Railway Telegraph Pocket Watch

West End Watch Co. ‘Railway and Telegraph Service’ Pocket Watch

This is a rare watch unlike anything I’ve seen in any catalogue. There are no additional mechanical functions here, but the display on the dial is extremely interesting.

In addition to the standard hour display with black Roman numerals, there are two letters – ‘Midnight’ and ‘Noon’ one under the other respectively under the ‘12’, and ‘ZABCDEFGHIKL’ and ‘MNOPQRSTVWXY’ circularly around the dial, one inside the other respectively. Additionally, 5-minute markers, as well as markers 2, 7, 12, 17, etc. are indicated in red on the minute marker scale.

On the case there is the Railway Service stamp, and on the dial is the Telegraph Service stamp.

The watch dial is porcelain (enamel) with three-colour inscriptions, in perfect condition. The style is classic, and the performance typical of the 1920’s.

So, what is the purpose of the additional letters? Although there is no exact information yet (any sources are welcome!), among the guesses, one seems quite plausible. The letters on the dial can serve as a short encoding of the arrival/departure time of trains, convenient for transmission by telegraph – the main method of communication on the railways in the early 20th century. Morse code used alphabetic characters, without numbers. To convey the arrival time, for example 22:45, you would tap “twenty-two forty-five”, but one could look at the cipher dial and transmit only two letters: KI.

On the inside cover is stamped: ‘Railway Service – Swiss Made”. This is very fine silver 900.

Swiss anchor mechanism with 9 jewels – it is rather ordinary. The silver stamp of the West End Watch Co. is visible on the mechanism.

The West End Watch Co. was founded in 1886, and began by distributing its own watches with a primary focus on the Indian and Middle East markets. The company still exists and produces watches to this day.