From 1925...

Thread: From 1925...

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  1. #1
    Member JohnF's Avatar
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    Feb 2006
    Oberstedten, Germany

    From 1925...

    Hi -

    This time it's not a watch from that era, but the commentary of one of the old masters of the watchmaking guild back then, a certain Bruno Hillmann. He was editor of the German Watchmaking Journal, worked throughout Europe, and set up one of the first "fine watchmaking" schools in Switzerland. Born in 1869, died in 1928.

    He put out a pamphlet - it's only around 48 pages, can scarcely count as a book - called "Die Armbanduhr: ihr Wesen und ihre Behandlung bei der Reparatur", from Verlag der Deutschen Uhrmacher-Zeitung, Berlin, 1925. He also published four seperate volumes on watch repair that are, in the German language, classics in their field, especially for diagnosing and repairing complicated watches.

    In English: "The Wristwatch: Desciription and how to handle repairs", from the publisher of the German Watchmaking Journal, Berlin, 1925.

    I'm not going to translate all of it - duh - but there are a few passages I'd like to share with all the vintage collectors out there to help understand how watchmakers viewed wrist watches during the transition period. The translation is mine, is not word-for-word, but rather paraphrases what he wrote...and ellipses mean I've skipped some things that I didn't think were relevant. Emphasis is mine as well.

    From the preface:

    There have been quite a few articles in the technical press about wrist watches, but these have just covered individual issues and never were a general critical overview. If you read between the lines, you could easily see that all the writers were frustrated: "Wrist watches are nothing but trouble!" This is a common refrain of watchmakers today.

    At one point I had hoped not to have to write these words, as I read that the increasing manliness of women was coming to an end. Short haircuts, men's hats in smaller sizes, pants and even vests were coming to dominate, and as I saw that vests for women were becoming popular, I had a moment of hope: that the watchmaker would finally be freed of the tyranny of the wrist watch. However, my optimism was far too early. Fashion is fluttery and vain, and fashion makers are in it for the money. As a result, the desire of the female of ours species to be more and more like the male, was infringing on the toiletries industry, which, if this trend had been allowed to continue, would have destroyed capital and driven thousands into unemployment and ruin. In order to avoid this, the fashionistas called "Let men keep their own!" and we have seen that the female's greatest jewel is femininity itself.

    As a result, we have to accept that ladies' wrist watches are here to stay, and hence I have written the following words, in the attempt to help all those who have anything to do with wrist watches and hope the following words will help them.


    It's not been all that long a time, when people understood that a watch you can wear is a pocket watch. In the days of Peter Henlein, the days of the first pockets watches, people liked to carry their watches, to underscore their importance, on chains around their necks, displaying the watch on their manly chests, and later, as watches became smaller, to wear them as pocket-watches in a specially sewn pocket.

    Before the wrist watch - that most modern of modernity's modernness - appeared, one was happy to wear the watch in vest pocket, or attached to a belt, either with a short chain in the vest or a longer chain around the neck. Reckless folks even let their watches dangle from their vest pockets on a short chain (chatelaine) and vain women would place their bejeweled watches near their hearts, as a brooch or scarf pin, or simply let the watch disappear into the decollete attached to a long necklace. That was the beginning of the catastrophe: women didn't know what to do with their watches when fashion changed, and as a result the sales of ladies' watches was disappointing.

    Everything changed when wrist watches appeared. They were welcomed by sportsmen and soldiers, since it made life much simpler for them, since they didn't have to dig out their watches to tell the time from uniforms or sports clothing. And then the women! Nothing could be better than a wrist watch: you could wear your watch independently of fashion and it was a new and separate piece of jewelry. No wonder, then, that the watch manufacturers of Switzerland were thrilled with the idea and made anything and everything that could be possibly sold.

    Unfortunately, tragedy struck: women demanded that these wrist watches shouldn't merely look good, but they were also supposed to tell the time. Even worse, they were supposed to tell the time accurately, and were even expected to last. The watch manufacturers hadn't contemplated this state of affairs: they thought "A watch is a watch, probably won't remain in fashion, but hey, if someone's buying...we're selling!"

