The advent of the aeroplane and the need for accurate timekeeping at altitude drove wristwatch design.
Longines is renowned for two significant collaborations during this period. The first was with US naval officer Philip Van Horn Weems, whose famed navigation system led to the ‘Weems second-setting watch’. Secondly, in the early 1930s, American pilot Charles Lindbergh worked with Longines to create his ‘hour angle watch’. designed to work with a sextant and a nautical almanac.
On February 10, Sotheby’s (25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) offered the chance to bid for a Longines watch once owned by Johnson. Estimated at £15,000-25,000 as part of an online Fine Watches sale, bidding reached £70,000.
Tutored by Weems
Johnson acquired her silver-cased ‘second-setting’ watch (labelled the Wittnauer Sidereal) in the US where she was tutored in celestial navigation by Weems himself. The watch was invoiced via Wittnauer (the agent for Longines in the US) on February 10, 1937, and that year Johnson was photographed wearing it twice in the Baltimore Sun newspaper.
In one she is pictured sitting next to Weems in Annapolis, Maryland, receiving instruction. Shortly after this meeting, Weems wrote a letter to the US pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) offering her similar guidance. “I have just had Miss Amy Johnson here for two weeks. She did beautiful work and seems to be more than pleased with the results.”
Earhart died shortly afterwards attempting to circumnavigate the globe; Johnson in 1941 while serving in the British Air Transport Auxiliary.
Remarkably this watch, measuring a chunky 47mm, retains its original leather strap with a pin buckle. Accompanying it was a printed letter of thanks sent from Johnson’s family to her supporters commemorating the 1930 flight to Australia and Longines correspondence concerning its provenance.
Just two days earlier, a Longines Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch Ref: 3210 had been offered for sale at Kent auction house C&T (22% buyer’s premium).
The stainless-steel cased wristwatch, also measuring 47mm, has a white enamel dial with an outer minute track, an inner scale calibrated for 180 degrees and a centre silvered rotating disc calibrated for 60 seconds and 15 degrees. Longines records show the watch was originally invoiced on May 15, 1939, to W Maier & Co. Estimated at £8000-12,000, it got away at £15,500.
A late but very welcome entry to the February 10 sale at Thomson Roddick (18% buyer’s premium) in Edinburgh was a Minerva pilot’s chronograph wristwatch. Although lacking immediate brand recognition, these were influential watches and they appeal for their generous size of 45mm and obvious aviation heritage.
The white on black dial features a snail-shaped tachometer ring to the centre and a telemeter scale to the outer edge. A triangular-shaped luminous marker to the rotating bezel matches the luminous Arabic hour markers and hand allowing for precise readings during night-time.
This Scottish watch came privately from a vendor specifying a modest estimate of £1000-1500. The auction house was confident this would be bettered and, indeed, bidding reached £6000.
The case design (with the pusher at 2 o’clock rather than integrated into the crown) and the case serial number 468976 would suggest a relatively early date. A watch with a marginally higher serial number sold by Phillips Geneva in November 2018 for SFr50,000 was dated c.1930.