The Anachronism that is West End

Tell me where you live and some income parameters and I can make an educated guess about what sort of watches you collect. Income dictates much of what we do and consume.  That is not hard to fathom. Location is a factor that most of us don’t consider. We think that in our interconnected world with internet commerce that we are exposed to just about every brand out there.  However, watch brands have targeted certain markets for historical reasons. At various times the center of the watchmaking world has been in England, Switzerland, the United States, Japan, and arguably China.  Not all of the brands produced in these countries had a worldwide reach. Waltham was never marketed in Germany. Mortima had no footprint in Latin America. For every global brand like Rolex and Omega there were scores of brands with limited markets like Atlantic, Cyma and West End.

The company that would become West End was founded by Alcide Droz in 1864 in Berne, Switzerland. It was named after the fashionable district in London, perhaps to add cache to the brand. It does not appear that the brand was marketed to England, however.  In 1885 a wholly owned subsidiary of West End was opened in Mumbai for the purpose of selling West End watches to India. The West End branding was popular with the segment of the Indian market for whom the trappings of the British Empire were appealing. West End concentrated on military style watches with much greater water resistance than was common at the time.

West End adapted its watches to the climactic conditions of India and South-East Asia. They placed emphasis on water resistance and ruggedness. In 1934 West End became, perhaps, the first company to utilize the Incabloc system invented by George Braunschweig that protected the balance staff from breaking.  I say “perhaps” because no manufacturer claims an earlier date.  West End is surprisingly modest in not pushing its claim to be first (contrast almost any other claim of a “first”). Also in 1934, Bernard Taubert contracted with West End to supply his Decagonal case which Taubert claimed would make a watch waterproof. (See here.)  West End began producing the most rugged and waterproof watches in the world.  Here is how the casing looked:

West End Watch

(This is taken from this excellent website with a more thorough history of West End.) The “Prima” on the dial indicated the Incabloc system.  Their most popular model was the Sowar Prima. “Sowar” means “he who rides” in Persian. It was a watch that aspired to be the preferred watch of the cavalry officer.

West End never manufactured its own movements.  From the 1910’s until the mid-1950’s Longines supplied movements.  Mido supplied its Multifort movements through the 1940’s.  My watches have what look to be FHF 96 movements.  West End had relationships with many other companies as well (ETA, Cortebert, Leonidas, etc.)

West End still makes and sells watches today, marketed mostly towards Asia and the Middle East.  They have made more than fifteen million watches in their long existence. They still use decagonal watch cases. They do not get mentioned much here on WatchCrunch. I was unaware of them until recently.  Spending too many hours scrolling through too many vintage watches and you will eventually come across Sowar Primas with old lettering and numerals that look like World War II military watches. Some look too good to be true, too pristine.  One reason for this is that West End did not change its styling much in forty years.  Their watches were an anachronism in terms of styling.  They still are.

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I bought mine from a vendor in Pakistan.  I believe that black dial is from the 1960’s.  This is based on the case style and the 18mm lug width.  I think that I might get the hands re-lumed because I have some issues reading it. The white dial needs some work.  I think that it is from the 1950’s based on the case and the 16mm lug width. The movements give me a range that would fit.  West End’s styling looks like it comes straight from the 1940’s.  Both are on the original bonklip bracelets.  (More on those.)  I didn’t think that I would wear them, but they are surprising comfortable.  We are pretty tropical for much of the year here.

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This is a brand that deserves more consideration for our vintage and modern collections.

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Thanks for this introduction and write-up!

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Thanks for the history lesson. I’ve seen West End watches online before, but hadn’t really learned much of the backstory. Given where I live I should probably look into getting one. It might not be tropical here, but is often damp and we are way out here on the western end of the continent. For me, all watches should have some significant ruggedness.

