About a year ago, my father surprised me with a wristwatch that I never knew existed, even though it had been in our family for generations. Now you may be thinking it’s a little odd that it took this long for me to find out about this watch, given my very pronounced interest in wristwatches (not to mention my career choice). And it was. But I’m guessing my father, who inherited it when he was a young boy, wanted to find the right time to share it, and I’m very glad he did. Suffice it to say, even if this isn’t a watch that would seem precious to most, it’s exactly that to me.
It was the news of my engagement to my now wife that led to my discovery of a red leather-bound box in which sat a beautiful gold watch. I was immediately anxious to find out if it still worked. I turned the crown a few times…and the seconds hand dutifully began its sweep around the dial. The dial had already been redone, with no signature on the all-white expanse, leaving no obvious trace of the watch’s origins. Who made it, I wondered? But during that first encounter I decided to leave it at that, since the evening’s celebrations were underway.
I picked it up again last September, a few days before my wedding, curious to find out what was hidden beneath the caseback. Armed with a knife and a loupe, I popped the watch open to discover a 17-jewel movement signed KULM, which brought me back down to earth. Searching for signs of the movement maker, I found a small shield with the letters “A” and “S” engraved inside. A little research revealed this was a logo adopted in 1939 by A. Schild S.A, one of Switzerland’s most productive movement manufacturers.
The company made a huge chunk of the movements found inside inexpensive three-handers like this KULM, and A. Schild would go on to merge with ETA in 1979. Between 1940 and 1979 though, A. Schild supplied hundreds of different companies, the most prestigious being Jaeger-LeCoultre. My grandfather’s watch was clearly not of that ilk, but the pedigree of the movement explained why it worked so well after so many years left untouched.
As for KULM, information was a littler harder to come by. It is one of the very many affordable watchmakers that popped-up thanks to ébauche suppliers only to disappear when quartz technology became available. But I found a small entry in a journal of the Swiss Horology Federation dated Febuary 6, 1926, which locates its headquarters in Bienne. According to the journal, the company was actually registered as Guanillon & Cie, but watches were traded under the name KULM Watch Company, and I suspect this particular model was sold to the French market because of its hallmarks.
I’d be lying if I told you part of me wasn’t hoping for a more interesting conclusion. And yet, the watch still holds some merit as an example of the widespread use of ébauche movements during the mid-20th century. It belongs to one of the most transformative developments in the Swiss watchmaking industry, before the introduction of quartz, and the return of (more expensive) mechanical movements.
For other, more sentimental reasons it’s still pretty damn special to me too.