Blog: Marconi Lever Wristwatch
Date: 25 April 2019Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved.
I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently, but because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages the changes are not very noticeable, so I decided to create this blog section to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that I have either changed or added to significantly.
The section below is from my page about Rolex.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page.
‘Marconi Lever’ Wristwatch
Sometimes early wristwatches turn up with some allusion to Rolex on the dial. Often this is fake and has been added later to boost the perceived value of a watch. The wristwatch shown here caught my eye; as soon as I saw it I doubted that the ‘Rolex Marconi’ wording on the dial was original or genuine.
There were two principal reasons that I was suspicious; firstly, watches of this age, around 1917 to 1918, that were sold in Britain didn't carry manufacturer's names or logos on the dial because British retailers didn't allow it, and secondly, because Marconi was created by Hans Wilsdorf to be a brand that was separate from the more expensive Rolex brand for watches, so the two names should not be seen together like this.
It is recorded in the book by Dowling and Hess that Hans Wilsdorf registered the name ‘Marconi Lever’ on 24 January 1911. They also say that the Marconi brand was first used on a watch in 1920. Dowling and Hess note that Marconi watches were sold through ‘parallel channels’, which meant dealers who were not Rolex agents.
The watch is a typical trench watch, which were in great demand by newly commissioned officers heading for the front line in the Great War. It has wire lugs, an unbreakable crystal, as original but replaced, and skeletonised hands and numerals to take radium luminous paint, of which traces remain.
The case has London Assay Office import hallmarks inside the back for sterling silver, the date letter "b" for 1917 to 1918 and sponsor's mark GS for Stockwell & Company.
The case also has a W&D mark. It is not clear why it has this second sponsor's mark, clumsily struck at an angle and with a wobbly ‘W’, in addition to the GS sponsor's mark. The shield is the right shape and the mark looks like one recorded in Culme, but the low resolution of the images in Culme make an exact comparison impossible. However, the mark looks more like an engraving than the clear impression made by a punch and it could just be an engraved copy of a genuine mark.
The movement was made by the General Watch Company of Bienne, originally founded by the Brandt brothers who also founded Omega.
The movement is a typical of the time Swiss split-plate movement, with a lever escapement and jewelled to the third hole for a total of 15 jewels. The balance is plain and the balance spring appears to be blued steel, so it is not compensated for changes in temperature. The screws in the rim of the balance, which in a compensation balance would be used to adjust its temperature compensation, are steel and are only there for show. Lever escapement movements were the best technology for wristwatches at the time, and this one is of middle quality; fully jewelled but not temperature compensated.
The engraving of the name ‘Marconi Lever’ on the movement looks original to me and I have no hesitation in saying that the movement is a genuine Marconi Lever, made by the General Watch Company and sold by the Rolex Watch Company.
However, the engraving of a brand name onto the movement was unusual before the 1920s. Branding of watches was something that was unusual in Britain at that period, and something that British retailers were quite opposed to. So whether this movement is from the same period as the case or actually a few years later is open to question.
The dial is enamel, which means it is made of vitreous enamel, a glass like material. The white background and the black numbers and tracks are fired at high temperature in a furnace, which bonds them together. I was suspicious that the name logo ‘Rolex Marconi’ had been added later. This is easy to tell.
A quick look at the dial using a hand lens shows that the "Rolex Marconi" on the dial is enamel paint and has been added quite recently. I have tried to illustrate this in the two pictures here, although it is not easy to show with a photograph. With the dial under a lens or microscope it can be turned to catch the light which shows up the logo as an addition to the flat enamel of the dial very clearly.
The image with the red lines shows that the logo is not horizontal with the numbers, but also notice that the logo appears blacker than the numbers and tracks. This is because the black vitreous ink used to make the numbers and tracks mixes a little with the white enamel of the dial as it is fired, which takes away some of the intensity of the black, whereas the logo has been applied in black enamel paint which just sits on the surface of the dial.
The second image was illuminated with a strong oblique light and shows how the enamel paint of the logo really stands out from the surface of the dial in a way that the fired numerals and tracks don't. See also how crisp and sharp the logo looks compared to the rusty old hands and traces of original luminous paint on the hands and numbers. Would paint applied to the dial at the same time that the hands and the original luminous paint were new really still look like that? No; genuinely old enamel painted logos dull from oxidation and dirt, and are usually flaked off partially or even nearly completely, over the intervening years, like the example shown at Fired or Painted?.
It is clear that the ‘Rolex Marconi’ logo was added after the dial was made. How long after we don't know, but my conclusion is that someone has quite recently ‘enhanced’ an original Marconi Lever watch. There are two reasons why I think this was done quite recently:
- Watches of this age (1917/18) sold in the UK didn't have the manufacturer's logo painted on the dial; British retailers simply didn't allow it, see Names on Dials for more details of why this was.
- The logo is too perfect, names painted onto enamel dials 100 years ago have dulled from oxidation and dirt, and usually flaked off partially or even completely in the intervening years. Enamel paint does not stick well to glass, which is essentially what the vitreous enamel dial is made of. However, this logo is intact and really crisp and shiny - it almost looks as if the paint is still wet!
- It is well known that the Marconi name on watches was associated with Rolex, although it was intended to be an alternative brand with Marconi watches being sold at a lower price point than Rolex watches. Today some unscrupulous people use this association in an attempt to ‘upgrade’ Marconi branded watches to Rolex watches, for obvious reasons.
The logo is not part of the dial, and was not added to the dial when the watch was made. It has been added to the dial later in enamel paint, the condition of which shows that it is not very old.
In view of the hallmark date in the case and the 1920 date for the first use of Marconi quoted by Dowling and Hess, the suspicious second sponsor's mark, and the engraving on the movement, there must be a question as to whether the case and movement started life together or whether this watch is a marriage. The dial and hands are of the correct style for the period of the case, although use of dials and hands like this continued after the war, but the engraving on the movement is unusual for the period and looks out of place.
This watch would not have had any manufacturer's name on the dial when it was new, which gives the game away even before studying it in detail. But watches like this with ‘Rolex Marconi’ and similar legends are seen quite often. This one is clearly a fake, but are they all? I think that they probably are, that Wilsdorf would not have allowed the Rolex name to appear like this on a watch that was supposed to be sold as a completely separate brand; it was not supposed to be a ‘Rolex’ watch, even if it was sold by the Rolex Watch Company. If you think that you have evidence to show otherwise, then please do get in touch!
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved. This page updated August 2019. W3CMVS.