Christie’s, New York, December 16 2015
Sold for: $21,250
With the values of all vintage Longines military watches on the rise, those with extra-interesting provenance are beginning to attract some serious prices – as in the case of this fascinating Weems model which was issued to a Japanese pilot during WWII.
As many QP readers will know, US Naval officer Philip Van Horn Weems invented the “second setting” watch in 1929. It featured a rotating centre seconds dial which could be synchronised with a radio signal to show the precise time and, simultaneously, reveal any margin of error displayed by the hands on the main, outer dial – an essential tool for accurate navigation.
Like most aviation watches, the Weems was large (47mm) with a chunky, onion crown. Most of those created during WWII were issued to Allied pilots – but a small number, of which the Christie’s lot was one, ended up with the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. Very few survive, with those that do invariably being engraved on the back with Japanese characters that translate as “air soldier” or “sky warrior”.
This particular example was given by a Japanese pilot to an American serving as a translator for the US Navy during the war. During post-war occupation, the translator helped to establish a newspaper in Okinawa – in recognition of which the watch was presented to him by its original pilot owner. Almost more remarkably, the American took the watch back to the U.S. and placed it on his desk – where, apparently, it remained for 70 years before being consigned for auction.
In summary: An ultra-rare watch with a fascinating, known history. Considering its background, its survival is nothing short of remarkable. A long-overdue service might, however, be in order.