These vintage Swiss-made chronographs from a storied American brand combine great looks and quality mechanics at an affordable price.
2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the Heuer Carrera, an iconic racing chronograph from a classic Swiss brand. Although the Carrera’s looks have never really gone out of style, anniversary celebrations throughout the year have rekindled collectors’ interest in early versions of the replica watch, and record prices are being paid for the best examples. While it might be hard for the average collector to justify spending a month’s salary or more on an original Heuer Carrera, the interesting details of the replica watch industry in the late ’60s and early ’70s make it possible for collectors on almost any budget to afford a Heuer-made chronograph…with another brand’s name on it. Today, we’ll look at a pair of such replica watches from American replica watch company Hamilton.
In 1966, Hamilton Replica Watch Company of Lancaster, PA purchased the Swiss replica watch company Buren. For the next three years, Hamilton and Buren shared their American and Swiss factories, components, and technologies to create some fantastic replica watches. Together with a team of brands including Heuer, Breitling, and Dubois-Depraz, Hamilton-Buren created the famed Caliber 11 movement, the first automatic chronograph (and the heartbeat of the Hamilton Chronomatic, which we’ll highlight in a future article).
In 1969, Hamilton decided to close up shop in Lancaster and move their entire replica watchmaking effort to Buren’s facilities in Switzerland. From 1969 until 1972, all Hamilton replica watches were made in Switzerland by Buren and its partners, which is how the replica watches we’re looking at today – Hamilton replica watches made in Switzerland by Heuer – came to be.
Heuer, while making some of the finest and most popular racing chronographs of the 1960s under their own name, produced and assembled replica watches for a number of other brands, including Hamilton, Clebar, Zodiac, and Tradition. These Heuer-made, other-branded replica watches were mostly 2- or 3-register chronographs in all white/silver, all black, or a combination of the two. For Hamilton alone, Heuer produced at least six variations of chronographs during this time: black-on-white and white-on-black dial versions of Valjoux 7730, 7732, and 7736 powered replica watches. Today we’ll show you a pair of the 7730 variant, which is arguably the most classic looking of the lot.
Like the Heuer Carreras that they emulate, these Hamilton chronographs are rich in 1960s racing chronograph tradition. They feature 2-register contrast dials with slightly recessed subdials. The left subdial counts the running seconds, and the right subdial is a 30-minute chronograph counter. The large center seconds hand stays stationary until the chronograph is engaged, then counts the stopwatch seconds. The 10:00-2:00 and 4:00-8:00 hour marks are applied steel bars with tritium-covered ends. The index-style hour and minute hands feature tritium filled sections as well, originally giving these replica watches good readability in the dark.
The outer portion of the dial contains a graduated tachymeter ring, designed to aid in on-the-fly calculations of speed or distance travelled. The case is a very comfortable 36mm across, excluding the crown and pushers, and about 12mm tall – making these replica watches as easily worn under the cuff of a dress shirt as over the sleeve of a racing fire suit. The subdial and pusher layout gives these replica watches perfect vertical symmetry and makes them an absolute pleasure to look at.
The Valjoux 7730 movement pushing the hands in this pair is one of the less common movements, compared to other Valjoux calibers. When Valjoux bought the failing movement manufacture Venus in the mid 1960s, they gained ownership of Venus’ great chronograph technologies, including the cam/lever system used in the Venus caliber 188 movement. Valjoux quickly rebranded the Venus 188 as the Valjoux 7730 and produced around 175,000 copies of the movement from 1966 until 1973. (In the meantime, they introduced the redesigned and upgraded Valjoux 7733, which powered the Hamilton military chronographs we showed you here, and many of the great 2-register chronographs of the 1970s). The 7730 is hand-wound, ticks at a rate of 18,000 beats per hour, and has a power reserve of up to 45 hours. Like other Valjoux 773x movements, this one isn’t especially quiet, and its ticking gives you a constant, friendly reminder that it’s down there on your wrist.
As Heuer Carreras have seen an increase in popularity and price this anniversary year, these Hamiltons and other so-called “Poor Man’s Carreras” have been pulled up along with them. Since they offer the looks and quality of the Heuers at significantly less cost, collectors have taken notice and made them harder to get your hands on than just a couple years ago. As recently as last year, good examples could be found online at auction and on replica watch forums selling for around $350 – a true steal for this caliber of replica watch.
Prices are now a little closer to reflecting the actual value, and most examples are selling for between $500 and $750, depending on condition. Versions featuring the Valjoux 7732 (which adds a date window at the 6:00 position) and the Valjoux 7736 (a 3-register chronograph with 12-hour subdial at 6:00) carry a slight premium, and have been selling between $650 and $1000 in most cases.
With classic looks, American brand heritage, and Heuer quality construction, these replica watches should continue to hold their value as collectors look for more affordable alternatives to the 1960s Carreras.
You can see more examples of these and other “Poor Man’s Heuers” here at On the Dash.
More information about the Valjoux 7730 is available here at Ranfft Replica Watches.
written and photographed by Brandon Cripps