Introducing The V&C "AUF/AB" Deck Watch

Thank-you to Alex and the mysterious Grand Oeuvre for rekindling interest in the pocket watch heart.  While we await the next clue, I'd like to share this V&C "tool watch" from WWII.


Vacheron & Constantin "AUF/AB" Beobachtungsuhren der Kriegsmarine I. Klasse

Introducing The V&C

Case: 0.925 silver, plain polished 60mm four-body “bassiné” case. Plain polished cuvette and case back.  Signed Vacheron & Constantin. Completed in 1944 for the German Kriegsmarine.

Movement: Calibre 21’’’ 162, gilt finish, 21 jewels, Guillaume balance, Breguet balance spring with swan-neck fine regulator.  Signed Vacheron & Constantin Genève.

Dial: Silver, brushed, with champlevé Arabic numerals.  Outer minute track, 32-hour "AUF/AB" winding indicator, and subsidiary seconds.  Blued steel spade hands.  Signed Vacheron & Constantin Genève.

Introducing The V&C


This B-Uhren has a smooth polished case back where one might expect the German Reichsadler and Kriegsmarine inventory number.  These may have been removed following the war to comply with German denazification laws.  As a collector I am somewhat ambivalent about its absence; an unwelcome symbol but historically accurate.

A word about jewel-count.  Various sources credit V&C's Cal. 162 with 18, 20, or 21 jewels.  For a definitive answer, I will refer to the official V&C parts catalog which describes the movement as having 21 jewels.

V&C’s Cal. 162 with AUF/AB indicator was based on their Cal. 163 with subsidiary seconds.  Both were based upon Jaeger-LeCoultre's Cal. 162 chronometer movement with subsidiary seconds (be forewarned you Googlers, JLC changed the caliber designation to 171 in 1953).  V&C's family of JLC Cal. 162-based movements concluded with the 22-jewel center-seconds Cal. 166.

Read on only if interested in the minutiae of V&C, otherwise feel free to skip ahead to the Feature Story. 

JLC began production of “their” Cal. 162 in 1943 and delivered a total of 1,474 movements according to the Manufacture.  From my observations, it appears V&C was their largest customer; its use even by JLC was very limited.  Contrast this output with over 23,000 Hamilton Model 22 chronometer watches produced from 1943 to war's-end! 

Interestingly, while JLC did not produce a version with winding indicator, a cutout and shaft for the device are present.  To achieve the Cal. 162 AUF/AB, V&C only needed to add the mechanism itself as the plate was ready to receive it. This suggests that, while the complication was inherent in JLC’s design, its use was proprietary to V&C; perhaps the result of a collaboration from the outset.

V&C engineered eight additional components for the winding indication complication, not including the unique dial with additional hand.  Here the mechanism is visible from the underside of the main plate.

Introducing The V&C

To create the Cal. 163 with sub-seconds, V&C substituted a new plate without the unnecessary cutout and shaft.  This is strong evidence that the V&C Cal. 162 AUF/AB was the initial version derived from JLC’s ebauche and the 163 followed, as the caliber designations suggest.

The next photo shows the high level of finish JLC applied to their Cal. 162/171, which was frequently tasked with representing them at Observatory Trials.  Note the aforementioned cutout and shaft next to the mainspring barrel's ratchet wheel (left side of picture), which would accommodate the intermediate connecting wheel of V&C's winding indicator mechanism.

Introducing The V&C

Ironically, in this photo from JLC's museum collection, the movement rests atop a boxed deck watch supplied by Jaeger to the Marine Service Hydrographique during WWII (Etablissements Edmond Jaeger was the Paris subsidiary of Jaeger-LeCoultre and supplier to the French Navy).  The dial is marked Jaeger, with 32-hour HAUT/BAS sub-dial, however, according to the horological auction house Antiquorum who sold the piece, the movement is by Vacheron & Constantin!

Feature Story: AUF/AB; What is it Good For?

Unlike Edwin Starr's protest song of the 1970's; "War", one cannot sing out the rejoinder; "Absolutely nothin'!" in the case of the winding indicator.

As far as I have been able to determine, Vacheron & Constantin supplied this model with AUF/AB (up/down) state of winding indication exclusively to the German military during WWII, with the vast majority assigned to the Kriegsmarine.  A subsidiary dial at 12 o'clock indicated the amount of time elapsed since the watch was last wound, from 0 to 32 hours.  This should not be confused with power reserve indication which marks the amount of time remaining before a watch may be expected to run down. An easy to differentiate between the two: winding indicator starts at "0", while power reserve ends at "0".

After the war the model was available for general purchase and dials were appropriately marked UP/DOWN in English or HAUT/BAS in French.  In addition to silver, according to Antiquorum, an unknown quantity was made in steel and two gold-cased HAUT/BAS versions were created in 1947 on special order.

The winding indicator was a standard feature of boxed and gimbaled marine chronometers.  Britten's Watch & Clock Makers' Handbook of 1896 stated this mechanism was "for indicating when a watch or chronometer requires winding."  When a marine chronometer ran down fully, aside from a catastrophic stoppage of time, it was difficult to re-start and susceptible to damage.  Considering their importance to navigation, a winding indicator was a necessity!

