Last updated on April 4, 2023
In this Time Worn Watches post we take a look at a very interesting antique trench watch dating from 1918. The watch is a genuine antique dating from the First World War era. However, without provenance, there is no way to tell if this watch was ever in the trenches. Interestingly, it has a half-hunter case which would give the dial some additional protection from the hazards of war. This trench watch was made by the General Watch Company.
The watch has a high-quality 15-jewel hand-winding movement which is working nicely. The movement has been identified as made by the General Watch Company, the same movement as Rolex used in their sub-brand Marconi watches.
The watch measures 35mm in diameter excluding the winding crown and the fixed wire lugs. This is slightly larger, by a couple of millimetres than the typical trench watch of the period. The 35mm size is slightly smaller than a modern man’s wristwatch, but would certainly be suitable as a dress watch. The case is sterling silver and there are hallmarks inside the screw-on case back for London 1918 with a sponsor’s mark for Arthur Rendell. The sponsor’s mark was required for imported goods. Arthur Rendell was an employee, and probably in charge, of the department that handled imported watches at a company called Robert Pringle & Sons, the UK’s largest wholesalers of jewellery, silverware, clocks and watches, located on Clerkenwell Road, London.
The case is also signed ‘Brevet 71363’ which is an early hermetic sealed (airtight)/waterproof) design with a half-hunter cover. The patent was lodged in June 1915 by Charles Zurbrügg, Bienne / Biel. This was published in the Swiss Confederation Office of the Federal Property Intellectuelle Explanatory Dtnventionj No. 71363, June 23, 1915, 7 11 – 71f P-Class. Hans Wilsdorf, the co-founder of Rolex, owned patent no.71362 which was issued months earlier than Zurbrügg’s patent. Later Rolex cases of the same design used the Zurbrügg patent no.71363 on their cases. It is therefore likely that Wilsdorf either purchased the patent from Zurbrügg or agreed to pay a licence fee to use those cases to help fulfil orders in the UK market.
The case is in good condition for such an early piece. There is a little gentle unevenness to the back and general light surface marks. However, this accounts for nothing more than patina from day-to-day use and is perfectly acceptable. The small lens to the front is acrylic, which would be a replacement for the original glass crystal.
The button between the bottom lugs at the 6 o’clock position depresses to open the cover. The cover springs open to 45 degrees and exposes the dial. Inside, there is a glass crystal which is in very good condition.
The black enamel dial is of classic early trench watch style. The railroad style minute track runs around the exterior of the watch, with an inset sub-second track at 6 O’clock. The Arabic numerals are black base tone and originally would have been filled with luminous paint, which has subsequently been removed. The hands are original, and they are in good, aged condition. They are of cathedral style with the original luminous fill being removed. Typically, half-hunter watches have a special double-spade hour hand that allows the time to read through the front crystal. However, in this instance, the front crystal is large enough that the entire cathedral hour hand is in view.
A new leather strap has been fitted. Normally, with antique watches, originality is important when it comes to value. However, it would be near impossible for an original leather strap to survive over a hundred years in a usable condition.
This is a very interesting timepiece and I enjoyed the research, as always. However, the question is, why didn’t I buy this antique watch? Sometimes, the research takes too long and the watch is no longer available for sale. This is the case this time. The research was done and I just found myself hesitant to make the purchase. It just comes down to the unusual look of a half-hunter wristwatch. I wear my watches as practical timepieces and I just couldn’t see this half-hunter on my wrist. Anyway, by the time this was posted the watch had found an owner.