Time “OUT”, by K.T.

Any serious survivalist has thought through numerous scenarios and situations, right down to the most seemingly insignificant minutiae. I have been engaged in various stages of “preparation” for over 40 years now. Over the last 20 years or so, I have noticed that the vast majority of the public, in general, counts on assorted digital gimmickry to keep track of time. As a result, many people now do not even wear a wristwatch; they just pull out their ever-present cell phone to see what “time” it is.

Of those who do wear a wristwatch in the traditional style, an ever-increasing number of watches are of the quartz variety and dependent on a battery to operate. For those of us who consider the possible consequences of TEOTWAWKI, such as an EMP event caused by nature or by man, one’s battery-operated watch would eventually, if not immediately, become a useless piece of jewelry. Even if it did still work, it would prove worthless after the battery life ends, and unless you have the proper tools and a modicum of experience, good luck in changing your own watch batteries.

What then? How will you, your group, or your family be able to coordinate the endless need we all take for granted of having a timekeeping device available? How will you be able to correctly time cooking or formulate a scientific mixture of some type that requires specific “time” in various stages of the concoction. How will you keep time for sentry rotation and coordination of possible defensive/offensive unit tactics? The list of reasons to have a means for telling time is endless.

Here is a challenge for everyone reading this post who does NOT on a daily basis wear a good-quality, robust, MECHANICAL wristwatch: Go for at least a full day without a time piece of any kind. Do not cheat by looking at the clock in your car, on your phone, around the house, or even the time-temperature reading occasionally displayed on billboards. Do NOT keep up with the time on your computer or any other way. (This test may be best accomplished on a weekend and away from ones’ normal routine.) Cheating will not allow you to truly test yourself and will be of no assistance to you. At the very least, minimize time sources around you. You can stick duct tape over the kitchen stove timer, the microwave, the car clock, et cetera and see how well you do at judging segments of time. Extrapolate time measurement for numerous routines you now take for granted. An exercise like this will cause most forward-looking survivalists to more readily appreciate how indispensable the need for an accurate timekeeper on your wrist or in your reach will become, as dark horizons loom dead ahead, the only uncertainty being when these unforeseen events will arrive.

My recommendation for all serious-minded folk who have not covered this absolutely essential piece of equipment is to acquire a sturdy, 17-25 (more or less) jewel, most likely a Swiss-made wristwatch with a mechanical movement. Let us get a bit more specific and narrow your search.

Many good quality makers of time pieces have been in business for hundreds of years. I could list several for whom the vast majority of you would not recognize, so let me offer up a few of the more common manufacturers as a starting point. As an aside, I have been a watch enthusiast and hobbyist for decades. However, I neither own a financial interest in any watch company or any Internet site, nor have any fiduciary stake in any brand, website, or other affiliated organization in any way.

As a graduation present from high school in the late 1960s, I received a Bulova Accutron and wore it for many years with a new battery installed as needed. In the late 1970s, it became problematic and needed more attention than just a replacement battery. A local watch shop sent it off to the Bulova headquarters, and it was returned a few weeks later but still did not run correctly. The shop was an authorized dealer for several other well-known, quality watches. The shop proprietor offered me any watch he had in stock at “wholesale” cost and also guaranteed that he would also get Bulova to properly fix my old watch.

To his surprise, I chose a Rolex Seadweller. After he choked, he made good on his promise and sold me the brand new Rolex for $750. And, yes, a few weeks later he called to say that my old Bulova was fixed and functioning correctly.

For the next dozen or so years, I rarely had the Rolex off my wrist under any circumstances– whether hard physical labor, rigorous outdoor activity, water sports, or wrist-pounding firearms training. You name it, the Rolex was subjected to ridiculous environmental demands and never missed a beat. One day, it “disappeared” amongst a houseful of teenagers, never to be seen again; that is another story. Thus, began my accelerated interest in quality time pieces.

