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Mystery Rolex

by ADAM HARRIS

This watch has all the makings of a mystery.  I bought it from a private seller because  I was immediately struck by three lovely features that made me want to add it to my timepiece collection: (1) an early hermetic sealed so-called “Trench Watch”; (2) an original enamel dial with original aged lumed dial and hands (the orange/red patina is just fantastic); and (3) integrated shrapnel guards. This watch had all three and an original dial you could die for.

 

It has a rare hunter-style case adapted (yes, hand cut out) beautifully into an integrated shrapnel guard. Wow!

Mystery No. 1

The unscrewed back case has the import mark for London and a date code of 1917. The case is stamped Brevet 71363 and those famous initials (monogram) W&D for Wilsdorf (Hans) and Davis (Alfred)—the owners of Rolex and the marking they put on their timepieces in 1905 before Rolex was registered. In other words “W&D” went on to become Rolex Ltd, which was registered in 1915 (1908 in Switzerland).

For some time, we can find cases with both names—ROLEX and W&D—stamped on them. And for some unknown reason to me, we also find some later cases like this with again only W&D marked on it.  I have no idea why. Maybe as a tribute to Davis who (for health reasons?) disappeared without trace? But for certain this case is a Rolex case, because both the back and the shrapnel guard have the W&D logo.

 

Mystery No. 2

The case has Brevet (Patent) No. 71363-Boîte-savonnette pour montres (a hunter case for watches) granted June 1915 to a Charles Zurbrugg of Bienne. It seems Zurbrugg had a number of wristwatch patents between 1912 and 1917 but then disappeared.

But where does he fit into Rolex/W&D?  Did he loan the patent?  We know Wilsdorf scoured the papers for other patents and very often bought them out (like the original Oyster patent). It is interesting that I found in the Swiss Journal that Wilsdorf and Zurbrugg both filed patents on the same day (one digit following). Maybe that is how Wilsdorf saw this patent 71363 (his was 71362).

 

Mystery No. 3

The movement I believe is NOT a Rebberg/Aegler movement.  The dial is marked “ARCADIA”.  At first I suspected that the movement has been replaced. I studied various Rolex books and found a similar watch was sold with a private label “PARKS”. Could Arcadia be a private name?

Unfortunately, “ARCADIA” is such a popular jeweler name that it has not been possible to confirm or reject this theory.

 

So we have a lovely savonnette cased W&D silver watch from 1917. The hunter (savonnette) front cover has been perfectly modified (cut out) to become an integral shrapnel guard. The dial and hands are immaculate and correct.

 

STOP PRESS

Mystery No. 3 solved.  ARCADIA was a manufacturer, so my first suspicion that the movement is a replacement into this case is correct—borne out by the incorrect spacing of case screws!

 

What should I do? I have an early correct Rebberg movement but not as nice looking a dial. Should I fit the correct movement into this case to make the watch 100% correct or leave it as it is?

 

AKNOWLEDGMENTS

Mark – TrenchwatchRestorations – Strap

Marcus Hardy – Vintage watches.com -  Rolex/W&D dating.

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