Watch Freeks banner

1 - 16 of 16 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
45 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi All!

Got a question for those of you who may know about vintage Breitlings.
My grandmother passed last year. In going through the estate early this year, my grandfather's old Breitling watch was discovered. He died back in 1980 of cancer, so it had been sitting in a drawer untouched for the last 35 years. It still ran...sort of. Anyway, nobody else in the fam seemed interested in it, so it wound up in my hands.
I did some research on it and dated it to 1946 according to the serial number on the back (661137). Then I sent it off to Horological Services to be refurbished. That was back in April. Given their 7-8 month turn around time, I don't expect to see it again until around Christmas. I'm sparing no expense on it. I don't care about its current monetary value, but certainly sentimentally it is worth the cost since it was ol' Grandpa's.

Anyway, more recently, we discovered a stash of old letters Grandpa sent my Grandma dating from 1945-1947. He was one of the first to occupy post-war Japan, and he sent her letters LITERALLY every day. So what we have is practically a daily journal of his life while overseas. Its been a fascinating read as you'd expect; but what's relevant here, and why I'm posting this, is that on Feb 20th, 1946, he makes mention of acquiring a new watch. Evidently, supplies of any kind were hard to come by over there, and while the military "camp" he was in (near Tokyo) did have something of a PX, it was so short on goods that the men actually had to enter raffles just to win the right to BUY what the PX had. He won the raffle for the watch, and paid $22 for it. Unfortunately, he does not mention the brand.

I'm ASSUMING he's talking about the Breitling, since the serial number is from 1946, and this letter is from 1946. However, I do have a couple reservations.
A) Even if this watch was made on January 1st, 1946, I have a hard time believing it made it all the way from production to a military camp in post-war Japan within six weeks. Supply lines even for the basics were spotty at best, and it often took upwards of six weeks just for regular mail to arrive. With that said, the watch might have been coming from the other direction (through Russia/China) rather than by boat over the Pacific, so might have moved faster?

B) Is $22 anywhere near the cost of a Breitling back then? Adjusting for inflation, that's about $280 of today's dollars. That seems more mid-range than luxury. Of course PX prices are usually noticeably lower than typical retail, so maybe? Also, was Breitling even considered a high-end brand back then?

I intend to do more research on this later myself, but figured I'd cast a line out here too to get any of your opinions on it. I realize that I may never know for sure when/where Grandpa first strapped it onto his wrist, but if I could form an educated assumption- via this letter or other means- as to its history, well, that would just make it all the more interesting.

Thanks!
 

Attachments

·
Senior Freek
Joined
·
1,829 Posts
I'm sorry that I have nothing to add to help you. That is an incredible story, however! Very cool. Please do come back and post pictures of the refurbished piece, I'd love to see it.

Good luck, and Congrats on an amazing timepiece and family history!

Sent from my Bacon using Tapatalk
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,863 Posts
Wow, yes what an amazing watch and even more amazing story! I also wish I could help, but unfortunately cannot. I hope that Breitling is in fact the watch mentioned in your grandfather's letters.

Best of luck to you! Looking forward to seeing pictures of that treasure on your wrist!

PLEASE keep us posted!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,863 Posts
One more thought: do you have pictures of him from around that time period that might include his wrist? You might be able to see just enough to make out that Breitling.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,190 Posts
Very cool story. Even if this watch turns out not to be the watch in question the fact that you have his journal is a link to him that the watch could not provide and it was his watch so it doesn't really matter if it is the one he bought in Japan. Then again, I am sure you feel that way to begin with. I went through something similar with my dad. I just discovered, after 20 something years since he passed away, some of the letters written 35 years ago he sent to me and my brother when he was in Central America and we were back state side. Brought back lots of memories.

One other note -- I have been watching a Ken Burns/PBS series on WW2 and amazing how precarious of a time it was. Lots of close calls that would have dramatically changed the course of history. Those letters are a window into the state of mind that the world was in back in those days. Amazing people making it happen in very difficult times. Watch the series if you can.

Sorry for the semi-hijack but that watch has more history than meets the eye. Please keep us updated.
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
3,884 Posts
Evidently, supplies of any kind were hard to come by over there, and while the military "camp" he was in (near Tokyo) did have something of a PX, it was so short on goods that the men actually had to enter raffles just to win the right to BUY what the PX had.

You are quite correct, and watches in particular were a rare commodity in Japan during the war. Unlikely that this watch was purchased in Japan but without hard evidence there is no telling how it was acquired. Incredible provenance nontheless.

Nevertheless, you have something special to look forward to. Would love to see the "after" pics.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
7,651 Posts
Beautiful vintage and well worth restoring. This watch could be a 1945 year. I see a lot of Ref. 178 being from 1945. It probably houses a Venus 170 movement.

By 1946 they had about 250 different models.
There's a site with old articles and advertisements somewhere, just can't remember how I stumbled on to it once. Unfortunately, I didn't save it.
 