By then, the price of that Rolex Seadweller had escalated in value, and the replacement cost was beyond what a father of two teenage daughters and a high-maintenance wife would allow. I wore an inexpensive battery watch, while casually keeping my eyes open for a suitable replacement for my Seadweller. I will never forget having a career make-or-break type business meeting one day, and during my travel to this meeting I glanced occasionally at my new wimpy watch. To my angst, I found it had stopped and was maybe only recording one-half to one-third of the correct time. Fortune was on my side, and I made my meeting anyway, but I never forgot nor forgave that watch, nor battery-dependent watches in general. For me, the choice between a high-maintenance wife and a low-maintenance watch was a no-brainer– the wife had to go. (That’s another long story for another time.)

I then ran across a very good deal on an Omega Seamaster with an automatic movement, which naturally was my preference for watch function. I wore it and enjoyed it, and I began to come across other good deals on quality watches. The story takes off in earnest now. I have owned numerous watches from makers such as Longines, Jaeger LeCoultre, Vulcain, Girard Perregaux, Hamilton, Zodiac, Glycine, Sandoz, and literally hundreds of others. As a fairly robust and active sportsman all my life, I had a special appreciation for diver, aviator, and military-type watches that were built to withstand rigorous use and some occasional abuse. In my opinion, each of you needs something along the same lines.

As the watchmaking industry underwent a big upheaval in the 1970s and 1980s specifically, many of the old-line brands were sold, consolidated, or disappeared entirely, as quartz watches were cheap to make and most consumers liked the accuracy and serviceability of these new kids on the block. This opened a back door market for what I call “the Classics”, often with features that were not highly-desirable to the newer mass consumer. The features of “the Classics” are:

  1. A precision, mechanical movement, usually enumerated by jeweled rubies as contact and friction points.
  2. Movements that would either be a self-winding mechanism, which kept power by the movement of your wrist during the course of daily activities or were a manual-winding movement, which required the user to wind such daily (roughly akin to an automatic transmission in a car versus a 3-4-5-speed stick-shift).
  3. Required occasional service or repair, including removing the movement and putting it through a cleaning procedure, tuning and adjusting various contact points within the movement itself, as well as repairing or replacing any worn or broken parts that could render the watch unusable.

Competent watchmakers are becoming scarce, as many have died, and there is a shortage of competent repairmen, although there are a plethora of “battery changers”.

My preferences for fellow survivalists (I despise the yuppie term, “preppers”), gals as well as guys, would be for them to own watches similar to some of the following (in no particular order!)…

  • Omega dive / aviator watch and its little sister brand, Tissot brand
  • Longines and sister brands, such as Wittnauer
  • Zodiac Seawolf, Zenith, Fortis
  • Glycine Airman, Breitling, Movado
  • Rolex – from Air King, Submariner, GMT, Seadweller, et cetera, and their little brother, Tudor-branded watches
  • Sandoz, Technos, Certina, Doxa
  • Eterna Kon Tiki, Aquastar, Heuer (particularly PRE TAG-Heuer)
  • Ollech & Wajs, Benrus, Bulova, Nivada
  • Baume & Mercier, Blancpain, LeCoultre, Vulcain Nautical, Wakkman
  • Eberhard, Briel Manta (just an endless list of “names” put on models for marketing purposes, and often actually produced by a couple of dozen real watch manufacturing and production facilities!)
  • IWC, Vacheron & Constantin, Patek Phillipe, Lange & Sohne Glashutte, Audemars Piguet, Ulysse Nardin, Breguet (and others of that grade are precision instruments and works of art, but VERY pricey).

The list could be endless, but you want a watch that is water-RESISTANT to at least 100 feet. You also want a properly-serviced and timed mechanical movement with refreshed (if vintage), glow-in-the-dark, luminous hands, with a stainless steel case and a ROBUST sapphire or quartz-mineral crystal, which will resist cracking and breaking as well as proper seals on the back and at the crown/stem. Do you want additional features on the watch, such as chronograph (a stop watch), alarm, day-date, and other features? These are referred to as “complications”, and as the term implies, they are additional features that may be of benefit for your anticipated use. However, the more “extra features” one has, the more there is to malfunction, break, and go wrong. Plus, they cost more.

