National Watch & Clock Museum Item of the Week: World War I Gallet Nurse’s Watch
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National Watch & Clock Museum Item of the Week: World War I Gallet Nurse’s Watch

- By Keith Lehman (PA) 1/17/17

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Front dial of a Gallet nurse’s watch ca. 1912. Note the large sweep seconds hand used to measure a patient’s pulse. NATIONAL WATCH & CLOCK MUSEUM.
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Gallet nurse’s watch with silver case ca. 1912 on display at National Watch & Clock Museum. Background image of a World War I Russian nurse. KEITH LEHMAN.

If you are a member of the National Watch & Clock Collectors (NAWCC), you receive a weekly email from Executive Director Steve Humphrey. Along with information about the Association Humphrey also highlights an object from the NAWCC Museum. This week’s museum object is a Gallet Nurse’s Watch circa 1912.

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Photo of Gallet watch movement. NATIONAL WATCH & CLOCK MUSEUM.

A nurse’s watch, also known a nun’s watch, was used during World Wars I and II. These watches have a round case, a white enamel dial, large Arabic numbers with a Red Cross mark below the 12 o’clock, and an easily visible sweep seconds hand. The sweep seconds hand, a defining function of the watch, was used to measure a patient’s pulse. Although this watch has a silver case, they were typically made from steel to ensure durability and to save cost. Because Switzerland was neutral during both wars, Gallet would have produced these watches for all belligerents.

In my research I found a moving video about Katharine MacDonald, who served as a US nursing sister in Europe between 1914 and 1918. Through her letters a story unfolds of the bravery and tragedy of her life. No doubt she would have worn one of these watches during her service.

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