Forty Years After
Chronodeco's 1968 Chronographs
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Originally published in iW magazine
It is not often that a watch enthusiast gets to combine his fascination and passion--what some may consider obsession--into a marketable skill which is financially able to support a growing vintage watch collection and a large inventory of spare parts. Even less common is that someone stumbles into this position more or less by accident. Such are the circumstances that make S. Craig Bergsma one lucky guy. Craig, founder of the small Chronodeco brand, is an inveterate tinkerer, bargain hunter, and self-taught watchmaker. A variety of past experiences have contributed to the honing of his skills as a watchmaker who can restore an entire watch, including its case. These include being a builder of hot rods, an aircraft mechanic, a motorcycle road-racer and a Metallurgical engineer. Include the knowledge gained from reading almost three dozen books on complex vintage watch repair and putting those principles to use with watches in various states of disrepair and you may understand his desire to put things in proper running order.
Today he is happiest when he can build something unique that will contribute to the happiness of others. We watch enthusiasts have reason to be grateful for his willingness to scour the landscape for high-quality left-overs, to obtain old stocks of watch parts or tools, or to bring forgotten movements back to life. In doing so, he has brought Chronodeco from a modest idea--that of creating new watches in the tradition of art-deco design--to an internationally recognized brand that has released such diverse products as 1940s-style chronographs and dress watches made from New Old Stock parts to modern automatic chronographs combining old school design with current technology. As with all things, successful ventures often evolve to something quite different from the original vision. Such is the case with the new Chronodeco limited-edition 1968 watches.
The idea of naming a watch after an historic year is not new--Eterna revived some of its old designs from 1935 in their eponymous Les Historiques line--but for a brand which has only been in existence a handful of years, the intent of the 1968 chronograph is not to invoke its own history but that of an era. To Chronodeco's Craig Bergsma, the 1960s represent a time of growth and change, both of a personal nature and in terms of the development of the culture of the United States. That decade saw much of the conservative traditionalism of American society challenged by the emergence of counter-cultures (the proverbial sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll), the rapid evolution of technology (eg, President Kennedy's promise to put a man on the Moon), and growing public protest over American policies of war and human rights. The culmination of much unrest was the result, in 1968, of the assassinations of Dr. King and Senator Kennedy, nationwide race riots, anti-war demonstrations, the beatings at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and other acts of civil revolt. At the same time, however, a thread of extreme creativity was thriving--great music and art were being made all over the United States and the world--which was also reflected in the designs of everyday products such as wristwatches.
Keeping in mind his own recollections of 1968 and his desire for Chronodeco products to accurately reflect the age which they represent, Craig Bergsma set out to offer today's watch connoisseur an authentically vintage series of new chronographs. Chronodeco's previous release, the Positano time-only watch (featured in iW April 2007), was a departure from the brand's dedication to chronographs, so Bergsma was certain that his new piece would return to those roots. Coincident with the evolution of his brand's offerings, his own focus on collecting watches has expanded as well. Just a handful of years ago his collection was largely limited to 1930s-1950s chronograph wristwatches in a variety of sizes and styles. But recent opportunities to expand his collection have witnessed the addition of many more modern and "funky" examples from the 1960s-1970s. The convergence of his change in tastes with the occasion of the 40th anniversary of such a troubled and momentous year forged the creative plan for the Chronodeco 1968 series.
Thus, when seeking the components that would enable his next venture, the opportunity to obtain some pristine 1960s-vintage chronograph cases and dials sparked rapid development of the project. What many would consider a limitation, Bergsma sees as an opportunity; having a variety of NOS dial styles (collected over the previous six years), two types of cases, and the need for two variations of the same base movement gives Chronodeco the freedom to offer a pair of small series of watches which can effectively be custom-built according to the buyer's whim.
Series I features a distinctive cushion-shaped case housing the manually wound Valjoux 7733 two-register chronograph movement. Thirty numbered examples will be produced in total, the choice of five different dials is offered, along with a host of customization options among the styles and colors of hands.
Series II watches feature a rounded tonneau case containing the 3-register 7736 variant of the Series I movement. Due to the scarcity of suitable materials, only five Series II watches will be made. Buyers may choose one of two available dial styles and select from a variety of sub-dial hands including day-glo orange.
Each watch is assembled and checked personally by Bergsma, who also revitalized each movement (a full overhaul with new mainspring), installed new crystals and leather straps, and supervised the printing of the dials and the engraving of case and movement parts with brand identification. Pricing of the 1968 editions begin at $895 for Series I and $1195 for Series II. Additional options for customization--such as the inclusion of a vintage stainless steel bracelet of the type used by Heuer, Longines and other brands in 1968--are available at extra cost. For more information and many additional images, including slideshows of all the variations of the 1968 line, visit www.Chronodeco.com.
Though the Chronodeco operation is essentially a one-man show, it is through Craig Bergsma's effort and dedication that roughly thirty-four watch enthusiasts (Bergsma generally keeps one of his creations for himself) will be able to relive one of the wonderful results of the 1960s. His combination of passion and industry may be a source of happiness only he enjoys, but the results are here for all timepiece connoisseurs to enjoy--hopefully for years and watches to come.
Text © C. Bradley Jacobs, WatchCarefully.com; images provided by Chronodeco, Brandon Sparks & the author