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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First, a few disclaimers:
1. I am no photographer. All pictures were taken with a simple Kodak digital camera using the best of my limited abilities. They're functional, but in no way beautiful. Don't expect anything on the level of Ill-Phil.
2. I am no watchmaker. Most of what I know about watch guts was learned right here on WUS. I don't know the names of most of the parts of a watch movement, and I don't know standard techniques of watch repair/restoration. My hope is that I'll learn something during this project and share it with others. At worst, maybe I'll give people a primer on what NOT to do if it all goes badly.

I invite anyone to give ideas, corrections, thoughts, etc.

That said:

I am fascinated by certain watches. I'm always on the lookout for something new and unusual. While perusing Mark Gordon's wonderful site (www.ussrtime.com), I saw his collection of Urals.

Ural watches were built in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s in the Chelyabinsk Watch Factory, home of the fabled Molnija. They were large watches and featured aluminum cases with art deco styling. I don't know much more than that, but I've wanted one for a long time.

I searched eBay and found a decent-looking one for a great price, but in dire need of restoration. The seller was abv1224 (Oleg), a man I'd purchased a Raketa from last fall. That transaction had gone beautifully--not only were his prices good, but his shipping charges are quite reasonable. I had some questions about the watch, and in answering them, Oleg told me he had 2 more Urals that didn't work. After looking at photos he sent me, I decided to buy the bunch and restore 2 of them, keeping the 3rd for spare parts if needed. He gave me a terrific deal, and we completed the transaction through eBay.

Today I got the package I had been looking for:



Inside it were these:



They had been individually bagged and swaddled in bubble wrap.

The three watches, from left to right:
A. The watch I was originally interested in on eBay. Case needs replating and dial needs some serious touch-up. Functional.
B. Watch with a bad dial, missing second hand, decent case. Barely functional--missing a bridge component in the middle of the movement.
C. Supposedly non-functional watch, good dial, decent case. Second hand probably not original.

Watch A almost certainly had radium indices and hands. The associated radioactivity is probably responsible for the pattern of damage observed on the dial. It doesn't show up too well in the photo, but the paint on the dial has some green corrosion near the indices. Assuming there's no reactivity, I plan on repainting it later on.



Although there doesn't appear to be any trace of the radium lume material, I don't want to take any chances. I have various radiation meters available to me at work, so I plan on testing it to make sure I can actually wear it at some point. Otherwise, I might have to attempt some sort of decontamination or discard the watch altogether. Let's keep our fingers crossed on that one.

Watch B is in bad shape. The case is okay, but the dial is a total loss. A peek at the movement showed that it was loose in the case, but turning the screw by the lower left lug fixed that. The missing bridge piece should go across the center of the movement, as shown in C's photos, below.





It doesn't show well in the photo, but most of the dial paint is missing. Further, although the second hand is obviously absent, the post that would hold it is also missing. With these issues, watch B is clearly just for parts.

Watch C is actually in pretty good shape. The aluminum case has some minor damage, which is to be expected, as aluminum is softer than steel or brass. The dial could use some clean up, though:



The movement is in great shape:



It had some trouble starting up, as the orange wheel just below the movement center, which drives the second hand, was catching a little in a couple of spots during its slow rotation. Thinking that perhaps the oil had shifted during its trip, I gently rotated it by hand several times and it got better; after a couple of hours, it seems to be running fine. If it loses a lot of time, I'll know that I have to go the next step by taking the movement apart and oiling it.

I noted some mild corrosion/dirt deposits around the ring where the back snaps on, as well as on the corresponding spots on the caseback, so I used an old watch band tool to scrape the case clean:



And a cotton swab to clean the caseback:



The swab came up pretty dirty. Amazing what happens to a watch after 50 years.



I wiped the inside of the caseback with a lint-free cloth. The caseback now snaps on with authority. I put a leather strap on the watch so I can wear it--I can't countenance the idea of not wearing any of these watches until they're completely restored. Plus, watch C has this great, beat-up, been around the block, searching for a good home look that begs to be on my wrist.



