Smiths Antarctic A454 (c. 1953)
This is one of the iconic Smiths watches - model A454, known as the Antarctic.
The Antarctic moniker was assigned because this model was supplied to the Commonwealth Trans-Arctic Expedition in 1957. This was the first successful crossing of the Antarctic since the Amundsen / Scott Expeditions in 1911-12. The overland crossing took 99 days starting in November 1957 and finishing in March 1958. The overland crossing team was led by the British Explorer Vivian Fuchs, who was knighted for the achievement, with Sir Edmund Hillary leading the support team. It was not until 1981 that the next successful crossing happened, which shows both the complexity and the challenge of this journey. Plenty of detail about the expedition can be found here
This particular watch is in excellent condition - the case retains all of the plating without any high spots or brassing. There's a bit of a scratch on the bezel at 7 o'clock and the crown shows a bit of sign of wear but overall this watch has been well looked after. The dial and handset are both original and in similarly excellent order, with no lume loss.
One interesting thing to note: the watch has been fitted with fixed bars, instead of spring bars for the strap. I assume this was something done by the original owner who was fearful of his watch slipping off, I'm not aware of Smiths supplying this model with fixed bars. Anyway the job has been well done so I'm minded to leave as-is. For this reason I've fitted it to a reproduction military type canvas strap, which I think complements the watch really well.
The case is a screw-back but interestingly not made by Dennison (or at least not signed by them). Dennison supplied the majority of waterproof cases for Smiths, mainly their Aquatite model as well as the cases for the 1950s GS Deluxe military watches.
The movement serial number dates the watch to 1953/54. The movement is in good order, it's been fully serviced and running very well, ready to wear and be enjoyed!
Case diameter (excluding winding crown): 33mm
Case material: chrome plated brass
strap width: 17mm (11/16")
time keeping: grade A
Smiths were the last English producers of quality watches. Their watches aren't very well known today because it's over 30 years since they stopped production, but the quality of their watches bears comparison with anything the Swiss were producing. Smiths produced a variety of styles of watch for both ladies and gentlemen in chrome, steel, silver and gold cases. The gold cased watches were particularly popular as long-service presentation gifts and the casebacks are often engraved with a presentation inscription. We don't remove these inscriptions as we feel they are an important part of the story of each watch. They developed an automatic movement watch and also were contracted by the British army to produce a wristwatch for general service use (the automatic and the military Smiths are amongst the most sought after and command high prices).
These days we associate the Swiss with high end mechanical watches, but in the 19th century it was English watches that occupied this prestigious position. The Swiss began to compete with the English watchmakers by producing low cost watches. The English were slow to adapt to this new competitor, they took great pride in the relatively small volume of high-quality hand made watches that were produced in England. The Swiss gradually swamped the watch market - beginning with low cost watches, later they produced watches of a comparable quality to the English hand-made watch, but at a lower price. The Swiss developed machine production of watches, this meant that the quality could be kept consistent and replacement parts were interchangeable. Ultimately the English industry couldn't compete and by the early 1930s pretty much all watches were imported.
In the run up to the second world war, the government became concerned that there was no indigenous watch industry left. They turned to S. Smith & Sons who were a long established a watch and clock producer and underwrote the development of a new factory in Cheltenham. Precise timing mechanisms were important for the war in things like bomb timers, as well as more traditional time pieces.
After the second world war, Smiths switched over to civilian production with the first of their watches coming onto the market in 1947. They continued production up until the late 1970s, when they rather suddenly split up the watch and clock division of the company. By this time Smiths Industries was more focussed on civil and military avionics and probably felt that the watches were part of their past. It seems odd that nobody else sought to take over the business as they were clearly profitable, possibly the impact of quartz watches was a factor in their decision to end the business
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