US Naval Academy Weems…A Rare Breed & Pedigree

There are a few unique survivors from the golden age of 1930’s aviation. The US Naval Academy Weems pieces are a rare breed and pedigree. Today, just a handful of pieces remain, and they are inextricably linked to the role that Longines, Captain P. V. H. Weems, and the US Navy played in the development of all so-called Weems models. The indelible US Naval Academy stamped dial encapsulates this remarkable relationship and serves as a reminder of this incredible chapter in history.

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
An order of US Naval Academy ref 3931 thumb lock bezel pieces was delivered on August 27 and September 4, 1937. Today, the survivors of perhaps the rarest Weems model can be counted on fingers.

P. V. H. Weems role within the US Navy was a precursor for him becoming cognizant of the challenges and rigors of aerial navigation. His techniques, teaching, inventions, and equipment helped shape and progress the course of aerial navigation history forever and were used for the next thirty years. The handful of US Naval Academy dial logo second-setting Weems watch creations serve as a reminder of this incredible chapter.

Atlantic crossing 1912 prize Lord Northcliffe US Navy
The Daily Mail prize of 10,000 pounds for an Atlantic crossing first offered in 1913, preceded the 1919 Orteig Prize – offered for a non stop crossing between New York and Paris in either direction.

Captain P. V. H. Weems graduated the U.S. Naval Academy in the class of 1912.  A year later, an incredible prize of 10,000 pounds was offered by the owner of the London Daily Mail, Lord Northcliffe, for a trans-Atlantic crossing by plane.

With war the offer was rescinded, and when reinstated in 1918, rule changes precluded mid–ocean stoppages effectively eliminating the US Navy’s (N) Curtiss (C) seaplanes. 

The offer read, “the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland in 72 continuous hours”.[1]

However, whilst technically excluded, a successful Atlantic crossing was about national pride for the Americans and the US Navy sort to bring home the top shelf prize. With meticulous planning, they formally commissioned the NC Seaplane Division on May 3, 1919 just two days after the first flight of the NC-4. 

Nancy sea Boats Curtiss US Navy Weems Longines NC-1, NC-4

Three Nancies, the nickname afforded these US navy seaplanes set off, attempting to make the world’s very first trans-Atlantic plane crossing.

The five-man crew of the NC-4 were the only successful Nancy flying from New York State to Lisbon after a six leg, 19-day voyage including transit, maintenance and rest stops.

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734

The citation given by Acting Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lt. Stone, one of the pilots on 23 August, 1919 for his part of the NC-4’s success read,

“I wish to heartily commend you for your work as pilot of the Seaplane NC-4 during the recent Trans-Atlantic flight expedition. The energy, efficiency, and courage shown by you contributed to the accomplishment of the first Trans-Atlantic flight, which feat has brought honor to the American Navy and the entire American Nation.”[2]

The Americans spared no expense with their Seaplane Division for the 3905 nautical mile crossing attempts of May 1919.  They used more than 50 US Navy vessels[3] stationed enroute to assist with air navigation via radio communication and pilotage.

Rolly Royce Vickers Vimy Alcock, Brown, 1919 transAtlantic
Alcock & Brown’s famous non stop trans-Atlantic flight using a Vickers Vimy bomber in June 1919 almost instantly overshadowed the American Navy’s Nancy seaplane flights achievement just a few weeks prior.

“Twenty-five hundred feet below on board a station tracking ship, a young navigator, Lt. Cdr. Philip Van Horn Weems of the U.S. Navy, gazed up and thought there must be a safer and simpler way than using a small armada of ships as beacons for the flight. Lt. Cdr. Weems, a brilliant, inventive and determined young man knew as he tracked that first flight that navigation was his destiny”.[4]

Just like Harrison’s conquest calculating longitude on the sea 200 years earlier, P.V.H Weems would soon play an inventive, integral and instrumental part in the overcoming the new challenges of air navigation.  Weems angered traditional-thinking superiors by pursuing new methods of air navigation. The techniques, skills and equipment would last for the better part of three decades.

