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Author Topic: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel  (Read 7767 times)

Offline Ultra-Vintage

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"What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« on: February 22, 2014, 03:36:50 PM »
The second topic that I want to discuss in regards to what makes Zodiac movements unique is the sealed mainspring barrel.  These are important for nearly all of the calibers that most Zodiac collectors are interested in, from the 61 all the way to the 88.  The sealed mainspring barrel may be the most critical part of a properly running vintage zodiac, and unfortunately, it is the hardest part to find a replacement for. 

In the simplest of terms, the mainspring provides power to the watch.  If the balance wheel and hairspring can be thought of as the "heart" of the watch, the mainspring and barrel could be thought of as the "stomach" as it takes in energy and releases power to drive the train and the "heart".  Energy is provided to the barrel through either manual or automatic winding, and this causes the mainspring to coil tightly within the barrel thus storing this initial input.  The mainspring then slowly uncoils, providing power through the train wheels to the pallet fork and then finally the balance wheel (which regulates the rate of power release).  Alternatively, if there is no power provided by the mainspring (or a weaker amount than required) then the "heart" does not have what it needs to run properly.

The two issues with older mainsprings that directly affect Zodiac owners are the drying up of the lubrication inside the barrel and the weakening of the spring itself.  As the lubrication within the barrel dries up it can cause the watch to become harder to wind.  This along with a few other issues make the watch harder to wind and will cause eventual stripping of the winding parts as continued manual winding is attempted.  A weaker spring obviously means less power through the train, and an improperly running watch.  It also means a sharp decrease in timing as the watch runs.  It may run at an amplitude of 270 with an average timing of +2 seconds/day. when the watch is fully wound, but after 24 hours of no additional power being provided to the barrel a worn spring can result in an amplitude of 215 with an average timing of -15 seconds/day.  Most of these timing changes are very slight and to be expected of a barrel with mainspring that could be 50 years old now!  This is the main reason that Butch always says to keep your watch wound, which is the easiest way to counteract this potential issue.  An average full wind on one of these automatic models is 20 winds, and as long as you are active, your movement while wearing will keep it properly wound after that.

The sealed barrel was not exclusive to Zodiac.  It was actually a common Swiss idea at the time and can be seen in calibers from other makers like Bulova.  As we all know, the Zodiac calibers discussed most frequently on this board are derived from the AS 1687/1688.  This series started with the Zodiac Caliber 61, and ran all the way up through the Zodiac caliber 88.  These can be broken down into 3 segments, the manual winds, the automatics that ran at 21,600bph, and the automatics that ran at 36,000bph.  The manual winds were the caliber 61 and 68, and they had the offset cannon pinion and sealed barrel with standard manual mainspring.  The 21,600bph automatics were the 70, 72, 74, 75, and 76; which have the offset cannon pinion and sealed barrel with automatic 2-tail type mainspring.  The 36,000bph automatics were the 78, 86, and 88; which have the offset cannon pinion and sealed barrel with automatic 2-tail type mainspring.

Although structurally similar, the barrels used in Zodiacs can have different markings.  Picture 1 shows the most common style of marking for a caliber 70-72 21,600bph barrel: "Do Not Open Nicht Oeffnen".  Picture 2 shows the most common markings for the caliber 86 36,000bph barrel: "Do Not Open 36 Nicht Oeffnen".  The "36" on the barrel signifies that it is meant for use in models having a frequency of 36,000bph.  Variations of the caliber 70-72 markings are shown in Picture 3 and Picture 4, one has the same phrase printed on the barrel instead of engraved while the other is just marked "Do Not Open".  A variation of the barrel for the caliber 86 is shown in Picture 5, and just says "Do Not Open 36".

As shown in Picture 6, there are 4 main parts to the sealed barrel.  These are: barrel itself, cap, arbor, and the mainspring.  This is a pretty standard setup, but as we already know the barrels used in the Zodiacs are different than most because they are sealed.  When this was done from the factory they applied what was thought to be a sufficient "lifetime lubrication" and the cap was crimped onto the barrel.  The problem we run into now is that if there are any issues with the mainspring, we cannot open the sealed barrel - replace the mainspring - and reseal it.  Getting it open is not the problem, nor is replacing the mainspring.  The edges (where the cap and barrel were crimped together) are too thin and weak and usually just warp when trying to reseal the two.

The size of mainspring used in these movements depends more on who you ask, than the model number itself.  The original Zodiac company used the same part numbers to refer to barrel components on all of the models.  A barrel complete was part 180/1, a mainspring was 771, the barrel itself was 185 and the cap 190.  They show no differentiation, other than making sure it was ordered using the correct caliber it was to be installed in.  The mainsprings for these are listed as different sizes across the internet depending on where you look.  Some list a replacement mainspring as: 1.25 X .11 X 10", and others 1.10 X .11 X 10", while I have also seen 1.20 X .13 X 12".  The mainspring from Picture 6 measured 1.20 X .13 X 12.5", though I have seen variations in the sizes of the mainsprings that I have personally removed from damaged barrels.

