Citizen’s 8110A chronograph automatic high beat movement is a fine piece of engineering – compact in design with hand winding and ‘fly back’ capabilities it is a great addition to a collection. The model that it most often seen for sale – by a long way – is the Challenge Timer, now more usually called a ‘bullhead’. This model had a much longer production run than the other models in the 8110A line-up, and the ‘bullhead’ style is a popular design for today’s buyers. I’ll use the original and therefore ‘proper’ name of Challenge Timer 🙂
Of course it’s good to see vintage chronographs for sale, often at reasonable prices, but there are issues to look out for if you are looking for an original Challenge Timer. And even if you are not after an original piece, it may be useful to know a little about it and what may have been changed or replaced, especially if the seller describes the watch as ‘rare and collectable’, or something like that.
As well as this post, my page on the automatic chronographs (https://sweep-hand.org/citizens-vintage-chronographs/) also provides reference information and images. Although I’ve tried to make this as comprehensive as possible, because there are no full historical records available, more data on original pieces may yet emerge, and I will of course update my information accordingly. And I am more than happy for questions to be asked and /or additional information to be provided to enhance what we know already.
I’m not going to say anything about values here – I suggest searching auction sites for completed listings or live auctions as the best way to get an idea of current prices.
1. General Points:
Five Challenge Timer models were produced, only one of which was cased in stainless steel – the octagonally shaped 67-9356. The rest have ‘base metal’ cases, albeit with stainless steel case backs. Two have black coated cases, and one had a gold plated case. One model the 67-9011, the one most usually seen in fact, has a finely brushed base metal case – I’m not sure of the material, but it may be a nickel alloy. This is a satin finish, not polished – only the 67-9356 stainless steel model has a polished case (see this post for reference images: https://sweep-hand.org/2012/12/16/challenge-timer-bullhead-original-case-finish/). And other than the 67-9356, the bezels were finished in contrasting colours – so, for example, the gold plated model has a black bezel. See Section 2 for a summary of the case and bezel finishes, and dial variants.
Case backs are important! Not only to keep dust and water out, but also to provide information on the model. So they are key to determining (a) that the case back goes with the rest of the watch, and (b) that the case and bezel are correct for the model. Always look for a case back image when looking at a watch for sale, and ask for one or to be told what’s on it if a photo is not provided. For information on dating a watch from its serial number, please see here: https://sweephand.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=857&action=edit
Besides the serial number, the case back will provide the case number – 4-901xxx, and usually the model number – 67-9xxx as well as a case material code, e.g ‘SSB’. All Challenge Timers have a case number starting with ‘4-901’, whilst the rest will vary according to the model.
The case material code is very useful since it provides case and bezel materials and colours. The third letter in the code refers to the bezel, so for example ‘SSB’ equates to a stainless steel case, with black bezel, whilst ‘BLG’ refers to a black case with gold bezel. I see a lot of Challenge Timers that have been de-plated and then polished or brushed, or even nickel plated, yet retain their original case back – most commonly ‘GPB’ – which describes their original appearance. One additional important point to note – the base metal model has a case material code of ‘SSB’ which is a bit misleading! However, the case back clarifies this since it will have ‘base metal top’ stamped on it.
Similarly, I see a lot of bezels polished back to metal, with the original black coating or gold plating removed. The bezels do get chipped and worn, so it is understandable to some extent that they are cleaned off. Sometimes they are re-painted, but this is unlikely to be very durable.
This brings us to dials – there has been an increasing supply of after market dials, and they are produced in a wide variety of colour combinations. Original dials feature just five primary colours: Silver, Black, Gold, Green and Grey. Sub-register dials are black on most models, white/silver on one and grey on another, whilst some also have multi-coloured highlights. It’s best to refer to the Automatic Chronograph page to see the various dial combinations and dial codes, which are found between the 4 and 5 o’clock markers. Also please use that page to study the hand types and colours, since they are sometimes replaced and may not be true to the originals.
2. Model Numbers / Case Numbers and Case Material Codes:
Here is a quick reference guide to the original models and the all important case back information:
Model #: Case #(s): Primary Dial Colour: Case Material/Bezel:
(none) 4-901096 Green Black, Stainless Steel (BLS)
67-9011 4-901177 Silver, Black or Grey Base Metal, Black (SSB)
67-9011 4-901053 Silver Base Metal, Black (SSB)
67-9011 4-901011 Silver Base Metal, Black (SSB)
67-9020 4-901193 Gold Gold Plated, Black (GPB)
67-9143 4-901134 Gold Black Coated, Gold (BLG)
67-9143 4-901088 Gold (dark) Black Coated, Gold (BLG)
67-9356 4-901223 Silver or Black All Stainless Steel (SS)
3. Other Points To Consider:
I would advise to always ask to see a photograph of the movement if it’s not already provided – look for a ‘clean’ movement without corrosion. Check that the chronograph functions are working correctly, and that the chronograph hands snap back to zero (the 12 o’clock position) when the chronograph is reset, or restarted using the fly back feature.
Also check that the quick set date and day mechanisms are working correctly (although I have known where a seller didn’t know how to quick set the day – it’s done be pressing the chronograph re-set button when the crown is pulled out one step).
Case finish – I have seen several examples of the 67-9011 ‘bullhead’ Challenge Timer where, at first glance, they appear to be in just about mint condition. The case looks flawless and the original satin finish seems to be present. But, on closer examination, all is not quite as it seems since the condition has been attained by a re-finish. To achieve this, and to remove all the dings and scratches caused by years of wear, a considerable amount of metal is removed. Also, bear in mind that what looks like a little used example may in reality have led a hard life, so the movement may be worn and in need of a full service, and possibly replacement parts too. Paying a high price for an apparently ‘mint’ watch and later finding that a tired movement needs to be serviced is a considerable expense in total. My tip for checking whether a case has been seriously re-finished is to look at the back, and particularly at the size and shape of the triangular lugs. These are larger at the top of the case, but each pair should be the same size and shape. Here is my example, with these areas highlighted – note how they are prominent, symmetrical and evenly sized (although one of the lower ones is not clear in this image, but you can see the shape and sizes of each pair):
Compare to this back, where the effect of heavy case re-finishing has reduced the size of the lugs and left them unevenly sized too:
Bear in mind that parts are hard to come by, and are most likely to be available only through buying a donor watch or movement, and servicing will be expensive – and you’ll need to find a competent watch repairer who is able to work on a mechanical chronograph. Members of the relevant forums may be able to make recommendations.