The Pawn Shop Rolex, Part 3: Comparing Replacement Cyclops Crystals

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The crusty pawn shop Rolex Datejust 16030 came with a scratched and scuffed acrylic crystal that was beyond saving.

It has deep scratches throughout and looks like it has been buffed a few times.

But this crystal is past buffing—it needs to be replaced.

Although few collectors probably agree, I prefer acrylic crystals to sapphire ones. Plastic crystals have a warm, vintage look, and they are cheap and easy to replace. Indeed, when haggling over watches, I love scratched plastic crystals. Sellers usually have no idea how cheap and easy it is to replace one, but they can see how badly the watch looks.

This watch has a bezel-fit crystal. The bezel compresses the crystal against the case for a water-tight fit. The first step is thus removing the bezel. Here’s an alarming-looking tool that’s good for this task.

The watch head goes on the spring-loaded column, and the prongs are slowly advanced with the hand wheel until the bezel pops off. It is precise and avoids scratching the case or bezel. (This tool is also handy for removing tight bracelet pins.)

Once the bezel is off, you can see how gross it looks under there. Yuck. One wonders how gunk gets into such tight spaces.

The crystal sits loosely over an inner flange and can simply be lifted off. The bezel and case are off to the ultrasonic cleaner—sans movement, of course—so it’s time to pick a new crystal.

We have a few options. One is to track down an official Rolex-branded replacement. This isn’t my style, though. In 2017, there’s no way Rolex is manufacturing its own replacement acrylic crystals for vintage models—if they ever manufactured their own acrylic crystals. Like grocery stores and house-branded pinto beans, Rolex must be sourcing plastic crystals from someone else.

Comparing Some Options

I decided to get two options and then compare them to what the watch came with. (I’m assuming the old crystal is a genuine Rolex crystal, given its age and the Rolex service marks on the case back, but there’s no way to be sure.)

On the left is the old original crystal; the competition is a Sternkruez crystal (XS 307.457, 135) and a Clark crystal (25-135).

A cyclops crystal should have good magnification. Here’s the original crystal set over an old Seiko date wheel—the magnification is pretty good. (Note that the date’s absolute size is unlike the size of Rolex date because the crystal-wheel distance is different when the crystal isn’t mounted in the watch case.)

I was planning to use the Sternkreuz crystal. They make great crystals, and I would suspect that they are the ones making Rolex’s replacement acrylic pieces. Here’s the Sternkreuz and original crystal side by side. They look basically alike.

Here’s the Sternkreuz’s magnification of the Seiko date wheel. It looks at least as good as the original.

But the Sternkreuz has a big strike against it: it was scuffed right out of the package. I bought 2 crystals, and both had scuffs from storage and handling in their paper envelopes. That’s disappointing. The scuffs could be buffed out, but one expects better for premium European crystals.

The other contender is a cheap Clark crystal from eBay. Clark Watch Parts is an online retailer that sells inexpensive aftermarket parts for popular watches. My experience with them is mixed—one new white alloy mainspring they sold me was “set” right out of the package—but these replacement Rolex crystals were so cheap that I bought a couple out of curiosity.

And I was pleasantly surprised. They were shipped inside plastic materials tins, and the crystal itself had a plastic scuff protector.

The crystal protector is a nice touch and a pleasant surprise for such an inexpensive part. And the crystal was flawless when viewed under a loupe.

Sternkreuz—pay attention and up your game. You’re getting beaten by the cheap aftermarket guys.

Here’s how the Clark crystal magnified the Seiko date wheel. It looks basically just like the other two.

So, unexpectedly, the cheap Clark crystal is the winner.

Inserting the Crystal

After some blog time travel, in which the bezel and case were cleaned and polished, it was time to insert the new crystal.

It’s easy to insert one of these crystals: the new crystal sits lightly over the case flange, with the cyclops window aligned with the case tube. The crystal is then compressed against the case flange by forcing the bezel down around it.

To press down the bezel, you need a crystal press, like this big red fellow.

It helps to have bezel dies.

Unlike crystal dies for tension ring crystals, which have angled inner walls for compressing the plastic crystal, bezel dies have steep, parallel high walls. This shape allows the bezel die to avoid touching the crystal and press only on the bezel.

With light pressure, the crystal is snug and secure.

So far, so good!