The History of Cyma Watch Company

Cyma is a watch brand that has long been associated with accuaracy. Even the name Cyma, derived from the French cime for top or summit indicated the aims of the company, that of reaching the pinnacle of of accuracy. Cyma can trace its routes back to the Schwob brothers Joseph and Theodore, who initially established cyma in 1862 as a watch manufacturer that assembled watches from components derived from multiple Swiss sources.  At about the same time 1871, Henri Sndoz established Sandoz & Cie in Le Locle. However Sandoz moved to Tavannes in 1891, just North of Biel where he focused on the manufacture of highly complex repeaters and chronographs. Soon after this move Sandoz formed a developed a business relationship with the Schwob brothers and Cyma was officially registered in 1903. Sandoz used the most modern of manufacturing processes and produced very high quality time-pieces, trademarked as Tavannes, Cyma and Cyma Tavannes. The quality of the product allowed Tavannes/Cyma to develop into one of the largest Swiss watch manufacturers by 1910. Even basic models were very accurate and many were consequently sold as officially tested chronometers. By the 1920s, Cyma had followed a growing trend to standardise watch part manufacture, but typical of the company, it wasn’t enough to just produce parts that were interchangeable, they had to be precision made to ensure long term accuracy.

Early watch movements tended to be very susceptible to damage via physical blows. Thus during the 1930s efforts were made to develop shock proofing systems. The very first effective shock proofing system for watches  (Incabloc) was invented by Georges Braunschweig and Fritz Marti in 1934. These systems were incorporated into many watches by numerous watch manufacturers. However, by the 1950s, Cyma had developed its own shock proofing system, Cymerflex, which it installed in its high grade watches. These proudly advertised the fact on the dial  (Figure 1). It is a bit of a testament to Cyma, that of all of the numerous watches that have passed though our hands as dealers in vintage watches over the years, we have never had a troublesome Cyma.

Cymaflex WristwatchBy the late 1960s and early 1970s the watch industry was changing, the advances of Hamilton and Bulovea in the production of electric watches set the scene for the era of the quartz watch. By 1973 Cyma had produced their first electric watch and they were ready to embrace the new technology whilst other watch manufacturers were decimated by it.  The brand is currently owned by Stelux International, Ltd and continues to lead in the production of high quality quartz watches. Having achieved this it seems that Cyma has met the goals set out by its founders, after all Cyma now produces watches that are always absolutely accurate.

