During WWII the watches issued to the German military were manufactured by both Swiss and German companies that were contracted by the German government (Reichsregierung) to produce watches for the Wehrmacht (Army), Luftwaffe (Air Force) and the Kriegsmarine (Navy). The watches were all hand-wound models with either plated brass or steel cases, the dials were black for the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe and various shades from off white to cream for the Kriegsmarine. Some watches carry specific inscriptions indicating the branch of the forces where they were issued but this is not always the case, especially with the earlier watches, these markings are RLM: Reichsluftfahrtministerium, KM: Kriegsmarine you will often find K.M appears on the dial, Wehrmacht watches usually say DU: Dienstuhr (Verwaltung) with the letter DH people often assume the 'D' code stands for Dienstuhr "in English Service Watch" but this is not correct because when DH appears it actually means German Army Service Watch (Heer = Army). This is not a hard and fast rule because some DH watches were issued to the Luftwaffe but it is a pretty good guideline.
The original watches all used radium paint and also had subsidiary small dial second hands. The watches varied in size but averaged 33/35mm although some were smaller. Most of the watches were fairly similar and whilst the British have the Dirty Dozen collecting the German equivalents would be quite challenging due to the sheer number of suppliers at the time which numbered just under 100 different manufacturers!
Whilst unfortunately space here precludes going into detail about all of the different manufacturers who made watches during World War II for the German forces we have highlighted some of them and especially those which still exist because many of them still make watches that one way or another link back to the watches which were made in the 1930s and 1940s.
A list of the various Swiss & German contractors is below, those marked * are still manufacturing although some others might be too, if you are aware of them please let us know, also if you can add to the list that would greatly assist potential collectors although as far as we know only a handful of names are still missing due to fellow collectors who contact us from time to time filling in the gaps.
Below is a brief history or links to a few of the past and present manufacturers.
Aeschbach - Aeschbach was founded in 1923 and was a significant manufacturer for both the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht in WW2, the wartime watches normally just carry the name Aeschbach (the full company name was Weber and Aeschbach) on February 23rd 1945 Pforzheim where the company was located was heavily bombed, in around 20 minutes 17,000 people died and over 80% of the town's buildings were destroyed including the Aeschbach factory which was totally burnt out along with many of the companies records, machines and a large number of watches, this led to the end of production, it was only in 2009 that a family member Stefan Aeschbach who had only been restoring some original Aeschbach watches up until that point explored the potential of restarting production based on the old designs. Interestingly there was a watch that had been earmarked for production in late 1944 but events moved so quickly it was never produced in significant numbers, Stefan owned one of these watches which had been at his great grandfather's home and survived the war, it is upon this watch that the watch shown on this page and at Aeschbach RLM is based. They also make some other watches based on the earlier models.
Bidlingmaier started making watches in 1918 and grew into one of the leading German watch manufacturers; the watches are considered by clients to be very durable and robust by the standards of the day. When WW2 started in 1939 the company employed around 500 staff and the firm manufactured large numbers of watches for the German forces. The company survived the war pretty much unscathed and the factory continued until 1983 when production in Germany ended and the factory closed.
Breitling has been making watches since 1884 see https://www.breitling.com/us-en/about/since1884/history/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breitling_SA
BWC Buttes Watch Co. was founded in 1924 by Mr Arthur Charlet, in his birthplace of Buttes, in the canton of Neuchâtel. Charlet received his training as a watchmaker in Fleurier and then worked, as was customary at the time, in various cities in Switzerland and France, finally in Strasbourg. BWC continues to manufacture watches and the factory site is here https://bwc-swiss.de/shop/
Choisi - see http://www.choisiwatch.com/index.php
Civitas - Civitas was a brand made by Moeris in Switzerland. Civitas as a brand name was registered in 1904. Moeris watches were officially issued to the German Army in WWII, they had the D. H. on the back though, the same applies for Civitas.
Förster see https://17jewels.info/movements/f/foerster/
General Watch & Co - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Watch_Co
Glycine - Founded in 1914 and still manufacturing some interesting watches. For the history of the company see https://www.glycine-watch.ch/history their military range are here https://www.glycine-watch.ch/collections/combat
Grana - Grana was founded in 1888 by Adolf and Alfred Kurth in Gretchen, Switzerland. Whilst watches are no longer manufactured under the name Grana the company was the predecessor to Certina which is still producing watches in large numbers.
Hanhart is still going strong after 140 years of production see https://www.hanhart.com/en/about-hanhart/the-history-of-hanhart/
Helios - Helios were a significant manufacturer in WW2 for the Wehrmacht this link has some useful information https://www.lorologiese.com/blog/helios-d-h/
Helvetia - This company were a large supplier to the German military in WW2 and there were quite a few variants. This link has a significant amount of information https://www.helvetiahistory.co.uk/german-military-dih-watches
IWC - IWC were one of the large manufacturers during World War II because even at that stage the company was a major watch producer. They make some watches even today which are directly descended from the watches which they made in the 1940s the factory website is located here https://www.iwc.com/us/en/home.html
Although they do not make watches that go directly back to the watches issued to the German military this one is a direct descendent of one of the dirty dozen models https://www.iwc.com/us/en/watch-collections/pilot-watches/iw327009-pilot_s-watch-mark-xviii.html, of course, no military forces could afford to buy IWC today because they are far too expensive but nevertheless the Watch above is highly desirable as are many of the others in the range and have a very good military heritage.