Just because it is pretty much impossible to get these parts back together when trying a mainspring replacement does not mean that it has not been attempted many times.  I have pictured 2 different barrels that I replaced when these watches came into my shop for restoration.  The first barrel, Pictures 7 - 8 - 9, was in a watch that was sent to me from England.  The original owner said that there was a mainspring problem with the watch a few years prior and his watchmaker had attempted to repair it.  The result was a watch that would often run and stop, and when it was running it would either gain or lose large amounts of time.  After the problems continued, he was told that parts were not available and the watch was not repairable.  As you can see in the pics, this barrel looks to have been through a war.  The barrel is back together, but the mashing of the cap back on has caused it to rub sharply against the mainspring and prevent it from uncoiling properly.  The second attempt at barrel replacement is shown in Pictures 10 - 11 - 12.  This one was sent to me from within the U.S., and looks a little better from an aesthetic aspect than the first example.  However, the owner told me that after a mainspring replacement was attempted the watch runs erratically, will stop, and a few times the watch hands appeared to have "gone crazy".  When looking at the barrel I saw one initial problem.  Although it does not look all mangled as the first example, when the watchmaker attempted to re-install the cap on the barrel it was only partially sealed.  The thin edges on one portion of it had doubled over and would allow the mainspring to hop and push the cap up enough to spin power free when it was in the right position.  The other issue was that he either damaged the fine teeth on the side of the barrel during the repair attempt, or had neglected to notice that they were damaged from the start.  Damage to the teeth on a barrel always spells disaster, and if the watch would have run at all then the worn barrel teeth would start to wear against the center wheel eventually requiring even more parts to need replaced.

As previously discussed, the sealed barrel was a common idea used by more than a few Swiss makers at the time.  Now we can look back and say that the sealed barrel was a little short-sighted in that any mainspring might break or become weak and their "lifetime lubrication" can eventually become ineffective and is definitely inferior to some of the lubricants we have today.  That was then and this is now, so what can we do now to address the problem?  Replacement of the entire barrel is still the best answer, but we continue to try different things in an effort to be able to replace mainsprings in original barrels.  In the meantime, keep your Zodiac watch wound to allow it to perform at its full potential!
« Last Edit: February 22, 2014, 06:25:05 PM by Ultra-Vintage »

Offline Ultra-Vintage

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2014, 03:38:22 PM »
.

Offline Ultra-Vintage

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2014, 03:41:18 PM »
.

Offline Butch

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2014, 10:25:30 AM »
What a great article! Thank you for taking the time do write this up and all the pics BWG! I have added one here that you forgot though. Funny what they thought 50 years ago, isn't it?
« Last Edit: February 23, 2014, 10:26:30 AM by Butch »
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Offline jon p

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2014, 10:39:04 AM »
 :ur  BUT whos lifetime!? :butchLOL; :lolz;

Offline Ultra-Vintage

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2014, 03:16:15 PM »
What a great article! Thank you for taking the time do write this up and all the pics BWG! I have added one here that you forgot though. Funny what they thought 50 years ago, isn't it?

Nice!  I had forgotten about that.  Didn't they also have a little Lifetime mainspring tab "Standee" that sometimes went in the edge of an original box as well?  Or no?

Offline Butch

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2014, 06:41:19 PM »
Yes, I have seen the ones in the box edge as well. The reverse of this tag says lifetime balance staff.
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Offline Ultra-Vintage

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2014, 07:14:51 PM »
Yes, I have seen the ones in the box edge as well. The reverse of this tag says lifetime balance staff.

Now the "Lifetime Balance Staff" may be a little more accurate than the "Lifetime Mainspring".  A broken staff is not very common in this Zodiac series of movements, I rarely have to do that repair on them.  Of the total watches in for service in the last few years I have had one, 2 broken staffs at the most on either the 70/72 or 86/88 series.

Offline YuriyV

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2016, 01:40:12 PM »
Adding one more variation of the mainspring barrel. Seen on automatic 70-72 and hand-winding 61 movements.

Offline rdenney

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2017, 01:32:51 PM »
On this topic, I recently discovered that barrels are available from Jules Borel for the Girard-Perregaux caliber 32A, which is the high-beat movement used in the GP ChronometreHF Gyromatic. It's the same AS1687 ebauche as the Zodiac 86/88, and I wonder if it is otherwise the same. It might be an option for replacement.

http://cgi.julesborel.com/cgi-bin/matcgi2?ref=GP_32A

Rick "curious" Denney


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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #10 on: August 25, 2017, 11:01:34 AM »
On this topic, I recently discovered that barrels are available from Jules Borel for the Girard-Perregaux caliber 32A, which is the high-beat movement used in the GP ChronometreHF Gyromatic. It's the same AS1687 ebauche as the Zodiac 86/88, and I wonder if it is otherwise the same. It might be an option for replacement.

http://cgi.julesborel.com/cgi-bin/matcgi2?ref=GP_32A

Rick "curious" Denney



I think the * means no longer available.  I talked to them a few years back about them still having a listing for that and they said they had not had any in years, and that should have been removed.  Some of the earliest 70-72s still had normal style barrels in them (non-sealed), and that is what many of the suppliers had extras of.  However, according to every supplier in the US (and I have contacted them all over the years) no one has any left  :#Censored

Offline Butch

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Re: "What makes Zodiac movements unique": PART 2 - the Sealed Barrel
« Reply #11 on: August 25, 2017, 02:05:26 PM »
Unfortunately, that has been my experience here in the US as well. For all of this century at the least.

 :#C
« Last Edit: August 25, 2017, 02:36:40 PM by Butch »
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