Longines Bezels Turn First & Second

It has now well accepted that the generation of fifties turning dive bezels heralded from the development of aviation watches twenty years prior.  Longines can claim many firsts, and they can certainly lay claim to the very first tool wristwatch with a turning bezel, and P.V.H Weems himself was an integral and instrumental part in the development of it.

The aviator’s bezel were the first calibrated turning bezels, heralding twenty years before those featured on dive watches. Who turned first in his space?

It has generally been accepted and promoted that the so called Weems model itself is the very first watch with a turning bezel. The Weems illustration 5145705 sometimes associated with the 1929 patent application appears to be an illustration of Longines ref 3931 which arrived to the market in 1937. However, whilst this this may appear largely the same and may in fact be the precursor of this reference, it is a small anomaly in the Longines history of the smaller new Second-setting Weems models.

Longines archives note that the all silver watch serial 5145705, had a turning bezel, calibre 12.91, and was first sold to Wittnauer in Feb 1932. It is now known that master technician, Harry Nash, of San Diego Jessops fame, modified a few Waltham Vanguard pieces for Weems himself around 1927/8. Recent discoveries also confirm that Lindbergh had one of these.

The delivery information detailed at the bottom of the illustration appears to be Messrs (Henry) Hughes & Son in London, who were a firm specializing in making marine and aeronautical navigational instruments.

It is known Weems original sextant, branded HUSUN, came from this very firm and that he shared a business and personal relationship with the firm. It appears this first New Second-setting prototype piece modified a Longines watch supplied with a turning bezel.

Weems actual sextant made by Husun (Henry Hughes and Son) – Image LandandSeacollection

The addition of a thumb lock for the bezel was undertaken by Henry Nash of Jessops fame and made for Messrs (Henry) Hughes & Son in 1932. It is likely this illustration, or a derivative thereof, was later developed into the Weems ref 3931 model which arrived to the market in 1937.

There are a number of reasons why the Lindbergh Hour-angle model which improved upon the large 47mm Weems Second-setting watch may in fact claim this title. Whilst both the Weems and Lindbergh share a very similar genetic code, the first Longines Weems prototype in a 47mm case was first born on 30 November, 1928.  However, the original first version of the watch, was only ever produced by Longines and delivered with just a turning inner chapter for the life of the watch.

Second Weems prototype
The second Longines Weems ever made, a prototype. It used a repurposed and reworked 1918 Turkish dual time pocketwatch movement. It featured an experimental size chapter ring 18.5mm and the size was increased to 21mm for production models that followed. It was delivered to the UK agent Baume in 1930.

Reference by authors is made to Weems US patent 2008734 which was first lodged in July 1929 for attesting to the Weems being the first model with a bezel. It should be stated that the patent itself involves a very complex, technical illustration of a multi-dialled, dual movement, creation by a technical genius allowing for time synchronization.  There is however, no mention of a turning bezel within this US patent and the “scope and intent” clause as described in the patent may have enabled Weems to see the US patent number featured on some Longines Weems models.

The technical engineering wizardry and patent US application 2008734 of 1920’s aerial navigation master P.V.H Weems.

However, as with anything in the vintage horological space new things come to light.

The first edition of Weems Air Navigation book published in 1931 has “Lucy” in horological anthropological terms.  Lindbergh’s modified Weems watch marked up with units of the arc on the dial.  The watch itself was most likely part of the first production batch of Weems delivered to Wittnauer in the months of April and May, 1930. 

Lindbergh’s ‘Lucy’ Hour angle was quite possibly hand modified by Longines. Heinmuller noted in a letter to Lindbergh on June 5, 1930 “the special watch you designed is now ready. Lt Weems impressed with the design.  Make appointment to see sample”. [1]  It could also have been done post event by Lindbergh, with possible help from Weems himself.  

Lindberghs-weems-watch-1930

Within the 1931 published Air Navigation book of Weems,the author discusses Lindbergh’s Aerochronometer and the movable bezel, noting that Longines were already working on a turning bezel to accommodate the units of arc measurements that Lindbergh’s “Lucy” had on the dial.  

