Helvetia Admiralty Pattern Watches
During the second world war as well as supplying the British army with GSTP pocket watches Helvetia also supplied watches to the Royal Navy.
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The two different “Admiralty Pattern” watches Helvetia supplied were the AP301 wristwatch and the AP3169 Wrist Chronograph.
Admiralty Pattern 301 Wristwatch
The Helvetia AP301 is an odd looking watch. It is in fact a Helvetia Pocket Watch in savonette configuration (with the winding crown at 3 o’clock) with the addition of lugs to either side of the case. It is fitted with a Helvetia 32A movement, the same as fitted in the Helvetia GSTP pocket watches and is fitted with a white dial with roman numerals.
If you were to take this watch at face value it would seem to be one of the first ever wristwatches, converted from a pocket watch with the addition of wire lugs either side of the case. It is possible the first AP 301 watches did originate in this way at the start of the 20th century, there are some examples of the AP301 by other manufacturers than Helvetia that may be this old. However what I can say is the type of movement in the Helvetia watches dates from the 1930s at the earliest and the serial numbers I have recorded are from 1939/1940.
What theses unusual watches were used for by the navy is not completely clear, I have seen them described as for timing torpedoes and for wireless transmission officers. The AP300 was a pocket watch and the AP301 appears to be literally a version of this watch worn on the wrist.
The below picture shows a watch very similar to the AP301 being worn by Lieutenant Commander Weems of the US Navy in 1927 and it seems clear that in some circumstances the ability to wear a large, easily visible, watch on the wrist over clothing is preferable to trying to juggle a pocket watch or fumble under clothing to see a small wrist watch. Support that this was how the watch was designed to be used comes from an auction description of one watch which mentions surplus examples of these watches being found with long leather straps for wearing over clothing.
There is some discussion as to whether these watches were manufactured in this way or were converted to wristwatches later by the addition of the lugs, I am however confident that the Helvetia AP 301 watches were always designed to be worn on the wrist.
These watches are relatively rare and I have only seen 4 of them, 3 are wristwatches and though the fourth seems to be a pocket watch on close examination it can be seen that the lugs have been removed and the original savonette movement replaced with a standard Helvetia GSTP pocket watch dial and movement. If these watches are converted pocket watches you would expect to see some in the original configuration remaining.
There is no doubt these watches are unusual and interesting but I think there appearance is misleading and can erroneously lead some to believe that they are some of the first wristwatches ever made. I would be very grateful for any other examples or any other information.
Helvetia 3169 Wrist Chronograph
The Helvetia AP3169 was a version of their ‘Stop’ stop second chronograph converted to meet the Royal Navy specifications. This involved the removal of the hour and minute hands leaving only the running seconds hand, and the replacement of the dial with one divided into 5 second increments.
The 'Stop' was a stop second chronograph where the seconds hand ran continuously and could be stopped by the 2 o’clock button and started by releasing it. The button at 7 o’clock reset the counter to zero. For more on the civilian 'Stop' see here.
The Helvetia Stop used the Helvetia 822 movement which was a modification of their calibre 82. Though the serial numbers on the watches I have seen have been removed by the Navy enough remains that I am able to date these to 1940.
The AP 3169 was provided to the navy by several different manufacturers as well as Helvetia, there was also a pocket watch version. It seems to have been used in timing naval gunnery.
All pictures with thanks to Konrad Knirim. Please check out his excellent books here - Military Timepieces