At some point during my research I came in contact with another collector of regatta watches in Sweden, Niklas Strand. He had been collecting for more than 10 years, and like other collectors we were all under the impression that the first 1960’s Aquastar Regate model was also the first time a rotating indicator disk with small round holes in the dial was used for counting the minutes at the start of a regatta. But Niklas remembered seeing a pocket watch with the same countdown system. And after some time he found his holy grail: a nice 58 mm unmarked Yachting stopwatch with the 5-dot countdown system. Magnificent!
Niklas Strand’s Holy Grail with an unmarked dial.
As of that moment I had the same goal: find my holy grail. And with so many things in life, patient works out. After searching the internet for a couple of years I found mine as well. In perfect condition, branded Leonidas on the dial, and even with extra spare-parts for the movement stored in a small box inside the movement!
My Holy Grail, with ‘Leonidas’ on the dial.
- Make: Leonidas.
- Caliber: Venus 120 modified with regatta module.
- Type: Venus 121.
- Size: 18‴ Ø 38,5 mm H … mm.
- Frequency: A/h.
- Power reserve:
- Jewels: 7.
- Shock protection system: non.
The production of the basic Venus 120 caliber starts around 1931. And Leonidas uses the Venus 120 caliber as of 1949. Most likely the regatta module is developed and produced by Leonidas itself. That would make the age as beginning 1950’s.
How the countdown system works:
On pressing the winding crown the second hand will return to 60 (0), and the indicator disk will reset and showing 5 red dots, circles.
By releasing the crown the countdown timer starts. After one minute the first dot changed to white, another four minutes to go. After 5 minutes all dots are white and the regatta starts. The indicator disk stops and after some 30 seconds the hand as well. Both are probably mechanically blocked then.
Leonidas dealers catalogue:
In the late 1930’s factory dealers catalogue an image of the Leonidas ‘Yachting Starting Timer’ is shown with the text SWISS MADE on the dial above the centre second-hand, instead of the brand name. This is probably a preliminary version for demo purpose only. Mind the different sweep second hand shown in the pictures.
Page 11 from a Leonidas dealers catalogue from 1930.
This must be one of the earlier publications of a stopwatch with the 5 circular apertures in the dial and the coloured indicator disk rotating underneath. As stated in this Leonidas catalogue this technical solution of visualizing the last 5 minutes before the start of a regatta, is protected by the Swiss patent CH65942 for a ‘Totalisateur’ (totalizer). This patent was published on July 16th 1914, with the Watch Company Berna in Switzerland named as both the inventor and applicant.
The history of the Berna trademark goes back to 1864 when Alcide Droz and Henry Perret founded the Droz & Perret compagny in St. Imier, Switzerland. After several changes this compagny became Droz et Cie in 1887. Berna then was the name of one of their watch models. Around 1905 the company changed its name to Fabrique d’Horlogerie Berna S.A. and later in 1908 it became Berna Watch Co. Besides pocket watches, Berna also produced stopwatches and chronograph watches. Due to economic issues the company was bought in 1928 by Charles Jeanneret, the owner of Leonidas. He kept using the Berna brand mainly for stop watches and chronographs. In the 1960’s the Berna brand name disappeared when Leonidas joined Heuer.
Joel Pynson from France provided me with two very interesting documents. The first one is the model registration number 24741 of the Berna ‘Compteur de Sporte’, where the design of the dial was registered in Switzerland on September 4th 1914, just after the Berna Watch Co had published their Swiss patent CH65942.
And second a page from the Revue Internationale d’Horlogerie from 1920, showing the same Berna Yachting stopwatch.
Compteur de Sport by the Berna Watch Co, introduced in 1914.
Left the model registration, right the Revue Internationale d’Horlogerie publication.
Note that in this early design the dial has the five circular apertures from 10 to 2 o’clock, in the upper half of the dial. I must admit I have never seen this model in real, but to me this must be the birth of the first regatta yachttimer using the 5-dot countdown system. And as being introduced in 1914, this makes it over 100 years old now!
Finally Joel Pynson also provided me with the original Swiss patent CH65942. It was filed on August 12th 1913! You can download the patent as a PDF here.