History of the Hamilton Watch Company

By Morgan Denyer

Figure 1The history of the Hamilton Watch company goes back to 1886 when Figure 2Abram Bitner bought the Lancaster Pennsylvania Watch Company factory to establish the Keystone Standard Watch Company. The keystone Watch company developed a 18-size, 3/4-plate movement, with 15 jewels that incorporated a patented dust-proofing system (Figure 1) and was accurate enough to for use on the railroads. Unfortunately the company struggled and was eventually auctioned at a Sheriffs sale to a group of Pennsylvanian businessmen (J. W. B.Bausman, John F. Brimmer, Harry B. Cochran, Frank P. Coho, C. A. Fondersmith, George M. Franklin, John Sener, John C. Hager, J. F. McCaskey, H. M. North, Martin Ringwalt, J. Frederick Sener, William Z. Sener, James Shand, Peter T. Watt and H. S. Williamson. Charles D. Rood and Henry J. Cain of the Aurora Watch company) following its bankruptcy in 1892. The new company merged with the Aurora Watch Company of Illinois and was given the name The Hamilton Watch Company in honour of James Hamilton, a local and important historical figure who served as an elected member of the Provincial Assembly, was the Mayor in 1745, and was commissioned by the Penn family to function as lieutenant-governor on a number of occasions between 1754 and 1773. James Hamilton also owned large tracts of land granted to him by the Penn family and he used some of that land to build the State House and surrounding public spaces. He has been credited with founding the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The Hamilton Watch Company was set up with the aim of manufacture watches of the highest quality. The company didn’t have the resources to compete with the American watch making giants of the time (Waltham and Elgin) but what they could do, by producing very high quality watches, was to try and corner the railway watch market. The very first model they produced in 1893, a size 18, 17 jewel pocket watch did just that. This first watch, the Broadway, not only became known as “The watch of the Railway”, but was also the official timepiece of all U.S. Expeditionary Forces by the turn of the 20th century.  It was the Broadway and the later 21 jewel 992 Figure 2) railway grade movement that accounted for the majority of Hamilton sales during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Figure 3WW1 resulted in a need for a new type of watch, the Figure 4wristwatch or trench watch. Hamilton being a provider of watches for the US military very quickly produced its first trench watch in 1917 (Figure 3 & 4). This watch was based around an 0-sized (1 inch) 17-jewel 983 movement which was initially designed for use in ladies watches (see http://www.hamiltonchronicles.com/2013/05/1918-aviators-watch-trench-watch.html), the movements of these watches were even signed Lady Figure 5Hamilton. Hamilton produced 6900 of these movements and only about 1500 were cased as trench/aviators watches. They were quickly replaced in 1919 by men’s watches incorporating the O sized 981 calibre or 985 calibre movements. However, it seems that Hamilton couldn’t manufacture these watches fast enough to keep up with demand. The problem lay in the fact that the Hamilton watches were of an extremely high quality and were thus time consuming and expensive to manufacture. It is possible that Hamilton chose to manufacture high-grade wrist watches because to do otherwise could have damaged their brand and their major market, the railroads (see http://www.vintage-hamilton-wristwatches.com/2013/05/when-did-hamilton-make-its-first-gents.html). Hamilton continued to grow in the 1920s, buying the Illinois Watch Company in 1927/28 and as a result of this expanded its range to include numerous lovely Art Deco wrist watches including the stunning and very highly desirable Piping Rock (Figure 5).

Figure 6By 1939 WW2 had started in Europe and Hamilton Figure 7started to produce wristwatches that by modern standards would be more recognisable. Many of these were designed with almost an anticipation of future involvement in conflict. For example in 1940 Hamilton produced its first watch with a central sweep second hand, the Hamilton Sentinel (Figure 6). This watch contained a 17 jewel 987S calibre hack movement, in which the pulling out of the crown to set the watch stopped the second hand. Figure 8This of course enabled the synchronisation of watches. Talk about reading the market, Hamilton’s timing was perfect. In 1942, following the entry of the USA into WW2, Hamilton ceased producing watches for the civilian market and instead produced a million or more watches for the troops being sent to Europe and the Pacific. These watches were often equipped with movements incorporating the hack mechanism, originally used in the Hamilton Sentinel. After the war many of the designs used in the WW2 military watches were retained in military style dress watches, such as the beautiful 14K solid gold Hamilton Secometer. (Figure 7) The period after the WW2 also saw a return to the manufacture of lovely slim tank watches and Hamilton excelled in the production of some superb watches such as the Hamilton Donald (Figure 8).

The post war period witnessed an increasing wealth and the race to produce the first electric watch. Hamilton, apparently in response to rumours that Elgin were working on the development of an electric watch (http://www.electric-watches.co.uk/make/hamilton/index/), started Project X in 1946. This eventually resulted  in Hamilton unveiling the worlds first battery powered electric watch, the 14K solid gold Ventura in 1957 and soon after the 14 K yellow and white gold filled Pacer (Figure 9). These watches was something new, the design was striking and had its origins in the emerging space age. These watches were incredibly popular, even Elvis had one. Unfortunately the first Hamilton electric movement, the 500 was a bit unreliable, watch makers were un-used to them and refused to service them, so many were sent back to the manufacturer. Modifications of the 500 led to the development of the much more reliable 505 movement in 1962 and this was manufactured right up until 1969, when Hamilton finally admitted the superiority of Bulova’s Acutron. Despite the unreliability of the Hamilton electric watches they are still highly desirable, although there are only a very few specialist dealers/repairers such as the UK Electric Watch Guru Paul Wirdnam (http://www.electric-watches.co.uk/) who can service and repair them.Figure 9

