A GUIDE TO BUYING A SMITHS WATCH FOR PLEASURE OR PROFIT

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A BRIEF GUIDE TO POST WAR SMITHS ENGLISH WATCHES COMPILED IN AN IDLE MOMENT.

 

If you are buying Smiths watches, firstly decide whether you are a collector or dealer/investor, and whether you will use the watch as a timepiece or not.
This will define your buying area and budget. Generally collectors work on buying lower value pieces, judging the bidding numbers. Some are restricting themselves to budgetary limits, and bid a maximum figure of, say £25 on ebay.co.uk This works well for bargain hunters but if you buy to invest short term or seek the harder to find rarer watches, you generally have to enter a sensible bid, to the limit of your budget. Bear in mind that sniping pushes the bids way up on desirable lots in the last few seconds. We all have our favoured methods of winning auctions, but ultimately all buyers are limited by fiscal and temporal resourses.

Secondly decide the area in which you are specializing, and use the search engine  to specifically search  for your chsen product. This cuts down on your search time on eBay. Buyers with time on their hands trawl endlessly, but this is time consuming and usually frustrating.
Manual wound, automatic, sports, military, gold, plated, steel, gents, ladies, early models, late models, boxed examples, pocket, wrist and so on are some of the chosen fields of collecting.  Ebay can email you new listings of your favourite sellers or products on a dialy basis, you are just limited by your chosen keywords in the case of the latter.

A critical guide on Smiths watches is not easy to encapsulate in a few paragraphs.

The earliest Smiths watches are pocket timepieces from the 19th Century, either made in England or Switzerland  and cased here or abroad. Most are signed S.Smith on the dial or movement or both. These are a distinct area of collecting and the pricing is defined more by market trends on pocket watches in general, rather than specifically English products.

Briefly the commercial production of CIVILIAN wrist and pocket watches labelled at the bottom of the dial Made in England started post WW2 in 1947. Dated engravings on the rear of some examples are earlier, but were retrospective.

The commercially Made in Britain watches predated that by about 2 years. Watches advertized as prewar (WW2) are incorrectly described.

Of all these later products the Made in England products are at the top of the tree, Made in Britain and Swiss Made or Japanese fall into a different category really.

Always exceptions to any rule. Some military pocket watches and wristwatches were made to government contracts for the WW2 issue period. These are not the large black dialled W10 or 6B examples, these are clearly dated on the case back.

The Smiths pocket and wrist watches marked Made in Britain or Geat Britain are a lower market product made usually in association with Ingersoll who had a stock share in Smiths. It is vital to recognize the general shape of the print at the bottom of the dial as an aid in identifying the origin of the watches from small or poor images. See the image at the top of the guide as a typical example. This is a (gold cased) Smiths Everest 19 jewels shockproof Made in England. Sellers will find it easier to simply answer the question as to whether the Made in England lettering is at the bottom of the dial than identify the watch by other means. This is not to say that the products not made in England are not of any commercial value, they just need separate valuation based on looks and function rather than long term desirability as an English made mechanical timepiece. Smiths or Ingersoll made few types of commemorative or cartoon and advertizing watches, the vast proportion of those for sale on eBay are enhanced basic pocket watches, thanks to the benefit of modern printing or colour photocopying. These are not original products.

All the lower information is about the gent's watches.

Condition is paramount on the English watches. Most important is the dial or face of the watch. Crystal, crown and seals are changeable and not necessarily important so long as you have resource to parts or a repairer. Smiths do though have several idiosyncratic built in potential pitfalls.

Refished Smiths wristwatch dials are totally unacceptable in my opinion. Athough early wristwatch dials are thin and bend at the feet, this is very common, and probably acceptable condition wise. Late military issue watches are prone to severed dial feet due to lack of support within the case.

The click spring is prone to wear, often made worse by repairers replacing the ratchet wheel upside down with the smooth side upwards affording less grip for the straight line click spring.

The wrist watch bolt spring or set lever bridge has a weak arm broken easily by repeated removal of the winding stem, as the bolt screw requires depressing after the screw has been released. They are poorly tempered in both the vertical and horizontal plane. The new after market replacement parts are made well but require countersinking on the screw holes.

Dials on the wristwatches as supplied ex-factory are not very well protected with a laquer coat, and are prone to deterioration and discolouration around the numerals especially. There is a no good case for refinishing these dials to original appearance or better, just buy original cleaner examples.

Made in England pocket watches have a poorly keyed dial finish paint. This can crack and lift. I think that it is therefore acceptable to refinish these dials, but avoid direct exposure to heat from light sources.

Smiths wristwatches were made with specific length winding stems that matched the case types, and balance assemblies that matched the individual movements. Changing either of these may to cause problems.   

