1918 Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch
1919 Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch
The World's FIRST Waterproof Wrist Watches
"The Most Scientifically Constructed Watch Case in the World"
by Stan Czubernat
For the past 15 years I have been trying to document and catalog every American made trench watch produced during the Great War era. It's not very often that I get to draw a line through a name on the very short list of watches that still remain missing from the historical record. In early January of 2022 I was able draw a line through the name 1919 Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch on that list.
IT HAS FINALLY BEEN FOUND!
Many military watch collectors are familiar with the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch, made of nickel that had a black jappaned case finish. But, Depollier also made a HIGH END version of the Field & Marine named the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch that was made in silver and 14k solid gold. BOTH of these watches did in FACT feature "screw down crowns". The THERMO did not have a black case finish, it was bare metal. The THERMO has been missing from the historical record of American made wrist watches from the WWI era even though many have searched for this elusive model for many years. There are no pictures of a THERMO anywhere on the internet and no books or magazine articles have been published featuring this incredibly rare model, that is until now. One has finally been found and it's the .830 silver version. It is the only "THERMO" currently known to exist in silver or 14k solid gold.
In 1915 Depollier started his quest to develop a waterproof watch case but in May of 1917 things really started to heat up when he filed a patent application for the "double clinched bezel" which is one of the patents that made his waterproof watches possible. The Depollier ateliers were also working on several different waterproof crown designs at the same time. There were no less than four waterproof crown designs being developed by four different men at Depollier. They were Mortimer Golden, Charles Dunham, James Tough and Charles Depollier himself.
In the beginning the Mortimer Golden waterproof crown design was at the forefront for the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch and for the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch. The Golden crown design can be seen in several very early advertisements for the "Field & Marine and for the "THERMO" in 1918 & 1919. The Golden waterproof crown was the one that was prototyped and a small batch of them were in fact made for waterproof testing. Soon as Depollier knew this design was waterproof after testing he sort of jumped the gun and started advertising the "Field & Marine" with the Dunham crown design in "The Jeweler's Circular Weekly" and in "The Keystone" magazines in late July of 1918. The very first advertisements for the "THERMO" did not get published until very early 1919. There are only three advertisements currently known to exist for the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch. They were all published from January of 1919 through March of 1919. The first was published in the souvenir catalog for the "Aeronautical Exposition" that was held at Madison Square Garden from March 1st-15th 1919, this advert shows the Golden waterproof crown design. The second advert was published in the "Official Aero Blue Book and Directory 1919" but it featured the Charles Dunham waterproof crown design. The third and final advert was published in the March 17, 1919 edition of "Aerial Age Weekly", it also featured the Dunham crown design. Pictured are the three publications that the THERMO was advertised in and the adverts in those publications. Trust me, it was NOT easy to find original copies of these advertisements!
But, there was a problem with the Charles Dunham waterproof crown design. The week that the Armistice was signed in November of 1918 that halted the bloody fighting of the Great War Charles Depollier boarded a train from New York City to Washington D.C. to meet with high ranking members of the United States Army Signal Corps division. The US Army Signal Corps division was in charge of purchasing all watches for all branches of the United States military. They would then distribute those purchased watches accordingly to the Quartermasters. Charles Depollier met with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Mauborgne to discuss a contract to purchase 10,000 units of the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch. Depollier brought 12 samples with him and left them with Lieutenant Colonel Mauborgne for independent waterproof testing and beta testing on the wrist. This is where it gets very interesting! Lieutenant Colonel Mauborgne was a highly educated man, he was the commanding officer of the United States Army Engineering & Research Division. He also oversaw the United States Bureau of the Standards testing laboratory. The Bureau of Standards was America's first physical science laboratory, founded by Congress in 1901. In later years Lieutenant Colonel Mauborgne would become a two star Major General and Chief Signal Officer of the United States Army. He was awarded the "Distinguished Service Cross" by President Woodrow Wilson for his meritorious service. Lieutenant Colonel Mauborgne personally did the waterproof testing on the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watches that were submitted and he in fact said "This watch is alright, it is waterproof, we have tested it" according to Charles Depollier. If you can't trust a man with this sort of resume and credentials who could you possibly trust? Remember the beginning of this paragraph where I said "but there was a problem"? The waterproof testing went great but the US Army did not like the crown design itself. Major Klock and Colonel Morse had objections to the height of the Charles Dunham crown design, it was obviously too high and was digging into the back of the hand or getting caught on the uniform sleeves of the soldiers. They also said it was "ugly looking". The U.S. Army told Charles Depollier that he would have to change the design of the crown to make it more comfortable. So, Depollier went back to his shop in Brooklyn and retooled the case to work with his own waterproof crown design in which a patent application had already been filed on March 18, 1918, patented on January 28, 1919. By May of 1919 the new design was ready for mass production. The Depollier patented waterproof crown design is the one that everybody knows. Pictured below is Major General Joseph Mauborgne (in 1918 he was a Lieutenant Colonel) who did the waterproof testing.
