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Ulysse Narden Corps of Engineers watch

Bruiser

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Hi Everyone, I'm new here and this is one of my recent watches. It's a Ulysse Narden USA Corp of Engineers watch. It's in pretty good shape and keeps good time. The case is coin silver (.800) and it is #7201. The case is 139571 and the serial # is 314982.

Would anyone know when it was made? I've heard conflicting stories, that it's from WW1, then WW2. What would a watch like this be used for in the military? Would the dial originally have been painted in radium? It's kind of gold colored, now and doesn't glow in the dark.

To tell the truth, I bought it because my father was in the Corp of Engineers in Korea and I'm going to give it to him as a Christmas present and I'd like to know a bit about it.

Thanks.
 

MartyR

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I owned serial number 104xxx which was dated to early 1930s based on Exposition medals quoted on the cuvette.

That suggests that your must be significantly later, but as I know nothing of Nardin's production volumes I can't even guess how much later. The dial looks 1930/40s to me, although I would have guessed the hands to be 20 years earlier :confused:

I guess the Corps of Engineers would need to have a form of accurate timekeeping amongst their platoons - I believe they were responsible for demolition and that would involve a high degree of co-ordination between their groups.

The quality of finish of the movemant is very high, as is typical of Ulysse Nardin movements I have seen.
 

DaveyG

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From what little I know of these watches, supplied by Ulysse Nardin for the US Army, they were unable to produce the numbers required to satisfy the contract, so used a variety of movements from different makers including IWC, Movado and Henry Moser. As your watch is not marked, on the movement, Ulysse Nardin I suspect that it may be one of the bought in movements. It isn't IWC but it does resemble German Army Moser pocket watches that I have seen.

With regard to age, could be any time in the 20th century but the military serial number would suggest between the wars to me. I think, as you surmise, that the hands and numerals would originally have been painted with radium. The luminised 'skeleton' hands incidentally. were used up to at least the end of WW2 on military watches.
 

tick talk

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10,000 of these silver-cased pocket watches were ordered the AEF from 1918 to 1920, for use by the Corps of Engineers and Signal Corps. Major suppliers of non-chronographs were Zenith and Ulysse Nardin, while Vacheron & Constantin provided most of the chronographs. However, there was much sub-contracting to other Swiss manufactures due to the size of the AEF order and rapid delivery schedule. IWC, Moser and Movado were active in providing ebauches to Ulysse Nardin. On the flip-side, UN provided some chronograph movements V&C! Bruiser, yours appears to be an Orion movement.

I know Vacheron & Constantin's part best. They received an order for 2,000 half-chronometers and a further 5,000 pocket chronographs, but were only able to provide less than 4,000 of the chronographs, despite UN's assistance. The number of time-only V&C watches actually delivered isn't known but I feel was actually much less as they are even more difficult to find today.

Marty, I've never seen an original example with exposition medals on the case as this wouldn't meet the original order specifications, and wonder if this was a later replacement? Many were modified after the war to remove military references or to repair from hard use.
 

gmorse

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Hi,

Just a small word of caution about the luminous markings on the dial; although the luminous zinc sulphide compound has long expired, and the quantities are minute, the radioactive element which stimulated it may not have done, and since radium was used in the earlier ones, be careful not to disturb it. The largest areas would have been in the hands, which has fallen out over time. Radium has a half-life of 1600 years . . .

Regards,

Graham
 

DaveyG

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I endorse what Graham has to say about the radium but would add that, unless you eat it or snort it, the potential for harm from one watch worth is minimal. I'd go with Orion - are you able to tell us any more about this company Tick Talk? I have seen watches with dials marked Orion but never a movement so marked, although those (very few) that I have seen all appear to be of some quality.
 

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I would second Graham's remarks. The dial looks dangerous to me. Unless these watches are going to be kept in sealed storage, all the radium paint should be removed by a competent service. The appearance can be restored with modern luminous materials or you might find that you like the black outline numerals that are left after the paint is removed. I am attaching a picture of a Waltham from the dial side that has radiation burns in the plastic crystal. I keep it sealed up and handle it very carefully.
Front.jpg
 

Adam Harris

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I would second Graham's remarks. The dial looks dangerous to me. Unless these watches are going to be kept in sealed storage, all the radium paint should be removed by a competent service. The appearance can be restored with modern luminous materials or you might find that you like the black outline numerals that are left after the paint is removed. I am attaching a picture of a Waltham from the dial side that has radiation burns in the plastic crystal. I keep it sealed up and handle it very carefully.
129285.jpg
Sorry, I disagree with some advice been given here
.Ulysse Narden is one of THE greats.
Please contact them directly for BOTH provenance and what to do with the lume.

