to their exceptional precision and reliability.

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The 350 contained no jewels, instead it used teflon bushes, the material is unlikely to chip or crack like conventional ruby jewels and is also self lubricating, which enabled service intervals to be reduced dramatically. Subsequent movements followed in the form of the 351, 352, 353 and 354, and GP’s quartz watches proved to be a fantastic commercial success. Thanks in part to their advanced technical design and GP’s ability to put their innovations into production at a competitive price. In total more than 20,000 GP350 based movements were created for Girard Perregaux and for other brands. Girard Perregaux can be credited for discovering the optimal quartz frequency and bringing it to market, the fact that they did this alone makes the feat even more incredible! I think you will agree that this movement is a true piece of horological history and definitely something worth preserving.

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The watch I purchased was cosmetically in pretty good condition for a watch of its age but although the movement looked clean, it wasn’t working. Obviously I have worked on quite a few modern quartz watches but visually they are pretty far removed from the calibre 352. The size of everything is huge and pretty crude but in a cool kind of way, its very well put together though and seems to be very robust. I didn’t really know where to start to be honest because of all of the usual testing points found on a modern quartz didn’t transfer over to this. But luckily for me, my tutor was head of Omega UK’s electronic service department in the 1970’s so his knowledge and understanding of quartz is astounding. I watched in awe as he demonstrated how to test the circuit and motor, with no idea whether or not the fault could be found and rectified.

The movement…

 

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The tests pointed to the quartz can being the problem, the quartz can is a vacuum sealed unit that contains the quartz crystal, because a current put through the circuit was giving an impulse to the motor. Parts are no longer available for this movement so the only solution was to solder a new one onto the circuit. The problem was that the can in this movement is about five times the size of a modern one and as such it was impossible to source a new replacement of the same size. My tutor came up trumps with an old can from a vintage quartz that was of a similar size and would keep the watch looking close to its original specification. He soldered the new quartz can on to the circuit and we fitted it back into the movement along with a fresh battery. To my relief the movement began to run and a quick check on the vintage Witschi quartz tester showed that everything was functioning just as it was designed to all those years ago.

We also elected to cut open the old quartz can out curiosity so we could see what had caused it to fail, the answer was found in the form of the two wires that are fixed to the quartz crystal, they had simply broken and were no longer in contact with the crystal. I now had a functioning movement although it didn’t look completely original, obviously the replacement quartz can was different and through my research I discovered that the trimmer had also been replaced at some point. Unfortunately the soldering to the circuit board of both parts was a little messy but I had a working movement so I decided I could live with it as it was.

The electronics were now functioning so I decided to strip the movement down and service it but before then I had a couple of problems to solve. The first was an issue with the calendar not changing over, this movement has an unusual system of levers and springs which made finding the fault a tricky task. I eventually traced the problem back to one of the jumper springs, it didn’t seem to be seated correctly which meant that its full strength wasn’t being used and it couldn’t apply enough force to move the calendar disc. All I had to do was re-seat the spring, quite a simple if fiddly task but an easy fix nonetheless. What I hadn’t bargained for was the spring jumping out of position and vanishing to never be found again! The lack of available parts meant that this could cause me a real problem and sure enough, my attempts to adapt replacement springs to fit were unsuccessful. I needed another movement to cannibalise for the spring.

The offending calendar jumper spring tucked under the large screw just to the left of hour wheel…

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I  started the long search for another movement but in the mean time I decided to rectify the other fault in the keyless work. The crown would pull out into the handset position with barely any resistance at all and there was no way of telling which setting position you where in by feel alone. Having never seen another one of these movements and not knowing what the keyless parts should look like, my initial diagnoses was that a small portion of the yoke had broken off and the spring that was fitted was strong enough to compensate for this. I modified a stronger spring to fit but it made very little difference. I came to the conclusion that more of the yoke had broken off than I initially thought and it wasn’t possible to get enough leverage on its tail. I needed a replacement yoke too so I intensified my search for the spare movement that I was in desperate need of.

You can see the broken yoke and added spring/screw in this same picture…

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Things weren’t going too well at this point and I was starting to think that I would never get the watch back together again. Spare movements are hard to come by and if I could find one, I’d have a watch without a  functioning date change and with a crown that had a mind of its own. I had tried to improvise with replacement parts but it simply wasn’t possible to rectify the faults. I still had a watch that kept time though and the parts that were pretty much impossible to find in good condition, like the circuit, trimmer, etc were all working. I decided that while the search for a movement continued, I would service the rest of the movement in preparation for fitting the replacement parts I would hopefully find. This is when I encountered my next problem and a problem not entirely of my own making…

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I stripped the movement down without any problems in preparation for cleaning and placed all of the parts in some cleaning baskets. Usually its necessary to peg out all of the jewel holes to ensure there is no dirt or residue left behind after cleaning. Although the jewels in this movement are self lubricating teflon, they look a little dirty so I decided to the same which later turned out to be a big mistake! Whilst pegging out the last teflon jewel, with barely any pressure at all, it popped out of the the train bridge. I wasn’t quite sure of the best way to put it back in so I put the question to my tutor and he took a look. Unfortunately while attempting to pick it up with a pair of tweezers he managed to ping it off the bench and up into the air. Despite our best efforts to find it, it was nowhere to be seen.  These things can happen though and are to be expected when dealing with such small components. Unfortunately I now had a movement that couldn’t run without modification and I had a non-functioning calendar and a crown that slid in out of the each setting position when it liked.