The honor and prestige was short lived and overshadowed by a non-stop Newfoundland to Ireland crossing just 19 days later by John Alcock and Arthur Brown on June 15, 1919.  Their 1890 mile flight in a modified Vickers Vimy bomber took 15 hours 57 minutes enabling them to claim the 10,000 pound Daily Mail prize.

History was made a few short years later in May 1927, when Lindbergh claimed the $25,000 Orteig Prize for his non-stop New York to Paris flight. He used dead reckoning and pilotage to hit France’s Le Bourget airfield after a 3633 mile journey.

Waltham hour-angle prototype pre Longines Weems Vanguard Ray Nash Jessops
The incredible personal and original pre-Longines Waltham Vanguard Second-setting pocket watch of Charles Lindbergh circa 1927-28. One can see hand edited unit of arc calibrations on the dial made by Lindbergh.

Incredibly, a post flight weather analysis by John Heinmuller, the man most responsible for recognizing early aviation endeavors noted that an unusual and unique weather pattern existed for the duration of his flight that accounted for a net wind drift of zero.

The very first time such a pattern had been recorded and “luck” had found Lindy one more time.

In the same year, Weems demonstrated new methods for celestial navigation in a US Navy mail plane off the coast of California.  Whilst still a naval officer, he and his wife established the Weems School of Navigation at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Lindbergh received tutoring by Weems and studied all elements of aerial navigation including celestial, Line of position and star altitude curves after getting lost on a flight from Cuba to Florida.

Lindbergh, Flight log, Weems, navigator, navigation, avigation
Lindbergh’s flight log from May 10 notes the navigational training flights with US Navy Cmdr Weems.

He helped promote Weems new air navigation business encouraging other early aviation pioneers to take up studies including his wife. The Lindbergh’s knowledge was soon put to work with an improved bubble sextant, the Weems plotter and the birth of history’s most important pilot watch – the so called second-setting watch. 

The watch formed a critical and official part of the Weems System of Navigation, and the very first ‘Weems’ pieces modified Waltham Vanguard pocket watches. 

Longines Touran Turkish Nacib pocket watch, precursor Weems
An incredible and likely unique Turkish survivor. The Touran, with the name signed in the sub-second register. Today, this Longines dual time turning inner chapter creation lies in the creator’s museum and it bears the remarkable genetic code of the large 47mm Second-setting Weems watch that followed ten years later. Archives note that at least the first two Longines Weems prototypes used repurposed dual time Turkish pocket watch movements. Further, both pieces utilized a smaller 18.5mm chapter ring that mirrors the exact size of this pocket watch model. Weems production models that followed were delivered to Wittnauer in April and May 1930. These pieces were originally delivered with 21mm and later in 1938, 25mm chapter rings. Image courtesy – Vefa Borovali & Longines Museum.

The modification work was undertaken by master watchmaker Harry Nash, who worked at the famous Jessops Jewelers, in San Diego. Lindbergh owned one of these, made the modifications himself and it survives to this day.

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
A rare pair of USNA Weems with the US patent 2008734 clearly visible on the dial. The special US Naval Academy dials are stamped ZJ for Zelim Jacot. He founded the specialist St Imier dial maker Flückiger et Fils AG, and they first supplied Longines dials in 1872. Today, the number of US Naval Academy pieces in existence is represented by a handful or so of fingers. Image – courtesy Mr Lepine

Weems concepts, along with the repurposing of a Longines turning chapter pocket watch from 1918 originally built for the Turkish market were central to the evolution of their Second-setting watch.  This led to the development and testing of the two most important aviator wristwatches ever made – the large Weems and Hour-angle model.

Longines Second Weems prototype ref 2106, turkish Touran 18.5mm chapter, enamel dial
The second Longines Weems produced, a prototype with serial 3585868, featuring a baby 18.5mm turning chapter ring to allow for the second-setting. The 18.69N calibre in the first 2 pieces was repurposed from a dual time Turkish pocket watch movement.