Lemania - Lemania was founded in 1884 by Alfred Lugrin (1858-1920), who had trained at Jaeger-LeCoultre. Lemania, Omega and Tissot merged to form the SSIH group in 1932 and the Apollo moon watches made by Omega in the 1960sand early 70s used a Lemania movement.
As with many of the Swiss watch manufacturers, the 1970s proved to be extremely challenging with the advent of cheap electronic quartz watches which for a time led to a situation where people were no longer keen on buying mechanical watches, the consequence of this is that SSIH Group collapsed 1980 although two components of the business are still successful today namely Omega and Tissot.
Longines - The company was founded by Auguste Agassiz in 1832 and has been a subsidiary of the Swiss Swatch Group and its predecessors since 1983. See https://www.longines.com/
Omega - As well as producing military watches during and after World War II Omega SA remains a leading swiss watch manufacturer and ace based in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. The company was originally founded by Louis Brandt in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1848, the company was called La Generale Watch Co until the name was changed to Omega in 1903. The company is now owned by the Swatch group and the company website is here https://www.omegawatches.com/en-us/
Schätzle & Tschudin - is a WW2 manufacturer well known for the production of a large aviator watch designated Fl.23883 B-Uhr (Beobachtungsuhr = Observation watch) the company continues to manufacture small numbers of watches but at the time of writing in mid-2022 it's my belief that they produce no more than maybe four or 500 watches per year. It’s possible they have plans for the future and manufacturing small quantities would protect trademark rights. If it hadn't been for the fact that a colleague and myself came across a couple of them at watch fairs we would not have known they were still manufacturing.
Siegerin and Selza - In the second world war both Siegerin and Selza were leading manufacturers for the Kriegsmarine (Germany Navy) they also produced watches for the Luftwaffe, Fallschirmjaeger, and Flak corps. A few years ago someone we know via the website mentioned that he was talking to a watchmaker in Munich who mentioned that a group of investors were planning to restart production of the Kriegsmarine watches under both Siegerin and Selza, he said that he had seen one and the dial was marked K.M just like the originals. Apparently, they had obtained many of the original documents and other information from the company’s archives plus they had secured the trademark rights so it's very possible we will see these two brands reappear. For those of us who are interested in German military watches, these unique watches which normally have a cream or white dial would be very desirable assuming that they are mechanical or automatic and close to the appearance of wartime production which is now quite difficult to find in good usable condition.
Stowa is a German company founded by Walter Storz in 1927 and is based in Engelsbrand, Germany. Between 1996 and 2021, STOWA was owned by Jörg Schauer, who also owns the Schauer watch brand and the DUROWE watch movement brand. The company still manufacturers many watches which are visually very close to watches that they made during World War II, there is a lot of information regarding the company and its history at this link https://www.stowa.de/en/STOWA+history+from+1927-2017/ These watches are based on the original aviator models are very appealing in our opinion https://www.stowa.de/en/Flieger/
Tutima - Tutima is still a current supplier of watches for the German Luftwaffe, they manufacture a chronograph which can be seen here https://tutima.com/sponsorships-and-activities/a-vault-on-the-wrist/ they are still a leading manufacturer of high-quality watches of all types but some trace their roots back to the wartime models including the above NATO chronograph. During World War II Tutima supplied all branches of the German military. The official website is here https://tutima.com/
Zenith - Zenith SA remains a Swiss High-end watch manufacturer. During World War II the company made a number of different models for the German military. The company was started in 1865 by Georges Favre-Jacot at the age of 22, in Le Locle in the canton of Neuchâtel. In 1999 Zenith was purchased by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, commonly known as LVMH, joining several other watch brands owned by the company among them TAG Heuer Bulgari, Tiffany and Co and Hublot. They don’t really produce any models which are similar in general appearance to the watches made during World War II but they do produce some interesting retro pilot watches and chronographs. https://www.zenith-watches.com
Zentra - Zentra (generally appearing as either ZentRA or ZentRa) is a German watch brand dating back to 1927. During WW2 the company was a major manufacturer alongside Siegerin and Selza for the Kriegsmarine. The company collapsed in the 1980s as was the case with many manufacturers when quartz watches dominated the market, the firm was was revived in 2001 when the brand was purchased by RS-Handelsgesellschaft of Düsseldorf. In 2010 brand was acquired by Jürgen Schreitling and relocated to Emden in Northern Germany.
It's interesting that there seems to be a pattern with quite a few manufacturers who ceased production being revived over the last 20 years but this is most probably due to an established trend where people tend to favour retro designs.
2022 Aeschbach WW2 Pattern Luftwaffe / Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) Pilots Watch
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