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We are pleased to publish the second article written by our external contributor Matthew Taylor.
External contributors 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.
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South African Air Force Lemania 5012
by Matthew Taylor
The South African Air Force (SAAF) is one of the oldest air forces in existence.
Established in 1920, it issued watches to its pilots from the 1940’s to the late 1980’s, when budget constraints put an end to pilots being issued with time pieces. Many watches between 1966 and 1987 not only flew, but were involved in extensive and heated operations, against ever growing Soviet “threats” via Cuban forces that had offered support to bordering “communist” countries.
Brands like LeCoultre and IWC were the first issued in the 1940’s and 1950’s and for a near 30-year period, from late 1960’s to late 1980’s, Lemania took the cake, with their Lemania mono-pusher 2220, the Lemania 1872 and the Lemania 5012. Thereafter, the new “super modern” and “high-tech” Seikos took the frontline.
I will cover all three Lemania watches purchased by the SAAF (South African Airforce) in series of articles that I will publish in the course of 2020. This is the second one after my previous article about the 1872 (read here).
The Lemania 5012 was first issued to the SAAF some 40 years back! Celebrating 100 years of the SAAF this year (2020) seems like an appropriate time to celebrate a fantastic organization and a fantastic timepiece!
The Lemania 5012 was a full military issue watch that was only made for SAAF and the RAN (Royal Australian Navy, albeit in a slightly different configuration, with a different movement).
There were no civilian versions of this watch made.
From good authority, I believe there were 5 prototype Lemania 5012’s presented to the SAAF in mid 1979.
Once the chosen configuration was decided upon, SAAF placed an order for 800 Lemania 5012’s that arrived in 2 separate batches of 400 units. I can’t establish whether they were purchased directly from Lemania Watch Co. The first batch of 400 were delivered between the 19th March 1980 and the 5th May 1980. The second batch of 400 was received and sent for engraving by SAAF stores between the 6th June 1980 and the 23rd July 1980.
The range of AF numbers ran from AF11422 to AF11821 and the second ran from AF11825 to AF12224, giving the total of 800 acquired over the 4-month period, and then issued to pilots over the following 6 years. AF numbers in the document below that fell outside of the above range, referred to instruments, aircraft clocks, stopwatches and other military air force items acquired by the SAAF.
SAMPLE POOL AND METHODOLOGY: HOW MANY OF THESE WATCHES EXIST?
The sample pool (click to enlarge).
My pool of samples comes from my personal collection, that of fellow collectors and ones that have sold online on public auctions.
Where all details were not available, I chose not to use these as a source of information (approx. 5 others). I would welcome any further examples that may be available, as this only makes the information given more accurate.
Barring the Royal Australian Navy Lemania 5100 (courtesy Paul Gavin from www.heuerworld.com), I have had all the below Lemania 5012’s in my hands, so can vouch for their existence and originality.
Air Force numbers vs Movement numbers
Below is a table showing the AF numbers and their corresponding movement numbers of the Lemanias.
I have tried to establish a pattern, but there is none. I was hoping early AF numbers would have early movement numbers, but no such luck. I did establish that these were batch serviced and this could mean that movements were mixed up and would not necessarily be paired back with their original dials, casebacks and cases. It should also be noted that when the engraving was being done, these would have been pulled out of a batch and then engraved. It is unlikely that they were even aware of the movement numbers inside, only that they were to engrave all 800 watches’ casebacks.
All 5012 movement numbers issued to the SAAF started with 0400.
The earliest movement number that I have come across is AF 11984, movement #04006125, and the latest is AF 12108, movement #04007056.
If there were only 800 issued, how could this be possible, as this difference would make 931 units? We can’t be 100% sure how Lemanias numbering system worked, and whether it was truly sequential or not. It looks like the prefix (0400) for SAAF was consistent, and the following 4 numbers referred to the actual movement quantity produced. We also need to remember that there was a 4-month period between the delivery of the 1st and 2nd batch, possibly this would account for the difference.
It is interesting to note that the RAN (Royal Australian Navy) version of this watch has a prefix of 0401 and housed the higher beat 28’800 movement 5100 vs the SAAF’s 21’600 beat movement 5012.
The dial of the Lemania 5012 is coated in a medium matt black coating.
It consists of 3.5 rectangular lumed hour markers at 6, 9 and 12 (and a piece of one next to the date at 3). Remaining hour markers are lumed and round.
