With their small size, varied designs and colourful history, watches can provide a fascinating and accessible area for collecting. With prices ranging from tens of pounds to tens of thousands, a good collection can be made on any budget, large or small. As with any collection, it is often a good idea to narrow your focus and dedicate yourself to one particular area of interest. One such area, and one which seems to be thriving, is the military watches market, as demonstrated in The Watches Auction this April.
It was the military which led the way in the move from pocket watches to wristwatches in the early twentieth century. Wristwatches were far more practical in the heat of battle, leaving both hands free for combat. It was also much easier to view the time by glancing at the wrist than to pull out a pocket watch. These early wristwatches were basically modified pocket watches mounted on to leather straps and were still quite bulky.
A number of companies did begin to manufacture purpose built wristwatches around the turn of the century. Rolex, Cartier and Dimer all produced early wristwatches during this period. In 1904, Alberto Santos-Dumont, an early aviator, asked his friend, a French watchmaker called Louis Cartier, to design a watch that could be useful during his flights.
It was during the First World War that the wristwatch really started to be used in great numbers and began to resemble more closely the watch we know today. “Trench watches”, as they were often known, were issued as standard from 1917 and were used in greater and greater numbers as the war went on. Not only did more and more men use wrist mounted watches during the war but there was also a shift in the wider perception of a wristwatch as a result. This opened up the market, and the public consciousness, to the large scale sale of wristwatches in the post war era.
By the end of the war, almost all enlisted men wore a wristwatch, and the fashion soon caught on in the wider population once the war was over. Since their inception the military wristwatch has proved a popular item for collectors and the trend shows no sign of slowing. McTear’s is happy to offer no fewer than four military style watches in this month’s auction. The star of the show is lot 769, a WWI period sterling silver Officer’s trench watch from Rolex. Estimated at a very reasonable £300-£500, we expect this watch to turn many heads when it is offered for sale.