Important Watches

Important Watches

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 56. Weems | Retailed by A. Wittnauer Co.: An oversized silver second-setting sidereal timed Aviators watch, Previously Belonging to Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Circa 1933.

Formerly the Property of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd


Weems | Retailed by A. Wittnauer Co.: An oversized silver second-setting sidereal timed Aviators watch, Previously Belonging to Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Circa 1933

This lot has been withdrawn

Lot Details


Dial: white enamel, silvered center field

Caliber: cal. 18.69 N nickel finished mechanical, 15 jewels, Extra Quality

Movement number: 5’167’802

Case: silver, numbered cuvette, hinged case back

Case number: 5’167’802

Size: 47 mm diameter

Signed: case, dial and movement

Box: no

Papers: no

Accessories: Longines Extract from the Archives confirming that the present lot was invoiced on 29 August 1933 to A. Wittnauer Co., and then supplied to the Admiral Byrd Antarctic mission. Additionally accompanied by a plethora of Expedition materials including, the Official Flight Log of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II, 1933-1935, staff roster, Scientific Program, and personal correspondence to the Honorable Hiram Bingham, President of the National Aeronautic Association, dated 4 October, 1933. Also with the original dinner itinerary for the Reception and Dinner to the Admiral held at the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom, manuscript copy of ‘The Winter Night Trip to Advance Base --- Byrd Antarctic Expedition 2 1933-1935, and The Poulter “Snowmobile,” by Thomas C. Poulter. All together with news articles, black and white photographs, and a color advertisement for a special in-person event with moving pictures.

Please note, this lot has been withdrawn.

The 20th Century gave rise to aviation exploration like never before. At the forefront of that movement were men like Charles Lindbergh and Admiral Byrd. Both daring aviators and explorers who flew great distances – but also had something else in common, their reliance on Longines watches and instruments.

Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd is truly one of America’s greatest explorers. In addition to being a pioneer in aeronautical and scientific research – he is one of the most decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy. A recipient of the Navy Cross, Distinguished Cross, numerous expedition medals, and of course – the Medal of Honor the highest military award the United States can bestow upon anyone. While Admiral Byrd has achieved much in his career, he is most famous for the near complete and accurate mapping of the Antarctic continent that he and his crew were able to accomplish over several expeditions. In the process, becoming the first person to fly over the South Pole during his first Antarctic Expedition in 1928. This, however, was not enough for Richard E. Byrd. As one of his fellow explorers, Paul Siple, would note “[Byrd was] an undaunted and insatiable explorer”.

Admiral Byrd needed to chart more of this previously unmapped continent, and so in 1934 it was decided to mount the ‘Byrd Antarctic Expedition II’.  Despite being in the grips of The Great Depression, America was riveted with the courage of Byrd and his ambitious undertakings. Thousands of private citizens across the nation donated money to help fund this scientific endeavor, while larger grants came from prominent Americans like Edsel Ford, Thomas Watson, and the National Geographic Society. Through those donations, and the inventive selling of photography rights, and advertising spots on Byrd’s weekly Antarctic broadcasts, over $150,000 was raised to fund this monumental undertaking. Byrd has noted that Antarctica was a deeply unforgiving terrain - noting the extreme temperatures endured of -58 °F to -76 °F, and so this was to be a larger undertaking with more men, aircraft, and the best equipment available. To that end, Admiral Byrd wrote to Longines to discuss his specific needs. His notes, name, and specifications are still found in the Longines logbooks to this day.


At this point in the 20th Century, Longines had won more precision timing awards than any other maker. They were specialist makers of unique, precision, robust instruments for extreme conditions in the aviation and exploration space. Pilots and explorers relied upon these instruments with their lives. Byrd’s watch with serial 5’167’802, is likely the finest and most technically advanced watch ever produced at that time. It is noted in Stephanie Lachat’s book, Longines through Time (p.111). “The Longines archives clearly indicate that the Weems watch bearing serial number 5’167’802, in silver and equipped with calibre 18.69N, was sold to Byrd in 1933.” Further, John Goldberger's Longines Legendary Watches makes similar reference (p.180).


According to the Longines production register, the watch was invoiced on 29 August 1933 to their US agent company A. Wittnauer Co..Longines famous "livre d'etablissage" notes use of an “EXTRA QUALITY” (engraved onto the movement), 18.69N nickel plated calibre with the very best star regulator for isochronism. It also states expressly to set the watch for Rear Admiral Byrd at sidereal time, essential for the South Pole. Longines were the first wristwatches regulated for sidereal time -  essential for celestial navigation. This first generation example features a single red star at the 6 position and is the only known surviving example with the single red star at six.


Admiral Byrd relied incredibly heavily on this piece of instrumentation, and at a pivotal moment in the Expedition – it even helped to save his life. As Admiral Byrd set about his course to make that famed route over the South Pole, this watch was the sole functioning navigational aid. In his accounts of the expedition, he noted that “no compass works near the Poles”. The only way to determine one’s position and to navigate was to use a watch adjusted to sidereal time – as his Longines was timed too.


Byrd’s Longines watch used special oils to maintain accurate time even under extreme temperatures. The second reason was radio synchronization. As the eyes of the world were upon Byrd and his expedition, he maintained a radio schedule from their base-camp (Little America II) three times a week, describing the meteorological and living conditions of a winter in Antarctica for all of America. The inner rotating seconds setting disk controlled by secondary crown at 4 o’clock, allowed its user, Rear Admiral Byrd, to synchronize the second hand with a reference clock, essential for radio synchronization.


Given all that it has been through, the watch survives in impressive condition, and is accompanied by a bevy of important artifacts worthy of any museum. Most notably, the original hand typed transcripts and flight logs from the 1933-1935 Expedition, detailing 169 hours of total flight time. Each one of those hours, accompanied by Byrd’s Longines Weems, making this watch not just a witness to history but an integral part of it.