Today’s Watch – Citizen Auto 1958, 20 Jewels

I’m ignoring my own criterion today – this one has no date window. It’s a favourite in my collection though, and it was not a simple purchase. It is my example of Citizen’s first auto, simply known as ‘the Auto’ which was launched in 1958, and they rarely appear for sale. The few I have seen have been in far from perfect condition and when I saw this one it looked very nice, cosmetically at least. There was a clear issue though, since it had no second hand. I took a risk though and bought it, based on an optimistic belief that a certain master watchmaker, namely Brian Leiser, aka 31 Jewels, would come to the rescue. That optimism proved well-founded, but it was not a straightforward process, not least because an obscure donor watch movement was needed. When I received the watch it wasn’t only the second hand that was missing, the gearing was also absent, and later Brian discovered as well that a very important screw was broken, which meant the auto winding wasn’t working. When I got it, the movement did run but only via hand winding – nevertheless that bode well for a positive outcome. Rather than go through all of that here, I invite you to read the page on I’ve done about this watch, which shows what Brian had to do – and how his skills came to the fore:

The Auto came with either 20 or 21 jewels – mine is the 20 jewel version, in a stainless steel case with gold hour markers and hands:


I chose to feature this one today because I found just yesterday that a French watch company – ‘Ultra’ – has recently been resurrected…..what’s that got to do with an early Japanese automatic I hear you ask! When I researched the Auto, and particularly the self-winding mechanism, I discovered the same design that Citizen used had been designed and patented by a Frenchman, Gerard Langel, some years earlier – he also patented an alternative ‘magic lever’ design, the type used by Seiko in their early automatics. I concluded that Citizen must have acquired the design to enable production of its first automatic in 1958 but I wasn’t able to find proof of this at the time – I researched this in late 2013/early 2014. But now I have been able to confirm what I thought – the new Ultra company, which has launched homage pieces to their original ‘Superautomatic’ model, refers to the design being sold to Citizen on their web site home page:
I also found a YouTube video about the new Ultra watches, which includes an interview with one of the founders of the company and he refers to the link with Citizen (from 4:19 if you want to go straight to that bit):
It’s good to be able to sew this one up – although it’s a shame Ultra are using Seiko movements in their new watches! I imagine Citizen bought the design to enable them to launch a competitor to Seiko before their own ‘Jet’ automatic design launched just three years later.

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