I've been obsessed with cars since I was a small child, and for decades longer than I have been interested in watches. Thus, you might expect me to have a watch box filled with racing watches (and many gearheads do go down this route). As my taste in watches has matured, however, I find myself often turned off by automotive-inspired watches, especially those that are co-branded with a car company. In my review of the Autodromo Group B, I commented on how it did it well, but how difficult automotive watches are to get right. Slap on a fake tachometer and a tire tread strap, and you can count me out.
Even co-branded automotive watches that are more tasteful are usually uninteresting to me. They often start with a watch that is mildly interesting, and make it less attractive by adding unnecessary logos or words to the dial. Often, a bit of cash is the only connection between the two brands.
So why is it that I found myself searching diligently for months to buy a watch with the name of a car brand on the dial? It's not just because I have loved Porsche cars since I was a child. The Porsche Design Chronograph 01 is an icon. Porsche didn't simply slap its name on an existing watch. Rather, the grandson of the founder of the company actually designed the watch and commissioned watch company Orfina to produce it. The design ended up being emulated by countless companies and is said to have been the first all-black watch.
In addition to that, it just looks cool. It's a desirable watch without the name on the dial, but the fact that it is there just adds to its coolness. I'm not that cool, so don't take my word for it, but consider that Tom Cruise wore it in both Top Gun movies and Mario Andretti wore one.
By the way, Hodinkee confirms that watch worn by Tom Cruise in Maverick was the same exact watch that was use in the original movie. What they didn't answer, was why the original looked quite beat up, while the new one appeared to have all of its PVD coating intact. My assumption is that it was restored for the reboot. I watched the original again recently, and the watch is featured in almost every scene.
How Old Is It?
One thing that I have learned since I obtained my vintage Heuer Autavia Viceroy, is that when you own a vintage watch, other watch collectors always ask "What year is it from?" Although I have no way of knowing exactly, I wanted to put together some semblance of an answer.
These watches were built with two different movements, the Valjoux 7750 and the Lemania 5100. According to this article written by Wei Koh of Monochrome, early watches (first released in 1972) were powered by the 7750, and Porsche Design only switched to the Lemania after the 7750 stopped production. According to Wei, Porsche produced this second series from mid-1974 to 1978 (not including military versions), meaning that my Lemania version was made somewhere in that window. I wanted to see if I could narrow it down more than that though.
I decided to see if I could learn anything from the serial number. I started searching for photos of casebacks of Porsche Design watches with the Lemania movement where the serial number was visible, and stopped when I reached 20. The numbers ranged from 22577 to 44358 with a fairly even distribution. Engraved on the caseback of what is now my watch is 42422, which tells me that mine is likely a later version. I'm telling people that I think it was made around 1977 to 1978.
Disclaimer: This should only be used as an interesting reference. I make no claims about the accuracy of that information.
I bought this watch from a private seller on the internet, and while he seemed trustworthy, and posted a lot of photos, it's always a gamble with a vintage watch.
When I received it, I was very pleased with the condition. I paid a lot more than I had planned to for it, but it ended up being worth it to have one in this nice of condition. It's rare to find one with the PVD coating almost completely intact as this one is. The caseback even appears to have its original sticker still applied.
I was also pleased with the design of the watch. It has the purpose-built look of a late 70s (or 90s) 911 speedometer but without any tacky or unneccessary styling elements added to make it look like a car watch. Granted, I won't be using the tachymetre scale, but it looks cool on the rehaut, giving the dial a deep, recessed appearance.
Being that this is one of the later PD01 watches, it has a PD logo on the dial rather than Orfina text. Additionally, the bracelet clasp has PD rather than the Orfina logo. Although I don't have a strong preference, I prefer these. This version also has an English day wheel.
Because it's a Lemania version, it features the word Tachymetre on the rehaut, rather than the "km" or "1 mile" that you'll see on 7750 versions. I assume this was dependent on where they were originally sold.
Other than that, like the gauges in a Porsche 911, the dial is pure, legible business. The orange seconds hand provides quick distinction of the current seconds when timing something.
Wearing the Orfina Porsche Design PD01 Chronograph
At 15mm thick, I expected this watch to be top-heavy and feel too thick. Actually, however, it wears quite well and appears less thick than it is. Black cases tend to shrink watches visually, which helps.
The tritium lume has long since expired and taken on a creamy patina, but the PD is fairly legible during the day.
Straight, white hands stand out against the black dial, and it avoids looking busy, despite the amount of information that it displays.
The chronograph information is also quite legible. Other than making the stack height taller, displaying the minutes on a central minute counter is a much more useful method than having it on a subdial.