I guess at this point some people may have given up and either sold it as it was or broken the watch up for spares, thats not me though so I persevered. Fortunately one of the electronic watch experts on the watch forum TZ-UK, Keitht, had a spare main plate from a Jaeger Le Coultre 353 which contained the teflon jewel that I needed. Keith posted me the main plate, I removed the teflon jewel and fitted it into my train bridge so the movement was able to run once again. I have to say a big thanks to Keith as he sent this part to me free of charge and he also sent me a circuit board early in the project which unfortunately turned out to be broken. By now I had serviced the movement but I was still short of the other parts that I needed to fix the other faults.

Fortunately for me, a wanted to buy post on one of the other watch forums led me to the remaining parts that I needed. Paul from electric-watches.co.uk got in touch and stated that he had a non-running 352 movement, after a few email exchanges which confirmed it had the parts I needed, it was on its way to me. The movement arrived and sure enough, it had the calendar spring I needed so I fitted this into the movement and the calendar worked perfectly again. Result. The second part I needed was the yoke, on close inspection I discovered that this movement actually had a combined yoke and spring. The small section that had broken off, turned out to be as big as the remaining part of the yoke I had! No wonder it didn’t work. An enterprising repairer in my watches past had drilled and tapped a hole in the main plate, fitted a spring to act on the yoke and used the screw to hold this spring down. He obviously went to a lot of trouble to do this but clearly it wasn’t a successful fix… Anyway with the new yoke fitted, the crown clicked in and out of the setting positions perfectly. Another result. I chose to keep my original main plate despite its added hole because I wanted to keep as many original parts as I could.

During my email exchanges with Paul, he mentioned that he thought that the only reason the movement didn’t run was because of a broken motor so there was a chance the rest of the electronics might work. I figured that I may as well test them because if they worked, I could make my movement look completely original again. After a quick test on the Witschi machine, I was ecstatic to discover that they did in fact work perfectly! The spare movement really was a great buy and after fitting the electronics to my movement, I could finally get the watch cased up at last.

The finished movement with an original circuit, trimmer and quartz can…

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If you are a regular reader of my blog you will remember that a while back I had my Omega Speedmaster MKII case refinished to the original factory starburst finish by Rocco at Watchworks. I was really pleased with the results and have since kept in regular contact with Rocco, updating him on my studies and discussing my plans for the future. The first thought in my mind when I saw the case of this watch was that it had to be sent to Watchworks for the same treatment as my Omega. The Omega case was particularly bad as it had been over polished in the past but this GP still retained its original finish albeit with plethora of scrapes and dings. I was confident that it would come back looking a million times better so I sent the case off to Rocco at the very start of the project and awaited its return.

Before…

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A few weeks later the case returned and the results once again were outstanding, the lapping machine Rocco has enables him to perfectly replicate these original 1970’s factory finishes and his work really brings these cases back to life. I’m sure this transformation is testified by the pictures above and below. Fortunately the original acrylic crystal was almost completely unmarked so I refitted it on the cases return and finally I could get to the moment I had waited a long few weeks for, casing up the completed watch. I must say a big thanks to Rocco once again for his amazing work and if you have a case of this type, do not hesitate in sending it to him so he can work his magic. You definitely won’t regret it.

After…

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The dial on this watch is also a fantastic sunburst grey with applied markers and GP logo, its a real sign of quality and when you discover the cost of these watches at the time of their introduction, you would expect nothing less. The handset is also rather nice, the hour minute hands have a combination of polished and what appears to be sandblasted finishes, and the white seconds hand creates a nice contrast. The condition of these parts is pretty close to NOS too save for a bit of ageing to the dial edge, the white paint on the seconds hand and some scratches on the polished GP logo. Combined with the case style and it finish, the whole watch compliments itself well and eludes an aura of real quality. I’m particularly fond of the genuine Omega mesh on my Speedmaster with the same case style as this so I decided that I wanted a mesh to finish this watch off too. However due to the relatively low cost of this watch I didn’t want to spend hundreds of pounds on a strap for it. Luckily I managed to source a generic 20mm mesh that was perfect, the GP has a relatively small lug width of 18mm especially when you consider the case size so I used a vice to gently squash the mesh ends until they fitted the watch head.

The dial…

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What I’m left with is a watch of enormous character and quality that represents a key stage in horological history. The fact that I have been able to restore it back to its former glory despite all my struggles gives me a great sense of achievement and reminds me of how much I love this career of mine. I hope to keep this watch for a long time and for such little cost, I don’t think I will ever find anything with this kind of history or quality for anything close to this price. I’m sure you will agree that it looks fantastic and was well worth my considerable efforts along with the help of others. I must say a big thanks to Keith, Paul and Rocco as without them, the end result wouldn’t have been possible. I probably rank this project as my best to date and I’ve now got a taste for vintage watches with horological importance so stay tuned for my next project…

The results…

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