Things and terminology, which always capture my attention, include “compressor” and “super compressor ” watch cases, as does “Caribbean”, which in vintage watch terminology leads one to the 1000-meter / 3300-feet, ultra-deep diver watches. Many, many brand names were sold using these terms. It is rather axiomatic that if a watch is robust enough to dive many fathoms, it can endure you Force Recon types jumping off of cars, doing a martial arts whammy on a dozen zombies, and swimming through alligator-infested waters , and other such Bruce Willis movie impressions.

As with any product, there are cheaply-made similar items and just because a watch looks like the “dive” style and says “waterproof” or other such terms on the back, does not mean it holds serious value for the survivalist. They may even say a “Swiss 17-jewel movement”, but these were inexpensively made back in the 60’s and 70’s and their value is reflected in their price then and now. On the other hand, reasonably-priced brands such as Bulova, Benrus, and Elgin DID make a few serious dive watches and are well-worth acquiring. You will have to do your research and homework to discern which models / brands to seek and which to avoid. Just because it looks like a “dive watch” does not mean that it is truly worthy of that designation. One can spend 200-300 dollars and acquire a suitable, durable timepiece, or one can spend as many thousands as YOUR budget allocates.

In discussing the Japanese watches such as Seiko, Citizen, and others, I recommend that you avoid them. Traditional watchmakers and repairmen just do not generally want to fool with them or try to acquire parts for them. However, Seiko produced some very good pre-quartz mechanical watches. The same thing applies to some excellent vintage German watches; they may all offer a duty-suitable timepiece, but the odds that at some point in a darker future one would be able to locate, a) parts for same, or b) a repairman who could fix such contrivance, is extremely unlikely. The same is true for the ubiquitous Timex watches. The old ones were made with a very inexpensive, but reasonably durable, pin lever movement. They really are not accurate enough or fixable enough to fool with, although your mileage may vary.

The wristwatch industry has “narrowed”. The 5,000 pound gorilla in the room is ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse (ETA SA Swiss Watch Manufacturer). “ETA” manufactures the lions’ share of watch movements now. You may wish to read the informative Wiki page on this company, particularly the “Products” section. A very sound choice would be a watch with an ETA 2824 (with variations) or a 2892, with variations. One can also search for a suitable timepiece using the movement number as the criteria, more so than a brand name.

Some other random notes to consider: I often go to estate and garage sales and occasionally run across quality watches; just as often, I come across small clocks. (Many of the older, bedside alarms can be found at estate sales.) On rare occasions, I have acquired 7- to 15-jeweled, very high quality, precise, older desk and bedside type clocks. Most of what you find are cheap, little 2-jeweled versions, which, even if they wind and run, just don’t keep time very accurately or hold up long-term under extensive use. One occasionally sees vintage clocks that also encompass a thermometer, a barometer, and other features. I repeat: Small clocks with less than seven jewels are not likely to be precision time keepers but may be of some value for your particular situation.

Jaeger LeCoultre is a Swiss company that has made premium time pieces for 200+ years. They offer a desk clock called the “Atmos”, which runs on atmospheric pressure. It has a 15-jewel movement of high precision and quality. For the novice, it takes a bit of research and understanding of how to set up this clock properly, and then, if left alone, it is a work of art and time keeping. Every 20 to 30 years, most of them require a cleaning and service which is in the $200-$300 range. I have bought a dozen or so at estate sales and resold most of them for a tidy profit. If you are fortunate enough to acquire a good one for a few hundred dollars, you will certainly not regret your purchase later. Do your research and pay a bit extra for one with a service history, so that you do not have to spend the money or the time to possibly fix your newly-acquired clock later, since most clock shops do NOT service Atmos clocks. There are some specialists who do service Atmos clocks, which for most of us may require shipping your clock and waiting on its eventual return. These clocks, if properly serviced over the years, are a masterpiece that require little attention but are not conducive to moving around much. There are precise steps to “level” these clocks, set them properly, and to start them. They need to remain in a stationary position after initial set-up.

