Since I began to collect watches, I always enjoyed ones with crystal case-backs that showed off the movement. I think it is an affliction particularly acute to new collectors. You get to see the beautiful mechanical movement, the intricate embellishment, and generally bond with the incredible engineering that goes into a watch you spent a lot of hard earned money to acquire.
While cruising the forums, I kept seeing posts of people showing off Rolexes (gasp) with exhibition case-backs. If you don't know why this is 'gasp' worthy, it's because Rolex, as near as makes no difference, hasn't made any production watches which have a windowed case-back. In fact it is a sure sign that a particular Rolex is fake. In my trips to Chinatown years ago with my first watch friend, I would play with the fake Rolexes, most of which had these windows on the back to see the movement. I guess they figure people who haven't actually seen a real one, would naturally assume since it is a nice watch you would be able to admire the movement from the back.
Recently my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check out the case-back maker that everyone raved about, Thomas Preik from Custom Watch Concepts. They are based in Germany and claim to engineer their case-backs to be just as waterproof and corrosion resistant as the originals they replace. While they have the most case-backs for Rolex models, they also make them for the Omega Speedmaster Professional, a few Zenith Chronographs, vintage Breitling and Junghams.
From their website, I paid the $170 (including shipping) for a sapphire case-back to fit my vintage Rolex 1675. Since I don't wear it around water, and it isn't my primary watch, I felt it would add a little extra enjoyment to the watch. Less than a week later, having completely forgotten I ordered it late one night, a package from Germany showed up in my mailbox. The case-back was in a small plastic ziplock bag, and a catalog and pen from the company were also included. After examining it with a magnifying loupe, it was clear to me how well machined it was, and had no blemishes or scratches, the metal was even and strong, and the sapphire was thick and clear. Great quality control. Here is what it looks like:
The next morning I went to my local watchmaker to install it. I was going to do it myself but had trouble getting the original case-back off the watch and didn't want to do any damage to it. He put it on in only a few seconds, and said it lined up with the gasket correctly. I didn't pressure test it yet, but from what I hear they are built to handle a 100+ meter test.
Once I got to my desk at work, I took the watch off, turned it around, and loved what I saw.
For the first time in a while I got to enjoy watching my watch tick away, and I had never seen a Rolex movement in this way. The colored wheels and the subtle finishing on the rotor and main plate are fantastic, and the fact that this case-back had the same riveted ring to screw it off as the original Rolex one was icing on the cake.
I soon noticed there was another benefit as well. This particular case-back seemed to be about 2-3mm taller than the original. Custom Watch Concepts says that most of their case-backs are the exact same height as the original, but I think some of the vintage ones, like mine, are slightly taller.
I always felt that my 1675 wore a bit small, without noticeable wrist presence, and it dug into my wrist often. With the slight extra boost, it now sits proudly, with some clearance between the crown and my wrist, making it more comfortable and easy to wind or adjust without taking it off.
From everything I've seen so far, I'm extremely happy with Thomas Preik's casebacks. The shipping was fast, the price was reasonable for the quality and it gives me back a joy I haven't experienced in quite a while. Highly recommended.