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.

Scroll down for more....

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

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.

Type 2

Around the D8000H mark the numbering on the case changed. I believe this is due to a different case manufacturer being used and the case does look slightly different, especially around the lugs. The D and H stamping are in a thinner, simpler, sans-serif font and are often crooked or unevenly stamped. The numbering is again in the same font as the 3190 case number.

 

In addition to the DH number these watches bear an individual serial number inside the case back. These numbers seem to be specific to this range of cases and do not relate to the standard Helvetia serial numbering or the DH numbering though they do increase roughly in line with the DH numbers with a bit of variance up or down. This serial number is repeated on the inside of the lugs with the first one or two digits on one lug and the last three on another. This is to enable the case back and body to be matched. These serial numbers can be very crudely stamped with double strikes, uneven numbers and even missed or incorrect digits. I have observed 3190 cases with the same serial numbering inside the case and on the lugs but with no DH number so it seems these cases were also used for Helvetia’s civilian watches.

The design of the dial, hands and the general case design remain the same as the Type 1 with the exception that the solid movement holder was replaced with one with a plate for the dial and a rim around the movement to hold it in place but left a gap between the movement and case. This was probably introduced to save on materials.

Interestingly I have noted two watches with serial numbers in the D200000H range, much higher than any other Helvetia DH watches, but the style of the DH numbering and the individual serial numbers inside the case point to them being Type 2 watches. I think that there was a mistake with the numbering machine for these watches and that an extra ‘0’ was mistakenly added.

Type 3

The third type of numbering starts at about D24000H and is neater and thicker than the Type 2 with serifs on the H. There seem to be two sub-types of these watches. The first range have 1007 stamped inside the case back and between the lugs and the second range 1756.  There is some mingling of DH numbers during the change from one to the other however and in addition the earliest case I have seen with 1007 stamped inside is on a late Type 2 case and is as well as an individual case serial number as described above. This leads me to believe that the numbers 1007 or 1756 were added by Helvetia after delivery from the case manufacturer and were used to differentiate these cases for some reason, possibly a contract number or similar and does not relate directly to the case maker.

1007 Marked Type 3 DH Watches

1007 stamped watches are very interesting and themselves split into two further categories; those crudely engraved on the movement and inside the case ‘Reliable Stores Corp’ or ‘Finlay Straus Inc’, and those professionally marked on the dial, case and movement to the ‘Helbros Watch Company’. Almost all of the 1007 marked cases fit into one of these two categories, there are one or two exceptions detailed below. I will first describe these different types and add then my theory as to what I believe was happening with these watches.

Reliable Stores Corp/Finlay Straus DH 1007 Marked Watches