This picture points out that
1. the crystal is in dire need of polishing;
2. the dial is a little dirty and needs some swabbing; and
3. the hands need a little repainting.
But that is all fodder for a later post.

I hope you enjoyed this mammoth post. I will regularly update this as time allows. Please feel free to post any advice/thoughts/criticisms, etc.

Patrick
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I am an industrial hygienist by trade. My job is to ensure adequate safety for the workers in my refinery. Safety includes physical hazards such as protection from falling, chemical hazards such as breathing in lead paint dust, and radiation hazards. As such, I have access to some pretty nifty equipment--including radiation meters such as gamma and Geiger counters.

Because my job involves safety, I'm trained to recognize hazards so I can protect people from them. The potential of watch A to have radium on its dial, and the consequences of that, stuck out like a sore thumb.

For those of you who don't know, radium is a radioactive element that was used to create self-luminous paints in the early to mid-20th century. The women (primarily) who used to apply those paints to watch dials licked their paint brushes to sharpen their tips, and as a result, ingested large amounts of radium. Many of them got various types of bone cancer and died, which led to radium paints being banned in many countries.

So, I just tested watch A for radioactivity. As previously stated, I had some concerns even though I couldn't see any traces of the radium paint still on the watch. I found that the watch is giving off gamma radiation to the tune of 80 microRoentgens (uR) per hour. US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) radiation limits, with appropriate protections taken into account, work out to about 96 uR per hour. That means my watch is about 80% of the modified OSHA limit.

That's okay for me, actually, and okay for any adult to handle or wear indefinitely on their wrist. But I have kids, who are all 4 years old and younger. The odds are that they would be safe with that exposure as well, but why risk it? Cancer runs in my family already, so why give it an open door to walk through? Their little bodies won't be able to withstand it as well as my (bloated) adult body could.

So with heavy heart, I have to discard watch A. It sucks because it's a damned cool looking watch, but I just can't take the risk of exposing my kids to that much radiation. At least Oleg gave me a great price on it (he has been notified of this development as well); so good, in fact, that I won't demand restitution.

I also tested watch C and, although it picked up a little radiation from being close to watch A during shipment and likely before, it's barely detectable, so it's safe. Which is good, because it's on my wrist right now!

Patrick
 

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Thank you for sharing the interesting restauration story and your concerns for your kids. I have myself a daughter of 1.5 years, and you have got me thinking. I have a couple of radium dials as well.
 

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I'm pretty concern about radium dials now as I just received a Pobeda with a radium dial.

I just bought a Pobeda as it has the hands of the 17 jewel Sturmanskie, thinking it will be useful to me in future.

When it first arrived yesterday, the second hand is dislodged from the cannon pinion. I open up the watch and fix back the second hand.

After a while, I remembered that the 15 and 17 jewel Sturmanskie has radium lume, so I went to Mark's collection to search for watches with radium dial.

I have confirmed my fears. o|

Mark has the same watch in his collection: http://www.ussrtime.com/cgi-bin/details.pl?id=0993

Now I'm wondering if I breathed in any of that radon gas or any radium particles :-s

Damage has been done, the watch is running fine, so I kept it aside. I guess I have to be more careful in future.
 

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All those who insist that there is no such think as an honest Ukrainian watch seller, take note!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
@ roo7: The amount of radon was probably quite low. On top of everything else, radon is a very heavy gas and tends to sink, so you probably got a much smaller dose of radon than you fear. :) Most of the radon probably leaked out of the case anyway. Radon really has to be inhaled to cause damage. In my case, I was more worried about the gamma radiation coming off watch A.

@ Chascomm: I discussed everything with the seller (abv1224) and quelled his fears about handling the watch. It's tough, because he's from Kiev, which is around 100 miles from Chernobyl, but it never occurred to him that a watch he was selling might be radioactive. In any case, he offered to completely refund my money. I told him it wasn't necessary for reasons stated above. He's got my business, I'll tell you that!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Okay, I wore watch C all day and it kept decent time, losing about a minute over 18 hours. I did notice that the second hand would hitch up a little bit every so often, and the watch was much harder to wind than it should have been. I decided then to take the movement apart as best I could and clean/lube everything.