The Kriegsmarine also specified a winding indicator for their I. Klasse deck or comparing watches, including the equally well-known Lange & Söhne Cal. 48 B-Uhren with 35 hour subsidiary AUF/AB dial.  Here I'd like to suggest the winding indicator served an additional purpose.  Unlike the fusee of a marine chronometer, itself an excellent regulator of the mainspring's torque output, the torque curve of a lever watch with going barrel fell as the mainspring wound down.  The up/down indicator identified when it left the "sweet spot" for isochronism and required winding-up to maintain accuracy.

This opinion is fortified when one studies the prolific Hamilton Model 22 deck watch.  Its unusually long mainspring would power the watch for 64 hours, however, the UP/DOWN function only marked 56 hours, presumably to eliminate the period at the end of the power curve.

German Chronometry and the Guillaume Effect

In addition to their requirement for an winding indicator, the Kriegsmarine specified a Guillaume balance in their I. Klasse chronometers.  The acceptance of Swiss technology in this otherwise highly nationalistic regime is an interesting story.

The German Hydrographic Institute, Deutsche Seewarte, was established in 1867 and by 1877 added a department for the testing of marine chronometers, closely following the English model.

Three national conferences were held between 1878 and 1898 to impose ever stricter requirements for German-only chronometers which, up till then, were mostly English with slightly reworked parts.  It was deemed of strategic importance that the German Navy not be dependent on foreign chronometers while they were involved in a maritime arms race.

As a result, at least for a brief period, a few all-German makers were to come forward with good and reliable marine chronometers.  However, with limited domestic production of specialized parts, many others still relied on English mainsprings and fusee chains.

In 1897, Swiss genius Charles Edouard Guillaume created Invar, a nickle-steel alloy which revolutionized the compensation balance.  He granted the license for production to the Neuchâtel firm Société des Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies S.A.  The advantages were obvious and by 1907 Lange & Söhne received government permission to break the German-only restrictions and import Invar for use in chronometer balances.  This was followed by a further exemption to bring in palladium balance springs from Switzerland.  By 1911, the all-German chronometer was gone.

For this chronology I am indebted to a monograph by Gunther Oestmann, featured in the September 2014 edition of Antiquarian Horology.

Ritual of the Navigator's Chronometers

Here is an excerpt from the book; Naval Life and Customs, by Lt. Cmdr. John Irving RN, published in 1944. It reveals the care taken to keep the ship's chronometers regularly wound.

Ritual of the Navigator's Chronometers

Next in line, and still within the orbit of the "happy ship," comes the navigator. Often regarded playfully as an idler, he is really anything but that. With the ship at sea and under way "The Pilot" seldom leaves his navigating bridge. In harbour there are his charts to correct and a number of small jobs such as checking range-finder ranges which help the gunnery officer. He also has charge of the ship's chronometers - and here again tradition steps in. Time was when a ship's chronometer, used for determining by calculation the ship's precise longitude at any moment, were one of the most important items of her equipment. Latitude, the other geographical dimension, could always be found from the sun at noon, or the Pole-star at night; but to find the longitude necessitated a very accurate time-keeper which was never allowed to run down and of which the error on Greenwich time was known accurately to a second from day to day. Since in the knowledge of a ship's position at sea lies the safety of the ship the responsibility for the care of and the regular winding of the chronometers was always paramount - not only for the officers, but also for the men.

And how easy it is to forget to wind a watch or a clock - we all know that, But chronometers must not be forgotten - and, moreover, they must be wound at the same time each day. So the problem of clock forgetfulness was overcome in the Navy by the simple process of requiring a senior Royal Marine rank, often a Colour Sergeant, to follow the navigating officer (whose duty it is to wind the chronometers) like a shadow from eight a.m. onwards until the job has been done. Once they are wound, the "shadow" reports to the captain – "Chronometers wound" - a simple report but one which, in the old days before the advent of wireless time-signals, held in its grasp the safety of all on board. Even to-day, with wireless pips" going almost every half-hour from one station or another, the tradition of safety is maintained and the report continues.

Introducing The V&C

Re: Introducing The V&C "AUF/AB" Deck Watch
06/07/2015 - 17:54

Fascinating history, Dean. A good read!

Thank for all your work and sharing this very interesting watch and its story.


Thanks Joseph, it was fun to do
06/08/2015 - 01:20

I'm very gratified that you enjoyed it; you set a high standard smiley

Great addition to your collection!
06/08/2015 - 03:57

Hi Dean, congratulations!

These beautifully finished "tool" watches really amaze me.  Over time, I also noticed that the AB/AUF complication has only been on the Deck Watches for the German Navy, though I did not know why.

I did not know that the indicator was not a Power Reserve indicator.  Not knowing the German language, I thought that the indicator was at the right hand side "AUF, 0" position when unwound and would rotate clockwise to the "AB, 32" position as it became fully wound.

