Helvetia DI......H Watches

Helvetia supplied watches to the German armed forces during WW2 marked D (Serial No) H. However they also produced some watches marked DI (Serial No) H and these have sparked much debate.

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During World War 2 Helvetia had several contracts to provide watches to the German armed forces. These watches needed to meet a standard specified by Germany. Among the specifications they were required to have black, sub second, dials and be waterproof. These watches were marked by having a serial number on the back flanked by the letters D and H, possibly standing for “Deutsches Heer” or “German Army”. Other watches were also supplied to Germany at this time marked D or DU followed by a serial number for use by other branches of the German military.

From time to time Helvetia watches appear that seem to follow a similar numbering pattern. They are marked with the letters DI and H flanking the serial number on the rear of the case. Due to this style of numbering at first glance it would seem that these watches too must have been produced for the German military however they do not meet the standards above, some are even dress style watches.

There are several theories surrounding these watches:

 

  • They are a lower spec watch supplied when Germany was becoming more desperate for supplies and less fussy about their requirements.

  • The watches were supplied for use by the Italian Army.

  • The cases were manufactured but never supplied to Germany and afterwards used for post war watches by Helvetia.

  • They are just outright fakes, pretending to be German military watches.

 

The book “A Concise Guide to Military Timepieces 1880 -1990” by Z.M. Wesolowski specifies that the DI H marks are “Deutsches Heer property mark found on non-waterproof wristwatches with sweeping centre seconds used for surveillance purposes, c.1943”. I am not sure if this designation is taken from an official source, it looks more like a description created later to fit the observed watches.

There are two main types of these watches with two slightly different cases, both designated ‘3199’ and with clip on case backs. Both types of case appear as complete watches that have obviously been worn for many years and have the relevant wear and tear to go with this, and as separate cases in ‘new old stock’ (NOS) condition often still wrapped in paper from the manufacturer. These NOS cases do not bear the ‘3199’ case number however.

 

Having given a general overview of the watches I will briefly examine each variant below.

Case Type 1

There are two main dial variants of the Type 1 case watch.

The watches supplied in these cases all have military style white dials with luminous numbers and hands and a sweep second hand, the second hand is usually red but can be black. The two types of dial differ in that one has a full set of illuminated numerals whereas the other has arrowheads replacing every other number.

 

All Type 1 case watches use the Helvetia 800C sweep second movement. The case backs are marked with the case numbers “3199 2”. I have discovered that the “2” denotes an 11.5 ligne movement is fitted and that the larger sized movement holder/spacer is required. The outer dimensions of the case are approximately 33mm and the inner 30mm and they are fitted with 16mm wide fixed bars between the lugs.

 

The serial number is engraved very lightly, sometimes being very hard to make out, with the letters DI and H much more deeply punched, and separated by dots. The serial numbers are in the range D.I. 000001 H. to D.I. 007000 H. Up to approximately D.I. 004500 H. the watches are all fitted with dials and movements and the cases show considerable signs of use but after that there appears to be a mixture of complete watches and NOS cases.

Case Type 2

The second type of case differs from the first in a number of ways. The bezel on the front of the watch stretches completely to the case edge as opposed to having a very slight gap, the case back has a narrower and shallower rim around the outside, the inner case is only approximately 29mm wide and the fixed bars 18mm instead of 16mm. The fixed bars are also set further down into the lugs instead of right at the edge as in the Type 1 cases. They all have the DIH and serial number engraved to the case back with no dots between the letters. The serial numbers range from DI 350001 H to DI 359000 H or so, the NOS cases can appear anywhere in this range though the majority seem to be between DI 353000 H and DI 356000 H.

The Type 2 case watches can be split into two further categories, Type 2A and 2B. First the 2A.

Type 2a has a white military style dial with dots for alternate numerals, a sweep second hand usually black and a different style to that used with the Type 1 case, 800C movement and the case numbers “3199 2” stamped to the case back. Serial numbers are mainly in the DI 350001 H to DI 351000 H range. They are very similar to the Type 1 cased watches.

Then the Type 2B.

Type 2b have dials that are of a dress watch type without luminous hands or numbers (see below for an exception). There seem to be at least three types of dial as illustrated below, I have seen three or more of each of these types.

