Birch & Gaydon, and ZenithCopyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved.
Birch & Gaydon was a business of retail jewellers, silversmiths and watchmakers that was taken over by Asprey & Co. Ltd. in 1959. The business had its origins in the eighteenth century as a watch repairer, and during the nineteenth century manufactured watches by the traditional English hand craft method of "putting out". By 1880 increased competition from Switzerland and America meant that the traditional English craft methods of watch manufacture were no longer economically viable and the business concentrated on retailing watches, jewellery and items made by others.
The company can trace its roots back to some time before 1760. It was established by William Turner, a watchmaker, or more strictly a watch repairer as there is no evidence that he actually made watches, at 18 Cornhill in the City of London, close to the Bank of England. In 1825 Turner moved to 167 Fenchurch St. London.
By 1833 the business had relocated to number 173 Fenchurch Street. William Turner died in 1839 and in 1840 the business passed into the hands of William Birch. Birch might have been an apprentice to Turner, but it seems more likely that he purchased the business after Turner's death. William Turner's will instructed his executors to "as soon as conveniently may be ... make sale and dispose of to the best advantage in their power my stock in trade and goodwill as a watch and clockmaker and jeweller ...".
Whatever his background, William Birch had ambitions to be more than a repairer of other people's watches and became a watch manufacturer in his own right.
In 1874 the company relocated across the road to 172 Fenchurch Street.
Henry Martin Gaydon joined Birch in 1877 as a partner and the partnership was named Birch and Gaydon. This seems to have been the turning point when Birch stopped the increasingly uneconomic business of making watches and the company concentrated solely on retail.
William Birch was born in 1815 and died aged 88 in 1903. He retired from the partnership on 29 September 1883. Birch & Gaydon, described at the time of Birch's retirement as chronometer makers, goldsmiths and jewellers at 172 Fenchurch Street, continued with Gaydon as sole partner.
London Gazette 4 January 1884
In 1904 Birch & Gaydon moved to 153 Fenchurch St. as the premises at number 172 were being demolished.
Ownership of Birch & Gaydon passed to Henry Gaydon's son William, who sold the business to Asprey & Co. Ltd. in 1959. Asprey continued to use the name Birch & Gaydon for some time, referring to it as their branch in the City of London. Asprey adverts in the 1960s included "The city man will find a usefully close-at-hand service at Asprey and Birch & Gaydon, 153 Fenchurch Street where, besides the comprehensive stock held, any pieces can be sent from Bond Street at short notice."
NB: Some references give the name of Birch's partner as Peter Gaydon. This is incorrect, as can be seen from the entry in the London Gazette for 4 January 1884 shown here, which records the retirement of William Birch and the continuation of the business under Henry Martin Gaydon alone.
Birch & Gaydon and Barwise
The advert in the section below about Land & Water watches notes that the West End branch at 19 Piccadilly Arcade had previously been the premises of the company "John Barwise". The company Barwise was another well known London watchmaker, later a retailer only.
The Barwise company was started by John Barwise. He had been born in 1756 in Cockermouth, Cumberland, the son of Lot Barwise a clock maker. He appears to have gone to London in his early twenties, some time before 1780. From 1790 to 1851 he was living and working at 29 St Martin's Lane in the City of London. In 1790 he married Elizabeth Weston, daughter of William Weston, a dial enameller who worked for Barwise.
John Barwise died in 1820 at age 64. The business was carried on by his sons, Weston (named after his mother's maiden name) and John. Weston died in 1826 at the young age of thirty three. John Barwise junior carried on the business alone until, as an investor, he was financially ruined in 1846 by the collapse of the British Watch and Clock Manufacturing Company, Pierre Frédéric Ingold's attempt to introduce machine manufacturing of watches into England.
John Barwise seems to have left the company around 1854 or 1855 when the assets and substantial debts were acquired by Lattey & Co. using funds obtained illegitimately from the London & Eastern Bank. The business was moved to 69 Piccadilly and Jules Rochat, who was working at Barwise as a watchmaker, was appointed manager. Lattey & Co. were liquidated in 1857 and the Barwise business was bought by Douglas Guillaume Cavé. Both Rochat and Cavé went bankrupt in 1869.
Much of the information above comes from "Barwise & Sons: watchmakers to the King. A brief history of the family and firm" by A. D. Stewart in the March 2014 Journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society.
Little is known about the company after 1869. A notice dated October 1875 announced the removal of "John Barwise, chronometer, watch and clock maker to the Queen and Royal Family" from 69 Piccadilly to No. 40 St. James' street.
The John Barwise name survived as a trading name long after the family quit the business. It was still recorded in 1988, a subsidiary of Asprey.
I have a Zenith wristwatch in a silver jointed double back case. The inner cover is engraved Birch & Gaydon, 153 Fenchurch St. EC and John Barwise, 19 Piccadilly Arcade London W. The hallmarks date this watch to 1914/15.
