Friday, November 11, 2011

The Effect of War on Watches

The demands of War has shaped the Watch Industry in countless ways. In the early, 1700's, tracking the inevitable passage of time was a matter of life and death. The intense need for an accurate timepiece was magnified on October 22, 1707, when four British Men 'O War sank just off the Cornish Coast and 2000 men were lost. This was not as a result of enemy fire, but rather human error. The fleet had no idea where they were, as they had no precise chronometer to decipher how far off the Longitude they were. The British Parliament , aggravated by this obviously needless catastrophe, passed the Longitude Act of 1714 whereby: A huge sum of money would be awarded to anyone who could invent a way to determine the precise longitude of a ship's location to within less than one degree. Click here learn more about the Longitude Act of 1714. John Harrison's marine chronometer was the first timepiece to successfully determine longitude at sea and in 1773, after much controversy, he was awarded his prize.
A pocket watch belonging to Abraham Lincoln recently turned up a couple years back with an ancient engraving referencing the American Civil War.
In 1880, German Emperor Wilhelm I visited the Berlin Trade Fair and spotted some prototype wristwatches designed by Constant Girard , he ordered 1000 for the German Imperial Navy wristwatches, and by 1880, 2000 had been produced and delivered. The cage protected the watch face in battle. Although, wristwatches were more handy than the popular pocket watches, they still did not hit the general market until Santos-Dumont ,a Brazilian aviator and popular icon, began wearing one. He approached Louis Cartier to fashion a watch so that he could keep both hands on the aircraft controls during flight. Being the trendsetter of the early 1900's, he popularized the wrist watch. Click here to learn more about Santos-Dumont

During World War I, in the dark trenches, soldiers were not able to see their time pieces, and so luminescence was applied to the dial. Unfortunately, the luminescence used was comprised of highly radioactive Radium. While the lume was highly effective in reading the numbers of the dial in the dark, the young girls who had painted the lume on the dials, died from the results of the exposure.
Click here to read their story - The Deadly Dials and Glowing Girls

Many Watches were designed with protective grills such as the
WWI British Air Force Military Watch depicted here.
Watches on today's market, are fashioned after military vehicles. The Cartier Tank was created by Louis Cartier in 1917, and inspired by the new Renault tanks which Cartier saw in use on the Western Front. The first Cartier Tank was presented to General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force. The lines and proportions are similar to those of tanks found on First World War battlefields. The bracelet represents the Tanks treads.
An entire company "U-Boat" is named after the German submarines from World War I and World War II. U-Boat is short for the German word "Unterseeboot" which literally means "undersea" boat.

Bell and Ross fashion its watches after the dials on a military aircraft. On March 18th, 2009, Bell and Ross became the official supplier to the French Air Force. The French Air Force requested that Bell and Ross create a watch specifically designed to meet the timepiece requirements of fighter pilots - the BR 03 Type Aviation. In addition, in Basel World, Bell & Ross unveiled the Limited Edition BR 01 Airborne which bares the skull motif on the watches dial. The motif originated in World War II and is accompanied by US Airborne motto, "Death from Above". A reminder of the courageous military paratroopers who jumped into enemy territory. The skull symbolized their incredible bravery . The skull motif was used by the military on fighter jets and patches. It was a symbol of strength and defiance of defeat even in the face of death. Today the skull is a tribute to all those brave men and women in combat who serve to defend this country. On March 18th, 2009, Bell and Ross became the official supplier to the French Air Force.

Many other brand Name Watch companies have become official suppliers for Army's. Breitling is the official supplier to the Royal Air Force, where the impeccable craftsmanship and exceptional endurance was tested in extreme atmospheric conditions.
Ebel supplied the British Royal Air Force with watches from 1939-1945.
Elgin (former watch company) issued this Canteen Watch to the U.S Navy during world war two. The crown flips off like the top of a canteen. (see inset)
In 1938, Longines crafted “Anti-magnetique” for the Czech Air Force.

Bremont, a British Luxury Watch Brand has taken history to a new dimension. Its EP120 pilot’s watch, depicted on the right, is made with parts from the famous RAF 1942 Spitfire Mk V fighter plane which shot down six enemy planes in a single day in World War II. Original parts of this plane has been featured in films such as the Battle of Britain. Pieces that were salvaged during the planes restoration have been incorporated into the EP120’s dial and movement.

In war, tracking time is a matter of life and death.

Today is Veterans Day. We salute all those who have put their lives on the line, and fought for this country.


  1. Really enjoyed reading this article, especially about Lincoln's hidden message. Really informative!