MESSAGE FROM THE EDITOR

We are particularly pleased to inaugurate this new series of articles written exclusively by external contributors.

These persons have been selected for the quality of their research, their knowledge, and the way they approach the watch market. They wanted to share this passion with us and with the watch community, and that is exactly what we’re doing here at Watch Books Only.

This is the reason why we are happy to publish their own watch stories and reviews here, and we hope you’ll appreciate them.

Please note both research and text have been realized exclusively by the external contributor and is under his responsibility.

South African Air Force Lemania 1872

by Matthew Taylor

The South African Air Force (SAAF) is the air warfare branch of South African National Defence Force, with its headquarters in Pretoria.

The South African Air Force was established on 1 February 1920.

Issued some 10 years before the legendary Lemania 5012, the Lemania 1872 was the first dual pusher chronograph purchased for its pilots by the South African Air Force.

The Lemania 1872 was issued to another Air Force in the early to mid 1970’s, namely, the Swedish Air Force.

The Lemania 1872 reference has a direct line to the Swedish and South African Air Force. Currently, my research finds no civilian models of the Lemania 1872 (branded Lemania), however companies like Tissot, Rodania, Chronograph Swiss and Pontiac had their own branded versions made with the Lemania 1872 (see later on in this article for information on these).

The Lemania 1872 used a case, the 817, designed by Ervin Piquerez SA (EPSA) that originated in 1968 and is commonly seen in military chronographs by Breguet, Heuer, Sinn, and most notably Lemania.

In action shot: Shackleton pilot, Maj. James Kriel, is wearing a Lemania 1872 (1974).
Credit: Dean Wingrin.

SAMPLE POOL AND METHODOLOGY: HOW MANY OF THESE WATCHES EXIST?

The sample pool (click to enlarge).

Purchase records show there were a total of 630 Lemania 1872s procured by the SAAF from 1971-1976 (320 in 1971 and the balance of 310 in 1975/76).

To try to confirm this I documented the movement numbers of all the samples I could find.

It is unfortunately not quite as simple as taking the lowest movement number and subtracting it from the highest movement number as they were purchased in batches, and Lemania Watch Co. would have continued to manufacture these movements in the time between orders from the SAAF.

Although the comparison of numbers in the table below (Table 1) doesn’t confirm the number of 630 units procured, it does confirm that there were no more than this purchased. The last column in this table takes the lowest movement (in a sequence) and compares it to the highest number in the same sequence, therefore establishing a movement batch pattern.

HOWEVER PLEASE NOTE ! If I were to find one more with a movement number that was say 100 away from the lowest movement number, this would change this result by 100. So this is far from scientific or accurate, but I will endeavor to keep this information current as new examples of the Lemania 1872 SAAF appear.

Table 1.

Table 2.

THE DIAL

The 1872 was issued in 2 dial variations, namely “Arrow dial” and “Non-Arrow” dial.

My very small sample pool suggests 176 Arrow dials and 114 Non-Arrow dials.

Both consisted of matte black dials with a 30 minutes counter at 3 and a second counter at 9.

Contrary to previous information available, I believe the Non-Arrow dial to be the first issue and Arrow dial to be second issue, by some 2’000 movement count. Although I try not to refer to AF numbers for reasons explained, Tables 1 and 2 would confirm my suggestion that the Non-Arrow dial was first execution.

Although there are a few “outliers” (# 2656406, 2656426, 2656 505, 3056426, and 3055663 in Table 1), there seems to be a pattern with regards movement numbers and dial variation on the SAAF procured watches.

“Generally speaking” I have found all Non-Arrow dials to be lower movement numbers (in the 2654xxx) and the Arrow dials to be in the 2656xxx. The “exceptions or outliers” I can only put down to the possibility of a movement service or swop. I would assume spare parts or even complete movements were ordered in order to maintain these watches. Possibly the out of sequence watches are as a result of this. Also note, there are 2656xxx serials with Non-Arrow dials (the “outliers”), but no 2654xxx with Arrow dials, once again confirming that Arrow dial was second issue.

2654xxx Non-Arrow dial.

