Last updated on April 19, 2021
Cyma and Tavannes have long been on my wish-list as manufacturers I wanted to add to my collection. As much as I enjoy collecting and wearing my antique watches, I also enjoy researching them. I always research before I buy and sometimes this means I miss out on a watch because my research has taken too long. Other times, I am glad I have done my research and I make purchases that meet all of my requirements. As I have begun to learn more about antique watches my standards have risen. I want a watch that is presentable, reliable, fully-jewelled and original. In today’s post, I am going to take a look at an antique Cyma pocket watch that recently caught my attention.
The Cyma brand can trace its origins back to the Schwob brothers Joseph and Theodore. They established Schwob Frères (Schwob Brothers) in 1862 in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The Schwob brothers worked using the établissage system. This involved assembling watches from components obtained from multiple Swiss sources. Over the years Schwob Frères registered a number of brand names. The Cyma brand was registered in 1903. The company was very successful and developed an extensive overseas distribution network, including America, to market and sell their watches.
After thirty years of business, the brothers went into partnership with a watchmaker called Henri-Frédéric Sandoz who had started a new watch company, Tavannes, in the Jura municipality of the same name. This company, officially named Tavannes Watch Co. SA, produced watches, watchmaking machinery, and other specialised machines. Sandoz employed modern manufacturing methods and machinery to produce his own calibres (watch movements). It was a mutually beneficial partnership as Cyma gained access to the modern machinery and Tavannes got access to the global distribution network of Cyma.
Antique Cyma pocket watch, 1919
This 1919 silver Cyma pocket watch caught my eye recently. The watch has a fully jewelled stem-winding movement which is working to within two or three minutes of accuracy a day. This is an acceptable level of accuracy and means it can be used reliably over the course of a day. The movement is signed with the manufacturers mark, Cyma. The movement shows a little bit of pitting on the crown wheel, which could be a sign of exposure to moisture.
The acrylic lens is in nice condition. However, this is obviously a replacement for the original crystal lens. Acrylic wasn’t invented until the late 1920s. The white enamel dial is in nice condition with no hairline cracks visible to the naked eye. The dial is signed with the retailer’s name ‘H. Samuel, Manchester’. The brand is still recognisable today.
H. Samuel is a mass-market jewellery chain, operating on many high streets across the United Kingdom and Ireland. Today, it has over 300 retail stores and has been in business for nearly 160 years. The H. Samuel story is an interesting one because it was founded by a woman in an era where women were not allowed to vote or receive a formal education. Customer testimonials or queries by mail were often addressed to ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Mr H. Samuel’.
Harriet Wolfe was born on 8th March 1836 in London. She was the daughter of Schreiner Wolfe of Great Yarmouth and his wife Matilda. Harriet grew up to marry Walter Samuel and they had four children together, Evelyn, Arthur, Florence and Edgar. The family lived in Liverpool. Walter ran the family watchmaking business that had been started by his father, Moses Samuel. When Walter died in 1863, Harriet took over the business. She moved it to Manchester, where her son, Edgar, took over the firm’s retailing side, while she ran its mail-order business. The first H. Samuel shop opened in Preston in 1890. The business then developed into one of Britain’s best-known high street jewellery retailers. Harriet Samuel died in 1908 and was buried at Willesden Jewish Cemetery.
The watch itself measures 50mm diameter excluding the winding stem and the loop. The case is silver and has London import hallmarks for 1919 with the importer’s mark for George Stockwell. Overall, the case is in good condition for a timepiece from 1919. The case has light surface marking and some mild unevenness, but this is to be expected in an antique pocket. The patina is also a sign that this was a practical piece. It was quite possibly used over several lifetimes, rather than sitting unused in a chest of drawers. Personally, I think the patina adds to the character and charm of the watch.
One interesting feature of the watch is the position of the winding stem. In an open-faced watch, the winding stem is normally at the 12 o’clock position. In a hunter cased watch, the winding stem is normally at the 3 o’clock position. in this particular example, the winding stem is at the 3 o’clock position. As a result, this configuration on an open-faced pocket watch is known as a sidewinder. The most likely explanation for this is that the watch movement has been re-cased from a hunter-cased watch to an open-faced watch.
The First World War and the subsequent depression are the most likely causes of a movement being re-cased. The economic impact of these events and the extreme poverty that followed led to many people scrapping the cases of their pocket watches for the precious gold or silver. The movements may have then been re-cased in whatever cheaper cases were available. Generally, hunter-cased watch cases were more expensive than open-faced cases due to the additional material and functionality.
Another alternative is that the customer had deliberately asked for this particular configuration because it would save money on the case. However, without time travel it is impossible to tell why this particular watch exists in the sidewinder configuration. However, it is generally accepted across the watch community that a side-winder pocket watch is assumed to be a result of re-casing. As a result, this casts doubt on the originality of this watch. This watch most likely started life in a hunter-case. However, at some point, it was transferred to an open-faced case.
It is an interesting antique pocket watch and ticks a few boxes for me, such as the fully jewelled movement and the accurate timekeeping. However, my concern about the originality of this pocket watch has prevented me from making the purchase. I still enjoyed researching the watch and learning about sidewinders. I am sure someone will buy this interesting timepiece and enjoy wearing it.