Provenance, Provenance, Provenance
by ADAM HARRIS
I could have named this thread ”Always Expect the Unexpected” or “In Horology Strange Things Happen.” But remembering the buying property adage “Location, Location, Location,” I decided that in horology it’s “Provenance, Provenance, Provenance.”
But where is this leading? A few months ago while in Switzerland, I took time (as always) to visit my mentor and horologist Mme Cinette Robert. It is always a great pleasure to meet and talk with her, and this time was no exception.
As always, I showed her my latest acquisitions since our last meeting. I have gathered a lot of ephemera on the beginning of the wristwatch, including some original pictures from the Boer War (1899-1901) with officers wearing wristwatches.
I then showed her my new acquisitions of watches from World War I—mainly American timepieces with offset crowns and Depollier cases—with supporting advertisements/ephemera from the likes of Depollier and Elgin.
After handling and discussing these articles and timepieces, Cinette said, ”I think I have a watch like that Depollier.” I was surprised, because Mme Roberts’ collection is mainly (from what I have seen) Swiss timepieces. She retrieved a little box, which she duly opened and took out a small piece of paper that reads:
“This Waltham wrist watch was given to me while I was in training at Camp Johnson, Jacksonville, Fla. Dec 1917 to March 1918 when we were first sent to France. First one was lost or stolen from the mail; insured, they sent me a second one.” (signed) EPN
Cinette then handed me the box. Inside was a mint condition silver Waltham Depollier cased KHAKI’ wristwatch—100% original with KHAKI strap and box—not any box, but the original box to this timepiece, as can be seen from both the watch serial number and the Depollier case number!
The box and Waltham movement, with serial number 20394563 dates it to 1915. Center, 3rd , 4th, and escape wheel are gold or gold on brass. The box and Depollier silver case is marked Depollier and Son – Sterling. S/No:425820
Here we have a 1915 Waltham Depollier wristwatch in its original box with the provenance of the U.S. soldier who wore it in the trenches in France! Be honest. How many so-called “Trench Watches” ever saw an “angry German” or got within 10,000 miles of France?
Here, an original – 1915 – SILVER Waltham Depollier “KHAKI” wristwatch.
In its original box.
Box with serial number and case number.
And beside my original advert that prompted Cinette’s memory – NOTE the ‘KHAKI’ strap.
All that plus the note from the original owner! Wow! We can learn to always expect the unexpected, in horology strange things happen, and provenance, provenance, provenance!
You decide. All I know is this is an amazing find—a very early (1915) American-made Waltham wristwatch, with an early patented (1912) Depollier case.
I asked Mme Robert where she got this “Fantastic Find.” It seems Dr. Adolf L. Benz bought this watch in about 1980 in the United States. Mme Robert purchased it from him, and it sat in Switzerland for the past 33 years, and now it is mine!”
Acknowledgment: Mme Cinette Robert