Repairing and Adjusting a Rusty, Crusty ORIS F1 Williams Automatic Watch (ETA 2836-2)

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Sometimes you need a challenge, and we have one here: an ORIS F1 Williams Team automatic watch. It was sold as “not running” and “can’t be opened.” Those are never good signs, unless you want a challenging watch.

Most watch cases aren’t as water-resistant as they look. This case looks like it would be watertight—it is big and chunky, with a huge crown—but it isn’t. The big crown doesn’t screw down, and the movement is protected by only 2 flat rubber gaskets.

This watch paid the price. It is full of a mix of rust, grease, and some unknown crusty substance. It looks like the watch spent a lot of time around a stove, where steam and oil could enter the case.

One of the screws was a solid pillar of rust. It couldn’t be saved and had to be drilled out. And behold what awaited inside.

Yuck. Here you see one of the ineffectual flat rubber gaskets. The movement sits in an inner ring with a flat gasket in each side. The two main case pieces then clamp down over the inner ring. If they don’t clamp hard enough, or if the gaskets get old and brittle, then you get what we got here.

It isn’t a good case design. Here’s a closer look, after scraping away some of the grunge.

Getting the movement ring out was hard—it was stuck in place—but eventually the watch got stripped down.

All the case parts were off to the heated ultrasonic for a long, long bath, and the movement parts headed to the ultrasonic cleaning machine.

Adjusting the ETA 2836 Movement to 6 Positions

ETA movements are tough buggers. They aren’t pretty, and their keyless works are needlessly complex and prone to pop out of position, but they are survivors. Some of the parts had stains and pitting, but otherwise the movement cleaned up well.

After a good cleaning and a new mainspring, the watch came right to life with great amplitude. It ran around +35 seconds fast, so I set it close to zero and let it run for a few days to settle in.

A few days later, I measured the rates in all 6 positions. Amazingly, given all it had been through, the movement kept great time right off the bat.

But it could be better, so we will see what we can do. Specifically, the horizontal (DU, DD) rates are somewhat faster than the vertical rates. One goal of adjusting is to bring the so-called “hanging and lying rates” (terms from the old pocket watch days) closer together.

So, how can we slow down the horizontal rates relative to the vertical ones? For this watch, we can adjust the regulator pins.

ETA uses a regulation system called ETAChron, and it is probably the best method for regulating and fine-tuning flat-spring balances with regulator pins. Al Archer gives an excellent overview of it at this link, which you ought to read first if you’re working on one of these watches. The ETAChron system requires a small, specialized tool.

The tip of the tool has an odd shape.

This tip fits over the top of the regulator pins. Slowly twisting the tool will twist the pins. The pins will thus be either more open (more space on each side of the hairspring) or more closed (less space on each side of the spring), depending on how you set them.

This watch and ETAChron system maybe be modern, but the principles at stake are old-school. Kleinlein, in his book on watch adjusting, explains how slightly opening and closing the regulator pins can correct for small differences between the horizontal and vertical positions.

Let’s think this through a bit. Because the amplitude is lower in the vertical positions, changes to the pins will have a larger effect on those positions. For example, closing the pins will make the watch run faster in all 6 positions, but even more so in the vertical ones.

Our ORIS watch is running slower in the vertical positions than the horizontal ones. So, if we close the pins a bit, it will cause the vertical positions to speed up relative to the DU/DD positions (as well as make the watch faster overall).

To close the pins, you very slightly twist the key. Very slightly—too much, and the hairspring gets crimped.

One tiny, almost imperceptible turn did the trick. Here are the new rates, after slightly adjusting the regulator as well:

You can’t complain with those rates—they are all within a few seconds from zero, and the horizontal and vertical positions are aligned. Time to call it a day and turn to the case.

Refinishing the Steel Case

The case spent a long time in the heated ultrasonic, where I used a 1:1 solution of water and Simple Green. It works wonders for steel case parts. Eventually, the case was free of the gunk and grime.

The case had a lot of nicks and scars and scratches, so I decided to re-polish it. The top piece of the case has three different finishes.

Two parts are brushed: the case sides, and the top, which has a circular grain. The side of the false bezel is mirror polished.

I tackled the mirror polished surface first with a soft felt wheel on a flex shaft tool, positioned like this.

Then I spun the case in the polishing lathe and brushed the sides and top—with a blue Garryflex block, my go-to abrasive for cases these days.

The bracelet is straightforward. The center links are mirror-polished, and the sides, back, and clasp are brushed. The pieces look reasonably good after their ultrasonic cleaning.

My pitiless LED lamp really brings out the scuffs.

The whole bracelet was first polished with Menzerna’s pink compound on a stitched cotton wheel, followed by the yellow compound on a loose wheel. This shined up the whole thing, but the center links got particular attention.

After the center links looked nice and shiny, they got masked off in preparation for brushing.

I wanted to get a deeper grain that the watch’s original factory finish. I used a medium-grit wheel (a surprisingly good one for the cheap price at Esslinger’s shop). This grit nicely matches the graining of a blue abrasive block, so the case and bracelet will have a matching finish.

The bracelet has some off-beat features. The release button is shiny.

I first brushed the larger clasp surface after masking the button.

Then the area surrounding the button was masked.

In the end, the watch case and bracelet turned out as good as new.

Wrapping Up

I like Oris watches and have owned several: they are tough watches and are a good value for the price. But this case design is not good. There’s a reason why most watches have a screw-down case back. Even if you don’t swim or shower with a watch, a tight case keeps out the humidity and contaminants of daily life.

The flaked-off dial and chapter ring bear witness to this watch’s trials and tribulations. But a sports watch should look a bit rough, I guess.