Helvetia German Military D.....H Watches
During World War 2 Helvetia supplied watches to the German military. Due to the style of marking on these watches they are known colloquially as DH watches.
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During World War 2 the German Military needed large numbers of timepieces and they turned to a wide range of Swiss watch manufacturers to supply them. While no official specification has been found by observation of thousands of examples it appears the contracts for these timepieces specified that the watches should be water resistant with a screw on case back that had 6 indentations; to allow a standard tool to be used to open the case back whoever the manufacturer, the dials were required to be black with luminous numerals and hands, with a small seconds dial at the six o’clock position and the movements shock protected.
What evidence exists seems to indicate that the watches started to be supplied in 1942 when the demand outstripped the German watch industries ability to produce watches within Germany, especially as they increasingly turned to producing fuses and other war material and, although again there is little official evidence, the supply stopped in 1944 due to the increasing difficulties the Swiss watch industry had in obtaining raw materials.
To signify that the watches were military property and to allow a record to be kept of them they were marked with the letters DH with a serial number between these letters. There are also watches marked D, DU and possibly DIH for different parts of the German establishment or for different requirements. The meaning of the letters DH has been debated but it is widely agreed that they stand for either Deutsche Heer (German Army) or Dienstuhr Heer (Service Timepiece Army). The numbering system itself is also not 100% understood but again it is now widely agreed to run sequentially from number one upwards and was allocated by the German authorities not the watch maker. This means that the sequence runs across all manufacturers and types of watches and a single DH serial number should never be repeated. (That being said there do seem to be examples of the same manufacturer using the same number more than once, I have seen an example of a Helvetia wristwatch and pocket watch with the same DH number. These may stem from a mistake made by the manufacturer or from a mistake in our understanding of the numbering system!).
A Selection of 1930s Helvetia Watches
Given Helvetia’s history of producing water and shock resistant ‘Sports’ watches in the 1930s it is not much of a surprise that Helvetia were one of the first companies approached to provide the required watches. The lowest DH serial number on a Helvetia watch I have recorded is in the 400s and the highest in the 40,000s. Apparently Germany placed many small contracts with a large number of companies in order to receive as many watches in as short a time as possible bearing in mind the limited scope for watch companies of the 1940s to suddenly provide thousands of additional watches to a set specification. It certainly seems that way as the series of Helvetia watches I have recorded seem to be regularly broken by other manufacturers after perhaps only 50 to 100 watches though this does seem to give way to longer runs of concurrent numbers later on.
Apparently almost all DH contracts were awarded during 1942 and by the end of that year the DH serial numbering had reached well into the millions. The fact that the Helvetia DH numbering ends at around 40,000 seems to imply that they stopped receiving contracts fairly early in the process. I believe this was because Helvetia did not have the capacity to deliver more watches than this, there is in fact evidence that they could not deliver all of the watches they did manufacture before the end of the war; watches above about 38,000 appear in ‘new old stock’ condition or are marked with US Army issue numbers as well as German Army DH numbers implying that they had never made it into the hands of the Germans but that some were utilised post war by the allies. It is even possible that orders over and above these existing watches were awarded to Helvetia but they had not even started producing them by 1945 and so no evidence of them exists.
Helvetia produced DH watches are very standardised and they used the same dial, hands, case and movement for the majority of their production with only some minor changes towards the end. The dial was black with luminous numerals, as per the contract specification, and with a white painted minute track in a 'railroad' pattern with a border either side, and sub seconds dial. It also had white painted, tapered, hands with luminous paint applied to the hour and minute hands.
The movement used by Helvetia was their tried and tested calibre 82, 15 jewel, 10.5 Ligne, sub second movement. 90% were completed using the 82A-24 variant. These were fitted with Helvetia’s own patent shock protection.
The body of the case was made of chrome plated brass with a screw on stainless steel back. There was also a separate movement holder/spacer that fitted inside the case and held the dial and movement firmly in place in the centre of the case. These cases were marked with the case number ‘3190’. There is a variation of the case with a larger movement holder/spacer to accommodate larger 820B and 800C centre second movements. These cases are marked ‘3190 2’ to differentiate them. In theory no DH watches should be marked ‘3190 2’ as all DH watches used smaller sub second movements however do see later for the inevitable exceptions!
The case and movements tend to be sparsely marked compared to Helvetia's retail watches. The stainless steel backs are not marked for instance and the movements usually don't mention jewel count, adjustments or 'Swiss', most of the time they are only marked 'Helvetia 82A' and very low numbered examples only 'Helvetia'. The markings on the case back tend to be low down towards the rim apart from in later examples when they move towards the centre.
I have documented over 100 Helvetia DH marked watches and I believe I have identified five different variants or types. These mainly vary in the style of marking applied and some minor variations in the cases themselves and probably relate to different case manufacturers. The illustrations below usually but do not always belong to the same watch for each example, I have tried to use images which best show the features discussed.
Type 1 watches use the standard dial, hands, 3190 case and 82A-24 movement as described above. The movement holder/spacer is made of solid base metal and the case back bears the usual 3190 case number. The DH number is neatly, evenly, stamped with small, square, serifed letters and numbers on the back in the same font as the case number. The D and H are often spaced widely either side of the number. The inner case back is stamped CB within an arched square or ‘loaf’ shape. This is the mark of the Central Watch Case Company.
Type 1 DH watches seen range from about D400H to about D7500H though it is believed not all numbers between these extremes were allocated to a single manufacturer and so it is therefore impossible to tell exactly how many of these watches were produced. The same applies to the other types of Helvetia DH watches.
At the end of the Type 1 range, either side of the 7000 mark, I have observed a couple of interesting watches. One has 'Swiss' added to the dial and is marked to the case back and movement 'Finlay Straus Inc'. On another, illustrated below, the dial has had 'Waterproof, Shockproof, Antimagnetic' added and 'Swiss', 'Semca' and the letters 'SOE' (if you squint!) have been crudely engraved to the movement. The marks on these watches appear to be US import marks, the three letters are a code signifying The Semca Watch Corporation. Import marks on Helvetia DH watches are discussed in much more detail in the section on Type 3 watches.