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Thread: History Of Smiths Watches

  1. #1

    History Of Smiths Watches

    Hi All

    I did this video a few months back and thought some of you might like it


  2. #2
    Excellent video! Thank you for putting this together and sharing I really enjoyed it!


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  3. #3
    Master
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    Thanks Ollie that was a really good and a very informative over view of a British classic.

    Many thanks for sharing.

  4. #4
    Journeyman
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    Wow.

    I had no idea you were the guru. Great video.....thank you.




    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    Hi All

    I did this video a few months back and thought some of you might like it


  5. #5
    Journeyman Cornish Bob's Avatar
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    Thanks fot that informative video.

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  6. #6
    Master chris2982's Avatar
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    Enjoyed watching that, thanks for posting.

    Chris.

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  7. #7
    Apprentice
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    Great video. Very informative. Thank you for sharing.

  8. #8
    Craftsman
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    Superb - really enjoyed that ! Thanks !

    Interesting how they never made a profit, but were sustained for years by government funding. You do wonder if Musk has a similar sort of deal with Tesla and Space X :-)

  9. #9
    Craftsman
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    Thanks for sharing this video.

  10. #10
    Thanks everyone.

    I did at short notice, unscripted and without notes so it's a bit sketchy but makes the main points.

    One interesting thing is that the Cheltenham site was a "shadow factory", part of the scheme whereby essential industries relocated west to be out of the range of the Luftwaffe. Which worked OK until the fall of France and longer range bombers!

    Cheltenham was chosen because Sir Allan Gordon-Smith loved racehorses and it has a famous race course. In 1944 he presented the King with one of the "Mk X" wristwatches when His Majesty and the Queen visited the site.
    Last edited by Rev-O; 14th February 2021 at 23:52.

  11. #11
    Grand Master Mr Curta's Avatar
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    Happy days
    You and I remember Budapest very differently.

  12. #12
    Master TheGent's Avatar
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    Well that was fantastically enjoyable to watch. And refreshing to have online content that isnít all about overhyped (and overpriced) horology. Thanks so much for posting...


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  13. #13
    Craftsman
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    Hi Ollie, is there new information about the watch gifted to the King? I appreciate that it could be a "Mk X" but I didn't think there was any evidence that could be considered substantiated.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    Thanks everyone.

    I did at short notice, unscripted and without notes so it's a bit sketchy but makes the main points.

    One interesting thing is that the Cheltenham site was a "shadow factory", part of the scheme whereby essential industries relocated west to be out of the range of the Luftwaffe. Which worked OK until the fall of France and longer range bombers!

    Cheltenham was chosen because Sir Allan Gordon-Smith loved racehorses and it has a famous race course. In 1944 he presented the King with one of the "Mk X" wristwatches when His Majesty and the Queen visited the site.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by size11s View Post
    Hi Ollie, is there new information about the watch gifted to the King? I appreciate that it could be a "Mk X" but I didn't think there was any evidence that could be considered substantiated.
    Yes, good point. We know it was a wristwatch (and while he was there they serviced his pocket watch). As the only wristwatches Smiths were making at that point was the 13''' Mk X there's no other possible option.

    Smiths struggled to make these in volume and some (with various revisions) ended up being sold off as part of the "RG" range in early 1947. The extreme winter weather of late 1946 ' early '47 seems to have held things up a bit. I suspect another issue, going back to the war years, was the case: Dennison in Birmingham produced the 13322 case but this needed a special spacer for the Smiths, which has a 13''' dial and baseplate but the rest of the movement was 12'''. Hence the soft metal flange to shim the difference.

  15. #15
    Craftsman
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    Yes, good point. We know it was a wristwatch (and while he was there they serviced his pocket watch). As the only wristwatches Smiths were making at that point was the 13''' Mk X there's no other possible option.

    Smiths struggled to make these in volume and some (with various revisions) ended up being sold off as part of the "RG" range in early 1947. The extreme winter weather of late 1946 ' early '47 seems to have held things up a bit. I suspect another issue, going back to the war years, was the case: Dennison in Birmingham produced the 13322 case but this needed a special spacer for the Smiths, which has a 13''' dial and baseplate but the rest of the movement was 12'''. Hence the soft metal flange to shim the difference.
    I agree that it is certainly the most likely watch that was gifted, but without said watch or documentary evidence it is still an informed assumption. I still hold out a vain hope that it might turn up in the Royal Collection/Household some day.

    Regarding the Dennison 13322 cases I don't think that the flange/spacer would have been any reason for a hold up. They were already knocking them out for Omega 13''' movements, which doesn't need a flange, and also for Longines 12''' movements which does need a flange/spacer. The earliest Longines movement I have noted in a 13322 is 6242663 which is circa 1941/2 I think. The earliest Omega cased 13322 I have noted is movement number 9187852, circa 1939/40 in the rare silver case. These silver cases are the earliest Dennison 13322 cases I have seen to date. Anyway, my point is that the 13322 case was well established and Dennison had already been adapting the inner dimensions of the 13322 for a while.