Movement numbering is a specialist area and may or may not include useful informaion. Latterly the English wristwatch numbering was the most efficient on the main commercial product lines. Early pieces and contract retail lines are hard to date or categorize. Really you need resources which are rarely found to identify specific models. The best idea is to buy as much ephemera, such as catalogues as you can, irrespective of price.

Smiths wristwatches made from 1947 onwards are in no way directly related to Jaeger-LeCoultre. There are design aspects and finishing of dials and movements and some parts of movement design that are based on the famous Swiss brand. Legends abound, some more tangible than others, but the facts that we know all relate to the employment of Robert Lenoir as technical director, he was an ex LeCoultre employee. eBay listings that use the JLC reference are exaggerating or misdescribing the watch's heritage. The English wristwatch design aspects related to JLC Swiss watches are these amongst no doubt others:- Straight click spring, earlier striped movement finish. Balance cock secured with 2 screws. Place an early silver coloured striped movement alongside that of an early LeCoulre Reverso type movement and the similarity is immediately apparent. General appearance of the 19 jewel caliber is very Swiss. Escapements often Swiss designed or made. The English automatic movement design was directly and admittedly cribbed from the IWC  version, and with very low production numbers will outstrip the IWC in value.

The products contained 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 25 jewel movements.

25 was the eventual full production jewel number on the English Imperial automatic, also dialled and sold as Everest. This was based on the manual wound 19 jewel Imperial movement.

19 jewels were only used in the Imperial or Everest manual wound movements. These are a later and completely different basic caliber with the faults ironed out, and a superior design with great ease of maintainence built in.

15 and 16  jewel examples are small second manual wound movements.

17 jewel examples are all centre second manual wound movements

18 jewel movements usually found with overcoil hairsprings on the balances are the highest grade, usually small second hand movements.

Some of the finest balances are found in the Benson watches and others, and are quite different from the usual ones, they have a slight red colour to them and the screws are superior quality.

The worst balances are the smooth rimmed ones. Although they set up correctly in the military Astral, they can often show poor positional adjustment in the civilian movements. 

The Rhodium finished balances were also used later than the first run found in the early A B and C 12-15 movements, especially in the 27 c.s from the 50's period and give good timekeeping when used.

Smiths military issue watches have assigned caliber numbers and distinct specifications, a leading online retailer of custom built timepieces has an illustration of a military Smiths watch with a dubious movement, so do your research carefully prior to bidding, as many movements and parts interchange easily. On the late model mil issue, it has an anti-magnetic inner case and dial. The earler GS model  has a broad arrow and Deluxe on the dial. The earliest prototype Smiths military watch has a pillared movement unlike any other watch. Some wartime military wristwatches were totally LeCoultre with the Smiths engraving on the case rear. These are regular timepieces as well as the Weems issue.

The main military production is generally assumed to be the late 60's and early 70's W10 and 6B issues, but there was a much more valuable General Service watch in the mid 50's. Value of these has watches has rocketed over the last decade. The history of military marked Smiths wristwatches is mostly recorded in service bulletins and Ministry Of Defence spec sheets. Chronologically the issues were sporadic, and the varieties were related closely to production of civilian movements available for suitable military adoption or adaptation as it were. WW1 PERIOD. So called Trench watches were produced in base metal and silver or precious metal cases, generally not marked on the case back. these contain Swiss based movements, or are in most examples entirely Swiss, simply signed on the dial by S.Smith. WW2 PERIOD. JLC wristwatches in ordinary timepiece form and in the Weems cases marked S.S&S seem to belong to a Smiths source, contemporary perhaps with the aircraft clocks which also contained JLC movements. The former information not confirmed by JLC. The first hand built run of Smiths nickel colour 12 ligne movements in mixed metal cases with the oversize dial plate with the dial screwed on from the front have trace of numbers on the case backs. An eye witness account of a member of post war RAF ground crew is given of a similar watch, in use at the same time as the small U.S manufactured wristwatches still in general use at the same period in time. These are not part of the early run of standard A or pre A series movements in the smaller steel or mixed metal cases. POST WAR. A small prototype run of wristwatches which were not adopted for general issue due to the frailty of construction, these vaguely resemble the cases of the late fifties and early sixties marked G.S issue pieces but have a wider bezel. The official G.S. issue wristwatches were supplied fitted with especially accurized movements, these have a special caliber number under the dial. Some are signed Deluxe and some not. These were all centre seconds, should hack set and have seventeen jewels but with the larger shock setting. see the M.O.D documentation to support this. The appearance is similar to '56 issue watches with Swiss movements. The second and generally speaking most official mil issue is the late 60's and early 70's run of watches supplied to the armed forces. These used the final run of civilian movement adapted by using a blue hairspring for accuracy, shielded of course by the all anti-magnetic surround. They should be hack-set, but interchangeability means that now they are not all. The Army ones are the most common, followed by the rare RAF issue. The rarest one is the Navy marked one. You need to research the existing M.O.D documents to confirm whether your watch conforms. Remember if it is in bits or needs restoring then it has no guarantee of originality. Mint is best but hard to source. Any military issue Smiths in mint or near mint and original condition is hard to value, even the later issue, but is generally priced by the size of your account rather than the last price achieved at auction. 2010 is seeing the appearance of many of the Australian 1961 issue Smiths Deluxe based on The G.S watch. Prices are pretty high but should never exceed the value of the earlier British issued examples, although teh strength of the Australian currency may mean that at the moment the collectors form there may be paying a premium for their watch due to their buying ability.