During the Hamilton Electric watch period, Hamilton changed its logo to a stylised H symbolic of the electric watch era (Figure 10). However, Hamilton continued to make very high grade mechanical watches Figure 10during this period. In 1966 hamilton bought the Buren factory in Switzerland giving rise toHamilton Buren. This allowed Hamilton to incorporate the highly inventive Buren micro rotor blade into its automatic watches. Hamilton stopped making watches in the US in 1969, and shifted their watch making to the Hamilton Buren manufacturing base. By 1972, the Hamilton Buren association had dissolved and Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH – Omega & Tissot) bought the Hamilton brand. Via the merger of SSIH and ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG) which gave rise to SMH (Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Ltd.) in 1984, Hamilton is now a subsidiary of Swatch. Following the success of the film Men in Black (1990) Hamilton re-launched the Ventura design with a quartz movement. Since then Hamilton has gone on to produce very high quality watches for the luxury market. Hamilton currently sponsors Nicolas Ivanoff (Aerobatic pilot) and his plane the Hamilton branded Edge 540, they host the Hollywood “behind the Camera Awards, and are the official timekeepers of EAA AirVenture and sponsor the annual event at Wittman Regional Airport, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The English Waltham Watches

by Morgan Denyer (Penrose Antiques Ltd)

Here is a bit of a horological heresey, the English Waltham! The Waltham watch company was steeped in American History, the company was founded by David Davies, Edward Howard and Aaron Lufkin Dennison who  in 1850 set up a company in Roxbury Massachusetts to manufacture watch parts. The company was reputedly set up under a cloud of secrecy because David Davies, Edward Howard and Aaron Lufkin Dennison were going to do something quite inventive, set up a watch manufacturing company in which all the components were made in their watch factory subject to strict quality control. This was quite unheard of and pretty much a world first. The watches they produced represented  a revolution in watch making, they could mass produce watches with interchangeable parts.

The first watches were made in 1852, and the company was named the Boston Watch Company in 1853. However the cost of production and retooling took its toll and the company was declared bankrupt resulting in the sale of the factory and larger machines to Royal E Robinns in 1857. He renamed the company Appleton Tracy & Company (ATCo) and retained Aaron Dennison as the factory superintendent. That year the company completed the development of the Model 1857 movement. By 1861 and the start of the American Civil War, ATCo had started to manufacture the William Ellery Model 57 watch. These watches were cheaply mass produced and became popular with Union soldiers who could buy them from roving merchants for a mere $13 or so. It seems that by the end of the civil war in 1865, the William Every Model 57 (Figure 1) accounted for 44.6% of the Waltham sales with the American Civil War Ellery watch serial number reaching around 161,000. (see  “Origins of the Waltham Model 57”   and “A closer look at a Civil War watch “ ).

Figure 1 Blog2Heated debate about the Ellery 57 Model watch represented a turning point in the career of Aaron Dennison. He fell out with Robinns in 1861 and Robinns eventually dismissed him for being a “vocal Dissenter” in 1862. One can imagine that this was a bit of a blow, but the success of the Ellery 57 and the perceived vindication of Dennison’s views seemed to drive him on to his next commercial venture.  In 1864 Dennison took the opportunity to set up the Tremont Watch Company with A. O. Bigelow. The idea here was to assemble watches in the US from fine parts sourced in Switzerland and larger parts sourced in America. Seemed like a good plan, but whilst Dennison was away in Switzerland organising the transport of components, his partners decided to move the company to Melrose and manufacture complete watches there. Needless to say Dennison was not pleased, he left the new company predicting utter disaster and moved to Birmingham England in 1871 where he established a watch case making business in 1872. His timing was perfect because of the opening in 1874 of the London office of the American Watch Company by N.P. Stratton, (assistant superintendant to Dennison in 1857, see “Watches Factories of America; Past and Present” by Henry G Abbott). Here was a ready market for Dennison’s cases and the person he had to convince of the value of his watch cases was none other than his old assistant superintendent at the American Watch Company. Unsurprisingly the majority of  the output of Dennison’s new watch case manufacturing business ended up being used by the London branch of the American Watch Company. What was particularly interesting about this though was that these early Dennison cases did not carry the Dennison makers mark, but AWCo, presumably because Robbins wouldn’t tolerate a Dennison makers mark on his watches.