The Weems ‘Second-setting’ wristwatch allowed the exact second to be set, relative to the hour and minute hands. The inner chapter ring disc could be rotated in either direction to gain an additional accuracy of +/- 30 seconds by using a radio signal or other known exact timepiece. 

Longines delivered their very first Weems Second-setting wristwatch with serial 3585867 to Wittnauer on the 30 November, 1928, for testing and it would actually be the watch of the creator.  It now lies in the Smithsonian and was officially designated as a Type A-3 model by the American military and a “second setting navigation watch”[5] by the U.S Naval Observatory.

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
The USNA ref 3931 Weems, the so called new Second-setting version of the watch was first delivered in 1937. Unlike the large versions of the watch, the turning bezel rather than the inner chapter enabled the adjustment of the second hand to a known accurate timepiece or radio signal.

The watch requirements had been developed specifically for aviators with the Aircraft squadron’s battle fleet, making use of a central turning inner chapter, which could be rotated in either direction to gain an additional accuracy of +/- 30 seconds by using a radio signal or other known exact timepiece.  This would allow the exact second to be set, relative to the hour and minute hands, improving time synchronization.  

Rear Admiral Moffett, who was the chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics for the US Navy Department stated, “The suggestion… as to a moveable second-hand dial is considered to be a very valuable one, greatly facilitating the process of keeping a clock set to the exact time.” [6]

Before 1928, watches were used with sextants for celestial calculations and at best, accurate only to one minute. 

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
The USNA ref 3931 Weems with the thumblock at six used a turning bezel to make the second setting adjustment. Only a handful of US Naval Academy pieces in all references survive today and it is known to exist in three references only – 3931, 4036, and 4037, albeit just a single piece or perhaps two from each reference.

Patentee of the Bureau of Standards Sextant K.H. Beij when speaking of the model stated “The watch idea is most ingenious and I kicked myself for not having thought of it before”. [7]

Longines archives records indicate order (139X) by Wittnauer in 1929 for special test Weems watches, with delivery of this order on 10 April, and 2 May, 1930.  The order included two sample versions of a large 47mm hour-angle prototype wristwatches for Lindbergh.

The first featured the hour-angle function on the dial, almost mirroring his hour-angle aircraft calotte which was delivered in January 1929.  It is pictured in the Weems Air Navigation book (first edition) originally published in 1931.

lindbergh, weems, hour-angle, prototype, unit of arc ref 2106 1930.
One of the remarkable Hour-angle Longines sample pieces made for Lindbergh from the first production order placed by Wittnauer in 1929 and delivered April 10, 1930. Hand edits of the unit of arc calibrations were added to the dial, not bezel. This layout mirrored the world’s first hour angle time piece, a calotte delivered to Lindbergh in February 1929. Another sample Hour-angle piece was delivered on the same day in 1930 featuring these calibrations on the bezel making it the world’s first wristwatch with a turning bezel. Image – Air Navigation Weems book (First edition) p410.

Whilst the other had unit of arc calibrations marked on a turning external bezel.  The Hour-angle prototype with serial #49315** was the world’s very first turning bezel wristwatch. The Weems watch dial was transitional, incorporating Hour-angle design elements that would soon evolve and be used for the famous production model first introduced in late 1931. Both Hour-angle pieces simplified longitudinal calculations by converting time to arc, the 360 units marking the globe.

After first retiring for the first time from the US Navy in the early 1930s, Weems worked on expanding his air navigation training school whilst teaching the ‘The Weems System of Navigation.’  He improved the process and equipment required for determining one’s position in the air.

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
An 85 year old Longines US Naval Academy Weems ref 3931 with a 33mm stainless steel case. An unusual model that was replaced by replaced in the same year of starting production by the ref 4036. This reference was replaced by the slightly larger Ref 4630 which also used the bezel lock at four and was chosen by the British RAF.

At its zenith there were fourteen Weems training locations across America and his courses were also offered by correspondence.  Weems personally taught at the US Naval academy in Annapolis and San Diego.  He would later employ and collaborate with the brilliant Australian aerial navigator Harold Gatty, who also ran his own Air navigation training courses.

