Item:
ONSV22NAS84

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Original WWI German Swiss Made CYMA Military Trench Watch with Steel Dial Shrapnel Guard - Fully Functional

Regular price $995.00

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Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. This is a fully functional watch. Please note; all watches are wound and tested and recorded on video which can be seen in this listing. There is no warranty for this watch and returns for a non-working watch will not be honored. We are not in the watch repair business. ALL SALES ARE FINAL.

This is a rare WWI "Cyma" military trench watch manufactured by Schwob Frères of La Chaux-de-Fonds Switzerland.

In 1870 master watchmaker Henri-Frédéric Sandoz (usually just Henri Sandoz; born 1851 Le Locle, died 1913 Tavannes) founded a watch manufacturing company in Le Locle, Switzerland, in his own name: "Henri Sandoz and Co."

Henri later founded a watchmaking company in Tavannes, which took the name of the town. The Tavannes Watch Company entered into a partnership with Schwob Frères for sales and marketing, and the brand Cyma was created for this purpose.

Henri departed from the company in 1891 for unknown reasons and another family member, Jules Sandoz, continued the business. The Sandoz brand continues to this day used by at least four different companies around the world.

The brand Cyma continues to this day. The brand Tavannes has been resuscitated. Schwob Frères has disappeared completely

This example has serial number 525601 and is equipped with white enameled dial with luminous numbers and hands. Open face case measures 34mm in diameter and has fixed lugs. Steel schrpnel guard or basket is original to the period, watch strap appears to be a replacement.

Watch Specifications:
Brand: CYMA
Case Size: 34mm
Movement: 13-jewel (Hand-winding)
Model: Military
Watch Shape: Round
Serial Number: 525601
Case Color: Silver
Year of Manufacture: 1914-1918
Face Color: White
Country of Manufacture: Swiss

The Advent of the "Wristlet" During WWI
For a military man during World War I, a good watch was an absolute necessity.  But the old style pocket watches that had dominated fashion up until 1914 were ill-adapted to the demands of this new type of warfare.  A pocket watch required two hands to operate efficiently.  Removing the watch from a pocket occupied one hand, while opening the watch face (if it was a hunter case), winding it, or resetting the time used a second hand.  This situation was unacceptable to fighting men who not only needed to be able to reference the time quickly and easily, but also needed to have their rifles in hand at all times.

The natural solution to this problem was the wristwatch, or wristlet as it was often called at the time.  Now, wristwatches weren't invented during World War I.  They had already existed for a number of years, albeit as a relatively uncommon style of timepiece with effeminate connotations.  In other words, wristwatches were widely considered to be a woman's watch prior to 1914.

World War I trench watches both masculinized and perfected their predecessor wristlets.  Initially, the trench watch took the form of a conventional pocket watch with wire lugs attached at the 6 and 12 o'clock positions (or, alternatively, the 3 and 9 o'clock positions) to allow for the attachment of a leather strap.  This facilitated wearing the watch on the wrist - hence the name wristlet.

But watch manufacturers soon found that certain modifications were needed in order to get the most out of this radical new watch design.  One of the first changes was the relocation of the winding crown from the 12 o'clock position (where it resides on most pocket watches) to 3 o'clock, where it remains to this day on nearly all wristwatches.

The addition of radium lume to the watch hands and numerals on the watch face also proved to be indispensable.  Radium is a naturally radioactive element which, when combined with zinc sulfide, produces a glowing, phosphorescent material that could be applied like paint.  Radium lume enhanced trench watches were a boon on the battlefield, where it was common for soldiers to need to precisely know the time in preparation for night actions.

As an added bonus, although the glow from a radium lume dial was easy to make out for the watch's owner, it was much too faint to be visible to enemy snipers hundreds of yards away.  This was in stark contrast to lit matches, which gave away the position of many an unfortunate soldier during the war.

Trench watches also had to overcome the rough realities of battlefield conditions.  Dust, mud and water were omnipresent hazards in trench warfare.  As a result, many watch manufacturers dedicated substantial resources to making their trench watches as dust-proof and moisture-resistant as possible.  They soon discovered that screw-back cases were generally superior to hinged-back or snap-back cases in terms of water and dust resistance.  However, plenty of hinged-back and snap-back trench watches were manufactured during the Great War due to their reduced complexity and lower cost.


One of the best known and most highly prized of the World War I era, water-resistant trench watch cases is the Borgel case.  First patented by François Borgel in Geneva, Switzerland in 1891, the Borgel case was a screw-back case design that proved to be ideally suited to the rigors of trench warfare.

It should be noted, however, that although Borgel screw-back cases were relatively water-resistant by early 20th century standards, they are not water-proof by modern standards.  Please don't wear your 100 year old trench watch in the pool, shower or Jacuzzi, as you are likely to ruin a wonderful timepiece!  True water-proof watches didn't come into existence until the creation of the legendary Rolex Oyster in 1926.

