"The Inconvenient Truth about the World's First Waterproof Watch,
the Story of Charles Depollier and his Waterproof Trench Watches of the Great War"
by Stan Czubernat
hard bound, 341 pages, 2022
On July 16, 2023 while at the NAWCC National Convention I was awarded the
2023 NAWCC Kenneth Roberts - Snowden Taylor Award for Horological Research Excellence.
This was for my body of work and the three books I wrote over several years about the dawn of the
American wristwatch industry; Depollier, Waltham & Elgin.
This is the NAWCC's top award for Excellence in Horological Research & Literature.
This is Stan Czubernat's 3rd book in his "Trench Watches of the Great War" series. 341 pages will document that Charles Leon Depollier truly created the world's first waterproof wrist watch with the 1918 Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch followed closely by the 1919 Waltham Depollier
"THERMO" Waterproof Watch. The 4 different waterproof crown designs developed in the house of Depollier during the Great War years will be covered in detail. Evidence included is the complete trial transcript of the 1919 lawsuit between Charles Depollier vs Mortimer Golden. This is Charles Depollier's fascinating first hand account of how he developed waterproof wrist watch technology 8 years before Rolex in cooperation with high ranking officers of the United States Army Signal Corps Engineering & Research Division. Depollier's waterproof wrist watch case was independently tested in Washington D.C. by the United States National Bureau of Standards for its waterproof ability, it passed their tests with flying colors. All paper lawsuit exhibits from both parties are included, every page. Two official United States War Department reports corroborate Depollier's sworn court testimony. In one of these reports Two Star Major General George Squier informs the United States Secretary of War, Mr. Newton Baker, that the "watch could actually run for several weeks under water". Mr. Baker reported directly to President Woodrow Wilson. You will also read the correspondence of high ranking. U.S. Army officers discussing Depollier's waterproof wrist watch technology and how it would solve many of their problems in 1918. Also included are the Waltham Depollier trench watch advertisements and the non-waterproof Waltham Depollier military watches produced during the Great War era.For years the writers in the watch industry, watch magazines, the most renowned auction houses in the world, major newspapers and online watch media outlets have been giving you incorrect information
about the true origins of waterproof wrist watch technology. They could not have gotten this story more wrong by saying Rolex was the one who developed this technology in 1926 with the Oyster. Military records have always been considered the "holy grail" of documentation, the benchmark of evidence. There is simply no way to put a spin on the date stamped military documents I've discovered in the United States National Archives. How can Rolex possibly account for Depollier's watch being successfully independently tested for waterproof ability, approved and purchased by the U.S. government 8 YEARS before they released the Oyster? They can't. My allegiance is to horological history and giving credit to the individuals who actually changed the industry, not to perpetuating inaccurate myths.
Domestic Orders WITHIN the United States
Published March 29, 2023
Pretty exciting!!! Word about my latest book is still spreading around the world! A fantastic article about me and my research was just published in a rather prestigious magazine called Montres Heroes (Wristwatch Heroes in French). It is currently being distributed at the Watches & Wonders show in Geneva, right in Rolex's back yard! Below is the English version that I translated. Actor Ryan Gosling is on this month's cover. ENJOY!!!
Having the paternity, the patent, the original idea, is almost the force of law in watchmaking. We thought the story of the waterproof watch perfectly clear, illuminated by the Rolex lighthouse. But now a Texas watchmaker, keen on history, reshuffles the cards, multiple documents in support.
A brief inattention from Google. That's all it took to lift a corner of the veil on an almost unprecedented – or even forbidden – watchmaking history. It is there, at the very end of the search page, that a strange link appears: "First waterproof watch: an inconvenient truth". Isn't the invention of the first waterproof watch widely documented? Rolex, the crossing of the English Channel in 1926 by Mercedes Gleitze, an Oyster on the wrist? The subject is indeed not debated, it is widely documented. Stan Czubernat does not question it. What he questions is what happened... before.
Passion for the trenches The man is a watchmaker in Spring, Texas. His passion: trench watches, those used during the First World War. In other words, the niche is narrow: between 1914 and 1918, the wristwatch is in its infancy, and its technical capabilities are far from being perfected, neither in terms of resistance nor precision. But it turns out that the manufacturers of the rare watches of this time are largely American. They are named Waltham, Elgin Hampden, Illinois & Hamilton. Stan Czubernat restored them... more than 2000. How could he have missed the mention "Waterproof" that adorns some cases? This is the starting point of an immense quest that stretches over 15 years. Because the man, far from a simple commentator, wanted to date and especially document the invention of the waterproof watch, which he presses as being well before the coup d'éclat of Rolex in 1926. And history proved him right, with a name: Charles Depollier.
