Smiths oversize 18 carat (1955)
This is an example of most expensive model that Smiths produced - it has a large size (35mm) case, made in solid 18 carat gold. The dial and case of this watch bear witness to it being very, very sparingly worn by the original owner. The dial in particular is in simply outstanding condition - I've never seen one better preserved than this. The dial has a two-tone finish and applied 9 carat numerals, the overall effect is very pleasing to the eye.
The movement on this model is Smith's highest quality - the standard 1215 movement is significantly enhanced with an additional three jewels (cap jewels on the escape wheel, plus jeweling to the centre wheel on the top plate). These jewels help reduce drag on the movement and increase the accuracy of the running. Additionally the hairspring has a Breguet overcoil, which gives enhanced accuracy in different positions and there is shock protection on the balance pivots.
The case back is engraved with a long service presentation inscription, as is very often found on these watches. The case is hallmarked for Edinburgh 1955, the cases for this model were bade by BWC who, although a London firm, always hallmarked their gold cases in Edinburgh, I believe because it was slightly cheaper to do their than in London.
The performance of the movement is significantly better than a regular Smiths movement, indeed I believe these 18 jewel movements bears comparison with the top Swiss brands. The 18 carat gold model is rare in any size, but this one is much more wearable than the smaller versions which Smiths also produced (in 29mm and 31mm diameter). The watch is Smiths product code A520.
Due to the very thin bezel and large dial, the watch feel even a bit larger than the 35m size on the wrist. These oversize models are my favourite of the Smiths dress watches and the ones I personally wear most often. The watch is paired with a lightly worn new old stock pigskin strap, which I think sits with the tone of the gold wonderfully.
Case diameter (excluding winding crown): 35mm
Case material: 18 carat gold
strap width: 17mm
time keeping: grade A
about Smiths watches
Smiths were the last English producers of quality watches. Their watches aren't very well known today because it's over 30 years since they stopped producing, but the quality of their watches bears comparison with anything the Swiss were producing. Smiths produced a variety of styles of watch for both ladies and gentlemen in chrome, steel, silver and gold cases. The gold cased watches were particularly popular as long-service presentation gifts and the casebacks are often engraved with a long-service inscription. We don't remove these inscriptions as we feel they are an important part of the story of each watch. They developed an automatic movement watch and also were contracted by the British army to produce a wristwatch for general service use (the automatic and the military Smiths are amongst the most sought after and can command high prices).
These days we associate the Swiss with high end mechanical watches, but in the 19th century it was English watches that occupied this prestigious position. The Swiss began to compete with the English watchmakers by producing low cost watches. The English were slow to adept to this new competitor, they took great pride in the relatively small volume of high-quality hand made watches that were produced in England. The Swiss gradually swamped the watch market - beginning with low cost watches, later they produced watches of a comparable quality to the English hand-made watch, but at a lower price. The Swiss developed machine production of watches, this meant that the quality could be kept consistent and replacement parts were interchangeable. Ultimately the English industry couldn't compete and by the early 1930s pretty much all watches were imported.
In the run up to the second world war, the government became concerned that there was no indigenous watch industry left. They turned to S. Smith & Sons who were a long established a watch and clock producer and underwrote the development of a new factory in Cheltenham. Precise timing mechanisms were important for the war in things like bomb timers, as well as more traditional time pieces.
After the second world war, Smiths switched over to civilian production with the first of their watches coming onto the market in around 1947. They continued production up until the late 1970s, when they rather suddenly split up the watch and clock division of the company. By this time Smiths Industries was more focussed on civil and military avionics and I guess felt that the watches were part of their past. It seems odd that nobody else sought to take over the business as they were clearly profitable, possibly the impact of quartz watches was a factor in their decision to end the business.
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