The Non-Arrow dial minute counter is labeled “10-20-30-40-50-60” and its sub second is labeled “5-10-15-20-25-30”. It has outer Arabic numerals 1-12 which are lume filled in a puffy cream coloured tritium mix. The 3 and 9 hour markers are incomplete numbers as this space was take up by the two slightly recessed sub dials. The outer ring of the dial has second and 1/5th sub second markers labeled in 5 second increments. Lemania is printed in white below the 12 hour marker with the “Lemania Crown” above it. Just outside of the sub second markers, below the 6 hour marker is printed “T SWISS MADE T” between 28 and 32 seconds.

2656xxx Arrow dial.

The Arrow dial minute counter is labeled “10-20-30” and its sub second is labeled “20-40-60”. It has outer small Arabic numerals 1-2-4-5-7-8-10-11 and a large 6 and 12, which are lume filled in a puffy cream coloured tritium mix. The outer ring of the dial has one second markers joined by a continuous outer ring. Lemania is printed in white below the 12 hour marker with the “Lemania Crown” above it. There is also a military T printed just below the word Lemania. Just outside the sub second markers, below the 6 hour marker is printed “SWISS MADE” between 29.8 and 31.2 seconds. The crows foot or arrow lies between the 6 hour marker and the dial center.

Flat circular grooved surface surface on the Non-Arrow dial.

Flat circular grooved to two thirds, then slightly beveled smooth surface of the Arrow dial.

I don’t believe, as per my article on Lemania 5012s, that there is any current sequence to the AF numbers on the case backs (in trying to establish when they were purchased by SAAF) as these were often swapped during servicing. It should be noted that as watches arrived into “stores”, they would be engraved/stamped. This was “batch” executed and then shelved in “military stores”. I have it on good authority that they were issued randomly and not in AF sequence. As the movements were manufactured by Lemania in sequence, I think it best and most accurate to establish issue dates based on movement numbers (see Table 2).

There were other AF items that were stamped in between each batch, that included aircraft clocks and instruments as pictured below on this Mirage aircraft clock, AF 11117.

Mirage aircraft clock, AF 11117.

The Arrow or crow’s foot was a bit of a mystery to me. As this was a sign of Royal Military property, what on earth is it doing on a South African Air force issued watch?

The Lemania 818 Royal Navy also used a Broad Arrow dial (issued 1975).

Lemania produced a 2 button chronograph for the Royal Navy Air Arm (case reference 818), with the Broad Arrow dial housing the same 1872 signed movement. This was delivered in two batches of 250 in 1975 and 1976.

Table 3. Summary of prefix numbers with 1872 movement (818 case).
Notice how the first 302 prefixes are first issue /75 stampings and 305 prefixes are /76.

 

I assume that the initial Non-Arrow dial was superseded by the Arrow dial in 1975, and when SAAF ordered their last batch, from Lemania, they were sent with the new dial configuration.

The movements I have seen, both delivered to the Royal Navy, have had movement prefix 305xxxx (0552/924-3306 5307/76) and #302xxxx (0552/924-3306 4198/75). I also happened to find ONE Lemania 818 that was said to be issued to the Isreali Army that also had movement prefix 305xxxx (M1612).

As there is only evidence of one of these, I would like to find more in order to draw a proper conclusion regarding whether this was actually issued to them (thank you Bruce for your contribution).

Identical dials but different cases: Royal Navy 818 case (left) vs. South African Air Force 817 case (right).

THE HANDS

Lemania 1872 SAAF hands.

The Lemania 1872 SAAF shares a minute and hour hand with the Omega 861 (essentially the same movement), but has the sweep second hand of an Omega 1045, which is a modified Lemania 5100.

Sub register hands are also the same as the Omega Speedmaster Professional 861 movement produced from 1969 to the early 80’s.

All hands are white and tend to go a slight cream colour with age. Lume tends to darken with age.

I have actually come across a few that have had their sweep second hands replaced with Speedmaster 861 hands (AF 10344 is an example of this).

THE MOVEMENT

Lemania 1872 caliber.

The calibre 1872 used is a signed and numbered Lemania movement. It is a 17 jewels 21’600 bpm movement with a 40 hr power reserve.

The only difference between the 1872 (Omega 860) and the 861 is the 12 hour counter of the 861. It is a manual wind movement with a cam switched sub second.

SAAF Lemania 1872 movements were stamped and had a serial number prefix of 265xxxx.

The Swedish Air Force (see more details later on in this article) serial number prefix is 279xxxx.

I came across 2 anomalies that stood out from the rest, and this was prefix 305xxxx (see Table 1). One of these has appeared on a known issued SAAF watch AF 10762 and the other on a Viggen #291. My theory to this puzzle is that Lemania had a specific prefix for “Service Movements” and think that both of these were swapped or replaced during a service.