  • Like
Reactions: FunkDaLicious

·
Registered
Joined
·
45 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
One more thought: do you have pictures of him from around that time period that might include his wrist? You might be able to see just enough to make out that Breitling.
There are a handful of pictures during that time (all b&w), but more often than not, his arm is covered or blocked, or it's simply too far away to tell. There are a couple pics where you can clearly see he's wearing a white(ish) face watch, but no detail.

Beautiful vintage and well worth restoring. This watch could be a 1945 year. I see a lot of Ref. 178 being from 1945. It probably houses a Venus 170 movement.
As I recall from what Horological Services told me, it is indeed a Venus 170 movement.
I dated the watch to '46 via this website:
http://www.brittons-watches.co.uk/watches_breitling_dates.htm

and Horological Services seems to agree. Exactly how spot-on the dating is could be up for debate I guess...especially considering the state of the world at that time.

Very cool story. Even if this watch turns out not to be the watch in question the fact that you have his journal is a link to him that the watch could not provide and it was his watch so it doesn't really matter if it is the one he bought in Japan. Then again, I am sure you feel that way to begin with. I went through something similar with my dad. I just discovered, after 20 something years since he passed away, some of the letters written 35 years ago he sent to me and my brother when he was in Central America and we were back state side. Brought back lots of memories.

One other note -- I have been watching a Ken Burns/PBS series on WW2 and amazing how precarious of a time it was. Lots of close calls that would have dramatically changed the course of history. Those letters are a window into the state of mind that the world was in back in those days. Amazing people making it happen in very difficult times. Watch the series if you can.

Sorry for the semi-hijack but that watch has more history than meets the eye. Please keep us updated.
Yah, I've heard reference to the Burns series, and will definitely watch it when I get the chance. Having grown up listening to my Grandmother's stories of heroism and sacrifice from her husband, brothers and friends at war, as well as the sacrifices made on the homefront as well, I hold that generation in the highest regard. This stack of letters only adds to that- not just in the stories they contain, but in their very existence. For the man to have the commitment and consistency to write -longhand- three to four page letters every. single. day. for nearly two years just astounds me. Especially given the conditions he was writing them in. And to think a mere two generations later we've largely been reduced to twitter and facebook. ...They were definitely a different sort of people.



I did some looking around online today and have come to the conclusion that the watch in the letter is probably not the Breitling. It's simply too cheap. I found some old Breitling ads from the late 40's for sale on ebay, and according to those ads at least, even the cheapest Breitling was around $100 at the time. Most were probably closer to $300. So, yes, Breitling was very much a high-end luxury watch even at that time. Nowhere near $22- even at a PX.
That's cool though. I may not be able to trace it to an exact date and place of purchase, but I know it was his and that's certainly good enough for me.
Don't worry, I will definitely come back and post pics once it has been returned to me. I'll be proud to show it off!-- especially to you lot since you were moved enough by the story to post your thoughts and well-wishes.:D
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
45 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
It's back! :clapping-hands-abov


It looks great. It's so cool to see it working again. I haven't worn it yet; and with all the cautionary handling instructions that came with it, I don't expect to strap it on except for special occasions. Outside of that, I'll wind it once a month like I do all my watches (to keep the oils flowing), keep it serviced, and see if we can keep it going for another few generations.
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
7,651 Posts
It's back! :clapping-hands-abov


It looks great. It's so cool to see it working again. I haven't worn it yet; and with all the cautionary handling instructions that came with it, I don't expect to strap it on except for special occasions. Outside of that, I'll wind it once a month like I do all my watches (to keep the oils flowing), keep it serviced, and see if we can keep it going for another few generations.

WOW, that is a keeper, for sure. Absolutely beautiful

:smileyface_hand_cla
 

·
Senior Freek
Joined
·
1,829 Posts
It's back! :clapping-hands-abov


It looks great. It's so cool to see it working again. I haven't worn it yet; and with all the cautionary handling instructions that came with it, I don't expect to strap it on except for special occasions. Outside of that, I'll wind it once a month like I do all my watches (to keep the oils flowing), keep it serviced, and see if we can keep it going for another few generations.
Very nice! Congrats!
 

·
Marine Tunnel Rat
Joined
·
5,736 Posts
Wow, you are a lucky man, great watch, great story, and a Grandfather who was a great patriot!

Keep that watch foerever!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,395 Posts
Great story. Thanks for sharing. Glad you got Grandpas watch back. perhaps a heirloom for the kids?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1 Posts
Beautiful vintage and well worth restoring. This watch could be a 1945 year. I see a lot of Ref. 178 being from 1945. It probably houses a Venus 170 movement.

By 1946 they had about 250 different models.
There's a site with old articles and advertisements somewhere, just can't remember how I stumbled on to it once. Unfortunately, I didn't save it.
What's the name of the site where i can get information about old watches. Actually i want to Sell My Patek watch which has been gifted to me by my Mother. I want to know more about that watch and then will sell it.
 
1 - 16 of 16 Posts
Top