This is the name registration document that Charles Depollier received from the United States Patent Office on July 6, 1920 to secure the name "THERMO" for his watch. He started using the name "THERMO" in September of 1918. The name registration paperwork was filed on February 1, 1919.
This is the name registration document that Charles Depollier received from the United States Patent Office on July 9, 1918 to secure the name "FIELD & MARINE" for his watch. He started using the name "FIELD & MARINE" on October 1, 1917. The name registration paperwork was filed on October 20,1917.
The only reason we now know any of this is because Mortimer Golden sued Charles Depollier for royalties on March 8, 1919 in United States District Court, Southern District of New York. A good friend of mine and fellow watch book author Mr. Fred Friedberg was actually able to obtain a transcript of the 1919 lawsuit sworn testimony. 100+ years ago this trial took place in New York City but the federal lawsuit file was then moved to Fort Riley in the state of Kansas to a records depot. Mr. Friedberg had to file a petition with the government to get access to the federal court files. According to the court testimony a total of 335 original Gen #1 Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch cases were made at Depollier's shop but only about 20 were completely finished using the Mortimer Golden crown design. 12 of them were given the the US Army Signal Corps division for testing, 2 were sold and the rest of them were put in the scrap bin and destroyed. So, that means that only 14 of them might still exist but none have ever been found or documented.
When the U.S. Army would not accept the Mortimer Golden waterproof crown design due to it's discomfort on the wrist the advertisement published in the souvenir catalog for the Aeronautical Exposition held at Madison Square Garden in early March of 1919 was already obsolete. The crown had already been changed over to the Charles Dunham waterproof design for the next two Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch advertisements in the "Official Aero Blue Book and Directory 1919" and in the March 17, 1919 edition of "Aerial Age Weekly". I surmise that Charles Depollier decided to use his own shorter height waterproof crown design to avoid any further lawsuits for royalties or delays going into mass production because the Charles Dunham waterproof crown design also had a high stance in my opinion. In the end the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch and the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch had the same Charles Depollier patented crown design by May of 1919. Pictured below are the first advertisements of the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch and the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch, both featuring the Mortimer Golden crown design that never went into mass production.
According to Charles Depollier's sworn court testimony that can be found on page 36 of the lawsuit transcript it was the US Army's idea to put a heat insulating disc on the case backs of the "Field & Marine", these discs would also be used on the "THERMO" watches. The Depollier waterproof watch insulated case backs are comprised of three components. They are a round mounting bracket that goes flush up against the outside of the case back, a round asbestos disc that is the size of a quarter but thin as a dime and then a sterling silver or 14k solid gold outer disc. This three piece unit would then be pressed into the case back mounting ring. So the final design of the Depollier waterproof watch case was a joint effort between Charles Depollier and the United States Army Signal Corps Division.
Contrary to popular belief all Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watches did NOT have a 14k solid gold case back disc. Only the civilian versions of this watch had the 14k yellow gold disc. The militarized versions of the Depollier "Field & Marine Waterproof Watch cases in fact had a sterling silver case back disc, not a 14k yellow gold disc. The 14k disc features the 5 patent dates that made Depollier's waterproof watch cases possible, they also have the case serial number stamped into them. The militarized versions are simply stamped "U.S.A" which stands for "United States Army" and then the case serial number. But, unfortunately the vast majority of these sterling silver and 14k solid gold discs were pried off of the cases over the years for the precious metal content. I have seen many of the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch cases over my career and I'd say that only about 20% of them still have their case back discs. The Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watches that were made in .830 silver and 14k solid gold cases both had 14k solid gold discs according to the advertisements. Unfortunately, the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch I'm discussing today has had the 14k solid gold disc removed over the years.
