The Culling Collection of Military Watches

Date of Auction: 9th June 2020

Sold for £2,600

Estimate: £1,800 - £2,400

German military: A Luftwaffe, B-Uhr, type B, pilot’s/observer’s wristwatch, by Wempe, 1940s, the black dial with prominent outer luminous seconds track with alternate luminous and white numerals at 5 minutes and arrow motif at 12 o’clock, inner hours chapter ring with white Arabic numerals and luminous spots, luminous hands including centre sweep seconds, the jewelled movement signed ‘Gerh.D.Wempe’ and numbered ‘K.31’, the parkerised steel case numbered ‘FL 23883’ to the side of the band, the snap on back numbered ‘1607’ to the reverse, the inside bearing the details ‘B-Uhr, Bauart: Thommen, Gerät-Nr: 127-560A.1., Werk-Nr: BLT 1607, Anforderz: FL23883, Hersfeller: Wempe Hamberg’, dial diameter 50mm. £1,800-£2,400


1935 saw the creation in Germany of the Luftwaffe and the corresponding RLM (Reichs-Luftfahrtministerium), responsible for aircraft development. In this year the RLM released the specification for a required aviator’s/navigator’s watch and the iconic B-Uhr was born.
B-Uhr is an abbreviation for Beobachtungs-uhr, literally ‘Observation watch’. The B-Uhren were property of the Luftwaffe, not of the individual navigators; they were issued before each flight, and then returned after completion of the mission. The time was able to be precisely set by use of the hacking movement - whereby the balance is stopped when the crown is pulled out whilst setting the hands - co-ordinated to a single beep from German Naval Observatory (Deutsche Seewarte). An accurate watch was necessary for navigation, so all the B-Uhren watches were regulated and tested to the highest chronometer standards.
The dial layout was designed to give aircrew greatest access to the elapsing minutes and seconds and included the distinguishing upwards-orientation triangle or arrow at the twelve o’clock position. The initial Type A model had only an outer chapter ring, but the later type B (first produced in 1941) had an outer ring for minutes/seconds and an inner ring for hours. Each case had ‘FL23883’ engraved on the left side; ‘FL’ designated
flieger, and ‘23’ identified the watch as a navigation watch. Inside, the movement was surrounded by an iron core, making the B-Uhr anti-magnetic – a must for aviation. These watches were large in size for clear visibility and intended to be worn over the top of the flight jacket and the oversized ‘diamond’ or ‘onion’ crown could be operated with gloves on the hand.

Five manufacturers supplied the B-Uhren in Germany - A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Laco, and Stowa, as well as the International Watch Company of Switzerland. Wempe employed the Swiss made Thommen cal. 31 movement.