History of The Helvetia Watch Company

The history of the Helvetia watch goes way back to 1848, when a certain Louis Brands established a sales office for manufacturing watches. By 1880 Louis and his brother César set up a watch manufacturing business, La Generale Watch Co (General Watch Company). Clearly names for their product were required and the two brothers picked a number of names for their watches including Patria, Jura, Celtic and Helvetia, with Helvetia, being the female personification of the Swiss nation, bearing testament to the Swiss origin of their watches. The watches produced by the Brands brothers were highly thought of and by incorporation of the new lever movements in 1885, they produced timepieces that were accurate to within an astounding 30 seconds per day. Four years later the General Watch company was producing more than 100,000 watches per year and became the largest producer of watches in Switzerland. They formed collaborations with other manufacturers, most notably Audemars Piguet and produced highly desirable watches such as the minute repeating wrist-watch in 1892. This was way ahead of its time bearing in mind that wrist watches only gained popularity during the 1st World War.

By 1894 the General Watch Company had developed a new type of watch movement incorporating the revolutionary idea of having component parts that were interchangeable. This of course decreased manufacturing costs, made the manufacture of watches more efficient and also made watch repair easier. I simple name for this new product was required and it was the companies banker Henri Rieckel who came up with the simple and quite elegant name Omega. The Omega brand was a tremendous success and by 1903 it was decided that Omega would split from the General Watch Company as an independent enterprise, with the General Watch Company focusing its attentions on the manufacture of cylinder watches under trade names such as Helvetia.

In the depression of the early 1930s the Swiss watch manufacturing industry was in turmoil. There was a significant risk that many watch manufacturers and allied businesses would face bankruptcy. To prevent this the Swiss government and the Swiss banks provided funds to form Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG) as a vehicle to allow watch manufactures to pool resources and thus protect employment. ASUAG basically consisted of two arms, a conglomerate of movement blank manufacturers and movement part manufacturers, and a conglomerate of watch assembly companies under the company name of the GWC (General Watch Company) Ltd.  HelvHelvetia Naval Pocket Watch FIg 1 for Blogetia was one of the brands made by this newly merged company. At the time GWC Ltd made high quality watches for both the domestic and the military market. Emerging from the early 1930s was a growing trend toward rearming. This drove developments in the watch industry with the German military for example ordering high quality watches from Swiss manufactures incorporating design features such as the then new (1934) Incabloc shock proofing. Other countries followed, although the UK for example tended to buy comparable watches but of a lower specification that lacked the Incabloc shock-proofing modification. ThusHelvetial Watch Blog  Figure 2a Helvetia watches, being one of the major brands of GWC Ltd, found their way into the armed forces of both the German and Western Allies. Helvetia military pocket watches are currently quite readily available, although there are some quite rare examples such as the mid 1930s Royal Navy Helvetia pocket watch shown in Figure 1. This particular silver nickel cased black dialed Helvetia pocket watch carries British broad arrow, the Royal Navy Pattern No 301 and the serial number 4014547 on its back and has a Swiss made Helvetia signed caliber 32A movement (Figure 2). Understandably such watches had a habit of disappearing a fact that is probably related to the high losses of shipping experienced by the British Royal Navy during the 2nd World War.

After the 2nd World War, GWC Ltd continued to make high quality watches under the Helvetia name, including this absolutely stunning wrist watches. (Figure 3).  In 1968 the Helvetia movement factory in Reconvillier was bought by the SGT (Societe des Garde-Temps SA) although it seems the that the Helvetia  watch factory in Bienne remained independent. Sadly the invention of the quartz movement in the 1970s had a seriously negative impact on the manufacture of Swiss mechanical watches and Helvetia was one of the victims of this new innovation. UntitlHelvetia Blog Figure 3b


Rolex Tudor and The Forgotten Watchmaker


A popular misconception is that the Tudor watch brand was first founded by Rolex in 1946. In fact, Tudor was originally registered by the Swiss watchmaker Veuve de Philippe Hüther in 1926 for Hans Wilsdorf. Wilsdorf  then took over the Tudor trade name in 1936 and officially launched the Rolex Tudor brand in 1946 with some of the early examples carrying both the Rolex and the Tudor trade marks (Figure 1). However, little seems to be known about the watchmaker Phillippe Hüther.

Stainless Tteel Tudor Oyster Circa 1946 1





Figure 1: A stainless steel Rolex Tudor Oyster with a face carrying the Rolex Crown along with the Tudor Oyster signature, Circa 1946.

Phillippe Hüther had established a watch making company in Colombier in Neuchâtel Switzerland by 1917. On his death in about 1925 his wife took over the company renaming it Veuve de Philippe Huether. It was presumably under the direction of his wife that Veuve de Philippe Huether established the Tudor brand at the behest of Wilsdorf. The earliest Tudor watches carried the Tudor name but the association with Rolex was limited with the Tudor brand being linked directly to Rolex in just a very few examples. However, Rolex did guarantee the technical quality of these early Tudor watches. The link between Veuve de Philippe Huether did not just rely on the Tudor brand.  Like Aegler, Veuve de Philippe Huether supplied watch components to Rolex. In the late 1940s/early 1950s Veuve de Philippe Huether was restructured and renamed Hüther SA with the manufacturing base being moved to Solothurn near Biel, Switzerland. Hüther SA made watches under a number of trade marks including Brunela (registered in 1953), Cloquet (registered in 1955), Hermia, (registered in 1956) Mortima, (registered in 1954, although Mortima was also registered by the French manufacturer Cattin & Cie circa 1957), Puncto and Puncto-Matic (registered in 1955). Hüther SA seems to have survived the cull of Swiss watch manufacturers in the late 1970s and 1980s and is still registered as a watch manufacturer in Solothurn.