This proved to be a mistake, as you'll see.

So I first let the spring tension out the quick and dirty way, by holding back the barrel chock and letting it all go backward. Worked great.



Then I pulled the crown and stem out.



The stem was covered in black grime. I don't know what the grime actually was, but I suspect it's metal particles mixed with old, oxidized oil. I wet the tip of a cotton swab with oil and used it to scrub the stem.



What happened next proved to be my downfall and showed me just how miniscule my watch repair skills actually are. Prepare to cringe in horror when I reveal my attempt to remove the center bridge without pulling the hands first!

Stay tuned!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Okay, so I figured that, since the second hand was sticking a little, I would attempt to remove the bridge holding in place the gears driving it so I could clean everything out and re-lube.

Suffice it to say, had I had any sort of education in this endeavor, perhaps I would have been somewhat more prepared. But I'm a novice trying learn something new, and novices... Well, novices make boneheaded mistakes.



It never occurred to me that A. I'd never be able to remove that bridge without removing the watch hands first and B. that the bridge might have gears underneath it. Many of you can imagine what happened next:



See that little gear by my index finger has tilted? Well, no matter what I did, I could not fix that gear's orientation. I fiddled with it for half an hour before I decided to call that task quits until I could either figure out a way to fix it or get a hand remover tool, which would allow me to get the bridge completely out of the way. There's plenty to work on with this watch, so I noted the gear's original orientation, removed it, and set it aside and moved on.

The hard winding had become a problem for me, so I figured the associated gears could use a little cleaning and oil. Boy was I right. I unscrewed the big gear (barrel?) and removed it.



It doesn't look that bad in the picture, does it? Well, I soaked a cotton swab in oil and mopped the well there as well as the underside of the gear and it came away BLACK. I sopped up the extra oil and reinstalled the gear with no trouble.

Then I moved to the little double-screwed gear just below and to the left of the bigger one. Same issue there.



More mopping and sopping. This gear was difficult to replace as it is actually in 3 pieces: a washer/baseplate, the gear itself, and the locking washer on top. I had to align six little holes to get the screws back in. I'm a little ham-handed, and I don't have the proper movement holder and vise (both are on order after *this* mess, let me tell you!), but it wasn't too bad.

Next I moved on to the dial, which was a little muddled from grease and age.



I attempted to swab it with a very weak soap solution, which did nothing. The edges of the dial had gelled oil/grease rust caked all over them, and the soap didn't even make a dent. The dial didn't appear painted as much as anodized, which would be a LOT more durable. Plus, it clearly withstood oils and grease, and like dissolves like, so I soaked a swab in light oil and swabbed the dial as a test.



As you can see, it looks considerably better. Although I did find a few rust spots, they aren't really visible to the naked eye. It's not really *done*, though, as there is still a LOT of grease around, and I really need to remove the hands so I can get to the part of the dial underneath them. It needs a good half an hour more of scrubbing to really remove all the grease.

Done with that for the moment, I went back to the tilted gear in the back and compounded my error. I decided to remove the little triangular bridge adjacent to the tilted gear so I could get a better angle to reorient it.



In so doing, I liberated that spiky black gear. Double OOPS. I feel confident I can restore that with little effort, but it was getting late, so I decided to box everything up and hit the sack.

I'm going to fiddle with it again tonight and see if I can't get the orange gear back where it belongs, screw the bridge back down, and then put the spiky gear back and replace its bridge. I won't try *too* hard, though, because I have all those tools en route that SHOULD make this whole thing a LOT easier.

*whew*
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Okay, so tonight I decided that I was pretty awake and that I could handle messing with this watch yet again.

I fiddled with it and managed to get all gears back into place without removing the hands. I'm not really sure how I did it, but I did. Except... The orange gear is upside down.