 

Military Smiths from the late 60's onwards should be marked as we know with the full designation 60466E, and the batch number such as 103. The exception to the rule would be 6B issue for the RAF, which was issued in 1967, and may only have a batch number 67, one would expect the full number under the dial as on the early G.S watch, but it isn't there. 

It looks as if Smiths tried to slim down the case of the G.S issue and fit the smaller type dial and slimmer movement we see in the later military issue watch and changed their mind and designed a whole new slimmer case, You may find examples of the earlier case with the sides milled down and the internal nickel ring altered for a smaller diameter dial.

If you are buying the W10 period issued pieces, bear in mind that winding crowns are hard to match, hands impossible and that they are prone to snap off dial feet if the movement is not 100 percent secure in the case, and even if it is there is nothing isolating shock from the outside to the dial edge, a design weakness which could have been avoided with a nylon insert or gaskets.

Invest in anything related to the Everest name. The early range of products post 1953 was sold as the Everest range when still labelled as Deluxe. This is natural as the original watch was a Deluxe. Later the Deluxe watches were sometimes renamed Everest, then the later Imperial range were often named as Everest. 

 

Stainless steel is often higher priced than gold, and there are not many watch brands that can say that.

The most valuable pieces are limited editions, early military pieces, ones with important historically to Smiths engravings, English automatics, prototypes and 18 carat models. Also watches of the same appearance as the Everest expedition model. Obviously watches that incorporate more than one of these principles are the ones with the highest potential or rarity value.

"Britain's finest watch". This was the advertisement for the Deluxe model. The technical theoretical difference between a Deluxe and and Astral model form the same period with regards to the movement are firstly that the Deluxe escapement should be highly polished as opposed to the matte or brushed finish found on the Astral. The Astral balance was designed to be the smooth type, the Deluxe had the balance with the screws in the rim. This is not an infallible guide unfortunately as all parts are to some extent interchangeable. Spares lists showed the smooth balance to be less expensive when ordered as a replacement part leading to these predominantly being used where possible. The obvious odd man out was the British Rail presentation watch. With or without the buyer's knowledge the B.R Deluxe was in fact in most instances an Astral grade movement. Presumably the large contract required a keen tender and the result was a small saving in quality. 

With regards to Why the later 19 jewel movement was introduced, the design flaws in the basic 27 c.s. were not only the click/click spring and bolt spring weaknesses, but also an overexposed length of poorly tempered centre seconds pivot, fragile second wheel which gets trapped upon assembly under the sweep pinion, and and awkward assembly sequence caused by the same double wheel. Other minor inconveniences when just trying to carry out a supposedly simple part job of replacing the mainspring lead to frustration. The 19 jewel is supremely easy to work on and is quite robust. The sub second model was never a problem, and though slightly improved on in construction and found with higher jeweling, the movement was never replaced.

Workshop hits for those of you starting to repair Smiths watches for the first time will be added here.

Try and limit the number of times you push down on the bolt screw to withdraw the stem. Smiths weaknesses are related to their steel tempering. Smiths made fixed length winding stems for each size case, so the watch repairer working on an original piece would not have to file down the stem thread to size.

You really do need to use a full width screwdriver blade on the screw head. On the later mass produced movements this would mostly be a 140 or grey Bergeon. This is just the right size to avoid burring and also the side slip that shows as a circular mark around the balance cock screws on some movements. 

Dial screws holes were sometimes countersunk, don't let this fool you into using a huge blade when tightening.

When taking apart  the centre seconds movements do not use the standard sprung jaw hand lifter to lift all the hands together, or you may well  bend the unsupported centre pinion pivot. The Astral slimmer and  the 27 c.s. do not have interchangeable centre pinions.

An old fix for broken bolt springs, is that the 2 and 3 hole ones interchange if you swap over the bolts or triggers as well, the exception being the hack setting version, this needs all the original parts to function correctly. 

You can find after market click and bolt springs. The bolt springs need pre-tensioning on some types, as the more flexible steel rides up under stress. 

If you have a loose military movement you just need to re-profile the inside of the small nipple on the lower Faraday shield, not the whole thing. Use the correct gasket size.

The ratchet wheel is often polished on one side. This side may cause slippage of the click spring, you can usually turn it over. The 18 jewel movements may have been designed to have the shiny surface upwards.

 

 Keep your eyes peeled and good hunting!

 

 

 

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