IWC - The International Watch CompanyCopyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2019 all rights reserved.
Stauffer & Co. and IWC
From 1894 the London company, Stauffer & Co. started to buy watches from IWC in addition to watches from other makers, all of which they had stamped with their trademark S&Co. beneath a crown within an oval shield. Because of this connection it is sometimes wrongly assumed that all watches marked S&Co., or even SS&Co., were made by IWC, which is most definitely not true: see IWC and Stauffer for more on this.
The International Watch Company, or IWC, was set up in Schaffhausen in the German-speaking region of north-eastern Switzerland, in 1868 by the American engineer and watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones (1841-1916).
Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Jones was in Switzerland to try to establish a factory using American mass production techniques and Swiss labour, which was cheaper than American labour at the time, to make watches to be imported to America. He received a poor reception in the French speaking traditional heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry, in the west part of Switzerland and was attracted to Schaffhausen, far to the north and east, by Henri Moser, a watch maker and watch merchant who had set up a dam across the Rhine in 1868 which provided plenty of power for Jones' proposed factory.
Jones imported machine tools from USA, or had them made in-house, and brought together Swiss craftsmanship with the standardised precision of machine tools to increase the accuracy of manufacture and thereby make parts that were interchangeable, which greatly simplified assembly and repair work. To set up a new manufactory and make watches in the intended way everything had to be in place before a single watch could be sold, the buildings, machinery and staff, which required a large amount of capital. Jones underestimated how much money would be needed and the enterprise ran into financial difficulty. In December 1875 the money finally ran out and the company was declared insolvent. Jones returned to America and the remaining assets were auctioned off in 1876
Production resumed in the Autumn of 1876 when a new joint stock company was formed and Frederick F. Seeland was appointed as manager. Seeland was a trained watchmaker and had been the Assistant Manager of the American Waltham Watch Co. in Britain. The American market for watches was suffering from an economic recession that had begun in 1873 together with an oversupply of mass produced watches from the big American watch factories. Seeland recognised this and turned his attention to the large market that was Britain and her empire.
Seeland generated apparent profits for IWC by overstating the value of stock on hand. This came to light during the summer of 1879 when a stock take was conducted by the managing director Johann Rauschenbach-Vogel and the factory foreman. Seeland with his family secretly left Schaffenhausen for America just before the stock take was carried out. A second bankruptcy followed and the assets were taken over in 1880 by Rauschenbach, who died shortly after in March 1881 leaving the business to his wife, daughter and son Johann Rauschenbach-Schenk. Rauschenbach junior was not a watchmaker but made the inspired choice of promoting the foreman of the escapement department Johann Vogel to technical manager. The first "Elgin" calibres created by Vogel were well received by the market, and then from 1885 the unexpected success of watches with Josef Pallweber’s digital display system transformed the business and set it on a sound foundation.
Early IWC Wristwatch Calibres
IWC wristwatch from 1914/15 with 18 carat gold Borgel case and calibre 64 movement. Click image to enlarge
One statement can be made about early IWC men's wristwatches with certainty: Until 1915 all wristwatches made by IWC were fitted with calibre 63 Lépine or calibre 64 savonnette movements. These movements were the right size to be used for men's wristwatches; 12 lignes or about 27mm diameter, and the calibre 64 savonnette is the correct layout for a wristwatch with the crown at 3 o'clock and small seconds on the dial above the 6 o'clock. As a consequence, most early IWC wristwatches have calibre 64 movements, although occasionally wristwatches are seen with calibre 63 movements and no seconds indication on the dial. Wristwatches containing Calibre 63 or 64 movements are usually about 33mm diameter, excluding lugs and crown. This is still a reasonable size for a man's watch today and the watches are very wearable.
In 1915 two smaller movements, the 10 ligne 23.35mm diameter calibres 75 Lépine and 76 savonnette were introduced for smaller wristwatches, less than 30mm diameter. A 10 ligne movement would be fitted into a case of about 28mm diameter which would be suitable for a ladies' wrist watch. This size became fashionable for men's watches in the 1930s but is difficult for a man to wear today. A note in Fournitures No. 5 dated 1935 says that the calibre 75 is used for ladies' open face pendant watches while the calibre 75 has various uses; in round wristwatches for ladies', in ‘shaped’ (i.e. not round) wristwatches for men, and in ladies pendant hunter watches.
Another 12 ligne movement, the calibre 82 savonnette, was introduced in 1920. The calibre 82 was the first 12 ligne movement that IWC made that could have taken over the from the cal 64 but for some reason it didn't, it was only made in very small numbers. Some feature such as cost of manufacturing or durability meant that the calibre 64 continued to be favoured. The first three batches of calibre 82, 600 at a time, were made in 1920, then no more were made until, rather strangely, a single final batch was made in 1928, a total production of only 2,400.
The real successor to the calibre 64 was the 12 ligne calibre 83 savonnette movement, breaking with the practice of using odd numbers for Lépine movements. The first batch of 600 calibre 83 movements was made in 1931, followed later in the year by the final batch of 600 calibre 64 movements. A total of 68,400 calibre 83 movements were made by IWC. The calibre 83 was used in an extremely rare pilot's wristwatch produced by IWC between 1936 and 1944, the "Spezialuhr fur Flieger", today colloquially known as the Mark IX. In upgraded form with shock protection, the calibre 83 was used in the 1940s for watches supplied to the British military under their "Watches, Wristlet, Waterproof" or W.W.W. specification. The 12 Swiss manufacturers who supplied these watches adopted the name Mark X for them, which is how the earlier watch became retrospectively know as the Mark IX, a name never used by IWC.
If you see an early wristwatch described as an IWC that doesn't contain one of these calibres, then it isn't an IWC. This often happens with a Stauffer branded watches, and also occasionally with other watches. The vendor might think that the watch is an IWC, or perhaps hopes that you might think that is an IWC watch. But fortunately, now you know better.
The image here shows an IWC wristwatch with calibre 64 movement in an 18 carat gold Borgel case. The case has the sponsor's mark of Charles Nicolet, director of Stauffer & Co. London, and London Assay Office import hallmarks for 1914 to 1915. The movement carries Stauffer & Co.'s trademark of the initials S&Co. beneath a crown in an oval shield.
Calibres 63 and 64 were 12 or 12.5 lignes A "ligne", (pronounced "line"), is 1/12 of an old French inch (pouce), used prior to the adoption of the metric system. A ligne is 2.256mm. It is used in the measurement of watch movements, and is the outer dimension of the movement just beneath the flange that holds the movement in place in the case. The shorthand for ligne is the triple prime ‴, e.g. 12.5‴. movements, which was just the right size for a man's wristwatch at the time. All other IWC movements until 1915 were larger sizes, 17 to 19 lignes (38.5mm to 43mm diameter), suitable for men's pocket watches but too large for men's wristwatches at the time. An earlier IWC movement, calibre 51, was a 13 ligne cylinder movement which would have been the right size, but this was last made in 1889 and was never used in wristwatches.
In 1915 the 10 ligne calibres 75 and 76 were introduced, which were also a suitable size for wristwatches. A 10 ligne movement is about 22.5mm diameter so from 1915 these would have been used in ladies wristwatches, until the fashion for smaller men's wristwatches of around 30mm diameter arose in the late 1920s and through the 1930s.