    The victim of all of this nonsense: the watchmaker. While he does earn some money, but also has to deal with the consumer, and this means that all of the consumer's problems and complaints end up with him. Many a watchmaker now thinks of the days of dealing with recalcitrant cylinder watches and the beginning of the modern-day movements as "the good old days" whenever he is confronted with a modern, questionable example of a wristwatch and is expected to view such devices as such to show the passage of time and then to actually repair them. The only upside here is that since wristwatches are in such demand and need constant repair, you can actually earn some money repairing them. If only this didn't come with such a bitter coating! ... But there is perhaps a glimmer of hope, that the manufacturers perhaps have pity (and can earn more money) and make wristwatch movements easier to repair.

    Any watch smaller than 8 lines (18mm) diameter doesn't need to be a precision watch. The dial is too small to be read, especially for those whose vision isn't as good, and how can you tell time on an oval or square dial?

    For this reason, using modern bimetallic and screw-balanced balances, or Breguet hairspings can only be viewed as frippery, since such small watches can't be precision machines (and don't need to be, since they rarely can run for more than a year due to dirt and lubrication gone bad).

    The smaller the watch, the simpler the movement must be: proper construction, decent distribution of the parts on the watch, and relative indifference to dirt are necessary, because what use is it to the watchmaker when, after he cleans, lubricates and times a watch, to have it come back three days later after it stopped working because the case let a fiber in that stopped the watch from working?
    And even if the case were adequate, what movement can handle what a wrist watch goes through? Freezing cold, broiling sun, worn when cleaning, dusting, washing up, dancing, gymnastics, sport, and due to forgetfulness even when bathing or in bed! A small watch is supposed to handle all of this????

    There's another forty pages and more that I won't inflict upon you: I read this today and thought I'd share what a premier watchmaker of his day thought about wrist watches...

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  2. #2
    Member pacifichrono's Avatar
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    Feb 2006
    Sunny San Diego

    Re: From 1925...

    Not a very optimistic prognosis!

    Great job, John.
    Regards from Sunny San Diego..........Tom
    "There are two kinds of people in this world, my friend, those with loaded
    guns and those who dig!"................Blondie to Tuco in TGTB&TU (1966)

  3. #3
    Member Eeeb's Avatar
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    Jul 2007
    Great Lakes - USofA

    Re: From 1925...

    I have begun to develop a collection of watch literature. I now have about 20 years of AWCI bulletins, all the Freid and DeCarlile and Daniels books I could find.

    One of my favorites is Buckeye Horology ("Buckeye" is a nick name for someone from the state of Ohio where I live). Mostly it is about clock makers but it does get into watches. And it has a great letter from Dieter Gruen's son. In it he gives some good insight into the daily practices of the watch manufacturing business at the end of the 19th Century.

    I'd extract it but I am way too lazy this weekend...

    Thanks for the post. It is as interesting as you said it would be.
    "Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

    "The watch has to be surrounded by a history.
    You need more than just a great design. You need to create an atmosphere around the product.
    Who is the company behind it? Why are they using this material?
    People need to be able to identify the watch with themselves. It's based on emotion." - Ralph Furter

    ...that's just my opinion and I've been wrong before and will be again and might be now!

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  5. #4
    Member radger's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    N.E England

    Re: From 1925...

    Interesting read. Those early watchmakers must have
    been gutted when they realised wrist watches were here to stay.

  6. #5
    Member Erik_H's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    Norwegian, Singapore

    Re: From 1925...

    Thanks for posting this, JohnF. I really enjoyed the read.
    Member NAWCC Chapter 149

  7. #6
    Member vinylgreek's Avatar
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    Feb 2008
    San Diego

    Re: From 1925...

    Thanks for the effort in translating and posting John. Interesting perspective.
    I know nothing except the fact of my own ignorance. Socrates

  8. #7
    Administrator Ernie Romers's Avatar
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    Apr 2005

    Re: From 1925...

    Great read, thanks for sharing John and we all should feel for the watchmaker "The victim of all of this nonsense: the watchmaker."
    Best regards,

    Ernie Romers
    Founder and former site owner,

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