There are 4 thin white lined minute markers between each hour marker that extend to the fixed inner bezel which is labeled 10-50 in 10-minute increments. This inner bezel sits inside a recess in the 351 plexiglas and is held in position by the pressure of the compressed plexiglas.
The date is visible in a non-framed window at 3 o clock and has a regular 1-31 display. I haven’t seen any font variations on the date and believe these all to be consistent.
The sub-seconds are displayed at 9 o’ clock and are labeled every 10 seconds. Unlike many other sub-second displays, Lemania chose not to enclose this “display” in a printed or recessed circle.
The brand Lemania, with “crown” logo above it, is printed mid-way between the 12-hour marker and the dial center.
The word “automatic” is printed in the same position but below the dial centre, and the words swiss and made on either side of the top of the rectangular 6 hour marker on the edge of the dial, before the inner bezel.
Apart from a prototype version, I have not found any dial variations.
The hands on the Lemania 5012 are interesting.
They all consist of a set of hour, minute, chrono sweep second, “plane” central minute counter and a sub second hands. The colours of these are most interesting as I have seen original issued sets that have quite different colour combinations. The colour combinations that I came across can be seen in Table 1.
Sub seconds are always white.
Factory hour and hinute hands were always a cream/yellow colour (apart from AF 12108, which I would assume to have been re-coloured/ changed as this falls out of the pattern).
Sweep second and minute “plane” hands are where it gets interesting. I have seen factory hands in both stark white (this seems to have differentiated the chrono function from the normal time function) and also seen hands that are the same cream/ yellow as the hour and minute hands. Possibly this colour change occurred when the second batch was delivered. A small tweak possibly requested by the SAAF? In my opinion it would make sense to have different colours for Time keeping and Chronograph functions.
The sweep second hand in my opinion is unique to this watch. Although a 861 Omega sweep second fits and looks the same when covered in lume, it has a small lume triangle in the tip of the arrow vs. the solid end of the 5012 hand. The “plane” hand also differs from the traditional Omega hand as it has broader, more swept back “wings”. Lemania did however use this in a few other of their watches that housed the same 5100 base movement.
Then came the “Mod Brigade” of pilots. I made contact with the SAAF watchmaker, now 10 years retired, who said it was commonplace for pilots to request “Oryx helicopter” yellow or bright red paint on the chrono hand tips. DH, the watchmaker still has his container of yellow lume, but now struggles to get the consistency correct, as his “top secret” thinning agent has now all but evaporated and tells me it was a chemist back in the late 1980’s that mixed it for him. Anything he uses now seems to dry too quickly and lacks the even “puffy powder” look that he used to get.
DH told me that the changing or re-luming of hands was frequently done during services. It has taken me some time to convince him that as collectors, we like to keep the now dull yellow original lume as opposed to a re-lume in stark white or electric yellow (we always have a good chuckle over it). Re-lume was a more yellow colour than the original cream/yellow. The consistency of the lume was a puffy powder like consistency, covering the whole hand from side to side, but leaving the black powder coated bases/centers. Over time some of the hands seemed to have discolored from the center and I have seen a few with a very light brownish oxidation near the centers.
Examples of modified hands.
It is important to note that the ageing of lume is affected by so many factors. These watches ended up in 2 main air force bases in South Africa, namely Waterkloof/ Swartkops that is approx. 1’500 m above sea level and is hot and dry, and Langebaan, that is at sea level and humid. These two very different locations would lead to very different lume ageing characteristics.
There is always the discussion of original vs. relumed and in my opinion, this was a durable tool watch that was used by proper pilots (and a chef that I will tell you the story of later). The Lemania 5012’s had a regular service schedule, as did the planes they flew. If the pilot requested the chrono hand to be bright red or “oryx” yellow, then this was for a purpose and is still considered ‘Air Force original’ in my opinion.
It seems, of the 800 issued, a few currently in circulation have had their AF numbers purposefully, either fully or partially, removed.
I have yet to find a Lemania 5012 with no AF number (that hasn’t been purposely removed) and was told by the person who worked in “military stores” at the time that all were engraved on receiving by the SAAF and not on issuing to pilots, so non-engraved ones shouldn’t exist, even if they weren’t issued.
It seems there was a reluctance for pilots to give these watches back, even though they were getting a replacement. For fear of the watch being traced back to the pilot through issuance records, it looks like a few of them had these AF numbers removed. Having been in the defense force myself in the early 1990’s, I can vouch for the Defense Force systems regarding state property, and the fear associated with loosing, stealing or damaging such state property.