Fig 2 Blog 2The association between the Dennison Watch Case Company and AWCo and the Later Waltham Watch Company, was maintained long after Aaron Dennison’s death in 1895. The success of this collaborative venture was exemplified by the Waltham Traveler (Figure 2). The Waltham Traveler consisted of a 7 jewel movement and was favoured for the export market in the early 20th century. Tens of thousands were sent to the UK where they were mostly cased in Dennison gold or gold plated cases. These watches were robust and many have survived in good working order. They represent a very good investment for those wishing to buy a good antique watch. The real benefit of these watches is that because they were mass produced, the parts are readily sourced and are fully interchangeable.

By the First World War Waltham had become a major supplier of watch movements in the UK, but the market was changing. Pocket watches were of little use in the trenches of the European battle fields and troops had started to modify their watches by the addition of wire lugs. Dennison, having his business located in the UK was in a prime position to take advantage of this. By 1914/15 Dennison had started to make transitional or trench watch cases consisting of what looked like pocket watch cases fitted with wire lugs (Figure 3). These were designed to fit Waltham movements and were a favorite with British officers heading of to war. The design actually gained such popularity with the conservative British that the Dennison transitional watch cases were made right through the 1920s and into the mid to late1930s. The latest example we at Penrose Antiques Ltd have encountered dated from 1938.Fig 3a

Post WW1 there were also drivers to further refine wristwatch design. This was very much a period of the tank watch, a design first created by Louis Cartier in 1917. Virtually all watchmakers leaped on the tank watch bandwagon, and Waltham, was no different. By the 1920s Waltham was producing a range of movements designed to fit slim rectangular dress watchcases. Many of these movements made it to the UK to be encased in lovely simple but elegant slim lozenge shaped curved art Art Deco Dennison cases.

In the history of watch making, many watch manufacturers had watch movements made to fit their watch cases, for example the American Ball Watch Company used Swiss made Avia watch movement. Thus one could argue that the Walthams assembled in the UK form English made Dennison cases represent a special bread of English Walthams. After all many of the Dennison cases, although designed to fit Waltham movements were also designed for the English market. For example the early trench watch cases made by Dennison specifically met the needs of the British heading off to the trenches. The design was only later adopted by Waltham in the US to meet the needs of American troops post April 6th 1917 when the USA entered the war. So perhaps Britain, via the efforts and perseverance of Aaron Dennison can bathe in a small portion of the glory of the historically great American Waltham Watch Company.

The association with Dennison and the English market may also have played a part in the eventual downfall of the Waltham Watch Company. The British were by nature very conservative, but the UK was a major market for Waltham. Perhaps to meet the needs of this market, Waltham maintained a more conservative output, and it may have been that the English conservative influence led  Waltham watches to be perceived as a bit boring in the home US market. This perception of conservatism was believed to have played a part in a decline of sales and the eventual bankruptcy of the Waltham Watch Company  in 1949 and closure of the American Waltham Watch factory in 1957.

The Bulova Watch Company

by Morgan Denyer  (Penrose Antiques Ltd)