The earliest IWC wristwatch that is known to me is one in a Borgel case that was made in 1906 - this date has been confirmed by IWC from their records. I have a particular fondness for Borgel watches and this is also the earliest Borgel wristwatch that I know of. You can read about it below. If you know of an earlier IWC wristwatch, or an earlier Borgel wristwatch, please get in touch.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC's First Wristwatches
Lépine or "open face" pocket watches usually have the pendant and crown at 12 o'clock so that when the watch is hanging from the pendant the 12 is at the top of the dial. Savonnette or hunter pocket watches usually have the crown at 3 o'clock where the button that opens the lid is placed conveniently for operation by the thumb when the watch is resting in the palm of a hand.
In both designs the small seconds sub dial is at 6 o'clock, in a Lépine pocket watch this is at the base of the dial directly opposite to the crown and the 12 o'clock, in a savonnette pocket watch it is at right angles to the crown at 3 o'clock. The picture here of calibres 63 and 64 movements shows where the fourth wheel is located relative to the stem. The fourth wheel turns once a minute and the seconds hand is mounted on the end of its arbor, which is made extra long to project through the dial.
The principal appeal of wristwatches was that they could be read easily and only needed one hand, which meant using an open face design. The obvious layout for the dial of a wristwatch, which was achieved very quickly, was the one still used today, with the 12 o'clock at the top of the dial and the crown at 3 o'clock, which meant using a savonnette movement, which would normally be fitted to a hunter case with a lid protecting the crystal. The lid would have afforded protection to the watch in its vulnerable position on the wrist but made it far less convenient to use, requiring both hands to read the time, which is why hunter cased wristwatches are rare.
So an open face wristwatch with 12 o'clock at the conventional position where it is found today, the crown at 3 o'clock and sub seconds at 6 o'clock was the result of the paradoxical combination of putting a savonnette (hunter) movement into a Lépine (open face) case. If you are interested you can read more about Lépine and savonnette movements on my watch cases page.
For IWC this meant using the calibre 64 movement, which was a savonnette layout and the only movement they made at the time that was the right size for a wristwatch. If the calibre 63 was used for a wristwatch, which it was on occasion, then the sub seconds would have been at 9 o'clock so it was omitted.
1906 IWC wristwatch with Borgel case
The earliest IWC wristwatch known to me is the one shown in the photograph here, it has a Borgel case and was made by IWC in 1906, being supplied to Stauffer in London as a single piece, rather than the more usual batch of 12, in January 1907. This was just before the British law changed so that from 1 June 1907 all imported gold and silver watches were hallmarked with British import hallmarks, so this watch has Swiss which have no date letter. However, IWC provided me with an official "extract from the archives" for this wristwatch showing that the finished watch was sold to Stauffer in London on 9 January 1907
The IWC Catalogue des Fournitures from 1908 continued to describe calibre 63 as a Lépine calibre and calibre 64 as a savonnette, but when the next Catalogue des Fournitures came out in 1917, calibre 64 was described a both savonnette and "montre bracelet" or wristwatch, as can be seen in the image reproduced here. The Swiss Federal cross and number 31457 is a reference to IWC patent No. 31457.
An interesting change in the design of the calibre 63 took place around 1907. Prior to this the calibre 63 had its balance on the left as shown in the pictures above from Fournitures No. 1, but Fournitures No. 3 shows the balance on the right of both the 1907 and 1910 models, which is also the configuration of the calibre 63 in the photograph of the two calibres side by side. Tölke and King says that this movement of the barrel from right to left is more favourable with regard to bearing pressure and reduces wear.
Back to the top of the page.
Calibres 63 and 64
Calibre 64, and less often calibre 63, were used in all IWC wristwatches until 1915, because IWC made no other movements of a suitable size for a wristwatch until the calibres 75 and 76 were introduced in 1915. These were a small size that was suitable for ladies' wristwatches, and for shaped or the smaller size of men's wristwatches that became fashionable in the 1930s.
IWC Calibre 63 and 64 Movements
Catalogue des Fournitures No. 1, 1891 - 1892
Details of the calibres 63 and 64 first appeared in the IWC "Catalogue des Fournitures No. 1" (parts catalogue) which is thought to date to 1891-92. The first production details appear in the 1892 IWC production records listed in Tölke and King with three batches of calibre 63 numbered 77001 to 77300, 80901 to 81200 and 86901 to 87500, a total of 1,200 pieces, and one batch of calibre 64 numbered 83601 to 83900, 300 pieces.
Calibre 64 is a savonnette calibre suitable for use in hunter cased pocket or fob watches, and for wristwatches where the dial can be arranged so that the crown is at 3 o'clock and small seconds at 6 o'clock, calibre 63 is a Lépine calibre suitable for open face pocket or fob watches. Calibre 63 is less suitable for wristwatches because with the crown at 3 o'clock the small seconds would be at 9 o'clock, so if a calibre 63 was used for a wristwatch the small seconds were omitted.
The calibre 63 and 64 were first used in small pocket or fob watches. Does that make them pocket watch movements? No. If wristwatches had been in fashion in the 1890s, these calibres would have been used in wristwatches. The calibre 63 and 64 movements are simply small watch movements. There is no fundamental difference between a pocket watch and a wristwatch movement, they only become either a pocket watch or a wristwatch movement once they are put into a case.
The pictures above from the first IWC Catalogue des Fournitures show that the calibre 63 is a Lépine movement which at the time was used "à glace", that is in an "open face" watch, with no metal lid covering the watch crystal. The calibre 64 is a savonnette movement, which was initially used in hunter cases, where a hinged metal lid covers the crystal. The pictures show that the calibres 63 and 64 were available in 12½, 13 and 14 ligne sizes, roughly 28.2, 29.3 and 31.5mm. (The size of a movement is the diameter of the bottom plate where it fits into the middle part of the case, slightly smaller than the dial.) The 13 and 14 ligne sizes were dropped about 1908 and I don't think they were ever used in wristwatches.
The term "ancre" shows that the calibre 63 and 64 both have have anchor escapements, the Swiss term for the lever escapement. These are straight line Swiss lever escapements with cut bimetallic temperature compensating balances, Breguet overcoil balance springs and 15 or 16 jewels, with some jewels set in screwed chatons. They work at 18,000 vibrations per hour (5 ticks and 2.5 complete oscillations (Hz or cycles) per second). Their mainspring barrels have the patented IWC version of "Maltese cross" or Geneva stop work.
Keyless Work: Winding and Hand Setting
The calibre 63 is described in the IWC literature as a "Lépine à poussette", the calibre 64 is described as "Savonnette à targette".
The term "poussette" refers to the push-pin method of hand setting, where a pin on the side of the case is pushed in to change the keyless mechanism from winding to hand setting and the crown then sets the hands.
