Vintage Watch Straps

The place to find straps and bands for vintage fixed wire lug military trench or officers Great War era wristwatches.



Contents
Britsh Import Hallmarks
Swiss Marks
British Hallmarks
Makers and Sponsors Marks
Who Made My Watch?
Philip Priestley's "Watch Case Makers of England"
No Hallmarks
German Hallmarks
Russian Hallmarks
Polish Hallmarks

Case Marks: Marks in Watch Cases

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Marks in watch cases can often tell us something about the history of the watch. They can sometimes tell us where and when the case or the watch was made, and who it was made by. But not always!

This used to be a single page but it has grown so much that I have now made it into several separate pages in addition to this one. The additional pages are described below and you can click on the links to open each one in a separate tab, but don't forget to read the rest of this page too! I am still working on the new pages, so if you have any problems with them, comments or suggestions I would be happy to hear them.

If none of this makes any sense to you, please feel free to email me. If you want help with the marks in your watch, please send a picture of the marks. Don't try to fill the frame with the marks if your camera can't do close (macro) focus, I can always enlarge a picture just make sure it is in focus. Send any comments or questions and pictures to me at Please don't give out my email address, refer anyone interested to this web site. I try to answer all emails I receive so if you don't get a reply in a few days please check your junk or spam folders.

British Import Hallmarks

These are British import hallmarks for silver used after 1 June 1907.

The omega symbol (actually the sign of Leo), struck upside down here, is the mark of the London assay office; other town marks and date letters are different, as are marks on gold.

Click on this link to open the page about
Britsh Import Hallmarks

Swiss Marks and Hallmarks

A ladies head, a squirrel, bear, grouse or other various fauna like these are Swiss hallmarks, which were introduced in 1880.


In 1933 the bear for silver was changed to a duck.

The Swiss cross mark often indicates a Swiss patent.

"Fine silver" could also mean a Swiss origin.

Names of parts such "ancre" or "spiral" are in French, and could indicate a French or Swiss origin

Click on this link to open the page about
Swiss Marks on Watch Cases

British Hallmarks

Marks like these, such as the walking lion for silver and the town marks of the leopard's head of London, anchor of Birmingham, wheatsheaves of Chester, etc. are British hallmarks which were used on all gold and silver items made in Britain, and also on some imported watches before 1 June 1907.

Click on this link to open the page about
British Hallmarks

Makers and Sponsors Marks

Sets of initials in shields like these are often sponsor's marks, part of a hallmark. These marks tell us who sent the watch case to the assay office to be tested and hallmarked.

Charles Nicolet
AGR Arthur George Rendell

Click on this link to open the page about
Makers and Sponsors Marks

Who Made My Watch?

When a watch is acquired, one of the first questions asked is often "I wonder who made it?". This question usually occurs because the watch has no visible makers name, and the answer is not as straightforward as you might think. It is most unlikely that the watch was made by a well-known firm who have simply hidden their name out of sight for some mysterious reason.

American and English made watches usually have some sort of name on them. In American watches this is usually the manufacturer, English watches often have the name of the retailer (who had ordered the watch to be made) engraved on the plates as if they were in fact the manufacturer, although ordering it was their only involvement in its actual manufacture. The most frequently encountered watches with no name were made in Switzerland, but why was this?

Some old-established companies, such as Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe, were (and these two companies still are) "manufactures", firms that made most or all of the parts of the watch movement in-house, who established a reputation and put their name clearly on the finished watch. Patek-Philippe's reputation was helped somewhat when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased Patek Philippe watches at London's Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851.

However, the named "haute horology" (high, or top end, watch manufacturers) were in the minority, mostly located in the old centre of watchmaking in Geneva. But since the creation of the watch industry in the Jura mountains in the eighteenth century, most Swiss were assembled from parts made by a myriad of specialist makers - the movement came from one of the makers of ébauches or bare watch movements, the dial from a specialist dial maker, the hands from a hand maker, the case from a case maker, and so on. This style of manufacturing was called by the Swiss établissage because the components were assembled into complete watches in a workshop or factory établissement". The man in charge of the whole process was called the établisseur.

Although the basic movement, the ébauche, looks like such a complicated and delicate thing that it must be very difficult to make, the Americans had shown in the 1850s that the individual parts could be turned out very cheaply in their thousands by purpose built machinery. The Swiss had adopted this method of manufacturing and henceforth most Swiss ébauches were made by huge producers such as Fontainemelon or A. Schild, who supplied them to the many hundreds, or even thousands, of établisseurs, who combined them with cases, dials and hands into complete watches.


A nice watch. I wonder who made it?
Click image to enlarge it

Usually no one put their name onto such watches as manufacturer, and in fact the retailer didn't want a maker's name on the dial, certainly not if it was a Swiss watch to be sold in Britain. In Britain English made watches enjoyed a high reputation with the public, and retailers felt that having an unknown foreign sounding name on the watch would make it more difficult to sell. So they ordered watches with plain dials and had their own name put on it: Harrods in London, Hamilton and Inches in Edinburgh, and the name of the jeweller in every city and town in between. Customers trusted their local jeweller and were happy to buy a watch with their name on the dial, and their reputation standing behind it.