The fact that you got bonklip bracelets with them is a bonus. That alone is appealing because I really want to try one. I also like the arc used for the brand name, much like the smile that Tudor gives some of its watches with “self-winding.” Sowar Prima just sounds cool. And a modest brand? Sign me up. I am with the West End Girls (and boys and enbee friends). 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3j2NYZ8FKs

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Thanks for the article, it was an interesting read.  I knew a lot about West End, but not to the level of detail in your article.  They did make a large quantity of the so called "Trench Watches" in the early 20th Century period that have caught my eye many times.  I've never pulled the trigger on one but there isn't any reason I wouldn't if the right piece came along.

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I'll admit to having never heard of West End Watches before today. 

As a Canadian I was exposed to the concept of brands only existing in certain markets well before today.  In Canada we are exposed to advertisements for many brands in the USA that are not available north of the border. 

Weird stuff, like stores/fast food chains, and vehicles. Give that Canada and America are pretty much indistinguishable to outsiders, it is a bit odd how different our brands tended to be. Things have shifted quite a bit over the course of my lifetime, with more American brands moving north, and a few Canadian ones moving south, but there are still some things that exist only on one side of the border or the other. 

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Thanks for that bit of educational info, good read!! Really like that black dial with the shity bracelet, love the character.

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I've seen a few of these around and thought they were very attractive watches but in my ignorance I imagined they were ripping off an older British or American brand rather than being the genuine article. Excellent write up, thanks.

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KristianG

I'll admit to having never heard of West End Watches before today. 

As a Canadian I was exposed to the concept of brands only existing in certain markets well before today.  In Canada we are exposed to advertisements for many brands in the USA that are not available north of the border. 

Weird stuff, like stores/fast food chains, and vehicles. Give that Canada and America are pretty much indistinguishable to outsiders, it is a bit odd how different our brands tended to be. Things have shifted quite a bit over the course of my lifetime, with more American brands moving north, and a few Canadian ones moving south, but there are still some things that exist only on one side of the border or the other. 

The U.S./Canadian border used to be the "Tim Horton's Line." But, not so much anymore.

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I appreciate the history lesson. I did not know anything about West End or their extensive history. The Incabloc part is interesting. 
 

I recently listened to a podcast discussing the difficulties watch companies have had trying to break into the Indian market given the tax implications, many languages, and cultural differences. Interesting to know they’ve been around so long. 

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Aurelian

The U.S./Canadian border used to be the "Tim Horton's Line." But, not so much anymore.

We're coming for you with Double Doubles, and Mounties... 

SUPER TROOPERS 2 - Exclusive Clip - YouTube

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morganthedruid

I've seen a few of these around and thought they were very attractive watches but in my ignorance I imagined they were ripping off an older British or American brand rather than being the genuine article. Excellent write up, thanks.

That was my first reaction to seeing one for the first time:  what is this fake vintage watch with a name that is supposed to sound "fancy"? It was only after digging some that I realized that they kept the same look for roughly forty years. It was only in the 1970's when they tried to update their look, often with unintentionally hilarious results.

Image 1 - WEST END WATCH SOWAR MILITARY WINDING 2 TONE DIAL UNIQUE CASE.
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I've seen these West End watches pop up on the Bay many a time and just fobbed them off as Mumbai specials or frankin watches at best. I did delve a little deeper a couple of times into their history and found they are in fact a legit company with some history credibility, but again I just passed them up due to their association with the dreaded Mumbai specials.

Given my location, the East Coast of Australia and living in a very moderate climate, but also where summer temperatures can reach as high as 48 ℃ and winters down to 0 ℃, I tend to buy tool watches mostly which can take a bit of a beating and stand up to the riggers of a railway life. 

But of course you knew all this from our past correspondence and my posts here. 

My issue is I would be forced to buy from somewhere like eBay, which isn't my favourite site for vintage pieces, it's either a hit or miss, also there seems to be a huge variation in their prices and knowing very little about the different models and movements they use I would literally have to take a gamble and hope for the best.

But as always mate, you're a wealth of knowledge and may have sparked my interest once again into the world of vintage watches after reading your very informative post.  