Update on the Reverand George Hustler’s Silver Partner Inkstand

It is all very well having a lovely example of a prized antique, but if the history of the piece is uncertain this can cast doubt on the originality of the piece. Thus acquiring provenance can significantly increase the desirability of an item. Take for example this lovely silver partners ink stand by Henry Wilkinson and Co 1850. The inkstand is currently for sale via our Ruby Lane shop and consists of an ornate lobed and pierced base on scrolled feet providing support for two silver mounted cut glass bottles and a baluster taper stick. Thus, just on the basis of aesthetics and the hallmarks the inkstand is in itself highly desirable to a collector of fine silver. However, the inkstand carries an inscription to a Reverend G Hustler. An inscription like this can be a benefit or a curse in that some buyers of silver dislike reference to a previous owner in the form of an inscription. Other buyers in comparison see inscriptions as a link to the past and also as a form of provenance. In this particular case the inscription provides considerable provenance.Victorian Ink Stand Sheffield 1850

George Hustler was the third son of Thomas Hustler, and was born in 1827 at his ancestral home Acklam Hall. He was educated at Harrow and acquired his BA and MA at University College, Oxford. He then studied at Durham University and was ordained in 1849. He also married Louisa Hawley in 1849, and she was the daughter of a Captain Hawley who was apparently at the battle of Waterloo.Victorian Silver Partners Inkstand Sheffield 1850 9

After serving as the curate at Blanchland, Northumberland for a year he took on the living at Acaster, Selby in 1850, where he remained until moving to become the vicar at Stillingfleet near York in 1859. It was in recognition of his service to the parishioners of Acaster that he was presented with the silver inkstand. He was apparently very well liked by his parishioners and this is thought to be linked to his generous nature and his major passions in life, horses, hounds and hunting. The fact that he was given a silver ink stand in 1859 on leaving Acaster reflects how well his parishioners knew him, for he was also a collected of fine silver and silver plate. Whilst at Stillingfleet the Reverend George Hustler hunted with the York and Ainsty Hunt and also the Bramham Moor Hunt.

In 1874 George Hustler’s reclusive and eccentric father died leaving the family home, Acklam Hall, to his eldest son. However, he didn’t want to live there and invited his younger brother George Hustler to take up residence. George did so and was apparently very hospitable, entertaining not only the local hunts but also local society. Unfortunately his sociability had an adverse impact on his finances and he left Acklam Hall to move to Weald Manor near Oxford. At this time George Hustler was hunting five days a week, although it seems he also gave up to three sermons on Sundays.

In 1877 George Hustler took up the living at English Becknor in Gloucestershire. On arrival he built a kennels and continued his passion, hunting in the Forest of Dean for deer and fox. George hustler seems to have had a real passion for life, and despite suffering from a heart condition in his later years, he continued riding and hunting right up until he died in the saddle.  It seems that on the 25th of February 1905 his horse stumbled whilst clearing a jump and he fell to the ground dead as a result of heart failure. The Reverend George Hustler is buried with his wife Louisa in the English Becknor churchyard.

So here you have a piece of silver, a beautiful silver inkstand, that will forever be a reminder of the history of a larger than life character who was a true Victorian hunting parson. This of course adds significant value to the piece. The moral of the story is research around inscriptions – they can bring an already beautiful antique to life.

All information regarding the Reverend George Hustler was extracted from the early 20th century book “Sportsmen Parsons In Peace and War” by Mrs. Stuart Menzies. For further information about this inkstand please contact us by email at enquiries@penroseantiques.co.uk

Preparing for Stafford Bingley Hall Antiques Fair

Getting ready for an antique fair is always enjoyable. The preparations starts well in advance with a review of the stock. This is very important because different fairs have very different characters and attract very different buyers so the stock has to be matched to the venue. The next step is to put together a shopping list, this is a truly fun but a vital component of the preparation.  The shopping list has to be quite general, highlighting classes of antiques rather than specific items. Then comes the sourcing. Sourcing new stock can be both exciting and frustrating because success is very dependent on what is available at that time and being able to acquire desired items at the right price. Unsurprisingly, sourcing can be very time consuming, often involving hours in cold draft filled auction rooms or hours searching outdoor stalls at other antique fairs. However, there is the reward, a find that that fits the requirements at the right price. Buying stock isn’t the end of it, quite often new stock items have characteristics that need further research, for example an inscription on a piece of silver can add provenance, or an unusual makers mark on a piece of pottery or a piece of furniture. There is always an element of risk when buying, and that one item that looks good but you just need to check up on it to make sure. This adds a real thrill to the chase. The research component is accompanied by cleaning, servicing in the case of watches (All our watches are serviced by a very well established watch and clock maker JH Oxtoby and Sons) and photographing. We find that photographing our stock is very important. We keep a pictorial record of our purchases and this combined with good well-researched descriptions means that we build up a fantastic resource based on personal experience. Having done all that, all there is left to do is head off to the fair and set up.

For our next fair at Stafford Bingley Hall on the 8th, 9th and 10th of March we have sourced a whole load of goodies, see a tiny sample below (Figure 1). Come and visit us, we are easy to find being located on the red carpeted area by the ladies loos two stands down from the little shop.

Stafford pic 3Figure 1 shows A) An continental silver and gold Longines pocket watch dated to 1925, B)A silver footed bowl with hallmarks for Sheffield 1902 and makers marks for Fenton Russell & Co, weight approximately 16oz, C) An Edwardian 9ct gold double Albert watch chain (37 cm in length, weight approximately 18g) with a 9ct shield fob, D) A Victorian silver snuff box with hallmarks for 1859 and makers marks for Frederick Marson, and E) A Royal Worcester miniature porcelain tortoise, date marks for 1907.

%d bloggers like this: