Monday, 13 November 2017

The Luftwaffe B-Uhr

My aesthetic tastes remain greatly influenced by my boyhood experiences of the 1950s.  There was a cosiness to illustrators’ imagination of space travel, and the ‘look’ of rocket ships, spacesuits/helmets in the Eagle’s Dan Dare strip is still one I enjoy.  Science fiction themes were frequently encountered, very impressively so in the styling of American –and eventually, if in a rather diluted form – English cars.  Such things also began to feature as subject matter in the new Pop Art that emerged as the next decade was approached.  But while these things looked to the future, something from the recent past also loomed very large: World War II.  Our comics were full of depictions of the conflict and aerial warfare was a particular favourite.  Naturally, as the victors, the Brits were the good guys, the Jerries bad, and the Spitfire was the king of the skies.  The Airfix kit which was to blame for me accidentally squirting polystyrene cement all over a brand new school blazer was of the good old Lancaster – I was very conventional in revering the look and exploits of that great lumbering bomber.

But I was also a bit odd:  secretly, I studied everything I could about the German Luftwaffe.  Although at that stage not contesting the right and wrongs of the war, I was finding nearly all aspects of the Luftwaffe much more charismatic than the RAF versions – the planes, the insignia and badges, the uniforms, etc.  And that is still my take.  I like the menacing look and specification of such machines as the Ju87, the Do17 and the Me262.

And in the realms of horology, the watches issued to German flying personnel are prized collectibles today.  Foremost of the models was that primarily intended for the use of an aircraft’s Observer – usually the mission’s navigator.  Known as the Beobachtungsuhr – often abbreviated to B-Uhr – and specified by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Air Ministry), five makers supplied the watches to the Luftwaffe: A Lange & Sohne, IWC, Laco (Lacher & Co), Stowa and Wempe.  Their brief was to build instruments with a case diameter of 55mm, chronometer-quality movement with a Breguet type balance spring, a hackable seconds hand, a crown with enough protrusion to allow a glove hand to wind it, and a strap allowing wear over the sleeve of flight clothing.  The makers met the basic functional requirements by using modified variants of their pocket watch movements.

The best of the makers is A Lange & Sohne, then and now considered supreme amongst the manufacturing houses located in the German town of Glashutte.  The firm utilised its 48/1 movement for timepieces made between September 1940 and April 1945 for the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine.  The Luft B-Uhr had two iterations – initially with a very simple dial (Type A), and, from 1942, with a more distinctive layout featuring a small, inner, concentric hours track (Type B):

Left: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr type A; Right: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr type B.  Courtesy of @TimeTitans

Left: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr Movement; Right: Lange & Sohne B-Uhr Inside Rear Cover.
 © The Swiss Watch Co. (UK) Ltd 1996-2017

The earlier, Type A, is today the less easy to find.  For both versions it is possible that data on the rear cover (inner face) reflects the fact that L&S sometimes lacked the capacity to assemble the complete timepiece.  As a result one of the following list of makers may appear in the Hersteller field: Huber (Munich), Felsing (Berlin), (Schieron) Stuttgart, Sch√§tzle & Tschudin (Pforzheim), Wempe (Hamburg).

Whilst there is general similarity of appearance between the watches produced by the five manufacturers, some subtle differences are to be seen in terms of the crowns, hands and dial numerals – comparison of the Type A versions made by IWC and Stowa, as below, (left, and right, respectively), illustrate this – especially notable is the style in which the numbers 6 and 9 are rendered on the IWC:

Left: IWC Type A. Courtesy www.dieselpunks.org; Right: Stowa Type A.
 Courtesy Lockdale Coins Ltd

The later, Type B, versions show similar small detail variances.  Here, below, left to right, are those by Laco, Stowa and Wempe:



Of these the most rare is the Stowa – on the company’s contemporary web-site it is stated that total production may have been as little as 42 pieces!

And here are the four movements not already shown, left to right: IWC; Laco; Wempe; Stowa




The stainless steel cases were often finished in grey paint/lacquer and the Reichsluftfahrtministerium reference number, FL 23883 was commonly stamped into the side of the case at the 9 o’clock position.  The serial number (Werk nr.) was stamped into the outer face of the rear cover.