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TonyXXX

I've seen these West End watches pop up on the Bay many a time and just fobbed them off as Mumbai specials or frankin watches at best. I did delve a little deeper a couple of times into their history and found they are in fact a legit company with some history credibility, but again I just passed them up due to their association with the dreaded Mumbai specials.

Given my location, the East Coast of Australia and living in a very moderate climate, but also where summer temperatures can reach as high as 48 ℃ and winters down to 0 ℃, I tend to buy tool watches mostly which can take a bit of a beating and stand up to the riggers of a railway life. 

But of course you knew all this from our past correspondence and my posts here. 

My issue is I would be forced to buy from somewhere like eBay, which isn't my favourite site for vintage pieces, it's either a hit or miss, also there seems to be a huge variation in their prices and knowing very little about the different models and movements they use I would literally have to take a gamble and hope for the best.

But as always mate, you're a wealth of knowledge and may have sparked my interest once again into the world of vintage watches after reading your very informative post.  

It doesn't have to be vintage.  Everything that they do looks vintage:

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roberto

Thanks for the history lesson. I’ve seen West End watches online before, but hadn’t really learned much of the backstory. Given where I live I should probably look into getting one. It might not be tropical here, but is often damp and we are way out here on the western end of the continent. For me, all watches should have some significant ruggedness.

The fact that you got bonklip bracelets with them is a bonus. That alone is appealing because I really want to try one. I also like the arc used for the brand name, much like the smile that Tudor gives some of its watches with “self-winding.” Sowar Prima just sounds cool. And a modest brand? Sign me up. I am with the West End Girls (and boys and enbee friends). 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3j2NYZ8FKs

I love seeing my fellow watchcrunchers watches, it gives me a small insight into this person who is posting these watches but it's such a narrow slot to look through. I'd say it gives me next to nothing about you other than a rough idea about your purchasing power and generally where your aesthetic is. 

My watches don't nearly describe me as much as the music I listen to or the books I read or the films I watch. Whenever someone on here posts non watch media, maybe a music video they like or something else they collect other than watches I see so much more of them than if they posted a SOTC. If i told you I loved the Rolex Explorer what insight would that give you to me, if I said i liked the Rolex Explorer and The 1975 or WH Auden I think you'd know me more,

You posted this video because of the West End connection but the fact that you were aware of The Pet shop Boys tells me you're probably of an age where this is song is familiar to you and you only needed to find the video link, you could post any watch on earth and it would tell me less about you than the fact that you are able to easily reference this video.

I love this place but I wish we could expand on it. 

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morganthedruid

I love seeing my fellow watchcrunchers watches, it gives me a small insight into this person who is posting these watches but it's such a narrow slot to look through. I'd say it gives me next to nothing about you other than a rough idea about your purchasing power and generally where your aesthetic is. 

My watches don't nearly describe me as much as the music I listen to or the books I read or the films I watch. Whenever someone on here posts non watch media, maybe a music video they like or something else they collect other than watches I see so much more of them than if they posted a SOTC. If i told you I loved the Rolex Explorer what insight would that give you to me, if I said i liked the Rolex Explorer and The 1975 or WH Auden I think you'd know me more,

You posted this video because of the West End connection but the fact that you were aware of The Pet shop Boys tells me you're probably of an age where this is song is familiar to you and you only needed to find the video link, you could post any watch on earth and it would tell me less about you than the fact that you are able to easily reference this video.

I love this place but I wish we could expand on it. 

Four months after "West End Girls" was released my college roommate dragged me to see this band on a travelling riverboat in the Mississippi River. My provincial musical tastes were expanded:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8goIh9A-dAM

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Fascinating! This all makes sense. Where I grew up, You wore a Casio or the likes of a Tommy Hilfiger, Guess or Seiko. Fashion yes…but based on the clothes of the day. Good thing I suppose there weren’t any Izod or Members Only watches.