Brown Dial Ebay Photos vs Reality

I recently bought, and returned a 105.003 via Ebay.

Here is the main shot, and all others were this colour. It looked an interesting brown dial. Now I must say I was not convinced, but even so I put a “nuclear snipe” as a friend really wanted me to help him find a brown straight lug. We bought it at the very top – beating out a very low feed back bidder smelling somewhat of fish. Or Shill.

This are the photos from the listing:

1-from listing

1 2

The shots above were a selection from the listing which all showed the same colour tint. I realize now the photos have the red colour enhanced. My fingers dont look that colour.

The reason I returned it was that the watch that arrived:

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Bore little resemblance to the sales photos, the colour of the dial was grey and dirty. No warmth or hint of the “galaxy chocolate” that the sales photos showed. It is clearly the same watch, and I suppose in my mind I knew that there was a chance that those photos were over flattering.

I contacted the seller as soon as I had taken the photos and returned the watch and he refunded the full amount.

In my opinion I thought the sales photos deceptive, and that the watch was miss represented. All the photos were processed or edited to consistently show a chocolate dial, and what arrived was dirty grey colour.

In the interests of balanced reporting the seller thought I was a flaky buyer who needed to earn his trust before working with me again.

Why don’t we want Service Parts? – A quick guide for a Newcomer

On the left is a 145.012, restored sympatheticaly by me. On the right is a 145.0012 built by Watchco in Australia, obtained by me several years ago. It is built entirely from service parts available at the time - circa 2011
On the left is a 145.012, restored sympathetically by me. On the right is a 145.0012 built up by Watchco in Australia, obtained by me several years ago. It is built entirely from service parts available at the time – circa 2011. I do not know the history or source of the movement.

Note the difference in appearance between the two above. The watch on the right, while cleaner and brighter looking, does not hold my eye in the same way as the one on the left, which seems to get better the more I look at it. I am aware there are collectors who disagree with my views.

A vintage speedmaster is more attractive, to me, when it shows a thin coating of age, or Patina, on the dial, hands, perhaps the bezel in the form of fading or colour change, and even the case if it is not damaged. The watch on the left shows a nicely aged dial and handset. The dial and hands are in good condition and the bezel though chipped, is faded blue and of the correct period. The service bezel, as on the watch on the right, would look wrong to me if fitted to the older watch.

We avoid service parts because they do not look the same as the original parts – it is as simple as that. Side by side, as above, it is obvious. The new luminous material, called Supeluminova, is very much brighter than the older Tritium.

The new service dials, as well as being Superluminova, have no step, or lack an applied logo. Some have incorrect length indices. See more on service dials here and here.

When serviced, especially at Omega themselves, some parts that we as collectors admire, are changed in the desire to return to the customer a watch that can perform as new, or better than new. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the astronauts watches.

These were returned regularly for service, and as a result many have service dials, hands and bezels in order to maintain the watches at the highest level of performance.

All Speedmasters may have been serviced, opened up, and had parts changed while in to the watchmaker for maintenance. Some very rare examples are completely original and collectors value these in quite a different way to the Price Chart’s principles. The watch on the left above is a one family owned watch. I had thought it was going to be untouched, but on inspection it had been polished, so I had to refinish the case. The case had some corrosion, and if sent to Omega, would have had the case replaced with a service case – again lowering the value to me. To be clear, a damaged, polished original case is worth more in a watch than a service replacement.

I recently acquired what I think is an untouched 105.012, see here

P7260029
Service case on the right. Note the different lug profiles, as a result of polishing on the left hand case. Some of the edge is less defined, obvious in this carefully arranged lighting.

What Bienne (used?) to do ….

A Speedmaster may have been through extensive changes, with many original parts changed, such as the dial, handset, and bezel. Here is a 2998 that has been to Omega and experienced the “astronaut” style servicing – including a replacement case! This would make perfect sense for the factory, in its endeavors to give a service customer the best possible watch it could.

A watch that started out as a 2998. The movement has the same first six digits as more than one of my original 2998's, so I do not believe it is a semaster or deville movement.
A watch that started out as a 2998. The movement has the same first six digits as more than one of my original 2998’s, so I do not believe it is a semaster or deville movement. It carries a service case, service dial, service hands and service bezel. While these are older service items, they still devalue the watch almost entirely down to the value of the parts.

Which Service Parts are less valuable than others?

A watch with an older service, and parts replaced before tritium was phased out still show some nice aging and can make some very attractive and collectible pieces, but not valuable when compared to the original specifications. (With the notable exceptions of the blue and racing service dials).

The watch above was service sometime before 1994 when Tritium was phased out in favour of superluminova. This watch is actually an interesting service “snapshot” of the time. Still worth much less, but more than a 2998 with parts replaced today.

So you see there are degrees of “Service Damage”.

The most common thing we see in the market place are watches that otherwise correct have replaced hands, and/or bezels. This is a relatively minor problem, solved for the most part by spending cash.

A service dial is a huge devaluation, and everything else would have to be good to warrant spending the time effort and cash on a new vintage dial – these are almost impossible to find in the vintage “Non T” executions.