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Birch & Gaydon wristwatches
During the Great War Birch & Gaydon sold trench watches in robust screw cases under the name "Land & Water". There were two different designs of screw cased watches that carried the Land & Water name, one with no case back, the bezel unscrews and the movement lifts out from the front, the other with a screw bezel and screw back. Both of the different designs of Land & Water wristwatches have Zenith movements. They are described in more detail in the section Land & Water wristwatches.
Other wristwatches of the same era that carry the Birch & Gaydon name are the "Langbourne" with a Tavannes movement, and the "Garfield" with a Fontainemelon movement.
The Langbourne has a screw back and bezel case similar to the Submarine watch also made by Tavannes. However, the Langbourne case is not waterproof; it does not have the gland in the stem tube or recesses for waxed cotton gasket in the screw back and bezel that the Submarine case watch has. Langbourne cases all carry a reference number 3305910, only three digits short of the reference number seen in all Submarine watch cases, 3305913. This suggests that these numbers are Tavannes case design reference numbers, and that the fully waterproof case of the Submarine watch was a development of the Langbourne case. It is rather strange that Birch & Gaydon never sold the Submarine watch, but
The Garfield name appears to have been used first on a round trench watch, then later on a cushion cased watch. The Garfield trench watch has an older design of case than either the Land & Water watches or the Langbourne. The case of the round Garfield trench watch has a single hinged back with no inner cuvette, and a snap on bezel. The cushion case of the later model has a snap on bezel and snap on back. The movements of the two that I have seen were ébauches from the Fontainemelon factory. They were both fully jewelled with Swiss straight line lever escapements. They would have been cheaper than the Zenith or Tavannes movements, which were produced in smaller numbers and this, together with the simpler case construction, shows that the Garfield range was built for a lower price point than the Land & Water and Langbourne watches. However, this doesn't mean that there is anything inherently wrong with them from a collector's perspective. Fontainemelon could turn out excellent movements, they just made their basic movements in large volumes which meant they could supply them at a keen price. If a watch has a Swiss 15 jewel lever escapement movement, then that was pretty well as good as it got at the time, and has never really been improved on. Birch & Gaydon were one of the top London jewellers at the time and they would only sell top quality items. From a collector's point of view an early and named model wristwatch with a good quality movement and a provenance like that has got to be worth having
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This mark ZWCO in a triangular layout within a triangular shield is the registered sponsor's mark of the Zenith Watch Co. (Great Britain) Ltd. It was entered at the London Assay Office on 16 July 1914 by Herman Frederick Roost, managing director.
The company was founded in 1865 by Georges-Emile Favre-Bulle as "Georges Favre-Jacot & Cie". The first workshop was in the Billodes district of Le Locle; it may have been on the same spot where Breguet had his workshop 1793 to 1796. The first trademark registered was "Billodes".
In 1897 the trademark "Zenith" was registered in Switzerland. In circa 1914 the company name was changed to Fabriques des Montres Zenith based at Le Locle, Switzerland, with a British branch at 119 High Holborn WC.
In England Birch & Gaydon appear to have been the principal retailer of Zenith watches. Zenith had an office in London and one would think that this meant they must have been dealing with more than just one company.
In Scotland Zenith watches were sold by Brook & Son of Edinburgh.
The wristwatch that I described above with the inner hinged cover engraved Birch & Gaydon and John Barwise was made by Zenith and carries their sponsor's mark ZWC. The date of 1914/15 given by the hallmarks is within the year following the first registration of the ZWC sponsor's mark by Roost.
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Land & Water wristwatches
Many Zenith wristwatches were sold during the Great War by Birch & Gaydon under their brand name "Land & Water". The name "Land & Water" appears to have been taken from a patriotic British newspaper of the same name that was founded in 1914 to report on the progress of the war.
Land & Water magazine began as a section in the "County Gentleman" magazine. During the Great War this section was spun off as a magazine in its own right and covered the war in great detail. It was edited by the politician and writer Hilaire Belloc. The image here shows an advert by Birch & Gaydon from Land & Water magazine dated 2 November 1916 for a Land & Water wristwatch. This is the earliest advert I have yet found for these watches.
The hallmarked cases of these watches don't carry Birch & Gaydon's sponsor's mark of B&G, they were imported by the British branch of the Zenith Watch Co. and carry the sponsor's mark ZWC in a triangle. If you click on the advert you should get an enlarged version that is interesting reading, the Land & Water wristwatch is said to be "absolutely damp and dust proof".
There were two different case designs used for Land & Water wristwatches:
- Type 1: This is the design that I have encountered most frequently. It is sometimes thought to be a Borgel case. The advert here describes says the watch has a "special screw in movement" although the movement doesn't actually screw in. No doubt this was because Borgel cased wristwatches, which do have screw in movements, were selling very well and Birch & Gaydon were trying to cash in on this success. The front bezel of the Land & Water wristwatch unscrews, and when it is fully unscrewed and lifted away the movement comes with it. Although this is superficially similar to a Borgel case it is actually a quite different design.