Gatty enrolled in one of Weems courses and later explained to Weems wife that his course did the same for much less money. An incredible relationship formed between air navigation’s two greats.  

The latter’s celestial skills had first been developed as an Australian navy cadet. After emigrating to America in 1927, he became recognized as one of the finest navigators in the world. 

In 1929, Gatty assisted Roscoe Turner planning travel routes for Nevada Airlines with both stars going on to hold the US transcontinental record for a passenger plane. A year later he joined Harold Bromley on a failed nonstop Pacific crossing in the Tacoma. He went on to teach Anne Lindbergh the finer points of navigation before consulting and planning the Lindbergh’s US trans-continental flight record of 1930.

A ticker tape celebration for Wiley Post and Harold Gatty following their round the world flight which landed July 1, 1931. Both were incredible aviation greats and Gatty was credited as being one of the very best navigators in the world. He taught these skills in his own right, collaborated and also taught the Weems System of Navigation to the US military, along with other pilots including commercial airlines.
Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
A cliché pic detailing the reference 4036 Weems US Naval Academy reference with its dial edited. The 4036 and 4630 both used a bezel lock at four. The 4630 with a one mm larger case replaced the 4036, and was used for civilian orders and chosen by the British RAF.

Lindbergh nicknamed Gatty, the ‘Prince of Navigators’[8] . A well deserved accolade before he paired with Wiley Post flying 24,903km around the world in one of the greatest aviation accomplishments ever, even to this day. Their feat in the Winnie May took just 8 days,15 hours and 51 minutes after their plane landed July 1, 1931.

Husun hughes and Son Navigation instrument maker Weems
Hughes and Son collaborated with both Weems and Gatty to make their navigational equipment under license. The company was bought by the UK Clock and watch maker Smiths in 1935. Image – Graces

For parts of this incredible flight Gatty navigated totally blind. Post his round the world flight success, America was desperate to keep and utilize his incredible navigational talents and he shared a special relationship with the Americans.

This seemingly put him out of sync with the aviation interests of the Commonwealth. Consequently, he was denied rightful recognition for his ongoing contribution to aviation that he so rightly deserved downunder.

A special US Congress bill sought to allow civilians to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, originally America’s highest military award for extraordinary aerial achievement. 

Following the law change, President Hoover presented this incredible award to both Gatty and Post.

Further, the former was offered immediate US citizenship so he could take up the specially created post of senior aerial navigation engineer for the U.S. Army Air Corps.  After declining to become an American, Congress enacted new legislation allowing a foreigner to hold the role.

Gatty would go onto develop a range of technical navigation instruments used by the American and other nations militaries, along with commercial aviation pilots.

Weems, 1932 prototype, rotating bezel
An early new Second-setting watch without a locking device on the bezel with unusual minute track bezel calibration. This model mirrors Weems ref 4037 and share similarites with the silver sample Weems watch first supplied by Longines in February 1932. This watch pictured in the illustration below with serial 5145705 was later modified by Harry Nash to include a thumb lock device. It likely served as inspiration for the ref 3931 Weems that arrived very briefly in the market five years later. Image – Air Navigation Weems book (Third edition) p302

Whilst running his own navigation training in Los Angeles, he soon collaborated with Weems, and went on to teach and manage Weems office at the US Naval facility in San Diego. 

Aerial navigation skills using the Weems system of Navigation, including pre-calculated position lines known as Weems curves, were taught to Pan American Airways, the US Army Corps, Navy, and other commercial airlines.

Like Weems, Gatty’s inventions revolutionized navigational techniques and some of this equipment was made under license by the English navigational instrument maker Hughes and Son.

His navigational equipment started with ‘an air sextant that used a spirit level to provide an artificial horizon’. He followed this up with production of an ‘Aerochronometer’, that offset the inaccuracies that aircraft speed produced when a flier was taking a navigational observation.

