My grandfather's 1918 silver Rolex watch with fixed wire lugs on one of my straps, a Type B design.
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Straps for vintage wristwatches
Hi! I am David Boettcher - but please don't worry about my family name, just call me David. In 2004 I inherited my grandfather's and grandmother's vintage Rolex wristwatches. These were manufactured during the Great War - World War One - and my grandfather's watch has the narrow fixed wire lugs that were typically used on men's wristwatches at the time.
I wanted to be able to wear my grandfather's wristwatch, shown in the picture here, but I found at the time that it was impossible to get a strap to fit the fixed wire lugs, so after a lot of searching I eventually had one made. I had to pay for the tooling needed to make the design I wanted, which would have made a single strap very expensive, and I also realised that there were probably other watch collectors in the same position, wanting a strap to fit a watch with fixed wire lugs but not able to find one, so I had a few extra straps made, and I started this web site to advertise them.
The web site has grown as I have discovered more about the history of these earliest wristwatches, and become fascinated by the stories around their development and manufacture, and the way they were worn and used, and I now have a significant watch collection, I have learnt to service and repair my own watches, and I write articles about early watches which have been published in the NAWCC Bulletin.
If you explore this web site using the blue navigation bar above you will discover pages that talk about the history and technology of watches including the development of the man's wristwatch, the waterproof watch, Borgel watches and the history of the company of François Borgel, Rolex watches, including my grandparent's Rolex wristwatches and the waterproof Rolex Oyster, pages about hallmarks found in watch cases, the potential dangers of luminous paint, and lots of other information about early watches and their makers.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my contact me page.Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2015 all rights reserved.
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My Grandparents' Watches
My interest in these vintage watches began when I inherited my grandfather's wristwatch as I mentioned above. Although I had known this watch all my life, I didn't realise until I inherited it that it was a Rolex, dated 1918 in silver, and my grandmother's watch that my mother used to wear was a matching 1917 gold Rolex. My grandfather was an industrial chemist in Leicester supplying the leather industry, particularly the boot and shoe industry which was strong in Leicester at the time. I know that they married in 1917 and I believe that my grandfather bought these wristwatches as a pair in 1918 to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.
When I inherited the watches they were fitted with the wrong straps, and neither of them ran. After an overhaul by a Rolex licensed watchmaker they both worked perfectly. The next problem was to find suitable straps. The lady's watch was easily fitted with a new strap, but the man's watch was a different matter. Why should this be?
Very early wristwatches are often referred to as "officer's" or "trench" watches because they became popular during the Great War, the first world war or WW1, when they were convenient to wear in the trenches, but were expensive and generally only officers could afford them. They are also sometimes referred to as "fixed lug" or "fixed wire lug" watches, because of the method of holding the case to the wrist where fixed loops of wire, called lugs, were soldered onto the case to loop a thin wrist strap or band of leather through.
These narrow lugs present a problem to the collector of these interesting early wristwatches. After cleaning and servicing, watches that are now around a hundred years old go just as well now as when they were new, and they cry out to be worn. However, modern wristwatch straps and bands do not fit the fixed wire lugs, and a 35mm diameter wristwatch on a 10mm wide ladies strap not only looks ridiculous, it is not comfortable to wear.
After some research I discovered that men's watches of this era were often fitted with cuff type straps having a wider back piece behind the narrow strap. This looks a lot better, is more comfortable to wear, and also holds the watch in place. However, after consulting all the jewellers I could think of, and scouring the internet for months, I found just two that came anywhere near what I wanted, but one was badly designed and very expensive and the other was poor quality.
Development of My Designs
After all this effort and still not able to wear my grandfather's watch, I resolved that I would have to have a cuff type strap made to my own design and specification. This involved getting made a new press knife, which is used like a pastry cutter to cut out the leather pieces under a hydraulic press. There really is no other way to get a neat finish to the cut surface because leather is such a tough material. These press knives are not cheap and making just one strap would have made it very expensive, so I had a few extra made that I could sell to offset the tooling costs, and so that fellow enthusiasts could enjoy wearing their own vintage watches.
I sold these first few straps successfully, and then I was asked for more, and also for a different design, so I had some more made, and another press knife so that I had two different designs to offer, and this has continued in a small but regular way since then. It gives me great pleasure to know that a vintage watch, one that perhaps saw service during the first World War, or belonged to somebody's grandfather like mine, can be worn and enjoyed today, looking good on a properly designed and made strap.
One of the most touching comments I have received from a customer who was visiting the First World War battlefields in France, and he remarked that with the strap I had supplied I will be able to wear my grandfather's watch at the very spot where he went 'over the top' on the Somme in 1916. A sobering reminder of the historical events and individual human experiences and tragedies which many of these watches have witnessed. If you have a watch like this, remember that it is a piece of history and please take good care of it. You might even use it as the focus of a family history project and document the history of your ancestor to pass on to future generations.
Replica & original sterling silver buckles
Period Replica Buckles in Sterling Silver
To further improve the authenticity of my replica Great War straps I am now offering them with hand made solid sterling silver (925) reproduction buckles. Silver is a beautiful material that takes a lustrous high polish. If your watch has a silver case, a strap with a steel or chrome buckle doesn't do it justice, you really need one of my straps with a sterling silver buckle, and one of my polishing cloths too!
My Sterling silver buckles are copies of authentic period buckles and are hallmarked by the London Assay Office with a full set of punched traditional English hallmarks including the leopards head and the walking lion, just like the originals were marked nearly 100 years ago. Full details of the sterling silver watchstrap buckles and silver polishing cloths are on the Period Replica Buckles page.
Antiquarian Horological Society
I am a member of the British Antiquarian Horological Society (AHS). The AHS is a learned society formed in 1953 to promote the study of clocks and watches and the history of time measurement in all its forms. In order to achieve its aims the AHS holds meetings and publishes a quarterly journal Antiquarian Horology and various books. It is not really a society for watch collectors, but it does publish interesting research on early clock, and sometimes watch, technology and design.
The British Horological Institute
I am an Associate Member of the British Horological Institute (BHI). Formed in 1858 to promote horology, the BHI today continues to provide education, standards and support to its members around the world involved in making, repairing and servicing clocks and watches. Although primarily an organisation for professionals in the watch and clock trade, associate membership is open to non-professionals and brings the monthly BHI Horological Journal and access to BHI resources such as the extensive library.
National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC)
I am a member of the American National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) . Although the NAWCC is primarily about American clocks and watches, it is not exclusively so, and there are a lot of resources and information on their web site, plus very useful message board forums that are open to non-members to ask questions. The NAWCC publishes every two months the Watch & Clock Bulletin, which often has interesting articles about watches, some of which have been written by me.
Every vintage mechanical watch should be serviced after three or four years use to replace old oil, which will reduce wear and prolong its life, even if it is working perfectly well. Read more about this on my page caring for a watch. Make sure the person who is going to work on your treasured watch is competent in servicing mechanical watches before you hand it over. A competent and reliable watch repairer I know is Owen Gilchrist, who is based in Bristol and has many years of experience in watch servicing and repair. I have seen Owen's work and and I am happy to recommend him, contact him at , and please mention that you got his details from me. If you prefer to try and find someone close to you, try the list of BHI Registered Repairers. Don't be afraid to post your watch using a tracked service, your local high street jeweller is unlikely to be familiar with old mechanical watches and I have seen some real disasters.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2015 all rights reserved. This page updated November 2015. W3CMVS.