Service Movements

They do exist! For a short time, possibly in the 1980’s, watches when sent for service had their entire 861 movements replaced. The ones I have seen are 48m serials in 145.022 cases.

I would not buy a watch with a replaced movement.

Calibre 321 Service Dials

Omega supplies service dials for a 321 speedmaster, which is pretty unusual service for a company to continue to supply parts for an item manufactured at least 45 years ago. This modern dial is easily spotted as it has Superluminova Markings. A simple lume test will show it. (Expose to strong light for a few minutes, then switch off and observe – a strong glow indicates Superluminova)

Modern Omega Service Dials, for Calibre 321. The dial on the left has a double print of SWISS MADE
Modern Omega Service Dials, for Calibre 321. The dial on the left has a double print of SWISS MADE. These dials would be the same as the ones fitted by Omega when they service a 321 Speedmaster at Bienne today. When fitted to a watch, a collector will reduce the value to that of the remaining parts combined.

It would appear Omega has manufactured a variety of “Service Dials” for 321’s that were used throughout the 1960’s and later. These pre c1994 (my estimated date) dials are not the same as the 321 service dial available today.

Here are some examples of Calibre 321 Speedmasters with Omega made, service dials. These dials vary from original specification but are clearly Omega made, and made for the Calibre 321. When fitted these earlier dials still reduce the overall value of the piece, but not as much as superluminova’s.

321 service dials
Each of these watches carries a early service dial, with characteristic combinations not seen in the original specifications. All carry the correct feet for a 321 speedmaster. None of these examples have an applied metal logos. Note the length of the hour indices on the dial, and the T markings, or lack of them, and the spacings.

They can easily be spotted as they are tritium, some with T marks of wide spacing, some of narrow (similar to early 105.012’s) and with painted logo dials instead of applied metal logos.

I believe the dials pictured above with no T marks are still Tritium, as they do not glow comparably with the superluminova. I cannot explain this.

Since writing this, I have come across several short indices, AML dials with 321 feet. Here are some examples:

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145.012-67 from Ebay. Note the short hour dial indices and Applied Metal Logo, along with T marks. The step is shallow

Here is another example of a service dial owned by a member of OmegaForum.net:

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Service Dial: AML, Short indices, and T marks. This dial is very shallow, almost flat. However not as flat as a MkII dial.

 

 

2998 Prices

As of today, (july 2015), 2998’s from one owner sources have all but dried up, compared to two years ago. In 2012 several good “Owner Watches” were traded in the $4000-6500 range. It is difficult to say what they are worth today, as these watches do not show up.

The watches today are mostly offered through dealers, like this one:

2998 on Ebay and Chrono 24 for around $15,500
2998 on Ebay and Chrono 24 for around $15,500

This watch is typical of the kind of thing I am seeing from dealers who do not (yet?) have the detailed knowledge that an informed collector has. This watch has a dial from a 105.003, service hands and bezel. So the only original things might be the movement and case, and that cannot be guaranteed.

Chrono24 has six 2998’s as of today, and range from $6500 to $22,000. Interestingly as of today the most expensive one is on hold. See it here:

2998-4 on sale at Chrono24 for $22,900.
2998-4 on sale at Chrono24 for $22,900.

This watch is pretty much correct, and has the more attractive (to me) triangle lume in the hour hand. Still, anything over $20,000 for a black dialed, DO90 bezel 2998 is something I have not seen until now.

These summer months are notorious for thin markets, and I will wait until September before I draw solid evidence for a major shift in prices in the Price Chart – but I feel it may be coming.

For comparison here is an exceptional 2998 purchased recently, from the original owner, for more than I wanted to pay. Look at that dial!

2998 recently acquired from the owner.
2998 recently acquired from the owner. The mark on the running seconds register is actually a mark in the crystal.

Brown Dials

This is not as simple as it may seem. Most people call any faded or degraded dial a chocolate, or tropical dial, especially if they are trying to sell it. Some people put great premiums on a brown dial, and others dismiss them outright as rubbish; inferior, degraded  items never to be considered for a collector.

Personally I will place a premium on a dial that I think looks attractive. Some of my best brown dials I bought by accident, and that makes me feel good – this was by sellers who simply had not noticed that the dial was brown.

There are degrees of fade, ranging from the barely noticeable to the dials that look as though they were never black in the first place.

Once again, the value is all in the attraction. It must be attractive to be valuable.

For me there are four categories of Brown Dial:

  1. Dark Brown: An even, dark brown, visible but not always immediately obvious. Usually seen in 2998’s

    2998s. On the left a Dark Brown dial, and on the right an Omega service replacement dial.
    2998s. On the left a Dark Brown dial, and on the right an Omega service replacement dial. This dark brown is very attractive, and often found in very good watches, which if on the market are already very expensive!
  2. Galaxy Chocolate: This is an obvious yellowish milk chocolate brown. Immediately obvious as brown. This colour is seen in older radium dials, and I have seen a similar strong colour in 145.012.
    2915-3 and a 2998
    2915-3 and a 2998. The body colour of the 2915 is even, yellowish brown, similar to the colour of Glaxaxy milk chocolate. For me this colour is valuable.