The term "targette" translates literally as "slide" or "bolt" and refers to a lever set mechanism. The lever set mechanism was often used in hunter cased watches. It is similar to the push-pin set mechanism, but instead of pushing in a pin to engage the hand setting, you pull out a lever. The lever is only accessible when the hunter cover is open, providing a safety mechanism against accidentally altering the time set. This feature was originally introduced in America for Railroad watches to make it difficult to accidentally adjust the time. When calibre 64 movements were used in open faced wristwatch cases, it was a very simple modification to make the mechanism push-pin set rather than lever set.
Some time between the 1908 catalogue and the 1917 catalogue, IWC introduced versions of calibres 63 and 64 that had stem winding and setting, these were called 63T and 64T, the T standing for "tirette" meaning to pull. In this calibre the keyless work is changed from winding to hand setting by pulling the crown away from the case, the accompanying axial movement of the stem moves the setting lever to put the keyless mechanism into the hand setting configuration.
The first production details of the calibre 63T and 64T appear in the records listed in Tölke and King in 1917, but a correspondent has sent me details of a calibre 63T movement that was made in 1911 in a batch of 600 numbered 513,401-514,000.
Calibre 63 and 64 Variations
The calibre 63 and 64 movements underwent various developments over the many years that they were in production. The final batch of 600 calibre 64T was made in 1931. An IWC sales catalogue of 1936 showed a wristwatch with a Borgel case and calibre 64 movement, truly a long life cycle.
Fournitures No. 1 from circa 1891/92 says the calibre 63 and 64 were available in 12½, 13 and 14 lignes.
Fournitures No. 2 dated 1902 says 12½ and 14 lignes, the 13 ligne option is not shown.
Fournitures No. 3 dated 1908 shows two different versions of each of the calibres 63 and 64, one subtitled "Modèle 1907" and the other "Modèle 1910". One of the changes introduced in the 1907 model was the use of three screws to hold the crown and ratchet wheel in place. This feature had been introduced by IWC in 1904 as part of patent 31457. The only size listed for all four variations is 12 lignes.
Fournitures No. 4 dated 1917 still describes the calibre 63 as "Lépine" but now describes the calibre 64 as "Savonnette et montres bracelet" (hunter and wristwatch), recognising the increasing use of this calibre in wristwatches. Two variants of the calibre 63 and 64 first appear in this catalogue, although they had been made for some years by then; the "63 T" and "64 T". The T stands for "tirette" which means to pull, showing that these variations had hand setting by the stem rather than by pin set or lever. The only size given for all four variants is 12 ligne.
Fournitures No. 5 date 1935 shows the calibre 63 and 64 in 12 ligne size. The calibre 63 is described as "lépine à pousette" (pin set), the calibre 64 as "savonnette à targette (pour bracelet à pousette)" (lever set, or pin set for wristwatches). The catalogue also shows the stem set variant of the calibre 64, now described as "calibre 64 à tirette" rather than 64T. The stem set variant of the calibre 63 does not appear in this catalogue.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC's Second Wristwatch Calibres: 75 and 76
The picture shows IWC calibres 75 and 76, which were introduced in 1915. They are described in the catalogues as 10 ligne movements, i.e. about 22.5mm diameter, although the size given in the 1935 catalogue is 23.35mm (10¼ lignes) and 3.5mm "high" (thick). The legend "Mise à l'heure par la couronne" means that the time is set, i.e. hands are moved, by the crown, meaning that these are stem wound and set movements. The calibre 75 is a Lépine and the calibre 76 as a "savonnette and montre bracelet".
The calibre 75 and 76 were manufactured from 1915 until 1930, total number of movements produced was around 17,460. They were jewelled to the centre with 16 functional jewels, increased to 18 if cap jewels were provided for the escape wheel. Their oscillating frequency is 18,000 vibrations (halfbeats) per hour or 2.50 Hertz. They have a double roller straight line Swiss lever escapement with a cut bimetallic temperature compensating balance and Breguet overcoil balance spring.
IWC calibre 76 - click to enlarge
Image © Smiths watches
The IWC factory used the terms Lépine and savonnette to describe the case style rather than the movement layout, Lépine for a movement intended for an open faced case, and savonnette for a movement intended for a hunter style case with a lid or metal cover over the crystal.
This is why the "et montre bracelet" (and wristwatch) qualification is added to the calibre 76, because of course wristwatches are usually open faced (Lépine), and an open face wristwatch is made by putting a savonnette movement into a Lépine case.
The photograph here shows the top plate of an IWC calibre 76 savonnette. The picture is oriented so that the stem is at the top, you can see the castle wheel and setting lever screw at the top, these show where the stem enters the movement. Being a savonette layout the balance is on the opposite side of the movement almost directly in line with the axis of the stem; the exact alignment isn't important, the important alignment is the position of the fourth wheel arbor because this carries the seconds hand.
In a savonnette (hunter) cased watch, and an open faced wristwatch, the sub seconds dial needs to be at 6 o'clock and the stem needs to enter the movement at three o'clock, so the fourth wheel arbor needs to be placed on an axis exactly 90° to that of the stem.
There is more about Lépine and savonnette layouts at Savonnette (Hunter) vs. Lépine (Open Face).
Back to the top of the page.
IWC Serial Numbers
IWC have archive records of every watch they have ever made since 1875. Every IWC movement is stamped with a serial number, which is recorded in these archives. The serial numbers of cases are also recorded, and are different from the movement serial numbers. The records before 1884 are less complete and use a different set of serial numbers to those used from 1884 onwards.
The book about IWC by Tölke and King lists the serial numbers of each batch of movements and the calibre. The chart here gives you a quick idea of movement production dates after 1884.
The effect of the depression can be seen in IWC's production for the years 1932 to 1934. Only 600 movements in total were made in 1931, 1,200 in 1932 and 600 in 1934. None of these were 12 ligne movements. In 1935 production stepped up significantly to 4,800 movements, including two batches of 600 calibre 83. In 1936 10,800 movements were made, and by 1937 production was back to pre-recession levels.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC registered lots of patents over the years, but one that crops up regularly as a reference number on IWC movements is CH 31457. Tölke and King refer to this patent as a "barrel-bridge winding wheel construction" but it is in fact a modified form of Geneva stop work. I discuss this patent and a few others in the next section. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list or guide to all of IWC's patents, just some that are regularly referenced on old IWC movements.
IWC Patent 31457
The number 31457 number is quite often seen on vintage on IWC movements, and it appears in the early Fournitures catalogues of parts. The clue to interpreting this number is the sign of the Swiss Federal Cross which usually precedes the number when it is stamped or printed and signifies that it refers to a Swiss patent.
Patent CH 31457 was issued to "Fabrique d'Horlogerie de J Rauschenbach, à Schaffhouse" on 11 May 1904. Its title "Dispositif pour limiter le remontage des mouvements d'horlogerie à barillet" or "device for limiting the winding of a watch movement barrel" shows that it is about a type of "stop work" that limits the winding of the mainspring in its barrel.
The purpose of stop work is to stop the winding of the mainspring before it is fully wound, in order to eliminate the peak of force or torque that occurs if the spring is wound tight in its containing barrel. See the entry about stopwork for more details about this.