Well, I got it in there and I can get it out again.

Of course, it doesn't matter that much, because, like a bonehead, I unscrewed that bridge with a fair amount of tension on the mainspring, and...



POW! Stripped that center gear. It's hard to see in the picture, but if you look closely, you can see a flat spot. Remember how I told you I'm no watchmaker? My respect for people who do this every day continues to grow. I tell ya, there's no better way to make yourself feel like a complete freakin' numbskull than trying to teach yourself something like this.

As luck would have it, watch B (the white one) has the exact gear I need. Just have to transplant it.



Now I have to wait for all the stuff I ordered today. Should be here Monday... *sigh* I don't know if I can wait that long!
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I DID IT!

By "DID IT", I proved that I'm no watchmaker.

But I *did* manage to correct the errors I made previously, correct a few more that I didn't know I'd made, and get the danged thing working. It still stops all by itself once in a while and the second hand is floating a little, but everything is moving and it's actually keeping decent time (when it's running). I stayed up most of last night working on it, and have a ton of photos to share, but those will have to come tonight.

I was just so happy that I managed to dig myself out of that giant hole I found myself in that I had to write SOMEthing. Plus, thanks to this damnable watch AND 3 sick kids, I'm running on less than 3 hours' sleep and just a little bit punchy. :)

Look for photos later. And if any watchmakers or more experienced hobbyists out there read this (and have been shaking their heads at my foolish attempts to imitate their art), I will need some thoughts on how to correct the minor issues it still has.

Thanks!

Patrick
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Okay, now for the long form. LOTS of pictures of my 4.5 hour struggle with watch C.

Okay, so as we left it last time, I'd stripped a gear and needed to change it out. I had to order some tools, and they arrived yesterday. So around 9 PM, I set up my work station and got busy.



Here is watch B. If you've read the previous posts, this sucker doesn't work. But it does have an intact gear of the same size and location as the one I stripped in watch C.



The gear I need is right in the center of the movement under the bridge. Not easy. Gotta pull the bridge:





Gear is now mostly exposed. Gotta pull the steel one overlapping...



Done! Orange gear is attached to the hands, so gotta pull them, too.



the gear was still stuck in there, so I figured it was all press fit. Realizing I had very little to lose, I decided to use one of my screwdrivers as a pry bar and, with a little patience, popped the gear loose.



I did the above steps with watch C. Here is a closeup of the damaged gear:



Just OUCH. I'm such a dope to have damaged the gear so badly. Well, lesson learned, I guess. At least I had the spare from watch B. I laid it in place, then clamped it down as best I could.



So, with that minor victory under my belt, I got a little ambitious and decided to clean the big steel gear at the top of the movement. I unscrewed the 4 screws and pulled away the bridge:



I pulled the big gear and cleaned it and the space underneath it:



Then I did something kind of dumb. See that black gear assembly adjacent to the spot where the big gear goes? That's where the winding stem is mounted, and it's in two pieces. I failed to realize that until I actually pulled the black gear out and it came apart. It's hard to describe it, and I got really frustrated with myself and forgot to take pictures. But the bottom part of the assembly straddles a spring-actuated lever which serves to hold the black gear assembly together. It took me about 30 minutes to figure that out, during which time I couldn't reassemble and remount the black gears. Once I realized it, though, I just held the lever back with a screwdriver, dropped the bottom part of the black gears in place, then inserted the top part, and slowly removed the screwdriver, which fixed my little error. I should have cleaned the black gears, though, as they were pretty grimy--but I was so glad that I'd managed to get it reassembled that I forgot.