The Bulova’s story starts with the immigration of a certain Joseph Bulova to the United States. Joseph Bulova was born in 1851 and emigrated to the US towards the later quarter of the 19th century to establish a small New York jewellers, J Bulova Company. By 1911 Bulova had started to make small table clocks and pocket watches, a venture aided by the opening of Bulova’s first watch factory in Bienne, Switzerland in 1912. Bulova Figure 1This was very much a time of growth and innovation in the watch making industry, partially drivBulova Figure 2en by the needs of the military. The 1st World War, saw Bulova working towards meeting the need for the new fangled wristwatches, and by 1919 Bulova was the first watch manufacturer to launch a full range of men’s wristwatches. At this time Bulova’s business was growing fast and to facilitate continued growth, Bulova, in 1920, moved to 580 Fifth Avenue, where Bulova built the first ever Observatory on top of a skyscraper (Figure 1). Accuracy was everything, thus the observatory was apparently under the direction of a mathematician, whose calculations were reputed to guide the factory’s watchmakers in their efforts towards absolute accuracy. Ever the opportunistic advertiser, the move provided Bulova with an opportunity to re-brand itself in 1923 as the Bulova Watch Company Inc. At this time Bulova’s methods of mass production allowed the production of high precision interchangeable components allowing rapid repair and servicing. The Bulova’s were always ready to support risky projects with the aim of grabbing a headline. For example it was the Bulova Watch Company that made the first ever radio advertisement in 1926, and it was Ardé Bulova, Joseph’s son, who offered a $1000 prize to the pilot who could make the first non-stopBulova Blog Figure 3 single-handed flight across the Atlantic. It seems that those who attempted this feet were all given a Bulova before they took off, and it is reputed that the first pilot, Charles A. Lindberg, who managed the trip wore a Bulova during the flight. It is also believed that Lindberg actually earned himself two Bulova watches and of course a nice large cheque as a result of his efforts. The first watch was given to him before the flight, and the second as a presentation watch after the flight in a blaze of publicity. Not to miss a trick, Bulova capitalised on this my creating the Lone Eagle model, the first ever commemorative watch. This watch seemed to be rather fittingly based on what was called the Bulova Conqueror (Figure 2 – see http://www.watchophilia.com/general-information/bulova-lone-eagle-series/ for more details). Rather perversely, prior to the successful flight the Conqueror didn’t actually sell that well, but on touch down, sales rocketed with the Bulova records showing 5000 sales within the first 3 days of landing. There is still considerable debate as to whether these were actual sales of physical watches to individual customers, or orders from jewellers. The latter seems most likely. The company continued innovating, producing the very first electric clocks in 1931 and making the first ever television advertisement in 1941. During WW2 Bulova dedicated its time to producing timepieces for the US military. After the war Bulova produced some truly lovely watches combining stunningly creative designs with the small sleek look of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Many of these watches were very high quality watches consisting of high calibre movements within 14ct solid white or yellow gold cases (Figure 3). Bulova Figure 4The 50s also saw social changes, this was an era of steadily increasing wealth, and massive technological advances. In the watch industry the race was on to produce the first electric watch. This was perceived as an almost impossible task because it required the miniaturisation of electrical components. However, by 1960 Bulova had developed the Bulova Accutron. This watch was remarkable in that it basically contained a mechanical movement driven by a 360 hertz tuning fork. The concept was brilliant, very ingenious and beautifully simple. Basically what Bulova did was to fabricate a means of driving a 25mm long tuning fork with an electronic unit consisting of a couple of coils, a battery unit and a couple of transistors. The tuning fork was manufactured so that one arm possessed a post from which extended an arm like structure terminating in a jewelled square (Figure 4a-c see http://www.decadecounter.com/accutron/history.htm for further details). The vibrations of the tuning fork allowed the arm to drive a micro-toothed wheel, tBulova Figure 5ooth by tooth. It was this micro-toothed wheel, which drove the mechanical gear chain allowing the hands to move. These watches don’t tick they give of a faint high-pitched hum, and it is down to the micro-toothed drive wheel that in these watches the second hand seems to move with a mystical smoothness. The Accutron was the very first highly accurate electric watches, and this was recognised by the Bulova Accutron wristwatch being the first wristwatch to be awarded the US Railroad Certificate. The value of this accolade should be explained. In the early years of the US railroad, accidents tended to happen because train drivers and signallers had watches that were not terribly accurate. To try and circumvent this, strict standards were set for the accuracy of watches used on the US railways to insure the appropriate coordination of time dependent tasks. Thus Bulova, because of the accuracy of its Accutron wristwatches, could market their wristwatches to the rail industry. To market these new watches, Bulova produced versions without a formalised face, thus the all-new movement could be viewed. These watches were meant to be display items only. However, customers wanted to buy them, and thus the Accutron Spaceview watches were born. These were, and still are, highly popular and when combined with the asymmetrical watch designs of the 1960s resulted in some lovely timepieces (See http://oldfathertime.com/accutron_photo_gallery.htm for details of some of the designs). One of my particular favourites is the so called Tilty (or floppy) Football (Figure 5), which consisted of a tilted asymmetrical almost circular 14ct solid gold case combined with the space view – a real peach of a watch! The Space View versions are very collectable and unsurprisingly kits are available to convert a standard Accutron to a Spaceview Accutron. The 60s also saw the race to the moon. Bulova was heavily involved in the space race. Their main rival in this market was Omega. Both competed to have the first watch on the moon. Unfortunately for Bulova, Omega won that race race, on the basis that Bulova didn’t guarantee 100% dust proofing, whilst Omega did. So the Omega Speedmaster Professional became the official NASA astronauts watch. However, all of the timepieces for the spacecraft, were based around the Accutron 214 movement, because NASA couldn’t be certain how purely mechanical timepieces would function in a zero gravity environment. The Accutron based watches were made between 1960 and 1977. The demise of the tuning fork based movement was driven by the invention of the quartz based movement which could be made much more cheaply. Bulova is still a major force in the watch manufacturing industry. The company was bought by Citizen in 2008 and continues to make watches branded as Bulova, Caravelle, Wittnauer Swiss, Marine Star and Accutron (which are now quartz based, although 1000 50th anniversary true tuning fork based Accutrons were made in 2010).