- Type 2: The second design is a more conventional case with a screw back and bezel. These are simple to open, there is usually on the back the words "To unscrew" with an arrow that shows you which way to turn it and a milled edge to grip. It is a normal right hand thread so it is not really difficult to work out which way to turn it if there is no arrow. The front bezel unscrews in exactly the same way.
Both of the different designs of Land & Water wristwatches have Zenith movements.
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Land & Water type 1 case
The Birch & Gaydon Land & Water wristwatch with a one piece case and screw bezel is quite unusual. The case is sometimes mistaken for the eponymous screw case designed and patented by François Borgel, but it is in fact quite different.
To remove the movement from a Land & Water type 1 case you unscrew the bezel in a similar way to a Borgel screw case, but in this design there is no need to hold the crown and stem out as usual with a Borgel case, because the movement doesn't turn as the bezel is unscrewed. There is a clever concealed joint between the bezel and the movement carrier ring that allows the bezel to rotate while the carrier ring and movement remain in the same position. Once the bezel is unscrewed and free of the threads on the case you can lift it away and the movement comes with it.
When the assembly is clear of the case you can see that the movement is held in a carrier ring which has a smooth external surface - unlike a Borgel screw case there are no screw threads on the outside of this carrier ring. The bezel and the carrier ring are held together, but the bezel is free to rotate on the carrier ring so that the movement doesn't turn in the case as the bezel is unscrewed.
At first glance this seems to be a bit of a mystery, it is not obvious how the rotating joint is formed. The secret is that the bezel is made in two parts. My drawing of a cross section through a Land & Water case shows the two bezel parts, the lower ring that has an external screw thread which engages with the threads in the case, and the upper ring which carries the glass.
The movement carrier ring has a small external flange projecting from its upper end. This flange sits inside a counter bore in the lower part of the bezel. The upper part of the bezel is a press fit into the counter bore in the lower part. This holds it securely in place but it doesn't trap the flange of the movement carrier ring.
The two rings that make up the bezel are a marvel of the case maker's art. They are extremely thin and delicate and it it is difficult to imagine how they were made, and especially how the screw thread was formed on the outside of the lower ring. They usually fit together so well that it is difficult not to believe that they are one piece, hence the apparent mystery of how the carrier ring is held.
The lower bezel ring has coin edge milling for grip, whereas the upper bezel ring is smooth, you can see this in the photograph of the watch. Once you know this you can gently insert a fine blade into the joint and gently pry them apart, working round as you do so that you don't distort them.
The movement has "negative set" or "American system" keyless works, so a short "case stem" and the crown are attached to the case. A detent mechanism in the stem tube on the case holds the crown in either the winding or hand setting position.
This is shown in the cross sectional drawing above. The detent mechanism is formed by a split spring sleeve, coloured green in the drawing, which holds the stem in position axially but allows it to rotate. The drawing shows the case stem held in the normal "winding" position. When the crown is pulled away from the case the fingers of the split sleeve are pushed aside by the tapered swelling on the stem and then grip it again at the waist on the other side of the swelling. A flange stops the stem being pulled out any further.
The case stem and its detent sleeve are another masterpiece of the casemaker's art. The picture to the left shows the case stem in place in the case. The picture on the right above shows the case stem and sleeve removed from the case and the picture on the right below shows the stem tube on the side of the case.
There are three parts in the stem assembly, the case stem itself, the split sleeve, and an externally threaded hollow plug coloured red in the cross sectional drawing, that screws into the stem tube and holds the sleeve in place. The sleeve is held axially by the threaded plug but is free to rotate. When it was made the sleeve was fitted into a socket on the end of the plug and the end of the plug swaged over to hold the stem in place. This is different to the arrangement in pockets watches where the plug and sleeve are separate, the sleeve drops into the pendant onto a shoulder and the plug screws down to hold it against that shoulder. In this wristwatch case the stem tube isn't thick enough to machine a shoulder for the sleeve to sit on, which is why it is attached to the plug. In the picture of the stem tube you can see a small land that is just big enough to screw the plud down on to but not big enough to allow the same arrangement as in a pocket watch.
Bearing in mind that the square on the end of the stem is only about 1mm square you can get an idea of how tricky it would be to make one of these. The sleeve is made from high carbon steel and was hardened and tempered to make it resiliently springy. The stem itself would also be made from high carbon steel and hardened to reduce wear. They have survived the hundred years since they were made in remarkably good condition and work perfectly.
Land & Water type 1 wristwatch
The images below are of the Birch & Gaydon Land & Water wristwatch that the case stem was taken from.
These are "as found" pictures before cleaning and restoration. The hands are wrong, they should be poire-squelette shape skeletonised radium luminous hands like the ones shown in the 1916 advert.
The Zenith movement has the clever micro regulator mentioned in the 1916 advert. Those with sharp eyes will notice that the click spring appears to be slightly short and not pressing the recoil click correctly, which could cause problems when winding so needs to be sorted. The inside case back case (not shown) has Swiss hallmarks, 925 and a single standing bear, and Glasgow import hallmarks for 1916/1917, the registered sponsor's mark is Zenith's own ZWCO in a triangular shield.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved. This page updated February 2017. W3CMVS.