Lemania might be best known among watch collectors as the manufacturer of the base caliber 27-70 Q which powers Patek Philippe’s references 3970 & 5970 perpetual-calendar chronographs. These two Patek models set the standard for complicated Swiss watches for more than 25 years starting in 1986. However, the Lemania brand had a rich history well before this landmark collaboration with Patek Philippe.
Lemania was founded in 1884 by Alfred Lugrin who had previously trained as a watchmaker for Jaeger LeCoultre. In 1930 his son in law Marius Meylan created the brand name Lemania Watch Company, and just two years later Lemania merged with Omega and Tissot. By mid 1930s Lemania had established itself as was one of the three companies (along with Venus and Valjoux) that dominated the market as suppliers of high quality chronograph movements to other prestige brands.
Their good reputation also landed Lemania contracts with a number of military services around the world in the 1940s. For the next 40 years, Lemania sold air and marine tool watches to the armed services of United Kingdom, France, Israel, Italy, India, Sweden, South Africa, and many more. These services often had strict specifications on reliability and legibility. Moreover, the first Omega Speedmaster (the Moonwatch) was powered by the Omega Caliber 321, which was actually developed in 1946 by Lemania personnel. The company’s military movements, while reliable and rugged, are austere and workmanlike: lacking the fine cosmetic decorations and finishes that one associates with Swiss watches.
Our example is powered by Lemania 17 jewel, 18,000 bph, Caliber 2220. All functions of the chronograph mechanism (start, stop, and reset) are engaged by a single pusher. Almost exclusively used in military chronographs, the Caliber 2220 was based on an earlier pocket watch movement – the Caliber CHT15 – with the addition of shock protection. The balance is equipped with a Breguet overcoil and it is comparatively large; the levers and springs are fashioned from sheet steel; and all bridges are brushed for optimal functionality. The large pocket watch caliber ensures reliability and ease of service, but it has the additional benefit of running with an audible crisp ticking sound.
Our watch was made for the British Royal Airforce in 1962 as evidenced by the “6BB” engraving on the waterproof back. The timepiece has all the great heft and wrist presence that one would expect from a military piece of equipment. It has a 40 mm asymmetric case (13mm thick), a monopusher chronograph control, and an original dial that is incredibly well preserved and still luminescent. The cosmetics of the dial include a large white broad arrow above six o’clock, and finely aged syringe-type hands which were commonly used for military watches. All the elements of the dial show consistent aging and reaction to UV light, confirming that the dial is completely original and untouched. The case, crown and case back are also in near perfect condition.