Last updated on April 10, 2023
This post is about a watch that I actually I wasn’t considering buying, mostly because it isn’t yet antique. However, it did have an interesting brand name which I had seen a number of times before. It got me interested in doing some research on the brand. The timepiece in question is a Helvetia Koh-I-Noor pocket watch & chain dating from the 1930s.
Helvetia 33LI calibre
The watch has a Swiss stem-winding movement, identified as a Helvetia 33LI calibre. The watch is keeping good time and is accurate to within 2-3 minutes per day. The movement is signed Koh-I-Noor, R.P.& S, Swiss made, 15 jewels, 3 adjustments. The movement is protected by an inner hinged cover. It has a Breguet hairspring, which is a type of balance spring with a sharply curved outer end, which improves accuracy.
The 3 adjustments mean that the movement has been adjusted for positional effects of 3 positions. During the course of a normal day, a watch will find itself running in different positions, for example, dial up or dial down. In each position, there are different dynamic forces at work on the various moving parts of the watch, in particular the balance and hairspring. The highest quality watches were adjusted in six positions: DU – dial up, DD – dial down, PU – pendant up, PL – pendant left, PD – pendant down and PR – pendant right. This watch will have been adjusted for the first three positions.
The Helvetia Koh-I-Noor brand was probably named after the famous Kohinoor diamond. The Kohinoor was acquired by the British on the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. The stone was placed among the crown jewels of Queen Victoria. It is one of the largest cut diamonds in the world. Originally it weighed 191 carats, but it was recut in 1852 to 105.6 carats to enhance its appearance. It was incorporated into Queen Elizabeth’s crown for her coronation in 1937. The Persian word Koh-I-Noor means mountain of light. The Kohinoor has long been a subject of diplomatic controversy, with India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan all demanding its return from the UK at various points.
The Koh-I-Noor brand
Louis Brandt & Frere registered the Koh-I-Noor brand on 19.4.1899. Interestingly, the Brandt brothers, Louis-Paul and César, were the sons of Louis Brandt who founded The General Watch Company (GWC) in 1848 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Originally, the company produced affordable watches under a number of brands.
In 1885, Louis-Paul and César had begun producing their own movements. In 1894, the company produced a new movement, the 19 ligne calibre. It was incredibly accurate and very successful. The brothers branded the movement ‘Omega’. GWC continued to operate separately. In 1911, the Omega company withdrew from GWC, which continued on under the control of Edouard Boillat. At this point, GWC started to produce better-quality lever movements.
Helvetia was another brand registered by Louis Brandt & Frere in 1892. Originally, it was producing affordable watches with cylinder movements. However, after the launch of the Omega brand, Helvetia, under the control of GWC turned its focus to producing watches with lever movements. Although never eclipsing the quality of Omega timepieces, they were successful in the middle of the market.
Helvetia was an ancient region of central Europe between the Alps and the Jura Mountains. It was named by the Romans after its Celtic inhabitants, the Helvetii. Helvetia corresponded roughly to the western part of modern Switzerland. In the 17th century, the name Helvetia was adopted as the female national personification of Switzerland.
The watch case measures 50mm in diameter excluding the winding stem and the loop. The case is made of nickel. The type of nickel used in watch cases is typically a nickel alloy. The alloy is normally a mixture of nickel, copper and zinc. Polished nickel has an appearance similar to silver, but is much more durable and considerably less expensive. The front is in good condition while the back has some slight bruising. Normally, I would expect a nickel case on a lower-end watch, such as one with a 7-jewel or Roskopf movement. However, this timepiece has good quality Helvetia 33LI movement with 15 jewels.
The watch’s glass crystal has light surface marking from everyday use, but overall, it is in nice condition. The dial looks good to the naked eye. However, if viewed through a jeweller’s loupe faint hairline cracks can be seen. I consider this to be patina rather than damage. The fact that it is not visible to the naked eye means that it shouldn’t detract from the value of the watch. It has Roman numeral hour markers, a railroad-style minute track running around the exterior of the dial and a subsidiary seconds dial at 6 O’clock. The watch has its original blued steel hands. The watch comes on a decorative Albert chain which measures 27 cm in length including the T bar and clasp.
As for “R.P.& S” on the movement, I have no idea. I have tried searching online, but have found nothing to reveal who or what they were. It could be a reference to a retailer, in which case, it is one who has disappeared from history. There is a tenuous link to Raphael Picard and Sons, who were normally listed as Les Fils De R. Picard (The Sons of R Picard). The company went on to found the brand name Invicta, but there are no records of an association with GWC or Helvetia. Perhaps, “R.P.& S” was the British branding for the make, but I think it is more likely to be the brand of some extinct retailer.
Robert Pringle & Sons
After further research, I have now come across the name of Robert Pringle & Sons, which was a London based wholesaler of jewellery, silverware, clocks, and watches in the United Kingdom between the 1830s and 1960s. The founder, Robert Pringle, was born in Scotland in 1800 and commenced his apprenticeship as a jeweller in Perth at the age of 13. He later moved to London in 1820 and started his own business as a manufacturing jeweller on Amwell Street in Clerkenwell in 1835.
Over time, the business expanded considerably, and by 1868 it had moved to premises at 21 Wilderness Row. After Robert Pringle’s death in 1875, his son, also named Robert Pringle, took over and expanded the business even further. The company was renamed from Robert Pringle & Co. to Robert Pringle & Son in 1882 and eventually to Robert Pringle & Sons in 1899 when the third Robert Pringle became a partner with his father.
The company’s address was initially 21 Wilderness Row, which later became 42 Clerkenwell Road after the road was redeveloped in 1881. In 1884, the company took over the premises next door at No. 40 and named the premises “Wilderness Works” after the old name of the road. The business continued to expand, eventually spanning 36-42 Clerkenwell Road, as well as the premises at the rear whose frontages were numbers 17-20 Great Sutton Street.
In 1862, Robert Pringle, the son of the founder, registered the mark R·P at the London Assay Office, indicating his trade as a gold worker. The first sponsor’s mark, R·P in a cameo, was recorded by Robert Pringle & Sons at the London Assay Office on January 17, 1862. After the Assay of Imported Watch-Cases Act of 1907, which required Swiss made watch cases to be hallmarked in Britain, Robert Pringle & Sons began operating as assay agents from their London office.
Nearly, all of the Koh-I-Noor watches I have seen have included the RP & S mark on the movement. I strongly believe this to be the mark of Robert Pringle & Son, Jewellers. The sponsor’s marks for Robert Pringle & Son seem to be limited to the initials R & P. However, I think the Koh-I-Noor brand belonged to Robert Pringle & Sons in the UK, although I cannot prove this to be absolutely certain.
It took me several weeks to complete this research. I must admit that I found it frustrating to be unable to identify R.P.& S with absolute certainty. However, I did learn more about, Omega, GWC and Helvetia, so I was able to update my existing content for those companies. The watch itself had been sold long before I started my research. However, the Koh-I-Noor brand regularly appears online, so I am sure I will have further opportunities to add one to my collection.