His most important contribution, however, was the Gatty drift sight, which he refined into a superb ground speed and drift indicator widely used by airmen during the late 1930s and eventually sold to the U.S. Army Air Corps.’[9].

Weems 1932 prototype modified Ray Nash Jessops  thumb-lock ref 3931
Illustration of a modified thumb lock lever Longines new second setting watch. The serial number 5145705 is noted in Longines archives as being delivered to Wittnauer in February 1932. It likely served as inspiration for the unusual ref 3931 featuring the thumblock in 1935. It appears that the drawing for Messrs Henry Hughes & Son in London.

The brilliant pair – Lt. Cmdr Weems and Harold Gatty, dramatically improved the safety, processes and equipment for determining one’s position in the air. Both were responsible for educating many of the most influential aviators of the 1930s, shaped the aerial navigation programs of U.S. airlines, the US Army Corps and the US Navy. 

Weems in describing Gatty’s talents said, ‘he has done more practical work on celestial navigation than any other person in the world today.’[10]

These techniques and equipment would be at the forefront and dominate long-range aerial navigation over almost three decades.

One of the essential pieces of aerial navigational equipment in the 1930’s was a Second-setting watch. This was improved upon by the Hour-angle model that allowed the pilot to calculate longitude. Radio and celestial navigation techniques were added to dead reckoning and pilotage. The Weems watch allowed for making more accurate navigational calculations based on time synchronization with radio signals and later versions of the watch were also regulated for sidereal time.

The large 47mm Weems watches used a turning inner chapter, whilst the turning bezel on the so called ‘New second-setting’ watches facilitated the same process.

Hughes and Son Weems navigation instrument maker
Henry Hughes and Son were bought in 1935 by the famous UK clock and watchmaker Smiths before later becoming Kelvin Hughes. The former were makers of navigation equipment for both Gatty and Weems. Supporting evidence points to them ordering the customized Weems with serial 5145705 per the illustration above. Image – Graces

It seems fitting that the US Navy man who witnessed part of the world’s very first trans-Atlantic crossing in 1919 would once again be a key architect, shaping the development of the New Longines Second-setting Weems watch. 

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
One of the rarest Weems iterations ref 3931. This reference first appeared in Longines catalogues in 1935 and was soon replaced by the 4036 reference that featured the bezel locking crown at four o’clock.

Longines archives note supply of a solid silver turning bezel Weems watch to Wittnauer with serial number 5145705, using calibre 12.91, in Feb 1932.   

The US Navy, San Diego and Harry Nash would once again play pivotal roles in the Weems watch history development.

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel profile thumb lock patent 2008734
The ref 4036 and ref 4037 bezel side by side highlighting the different profiles. Image – courtesy Mr Lepine

It is quite possible given the close relationship of Weems and Gatty, that the latter’s inventive spirit may also have played a hand in the new second setting watch development.

An illustration with serial no. 5145705 marries up with a February 1932 delivery of a Longines turning bezel Weems watch absent a locking device to Wittnauer. The thumb lock on the illustration appears to mirror that of Longines ref 3931 which was first pictured in Longines catalogues in 1935.

Weems actual sextant from late the 1930’s made by Hughes and Son, branded HUSUN. Image

However, whilst this may appear largely the same and may in fact be the precursor of reference 3931, it is a small anomaly in the Longines history of the smaller new Second-setting Weems models.

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 likely this illustration, or a derivative thereof, was later developed into the Weems ref 3931 model which arrived in the market in 1935 with the ref 3930 shortly after.

It is known Weems original HUSUN branded sextant, came from this very firm and that he shared a business and personal relationship with the firm. So too, Gatty used them to manufacture some of his navigational aids under license by them.

The very first New Second-setting prototype piece is a silver Longines turning bezel watch without a locking crown supplied to Wittnauer in 1932. This Longines piece with 5145705 per the famous illustration was then modified by Harry Nash for Hughes and Son with a special thumb bezel lock. It would be revived following the after effects of the Great Depression. This event soured and dampened all markets including aviation and led to a wholesale collapse in Wittnauer sales of Longines and their own branded watches.