Caseback stamping was done via a pantograph system and seems to have been done on 2 different machines or using 2 different engraving heads. The pantograph had a plate where the numbers where placed, then via a “geared arm” the movement of the large motion on the operator’s side would translate to a smaller motion on the now mounted caseback on the other.
The engraving was done approx in the top third or just above the midline of the flat section of the caseback (apart from AF 20488 that was done centrally).
Although there looks to be 2 very different fonts or plates used, even same stencils could translate differently depending on the pressure applied by the operator or the age of the cutting head used.
Regarding the fonts, they differ from one another in 2 ways. The first seems to have a smaller font with a deeper engraving and the second has a larger font with a lighter engraving.
I have not yet established if they were first or second issue but think this is irrelevant as they were both delivered to SAAF within a 4-month period. I do know of a small deep font engraving that was issued just 6 months before the issue of the new Seiko 150 (approx. 1987). I suspect both batches were engraved and sent to Military Stores, where they were put in one place, and issued randomly thereafter. This would also explain the non-correlation of AF number fonts to early or later issuance.
As with everything, there always seem to be an exception to the rule.
I have to date only found 3 that seem to differ from the norm, one of which was a prototype. The difference lies in the outer bezel and the font of the number 4. This was first pointed out to me by fellow SAAF Lemania 5012 custodian “Eugene”. There seem to be 2 versions of this font. One is a pointed 4 and the other is a flat 4.
The prototype was presented with a flat 4 font, but once SAAF decided on a final design and layout for the Lemania 5012 , this flat 4 seems to have been changed to a pointed 4. It is interesting to note that the font on the 4 on the inner bezel and the date wheel is always flat.
The 3 exceptions that I have found all have outer bezel fonts matching inner bezel fonts. One of these is AF 20 488 that doesn’t seem to follow the pattern of any of the others. AF 20488 has an incorrect sequence of AF number, engraved in a different to norm location on the caseback, in a different font and has a flat 4 on its outer bezel… but falls approx. 300 movement units into the sequence, between #04006200 and #04007000. This would still make it in the SAAF issue sequence. In all other comparisons, AF 20488 is, for all intent and purposes exactly the same as all the others. AF 20488 also has no evidence of a previous AF number that may have been removed. One can normally see this as the pantograph leaves slightly deeper “holes” where the direction was changed. I have always eventually found these on removed numbers under magnification.
I have yet to find a SAAF Lemania 5012 with its original issued strap.
I have seen examples with black 20mm leather Hirsch straps (known to been replaced), and also a few with Seiko steel bracelets. I suspect the SAAF purchased Seiko bracelet spares for their “next to be issued” Seiko sports watches and would replace the tail end of the watches that came in for service with these.
Regarding service of the Lemania 5012’s I’m told the watches were initially swapped out when bought in for service. This would mean the pilot would not receive their original watch back but would receive a watch that was previously bought in for service. I’m not 100% sure how the AF numbers would have been re-linked to the pilot, but from my experience, there would have been a book and a procedure for this. Initially this was done to try and track parts usage, but am told that pilots were getting upset about this and when the watchmaker was given the thumbs up to repair pilot specific watches, he was told to keep the used parts they replaced so they could audit the repairs and parts usage.
When the new Seikos were issued from the late 1980’s onwards, the now “old tech” Lemania 5012’s were recalled, destroyed and discarded. DH tells me stories of these returned watches being destroyed by hitting them with hammers or putting them in a table vice and crushing them! He remembers a bucket of destroyed cases that was to be thrown away. DH also tells me a story of the Captain at the time, bursting into his workshop and telling him to get rid of all the Lemania 5012 parts and spares, both new and old, and didn’t want to see them from the following day. He followed orders and “disposed” of everything. I was fortunate enough to get the technical docs file of these SAAF issued watches. For all the technical details, please follow this link Technical Docs Lemania 5012.
Lemania 5012’s that weren’t yet issued and still in stock, were sold off for R36 each to SAAF ground personnel. Buyers were only allowed to take 1. The image below was a watch purchased from one such buyer, who tells me the timing was perfect as his own watch had stopped working just days before and he bought a Lemania 5012 which he wore a few times until he had a new battery installed on his other. It then sat in his bedside drawer for the next 30 years.
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.
For further information, you can contact Matthew either by email (email@example.com) or on WhatsApp (+27 82 926 1534).