Another issue that trench watches had to overcome was the propensity of their glass crystals to shatter.  This was especially problematic due to the ubiquity of artillery salvos on the battlefield.  Exploding shells would not only send primary shrapnel in all directions, but could also spawn secondary shrapnel - fragments of wood, steel or even bone dislodged from anything sitting close to the initial explosion.  Secondary shrapnel had a lower velocity than primary shrapnel and was, therefore, less likely to cause mortal wounds.  But it could still easily break the glass crystal on a soldier's trench watch, rendering it inoperable at a critical moment.

Watch manufacturers solved this problem in two ways.  First, they equipped traditional mineral glass crystal watches with shrapnel guards - a cut-out metal grille that protected the watch face while still allowing the user to tell the time.  With their battlefield connotations and iconic styling, trench watches with shrapnel guards are cherished by both militaria collectors and military watch aficionados alike.

The second way that watchmakers improved the survivability of trench watches was through the development of the so-called "unbreakable crystal".  These were watch crystals made from clear celluloid plastic instead of the normal mineral glass.  Contrary to the name, unbreakable crystals weren't truly shatter-proof - just much more robust than mineral glass.

Celluloid, the world's first thermoplastic, was originally commercialized in the 1860s and 1870s.  However, this wonder-material wasn't patented for use in watch crystals until 1915, coming to market one year later in 1916.  Unfortunately, celluloid is unstable over long periods of time, with a tendency to yellow and warp.  Therefore, as a rule, surviving trench watches don't retain their original unbreakable celluloid crystals.

Trench Watches for the Troops
Trench watches were in huge demand throughout the duration of World War I.  Millions of troops on all sides of the conflict desperately wanted - no, needed - to have a wristwatch in order to be better soldiers.  But with the exception of select signal corps members, wristwatches were not issued as standard military kit - a soldier was expected to buy his own.

The problem was that a good trench watch was expensive!  Period advertisements show that the lowest price a British soldier could realistically hope to pay for a wristwatch was somewhere around £2.  Better quality timepieces with more features often retailed for between £4 and £5.  If you wanted something truly extravagant, like a solid karat gold case, you could expect the price to be even higher.

To put these sums in perspective, the average British infantry private received a meager salary of 1 shilling a day during the Great War - only £1.5 per month.  So a trench watch was beyond the reach of most enlisted men.

British officers, on the other hand, were much better paid than their subordinates.  A British infantry lieutenant could expect to draw a princely salary of 8 shillings, 6 pence a day, or £12.75 per month - more than 8 times what a private earned!  So the officer corps - lieutenants, captains, majors and colonels - constituted the main source of demand for trench watches during the conflict.

This didn't stop average enlisted men from coveting trench watches, though.  Some members of the lower ranks received wristwatches as gifts from friends or family, while others scrimped and saved in order to be able to afford one.  A considerable number of trench watches were also "liberated" from captured enemy soldiers or even looted from corpses strewn about the battlefield.  A wristwatch might also be gambled or bartered away during the exigencies of war.


Trench Watch Characteristics

Trench watches were produced by every major watch company of the time and probably all of the minor ones too.  Established Swiss and American firms had the highest production volumes, with other makers contributing smaller numbers.  Some of the brands commonly seen among antique trench watches include modern-day heavyweights like Omega, Rolex and Longines.  The primary American makers were Waltham, Elgin and Illinois.  Other notable manufacturers were Zenith and Cyma.

Because wristwatches were just emerging prior to World War I, watchmakers of the time didn't use special, wristwatch-specific movements for trench watches.  Instead, they adapted existing pocket watch movements and simply implanted them into wristwatch cases.

These movements were usually smaller, women's-sized pocket watch movements (such as 3/0s, 0s and 6s) out of necessity.  However, larger movements housed in over-sized cases (generally between 36 and 39 mm in diameter) were occasionally used.  15 or 17 jeweled movements were common in higher quality trench watches, while cheaper, more pedestrian examples would typically employ lower-jewel movements.  Seconds functionality was also highly prized in a military-grade trench watch - usually sub-seconds at the 6 o'clock position.

Trench watch cases were generally made from the same materials as pocket watches of the time.  An expensive solid karat gold watch might grace the wrist of a senior officer, while gold-filled or sterling silver examples would be more common among junior officers.  Steel or nickel-alloy base metal cases were also produced for soldiers looking for the cheapest, most utilitarian option available.

Trench watches almost always had either black or white enamel dials, or some combination of the two.  White enamel dials, in particular, were ubiquitous, often with radium outlined or enhanced hour markers and/or numerals.  This allowed maximum contrast between the numerals and the background, which was vital to easily telling the time during the chaos of combat.

While both Roman and Arabic numeral dials can be found on trench watches, the latter tend to dominate.  This is because Arabic numerals are easier to read at a glance under difficult conditions, with little possibility of confusion.  In addition, some watch manufacturers highlighted or outlined the 12 o'clock number (regardless of whether it was Roman or Arabic) in red to help soldiers remained oriented.
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