A vintage Longines catalogue page featuring the ref 3931 and Hour Angle models detailing their suitability for the challenges of navigation and aviation.

Wittnauer’s US sales of Longines watches collapsed to 1890 levels, almost leading to their bankruptcy. This served as a pre-cursor to the formation of Longines-Wittnauer Watch Co in 1936. The challenging tumultuous period ensured delays in the development of the smaller New Second-setting production models.

Longines ref 3930 advertisement featuring the first production model of the so called New second Weems. Only a handful of examples exist of this extremely rare model with the first known delivery February 1937. It features an unusual locking device covering the crown at 4 o’clock that was soon changed. Image – Aviation, November 1937.

In 1936, whilst in London at the UK agent Baume, Weems communication with Longines detailed a list of technical notes list in the development of the New Second-setting watch.  Correspondence also points to their wanting to place the bezel lock device away from the lugs.

“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”. [11]

Nickel silver prototype samples of the New second-setting watches with locking devices on the turning bezel were supplied to Weems at Baume in late 1936. [12]All of the smaller steel New Second-setting references utilizing a turning bezel are exceptionally rare. 

However, without exception the two most elusive and first new second setting Weems iterations are the ref 3930 with a locking device covering the crown and the ref 3931 with a thumb-lock. The latter allowed the bezel to rotate when pressed, enabling the the second setting function adjustment.

Longines archives note that the ref 3931 reference was first seen in a catalogue in 1935 and the ref 3930 soon after. Albeit the first known surviving pieces of both references herald from 1937.

The ref 3931 features a thumb lock device at the 6 o’clock position allowing the bezel to be rotated when pressed.  There is an illustration of ref 3931 in a French Longines catalogue. The US Navy genome once again appears dominant in Weems history. There are three known US Naval Academy Weems references – the 3931, 4036 and 4037.

Today, there are just a handful of surviving US Naval Academy logo examples in all configurations. This reference used both calibres 11.68Z and 12.68Z.

This same thumb lock feature also appeared on just a handful of small steel Lindbergh reference 4320 models sold as late as 1938.

A 1930’s French price list featuring only one smaller Weems model the ref 3931 along with other assorted Longines models. The absence o the ref 3930 likely indicates the short life of this reference.

The Weems 3930 and 3931 references first produced in February 1937 were discontinued almost immediately, and 1936 Longines communication concerning technical notes during development indicates Longines own hesitation with the thumb lock device at six and a preference for other locations on the case.

The replacement Weems model ref 4036 was first born October 15, 1937, and featured a crown at four that enabled the bezel to be locked. Whilst the ref 4037 model had no bezel lock at all. Both references had a limited lifespan and were soon changed to the larger 34mm ref 4629 and 4630.  The last reference was only used for civilian orders and by the British RAF (marked 6B/159 Mark VIIA).

A very rare US Naval Academy piece with ref 4036 was supplied October 15, 1937, just six weeks after an earlier order of the ref 3931 USNA pieces. This later example featured a crown at four that enabled the bezel locking function.

Weems naval academy course materials
An unusual 1942 ad promoting the Weems System of Navigation training materials including a ref 3931 thumblock US Naval Academy watch. In 1937, Longines introduced the ref 4036, which utilized a new locking crown mechanism at four to replace the 3931. Image – Flying magazine, August 1942.

A mid-war 1942 Weems advertisement featured his training manuals alongside a ref 3931 US Naval Academy watch.

Whilst not a technically issued watch it would most likely have only been available only through the US Naval Academy in Annapolis – where Weems ran his Navigational training.  

Many Longines Weems watches, including all the 28mm A-11 Weems watches supplied to America for civilian and military use were recased locally.

However, Longines archives note that the special US Naval Academy coat of arms dial was produced by them in Switzerland. The USNA watches were supplied as complete watches to Wittnauer.

The dial features the Academy’s Latin crest and motto – Ex Scientia Tridens, which means ‘Through Knowledge, Sea Power’.

