My Grandparents' WatchesCopyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved.
My grandfather's 1918 and grandmother's 1917 Rolex wristwatches. My grandfather's watch is on one of my Type B straps. Click on the picture for an enlarged view.
These are the two wristwatches that got me interested in watches in the first place. Like most people, I have two sets of grandparents. My grandfather on my father's side came to England at a young age in 1900 with my great grandfather, who came from Saxony in Germany looking for work. From him I got my German family name Boettcher, Anglicised from the original German Böttcher. My other grandfather was Scottish, from Glasgow. He was an analytical chemist and did quite well for himself in business. From him and his wife, my grandmother, I inherited these two watches. I believe that my grandfather bought them as a pair in 1918 to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.
I never met these grandparents, but I can remember both of these wristwatches from when I was a child. My mother always wore the gold watch that had belonged to her mother, and I knew that the larger silver watch was her father's watch. At the time I wasn't very interested in watches and, since there are no names on the dials, I didn't know any more about them until they came to me in 2004. Out of curiosity I opened their case backs and noticed the word Rolex stamped into the case backs and engraved onto the movements. Even I had heard of Rolex!
Both watches were fitted with inappropriate straps, my grandfather's watch with a nylon strap – I didn't know why at the time – and neither of them worked. I decided out of respect for my grandparents to get them cleaned and oiled, and to find some better and more original straps for them. I still wasn't particularly interested in watches, I had a nice titanium Longines Conquest VHP quartz wristwatch that was very accurate, which was enough for my timekeeping needs and as far as my interest in watches went at the time.
After a service via a trusted jeweller, Geralds of Knutsford, the two watches both ran beautifully. The next problem was to find suitable wrist straps. My grandmother's watch was easily fitted with a new ladies' strap, but my grandfather's watch was a different matter. This is when I realised that the narrow wire lugs were unusual; Gerald was completely unable to suggest a suitable man's size strap. This began a hunt to find an original pattern man's strap to suit the narrow fixed wire lugs on this watch. While I was searching I got interested in watches like my grandfather's, and discovered that they were referred to as trenchwatches.
After a long time hunting for trench watch wrist straps I found a London dealer who had a similar watch in stock with a new strap. I contacted him and, after a lot of chasing, he eventually produced a strap. But as soon as I wore it I could see there was a problem. The design of the back piece was a “bund”, a short pad for a much wider strap. Fitted to a wider strap it would have looked OK, but on the narrow strap of a trench watch it looked ridiculous. I then found another company who made replica WW1 army equipment, including straps of the correct design, but the quality was not what I was looking for.
After all this effort and still not able to wear my grandfather’s watch, I decided that I would have a strap made to my own design and specification. This involved getting new press knives made to cut out the leather. Making just one strap this way would have made it very expensive, so I had a few made that I could sell to offset the manufacturing costs, and so that fellow enthusiasts could enjoy wearing their own vintage watches. I sold these first few straps, and then I was asked for more, and also for a different design, so I had some more made, and I also had another press knife made so I had two different designs to offer, and this has continued in a steady way since then. I have gradually introduced other cutters and leathers so that I have a range of straps on offer today. I now have customers and friends all over the world, and it gives me great pleasure to know that a vintage watch, a watch that perhaps saw service during the first World War, or like mine belonged to somebody's grandfather, can be worn and enjoyed today, looking good on a properly designed and well made strap.
In the images here, my grandfather's watch is wearing one of my Type B designs in dark chestnut Italian leather with a Type GW hallmarked sterling silver buckle, which matches the silver case of the watch. My grandmother's watch is wearing an open ended two piece strap.
All the looking at trench watches, combined with an existing interest in the Great War, started my watch journey. While I was looking for a wrist strap I saw a nice looking trench watch with an unusual case, which I bought. I discovered that the case was referred to as a Borgel screw case, an early type of étanche or waterproof case, intended to keep out dust and moisture. This started my interest in François Borgel. And so it went on, and still does . . . I am a member of the Antiquarian Horological Society and the American National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, and the British Horological Institute, of which I was made a Fellow in 2019. I have had articles published in the Watch & Clock Bulletin and the Horological Journal.
This page is about my grandparent's wristwatches and how they got me interested in watches and Rolex. There is a page at Hans Wilsdorf and Rolex about Rolex.