THE CASEBACK

Example of SAAF Lemania 1872 caseback (reference 817).

The stainless steel caseback has the words “FAB. SUISSE”, “SWISS MADE”, “ACIER INOXYDABLE”, 817 stamped on the inside, positioned centrally below the half way point.

Most case back engravings are done in one line and consist of AF followed by 5 numbers.

I have seen examples where it has been engraved with a cutting head panto graph system and others where the engraving is done by means of a vibrating head that leaves its engraving made up of thousands of very small dots.

Examples of SAAF Lemania 1872 casebacks engravings.

1872 caseback with engraving on 2 lines.

I did however come across one example that is slightly different. As well as having a completely different layout, it also has an out of sequence movement number: 305xxxx.

I hope with time that I am able to shed some light on this variation as more sample become available for comparison.

Swedish Air Force Lemania 1872 (Viggen)

Viggen Lemania 1872.

As mentioned in the beginning, the Lemania 1872 was also issued in the same year to the Swedish Air Force.

It is unclear of numbers of these issued, but from issue numbers from caseback stampings (assuming they started at 1) I have found one stamped #302. It isn’t really a conclusive way of establishing numbers, but gives us a possible scenario.

If I work on movement numbers only and take the lowest and highest, I come up with a number of 180 units.

I think it would be fair to assume they made between 180 and 302+.

The Viggen movement prefix is 279 vs. SAAF of 265.

The Viggen also carries a Bakelite outer bezel vs SAAF’s aluminium bezel.

Non military Lemania 1872 variations

There were however a few civilian versions of this watch branded Tissot, Rodania, Chronograph Swiss, Pontiac…

I suspect, due to their exact matching details, that these were manufactured by Lemania and then sold and branded by various other companies.

Pontiac chronograph with Lemania 1872 movement.

Pontiac was a brand mainly intended for the Belgian market and Pontiac delivered other models to the Belgian Air Force. This watch was probably civilian and is more or less identical to the Tissot Navigator, Rotary, Selectron, Rodania…

Selectron Chronograph Swiss chronograph with 1872 movement.
Ref. 817 case.
Movement prefix #305xxxx.

It must not be confused with Chronograph Suisse or O&W Selectron. It has a Lemania signed movement as per the military versions. This is fully a civilian model made by a Swiss company that doesn’t seem to have produced many watches or lasted long. They must have purchased the watches from Lemania and just branded the dial. 

Rhodania chronograph with 1872 movement.
Ref. 817 case.
Movement prefix #302xxxx.

The applied Rodania signature appears to be an oval sticker above the original “Lemania” signature. It seems that the Rodania is a civilian version, as there are no military engravings on the caseback. Rodania provided tool chronographs to the Canadian military.

Tissot Navigator Military chronograph with Lemania 1872 movement.
Movement prefix #250xxxx.

Summary of prefixes

Table 4.

Notes:

  • Does this mean that Tissot received the first 1872s?
  • Was last run of movements 305xxxx and then supplied as spare movements?
  • 302xxxx and 305xxxx movements were supplied by Lemania in the 818 case in 1975/1976.

Once again may I reiterate that the information in this article is from my own research.

There is very little detail on these due to their limited numbers and the time since they were procured. Should you have any comments or wish to add anything at all, it would be most welcome.

EXAMPLE OF A CLEAN UP OPERATION

“We will fight them on the beaches”.

The Lemania 1872 below was found on beach in the Cape in South Africa. It was bought home in this state and then left in a cupboard for years.

So glad to have had the privilege to breathe life into this piece of South African history!

Before.

After.

CREDITS & AKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Matthew Taylor is a 49-year-old South African, living in Johannesburg. Matthew has had an interest in watches as long as he can remember… His first memory being given an LED single button time-only Texas Instuments watch at age 7 and spending hours and hours under his bed covers gazing into it’s bright red light. Although he appreciates modern watches, his passion lies in pre-1980’s vintage watches and more specifically, but not limited to, military issued watches. Living on the African continent since 1974, he was naturally drawn to those military watches issued to African Air Forces. His son, 20-year-old James Taylor, has taken a keen interest in Vintage Watches. Great to see new young minds appreciating old craftmanship and history.

Follow Matthew Taylor on Instagram.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

Leave a Reply