I have many Rolex and other watches with these type of dials. Dangerous? I don't thinks so and compared to what.

Do NOTHING to this valuable timepiece prior to emailing Ulysse Narden
 

Adam Harris

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Interesting thread - here is pix of one I bought from Tom some years back. Really nice but I sold it. No wonder most of my hair is disappearing. :eek:

151028.jpg 151029.jpg 151030.jpg
Probably

Probably BECAUSE you sold it. LOL
How long you had it? Did you sleep with it? Where you wear it?
 

gmorse

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Hi,

Whereas we may very properly debate what to do with the watch, I hope the toxicity and persistence of radium is not in question. If possible, application of a Geiger-counter would at least settle whether the level of radioactivity, if any, is safe. I'm sure we all know the story of the girls who painted the early luminous dials . . .

Regards,

Graham
 

Squite

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The girls also painted their fingernails with the stuff, and would lick the tips of the brushes to create a finer point on them for detail work. Merely holding a watch with radium hands or a radium dial (notice I said holding the watch, not licking it) does not pose anywhere near the same risks.
 

Bruiser

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Hi Everyone,

Thanks for all the info. It's a lot more than I could have managed to get by myself. I'll see about contacting Ulysse Narden for some additional info.

I'll try to avoid licking the face but since most of my hair was already gone, before I bought it, I won't have that as an indicator of a problem. I may know someone with a geiger counter, so I can look into getting it checked out.

Thanks again and Merry Christmas.
 

DaveyG

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I'm sure we all know the story of the girls who painted the early luminous dials
We do Graham - they ate the stuff by licking the paint brushes - on a daily basis, 6 days a week for as long as they worked in the place. Under normal circumstances the only time these dials may become hazardous is if you collect a whole bunch of dials/watches and store them together. When in the military (for 40 years) we were allowed to keep no more than 20 watches in the same cabinet for this reason.
 

gmorse

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Hi Davey,

Good points; I was guilty of some exaggeration with my example of the dial painters. I didn't know about the '20 watches' rule.

Regards,

Graham
 

MartyR

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Marty, I've never seen an original example with exposition medals on the case as this wouldn't meet the original order specifications, and wonder if this was a later replacement? Many were modified after the war to remove military references or to repair from hard use.
TT, I think you misinterpreted my comment. My watch wasn't a military watch at all, just a regular Ulysse Nardin. I was attempting to provide a base reference for Bruiser's serial number, but as it seems that hid movement isn't a UN at all, my serial number is irrelevant.

Just for interest, the engraving wasn't the typical pictures of medals, just a statement of the prizes ... as shown below ...

90280 2 Ulysse Nardin.JPG
 

tick talk

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I may know someone with a geiger counter, so I can look into getting it checked out.
This would be greatly appreciated, if only to resolve the question with some hard data. Happy Holidays to you as well!
 

Adam Harris

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On this subject, some of you at be interested in a recent discussion thread for a forum I moderate for IWC, relative to a 1919 Nardin Corps of Engineers pocket watch with an IWC movement that I recently purchased. There were over 42 replies, including info and documentation on other CoE watches. It's at http://www.iwc.com/forum/en/discussion/59824/?page=1
Hi Michael
Welcome to NAWCC forums.
To others Michael, truly is a very valuable and very knowledgeable person especially on IWC. He has helped me a lot.
Regards
 

eri231

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The greatest risk of Radio is its powder, in case there is inhaled or eaten, and the Radon, a gas which is continuously free from the Radio and which in turn is transformed into other elements always rather dangerous.
Is quite different, however, if the glass is broken, the best thing is to do it replaced immediately, perhaps sensing the watchmaker radio present, otherwise if you do not fix it keep it in a place where you're not for a long time and it is better ventilated.
Useless instead to be kept safe, his miserable Gamma radiation are not scary to anyone, while the radiation Alpha and Beta are already often masked by protective glass, provided it is intact.
regards enrico
 

Tom McIntyre

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If anyone thought I was warning about radioactivity I was not. Radium is a very hazardous substance and the dial is deteriorating the Radium will be powdered and will be fragmented and can be inhaled and ingested it's very dangerous if you get it inside your body.

I do not believe radium has been used on dials since the 1950s.

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DaveyG

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unless you eat it or snort it, the potential for harm from one watch worth is minimal.
I agree Tom, and with Enrico, that common sense precautions are appropriate - but proportianate. How many people, who handle radium painted old watches today, on an irregular basis, do we know of who have developed the bone cancer issues that that are caused by the ingestion of radium? For me, the question of 'how often' is always the first one that I ask when doing any risk assessment.