On the final case designs of the early 1919 Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" and "THERMO" Waterproof Watches an extra feature was added. Take a close look at the THERMO picture below. See those two slots on the bezel at the 9 & 3 o'clock positions? Those slots are also located on the case back of the watch. The slots are for the Depollier "case key". Until this watch hit the market most semi-hermetic threaded cases only had a coin edge bezel and case back. The coin edging looked great but it actually had a purpose. The coin edging served as a grip and would allow for a tighter seal on the bezel and case back as they were screwed together. This was a fantastic idea but you could only get them hand tight. The Depollier "case key" was a game changer. The key allowed for the bezel and case back to be screwed down very tightly creating a completely watertight seal on the gaskets inside of the case. To the best of my knowledge Charles Depollier was the very first manufacturer to include this "key" technology on a wrist watch case. Unfortunately, the credit for this incredible advancement in technology was unjustly given to Hans Wilsdorf, owner of Rolex, by the writers in the watch industry and is still repeated today. Funny thing though, Charles Depollier developed the "case key" in 1918 and the key was included with every watch, this can be tracked through case design in his advertisements. The Hans Wilsdorf Rolex case key patent application was not even filed until 1930, patented on January 16, 1931 (Swiss Patent CH143449). The case key concept was soon adopted other manufacturers around the world and is still used today. Over 100 years later just about all modern waterproof watches and dive watches require a key to open the case. The technology developed by Charles Depollier during the Great War era truly was light years ahead of it's time and far ahead of Rolex.
A couple of years ago I was able to find an incredibly important document, it was the "Annual Report of the Chief Signal Officer to the Secretary of War" dated June 30, 1919. Written by Major General George Squeir, Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army to Mr. Newton Baker, the United States Secretary of War. On page 242 of this official US government document it reads "Wrist Watches - After examining many designs the engineers of this section finally adopted a design of a waterproof case in which a watch could actually run for several weeks under water. The bezel in this case is tightly screwed against an oil-filled washer, thus making an impervious seal. The pendant is provided with a locking cap which seals all openings at this point. Many thousand of these cases were ordered, and it was contemplated to put the standard Signal Corps watch movements into them. This was being done when the Armistice was signed. Several satisfactory movements had also been examined, tested, and accepted by this section". Now, when you read this document and the sworn court testimony from the March 8, 1919 Golden vs. Depollier lawsuit the watch description and the dates line up perfectly. The War Department report is in fact discussing the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch. In the end the United States Army Signal Corps division placed an order for 10,000 Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch Cases in December of 1918, U.S. government contract number 160,615.
For decades the watch community has given the 1926 Rolex Oyster credit for being the "World's First Waterproof Watch". As of January of 2023 the world-famous Christie’s Auction House has an article on their webpage that states “But without question, Rolex made the world’s first waterproof watch, from which all waterproof watches of any depth are descendants”. Seriously? "But without question"? Looks like they need to stop going to the Rolex website for their talking points and get some years of actual research under their belts. The arrogance in this statement is almost unbelievable, it leaves no room for further research or for new documents to be discovered. I did reach out to three people in Christie's Watch Department for comment back in April of 2022, but as expected, nobody ever got back with me. Go ahead and Google "world's first waterproof watch", the search results are rather interesting. Rolex claims to have created the "world's first waterproof watch” in 1926 as published on their webpage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not even all that long ago on October 12, 2020 an article was published in the New York Times titled "The Wristwatch at 100". The article discussed waterproofing in one paragraph and it cites the 1926 Rolex Oyster. Within the article it states "There is arguably no more important innovation", said Stephen Pulvirent, managing editor of the online watch platform Hodinkee. "It made watches everyday objects". I completely agree with Mr. Pulvirent, waterproofing the wrist watch was an absolutely incredible innovation. Unfortunately, the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch and the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch were not even mentioned in the article.