If you now own an old mantel clock or wall clock that your grandparents or other family members originally acquired many decades ago, it may be wise to have it serviced and adjusted now, before you need it. Most of those clocks are wound with a key and keep reasonable time, if properly maintained. I personally consider grandfather clocks too big and too cumbersome to fool with.

Vintage naval-style ship chronometers are precision-made instruments, which when acquired for a reasonable price are a valuable timekeeping instrument for your home. Again, do your research before you spend your money.

I consider old pocket watches okay. However, they are not practical for serious outdoor duty or for practical daily use. Many can be highly collectible and valuable. Sell them and buy a robust wrist watch, if you plan to be physically active and on the move.

Here are some important, general but random, notes…

  • Be careful not to “over-wind” any non-automatic timekeeping mechanism. Use slow, steady strokes, and let off immediately as you feel the tiniest bit of resistance. The same is true with a key-wound clock.
  • “Solar” watches operate off of a cell, but the cell will fail, just as a battery will eventually fail.
  • Many upscale watches are marked on the dial and/or case “COSC”; this stands for “Swiss Official Certified Chronometer” and means that the watch goes through a period of testing to be sure that it operates within five seconds a day of the precise time. Rolex, in particular, is big on promoting “COSC”, but the more upscale watch manufacturers do not even bother with the process and consider it a marketing ploy. The Wiki page on ETA discusses this. Your mileage may vary on that issue.
  • There are great deals on auction sites for the type of watches I previously recommended. When perusing sell-trade boards and even Craigslist, be sure to inquire of the service history, since you need a dependable watch on your arm rather than a repair project. So, either be certain of the service history or, if the price is right, prepare to take it to a qualified “old school” watchmaker now, before the lights go out.
  • Acquire spare watch bands and bracelets. Bands are leather, while bracelets are metal. Acquire properly-sized pins for such as appropriate. If your watch band lug size (the width of your band between the lugs) is a 16mm, 18mm, or 20mm, et cetera, you obtain spare bands that are the SAME size, not smaller.
  • Avoid the tempting ads in many gun and outdoor-type magazines, which hype advertising for “Navy SEALS watch” or other such sales gimmicks. They are just about all Asian quartz battery watches, all dressed up to look “tacti-COOL”. Even if these watches are/were utilized by Navy SEALS or other assorted snake-eaters, they will fail when that battery dies, and you will not have a logistics supply by Uncle Sam to issue you a new one. When you decide on a quality watch for daily use, wear it a few days, swim in it, take showers with it on, and watch for tiny beads of moisture under the dial. If such is found, you need to immediately take it back to your watch repairman, or return it to the seller, if a warranty is available. Before purchasing, advise the seller you will be testing in such a manner and will not be satisfied unless it meets your requirements. Many auction site dealers will give you a “soft-shoe-shuffle” that the watch is sold “as-is”. Do not accept that excuse. If you buy new from a walk-in retail dealer, you have an obvious simplified recourse to correcting the problem. Incidentally, be advised that most all walk-in retail jewelers and watch stores WILL negotiate what they have in the display case, especially if they are independent and locally-owned. The retail price usually represents a 100-200% markup and more. Cash speaks VERY LOUDLY when negotiating!

Also, many local “gold and silver” buyer stores usually have wrist watches and some are repairmen themselves or know of a competent repairman. I do not recommend “pawn shops”. The mileage varies greatly with them, in my experience, and rarely in your favor.

You will likely run across a reference to “NAWCC “– North American Watch & Clock Collectors Association”, an organization which, overall, holds their members to a higher standard of commerce and credibility.

Do your homework, do comprehensive research, read watch blogs, contact auction sellers before bidding, and clarify your questions and needs. Do not pay for “bling” gold or platinum watches, diamond dials, ad nauseum. Precious metals investments are most wise, but considering a gold Rolex as such is quite foolish. Other knowledgeable time enthusiasts may have different views, tastes, ideas, and perspectives. I have drawn on my particular experiences for the purposes of this submission.

I trust this general overview will be of value to survivalists who looked up from their iPhone long enough to realize that “Time Is Of The Essence”.