Despite not being a column wheel chronograph, the chronograph pushers are quite crisp (especially after having been serviced). The require a fair amount of force to press, but work well. The snap back of the two central hands looks quite cool too!
It always feels cool to have an all-black tool watch on, and the PD01 is no exception.
As with most vintage watches, the bracelet on the Porsche Design Chronograph is a bit jangly, but quite comfortable due to its flexibility. The folded links are narrow, giving it great articulation. Additionally, they change size when they shift to the removable sections.
The clasp is folded steel, fully black coated, and is a friction fit. As was the trend at the time, it has about a million micro-adjust holes, which made it easy to size without me having to remove any links.
Although I think the bracelet looks fantastic on it, I plan to try it on a number of StrapHabit straps. I'm looking forward to trying it on a white strap, which should give it a look similar to Porsche Design's recent GP Ice Race reedition of this watch. Check back in for an update on that!
Although the ETA7750 would have been easier to find parts for and get serviced, I preferred and prioritized finding a later PD01 with the Lemania 5100 movement.
This movement has a reputation for being well-made, durable, and shock-resistant. It does contain a number of plastic parts, but that does not seem to deter people. It uses a vertical clutch but is cam-actuated.
I specifically wanted the 5100 for two reasons. First, I wanted to own a movement that I had never owned before. Second, I found its chronograph display more interesting, with minutes displayed on a large, centrally-mounted hand, rather than a small subdial.
The 24-hour subdial also makes it easier to set the time correctly and know when you can advance the day and date.
Depending on which version they have, some sellers will claim that the 5100 is more rare and desirable. In my search, prices were all over the place, but I didn't notice a strong correlation to the 5100 versions being more expensive. Additionally, it seemed like more of the 5100 versions were for sale than 7750, at least when I was heavily searching.
Servicing the Porsche Design Chronograph 01
Whenever buying an older watch with unknown service history, I like to have an expert assess its condition. The seller of the Porsche Design watch didn't know its history. Despite the fact that it was keeping good time, I thought it would be a good idea. Additionally, advancing the day disc with the crown didn't always work, and the crystal was hazy underneath and had a few scratches. I decided to give it to my friend Zach Smith to assess. He's the same watchmaker who serviced my Omega Planet Ocean Chronograph.
After opening up the watch, he confirmed that the oil was dried up, and recommended a service. As much as I was not looking forward to the additional cost, I had anticipated this when budgeting for the purchase of the watch and was happy that I'd soon have the watch at 100%.
Unfortunately, Zach quickly found something unexpected when he started tearing down the movement.
A previous watchmaker had broken a screw and left the remaining piece in place in its home.
Because the movement was now missing a screw, that previous "watchmaker" decided that glue was the best solution!
Luckily, Zach has the capability to solve this. He fabricated a few tools and was able to extract the old piece. Removing the old glue also added some work to the job.
Once that mess was fixed, the watch was cleaned, lubricated, and reassembled.
The issue with the day mechanism was just a spring that had popped out of place rather than a broken part.
Zach also used an imaging machine to confirm that the barrel bore was not out of round.
The scratched original mineral crystal was also replaced with sapphire. Sure, it's not "correct" but it looks exactly the same, but is much more scratch-resistant and a bit more optically clear. I think of this like putting modern tires in the correct size on a vintage Porsche car.
The bracelet clasp was also quite off-center. I was worried about scratching the coating doing it myself, so Zach took care of that too.
I'd say that he got it adjusted quite well. Check out that accuracy and amplitude!
I'm happy with my decision to purchase an Orfina Porsche Design Chronograph PD01. It's a piece of history, and a cool watch to own for anyone who loves watches and Porsches. I've thoroughly enjoyed wearing this watch, especially now that it's running and looking 100%!
I'm also glad that I was patient enough to wait for the "right" one to come along. Too many others that I saw were either in too rough of condition or were way too expensive. This one hit the sweet spot of being in great condition, but with a few minor signs of wear that make it so that I'm not afraid to actually wear it.
I'm lucky that I had a watchmaker that could handle the issues that came up, but that should be planned for with the purchase of any vintage watch. I always recommend factoring a service into your budget, unless a watch has a trustworthy history.
Name: Orfina Porsche Design Chronograph PD01
Reference Number: 7176S
Lug Width: 20mm
Movement: Lemania 5100
Water Resistance: 100m
Crystal: Mineral (original), sapphire (replacement)
Bezel: Internal, tachymetre
Bracelet: Stainless steel with friction deployant