Helvetia 1930s 'Sports' Watches

In the early 1930s Helvetia introduced a “Sports” style watch that could stand up to stresses and strains caused by vigorous activity that the, somewhat delicate, dress watches of the time could not. 

Read more about Helvetia's search for the truly Shock and Waterproof watch...

The Development of Water and Shock Resistance

During the 1920s Helvetia had been developing methods to make their watches more durable and able to stand up to everyday use without becoming damaged by water, dust or by being dropped or knocked. In 1928 they patented the method of waterproofing a watch crown by means of a clamp as shown to the right. I don't know if this was ever brought into production as I have never seen a watch with this waterproofing system fitted. (Update: See my blog post on Depollier & Helvetia)

In 1929 Helvetia applied for a patent (No 143073) for a shock protection system for the balance of their watch movements to prevent damage to the ends of the balance, or pivot holes the balance fitted in to, by sharp movements of the balance caused by the watch being dropped or knocked.

This comprised of a 3 pronged spring held in place over the end of the balance by a boss that had a notch cut in it to allow easy fitting and removal of the spring. The other end of the balance was held in place by a spring in the form of an elongated flexible blade that had one end screwed to the base plate of the movement. Because the balance was held between these two springs it was cushioned to a certain degree from shocks.

This system resulted in the distinctive star shaped Helvetia shock protection seen in almost all of their watches through to the 1950s when it was replaced by the Incabloc system (see diagram from patent application above). In their patent application Helvetia admit similar shock protection systems exist and they seem to be focusing on the easy fitting of the spring via the notch as the unique feature of their system. From 1930 onward Helvetia fitted shock protection to virtually all their watch movements, being almost the only company to offer this in the 1930s, and marketed themselves as a specialist sports watch manufacturer.

In 1932 Helvetia were granted another patent (No 155825), this time for a water resistant method of fitting an acrylic crystal to the front of their watches.

This consisted of cutting a groove in the case (5) and also a groove in the face of the acrylic (8) which when inserted into the case caused the outside edge of the acrylic to fit into the groove into the case until it came to the lip of the groove in the acrylic crystal where it would be stopped creating a tight seal.

After the granting of this patent Helvetia marked the outer or inner case back with "BREVET+155825".

Finally, in 1933, Helvetia came up with the ultimate in protection for their movements against being dropped and knocked, they spring mounted the whole movement in the case!

 

The patent (No 167231) for the spring mounted movement was granted in 1934 and demonstrates an ingenious way of mounting the movement. The case screw to hold the movement in place were introduced from the dial side, opposite to the usual method, they were mounted within a spring and the other end had a flat nut that could be pushed in to compress the spring slightly. This nut was then slid into a slot in the case which kept slight pressure on the spring and allowed a small amount of up and down movement to cushion the movement from shocks. The nut was slid into position via a small notch cut in the case and then the whole movement was rotated slightly to allow the nut to slide into the groove and lock the movement in place.

 

There were two of these screws, one either side of the movement, were the case screws would normally be. This type of movement can be easily spotted by the distinctive flat nut heads instead of screws holding the movement in place and the patent number engraved onto the movement.

Helvetia (and "Aero") Waterproof and Shock Absorber Watches

Following the introduction of their shock protection system in about 1930 Helvetia started to market their "Waterproof, Shock Absorber" Sports Watches. In the UK it seems as if Helvetia went into partnership with G & M Lane and Company Ltd of London. They began to sell Helvetia sports, with the name “Aero” or “Aeroplane” on the dial instead of Helvetia, as pilots’ watches. Many of Helvetia's products had their equivalent "Aero" watch, it looks as if the only difference was the name on the dial.

Early Helvetia Waterproof Watch Circa 1930

Early Helvetia, Aero Branded, Watch

81-26 Movement

81-24 Movement

Chrome Plated Case Serial No 3637235

Solid Silver Case Serial No  3687241 Hallmarked 1931

General Watch Co

Bienne Switzerland

HELVETIA

Our WATERPROOF watches

8 3/4" & 10 1/2" patent+155825 complete the sporting equipment. 

 

The new

HELVETIA 

products meet today's tastes.

 

Jump hours 4 1/4, 6 3/4, 9 3/4"

Baguettes 6 3/4" with seconds

Calendar watches have a very visible date.

Shock absorber patent+143.073

Helvetia's early waterproof cases had a tight fitting clip on case back with a gasket to keep the water out but following the introduction of the waterproof crystal and spring mounted movements in the early 1930s they introduced an improved "gland" case and proudly marked their patent numbers on the case and movement.

 

Note the round, flat nuts at either side of the movement instead of case screws, the sign of the patent spring mounted movement, as well as the notches in the case edge so the nuts could be slid into their retaining groove.

 Helvetia Stainless Steel Watch Circa 1937

81-28 Movement (Note the round nuts instead of case screws, notches in case rim & patent number)

Case Back With Patent and

Serial Number

Helvetia Chrome Plated "Aero" Watch Circa 1936

81-26 Movement (This movement has been converted to centre seconds)

Case Back With Serial Number

Inner Case Back for Aero Watch With Patent Number & Gasket

Close Up of Patent Number, Nut & Notch in Case Rim

G & M Lane really went to town with the advertising of these new watches with their “Patented floating movement and permanent waterproof case. Ideal for flying use.” Including some quite outlandish claims; being dropped every day for 169 days from an aeroplane and surviving a crash in the Schnieder Trophy Race and being under water for a considerable time, “’Still ticking merrily’ says well known pilot”!

Helvetia itself registered the 'Aeroplane' trademark in 1936, this may have been a way of protecting the trademark in Europe. 

Centre Seconds Watches

Helvetia used their standard Calibre 81 movements in their sports watches but at some point they seem to have decided that having a large sweep second hand would be more useful than the small sub seconds dial that was usual on these movements and it looks as if they adapted some of the Calibre 81 movements for use in their sports watches in this way.

 

This seems to predate the first official centre seconds movement, the Calibre 820, by several years.

Helvetia Centre Seconds Watch Adapted From 81-28 Movement

(Compare with the 81-28 above)

Though Helvetia kept some of the innovations they first used in their 1930s sports watches in later incarnations of their watches the “Patented floating movement” seems to have disappeared by the start of the 1940s signalling the end of some of Helvetia’s most interesting watches.

A Variety of Helvetia Waterproof and Shockproof Watches

Early Helvetia Aero branded watch circa 1931 above with thanks to Chris Balm

Helvetia Aero branded watch circa 1936 above with thanks to Alex at www.blackbough.co.uk

Aero adverts above from Aviation Ancestry - www.aviationancestry.co.uk

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