By Adam R. Harris, NAWCC Guest Wristwatch Curator
Just when you think there can be no more surprises, an outstanding piece of horology pops up.
In 2012, after three months of cataloging and photographing 1,400 wristwatches—trust me that is a lot of pictures—during my first stint as Gallet Guest Curator of Wristwatches, I was finished with adding three photos to each description.
Working with Curator Carter Harris (now Curator Emeritus), we decided to spot-check the drawers and cabinets to see if I might spot anything; after about 20 minutes I peered into a small plastic box and saw something so rare that I immediately knew what it was. Clue 1: this timepiece had its 100th anniversary in 2012.
Wow! Could I be correct? I opened the plastic box to find that I was correct! Here was a fantastically rare piece, but why did it not print out from the database for my cataloging?
I entered its assignment number into the database and lo and behold, it was there without pictures but why didn’t it show up in my printout? The answer is so absurd that it borders on outrageous. This masterpiece of horology was entered only under “chronometer” with not even the manufacturer’s name or famous model name. Clue 2: This timepiece is actually marked “chronometre,” the Swiss spelling, and NOT “chronometer.”
So there it was—a Friday evening—and I found this outstanding example of the finest examples of movement engineering in the last 100 years. Clue 3: If you think Gruen made a true Curvex in 1935, this is 23 years earlier, and FAR more curved!
And if you consider Gruen’s largest Curvex The Majesty at a cool 52 mm, this watch was 55 mm!
So if you have not yet guessed, here it is:
Movado Polyplan Chronometre:
- Unique Tri-Plane construction patented 1912 (USA patent no: 765807)
- Produced from 1912 to 1930, this chronometre example
is from around 1925.
- Movement is 40 mm long; if cased, it is 50–55 mm (Gruen Curvex is 52 mm)
- 15 jewels, adjusted.
How many were made? Who knows, but probably between 1,500 and 5,000; this is S/N 401244, so it is pretty low. The three planes are so angled that the winder is moved to the top where the mainspring is located, and some of the gears had to be beveled to mesh across two very angled planes. I dread to think of any watchmaker in the 1900s having to repair this watch. Hence, its rarity.
First the dial: no it does not look like much, but it’s 50 mm long and for a “chronometer” it’s awesome. Note the crown at 12 o’ clock.
Look at the curve here; movement 50 mm long; winder at top.
Now the movement—15J—but see how tiny those jewels are surely the smallest ever used and how they fitted them in.
Look closely at the bottom right-hand corner: a tiny lever to advance and retard as the balance wheel is UNDER the backplate.
Here are some pictures from my files of what a complete watch looked like. This is 10 years before art deco!
The Case: look at that curvature. Eat your heart out, Gruen!
Here is the movement side on. See the three planes some 45 degrees, hence beveled gears.
Finally, the patent schematics.
NAWCC. “Images are the property of the National Watch & Clock Museum, Library & Archives and may not be reproduced without permission.”
Bruce Shawkey, NAWCC Bulletin May/June 2012.
Pictures 100 years of wristwatches
Original post plus related articles at: https://watchnews.nawcc.org/aug-14---aug-18.html#movado_polypan