In a watch with a "going barrel" the mainspring that powers the watch is contained in a barrel which has teeth on its outside. The teeth engage with the centre wheel pinion and, when the spring is wound, they drive the watch train and ultimately the escapement. The mainspring is hooked at its outer end to the inner wall of the barrel, its inner end is hooked to the "barrel arbor", the shaft on which the barrel turns. To wind the mainspring you turn the barrel arbor, either directly with a key, or by the crown through the keyless work. A ratchet allows the arbor to turn only in one direction and prevents the spring unwinding. It is the operation of this ratchet that you feel as a series of little clicks if you turn the key or crown backwards when you are winding a watch.
The basic idea of stop work is to limit the number of turns of the barrel arbor so that it is stopped before the mainspring is fully wound. Looking at the figures from patent 31457 reproduced here you can see in Fig 3, which is a view looking down on the barrel h, that a small gear wheel i is attached to the barrel arbor h1 and engages with a smaller gear wheel k. The wheel k is free to turn with the wheel i on the barrel arbor as the watch is wound.
Fig 4 shows a view from the underside of the gear wheels shown in Fig 3. The two gear wheels i and k each have a disc, i1 and k1 respectively, attached to their underside. These discs each have a projection which, as the gears are turned during winding, will eventually come into contact, preventing the discs, and hence the gears, from turning any further, thus stopping the winding.
This is very similar in principle to the more usual Maltese cross or Geneva stop work, but is perhaps easier to make and, as the patent explains, it is also easy to vary the number of turns the barrel arbor can make by replacing the wheels i and k by ones with different numbers of teeth.
In their book about IWC (ISBN 3906500152, p97), Tölke and King refer to this patent as a "barrel-bridge winding wheel construction". This is not the principal purpose of the patent as the title and opening paragraph make clear; "L'objet de la présente invention est un dispositif pour limiter le remontage des mouvements d'horlogerie a barillet" (The object of the present invention is a device for limiting the winding of watch movement barrels). So why did Tölke and King refer to it as a barrel bridge construction?
Crown wheels; Non-IWC one part and IWC two part
The answer probably lies in the figures in the patent. Figures 1 and 2 show the barrel bridge and the crown and ratchet wheels, and I imagine that Tölke and King, perhaps being German speakers and the patent being in French, or perhaps seeing only the figures and not the text of the patent, thought that figures 1 and 2 were the main object of the patent; a natural assumption to make. However, it is figures 3 and 4 that show the stopwork device that is stated in the title of the patent to be the principal purpose.
There is another curious anomaly about the stopwork device shown in the patent; it appears that this design of stopwork was never used by IWC. I have serviced a few IWC calibre 64 movements and when the stopwork was present it was the conventional "Maltese cross" design. Owen Gilchrist tell me that he has serviced over 50 IWC pocket watch movements and again the stopwork on those is of the Maltese cross type. It appears that IWC might have designed the geared stopwork shown in the patent simply to secure the patent so that they could stamp the number onto their movements. Alternatively, in practice it might have been found that the power of the mainspring was too much for the necessarily small gear teeth and sheared them off, so any movements that had been made with the design shown in the patent were altered to Maltese cross type stopwork. If you ever see an IWC movement with geared stopwork as shown in patent 31457, please do let me know.
Figures 1 and 2 of the patent show unusual "two part" crown and ratchet wheels. The usual form of crown wheel with face teeth is shown in the photograph here in the top left hand corner. This is a non-IWC part. It is made in one piece with teeth on its lower face that are driven by the winding pinion, and radial teeth on its edge that drive the ratchet wheel, and is secured in place by a screw into the barrel bridge. This type of crown wheel with face teeth that engage with the winding pinion turned by the stem is a better design than the type where the winding pinion engages with the radial teeth on the periphery of the crown wheel.
The IWC two part crown wheel, shown below and to the right, has a wheel with radial teeth that sits on top of the barrel bridge, and a second wheel with "face teeth" that is located below the barrel bridge and which engages with the teeth of the winding pinion on the stem. There is a square boss on the lower part that enters a square hole in the upper wheel, and two parts are fixed together with three screws.
The ratchet wheel in the patent is similarly made in two parts, a wheel that sits on top of the bridge and a smaller bush that is located below the bridge, again the two parts are held together with three screws. The bush has a central hole through which the barrel arbor passes and engages with a square hole in the ratchet wheel. This probably explains the reason for the square boss on the crown part of the crown wheel. The three screws would be adequate to couple the crown and wheel part of the crown wheel and the square coupling is not needed, but without it the two wheels would look different and so it is most likely there for purely aesthetic reasons. An alternative design would have been to make the boss below the ratchet wheel with a square rather than round hole for the barrel arbor, and then both the crown wheel and ratchet wheel could have been made without centre holes, which would have looked neater.
This unusual design of the crown and ratchet wheels is described in the patent and in the "claims", the features that are claimed as part of the patent, as claim 2 and 3. But the purpose of this part of the design is not described. Patents are granted to protect inventions, novel solutions to technical problems, and this simple description of a design without explaining how it solved a problem would not be acceptable in a patent today.
The crown and ratchet wheel are not components that normally cause or suffer problems or a wear, and they do not need to be made like this in order for the stopwork to function, so the purpose of making them in two parts is rather a mystery.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC Patent 55231
IWC patent CH 55213
The number 55231 when seen on IWC movements with the Swiss Federal cross symbol refers to a patent granted to Uhrenfabrik von J Rauschenbach on 16 July 1912 for a "Zifferblattbefestigungsvorrichtung"; a "dial fixture device" or "dial fastener".
The fastening of enamel dials to movements was always a problem. Enamel dials were made by fusing powdered coloured glass to a thin copper plate. The copper plate was covered with powdered glass which was melted and fused into a thin glassy layer by heat at about 800 degrees centigrade. Any slight bending of the dial plate caused the thin enamel coating to crack.
Enamel dials were made with small copper pegs called "dial feet" projecting from the back surface and which were used to hold the dial to the movement. This was usually done with screws. either screwing radially into the plate and into the side of the dial feet, or with partial skirts that grabbed the dial foot as the screw was turned. The problem with both of these methods was that they could bend the dial feet where they attached to the dial plate, causing a crack to appear on the opposite, visible, surface.
The IWC patent was for a method of fastening the dial using spring clips that engaged with waist on the dial feet to hold the dial plate against the movement. The spring clips applied sufficient force to hold the dial in place, but not enough to bend the dial feet and crack the enamel.
The figures from the patent here show how this worked. On the left the dial plate at the top has a dial foot C with waisted part C1. The spring b holds itself in an undercut recess in the dial plate a1. The end of the spring is bent across the hole a that the dial foot enters, and the figure to the right shows how this engages with the waist on the dial foot and holds the dial in place.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC patent 62178
IWC Patent 62178
IWC was granted on 25 November 1912 Swiss patent CH 62178 for a "Gehäusefeder für Uhren" i.e. "house" or case spring for watches. This was a spring used in savonnette or hunter watch cases to spring open the front lid when a button was pressed. The patent notes that these springs are very subject to breakage, and that the conventional one piece spring is difficult to replace.
