I can’t remember the time but it was in a middle of a meeting, my Nokia mobile vibrated… several times. Ignore, I have to focus on my meeting. After finishing the meeting, I noticed that Mr. Yunus of the Jalan Masjid India called me. You guess what? He got one manual-winding vintage Swiss made Camy watch for sales. Hey, I do not have any manual-winding mechy. I have Swiss quartz Zodiac, two Japanese auto Submariner, and two vintage Swiss automatics. Okiesss… I’ll make time to meet him.
My First Manual-Winding Vintage
The watch looks absolutely vintages with red calendar date under the inner crystal date magnifier, red second hand, and quite a clean dial. Working, but more than 5 minutes slow a day. Anyway, it’s a good bargain and a done deal with Brother Yunus for RM280. Just the watch, without the strap and straight away I send for service at Rainbow Watch Ampang Park. Let my friendly repairer Mr. Lee “overhaul” the watch. My first manual-winding vintage watch: a Camy Sputnik of the 60s. From the Internet, I found that the name Sputnik was taken from the name of the first space craft orbiting the earth. It is not the Camy Sputnik really matters to me. First time ever, I witnessed how a watch being serviced! From first step of opening the watch case until the watch completely overhauled and tuned. Thanks to Mr. Lee. I spend couple of hours sitting next to him at his work bench on Saturday and Sunday. You know what? I get to know the Taukeh too – Mr. Fong or friendly name called ‘botak’. We become friends for many years and I… get special discount for every watches purchased from them, until today!
My first hand-winding Swiss vintage.
Watch Tool. Dare to Loose?
By witnessing my Camy serviced by Mr. Lee, i become more passionate about timepieces. Try to service my own? Too early and I dare not to. Mr. Lee asked me to learn one step at a time. His honest advice – get the watch tool. Buy a watchmaker loupe, case opener, some watchmaker precision screw diver, and a tweezers. They are not cheap especially the “Burgeon”. At that time, China made tools was not easily available in KL. I got some second hand tools given by Botak and some I bought from “Tai Sang” in Jalan Sultan near the PS Boutique. The first lesson learned – how to open a watch case, remove the crown stem, spacer and the movement. Ai yai yai… I give it a try. You know who is my guinea pig? The Camy then goes the Helbros and finally the Titus. Not practicing, but I actually clean all those vintage watches; peep through the loupe and observe the movement and try some tips on how to remove scratches on the crystal. All crystal before mid 70s was made of acrylic and it is vulnerable to scratches and cracks. The tips: use a non-abrasive clean cloth with “Brasso” metal cleaner. It works man! It works, but tiring! It takes few coatings and polishing to maximize the result.
I am not a good photographer but this shot was once used as my laptop wallpaper.
After cleaning and retaining the vintage look. My Titus photo shot becoming my laptop wallpaper. I also clean the stainless steel case. Without any advice, I learn how to replace the leather strap with simple logic thinking on how the spring bar works. All my vintages now look more pristine in the outside. What else to learn? I ask Mr. Lee. A humble advice, he asked me to buy an old desktop alarm clock. “Dismantle all the parts and assemble it back. Use your logic. You need to have strong logic, than you can learn about watch mechanics and repair it”, said Mr. Lee. Practice! Mr. Lee told me that during his early days, watch repairer must first know how to fix an alarm clock. A good proposal and he is absolutely true. Wait, I didn’t buy. I didn’t know where to find the junk! He lent me an old Shanghai made alarm clock. Still working with good timekeeping but he asked me bring back in dismantled state. Time consuming, but I manage to dismantle all the parts. Put it into a shoe box and show him. Mannn… am I nuts! “Buatlah sampai bole, bole maa. Hari-hari bikin, sikit-sikit lama-lama misti bole punyaaa...”, Mr. Lee the syifu motivates me. Never mind, it is a long story and taking years to learn by heart! Even until now, I am still learning. Being amateur, along the process I loose several watches! Accidentally, my curiosity kills the cat! Uppss… not cat, watch. And I managed to turn few cheap vintages (and fakes) into junkies and spare parts! Sorry, I don’t have images to describe my lost. You want to hear some more losses? Fake watches…
An avid watch collectors will never wear and keep fake watches in their collection unless they were conned by an illicit seller. This happened to my friend who bought hundred dollars ‘not-worth’ of a vintage Rolex in Vietnam. His fault, he admitted because he didn’t ask the seller to open the back case and show the watch movement. He said, from the watch movement he can determined whether the watch is genuine or fake. Noted! Well, I am not an avid collector. An ordinary collector like me always admires those expensive Swiss watches. Rolex is the most sought-after watch brands in Asia and the world too. For some collectors, to own a Rolex is a must.
One fine Sunday, I went to visit my friend Mr. Yunus at Jalan Masjid India. Thick pocket after two three months of savings, I went for vintage hunting. A bad hunting day, none of Mr. Yunus’s watches enticed me. Never mind, just fulfill my free time. While ‘window shopping’ around the area I stopped at a young chap selling cheap watches. The stall is right in front of the Wisma Yakin. I saw a handful of Rolex on his table. The friendly and smiley face chap open his sales talk. “Bang, saya ada Rolex grade baguih punya”. Sounds Northern dialect! “Berapa budget abang. Kalau minat saya boleh tunjuk. Pakai engine Swiss ori. Complete dengan kotak, certificate sekali. Saphire crystal, tak calar”. Upps, I heard about this high-grade fake from a friend of mine earlier. “Bole kasi tengok? Kalau okey, kene harga dia saya angkat”, I responded to him.
Ignoring the crowd passing by, I stand next to him inquisitively. He took out three green Rolex boxes from underneath his merchant table. Presenting the goodies, he showed me three different Rolex signature models – the Explorer II white dial, a Submariner, and a Date-just. He also unfolded one of the fake Rolex COSC certificate. Mannnn… this is serious. The watches look like genuine to me. (At that time, I don’t know how to differentiate genuine and fake Rolex from outer look!). The Explorer II really appealing to my taste. A four hands calendar watch with fixed 24 hours bezel. The steel finish feels sturdy, quite heavy. “Bang, cermin dia sapphire bang. Tak calar”. He continued his sales talk. He took a key from his pocket and scratched the watch crystal. Like a magician, he proved to me that the crystal is made of sapphire. “Engine Swiss bang, nak saya bole tunjuk. Tak banyak jam macam ni bang.” He smells my interest. He took out a yellow 'Burgeon' box from his sling bag. Careful as an amateur, he opened the watch case. “Tengok la bang, engine Swiss. 25 jewel. Swiss made. Kalau okey saya bole potong tali dia. Rosak, bole hantar balik kat saya. Warranti 6 bulan”. He is about to close a deal.
Convinced, a good bargain. We settle at RM550. All in - the watch, the box, certificate, watch tag, and green leather Rolex warranty card holder. Not only that, he gave me a small catalogue book of Rolex as a gift. Not a bad hunting day I guess. As usual, I am like a small kid having a new toy. Hey dude, I got a Rolex!
This picture won’t tell whether it is a genuine or fake Explorer II. Mine was a fake!
It was a new experience to me. With this fake Rolex, I accidentally learned the world of Swiss watch manufacturing - the untold world of 'ETA' to people at large. Back to the syifu… back to the syifu. What would Mr. Lee says about my new toy? Hey, this fake Rolex sounds very quiet. I can hardly hear the ticking!