  16. #16
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by size11s View Post
    I agree that it is certainly the most likely watch that was gifted, but without said watch or documentary evidence it is still an informed assumption. I still hold out a vain hope that it might turn up in the Royal Collection/Household some day.

    ............
    Royals sometimes give gifts of items that were gifted to them, especially items of low value. I know Prince Charles passed on a Titan Indian watch that was given to him.
    Watches Are Now Jewellery, eeew !!!

  17. #17
    Journeyman engrneil's Avatar
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    Well done. Thank you

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  18. #18
    Master
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    That is a fantastic interview OP. Thanks for sharing it.

  19. #19
    Thanks for all the kind words. It was all done a bit last minute, without notes or proper preparation so apologies for the slightly chaotic romp through Smiths' history.

    I stuck to the military angle as it's popular and accessible but there are other stories: the RGS expeditions, the Quasar project, the high-end watches Smiths made for Garrard, Benson, Asprey, Hermes et al.

    Further reading:

    'The Golden Years' PART ONE - Timepieces by Barry Jones

    'Smiths Watches' by Barrie Smith

    'A Long Time In The Making' by James Nye.

  20. #20
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    ............

    Further reading:
    Zulu Time - consolidated (pdf)
    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=...FT-Sz9ZmH7TbZp

    The decline of British watchmaking and the role of Smiths in a hoped for recovery
    https://ahsoc.contentfiles.net/media...-_Read_wm6.pdf
    Last edited by abraxas; 17th February 2021 at 16:46.
    Watches Are Now Jewellery, eeew !!!

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by abraxas View Post
    Zulu Time - consolidated (pdf)
    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=...FT-Sz9ZmH7TbZp

    The decline of British watchmaking and the role of Smiths in a hoped for recovery
    https://ahsoc.contentfiles.net/media...-_Read_wm6.pdf
    Oh good call! Thanks.

    There's another article that I can't recall the title of at the moment, plus the Smiths forum here:

    https://www.mwrforum.net/forums/foru...Vintage-Smiths

  22. #22
    Master
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    I enjoyed it enough to watch it twice. One question, what width is a line when referring to the size of a pocket watch or a wristwatch?

  23. #23
    Grand Master Mr Curta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gerrudd View Post
    I enjoyed it enough to watch it twice. One question, what width is a line when referring to the size of a pocket watch or a wristwatch?
    Ligne
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligne
    You and I remember Budapest very differently.

  24. #24
    Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Curta View Post
    Thanks, I now know something new.

  25. #25
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    ............

    There's another article that I can't recall the title of at the moment ..............

    https://www.mwrforum.net/forums/foru...Vintage-Smiths


    Do let us know when you remember. The Vintage Smiths section on MWR is my favourite. I can spend days there sometimes. I should be posting a thread about this military SuperSmiths I have discovered there. The case is not too dissimilar to the 1930s Czech Military.
    Watches Are Now Jewellery, eeew !!!

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by abraxas View Post
    Do let us know when you remember.
    Found it! A brilliant article on Robert Lenoir: Smiths, JLC and two world wars.

    "An Englishman, a Frenchman and a watchman: the cross-border life of Robert Lenoir (1898–1979)"
    by James Nye
    Antiquarian Horology, Volume 37, No. 4 (December 2016), pp. 496–510

    Will try and get a link to the piece.

    Edit: this is quite good, too:

    https://antiquewatchstore.com/conten...h-wristwatches

  27. #27
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    "A version of a lecture delivered by James Nye at the British Museum on 19 February 2015.

    Born in France, trained in Switzerland, but naturalised as British, Robert Lenoir offered a nexus between competing horological communities compelled by circumstance and personal ties to collaborate closely.

    British imports of Swiss parts, raw materials, machine tools, patterns, jigs, techniques, sometimes even the skilled technicians themselves, all colour the story of this remarkable man – trainee watchmaker, Great War combatant, motor accessory salesman, chief technical officer, and pivotal figure in post-Second War British watchmaking. Using newly discovered material, James Nye charts the biography of this remarkable man against a context of 20th-century conflict.
    Dingwall Beloe Lecture 2015 - An Englishman, a Frenchman, and a Watchman
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7sOzoJRtIY
    Last edited by abraxas; 19th February 2021 at 18:05.
    Watches Are Now Jewellery, eeew !!!

  28. #28
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    From the same YouTube channel as the James Nye lecture, an amazing clock testing device at a Smiths factory

    Smiths - Wishaw. The remarkable timing conveyor.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ad53TzJylq8
    Last edited by abraxas; 20th February 2021 at 17:08.
    Watches Are Now Jewellery, eeew !!!