The US Naval Academy was first established October 10, 1845 during the tenure of Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft.  It is the second oldest of the five US service academies and the Annapolis academy educates midshipmen for service in the officer corps of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps.

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
The US Naval Academy Weems pieces all prominently feature the US Patent number 2008734. These special logo crest dials were produced by master dial maker Flückiger et Fils for Longines and noted in their archives. There are a small handful of survivors. The dials feature the Latin motto, Ex Scientia Tridens – ‘Through Knowledge Sea Power’.

All US Naval Academy dials prominently feature Weems US Patent 2008734 text, which was first approved on July 23, 1935, on the dial above 6’clock.

Longines Weems, Lindbergh, hour-angle, swiss air, A-11, 2106, 4365, 4356. Israeli chronograph, Admiral Byrd
A variety of vintage Longines pilots watches including the ref 3931 thumb lock US Naval Academy Weems. Sizes range from 28mm for the A- 11 Weems, 33mm USNA, 34mm on the Weems chrono (middle bottom) up to 47mm for the large Weems, Lindbergh, Swiss Air and 12.68Z black dial chrono pieces.

A Longines artist’s drawing and pricing of the ref 3931 exist in a French Longines catalogue, and remind us of a different time when the Weems was replied upon as an aviation tool watch.  

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 rotating bezel thumb lock patent 2008734
A rare US Naval Academy reference noted in the archives as a 3931 reference but seemingly the only known example of a ref 4037 US Naval Academy piece. Incredibly, the watch was born at Longines with a no lock bezel. Image – courtesy Mr Lepine

More than 100 years ago, the US Navy ‘Nancy’ NC-4 seaplane made history crossing the Atlantic first in May 1919.  It led to the emergence of the brilliant inventor and master navigator US Navy, Lt. Cmdr Weems, who played the greatest role conquering the air navigation challenges of aviation’s golden age. He was instrumental in creating the so called Weems and Hour-angle watches – the two most important watches in aviation history.

Together, with one of the greatest aerial navigators of this time, Harold Gatty, their technology, equipment and training shaped navigation during aviation’s golden age. 

Weems US Naval Academy ref 3931
The Longines handwritten archive clearly noting Weems ref 3931 with the Naval Academy reference.

Today, perhaps the rarest Weems iteration of all, a ref 3931, and a handful of other rare reference pieces (4036/4037) bear the enduring mark of the US Naval Academy on the dial. Their beautiful coat of arms dials were supplied by the St Imier master dial maker, Flückiger et Fils AG, and stamped ZJ, for Zelim Jacot, the original founder’s initials.

Flückiger et Fils AG Longines dials Zelim Jacot ZJ.  Weems USNA US Naval academy
The dials of the US Naval Academy pieces were made by the St Imier master dial maker Flückiger et Fils AG for Longines with the letters ZJ (Zelim Jacot – the founder’s initials) on the backside. Image – courtesy Mr Lepine

Almost two hundred years after Harrison brought greater certainty to the issue of longitude on the high seas, P.V.H Weems and Harold Gatty were both instrumental playing a critical role conquering the unique challenges of aerial navigation. As radio communication expanded, the ability to synchronize a chronometer with a known accurate radio signal source source was essential.

Weems USNA ref 3931, 3930, 4036, 4630 case patent 2008734
A stripped down image of the two case references 4036 (L) and ref 4037 (R) side by side. The 4037 Weems reference did not have a locking mechanism on the bezel and mirrors the early prototype all silver Weems supplied to Wittnauer in February 1932. Image – courtesy Mr Lepine

The first prototype large Longines Weems was delivered in November 1928, and tested by Weems in with the Bureau of Aeronautics, the US Navy’s support organization for naval aviation which functioned from 1921-1959.

Two rare US Naval Academy pieces side by side clearly showing the difference between ref 4036 and ref 4037. The latter without a bezel locking mechanism and to date the only known example of a ref 4037 US Naval Academy. Image – courtesy Mr Lepine

All Weems are inextricably tied to the role that the 1912 US Naval graduate, Weems, played after witnessing the incredible US Navy trans-Atlantic seaplane flights of 1919.

