A beautiful, early 20th century silver cased Rolex wristwatch owned by RAF Pilot Brian Beattie, 489 Squadron, torpedo bomber pilot.
Anti-shipping pilot Mr Beattie fought in two tours over the Norwegian coas
Interviews part 1 & 2 with Brian Beattie:
Rolex trench watch
Solid sterling Silver Rolex trench watch from 1916.
This Rolex reaches back 103 years to 1916, when Rolex were a little different to the giant, we know them as today.
The dial is plain, with no mention of the brand name or the famous crown. The dial is enamel and features all Arabic, radium lumed numerals. There is a sub second dial and hand at 6 o’clock and the thermally blued cathedral hands highlight the numerals, with what would have been radium lumed hands. It is likely the case that a previous owner made the decision to re-lume these in a modern luminova paint. This will have been due to cracking of lume, or the preference to see the time.
The dial wears its age and has hairline fractures passing through it.
The inside of the case back has import marks for sterling silver, assayed at London assay office, in 1916. The makers mark is W&D, which stands for Wilsdorf & Davies. The Rolex name had only been formed 8 years before. Rolex still used this W&D mark, up until the mid 1920’s, which places this watch in a unique time in Rolex’s development.
To increase the branding presence, the case is also signed Rolex.
The movement was supplied by Aegler and has Rolex 15 jewels and swiss made marked on the crown wheels.
A history lesson is necessary to those who are not familiar with Rolex’s beginnings.
The case is in good condition with no dents. It is tarnished and has clearly never been cleaned.
Minus the hands, this is a great, original example.
34mm x 34mm case
With 11mm depth
A history lesson in the early days of Rolex
In the Rolex Jubilee Vade Mecum, Hans Wilsdorf says that in 1905 he London placed a large order for wristwatches with Aegler. The first line of wristwatches that he placed on the market were silver watches with leather straps for men's and ladies' wear, and their success was immediate so that the range had to be widened, in particular to watches with gold cases.
When Wilsdorf coined the name Rolex in 1908 he decided that he wanted to have only this name on the watches supplied to Wilsdorf & Davis by Aegler. Aegler felt that as the maker their name should be on the watches, but in the end Wilsdorf got his wish.
Wilsdorf opened an office in Bienne in 1916 to be near to Aegler, which was becoming increasingly important to his business. This increased further in importance when high import tariffs were imposed by the British government during the Great War (1914-1918). Previously all watches sold by Wilsdorf & Davis had been sent to London for inspection before being sent on to retailers both within Britain and the rest of the world. The high import tariffs meant that this added extra cost to watches that were destined for markets outside Britain so the Bienne office took over the duty of inspecting these watches and dispatching them direct to their destination.
This was the start of a move headquarters of Wilsdorf & Davis and Rolex from London to Switzerland. If it hadn't been for the Great War and British import duties, Rolex might still be a British company.
In 1919 a new company was incorporated in Geneva by Wilsdorf & Davis as Montres Rolex SA. Its manufactory was listed as "Manufacture des Montres Rolex, Aegler S.A." but the two companies, Aegler S.A. Bienne and Montres Rolex S.A. Geneva, were legally separate entities. Aegler also had other customers, the largest of which was the US firm Gruen. The notice here from 1929 shows that Aegler Ltd. was the manufacturer of Rolex and Gruen Guild watches.
Savonnette movements were used in savonnette (hunter) pocket watches, and in Lépine (open face) wristwatches because they have the fourth wheel at 90 degrees from the stem. This allows the crown to be at three o'clock and the small seconds indication at six o'clock on the dial.
The movement dates from circa 1916, carrying the single name "Rolex" so this is a Rolex watch, not just a watch that was sold by the Rolex Watch Company. But notice that the Rolex brand name is engraved on the ratchet wheel. This is an easy component to change, just a single screw holds it in place. This was most likely an idea of Aegler's to reduce the amount of stock they needed to hold. They could cheaply hold ratchet wheels engraved with Rolex or any other name, and then when an order came in they could simply take unbranded movements and change the ratchet wheels to one with the name given on the order. This was a more cash efficient system than tying up lots of movements with names engraved on their bridges which then could only be sold to that customer.
Wilsdorf would have wanted the Rolex name engraved on the bridge of of movement from the outset, but in the early days, before the 1920s, he was only one of many customers Aegler had and they could afford to refuse him. This is most likely the source of the story that Aegler at first refused to put the Rolex name onto their movements. They didn't want to engrave it onto the bridges because that stock could then only be sold to Rolex. But they put lots of different names on ratchet wheels, which could be easily exchanged, so it wasn't that they didn't want another company's name appearing on their movements at all, just not on the bridge where it was difficult to change or remove.
The 2.6 cm white enamel dial with Arabic numerals and subsidiary seconds dial, the 15 jewel movement signed, the further signed case with London import marks for 1916 and numbered 705812, with associated brown leather strap.
CONDITION REPORTS: Cracks to dial, wear to numbers and hands, strap replaced, winds and is ticking, some very small dents to case.