The IWC patent is for a spring with a separate holder. The figure here from the patent shows the idea. The holder "a" is fitted to the case with screw "b" in the same way as the shank of a normal one piece case spring, but it does not need to be made of spring steel and can be made of steel, brass or another metal. The reason for making this part the same shape as the shank of a normal spring might have been so that older cases with a one-piece spring could be upgraded to the new design when they came in for a replacement spring. A spring blade "c" is fixed into this holder by a cross pin "d" and opens the case lid as usual. If the spring blade breaks, it is easy to draw out the pin, remove the broken blade, and fit a new one.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC Watch Cases
Before 1978 IWC bought all the cases used for their watches from outside suppliers, Swiss watch case makers such as Borgel, Eggly & Cie, Jules Blum and Wyss & Cie. In 1978 the Porsche Design watch with titanium case caused a problem because none of IWC's case suppliers could fabricate titanium cases. So IWC went out and bought machinery and set up a case fabrication in Neuhausen. Titanium needs to be machined carefully because in the form of swarf, metal shavings, titanium is a significant fire hazard. In addition to titanium, IWC also produces its own cases in steel, gold and platinum. Thanks to Michael Friedberg for information about the Neuhausen factory, which is described in detail by Michael at The Art And Science Of Casemaking.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC and Stauffer
Stauffer, Son & Co., London and Chaux-de-Fonds: 1892
Stauffer, Son & Co. began making watches in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1830, long before IWC existed. Very soon after the founding of the company a London office was set up to import Stauffer watches into Britain. By the 1890s the London branch was selling so many watches that the Chaux-de-Fonds factory couldn't keep up with the demand, so Stauffer & Co. started to buy in watches from other Swiss manufacturers, including IWC, Eterna and Fontainemelon.
Stauffer started to buy watches from IWC in 1894. Tölke and King say that in 1898 Stauffer & Co. were granted a sales monopoly of IWC watches for Great Britain. Because of this connection people sometimes assume, and even state in advertisements, that watches or movements marked "S&Co., or even "SS& Co." are IWC watches, or contain IWC movements. This is often not the case. This might be because the vendor doesn't know any better, or because IWC today is a prestigious and expensive brand and the seller hopes to get a better price by associating the watch with the IWC name.
S & Co. London
The "Son" in the Swiss parent company's name, Jules Stauffer, set up the London company, which was accordingly called Stauffer & Co. The movements of watches supplied to Stauffer London from other Swiss manufacturers were stamped with the trademark of the London firm "S&Co." (note: just one "S"; there was no "son" in the London business) under a crown inside an oval, together with another Stauffer trademark "Peerless".
CN: Charles Nicolet
A director of Stauffer & Co. in London, Charles Nicolet, registered the "CN" sponsor's mark shown here at the London Assay Office in 1877 so that his company could submit items for assay and hallmarking. In the middle 1870s a practice had begun of sending unfinished watch cases from Switzerland to be hallmarked, to be returned to Switzerland for finishing and to made into completed watches. Nicolet's mark was used on watches sent for hallmarking by Stauffer & Co. until 31 December 1887, when the British hallmarking of imported watch cases was effectively stopped by the 1887 Merchandise Marks Act. British hallmarking of imported watches did not recommence until 1907, when all imported gold and silver watch cases were required to be assayed and hallmarked in a British assay office.
However, this was before the arrangement between Stauffer & Co. and IWC began. IWC watches from this period that have British hallmarks do not carry Nicolet's sponsor's mark. IWC watch cases were sometimes sent to agents in Britain who arranged for them to be hallmarked and then returned to IWC to have the movements put in. This is discussed in a later section about early IWC watches with British hallmarks.
From 1 June 1907, all watches with gold or silver cases imported by Stauffer & Co. were stamped with Charles Nicolet's sponsor's mark before being sent to be hallmarked. These included watches manufactured by Stauffer in their own factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, watches from IWC, and watches from other suppliers such as Eterna and Fontainemelon.
The S & Co. mark under a crown inside an oval cameo was registered by Stauffer Son & Co. in 1880, and Peerless was a trademark registered by Stauffer, Son & Co. in 1896, so IWC didn't have control of these marks and Stauffer could use them any way they chose. Clearly the presence of these marks alone does not prove that a movement was made by IWC. There are plenty of non-IWC movements marked with the "S & Co. under a crown in an oval" mark and/or "Peerless", see the entry about this on my Stauffer page at Stauffer and other watch manufacturers. Another Stauffer trademark was "Peercee", this was never used on IWC movements.
Stauffer also registered in Britain a trademark of the head and torso of a ram. This is sometimes thought to be the "bock" of Schaffhausen used by IWC, but it is also found on movements bought by IWC from Eterna. This is discussed in a later section.
Stauffer & Co. retained its monopoly over the import of IWC watches to the UK until the mid-1930s. Thereafter IWC watches were sold under the IWC name, as they had been prior to 1898. In 1936, the firm of Edwin Harrop of 99-119 Rosebery Ave, London was advertising that they were concessionaires for the British Empire for IWC watches. At the same time, Stauffer, Son & Co. were advertising Peerless and Peertone watches.
So how can you tell if a watch movement stamped with Stauffer marks was made by IWC?
SS&Co under three triangles. Definitely not an IWC movement.
If the mark is S&Co. (note the single "S") under a crown in an oval, and the movement is also marked Peerless, then it could be an IWC, but this is not guaranteed. To be sure of the identification, the movement calibre should be checked by comparison with known IWC calibres. You can of course check whether it is an IWC calibre 63 or 64, or even a calibre 75 or 76, using the information and pictures at First wristwatch calibres: 64 and 63. Otherwise you can check the vintage IWC catalogues on Michael Friedberg's IWC web site, or by asking a question in the vintage watches forum in the forum on the IWC web site. The images here of the S& Co. marks are taken from a Stauffer wristwatch with an IWC calibre 64 movement in a silver Borgel case, an heirloom belonging to Russell Bull.
However, if it is a wristwatch and was made before 1915 then identification is considerably easier than this. Until 1915 all IWC wristwatches, including all Stauffer & Co. wristwatches with IWC movements, used the IWC calibre 63 or calibre 64 movement, because these were the only two movements that IWC made in wristwatch sizes. All other IWC movements until 1915 were larger sizes, 17 to 19 lignes (38.5mm to 43mm diameter) for men's pocket watches. In 1915 IWC introduced their first movement designed specifically for wristwatches, the calibre 75/76, 75 being the Lépine movement, 76 the savonnette. This was a smaller movement than the calibre 63/64, being a 10 ligne size, 23.5mm diameter and 3.5mm high, and was used in ladies' watches and small wristwatches less than 30mm in diameter.
If the mark is "SS&Co." (note the double S in "SS") and accompanied by three little triangular marks, themselves in a triangular formation, like the one shown here, this is a mark registered by Stauffer Son and Co. in 1886, and has nothing to do with IWC.
So the general rules are:
- SS & Co. (double "S") with three small triangles, or any other Stauffer, Son & Co. trademarks, i.e. a Stauffer trademark with double "S". Definitely not IWC.
- S & Co under a crown within an oval = Stauffer & Co. *Possibly* IWC, but could also be an Eterna, Fontainemelon, etc.
- If it is a wristwatch made before 1915 then the only possible IWC movements are calibre 63 or 64, see IWC Calibre 63 and 64.
