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Vintage Watchstraps

Straps for Vintage Fixed Wire Lug Trench Watches or Officer's Wristwatches

My Grandparents' Watches

Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved.
My grandfather's and grandmother's Rolex wristwatches
My grandfather's and grandmother's 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 emigrated from Saxony in Germany looking for work. From this family I got my German family name Boettcher, Anglicised from the original German Böttcher. My maternal 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 wristwatches. 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 trench watches.

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 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 photo 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 First World 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 watertight 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 about Rolex at Hans Wilsdorf and 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 thermally (heat) blued steel, the minute hand being a simple baton and the shorter hour hand a slender spade style.

The dial does not carry the Rolex name because at the time, British retailers did not allow manufacturers, English or foreign, to put their names on watch dials.

My grandfather's Rolex wristwatch
My Grandfather's Wristwatch: Click on image to enlarge.
My grandfather's Rolex wristwatch movement
My Grandfather's Wristwatch: Click on image to enlarge.
My grandfather's Rolex wristwatch case
My Grandfather's Wristwatch: Click on image to enlarge.

The case is 35mm outside diameter, 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 design of these movements was registered by Aegler in January 1903. The plates and bridges are made of brass, nickel plated, and have an engine turned perlage pattern. The small crown wheel of the keyless work 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 probably a temperature compensating nickel-steel alloy of the type developed by Paul Perret and Dr Guillaume. It is not clear whether this is original, there is an excess length of the spring sticking out from the stud and onto the balance cock and it seems unlikely that it left the Aegler factory like that.

The watch 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 surround 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 silver of at least 92.5% fineness, i.e. sterling silver, a mark that looks like an omega symbol on a cross in an oval surround, 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 assay office date letter punches were used over two calendar years. Underneath the British import hallmarks are the Swiss hallmarks of a bear rampant and 0.935. Either side of these are stamped “Rolex” and “SWISS”.

The silver standard of 0.935 fine (93.5% fine silver) was introduced in 1880 by the Swiss authorities as an equivalent to sterling silver. Swiss assay office standards at the time allowed a tolerance of 0.5%, meaning that items could be hallmarked if they assayed slightly below standard, something which British assay offices did not allow. In December 1887, in response to the British Merchandise Marks Act of the same year, a Swiss hallmark of three bears arranged in a triangular layout, one small bear above two large bears, was introduced for the Bureaux de Contrôle (assay offices) to stamp to confirm 0.935 fineness. In December 1914 a Swiss Federal Decree brought several aspects of Swiss hallmarking into line with British practice. Assay was required to be by cuppellation with no tolerance allowed and it was recommended that Swiss watch case manufacturers use the fineness mark 0·925, endorsed by the hallmark of a a single bear instead of the three bears.

The Swiss hallmarks in the case of my grandfather's wristwatch are a mixture of the 0.935 fineness mark and the single bear. It is evident that although the Swiss Bureaux de Contrôle quickly discontinued the three bears hallmark after 1914, Swiss watch case manufacturers took a while to change to the fineness mark from 0.935 to 0.925.

My Grandmother's Watch

My grandmothers watch has a gold case and silver 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.

My grandmother's Rolex wristwatch
My Grandmother's Wristwatch: Click image to enlarge.
My grandmother's Rolex wristwatch
My Grandmother's Wristwatch: Click image to enlarge.
My grandmother's Rolex wristwatch
My Grandmother's Wristwatch: Click image to enlarge.

The movement is exactly the same as the one in my grandfather's watch only smaller, a 10½ ligne, 15 jewel, jewelled 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 within a rectangular was first entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 20 April 1876 by Dennison, Wigley & Co, as the company was called at that time, although the punch that made this mark was almost certainly one of the many A.L.D. punches registered after Alfred Wigley retired in 1905 and the company was renamed the Dennison Watch Case Company.

The gold case was made in England because high import duties on watches, imposed in 1915 by Chancellor of the Exchequer Reginald McKenna to conserve foreign currency reserves during the First World War, were followed in December 1916 by an outright ban on the importation of gold, including watch cases. This led to a a number of British companies beginning to manufacture gold cases for Swiss watches, which continued long after the war. Watch companies usually prefer to fit movements into cases and test the complete watch for a period before it is dispatched for sale, and there is evidence that watch cases were sent to Switzerland to be fitted with movements. In November 1917, new regulations issued to the Customs and Excise stated that watch cases that were exported for the purposes of being fitted with movements abroad and subsequently returned to this country could be dealt with under existing regulations prescribed for the exportation of watches for repair abroad. The finished watches could be imported without payment of duty on the value of the cases provided that the full value of the movements was declared, including the cost of fitting them in the cases, freight or postage and insurance, and duty paid on that. It seems likely that the case of my grandmother's watch was sent from Dennison's factory in Birmingham to Aegler's factory in Bienne to be fitted with its movement and tested, before the finished watch was sent to Wilsdorf and Davis' offices in London. Silver cased watches were not so affected by the McKenna duties and their import was never banned, because the cost of a silver case made up a much smaller proportion of the total cost of the watch than a gold case.

When I inherited the watch it had a broken modern gold plated expanding metal bracelet fitted to the loops attached to the case. 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’ expanding 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. The gold loops to take a leather strap were added when the original Harrop bracelet was broken.

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 can be no doubt that a Britannic bracelet was originally fitted to my grandmother's watch.

At some time the original Britannic bracelet must have broken or become worn 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.

If you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch via my Contact Me page.

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Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved. This page updated January 1970. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.