My Grandfather's Watch
My grandfather's watch has a silver case and an enamel dial with a beautifully clean and simple design; sharp black Arabic numerals on a crisp white background, the 12 being picked out in red. This makes it very easy to read, probably the clearest wristwatch dial I have ever seen, one of the benefits of white enamel that has never really been equalled. The hands are elegant and perfectly proportioned in heat blued steel, the minute hand being a simple baton and the shorter hour hand a slender spade style.
The case is 35mm outside diameter case containing a 13 ligne Aegler Rebberg movement. Although the Aegler name is not visible, the shape of the centre bridge of these movements is very distinctive. The plates and bridges are made of brass, nickel plated, and have an engine turned perlage pattern. The small crown wheel of the keyless (winding) mechanism is engraved “SWISS MADE” and the larger ratchet wheel “ROLEX 15 JEWELS”.
The movement has a straight line Swiss lever escapement and 15 jewel bearings. Although the balance is made of steel and brass it is not actually a compensation balance; the two cuts do not go all the way through the rim and are dummies to mislead the unsuspecting. It has a white balance spring which is a temperature compensation nickel-steel alloy of the type developed by Paul Perret and Dr Guillaume.
The case is silver and was made in Switzerland. Inside the case back are, from the top, the sponsor's mark W&D in an oval shield with points top and bottom, a mark first registered by Wilsdorf and Davis at the London Assay Office on 25 June 1907. Then a set of import hallmarks; “.925” in an oval, the UK symbol for silvery of at least 92.5% fineness, i.e. sterling silver, a mark that looks like an omega symbol on a cross in an oval shield, the Zodiac sign Leo, the town mark the London Assay Office used on imported silver, and below these the date letter, a Gothic “c” for 1918 to 1919 – remember that date letter punches were used in two calendar years. Underneath the British import hallmarks are the Swiss hallmarks of a bear rampant and 0.935, the Swiss higher standard of silver until 1933. Either side of these are stamped “Rolex” and “ SWISS”.
My Grandmother's Watch
My grandmothers watch has a gold case and silvered guilloché dial with Roman numerals. Again the 12 (XII) is picked out in red, and the hands are the same design as on my grandfather's watch.
The movement is exactly the same as my grandfather's watch only smaller, a 10½ ligne, 15 jewel, lever escapement Aegler Rebberg movement.
The inside back of the case is marked Dennison Watch Case Co., the Birmingham watch case manufacturers. It has the “9” and “·375” hallmarks for 9 carat gold, the town mark of anchor, which was used the Birmingham Assay Office on native British manufactured items, and a date letter “s”for 1917 to 1918. The sponsor's mark A.L.D in cameo was first entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 20 April 1876, although the punch that made this mark was almost certainly one of the many A.L.D. punches registered after that date.
The Aegler Rebberg movement was imported from Switzerland and given its gold case in England to avoid high a import duty that was imposed during the Great War.
When I inherited the watch it had a broken gold plated expanding metal bracelet fitted. Rather than attempt to repair this I decided to fit a leather strap, which I thought would be more original. However, I now know that the watch was originally fitted with a Harrop ‘Britannic’ Bracelet. This is why the lugs on the case are so small with a narrow gap, they were made to take a metal Britannic bracelet.
In the Rolex Vade Mecum, Hans Wilsdorf says “Next came the idea of expanding bracelets, which an important jewellery firm invented and launched in about 1906. This too won the approval of our British clientele ... [and] became increasingly popular throughout the Empire.” This is clearly a reference to Harrop and the Britannic bracelet, which was invented in 1906. Many ladies' Rolex watches of the early twentieth century are seen with Britannic bracelets and there is no doubt that it was Britannic bracelet that was originally fitted to my grandmother's watch.
At some time the original Britannic bracelet wore out. This presented a problem because the fittings that attached the bracelet to the watch are very narrow and would not accept most straps or bracelets. To overcome this problem the gold loop ends that are currently fitted were made so that a normal bracelet or strap could be attached. If you have a watch like this which is good but the bracelet is broken, I can make loop ends that enable a leather strap to be fitted, just follow the link to loop ends.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved. This page updated January 1970. W3CMVS.