- The Stauffer trademark "Peerless" does not guarantee that the movement is an IWC. See Stauffer and other watch manufacturers.
- The Stauffer trademark of a ram under the balance cock or barrel bridge does not guarantee that the movement is an IWC, see for example Stauffer and Eterna.
- The Stauffer trademark "Peercee" was never used on IWC movements.
Back to the top of the page.
Bocks and Rams
According to "COLLECTING IWC WATCHES How to Recognize Vintage from Fakes" by Adrian van der Meijden and Hans Goerter, IWC watches supplied to Stauffer, Son & Co. [sic] should be marked under the dial or the balance cock with the IWC trademark of the Schaffhausen "bock" or ram, and the same thing is said in the books by Meis, and Tölke and King.
1890: IWC trademark
Each canton of Switzerland has an official flag and a coat of arms. The Canton of Schaffhausen uses the heraldic design of a rearing ram or "bock" that is documented as far back as 1218. The bock was originally rampant with only the rear left hoof on the ground, but this was later changed to the salient position with both rear hooves on the ground, and gained a crown in 1512 as shown in the picture here.
Karl Kochmann's "Clock and Watch Trademark of European Origin" shows that IWC registered a trademark incorporating a ram that is clearly based on the Schaffhausen bock, giving the registration date as 11.11.1890. The ram in the IWC trademark is a rather less fierce creature than the Schaffhausen bock, with no crown and a less aggressive attitude, and holding a quill pen. Nevertheless the similarities are apparent and together with the coincidence of the location of IWC in Schaffhausen it must be assumed that the IWC trademark was based on the Schaffhausen bock.
It is known that IWC started to supply watches to Stauffer in London in 1894. Tölke and King (pp44/45) say that Stauffer Son & Co. of London were granted in 1898 a sales monopoly of IWC watches, presumably for the whole British Empire. Movements supplied by IWC to Stauffer & Co. in London often (always?) carry a mark of a ram under the balance cock. So it would seem to be be reasonable to assume that the ram mark seen on IWC movements imported by Stauffer & Co. was the IWC trademark based on the Schaffhausen bock.
However, the ram mark stamped onto movements supplied by IWC to Stauffer & Co. is not the same as the IWC trademark.
Stauffer registered ram mark 27 February 1896
Ram mark on IWC calibre 64
Pictured here is part of a plate from an S&Co. movement that has been positively identified as an IWC calibre 64 from circa 1908. The ram stamp that can be seen in the photograph is normally underneath the foot of the balance cock and is not visible without partially dismantling the movement. There is no question that this is an IWC manufactured calibre 64 movement, but the ram mark on the plate is quite different from the IWC registered trademark.
The calibre 64 plate also has a reference to Swiss patent number CH 31457 for a barrel-bridge winding wheel construction which was granted to Rauschenbach / IWC in 1904. When the movement is assembled the patent number is almost completely obscured by the balance cock.
The ram mark stamped on the IWC movement, together with the word Peerless, was registered in the UK by Stauffer Son & Co. An entry in the 1896 UK Trade Marks Journal shows that it was registered on 27 February 1896.
The pose of the Stauffer ram is similar to that of the IWC ram, but the Stauffer ram has an impressive set of curly horns and a ram's beard that the IWC ram lacks. The Stauffer ram is also only a torso, cut off before the back legs by a twisted band design that is clearly visible on the movement plate and in the picture in the registration document. It is clear that these are two different marks, and that the one on the IWC plate is the mark registered by Stauffer & Co., not the IWC trademark.
Eterna cal. 520 with Stauffer ram. Thanks to Ventura Mijares for the picture.
This gives rise to the obvious question of why would Stauffer register this trademark ram when a very similar mark had already been registered by IWC? And why would they have it stamped underneath the balance cock where it could not be seen?
There is a further twist to this ram's tale. Stauffer & Co. in London also obtained movements or watches from the Swiss company Eterna. The movements of these watches carry the Stauffer trademark on the barrel bridge of the initials S & Co. under a crown inside an oval shield, and the Stauffer trademark name "Peerless", just like the IWC movement supplied to Stauffer & Co.
The movements supplied to Stauffer & Co. by Eterna also have the mark of the Stauffer ram underneath their barrel bridge. Again, like on the IWC movement, this would not normally be visible and the watch has to be partially dismantled in order to see it as shown in the photograph here of an Eterna cal. 520. It is clear from the photograph that this is the Stauffer ram with curly horns and a ram's beard, cut off before the back legs by a twisted rope design.
The second image of a ram shown here is from an Eterna pocket watch movement. Again, this was found under the barrel bridge when the movement was dismantled. The top plate carries the Stauffer trademark of S&Co. under a crown within an oval shield and the word Peerless.
For further details of the Eterna movements supplied to Stauffer & Co. see Stauffer and Eterna.
It must be concluded that Stauffer & Co. required some or all of their Swiss suppliers, IWC, Eterna, and possibly others, to stamp their (S&Co.'s) trademarks, including the ram mark, onto movements supplied to them, in the same way that they required their trademarks S&Co. under a crown in an oval shield and Peerless to be stamped in visible places onto movements supplied to them.
The one thing that I really don't have a clue about is why the ram marks were stamped on the plates in a position where they would normally be underneath the balance cock or barrel bridge where they would normally be invisible. If you have any ideas about this, do let me know.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC and Borgel
Some of the watches supplied by IWC to Stauffer & Co. in London were supplied in Borgel cases. The cases were clearly made in Switzerland by the Borgel company in Geneva and imported to the UK, as evidenced by the UK Assay Office import hallmarks, but the hallmarks do not show where the movement was put into the case. However, it seems most likely that this was done in Switzerland before export to the UK.
The Earliest IWC Wristwatch?
The earliest Borgel wristwatch, and the earliest IWC wristwatch, known to me is the one shown in the photograph here. It was made by IWC in 1906. It has an IWC calibre 64 manually wound savonnette movement, stem wound and pin-set. It was supplied in January 1907 by IWC to Stauffer & Co. in London.
IWC records show that their order to Borgel in Geneva for the case was made on September 15, 1906. IWC have provided me with an official ‘extract from the archives’ for this wristwatch showing that the finished watch was supplied to Stauffer & Co. on 9 January 1907. The IWC sales ledger shows that the Borgel case was in polished silver ‘avec anses’, that is ‘with handles’, the term used at the time for the wire loop lugs of a wristwatch.
The markings inside the case back are unusual. There is the FB-key trademark and ‘BREVETE + CH 4001’, a reference to the patent which doesn't appear in later cases. It has Swiss hallmarks for what the Swiss authorities thought at the time was sterling silver, a 0.935 fineness mark and three bears. However, because it was imported before the British Act of 1907 which required all imported gold and silver watches to be hallmarked in a UK assay office, there are no UK hallmarks.
IWC records show that this watch was supplied as a single piece, not as one of a batch of 12 watches, which was how watches were normally sent to Stauffer & Co. in London.