Discussing Lindbergh’s Weems ‘Lucy’ Hour-angle he notes “..in order to set the proper equation of time on the watch without moving the hour and minute hands, a moveable bezel working on the same principle as the second-setting feature of the aerochronmeter is fitted to the watch.   The markings on the movable bezel are in degrees and units of arc only.  This bezel, or ring, covers the marks for reading time on the watch in the usual way.”[2]

The turning bezel from the very first generation all silver Lindbergh. A prototype turning bezel watch was finished in December 1930. After modifications the watch received a Swiss patent approval from the International Office of the Industrial Property of Berne in October 1, 1931, making it the first calibrated turning bezel watch model and the precursor to the dive bezel that followed twenty years later.

It is known that Heinmuller met Lindbergh shortly after he broke the US transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York on April 20, 1930.  

In a letter to his wife, he wrote “…I was privileged to work out details of his latest instruments with him as the enclosed design from him will show.  Keep it for our records. His latest ideas incorporate a second setting device for Greenwich Time, taken from the radio.  The device… permits laying down of a position in less than three minutes. Navy experts at Annapolis say it is the most outstanding aviation improvement in many years”.[3]

Hour-angle prototypes were completed on December 20, 1930 “We have finished the special navigator watch with moveable bezel”[4] and Longines sent a photograph of the watch to Lindbergh. This watch has now been found (and will feature shortly).

Lindbergh commented he was examining the watch in a letter to Heinmuller in February 1931, and again on it’s perfect timing a few months later in July with a World Intellectual Property Organization patent approved for history’s most famous pilot watch, the Montres angle-horaire, October 1, 1931.

The first generation production model all silver Lindbergh with a calibrated solid silver bezel with unit of arc markings and single colour dial. Only the knurled part of the bezel turns.

Weems US Patent 2008734 was approved on July 23, 1935 and made no reference to an external bezel in any of the ten illustrations, nor in the supporting patent literature. 

Weems had been dealing with Baume on the development of the New second-setting watch and in September 1936 Baume submitted a list of technical improvements noted by Weems to Longines with their reply noting, “What he is suggesting has already been accomplished in a slightly different manner.  Instead of the break lever working on the lug, which seems very practical, we have designed for stoppage to be enacted via a small additional crown at 4 o’clock, but which could also be placed elsewhere, at 2 o’clock, or on the other side of the lugs at 8,9 or 10 o’clock”. [5] 

Longines Weems ref 3931 with thumb lock & a turning bezel for the second-setting function delivered August 1937 featuring US patent 2008734 on the dial.

The first nickel silver prototype sample of the New second-setting watch with a turning bezel to make the second setting adjustment was sent to the Baume the London agent for Weems to inspect in late 1936.

Production most likely began in late early 1937 and other manufacturers – Zenith, Movado, JLC and Omega as well as Longines were soon producing an all steel new Second-setting watch for the UK military according to military specifications.

Therefore, Longines can claim the two firsts in this space.

The very first turning calibrated bezel watch is the Lindbergh Hour-angle watch. Whilst an improved Weems of sorts, a recent prototype discovery the subject of an article shortly shows a new timeline in the first part of 1930. The Hour-angle takes the checkered flag by a number of years on the Weems, which runs second with the Rolex Zerograph model of 1937 likely third.  Execution and production of the large Lindbergh model precedes all others.

Three stunning and unique handmade silver knurled bezels of first generation ref 3210 Hour-angle pieces, each with small variations.

The bezel issue was first discussed in Weems Air Navigation book first edition book by the author (produced in 1930 and published in 1931). December 20, 1930 correspondence between Longines and Lindbergh notes a first sample navigators turning bezel watch being finished. Recent discoveries by the author of this Hour-angle prototype’s existence noted in correspondence paint an incredible chapter in the development and evolution of the two most famous pilot watches ever made. 

Further testing and alterations allowed a Swiss patent request to be filed on the 29 September 1931 for the Montres angle-horaire. It received approval two days later on October 1, with the first known sales in October/November 1931. 

A total of three different all silver bezels were used on the Lindbergh model over the life of the production watch. A fourth bezel was on the prototype produced in what appears to be the first half of 1930 which an incredible recent discovery will soon reveal.

[1] Longines through Time The story of the Watch Stephanie Lachat p116

[2] Air Navigation P.V.H Weems 1931 first edition p411.

[3] Man’s Fight to Fly  John P.V. Heinmuller p75

[4] Longines through Time The story of the Watch Stephanie Lachat p116

[5] Longines through Time The story of the Watch Stephanie Lachat p116

Leave a Comment