These watches did not remain in the possession of the Luftwaffe flyers – they were issued to them, mission by mission, to be returned on safe arrival back at base. 


An impressive watch by virtue of the clarity of the dial layouts and the case size. In recent times there has been enough interest for all the original manufacturing houses/brand names, excepting A Lange & Sohne, to be offering ‘re-interpretations’ (of both the A and B Types) some of which look very much like the originals, but which are somewhat smaller in overall dimensions.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Christiaan van der Klaauw

Prompted by my research and writing on George Margetts – see here - I have been looking at the Astronomical Watches of Christiaan van der Klaauw.

Van der Klaauw produced his first astronomical clock in 1974.  Watch manufacture followed twenty years later with the Satellite du Monde model.  This featured time, day, date, moon-phase and noon-location indicator.  Just in time for the new millennium, the Planetarium model followed, claimed as embodying, “the smallest mechanical planetarium in the world.”

Planetarium models remain in production along with other current model families based on either moon phase or the stars.

Much as I admire the skills of the ‘old’ makers of pocket watch-scale astronomical pieces, I think I am even more impressed by what CVDK achieves with these relatively small wristwatches.




You may well find yourself spending quite a lot of time on this website: http://www.klaauw.com/eng

Thursday, 20 July 2017

George Margetts (1748-1804)

I wrote an extensive article last year on George Margetts. His life and work are intriguing – with technical/craft skills contradictions, biographical uncertainties, business vicissitudes, possible deceptions, but, nevertheless, endeavour across a range of horological and scientific disciplines.

Margetts’s output includes decorative, multi-function watches, Marine Chronometers, clocks and watches with astronomical functions, calculating instruments and published writing based on complex arithmetical calculations.

Here is an example of an extant verge:

© Trustees of the British Museum

Number
Date
Description
Notes
Unknown
c1778
Astronomical, gold-consular cased verge.  Diameter – 55.2mm.


The dial shows the positions of the sun and the moon in the zodiac throughout the year, the stars visible each night, the age of the moon and the times of high tide at various ports around Great Britain. The whole dial rotates clockwise once per day, together with the solar and lunar indicators, but over the course of a year both solar and lunar hands regress at different rates to show the position of the sun and moon in the zodiac. Effectively, the dial rotates once in a sidereal day - 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds - and the solar and lunar hands rotate once in a solar and lunar day.  In the collection of The British Museum 

The article includes a table with details/illustrations of 27 extant horological pieces attributed to Margetts.

Margetts’s story involves innovation contrasting with the more mundane.  His ultimate potential seems to have been unfulfilled and I wonder if his lack of success stemmed from technical shortcomings, lack of commercial focus or a paucity of ability to present himself and his ideas effectively - for example in his dealings with the Board of Longitude.  But, whatever might have been possible, there can be no denying that his Astronomical Watches were very expertly designed, are nicely evocative of his period and remain aesthetically triumphant.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Fathers and Sons - Again

My latest research project has disclosed yet another instance of an enterprising, industrious father who built a business and reputation over several decades, and a son who presided over the rapid decline of that business and the loss of the family’s wealth.  I don’t go looking for such sagas and must conclude that the scenario was not so uncommon in the English horology trades of the nineteenth century.  See also

With this maker – as with Ralph Gout, about whom I wrote in Antiquarian Horology, June 2016 – the son lacked the father’s craft skills as well as business acumen.  As a result it was under the father’s name that the business was carried on after his death.  This assured a maintenance of reputation for a while and demonstrates that the concept of a trusted, quality ‘Brand’ was as commercially important in Victorian times as it is today.

My new subject managed to get through a seven figure (in current value terms) legacy in just 11 years.  There are indications that this came about through overtrading with a reliance on high sales volumes with small profit margins, the carrying of excessive amounts of stock and a move to high-overheads premises.  There is however also a strand which is all too typical of late Victorian urban society – chronic ill health brought about by environmental factors.  The son contracted TB and was forced to relocate to the coast, where he nevertheless died decades short of his three-score-and-ten and no longer a well-known watchmaker/retailer and jeweller, but a humble boarding house keeper.


