Very Rare and Early Lemania Series I Sterile Dial Fleet Air Arm Chronograph c.1945.
These watches were issued to pilots and navigators of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm between 1945 and 1970.
These beautiful chronographs were issued in three series. The watch for sale is a very rare and early Lemania Series I example which was issued to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. This is indicated by the markings of H.S.9 and the number 509 on the reverse of the case. “H.S.9” refers to the Royal Navy stores reference for a “Wristwatch Chronograph”. The number 509 is the issue number for the watch, which confirms it was amongst the first six hundred watches of its kind to ever be issued.
The series I examples were issued from 1945 to 1950 and they all had a round case with white dials and featured the 15 CHT non-shock-protected movement. They had two slightly different white dial configurations. The earlier radium dialled versions were not signed whereas the later tritium dialled versions had “Lemania” printed below the “12” marker with an encircled “T”. By the early 1950s, tritium luminous compound began being used by the MoD as a substitute for radium which was considered to be more hazardous when the watches were stockpiled in large quantities.
Happily, the watch for sale still retains its original radium sterile dial, making it a rare and much-coveted survivor. The watch is also fitted to an original Bonklip bracelet.
The single button on the side of the watch operates the chronograph (stop-watch) function. When the button is pushed it starts the centre second hand. Pressing the button again stops the hand and pressing it a third time resets the hand back to the twelve o’clock position. There is an elapsed minute counter, which allows for timing intervals up to 30 minutes.
Sadly, the Lemania watch company is no longer in existence but it has become something of a cult brand in recent years and its watches are very much cherished by collectors. Lemania supplied a number of different armed forces from all over the world. Their movements are extremely well made and are renowned for keeping excellent time, making them a good fit for a rugged life in the services.
Lemania specialised in the production of chronographs (watches with a built-in stopwatch function). Chronographs are inherently complicated to manufacture and for this reason many watch companies brought-in movements from specialists like Lemania. They supplied amongst others Omega (the movement that powered the first watch on the moon was made by Lemania), and luxury brands Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. Because Lemania often supplied movements to other brands (for which they were uncredited), watches which are signed by Lemania are especially prized.
Early sterile dial examples of these watches are rare and often difficult to find. As such, the watch for sale represents an excellent opportunity to acquire a wonderful collector’s piece.