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The Grail of Attic Finds: Reunited with the First Watch I Ever Owned, A West End Watch Co Sowar Prima


“The West End Watch Co became thus one of the first companies to use the Incabloc shock resisting system in their watches, and they used Taubert’s waterproof Decagonal watch case with the cork stem sealing and screw back from 1934 until 1954, when Taubert were no longer able to keep up with West End’s demand, which by then had risen to more than 2,000 cases per month.”

The author’s West End Watch Co Sowar Prima cleaned up pretty well (photo courtesy Colin Alexander Smith)

One striking aspect of a brand like this, given the pedigree of the company and the quality of its products, is the fact that 100 years ago there was little in technical, qualitative, and design terms to differentiate brands such as West End Watch Co from more well-known manufacturers like Ebel, Eterna, Minerva, and now-iconic brands like Rolex, Omega, and Longines – as evidenced by the broad selection of manufacturers included in the Dirty Dozen, even back in the 1940s.

This may sound fanciful, but the proof of this lies in the extent to which these companies supplied each other with movements and cases. West End Watch Co originally had its movements made at parent company Droz & Cie’s factory in St. Imier, but for quality reasons, after 1907 sourced them from a company called Lavina and also from Longines, Mido, Tissot, and other top manufactures.

In an alternative horological universe, Hans Wilsdorf could have decided to exploit his presence in London to launch Rolex as “the Empire watch,” with the result that Wang Fu-Zhou might have conquered the North Ridge wearing a Rolex and Sir Edmund Hillary might just as easily have climbed Everest wearing West End Watch Co timepieces rather than Rolexes!

The Sowar Prima is still in production today in more contemporary 39 mm and 41 mm sizes, and most West End watches are powered by ETA automatic movements.

West End Watch Co Sowar Prima 1916

These include the following automatic (ETA-powered) chronographs, retailing online from £425 up to £875: the Queen Anne chronograph, an automatic ETA chronograph with military-style soldered lugs; the Sowar Prima, an automatic military style watch also available with Arabic and Tibetan numerals; and the Classics, automatic Sowar variants with a fluted bezel on a jubilee bracelet, a thoroughly respectable alternative to wearing a counterfeit Rolex if it’s the Datejust look you’re after.

Closer to home in Bordeaux

When I was first reunited with this watch, I was racking my brain trying to remember where I had quite recently come across West End Watch Co watches closer to home.

Bordeaux, where I live, is something of a desert in horological terms: there are a few authorized dealers selling the customary Rolex, Omega, and Longines lineup, but if you want an Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, or A. Lange & Söhne your only option is the handful of pre-owned dealers. If it’s a Greubel Forsey or an F.P. Journe you’re after you’ll have to jump on a TGV to Paris.

However, a few years ago a young Bordelais called Aurélien Cram opened Horel, a small boutique selling mainly quartz fashion watches in Bordeaux’s old town. He gradually upgraded his product range by adding affordable mechanical brands such as Baltic, Oris, Junkers, Squale, etc. and relocated last year to a larger store on Rue de la Devise to focus primarily on mechanical watches.

And that was where I saw some West End Watch Co watches last year, not realizing that that was what my first watch had been. As soon as this terrible virus business is over, I shall drop in and proudly show him my Sowar Prima.

For more information, please visit www.westendwatchco.ch.

Quick Facts West End Watch Co Sowar Prima 1916
Case: 39 mm, stainless steel, water resistant to 50 meters, sapphire crystal, transparent case back
Movement: automatic Swiss movement
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: £625

* This article was first published April 22, 2020 at The Grail Of Attic Finds: Reunited With The First Watch I Ever Owned, A West End Watch Co Sowar Prima

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