I am aiming to publish a substantial article on this watchmaking family in the autumn/winter.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Rentzsch and Berrollas

Since my last post here, I have finalised an article on Rentzsch.  This includes some interesting new information which has come to light as a result of contact from Michel Reymond as he researched an article on the Australian watchmaker, John Forrester.  Forrester emigrated from England in 1837 and set-up in business in Sydney the following year.  In an advertisement he includes the boast, “Twelve years Foreman to Sigismund Rentzsch, Watch Maker to the Queen and Royal Family, St. James Square, London.”  My thanks to Michel and I look forward to seeing his piece on Forrester.  My article, entitled, The Novel Technology of Sigismund Rentzsch, features in the September 2017 issue of Clocks Magazine.

Volume 38, Number 2, (June 2017), of Antiquarian Horology, journal of the Antiquarian Horological Society, includes my new article on Joseph Anthony Berrollas.  Possibly born in the same year as Rentzsch and also an immigrant to nineteenth century England, Berrollas was highly innovative though not very successful in commercial terms.

Both Rentzsch and Berrollas worked on distinctive versions of keyless winding and they are associated with some of the most significant watchmaking names of the early nineteenth century: Rentzsch employed a young Peter Ingold and Berrollas worked with the London retailer, Viner, and the leading Liverpool makers, Robert Roskell and Peter Litherland.

Here are examples of Continental craftsmen who were instrumental in providing a dynamic within English watchmaking whilst the Trade’s very future was so intensely threatened by the cheap products being imported from Switzerland and France.



Berrollas Alarm Movement, courtesy of Worthpoint

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Another Innovator

A recurring interest of mine is in watchmakers who acquired the expensive habit of wanting to innovate rather than manufacture readily marketable conventional timepieces.  Time and again this led to the maker having more substantial references in the Bankruptcy Notices section of such as The Gazette than in the horological records published by Britten, Baillie and Loomes.  Sigismund Rentzsch is a bit different: the novelty of some of his technology was a factor in his achieving the accolade, ‘King’s Clock and Watch-maker in ordinary’, and his business was sufficiently profitable to support a personal ‘productivity’ which resulted in a family that included no less than fifteen children!  However, his second wife, Mary, who bore eleven of the offspring, continuing the business (at 13 Regent’s Street) after Sigismund’s death, did find herself obliged to make a bankruptcy assignment in September 1848.


After a good deal of research I am finalising a full article on Rentzsch’s life and work.  Meanwhile, I notice that David Penney has a nice-looking cylinder for sale on his Antique Watch Store website:


Thursday, 27 April 2017

Sanderson's Calendar Watch Key

Clocks Magazine published my article on George Sanderson’s ingenious watch key in its March 2017 issue.

The key is not only fascinating in its functionality, but looks good too:


Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum

It’s a small device, just 36mm in length.  The concept is elegant and simple: the motion induced in the key by the act of using it to wind a watch daily was also used to drive an internal train of toothed wheels such that information values displayed are updated by relevant 24 hours units.  The implementation of the concept is a little more complex!  The patent is number 777, dated 5th October 1762, referring to:

New-invented machine, called a Lunar and Calendar Watch Key, constructed upon mechanical principles, and adapted to every watch hitherto made, and acts thereon no otherwise than a common key; but, by means of a screw and wheels of a curious construction, is capable of shewing (sic), in the most accurate manner, the age of the Moon, the Day of the month, the revolution of the tides and several other motions; which said machine is also constructed to answer all the above-mentioned purposes independant (sic) of any watch whatsoever, and that in the most plain and easy manner, and will be of great benefit to His Majestie’s subjects, and more especially to those using the sea.

My article also reviews later (19 century) implementations of the same idea, most notably by Etienne Tavernier.  Some very attractive examples emerged from his Paris workshop, including this, from circa 1810:


Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Etienne Tavernier was born in 1756 and died in 1839.  His brothers – Louis and Pierre Benjamin – both worked in the watch trade, as had his father, Jean Pierre.  Pierre Benjamin was famous as a casemaker supplier to Abraham-Louis Breguet, with whom Etienne also collaborated.