But I should have thought things through a bit more, as my Hamilton Model 22 works the same way.  ("Down" is at 56 hours on the left and "UP" is at the 0 hours on the right).

Thanks for adding to the wealth and pool of knowledge, AGAIN!  enlightenedyes

Great addition to your collection!

Some caveats, Dan
06/08/2015 - 17:57

I was curious why the KM would demand this feature for their top-tier deck watches but the Royal Navy did not with their equivalent HS2 watches.  Heck, the RN wasn't all that particular about a Guillaume balance either!  I checked with one fellow who might know but even Konrad Knirim was in the dark.  It would be awesome if the V&C order would surface, like with the Corps of Engineers enlightened.

I should also add the Jaeger-LeCoultre forum at Purists as a great source of info on the JLC cal. 162/171, although understandably not so much on the V&C connection.  I am still left with a couple of caveats that I'd like to state so that any future answers can be posted to this discussion.  First, there seems to be uncertainty if JLC ever produced a version of their cal. 162 with winding indicator, although the examples put forward by Jaeger were actually fitted with V&C movements based on the JLC ebauche, so I understand the claim but its not the complete story.

Second, there still may be something to the 20 vs 21 jewels.  When JLC changed designation to cal. 171 in 1953, it was supposed to signify a change to the movement.  Although nothing is visible when you compare the two, it may have been uprated to 21 jewels which would typically mean the addition of a capstone jewel under the escape wheel or lever.  Official sources would have to confirm this but I'm afraid to add to the long list of outstanding questions I have with the Heritage Dept blush.

'Chronometers Wound' - It's a happy ship!...
06/08/2015 - 17:43

Dean, an exceedingly interesting piece of copy and some superb photographs.

Thoroughly enjoyed the read - another step forward on my learning curve.

With grateful thanks.


Great addition and a great write up.
06/08/2015 - 19:50

Thank you.  I had always conflated the auf/ab with a power reserve myself.  Being a better German speaker than horologist, I left my curiousity as to why UP was zero and DOWN was "full" unanswered.  You, my friend, have answered it.  Thank you.

I also loved the historical context.  I must admit to wondering why the "shadow" didn't just wind the darned things himself, instead of following the Nacigator around till he did it.  I suppose there are 2 forces at play: 1) Double accountabilty, and 2) someone "of rank" probably needed to bear ultimate responsibility.

Great history lesson, as always.  Thanks for that.

Very telling indeed
06/09/2015 - 17:06

To mandate a senior rank from another Service to "supervise" winding of the watches tells a great deal about the importance of this task, as the Royal Marine NCO wouldn't have the slightest difficulty, being under a different chain-of-command, in revealing the navigator's misdeed should he neglect his responsibilities.

Re: Great addition and a great write up.
06/10/2015 - 20:12

I don't speak German but my grandfather was from Austria - where, by the way they speak VAHR DEUTSCH (true German, at least according to my grandfather.)

In any case, he used to get really annoyed at me when I couldn't understand that the glass was never full to the top but only to the top of the liquid in the glass. So, the BOTTOM of the empty space above the water, or juice, or scotch was where it was 'full' and the TOP of that space - in fact, anywhere above the top of the liquid, was where it was 'empty'. 

I hope I've clarified the issue once and for all. ;-)


PS - By now, you should be even more confused.




Great story.
06/10/2015 - 21:47

The German's can be quite literal.  I lived in Germany for a bit and am almost fluent, but this tripped me up.  I was dating a girl there and she was scheduled to come to the US a few months after I went home.  I wrote to her telling her that I could not wait for her visit (Ich kann nicht warten, dich wieder zu sehen).  Bad move.  That means that one literally can NOT wait.  The correct phrasing was that one can barely wait (Ich kann KAUM warten, dich wieder zu sehen).  That enegendered the exact wrong reaction that required some explaining to undo.  Ah, language!

Re: Great story.
06/11/2015 - 04:15

My grandfather not only told me they speak true German in Austria but he also told me that the language gets worse and worse as you go north until, when you get to England, you can hardly understand it at all. ;-)

He also hated the word German.


Ich bin ein Berliner
06/10/2015 - 23:48

Phannkuchen angel

VC für ein Berliner
06/11/2015 - 00:04

Sorry, I could not resist.  I didn't even try to make it look good, but I thought using the Overseas Chrono Americas LE was a nice touch!

VC für ein Berliner

Speaking of good taste...
06/11/2015 - 16:54

LOL, nice segue!  I'm glad you identified the base caliber, otherwise I might have guessed it was a new Apple watch.

I am in awe.
06/11/2015 - 21:45

Your Pun Gu is quite strong.  I was trying to come up with something leveraging the ACTUAL fruit of the caliber, but I think I shall just yield to you.  Nicely played my friend.

That should have been Pun Fu.
06/11/2015 - 21:47

I would blame it on autocorrect, but that would be a lie.  Darn.  A halfway decent pun made even more mediocre by a typo...

so not only do you have good taste in watches but in music too :-) Love your references !
06/10/2015 - 17:12