 

Type 2B have the same engraved case backs as the 2A but with “3199” only as a case number, missing off the “2”. They use 82C-24 sub second movements, a better quality movement that I have only seen in dress watches. The “2” on the case back designates a larger 11.5 ligne movement and that is why it is missing from these watches.

 

Serial numbers are mainly between DI 351000 H and DI 353000 H and appear to follow on from the Type 2A numbers though there are some watches with higher case numbers above DI 355000 H.

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The Three Observed Dial Types for Helvetia 2B DIH Watches

In addition to the civilian style dials above I have also seen one example of a military 2A type dial with an 82C sub-second movement. Note that though the dial is the same as the 2A in style the sub-second dial matches that of the 2Bs. So this watch is half 2A and half 2B! The serial number DI355xxxH puts it towards the end of the 2B watches. The way this dial is similar to both styles leads me to believe that the 2A (military) and 2B (civilian) dialed watches were created at the same time.

Half Type 2A and Half Type 2B Watch - Note the 82C movement and sub-dial style

Conclusions

Helvetia DIH watches are relatively rare, it seems that only around 8000 of all types were ever completed. I have encountered about 40 complete examples, the vast majority of these have come from the UK.

 

It looks as if the numbering for the Type 2 case start with 350000 in order to differentiate them from the Type 1 cases. Added to the differences to the cases themselves I think that this shows there were two case manufacturers and the fact that it looks as if neither batch of cases were completely turned into finished watches seems to indicate that they were produced at roughly the same time rather than one batch being used up and then a second ordered.

The availability of the NOS cases has led to them occasionally being used to replace the worn cases of other Helvetia watches and this has muddied the waters and led to all DIH watches being treated with suspicion. As the NOS cases do not have the case number ‘3199’ added to them it is not too hard to spot these made up watches and any watch without this number I would assume had been made up of parts. In all other respects however the NOS cases are exactly the same as those used on watches that obviously have age to them, even down to the differences between the two styles of case, and I have no doubt that all of them were produced at the same time but that some were never made into complete watches and have appeared on the market at a much later date, probably when Helvetia closed its doors for the last time.

New Old Stock Helvetia Type 2 DIH Cases - still wrapped in the original paper packing

One of the other main points of contention about DIH watches is the fact that most of them use Helvetia’s 800C centre seconds movement. It is pointed out that Swiss directly driven centre seconds movements were not developed until after the war and that therefore the 800C must date from the 1950s. The Helvetia 800C movement however is an indirectly driven centre seconds movement, the third wheel drives the seconds pinion. Helvetia had been using a version of this design since at least 1935.

 

The 800C has been seen in movement catalogues dating from 1948 and from serial numbers I have noted some examples that I believe date from 1945. So it is possible that if these movements were first used in DIH watches before later being fitted to Helvetia’s civilian watches post war they could date from the late war years. That being said the centre second watches that I can definitely date from this period seem to be based on the earlier Helvetia 820 movement and I feel the first 800C dates from the end of the war. Helvetia's first directly driven centre seconds movement was the calibre 830 from about 1953.

Helvetia indirectly driven centre seconds movements - note the layout of the gears is the same

I have not been able to match the dials used in DIH watches exactly with any dials used by Helvetia in other watches however their post war military style dials tend to be more elaborate, with two tone or silvering decoration, this would point to a slightly earlier date for the DIH dials. The civilian style DIH dials do match closely to some Helvetia examples from 1946/47. Engraving noted on one civilian dialled example also dates from 1947.

Putting all of the above information together my opinion is that it looks as if the Helvetia DIH watches were originally ordered during WW2, and going by the type of marking probably by the German military. As the low numbered watches of both case types have military style dials perhaps these were produced for fitting to these watches. I think that very few, if any, of these watches were actually delivered to Germany however and it looks as if immediately after the war they were sold on to the civilian market. Helvetia sold a lot of watches to the UK in the late 1940s and 1950s. Some had the newer Helvetia 800C movement fitted and some had civilian style dials and Helvetia 82C movements. I believe this theory fits the facts better than any of the others I’ve heard.

 

Despite the fact that they may not have belonged to German spies Helvetia DIH marked watches are still intriguing to me and I would love to know for sure what their original purpose was!

Helvetia DIH Case Type 1 First Dial above with thanks to The Watch Guy - watchguy.co.uk and Mitka - mitka.co.uk

Helvetia DIH Case Type 1 Second Dial above with thanks to Chris Balm

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