  29. #29
    Master
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    I've finally had the spare moment to watch this, thank you for sharing RevO. A good introduction to the watch making side of the firm. I'm looking forward to following the other links and learning more.

    I do have one question. I know that Smiths made more than just watches, was it just the watchmaking business that was subsidised or the whole company?

  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Wimm View Post
    I've finally had the spare moment to watch this, thank you for sharing RevO. A good introduction to the watch making side of the firm. I'm looking forward to following the other links and learning more.

    I do have one question. I know that Smiths made more than just watches, was it just the watchmaking business that was subsidised or the whole company?
    Good question. My understanding is that the watchmaking side was directly subsidised; the rest of the company had various government contracts so were indirectly supported that way.

    I shall try and find the facts for a fuller reply. James Nye is excellent on industrial policy.

  31. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    Good question. My understanding is that the watchmaking side was directly subsidised; the rest of the company had various government contracts so were indirectly supported that way.

    I shall try and find the facts for a fuller reply. James Nye is excellent on industrial policy.
    Seems that R&D, tooling and other costs associated with producing the four ebauches I mentioned in the video were at least partly borne by the govt. Some of that outlay was recouped / amortised by sales but by no means all.

    The "1215" ( 12 linges, 15 jewel movement of the 1940s and '50 with the subseconds at 6) was only slightly modified to make it centre seconds (the "27CS" because 12 lignes, 17 jewels and Centre Seconds). That said, the cost to Smiths for design drawings and tooling-up was still £23, 000 -- a lot of money in 1953 for merely modifying an existing movement.

    The cal. 0104 (late 1950s) and cal. 6046xE (mid 1960s) are very different to each other and to the earlier 1215/ 27CS.

    So for a time Smiths had FOUR in-house movements in production (more, if you count the automatic version of the cal. 0104 and the various versions of the 6046xE eg ones with calendar date wheel).

    Edit there were also at least two upgraded version of the 1215, including one for Garrard with 18 jewels and an overcoiled hairspring. All made in house.
    Last edited by Rev-O; 25th February 2021 at 19:30.

  32. #32
    Master
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    Thank you for the extra information, a fascinating insight into the firm and government policy of the time.

    I get the impression Smiths had jumped (or perhaps were pushed) in to the deep end of watchmaking. The fact that it took them the best part of twenty years to produce something that met the requirements came as a surprise. I wonder what held them back. Probably a combination of a number of factors.

  33. #33
    Master freeloader's Avatar
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    Some interesting information here, this thread must be a prime candidate to become a STICKY

  34. #34
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    Cool Smiths gauges...

    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    Good question. My understanding is that the watchmaking side was directly subsidised; the rest of the company had various government contracts so were indirectly supported that way.

    I shall try and find the facts for a fuller reply. James Nye is excellent on industrial policy.
    I just watched the doc. Really fun conversation, with a typical British humility ("After three failures, Smiths delivered")

    I had a 1969 MGC and 1963 MGB. Both had Smiths gauges of DUBIOUS value (I recall the gas/petrol indicator jumping around like a flea), but that's why I bought my first Smiths off TF!

    Anyways -- love the nostalgia, and duck Rolex for their continued attempts to be "the watch on Everest" when they were really the watch given to the team after they succeeded.

    Oh man, the drama!!

  35. #35
    Quote Originally Posted by davidzet View Post
    I just watched the doc. Really fun conversation, with a typical British humility ("After three failures, Smiths delivered")

    I had a 1969 MGC and 1963 MGB. Both had Smiths gauges of DUBIOUS value (I recall the gas/petrol indicator jumping around like a flea), but that's why I bought my first Smiths off TF!

    Anyways -- love the nostalgia, and duck Rolex for their continued attempts to be "the watch on Everest" when they were really the watch given to the team after they succeeded.

    Oh man, the drama!!
    I'm slightly embarrassed by all the positive comments here, having done it a very short notice and in a rather rushed way.

    I should really re-do it properly!

    Smiths did indeed make all sorts of gauges and dials and so on, including the legendary chronometric speedometer, as found on many old British cars and motorbikes, as well as clock and timers (including fuses for the MoD).

    Re Everest: before the expedition Rolex suppled the team with Oyster Perpetuals and Smiths gifted them 13 "De Luxe" wristwatches. It was the latter that Hillary wore to the summit, though, despite the former's attempts to suggest otherwise.

    All the info and more on that is here:

    https://forum.tz-uk.com/showthread.p...n-53-The-proof

    And in a shorter, more easily digestible article here:

    https://www.outdoorjournal.com/featu...versy-to-rest/

  36. #36
    Grand Master abraxas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev-O View Post
    ...

    Further reading:

    'The Golden Years' PART ONE - Timepieces by Barry Jones

    ...
    This just fell through the door. Looking forward to some good reading. It appears in-depth and has lots of illustrations.
    Watches Are Now Jewellery, eeew !!!

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