To a large extent, the Swiss watch industry (especially outside Geneva) in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century was one giant enterprise, the end product being Swiss watches. Many towns in the Jura mountains were almost entirely dedicated to the production of watch parts and the assembly of these into finished watches. In Das Kapital Karl Marx described the very high division of labour in the Swiss watch industry and said that La Chaux-de-Fonds was a "huge factory-town" such was the extent that it seemed every part of the town was involved in the industry of making watches. Individual companies competed against each other to produce parts of the watch better or cheaper, producing economies of production due to specialisation and division of labour. These individual parts were assembled into complete watches; watches that didn't have a "maker" as such, which is why there is no visible maker's name on these watches, although often the trademark of the maker of the ébauche can be found on the bottom plate under the dial so that spare parts could be sourced. From about 1880 international agreements dictated that the place of origin of goods should be indicated and this resulted in a discreet "Swiss made" at the bottom of the dial.

Hans Wilsdorf was one of the first people to recognise the power of a brand in selling watches and created the Rolex name in 1908, but it wasn't until the mid-1920s that Wilsdorf succeeded in persuading retailers to accept watches with the Rolex name instead of their own on the dial. (Ironically Rolex weren't a manufacture, they bought their movements from a firm called Aegler, who they eventually took over - there is more about this on my Rolex page.) Where Rolex led others followed and watch brands were created or promoted, gradually at first with a brand still meaning something: that the watch had been at least conceived, assembled and tested by the named company. But as the twentieth century progressed the cult of the "brand", created by advertising agencies, meant that everything had to have a "Name" associated with it, and by the 1970s brands were being created from thin air and watches were produced with this name on them by anonymous Swiss, or even far-East, assemblers.

However, often quite a lot about the history of the watch can be discovered from marks on the case and movment, especially if it has a silver or gold case and was imported and sold in the UK, because then by law it should be assayed and hallmarked, although this law was only consistently applied after June 1907. Sometimes the maker of the ébauche can be identified from the shape of the parts of the movement or a trademark, which is often concealed under the dial. The makers of ébauches also wanted to be able to sell movements to as many different é tablisseurs as possible, who each wouldn't want the same movements in their watches as anyone else. To this end, ébauche makers even made exactly the same movement with different shaped plates so that they looked different. For help with identifying an unnamed watch movement, refer to my Movements page.

Assay Process

The assay process is in itself quite interesting, but a bit of a sidetrack if you are just looking for details of your watch case date and importer, so I have put it in a separate section on my Hallmarks page. Click on the link if you want to read details of the Assay process.

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Watch Case Makers of England
by Philip Priestley

Watch Case Makers of England 1720-1920

If you are interested in watch cases and their makers, an invaluable reference is Philip Priestley's Book "Watch Case Makers of England 1720-1920." This book is only available from the author in Europe for £15 plus p&p. In America a friend of the author in North Carolina has some copies. This book contains the results of painstaking research into the case makers of London, Liverpool, Prescot, Chester, Coventry, Birminghman and other provincial towns, and has extensive appendices of hallmarks to enable you to identify the case maker, standard and year that your watch was assayed.

This book doesn't just cover watch case makers of England as its title suggests, but also includes the sponsor's marks of many watch importers and agents. At £15 it is an absolute bargain, and every serious collector of watches of the period covered should have a copy of it. You can contact Philip Priestley by email at . Philip has also written a book on watch case makers covering the earlier period of 1631 - 1720, and has new book on the watch case maker Dennison.

Silver Makers Marks Website

If you can't find your silver makers / sponsors mark on this page and you don't have Philip Priestley's Book, then a very useful web site with a large collection of silver marks is SilverMakersMarks.co.uk. If you do find your mark there, please let me know.

Watches with British Sponsor's Marks but No UK Hallmarks

Sometimes watches are seen with with British sponsor's marks, but no import marks. The reason for this is that in 1915, with the first World War (WW1) starting to impose a strain on the economy, the British Government imposed an ad valorem duty of 33.?% on imported luxuries including clocks and watches to conserve foreign currency reserves as part of the war effort. This meant that any watches imported into Britain, even if only for checking before subsequent export abroad, would be subject to this high rate of tax. Prior to this, many watches were imported to Britain before being re-exported to the Empire. Britain had large overseas territories at the time, which were a big market.

To avoid paying the tax on watches not destined for the British home market, many companies, including Rolex, George Stockwell, Rotherham and Sons, Rendells, and Baume & Co., either set up Swiss offices, or made arrangements to export watches direct from Switzerland to the British Empire, bypassing Britain and avoiding the high import duty.

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German Hallmarks

Before 1886 many German cities had their own hallmark for silver. From 1886 a single mark of a crescent or half moon and crown (halbmond und krone) was used by all German states. An old German quantification of silver purity was based on sixteenth parts called "lots", e.g. 14 lots was 14 parts out of 16 pure silver, equal to 0.875 or 87.5% silver. A minimum standard purity for silver of 800 parts per thousand (80% or .800) was established in 1884.

These marks were stamped on imported items as well as German made items, so the crescent moon and crown can be seen alongside e.g. Swiss hallmarks such as the grouse on Swiss items imported into Germany.

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Russian Hallmarks

In Russia before the revolution fineness was expressed in zolotniks, which was derived from the Russian for gold, zoloto, and which was also the name of a gold coin. There were 96 zolotos to a pound and zolotniks are a ratio of this, e.g. 56 zolotniks = 56/96 = 0.583, the fineness of 14 carat gold, and 84 zolotniks = 84/96 = 0.875 for silver.

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Polish Hallmarks

Poland appears to have started hallmarking gold and silver in 1920. A male head with a helmet was used for gold (zloto) and a female head covered with a scarf was used for silver (srebro). Three standards of gold were recognised, 960, 750 and 583. Three standards of silver were recognised, 940, 875 and 800.

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