Wednesday, 2 November 2016

J.W. Benson: Swiss Watches of the 1930s

Having done some research and an analysis of my Benson mail order sales catalogue from the mid 1930s, I think I have finally worked out the Benson product line-up of their “standard” size 16 Swiss watches on offer during the period.

Longines half hunter for Benson


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries most “standard sized” Swiss watches offered by J.W. Benson were made by Longines / Frères Baume, in the late 1910s or a bit before, they switched to Revue Thommen and in the very early 1930s they changed again to Tavannes models which are the subject of this post.

Also during this period they sold watches by Record, Zenith and others but these were sold in very small quantities compared to Tavannes.


The Watches.

All of these watches had Tavannes 938 or 938a (Hunter), 939 or 939a (Open Faced) calibre movements, this however is not that helpful as it was in production for a long time by both Tavannes and Cyma under numerous brand names (including Admiral, Tacy, Rambler, Stayte, Semloh and lots more) and in a bewildering number of configurations. The Benson variant however stands out as being the best finished of all of the many I have seen.
All of the following were available in Open Faced, Hunting or Half Hunting configurations.
The cases were English made, Benson Bros (no relation) and Dennison, who acquired Benson Bros in1932, probably making most, if not all, of them. By this time all of the Tavannes made movements that I have seen made for Benson used the standard watch case with negative setting.
Prices ranged from £2 10s (£2.50) for an open faced “City” in Nickel, to £14 10s (£14:50) for an “Observatory” half hunter in 9 carat gold.  A 3 letter monogram added 10s 6d (52.5p).

Update March 2017: The following information is correct as at the publication of the sales catalogue, recently I have had two watches from 1938 with the same balance configuration as the City but marked as "Adjusted", it is probable that these were still marked as the "City" but I have no documentary evidence to confirm that.

The “City” & “Triumph” Watches.


These watches were the entry level to the range, the cosmetics and finish were the same as the higher grades but they had a rather more basic, but effective, Elinvar over-sprung screwed balance. The “City” grade is advertised in my catalogue as being available in Sterling Silver, Black [gunmetal] Steel or Polished Nickel.  

The “Triumph” grade was the same movement in a single bottomed 9 carat gold case.

These movement also turn up (as do some of the others) in rolled or filled gold cases by Dennison, although some of these have undoubtedly been re-cased they were almost certainly originally available in these cases but, like watches by Record etc, are not shown in this (premium) mail order catalogue.
J.W. Benson "Signal" 1936.

The “Signal” Watch.

These watches were similar to the “City” and “Triumph” grades but were upgraded to have an Elinvar Breguet sprung screwed balance and, like the "Triumph", they were in a single backed 9 carat gold case.  

The “Greenwich” Watch.


The same as the Signal grade movement in most respects having an Elinvar Breguet sprung screwed balance, the “Greenwich” was a half chronometer or in American parlance it was “Adjusted” (for temperature). It was available in double backed Sterling Silver or 9 carat gold cases. It is often difficult to identify these movements when in a solid gold case because they were not often marked as “adjusted” on the movement, this was quite normal in England.

The “Observatory” Watch.


The top of the range movement, similar to the “Greenwich” but with a half chronometer (adjusted) movement with 16 rather than 15 jewels and a Breguet sprung cut-compensating balance.

Like the “Greenwich” is was available in either a Sterling Silver or a 9 carat gold double bottomed case.

See also:

Benson movements in Dennison cases
The English half chronometer

1 comment: