Last updated on May 2, 2023
I recently came across this gentleman’s antique silver Marvin trench watch, 1915. It was from a name which I was only vaguely familiar with. I spent a couple of weeks scouring the internet for as much information as I could find about the brand and this particular watch. As it often happens, by the time I had decided to buy it, some other lucky collector had already purchased it. Rather than waste hours of my time, I have created this post to share what I have learnt about the brand and the movement within this Marvin trench watch.
Trench watches first made their appearance on the battlefield during the Boer Wars, and soon found widespread use during World War I. The need for practical and reliable timepieces was great, but pocket watches were simply not suitable for use in battle. Typically, pocket watches were stored in a pocket and secured on an Albert chain. They needed to be removed from the pocket to tell the time and the chain could catch on countless objects in the trenches. A watch worn on the wrist became essential. To meet this demand, trench watches were designed with features such as water-resistant cases, luminous dials, and straps made of leather or fabric that could be easily adjusted even in field conditions. By using these timepieces, soldiers were able to quickly and accurately measure the passing of time during battle, allowing for greater coordination and efficiency in the trenches and on the battlefield.
M & E Didisheim
In 1850, the brothers, Marc and Emmanuel Didisheim established the company of M & E Didisheim in Saint-Imier, Switzerland. Initially, they finished watches that came from outside suppliers. In 1889, the firm was renamed Albert Didisheim & Frères of St Imier as Marc’s sons, Henri-Albert, Charles, Edgar, Hyppolite and Bernard took over. Hyppolite moved to New York in 1893 where he became the resident importer of Swiss made watches from the family business.
The Marvin brand was registered in Switzerland in 1893 with the intention of exporting high-quality Swiss watches to the American market. The company used an English or American-sounding name in order to appeal to potential customers and to give the impression that the timepieces were made in the United States or England. This strategy was common amongst Swiss manufacturers in the 19th century, as they attempted to negate any prejudice against foreign imports and capitalise on the established reputation of English and American watchmakers. However, this practice was effectively stopped for imports into Britain with the passing of the 1887 Merchandise Marks Act. The act stated that products must clearly indicate their country of origin. This gave rise to the now-established Swiss national brand, “Swiss Made“.
Compagnie des Montres Marvin S.A
In 1894 the company moved to La Chaux-de-Fonds. In 1895, Henri-Albert took over the management of the company. They chose a 3-pointed crown as their logo, representing an inverted initial, ‘M’ for Marvin. In 1912 they became a manufacturer in their own right by producing all components in-house, operating as “Compagnie des Montres Marvin S.A.”.
In 1917, the three sons of Henri-Albert Didisheim took over the running of the Marvin company. At this time, they refocused their production towards wristwatches, while continuing to make high-quality watch movements. For a short period, Marvin used Rolex movements in its watches. The company launched the La Gauche (left-handed) watch in the 1930s, no doubt influenced by the fact that Henri-Albert was left-handed. In 1936, the brands “Nivrel” and “Election” were introduced to the Marvin range, following the acquisition of these companies.
In 1940, Marvin began alliances with KLM Royal Dutch Airline and a number of major car companies. By 1950, the company had international distribution in 70 different countries, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Marvin. The brand continued to expand, developing a range of high-quality watches for a variety of customers. Marvin was an active brand throughout the 1940s to 1960s, producing a steady stream of good-quality watches with 17-jewel movements. Ultimately, like many other Swiss made brands the Marvin company failed to survive the quartz crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. The brand was resurrected as a working brand in the early 2000s, although the connection with the original business is tenuous.
The watch has a Swiss hand-winding movement, identified as made by Marvin. The watch is working well and keeping time to within +/- two to three minutes over 24 hours. It is a Marvin 362 calibre with a 15-jewel lever escapement and a power reserve of 39 hours. It is a 13 ligne movement with a diameter of 29.6 mm. The movement was identified by the very distinctive shape of the main bridge. It is a savonnette or hunter movement, which is the expected configuration for wristwatches with the crown at the 3 o’clock position. The Marvin 362 calibre was available in at least two variants, stem set and pin set. In this instance, the watch is stem set. The movement also includes a compensation balance to counteract the effects of temperature.
The watch measures 34.5mm in diameter excluding the winding crown and the lugs. This is a decent size, acceptable as a dress watch in modern times. The case is silver and there are British hallmarks inside the hinged case back for Glasgow, 1915. There is no inner dust cover or cuvette. The front of the watch is in good condition while the hinged case back has some slight unevenness. The crystal lens has some very light marks but is in a very acceptable condition.
Dial and hands
The enamel dial is in good condition with original cathedral hands, subsidiary seconds dial and outer minute markers. Originally, there would have been radioactive luminous paint applied to the numbers and hands. However, most of this has been removed over the years. Traces of the paint is still visible on the hour hand. It will no longer have its luminous quality. However, the radium in the paint is still radioactive with a half-life of 1600 years. A new leather strap has been fitted.
It is a really presentable trench watch and would have been a welcome addition to my collection. Unfortunately, it had sold before I could complete my research. The Marvin watch brand has a reputable history and lasted from 1850 up until the quartz crisis. As a result of being too slow, I missed out in this instance. However, I will continue to be on the lookout for a Marvin trench watch to add to my collection.
Marvin 362 calibre at Vintage Watch Straps.