Personally, I usually wear a dust mask for the first time that I remove the bezel from a radium dial and do it in well ventilated area.
 

Adam Harris

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If anyone thought I was warning about radioactivity I was not. Radium is a very hazardous substance and the dial is deteriorating the Radium will be powdered and will be fragmented and can be inhaled and ingested it's very dangerous if you get it inside your body.

I do not believe radium has been used on dials since the 1950s.

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Yes, I agree with that too.
I was at a jeweller a few days ago, who opened up a watch with a very powdered radium dial, after he was about to lick his hands!
Of course I explained the dangers and we both went and wahed hands properly
Radium was introduced in 1913 and replaced by Tritium in 1950 which is stall dangerous but better than Radium
Such watches are marked 'T25 or 'T<25'
Luminova which I believe is 100% safe was introduced in 1998.
Hope that helps
Regards
 

Tom McIntyre

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There are a number of metals that are very toxic. I once spent some time using x-ray beam analysis of materials and used beryllium to make windows for the x-ray beam. the beryllium was much more dangerous than the x-rays.
 

Dr. Jon

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Nice thread. My opinion is that the case is original. NArding took an entry level case and aadded th military markign becuase they were short of material but that it what I think they did.

I agree witht eradium. I suggest caution but not insanity.

I am reminded of the way to spot a chemist, someone who washes their hands before they "use the bathroom".
 

eri231

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From what little I know of these watches, supplied by Ulysse Nardin for the US Army, they were unable to produce the numbers required to satisfy the contract, so used a variety of movements from different makers including IWC, Movado and Henry Moser. As your watch is not marked, on the movement, Ulysse Nardin I suspect that it may be one of the bought in movements. It isn't IWC but it does resemble German Army Moser pocket watches that I have seen.

With regard to age, could be any time in the 20th century but the military serial number would suggest between the wars to me. I think, as you surmise, that the hands and numerals would originally have been painted with radium. The luminised 'skeleton' hands incidentally. were used up to at least the end of WW2 on military watches.
I'm probably wrong, but also reminds me henry moser
regards enrico
 

Bruiser

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Thanks for the additional notes. I contacted Ulysse Narden and supplied them with pictures and the movement numbers. The PR person contacted me and said they'd look up the numbers when their archive people returned on January 7. I'll keep you informed of the results.

I'm still trying to track down a gieger counter, so that's still up in the air at this time.
 

Bruiser

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Well, I'm sorry to say that Uylsse Narden couldn't help me with any info after all. I got a note from them today saying they couldn't find the serial number in their archives.
 

DaveyG

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Funny old thing - that's the response that I have had every time I have asked them the same question!
 

tick talk

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I hesitate to throw any addition confusion on this topic, but I have researched these pieces and have owned several. This UN is absolutely typical of their military pattern in both case and dial so I see no issues there. The movement, OTOH, is indicative of Brandt & Hofmann who became Orion around the time the watch was manufactured (see attached picture). We've already discussed how the Swiss collaborated to fill this order so I'm not certain this combination is improper, but I have not come across another example of an Orion movement in a UN Corps case. I would much prefer to add this watch as another interesting variation than dismiss it, so it's unfortunate that the factory archives were no help.

Does anyone know if UN's records were destroyed or another reason for the lack of confirmation? Vacheron Constantin, for example, will state if they have no record of either case and movement numbers or if they do not match, meaning it is a marriage.
 

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Bruiser

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Here's what they said in the e-mail I received:
"Our vintage expert has performed an archival search on your behalf and we are sorry to inform you that we have no information on movement number 314982. Sometimes in rare instinces our archives hold no information on certain movement numbers."

The go on to tell me I could contact an auction house (Sotheby's or Antiquorum) to see if their experts could give info. I'll have to think about that aspect.
 

tick talk

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Bruiser, since last posting I've found pictures of a similar UN Corps watch with Orion movement 315017. I think two such pieces strongly suggests that UN subcontracted with Brandt & Hofmann of Bienne, which is entirely consistent with the Corps of Engineers order.
 

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tick talk

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Any idea of the date of manufacture on that watch?
The AEF order was ongoing from 1918 to 1920. Unfortunately the inventory number "7087" is no help as they were assigned in blocks to each order and engraved by the manufacturers.
 

framby66

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I found this thread while investigating the history of my watch. Looks like mine has the same movement, though the dial has either had the radium removed or has been replaced. The hands are different as well.
DSCN8866small.jpg DSCN8865small.jpg DSCN8870small.jpg
 

Adam Harris

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Nice
Yes dial lume removed and replacement hands to resemble non lumed dile.
A
 

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