Seven years ahead The first avenue that opened up to the watchmaker was that of an advertisement from October 13, 1919, 7 years before the Mercedes Gleitze crossing. We see a pilot, Roland Rohlfs, evoking a world altitude record reached with his plane, at 34,610 ft, with a Waltham Depollier "Field & Marine" Waterproof Watch on his wrist. But the story does not end there: another officer, R.W. Shroeder, beats the record (36,130 ft) the following year... with the same watch on your wrist! No coincidence. His story was again advertised, published in April 1920 in The Keystone magazine. Where do these pieces come from? Stan Czubernat continues to pull the thread of history. He traces a 1918 order from the U.S. Army for 10,000 waterproof boxes from Dubois Watch Case, based in Brooklyn, New York, and founded in 1877. The order is perfectly documented and has the contract number 160615. But order waterproof boxes... does not prove that they were. Stan Czubernat therefore inquires about possible water resistance tests that would corroborate the assertion of real "waterproof" watches. Bingo: the man gets his hands on a conclusive test report dated a little later (June 1919) submitted to the War Secretary office. The tests concern parts from 1917-1918, and confirmed as watertight by another report submitted to a certain Benedict Russell of the same office, on May 10, 1919.
A life-saving trial Subsequently, his investigations will offer Stan Czubernat a lot of other information, since the man who designed these waterproof watches, Charles Depollier, found himself cited in a patent paternity lawsuit against one of his former collaborators. Stan Czubernat was able to get his hands on the full transcript of the minutes of the trial. It details, from the very mouth of the inventor, the entire manufacturing process and optimization of waterproof boxes. These minutes are not only textual: they include many deposits of drawings, dated technical plans, and even some patents that leave no possible gray area as to the invention of the waterproof watch. Historical treasures that were previously all buried in the United States National Archives and that Stan Czubernat patiently unearthed, one a year.
A story of a jar Such excavations have also uncovered some amusing anecdotes. The most seasoned remember, for example, the advertisement used by Rolex in the 30s, depicting a watch dipped in a jar. Its caption extolled the merits of the watch's water resistance, an "Original Precision Sports" - probably justified. Except that the same visual, with the same jar, and for the same principle, had been used by Charles Depollier for his own boxes... in 1918. The piece was then marketed by Waltham. The model associated with advertising, the Waltham Depollier of which Stan Czubernat has since restored several copies, was also hallmarked with a seal "Depollier Waterproof Watch, Trademark" in the center of which we clearly see a jar, two goldfish... and a watch immersed in between. Another interesting anecdote: all these parts are stamped "waterproof" and not "water resistant", as we can read today, because the term was imposed only in the middle of the twentieth century by the FTC, Federal Trade Commission.
"Taking over one by one all the American watch catalogues available during the First World War was a crazy challenge," says Stan Czubernat. "Some tracks were quite easy to follow and could be confirmed quite quickly. But others turned out to be dead ends in which I sometimes got lost for several years. Over the 15 years spent on the subject, the digitization of archives has come to me a great service, especially when I have been able to associate it with engines equipped with artificial intelligence. But conversely, it has also generated an extremely large amount of available sources. I know that I am still missing some references that I could not precisely date, but the Waltham Depollier "waterproof" is today perfectly documented and dated 1919, without the slightest ambiguity."
Watchmaking Holy Grail Finding the archive was one thing, but finding the watch as an object was another. Stan Czubernat has since had several copies in his hands, in an exceptional state of preservation. Since then, the watchmaker has been identified as the greatest specialist in these "trench watches". Several collectors brought him their own Waltham Depollier, corroborating his documentary research. Until that day in January 2021 when an amateur posted him photos of an atypical Depollier, with silver case and not nickel as was always the case. "Frankly, I thought I was going crazy!" smiles Stan Czubernat. "I thought I had pretty much covered the subject and, among the thousands of documents I had found, he did not have a single one mentioning this variation of case which, moreover, sported a crown quite different from the one we saw at the time."
Stan Czubernat physically received the piece at his studio a few days later. Without knowing it, he had just been delivered a prestige variation stamped "Thermo", with silver and 14-carat gold case. "I had never seen her. On no catalog, no photo, no magazine, no advertising, anywhere on the Internet, until today. It is to my knowledge the only Thermo in the world in this finish. I think there were some variations in style and crown for a very short period in 1918 but no such watch had survived until today." Would Depollier have also invented the waterproof watch... luxurious?