The Elgin Watch Company

The Elgin National Watch Company started its commercial life in 1864 when Philo Carpenter, Howard Z. Culver, Benjamin W. Raymond, George M. Wheeler, Thomas S. Dickerson, Edward H. Williams and W. Robbins established the National watch Company of Chicago, Illinois for the princely sum of $100,000. This new company poached a number of highly skilled machinists (the so called Seven Stars) from the newly founded Waltham watch company with what was considered as a considerable salary of $5000 a year plus $5000 bonus and an acre of land. The first watch movements were made in 1867 with each movement taking up to 6 months to build.  The early versions acknowledged their founders with their names, so for example some movements were signed H. Z Culver, etc.  In 1909 Elgin built an observatory so that their timepieces could be timed by the starts. Could this be said of many modern watch manufacturers, I think not!

14ct Lord Elgin wristwatch 1951During World War1 Elgin ceased civilian watch production and focused on the production of military watches, with the US Army having Elgin train more than 350 men to make repairs of precision time keeping instruments in the battlefields of Europe. Between the wars Elgin like many of its direct competitors made numerous beautiful watches including stunning art deco pieces incorporating a range of luxurious components, including white gold cases and jeweled faces. During the Second World War, Elgin dedicated their timepiece production to the development of military watches, chronometers and timed fuses.

After the war the company off course returned to the commercial market again producing a range of lovely watches and by the 1950s Elgin was producing highly fashionable watches, of which  the Lord Elgin watches were considered as the cream of the crop. Take for example the 14ct Gold Lord Elgin in Figure 1. This watch is typical of the quality produced by Elgin in the early 1950s, consisting of a very heavy 14ct gold lozenge shaped case encasing a lovely high grade 556 grade 21 Jeweled Elgin signed movement. What seems strange about this watch is that by modern standards tit seems a very small gentleman’s, watch, it only measures 36mm from lug to lug by 28mm (including the crown). This very much reflected the style of the time, in the 1950s small and sleek was very much the in look and this watch reflects that almost understated but very elegant fashion.

Elgin was a prolific American watch maker, however, the company steadily lost momentum until eventually Elgin made their last watch movement in 1968.

Avia Watches, the Digital Revolution and the Near Death of the Mechanical Watch

As collectors and dealers in vintage watches, we quite frequently come across the Swiss brand Avia. (Figure 1) However, not a great deal seems to be known about the Avia Watch Company, but a little bit of research has revealed that Avia had a very big impact on the watch manufacturing industry.

The history of the Avia Watch Company goes way back to 1887 when HV Degoumois was established at La Chaux de Fonds. The company then moved to Neuchâtel in 1933 and and the Avia brand was formally registered by Degoumois on the 30th of January 1937 (See Mikrolisk – The horological trade mark index). Avia made good quality mechanical lever movement watches, in a range of cases from solid gold through to gold plated and stainless steel. During their history Degoumois provided watches and movements for a number of other brands including A. Wittnauer & Co., New York, and the Ball Watch Company. This is very much a testament to the quality of the Avia mechanical watches.Avia blog figures