The fact that it was sent out from IWC as a single piece make me think that it might have been ordered as a prototype by Stauffer to evaluate the wristwatch concept and design. This is most likely the first IWC wristwatch with a Borgel case, and it could very well be the first ever IWC wristwatch.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC hermetic wristwatch
Images by kind permission of and © OldeTimers.com
The watch pictured here is an IWC hermetic wristwatch. It has an IWC calibre 76 movement in a 9 carat gold hermetic case manufactured by the Borgel company of Geneva.
Jean Finger Patent CH 89276
The watch case is a hermetic or double case. This was invented by Jean Finger, a watch case maker of Longeau, Berne, Switzerland, who was granted Swiss patent number CH 89276 in January 1921 for a " Montre à remontoire avec boitier protecteur" literally "a watch with a protective box".
The purpose of the design was to overcome the problem of sealing the case where the stem enters. Cases with screw backs and screw bezels that sealed the case joints against water had existed for a long time, but there was no fully satisfactory way of sealing the hole where the stem, which allowed the watch to be wound and set by the crown, entered the case. Jean Finger overcame this problem with a brutally simple solution. The fully cased watch, including its crown, was placed inside a second larger outer case which had no crown, and therefore no hole for the stem. The outer case had a screw on bezel that formed an hermetic seal, totally protecting the watch within.
Although this case achieved the desired waterproof effect, it had the major drawback that the bezel of the outer case had to be unscrewed every day so that the watch could be wound. Once the bezel was unscrewed, the movement flipped out on a hinge to allow the watch mainspring to be wound, and the hands to be set if necessary. Apart from being a nuisance to the owner, the case threads and the milling on the bezel wore quite quickly from this continuous use, so this was a far from ideal solution. However, despite the drawbacks a number of manufacturers including Zenith and Eberhard, as well as IWC, produced watches using this case design. Hans Wilsdorf of Rolex patented exactly the same case design in Britain in 1922, and the Rolex Hermetic was another watch made with this design of case. Wilsdorf doesn't mention Jean Finger in his application, so the exact ownership of the patent is something of a mystery. An identical design had also patented by Frederic Gruen in the USA in 1918, see Double Case "Hermetic" Watches.
The 10 ligne IWC calibre 75 and 76 movements were introduced in 1915. After the calibre 63 and 64 these were the second movements that IWC used for wristwatches. A 10 ligne movement is about 22.5mm diameter so from 1915 these would have been used in ladies wristwatches, until the fashion for smaller men's wristwatches of around 30mm diameter arose in the late 1920s and through the 1930s. The calibre 76 savonnette movement used in this watch is the perfect size for a watch with a hermetic case, because the movement and inner case have to fit within the outer case.
The trademark inside the case of the initials FB over a key of Geneva inside a rectangle is the mark of François Borgel of Geneva. In 1891 Borgel invented a damp and dust proof screw case by which he and the Borgel company are best known. François Borgel died in 1912 and the Borgel company was run by his daughter Louisa until 1924 when she sold it to the Taubert family of Le Locle, who continued the business in Geneva. By 1924 the original screw case designed by François Borgel needed updating and the Tauberts experimented with several existing water resistant designs such as the hermetic before producing their own phenomenally successful waterproof Decagonal screw case and a remarkably effective cork seal for the stem.
GN: George Alfred Nicolet
Image by kind permission of and © OldeTimers.com
Image by kind permission of and © OldeTimers.com
The hallmarks are Glasgow import marks for 9 carat gold. The first mark is the 9/⋅375 standard mark for 9 carat gold ( 9 / 24 = 0.375 or 37.5% gold), the next is the prone opposed capital letters F that the Glasgow Assay Office used on imported items, and the date letter "g" shows that this watch was assayed and hallmarked at Glasgow in 1929 or 1930 - the Glasgow hallmarking year ran from 1 July to 30 June the next year.
The GN sponsor's mark was registered by George Alfred Nicolet of Stauffer, Son & Co. after the retirement of his father Charles Nicolet. This shows that the watch was imported by Stauffer & Co. in London, who had the sole British agency for IWC watches at the time. There is more about George Nicolet's mark on my page about sponsor's marks.
The IWC calibre 76 movement does not carry the usual mark of a "S & Co."under a crown inside an oval that most watches imported by Stauffer, whether from IWC or others, have; perhaps this was a sign of Stauffer's waning influence. By the mid 1930s another company was handling IWC imports to Britain.
The watch strap buckle is quite interesting. It is marked with Glasgow hallmarks for a British made item, not imported. The standard or fineness mark is ".625" for 15 carat gold, the town mark is the tree with a bird, a bell and a fish with a ring in its mouth, used by the Glasgow Assay Office on native British made items, and the date letter is "e" for 1927 to 1928. The sponsor's mark is the CN of Charles Nicolet, Alfred Nicolet's father.
Thanks to Crispin at OldeTimers.com for permission to use his pictures. If you are looking for a classic watch like this one, now you know where to head for.
Back to the top of the page.
Sometimes one sees early stop watches and chronographs incorrectly attributed to IWC due to the Stauffer connection.
Early stop watches and chronographs with Stauffer branding were actually made by Stauffer's own factory - if you read my page about Stauffer you will see that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Stauffer specialised in quality chronograph watches and split seconds chronographs.
Historically, IWC produced "time only" watches without complications, and did not make chronograph watches at all until the 1980s, then using Valijoux chronograph base movements. The first chronograph movement made in-house by IWC was the calibre 89360 which was launched in 2007.
Back to the top of the page.
IWC Seeland Watches
Watches made by IWC during the period from October 1876 to 1879 when the factory was under the control of of Frederic Frank (or Francis) Seeland are referred to by collectors as "Seeland watches", although the name Seeland does not appear on any of them. Seeland was appointed to manage the IWC factory in October 1876 after the first company, founded by F.A. Jones, had gone bankrupt. Dr. R. Grieshaber was president, and Johann Rauschenbach was managing director.
Seeland introduced new calibres that were intended to appeal to English buyers in addition to the American market that Jones had intended to supply. Under Jones sales were effected entirely in North America. Seeland thought that this was expensive and might be OK when times were good, but in times of economic hardship targeting markets closer to the factory might be better. In America the great railroad boom that followed the end of the civil war had ended in an economic crash in 1873, which is one reason that the business under Jones failed.
Initially all seemed to go well under Seeland's management and he was left alone to run the business. Seeland's calibres were cheaper to make than the Jones calibres and sales of watches to England took off. Profits apparently soared, and the workforce increased.
But it seems that Seeland was faking the profits by overstating the value of stock on hand. This came to light during the summer of 1879. A stock take was due and seems to have been started when, at the beginning of August, Seeland with his family suddenly and secretly left Schaffenhausen for America. Rauschenbach and the factory foreman completed the stock take which revealed that the stock on hand was worth a lot less than Seeland had stated on the balance sheet. The company had actually been losing money and was faced with a substantial debt. The IWC company went into bankruptcy for a second time, and Seeland was sentenced in his absence to three weeks in prison.
