Trench Watches

From WW1 through to the 1920s the General Watch Company produced a range of fixed lug 'Trench' watches .

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At the start of WW1 the need arose for watches ​that were more convenient to use than the standard pocket watch of the time. Consequently the wrist watch began to gain popularity though at this stage they were very similar to a pocket watch with the addition of soldered wire lugs for a strap. These watches are known as 'Trench Watches' or 'Wristlets'.

The General Watch Company provided movements for a wide variety of trench watches in a variety of cases and I hope to have a more comprehensive guide to these at some point. Most of their watches at this time were not branded as Helvetia but for now I have gathered together some of those that were or have other interesting features. They almost all use the same movement that seems to have been developed by General in about 1914 and was used through to the late 1920s in their trench style watches.

General Watch Co Trench Watch - 1915

This watch typifies most General Watch Co (GWC) trench watches from the first half of WW1. Note the Francois Borgel water and dust resistant case with screw in GWC movement. The hallmarks and GWC/Helvetia serial number date the watch to 1915. The AGR mark is an import mark and stands for Arthur George Rendell. This was the mark for Robert Pringle and Sons of Clerkenwell Rd London.  Robert Pringle and Sons seem to have been the importer of GWC/Helvetia watches right through to the 1930s at least.

Helvetia Trench Watch - 1917

An early watch bearing the Helvetia name. Marked on the dial - Helvetia, 15 Jewel Lever, Swiss Made. The movement is an early  Fabrique d'Horlogerie Fontainemelon (FHF) wristwatch movement. The GWC used FHF and some other manufacturers movements in their smaller watches until they produced their own calibre 81 movement in 1929. The silver case bears a GWC/Helvetia serial number which, along with the hallmarks, date the watch to 1917. The dial may be a replacement from a later watch as placing the brand name on the dial of a watch only started in the early 1920s.

Helvetia Trench Watch

Similarly to the last watch this watch is also marked on the dial - Helvetia, 15 Jewel Lever, Swiss Made. This dial may never have had luminous numerals as the hands are not of the luminous type, if they are original to the watch. The movement is the usual GWC movement seen in trench watches. Unfortunately because the case does not bear a GWC/Helvetia serial number I cannot date the watch exactly but from the type of movement it is probably from the mid 1920s.

​General Watch Co Hunter Trench Watch - 1917

A lot of the later WW1 GWC trench watches appear to be hunter of half hunter watches, with a metal cover to protect the watch crystal. Again this watch houses the normal GWC trench watch movement and is marked with a GWC/Helvetia serial number on the case back and on the cover. The serial number dates the manufacture of the watch to 1917. The cover also bears an interesting inscription - "Presented to Flt. Sergt. J Watson by the Officers of T. Section S. of T.T. Halton Camp 28.1.19" (S. of T.T. stands for School of Technical Training).

​J W Benson Half Hunter Trench Watch - 1918

This watch ia almost exactly the same as the one above but with a slightly different dial design and a half hunter case instead of a full hunter. The serial number and hallmarks date it to 1918. Interestingly the dial is marked J W Benson, London.

​General Watch Co Trench Watch - 1925

GWC continued making watches in the trench watch style into the 1920s. This watch has a GWC/Helvetia serial number dating it to 1925. By this time the movement design had changed slightly and bears the "3 Adjustments Dot Star Dot" text that appears on almost every Helvetia watch in the 1920s and early 1930s and is a good tool to help identify them.  The movement and dial are on a hinge and the movement is accessed by swinging it out of the case, this was an attempt to keep moisture and dust out by not having a separate case back. The dial bears the text "Jas Pascoe, Auckland and Hamilton". Pascoes Jewellers are now a  large chain in New Zealand.

Hunter trench watch with inscription above with thanks to Chris Balm

1915 trench watch above with thanks to The Vintage Wrist Watch Company

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