They say you never forget your first, and that certainly includes vintage watches. For me, that first was a circa 1943 Universal Geneve military/field dial. I was fresh to the vintage market (and watches in general really) and thought I would start with something basic. A classic time only watch with military style dial and stainless case at a reasonable price. I had decided this would provide a good intro to the vintage watch world to test the waters as I was still learning about the chronographs that I ultimately really wanted.
I knew barely enough to be dangerous. I had started to develop an eye for spotting redials (a repainted, reprinted, altered, or touched-up dial) what to look for in originality, and to really search for other watches to compare it to, movement shots, etc., many in part thanks to the fantastic article by the venerable Mr. Wind, The HODINKEE Guide to Buying Watches on eBay. Joining a forum you connect with and following along with discussions on other watches and learning what the knowledgeable collectors look for and spot has also proven to be invaluable. Interestingly enough, I couldn't find much on this watch. There wasn't a reference number, old archived catalogs, forums dedicated to them, etc. As the auction was running out I did something very uncharacteristic of my typical well researched and methodically plotted out ways, I bid. And I won. I immediately started searching even harder and started panicking with remorse over what I had just done. Finally, I decided to post my reluctant win in the Universal Geneve subforum on Omega Forums, to see if what I had "accidentally won" was even legit. I hadn't posted there to begin with as to not draw attention or competition from others for the watch, and because I was still pretty new around those parts. They couldn't have been nicer or more helpful in educating me that I had indeed won a completely correct watch, right down to the original crown. At the time, the $135 gamble seemed like a lot. In hindsight, I kind of laugh over how nervous I was, and revel in the cheap score.
What was originally throwing me off was that the movement in this one, the caliber 261 was a less common movement used in these watches. Most watches of this era either came with the caliber 260, with a sub second register, or the 17 jewel caliber 263. The folks over at OmegaForums.net were also kind enough to link me Ranfft Watches, an invaluable resource for finding out about old movements. It turned out that this beautifully detailed movement was correct, and in pretty good condition for being a 70+ year old watch. It wound and ran, and ran it did, about 10+ minutes fast per day. It's so hard to part with a new pickup to service but after a long 5 week stint and $89 at the watchmaker, it came back to me winding buttery smooth and keeping great time.
At only 33.5 mm in diameter, watches like these don't get much attention (or respect) these days, which in some ways makes it all the more satisfying. It's probably the most difficult watch I have to photograph as the heavily patina'd dial is almost pearlescent at certain angles. The radium lume-filled, blue steel hands are sublime; the thickly intact lume has evenly patinated the dial over it's long life, and the red sweep second hand add a pop of color to the overall package. The very legible dial features some great, crisp printing and plenty of charm, just look at that "4"! I suspect the dial was originally an off white or parchment color, which has turned to a rich, even goldenrod. I would also say I got lucky in the case department, as the serial number on the caseback and the facets of the case are all crisp and intact as well. I think Nat describes this watch best as a "sleeper". It's undersized and under assuming but with so much character and warm patinated charm. I absolutely do not find it too small, as the 18 mm lug width lends a hand in the strap department. I love the character change with a quick swap of a NATO strap in the summer, and the casual warmth a simple leather strap provides.
I doubt I will ever part with this one, an underdog gamble that has returned dividends in satisfaction, and encourage others to not shun some of the smaller gems of yesteryear.