So then I put everything back that I'd taken out:



But now I had more trouble: the top bridge is actually held in place by 3 screws, not 4, as I had originally thought. The fourth screw is actually the little one that holds the winding stem in place. So once I went to screw it back in, it wouldn't go. *sigh* After cursing a few times, I decided that I was missing something. So I flipped the movement over and popped the hands off with a hand remover tool. Then I looked around the edge of the movement and found the two tiny screws holding the dial in place and removed them. Then, with a little work, the dial lifted off:



The little 4th screw actually screws into the little flat piece on the upper left of the movement. You can actually see the small threaded hole the 4th screw goes into. The piece has pegs on it that allow it to pivot. When it pivots, it allows the switch from simply winding the watch to setting the time. So I realigned it and screwed the little screw back in easily. Then I remounted the dial and hands:



It's all press-fit, and not actually that difficult to reassemble, but I had to be really careful. That hands are not robust at all.

Now that everything was back together, I flipped it over, inserted the winding stem, and wound it up a little bit. Shock of all shocks, it began to run normally! I felt so happy it made me a little woozy and I had to sit down and rest for a minute. I'd been concentrating so hard for so long that when the movement started up it all just got to me.

Unfortunately, I started celebrating a little too early, because after something like 45 seconds, I heard a buzzing sound coming from the watch. I leapt up and checked, and everything had stopped moving. I checked the center orange gear, and it looked okay. I tried to wind the watch again, but the gears turned and turned and no spring tension was stored. I don't know how I got the idea, but it occurred to me that perhaps whatever gears the original center orange one had been in contact with might have been damaged, too.

After a lot of investigation, which required basically completely disassembling the watch again, I found it. It was a small "worm" gear on the underside of the center bridge--half of it had broken off. *sigh* (I tried to get a picture of it, but my camera just couldn't handle the job). Well, I had a spare for that, too, so I took it from watch B and inserted it, reassembled everything, and wound it up. This time, it ran fine for about 10 minutes. So I released the spring tension and inserted watch C movement into watch B's nicer case:



I snapped the back back on, added the leather bracelet, and I had a functional watch again!



In the picture you can see the sad, picked-over remains of watch B. I kept all the parts and put them in a plastic container in case I break something else.

I proudly wore watch C all day yesterday. I tried to tell a few close work friends about my struggles with my watch and no one cared. Thank goodness for WUS, I will say that.

The watch isn't perfect, though. The second hand is a little loose and flops back and forth a couple of seconds; I think I reassembled that part of the movement incorrectly and a leaf spring holding the second hand gear is inverted. Or, I didn't push the second hand on hard enough. Also, it's still hard to wind, so I think I have to pull those black gears again and really give them a good cleaning and oiling. Does that make sense?

But that is fodder for another day.

My takeaways from this whole ordeal:
1. Watchmakers are SAINTS. Even minor repairs like this require extreme patience and unbelievable precision.
2. Lay people like me CAN complete certain repairs if they take their time, have the correct tools, and don't force anything. A word of caution: my total time fiddling with this watch was something like 10 hours over 3 separate days. I don't know how long a qualified watchmaker would have taken, but I'm sure it would have been MUCH faster.
3. Molnija made a movement that even a numbskull like me could tear apart and reassemble. That, to me, is a wonderful thing, because it means the movement is simplistic and easily repaired. i wish all mechanical things were like that.

That's it. If you've hung in with me through the whole thing, thank you. I apologize for any confusing bits, and I hope you learned something as I did.

Patrick
 

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Congratulations on getting it running. It's a shame your friends didn't have any appreciation for what you'd done. Wear it with pride.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Thanks, all. This experience was/is invaluable. I still don't know proper techniques, really, and most of the terms are a mystery to me, but I learned a TON and will learn more. The Ural was a great place to start because it's a very simple movement. Thank goodness I had a donor watch to get spare parts...

Thank you for posting this. I really enjoyed reading about your watchmaking adventures. Having proper tools is crucial to do any job right, weather its fixing a watch or a dishwasher.
You are *exactly* right. Obtaining the right tools made this whole project SO much easier. I'm thinking about pulling it out again, because I didn't oil it properly, I have a new idea on cleaning the dial a little better, and I have a new crystal for it. But I'm reluctant to do that until I can get the case replated, which it desperately needs. I'll get around to doing that sometime soon, I promise.
 
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