On November 24, 1927 Hans Wilsdorf bought the front page of the London's Daily Mail newspaper to proclaim "the greatest triumph in watch-making". In the parlance of our times this is now known as "fake news". How can you possibly claim to have invented the waterproof watch when it had already been mass produced by Charles Depollier and successfully independently tested for waterproof ability by the United States Bureau of Standards YEARS earlier back in 1918? Remember all of those Rolex Oyster advertisements featuring their watch submerged in a "fishbowl" with a couple of goldfish? Rolex used this concept for decades. This was actually Charles Depollier's registered trademark starting back in July of 1918. Rolex started using this imagery after Depollier's trademark expired. On the side of the cases of the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch and the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch there is a stamp that reads "DEPOLLIER WATERPROOF WATCH, TRADEMARK". In the dead center of that stamp there is a "fishbowl", inside of the fishbowl there are two goldfish swimming and the Depollier waterproof watch submerged in the water. It looks like Rolex thought very highly of Mr. Depollier's absolutely genius marketing ideas as they chose to copy his print advertisements as seen below. In another Rolex fishbowl advert from the early 1930s they apparently attempt to toss shade at Depollier's watch, even though it was already certified as "waterproof" by the United States Federal Government. In this advert Rolex mentions a feature that can ONLY be found on Depollier's waterproof watches, the heat insulating "asbestos" case back disk that was covered by an outer disk made of sterling silver or 14k gold. So, it is abundantly clear that Rolex was fully aware of Depollier's successful waterproof watch but they still erroneously claim, to this day, that they created the "world's first waterproof watch" in 1926. Don't worry Rolex, I'm sure "World's 3rd Waterproof Watch" will still look nice on the cake when you have your 100th anniversary party for your Oyster in 2026!
There is MORE than enough evidence now to give credit for the incredible achievement of waterproof wrist watch technology where it is TRULY due. Every book and magazine article about this subject needs to be re-written with the credit now going to the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch and to the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch.
In 2020 Waltham Watches decided to make a modern version of the 1919 Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch. Waltham Watches is currently owned by Antonio DiBenedetto and the NEW Waltham "Field & Marine" Watch was made in Mendrisio Switzerland with the manufacturing capabilities Watch Angels. I had the honor of serving as historical advisor for this project and narrator for the promotional videos. In the second half of 2021 the NEW Waltham "Field & Marine" Watches were delivered and the response has been great. In 2023 a modern version of the Waltham THERMO watch is scheduled for release, they have already been completely sold out. Pictured below is the WWI era Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Watch, the Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch with the NEW Waltham "Field & Marine" Watch.
Charles Depollier passed away on December 29, 1940 and he was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn New York next to his wife Elizabeth who passed away in 1931. About a year ago while doing research for my 3rd book, "The Inconvenient Truth about the World's First Waterproof Watch, the Story of Charles Depollier and his Waterproof Trench Watches of the Great War", it came to my attention that Charles & Elizabeth Depollier were resting in an unmarked grave. This did not sit well with me at all. Charles Depollier's horological inventions still echo loudly today. All modern dive watches and waterproof watches today can be traced back to the technology developed by Charles Depollier during the Great War years. The screw down crown, the fully hermetic case and waterproof crystal technology were all realized by Mr. Depollier. Now you can see why I found it very upsetting that Charles & Elizabeth Depollier were resting in an unmarked grave. This was an oversight that needed to be corrected! I contacted seven people that might be interested in helping me fix this for Charles & Elizabeth. All seven people, without hesitation, donated the funds necessary to help me pay for the Depollier family plot headstone to be engraved with the names of Charles & Elizabeth Depollier. I would like to personally thank them now for their generous financial contributions. Mr. Guido Benedini CEO of Watch Angels in Switzerland, Mr. Antonio DiBenedetto Owner of Waltham Watches, Mr. Fred Friedberg, Mr. William Peoples, Mr. Greg Hart, Mrs. Tiffany Czubernat and one anonymous donor Mr. PV. It was an honor and privilege spearheading this project. Getting this done was not an easy task, we had to jump through the hoops of a permitting process, delays due to Covid, then wait for our contractor to get the engraving job completed. I can't even begin to tell you how happy I am that Charles & Elizabeth Depollier are now resting in a proper grave site. Thanks again to the generous individuals that helped me make this happen!