Flückiger et Fils AG Longines bezels Weems USNA US Naval academy ref 3931
Clearly visible milling differences to the underside of the bezels for the reference 4036 and 4037. Image – courtesy Mr Lepine

It seems fitting that Weems, his navigational ideas, techniques, and the incredible Weems US Naval Academy watches first born in 1937 – have their genetic code anchored to the exploits and feats of the man who witnessed the first successful trans-Atlantic crossing in 1919.

P.V.H Weems shaped avigation for almost three decades, alongside, and as a consequence of his US Navy engagement, exploits and service. He was ably assisted by the man Lindbergh named, the Prince of Navigators, Harold Gatty. Today, the few surviving examples serve as an important reminder and window to the incredible role that Weems, the US Navy, and Longines played in their history and development.

Flückiger et Fils AG Longines dial Zelim Jacot ZJ.  Weems USNA US Naval academy
The beautiful logo US Naval Academy crest printed by Zelim Jacot (ZJ)..the founder of Flückiger et Fils AG noted in Longines archives.

[1] Flight magazine. 21 November 1918. p. 1316

[2] 1919: NC-4 Transatlantic Flight – Coast Guard Aviation History (

[3] The U.S. Navy’s Curtiss NC-4: First Across the Atlantic | HistoryNet

[4] Weems & Plath, Weems & Plath Thermometers, Weems & Plath Hygrometers, Weems & Plath Barometers, Weems & Plath Weather Stations (

[5] Air Navigation Weems 1931 first edition p400

[6] Air Navigation Weems 1931 first edition p400

[7] Air Navigation Weems 1931 first edition p402

[8] Terry Gwynn-Jones, ‘Harold Gatty: Aerial Navigation Expert,’ Aviation History Magazine, (World History Group, September 2001), (date accessed: 19/08/16).

[9] Terry Gwynn-Jones, ‘Harold Gatty: Aerial Navigation Expert,’ Aviation History Magazine, (World History Group, September 2001), (date accessed: 19/08/16).

[10] Harold Gatty: Aerial Navigation Expert | HistoryNet

[11] Longines through Time The story of the Watch Stephanie Lachat p113

[12] Longines through Time The story of the Watch Stephanie Lachat p113

8 thoughts on “US Naval Academy Weems…A Rare Breed & Pedigree”

  1. March 16, 1966, astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott were the crew of Gemini VIII, the 12th American manned spaceflight mission. Pictured on their way to the launchpad, David Scott wore a NASA-issued #08 Omega Speedmaster 105.003 at his left wrist while Neil Armstrong had chosen to wear an extra wristwatch besides his NASA-issued Omega Speedmaster chronograph.
    Note at Armstrong’s right forearm the big crown Longines-Wittnauer Weems aviator wrist watch with striking big numbers dial as worn by James “Jimmie” Mattern (1905-1988), Armstrong’s childhood aviation hero.
    Three years later during Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong also carried a flight logbook owned by James Mattern onboard lunar lander “Eagle” !

    • Greetings and wonderful Philippe… a very big thank you for the information, link and would really enjoy more of your insights and knowledge in this space. I will drop you a mail. Andy 😉

  2. Very informative history. Thanks.
    I have a Swiss Air limited edition Longines Weems (2nd edition). My favorite timepiece.
    Regards, Mike.

    • Greetings Mike, many thanks for your feedback and wonderful to hear that you enjoyed the read. Keep ticking, have a laugh or two and enjoy the Swiss air piece mate. Sincere regards Andy

  3. That’s more NAVAL history and very valuable to me since I read up on as much as I can. Iam fortunate to have the watch made by CITIZEN for Navy Blue Angels and treasure it very much.

    • Greetings Robert and wonderful hearing that you learnt something new from the article and that it develops your interest in the space. Thanks for visiting and for your feedback. Andy 😉

  4. Wonderful reading this article Andy! I see you put a lot of hard work into it. I really enjoyed reading the article and found it very informative!


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