1940s Helvetia Watch
- Brand and Country of Manufacture - Switzerland
- Year - 1940s
- Serial - 16018
- Model - 3190
- Movement & caliber - Manual Caliber 82
- Case diameter - 35mm
A chrome plated, manual wind military watch by Helvetia. This is an example of a soldier issued time only watch made during the Second World War. During World War Two the German Military needed a huge number of timepieces, both wrist, pocket and mounted. In order to fulfill these requirements they turned to a number of Swiss watch manufacturers to meet the demands. While no official specification has been found by observation of thousands of examples it appears the contracts for these timepieces specified that the watches should be water resistant with a screw on case back that had 6 indentations; to allow a standard tool to be used to open the case back whoever the manufacturer, the dials were required to be black with luminous numerals and hands, with a small subsidiary seconds dial at the six o’clock position and the movements shock protected.
What evidence exists seems to indicate that the watches started to be supplied in 1942 when the demand outstripped the German watch industries ability to produce watches domestically, especially as they increasingly turned to producing fuses and other war material and, although again there is little official evidence, the supply stopped in 1944 due to the increasing difficulties the Swiss watch industry had in obtaining raw materials.
To signify that the watches were military property and to allow a record to be kept of them they were marked with the letters “DH” with a serial number between these letters. There are also watches marked D, DU and possibly DIH for different parts of the German establishment or for different requirements. The meaning of the letters DH has been debated but it is widely agreed that they stand for either Deutsche Heer (German Army) or Dienstuhr Heer (Service Timepiece Army). The numbering system itself is also not 100% understood but again it is now widely agreed to run sequentially from number one upwards and was allocated by the German authorities not the watch maker. This means that the sequence runs across all manufacturers and types of watches and a single DH serial number should never be repeated. (That being said there do seem to be examples of the same manufacturer using the same number more than once.
Given Helvetia’s history of producing water and shock resistant ‘Sports’ watches in the 1930s it is not a surprise that Helvetia were one of the first companies approached to manufacture some watches. Apparently Germany placed many small contracts with a large number of companies in order to receive as many watches in as short a time as possible bearing in mind the limited scope for watch companies of the 1940s to suddenly provide thousands of additional watches to a set specification. This is the case with Helvetia watches as research appears to note regularly broken serial number runs by other manufacturers after perhaps only 50 to 100 watches, though this does seem to give way to longer runs of concurrent numbers later on.
Apparently almost all DH contracts were awarded during 1942 and by the end of that year the DH serial numbering had reached well into the millions. The fact that the Helvetia DH numbering ends at around 40,000 seems to imply that they stopped receiving contracts fairly early in the process. It is believed that this was because Helvetia did not have the capacity to deliver more watches than this, there is in fact evidence that they could not deliver all of the watches they did manufacture before the end of the war; watches above about 38,000 appear in ‘new old stock’ condition or are marked with US Army issue numbers as well as German Army DH numbers implying that they had never made it into the hands of the Germans but that some were utilised post war by the allies. It is even possible that orders over and above these existing watches were awarded to Helvetia but they had not even started producing them by 1945 and so no evidence of them exists. This example has a serial number in the 16 thousands implying that is was probably 1942/3.
Helvetia produced DH watches are very standardised and they used the same dial, hands, case and movement for the majority of their production with only some minor changes towards the end. The dial was black with luminous numerals, as per the contract specification, and with a white painted minute track in a 'railroad' pattern with a border either side, and sub seconds dial. It also had white painted, tapered, hands with luminous paint applied to the hour and minute hands.
The movement used by Helvetia was their tried and tested calibre 82, 15 jewel, 10.5 Ligne, sub second movement. 90% were completed using the 82A-24 variant. These were fitted with Helvetia’s own patent shock protection.
The body of the case was made of chrome plated brass with a screw on stainless steel back. There was also a separate movement holder/spacer that fitted inside the case and held the dial and movement firmly in place in the centre of the case. These cases were marked with the case number ‘3190’. There is a variation of the case with a larger movement holder/spacer to accommodate larger 820B and 800C centre second movements. These cases are marked ‘3190 2’ to differentiate them. In theory no DH watches should be marked ‘3190 2’ as all DH watches used smaller sub second movements however there are inevitable exceptions!
The case and movements tend to be sparsely marked compared to Helvetia's retail watches. The stainless steel backs are not marked for instance and the movements usually don't mention jewel count, adjustments or 'Swiss', most of the time they are only marked 'Helvetia 82A' and very low numbered examples only 'Helvetia'. The markings on the case back tend to be low down towards the rim apart from in later examples when they move towards the centre.
Research from a Helvetia scholar in the UK as identified five different variants or types. These mainly vary in the style of marking applied and some minor variations in the cases themselves and probably relate to different case manufacturers. This example presented here is a Type 2.
Around the D8000H mark the numbering on the case changed. It is believed this is due to a different case manufacturer being used and the case does look slightly different, especially around the lugs. The D and H stamping are in a thinner, simpler, sans-serif font and are often crooked or unevenly stamped. The numbering is again in the same font as the 3190 case number.
In addition to the DH number these watches bear an individual serial number inside the case back. These numbers seem to be specific to this range of cases and do not relate to the standard Helvetia serial numbering or the DH numbering though they do increase roughly in line with the DH numbers with a bit of variance up or down. This serial number is repeated on the inside of the lugs with the first one or two digits on one lug and the last three on another. This is to enable the case back and body to be matched. These serial numbers can be very crudely stamped with double strikes, uneven numbers and even missed or incorrect digits. This is the case here. The inside of the case back is stamped 8328, and the luge are stamped 8 and 328.
The design of the dial, hands and the general case design remain the same as the Type 1 with the exception that the solid movement holder was replaced with one with a plate for the dial and a rim around the movement to hold it in place but left a gap between the movement and case. This was probably introduced to save on materials.
This watch will obviously not appeal to all, but it is a real piece of both history, and watch making history. It is also a fantastic looking military time piece. The logo allied to the dial is very eye catching, and the beauty int he simplicity of military watches is encapsulated here. The glossy black dial with original Radium luminous material is fantastic and a real survivor. The case is heavily worn, but unpolished. These chrome plated cases are always subject to pitting, even when not exposed to the rigors of war! Overall, this is a superb military watch in remarkable condition now 80 years old.