Smiths GS De Luxe (1956)
There were approximately 300 of these watches made up and issued to the RAF in 1954, 1955 and 1956, presumably as a test order. The case back is engraved with the issue number (12627) and the year of issue: 56.
These watches were given the same 6b/542 stores reference as the Omega navigators watch, so we can assume were issued to RAF pilots and navigators. This makes some sense for a test order - the inside of an plane cockpit was a fairly harsh environment for a mechanical wristwatch due to the presence of electromagnetic fields. The watches are shielded from electromagnetic interference by an iron dial and mumetal dust cover, which form an effective Faraday cage to prevent electromagnetic disturbance.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s Smiths were contracted to produce a General Service wristwatch for issue to the British Armed Forces. The British government was concerned about the reliance on overseas supply of wristwatches, which had been an issue during the second world war and subsidised Smiths / dangled lucrative contracts in front of them to foster British manufacture of wristwatches. For whatever reason the British army decided not to proceed with the order and Smiths didn't receive a military supply contract until the late 1960s for the W10 model.
The watch would originally have had a dial with radium luminous compound. In the late 1950s all watches in service with radium dials were recalled and the hazardous material was replaced with the inert tritium. The presence of a T on the dial indicates this dial and hands have tritium. The case on the watch is in superb condition, which is rather rare on a military watch. The case back has a scratch where a previous repairer slipped with the opening tool but overall this is one of the best preserved examples you'll see.
The balance spring on the watch has a Breguet overcoil to enhance timekeeping across different positions. The movement has been fully serviced and is running superbly. The watch is fitted with a recreation of the original AF0210 type strap, a precursor to the ubiquitous NATO strap which is found on Military watches.
Case diameter (excluding winding crown): 35mm
Case material: stainless steel
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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