    145.012s On the left is a galaxy brown
    145.012s On the left is a galaxy brown. On the right is a service dial. (The brown is at service where amongst other things we will fit the correct style hands)
  3. Dirty Brown: Sometimes grayish brown, seen in all older references, but for some reason I see many 105.012’s with this slightly unattractive colour. Not seen in 861’s, so far.

    105.012's On the left is a greyish brown dial, that to me does not add value, as it is not a special pleasing colour
    105.012’s On the left is a greyish brown dial, that to me does not add value, as it is not a special pleasing colour.
  4. Chocolate: Seen mostly in 861’s of two very specific serial ranges, 2911xxxx and 2960xxxx. These dials have been seen in varying shades of brown, with some variation through the body. The intensity of colour changes through the contours of the dial, often going lighter at the step, or at the subdials.
    P7180004
    Both are 145.022’s. The brown one exhibits a pleasing swirling brown body with good plot retention. Note the blacker patches around the inner edge of the subdials, and the unevenness of colour. This I call Chocolate. Black one is a -78 for comparison. The watch on the left with the brown dial could be offered for sale in todays market at four or five times the price of the watch on the right.

    P7180008
    145.022-69. Closeup of the chocolate dial showing the uneven colour change, and thick plots.

Condition

There is no doubt in my mind that the colour of these dials is caused in part by environment, particularly humid conditions. Several of the watches pictured I know to have spent time in tropics and humidity definitely seems to be a common thread in these watches past. This humidity can go too far, and cause the dial to degrade too far, or with unattractive patches. This may be oil, or water resting on the dial:

A faded dial, but blotchy and not good quality.
A faded dial, but blotchy and not good quality.
Sierra Exif JPEG
Chocolate dial 145.022-69 with 2960xxxx serial
145.022-69 With a Chocolate dial
145.022-69 With a Chocolate dial. this is unusual as the serial is outside the normal ranges for browns, it may be the dial was added later.

Is the colour Natural or Man induced?

This is a thorny subject, and particularity threatening for those of us who have paid premiums for a brown dial. So first the definitions of natural and Man Induced should be set.

Natural: A dial that has degraded in the watch, and remained in the watch. A dial that has changed as a result of normal wear, and environmental influences experienced during normal use on a persons wrist, or as a result of storage, over a long period of time.

Man Induced: A dial exposed to any light, heat or dyes for the purposes of changing the colour, while inside a watch or on its own.

So far, I think the watches with brown dials that command a premium are Natural. I have yet to find someone who can show me a Man Induced patination that I like enough to pay for.

Further Reading:

A discussion on Man Induced changes in Speedmaster Dials 

A discussion of a “Cooked” dial at auction

Identifying an 861 Service Dial

861 speedmasters are the most accessable and easily maintained of all the watches covered on this site – they offer the best comprimise between value and durability.

However even these watches will loose value with a service dial. A service dial is an Omega made, and supplied replacement dial with a different specification to the original. These were fitted some time after 1994 when tritium was phased out, and these dials have no T marks each side of SWISS MADE, and no step.

The reason this destroys the attraction is that the dial is the heart of the watch, and a new dial is without any of the charm I seek in a vintage watch. On the 861 dials, it is easy to spot as ALL 861’s carried T marks up to about 1994. (Well beyond the scope of this site).

On the left is an original, tritium, stepped 861 dial. On the right is the superluminova service replacement
On the left is an original, tritium, stepped 861 dial. On the right is the superluminova service replacement

The differences are that the serice dial has:

  • No T marks
  • No step between the minute track and the central plate
  • Superluminova for the markers

Superluminova is so much more effective than old tritium that spotting it is as simple as switching off the lights:

This shot was taken after switching off the lights, without changing the camera settings. The bright marks easily give away the superluminova
This shot was taken after switching off the lights, without changing the camera settings. The bright marks easily give away the superluminova

Price chart for July / August

105.012-66 CB case. A fine example of an original, unploished case, clearly showing the facet lines. The dial is one of the best I have seen. Recently Aquired
105.012-66 CB case. A fine example of an original, unpolished case, clearly showing the facet lines. The dial is one of the best I have seen. Original pushers.  Recently Aquired

We are now in the dog months. Summer often has very few watches available, and less buyers. We can see wider fluctuations in upper and lower prices, and some terrible watches offered. The sensible sellers seem to leave.

105.012’s continue to come onto the market. Prices varying widely, as is the quality. Several polished CB cases have been seen.

Straight lug watches have been very rare. I have been asked to comment of several examples held by dealers, that have been on the market for some time, most with problems that have made them undesirable to me.

I still see calibre 861’s for sensible prices. As ever, these watches can be chosen with care and a good one found. Unlike the older watches, there still seems to be oportunities to have many to choose from.

Because of the very thin market, no changes have been made to the list, which you can find here.