IWC Watches with British Hallmarks
I had an interesting discussion with Adrian van der Meijden, a well known IWC collector and expert, concerning a number of early IWC watches. During the Seeland period(1876 - 1879) many watches made by IWC were sold in the UK, and their cases have UK hallmarks. This has lead to speculation that UK made cases were sent to Switzerland to be used in these watches. But this would not have made financial sense; UK wages were higher than Swiss wages at the time, and UK made cases would have been more expensive than Swiss made cases. As I noted above, Seeland was trying to cut costs and produce watches that were cheaper to make than those of F.A. Jones; it would increased cots to import expensive UK made cases. So how did the Seeland watches get British hallmarks?
From the year 1300 in the reign of King Edward, all gold and silver items made in England have been required to meet legally defined standards of purity, i.e. minimum gold and silver content. Items were tested (assayed) to prove that the purity of the gold or silver met required standards and items, at first only silver but later gold as well, were marked to show that they had passed the test. From the middle of the sixteenth century this was done at the hall of the Goldsmiths Guild in London, hence the term "hallmarked".
At first the law applied only to items made in by members of goldsmiths guilds. There were no requirements for assaying and testing foreign made items, and it was difficult for someone who was not a guild member to get an item hallmarked. The right to the "assay and touch", as it was called, was restricted by the guilds as a privilege only available to their members.
An Act of 1738 extended the law of hallmarking to all gold and silver items that were "exposed to sale", which by implication would include foreign items, but this implied requirement was not enforced, probably because of the small volume of such trade. However, in 1842 a proposal to reduce the duty on imported items lead to protests that cheaper foreign items of lower purity would undermine UK trade, so a statute was passed requiring that imported items be assayed and marked in the same was as UK made items. This made the law explicit that foreign items must have hallmarks that were indistinguishable from those of UK made items! A consequence of this was that dealers, not just makers, were for the first time allowed by law to register with the assay offices to send items for hallmarking.
Swiss watch makers were not slow to see the opportunities that this presented and sent unfinished watch cases to the UK to be hallmarked, then returned to Switzerland to be finished and made into complete watches. These watches were then often sold as English made watches, because at the time English watches were very well regarded and commanded high prices. Naturally the English watchmakers objected to this and so a law was passed in 1867 that all foreign made gold and silver items should be marked with an "F" in addition to the normal UK hallmarks.
The early IWC watches in Adrian's collection, such as the one pictured here, have full British hallmarks for sterling silver, but do not have the "F" mark even though were hallmarked after 1867. IWC factory records for these watches contain both the watch movement serial number and the watch case serial number, showing that the movements were definitely put into the watch cases at the IWC factory in Schaffenhausen.
IWC watch with the sponsor's mark of Antoine Castelberg. Image © Adrian van der Meijden
When I examined the hallmarks in the cases of five of Adrian's IWC watches, this is what I found:
Two of the cases have Chester Assay Office hallmarks with date letter "o" for the hallmarking year 1877/1878 and "r" for the hallmarking year 1880-1881 (hallmarking years do not correspond to calendar years but start when a new Warden of the assay office was elected). The sponsor's mark is "AC" incised within an oval. This mark was registered at the Chester Assay Office on 17 October 1877 and was the mark of Antoine Castelberg of 58 Holborn Viaduct, London, a watch dealer and importer from La Chaux-de-Fonds. Castelberg had several London addresses, his sponsor's mark was first registered with the London Assay Office on 25 August 1875 with the address 90 Newgate Street London. On 2 August 1876 he moved to 58 Holborn Viaduct. You can see the case back of one of these watches in the picture. The incised mark registered to Castelberg is unusual because UK makers usually used cameo (relief) marks like the other assay office marks.
Two of the cases have Chester Assay Office hallmarks, both with the date letter "p" for the hallmarking year 1878/1879. The sponsor's mark is "FP" incised within an oval shield very similar to Antoine Castelberg's mark. This was the mark of Fritz Petitpierre, 58 Holborn Viaduct, London. This mark was registered at the Chester Assay Office on 18 June 1878. Petitpierre was also a watch dealer and importer from Chaux-de-Fonds, and a business partner of Castelberg's, sharing the same London address.
One case has Birmingham Assay Office hallmarks with the date letter "i" for the hallmarking year 1883/1884. The sponsor's mark is FM in a rectangular shield. This is probably the mark of Frank Moss, 48 Frederick Street, Birmingham. Frank Moss was a partner in the firm of J. Blanckensee & Co., watch manufacturers and importers. In 1876 Joel Blanckensee & Co. registered a trademark of a bee and were listed as chronometer and watch manufacturers, importers of Swiss (Geneva) watches ; Regent Street, Birmingham, England. The bee trademark is seen on watches produced by IWC during the period that Louis Tschopp was Technical Director.
So four of the five watches had the sponsor's marks of the watch dealers and importers Castelberg and Petitpierre. These gentlemen were not watchmakers or watch case makers and had no factory, so these cases were not made by them. If the cases had been made by an English watch case maker they would carry his sponsor's mark. Castelberg and Petitpierre would not have arranged for English made cases to be hallmarked because there was no need to, the case maker could do that, and there was always a risk that an item might fail the assay and be broken. The Castelberg and Petitpierre sponsor's marks show that these cases were not made in the UK, and it seems most likely that they were imported from Switzerland and hallmarked before being returned to Switzerland to be assembled into watches in the IWC factory.
The fifth case has the sponsor's mark of Frank Moss, a watch importer. It is known that in the period after the second collapse and the departure of Seeland that there was a considerable stock on hand at the factory of cased and uncased movements and that Rauschenbach sold these off cheaply to bring in much needed cash. The fifth watch appears to be one that was sold uncased and was put into an English made case in Birmingham by Moss.
The question remains as to why the four Swiss cases did not carry the "F" for "Foreign" as required by the 1867 British Act of Parliament. I asked The Goldsmiths' Company about this, and I learned that there was considerable difficulty in enforcing the 1867 act, to the extent that hardly any items of silver are known to bear the "F" mark until the early 1880s. The reason for this is that there was no provision made to ensure that the law was complied with, and UK agents of Swiss manufacturers continued submitting Swiss made cases for assay without declaring that they were made abroad. The assay offices were not able to check this and so the cases were hallmarked as if they were British made, without the foreign "F" mark. This situation continued until 1888 when a new Act required a statutory declaration of the country of origin for all watch cases submitted for assay and that that imported watch cases be marked with new "Foreign" hallmarks.
I understand from Adrian that Seeland designed his new cheaper calibres to look like existing British and American models. It was possible that these watches in cases with a full set of British hallmarks could then be passed off as being British made and thereby command a higher price. At the time, British made watches were regarded as the best available. This was certainly the sort of thing that Seeland would have been capable of doing - perhaps this was why he valued his IWC stock above its market value, he thought the watches could be sold as British made and thereby command a higher price?
Funnily enough, these Swiss watch cases are actually unusual in having UK hallmarks at all although UK required that imported watches should be hallmarked. The Goldsmiths' Company were reluctant to mark cases that were not made by their members, and the UK Customs officials misinterpreted the law and thought that watches that were imported complete, that is rather than an empty case, were exempt from hallmarking. This wasn't discovered until 1905, and the law wasn't changed until 1907, so the vast majority of Swiss watches imported into the UK before July 1907 don't have UK hallmarks. You can read more about this on my "Assay and Hallmarking" page.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2019 all rights reserved. This page updated October 2019. W3CMVS.