Swiss patent CH65942 filed by Berna Watch Co on August 12th 1913 for a ‘totalisateur’.
Note that the invention is for a sports chronograph (stopwatch) with five circular apertures in the dial and a rotating coloured indicator disk underneath, to visualize 5 time-intervals where the duration per interval is to be determined by the mechanism.
At the introduction of the stopwatch one year later in 1914, the time per interval is set to 1 minute, and the sweep second hand is counting backwards from 60 to zero. Obvious to visualize the countdown of a sailing regatta: the first regatta-yachttimer using the 5-dot system is born!
Berna advertisement from around 1910, with top-right their ‘compteur de sport’ movement.
Berna 5-minute Yachttimer, with the name ‘Berna Watch C. Swiss’ clearly punched on the movement, as well as the patent No. 65942.
Henry Blanc. With, again, a different sweep hand and printed Henri Blanc – Geneve on the dial. With a Leonidas movement, as you can see by the shape of the spare-parts box inside (with some parts even still there).
I couldn’t find much about Henri Blanc on the internet, except for that he was a Swiss wachmaker, born in 1873 in Neuenburg, and that he might have been a reseller of timepieces and jewelry in Geneve.
Aristo Park. Bob Ryan from the US send me the pictures of his regatta stopwatch, branded ‘Aristo Park’ on the dial and the movement is marked ‘Aristo Import Co Swiss’ on the upper plate and ‘6 Jewels, 1 Adjustment’ on the escape wheel cock. The movement seems equal to the Berna/Leonidas, it has the same round spare parts storage, but not the clear lid.
Unmarked, with a Berna/Leonidas movement. Both the dial and the movement have no registration. But with the spare parts compartment in the Berna movement, it is likely produced under the Leonidas era. It has the number 125082 (case serial) engraved in the back-lid.
Abercrombie & Fitch. Hardly readable, but the name is there on the dial. The movement though is clearly punched ‘Berna Watch Co’.
Dimier Frères & Cie. This version has no name on the dial, but it has the DF&C logo engraved on the movement and what seems to be a serial number 904508 under the dust cover. DF&C stands for Dimier Frères & Cie (or Dimier Brothers & Co in English). The movement obvious again is from Berna/Leonidas, with the spare-parts box still filled!
Dimier Frères had a watchmaking operation in la Chaux-de-Fonds and, as Dimier Brothers & Co., they were an important watch importing company in London since 1868.
Dimier Frères claims to be the first company to have made wristwatches with wire loops to take a watch-strap. In 1903 they registered a design (model No. 9846/405488) for curved wire lugs added to a watch case that gave the best fit for a one piece leather strap. See the picture from the registration. Today the Dimier Frères company no longer exists.
Emile Long & Sons – New York. I came across a dial signed Emile Long & Sons, the name of a former New York watches and jewelry shop. Unfortunately I do not have any further information. Except that the red coloured rotating section obvious has the same shape as the one in the Aristo Park version.
Unmarked, also with a Berna/Leonidas movement. The spare-parts compartment still filled with parts. The back-lid has a case serial number 904535 engraved on the inside. On the movement there’s a capital M engraved. Sofar I have not figured out what this M stands for. Anybody any clue?
Sorley Glasgow, many thanks to John Gates, who send me the pictures of his 5-dot stopwatch marked Sorley Glasgow. Accommodated with a Berna/Leonidas movement, with an empty spare parts box. Robert and William Sorley had a Retail shop in Glasgow, see the ad below.
Berthoud Geneve. Again a Berna/Leonidas movement, with only one part left in the spare parts box. The serial number on the back lid looks like 904552. The Berthoud name/brand started with the well known Swiss born watchmaker Ferdinand Berthoud, born around 1725 in Couvet, Switzerland. Berthoud was a pioneer of the marine chronometer.
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- Information/image about Dimier Frères & Cie from VintageWatchstraps.com © David Boettcher.
- Many thanks to Bob Ryan for sending me your pictures of your Aristo Park.
- Many thanks to Joel Pynson for all your information about Berna.
- Many thanks to Niklas Strand for pointing me to ‘our’ Holy Grail.
- Many thanks to Hans Beelaerts van Blokland (Belle Heure) for your help with determining the movement.