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Helvetia German Military Pocket Watches

During both world wars Helvetia provided the German armed forces with pocket watches.

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The First World War

 

During WW1 Helvetia provided watches for the German Air Force, specifically the Prussians, for use in aircraft cockpits and Zeppelins.

These watches used the same movements as The General Watch Co’s pre-war pocket watches but they were in cases configured with the winding stem at the 6 o’clock position. The cases were marked with FLZ which is believed to stand for Flieger und Luftfahrt Zentrum Berlin (Aviator and Aviation Centre). The dials were also marked with Eigentum der Fliegertruppen or Property of the Flying Troops.

 

The General Watch Co versions of these watches have this text in curved script on the dial which differentiates them from those provided by other manufacturers.

One interesting watch that bears this same dial with curved script once appears once to have belonged to Manfred Von Richtofen known as 'The Red Barron'. Unfortunately I have so far been unable to see the movement on this watch to confirm it was made by the General Watch Co.

Second World War Huber/Helvetia Pocket Watches

Huber were, and still are, a Munch based jewellers. In the 1930s and 40s they sold Helvetia water and shock protected watches branded as their Nautica and Secura lines. They were also a supplier of chronograph and stop watches to the German military.

In addition to the watches mentioned above they also sold black dialled Helvetia pocket watches marked either just Helvetia or Huber with Helvetia added above the sub seconds dial.

The movement used is the Helvetia calibre 32A (the same as used in Helvetia’s British military GS/TP pocket watches), they are marked Huber and are fitted with ‘Shock Resist’ shock protection as opposed to Helvetia’s own shock protection introduced in 1929 or Incabloc as used in their DH pocket watches. The cases are Helvetia screw back cases marked ‘6000’. (The case used by Helvetia for its GS/TP watches is ‘6010’).

 

It is possible that these watches are civilian, but military style, watches that were popular in Germany during the war for obvious reasons, however there are a couple of details that warrant a closer look. First of all, they all have two slots cut into the back, and sometimes the front as well, of the screw case to allow them to be tightened using a key or spanner. These look to have been added after manufacture, civilian Helvetia pocket watches don’t have them but 3 tightening slots were added to the DH pocket watches and seems to have been a requirement of DH watches as all DH watches from different manufacturers have them. The watches also seem to have had a serial number added to the rim of the watch case opposite the winding crown. It’s interesting that these Huber/Helvetia pocket watches have these military type modifications.

They seem to be roughly split 50/50 Helvetia only and Huber/Helvetia dials. They all have Helvetia serial numbers inside the case backs which all begin 407xxxx. There are theories that these watches date from the 1930s Reichswehr period but the serial numbers mean a date of manufacture of 1941. Details of the movement also support this date.

The serial numbers of the Huber/Helvetia watches seem to be in sequence so we can assume that the watches were made in one batch probably of about 9000. Examples of the additional military type serial number added to the outside of the case range up to the 5 thousands and don’t follow the order of the Helvetia serial numbers so this would seem to back up the idea of them being received in one batch and having the additional serial number added afterwards.

 

About 75% of the watches I have observed are now in Russia or Eastern Europe which is suggestive with the German armies moving east at about the time these were manufactured. However an interesting example surfaced in the US, serial number ‘3’.

This watch comes with a certificate of retention and customs declaration from a US Army PFC who brought the watch back in 1945 declaring that it is captured enemy property.

This watch and several others also come with the same design weather proof outer protective case. This again seems to add weight to a central issuing source rather than civilian purchase.

From all of this evidence it seems probable that these watches were an order for the German military from the Munich retailer Huber who, to fill the order, supplied Helvetia Swiss watches a year or so before the ‘official’ DH program. It is possible that this was the way Swiss watches were supplied once the DH process got underway; via German retailers.

 

 

Second World War D.....H Pocket Watches

 

Later on in the second world war The General Watch Co started to provide the German Army with Helvetia Wrist and Pocket watches marked DH and a serial number to the rear of the case.

The Helvetia DH pocket watches are all manufactured to an identical standard. They have black dials with luminous numerals and hands.

 

They are fitted with Helvetia 32A movements the same as used in the earlier Huber pocket watches and the GSTP pocket watches supplied to Britain. The movements were fitted with incabloc shock protection as opposed to Helvetia’s own shock protection or the Shocprotec used in the earlier Huber watches supplied to the German Army.

The watches were supplied in nickel cases that had three indentations in the back which allowed it to be tightened with a key that was standard across all suppliers of DH pocket watches.

The cases do not contain any Helvetia serial or case numbers. The DH markings on the back of the watches appear to have been engraved with a pantograph rather than punched like most of the DH wristwatch numbers. The style of the engraving is however the same as the Type 4 DH wrist watches. I believe this is because some civilian cases were pressed into use for these Type 4 cases and the DH numbering needed to be added to the cases after delivery from the manufacturer and the same method was used as was used for the pocket watches.

The DH numbers fall within a range from approximately D7000H to D13000H and in this range the numbers are spread more or less evenly between pocket and wrist watches. It should be remembered however that DH numbers are believed to have been issued to different manufacturers in quite small ranges so it is difficult to work out exactly how many pocket watches were actually supplied by Helvetia.

Pictures of first WW1 cockpit watch with thanks to Konrad Knirim. Please check out his excellent books here - Military Timepieces

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