The Waltham Depollier THERMO has been missing from the historical record for decades. This is the HIGH END version of the Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch. The Field & Marine" was made of nickel. This highly elusive model was named the 1919 Waltham Depollier 'THERMO" Waterproof Watch. The Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watches were only made in .830 silver and 14k solid gold. This is the SILVER version. The side of the case reads "DEPOLLIER WATERPROOF WATCH TRADEMARK". This absolutely remarkable piece of American craftsmanship is in SUPERB condition and has been mechanically restored. Hard to believe that this waterproof watch is 104 years old. All modern dive watches and waterproof watches today can be traced back to these models, the technology developed by Depollier started it all. Our Grandfather's knew how to make things that would last for generations. The movement was just completely taken apart and serviced on 1-18-2022, a brand new mainspring has also been installed. It's in superb running condition and keeping excellent time. This watch has been tested on a professional timegraph 5000 Machine for accuracy so rest assured. Take another look at picture number three again, the 15 jewel movement is clean as a whistle and stunning in its beauty. I'm sure that you have noticed by now that this is not your ordinary trench watch case by a long shot. This is a .830 SILVER waterproof trench watch case that was manufactured by J. Depollier & Son in 1919. The FIVE Depollier patent dates that made this waterproof watch possible are stamped on the inside of the case back, 1916 - 1919. Case number: 289. Years of R&D by Depollier went into this case design. This is a fully hermetic waterproof case so the bezel and case back are both threaded, the threading is in excellent condition! Nobody over the past 104 years has tried to open the case the wrong way by prying it open. So many of these cases have been destroyed by somebody trying to improperly pry the case open but this one is just superb. This case is highly prized by collectors for its beauty & design features and incredible historical importance. This waterproof technology developed by Charles Depollier was tested by Lieutenant Colonel Mauborgne of the United States Army Signal Corps in 1918 and it passed the tests with flying colors. He was the commanding officer of the United States Army Signal Corps Engineering & Research Division when he tested this watch design. The United States War Department would soon thereafter purchase 10,000 of them for the US Army. Lieutenant Colonel Mauborgne would later become a TWO STAR Major General and the Chief Signal Officer of the United States Army. Depollier developed the world's first waterproof wrist watch that actually worked and kept the water out! Plus, this case still has the original factory silver "screw down crown". The case has not been polished, just cleaned. This watch is simply incredible! The enamel dial on this trench watch is among the most desirable that Waltham ever produced, the Shadow Box Military Dial! The dial features a white face, shadow box numerals, outer minute markers, the correct blue steel skeleton hands for this dial and is signed "WALTHAM" near the center. This historic and iconic American trench watch has been fitted with a hand made 16mm tan Khaki Strap and a sterling silver slider clasp that absolutely makes the watch! Take a look at picture number two again, this watch looks stunning on the wrist! The strap will fit a wrist up to 8.5 inches. It will have a bit of wear on it because I seriously could not resist wearing this one for a few days, can you blame me? It's kind of like Ferris Bueller and that Ferrari, if you had access to one would you just leave it in a garage? I think not! Here are the movement details: 1919 Waltham, 15 jewels, size 3/0s, serial number 21413784, grade 365, model 1907. The high end movement features a solid gold center wheel, solid gold raised jewel chatons and solid gold balance wheel screws! They just don't make them like this anymore! The case measures a whopping 44mm lug tip to lug tip, 36mm not including the original factory crown with a nice and wide 16mm lug diameter. The case weighs an incredible 39.6 grams of .830 silver without the movement or 1.39 ounces. That is a lot of silver considering your run of the mill WWI sterling silver trench watch case only weighs about 12 grams. This extremely rare "THERMO" model still has the yellow military crystal. Charles Depollier wrote a booklet back in 1917 titled "The Watch in the Trenches", on pages 13-14 he discusses the need for a dark colored crystal. This was intended to lessen the brightness of the radium lume. You certainly didn't want an enemy sniper taking you out from across "no-man's land". The original dark yellow crystal has some scratches, but nothing that I would consider major. This watch winds and sets exactly as it should and the screw down crown locks into place just as it should! It has no issues. The two shoulders that the crown screws down into are also in excellent condition. This watch is ready to be worn and shown off, it will surely get noticed! I put a lot of time and effort into this Waltham Depollier, I'm sure that you will appreciate the quality and quantity of work that has been done. Solid old World craftsmanship at its finest! You would be seriously hard pressed to find a ANOTHER example of this 1919 Waltham Depollier "THERMO" Waterproof Watch featuring a high end 15 jewel movement, re-lumed shadow box military dial & hands, factory original yellow military grade crystal, screw down crown, Depollier .830 silver case with the five Depollier patent dates stamped into the case back with a hand made tan KHAKI STRAP with a slider clasp, it's the ONLY ONE currently known to exist!
Below is the front cover of my latest book, 341 pages, now available.
"The Inconvenient Truth about the World's First Waterproof Watch"
The Story of Charles Depollier and his Waterproof Trench Watches of the Great War