In 1968 Avia became part of a consortium of 6 watch manufacturers, including Avia, Invicta and Sandoz, who then bought Waltham of Chicago USA. It was this consortium that developed the very first quartz digital watch with an LCD (liquid crystal display) and revealed it to the world on the 6th of March 1972 at the Basle Fair. The impact of this was tremendous, and meant that watches capable of unparalleled accuracy could be cheaply mass-produced. The invention took the market by storm and left competitors manufacturing traditional mechanical watches floundering. The popularity of the Avia digital watch (Figure 2) was so great that it was an Avia advert that made the cover of the July edition of the Horological Journal in 1975. Avia seemed to be one of the brands to keep an eye on, however, the technology was easily copied, and by the 1980s digital watches were no longer seen as luxury items and could be bought incredibly cheaply or even acquired free with a full tank of petrol! Thus the brand waned in popularity, eventually being bought by the Fossil group. To this day Fossil still manufacture and sell Avia quartz watches.

Diana Princess of Wales and the Victorian Silversmiths Cornelius Saunders and Francis Shepherd

History is a funny thing, simple actions can, by playing a part in big historical events at a later date have significCornelius Saunders and Francis Shepherd Blog Imageant implications in the long term. Take for example the jewelery company Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd.

Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd was established in 1869 by Cornelius Desormeaux Sanders Sr and James Francis Hollings Shepherd in 1869. Although a big event for them, in the grand scheme of things the registering of a company happens all the time and is really a pretty minor event. However, in this case the small event lead to great things. Cornelius Saunders and Francis Shepherd were silver smiths and jewelers who had quite an inventive turn of mind. In 1889 they invented the Krementz, a patent one piece shirt stud and also the self closing bracelet. In 1893 they registered their silver mark CS*FS (Figure 1) and used this to make high quality heavy grade silver items such as the the charming Stirling silver mustard pot shown in Figure 2. By 1899 they had become recognised as goldsmiths, jewelers, silversmiths, gem ring and gold chain makers, particularly specialising in silver, jet and onyx jewellery for the export market. They evenFigure 3 Diana's Bracelettually changed the company name to Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd in 1916, by which time they had established factories at 58-61 Fetter Lane, London, 94, Vyse Street, Birmingham and a branch at 62, Buchanan Street, Glasgow. Between then and the 1940s the company started to lead on jewellery design and also started to import and manufacture watches. However, Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd had a rough time during the depression of the 1930s and during WW2, with their London premises being badly bomb damaged in in 1941. By 1945 the company was down to just 30 employees, but it recovered eventually moving to 1 Bleeding Heart Yard, London in 1980.

In 1981 the future of Saunders, Shepherd & Co Ltd seemed secure, they were commissioned to make an 18ct gold bracelet for Lady Diana Spencer who wore it on the day of her wedding to Prince Charles on July 29th of that year (Figure 3). Since then the company has grown from strength to strength, they now  concentrate on the design of high quality jewelery. They were joined by Eterna watches in 1996. They are also the exclusive distributors for Fope Jewellery of Vicenza, Italy, they export to the USA and have launched watch brands such as Bergerie and SandS. They are now based at their new factory in Albion Street, Birmingham and are thriving.

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.

Another Mantique a WW2 Military Timor Wrist Watch

Just picked up this great watch – my husband loves it, he even made a quick video of the watch on a turntable . Its quite a hard to find Timor military wrist watch dating to the later part of WW2. At this time the British War Department provided very specific specifications to a number of watch makers for watches designed for use by British military servicemen. These specifications included a 15 jewel highly accurate movement, a black luminous dial with a subsidiary second hand, a shatterproof perspex crystal, a rugged case design and water resistance. These watches are now very collectable and are in high demand. Our last military watch dating from this period  was sold within a few days of us acquiring it.  These watches all carry the markings WWW and a serial number on the back. The WWW standing for Wristwatch Waterproof.

1940s Timor Military Watch 1

This particular watch will be for sale at the next Yorkshire Antiques Fair in Harrogate 0n the  25th and 26th May 2013 and is currently for sale on our Rubly Lane shop from the 27th (if we still have it). Prices for military watches of this period are currently shooting up so they are great investments.

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