Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Ferrovia Italiana

Today our focus is on watches made for Italian State Rail.  A brief introduction to Italian Railway.

Italy's first rail line was the Napoli-Portici line which was built in 1839 to connect the Naples Royal Palace to the sea.  Following on from the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, a project was started to connect the entire country by rail from the Alps to Sicily.  Italy's State Railways (the Azienda Autonoma della Ferrovie dello Stato) was instituted on 22 April 1905 to take over the majority of Italy's railways which up until then was private. 

Italy's first high-speed train was the 1939 ETR 200 which travelled from Milan to Florence with a top speed of 203kph. This allowed the rail network to compete with airlines. However, WWII put an end to this service. After armistice on 8 September 1943 Italy was divided, as were its train operations.  Salerno was the Headquarters for the South and Verona for the North.  The post-war era was particularly difficult as most of the rail network had been severely damaged and the rolling stock was obsolete.  Almost 20,000 kilometres of new rail tracks were built by 1952.  New trains were introduced with many rail sections electrified and often doubled.

After 80 years, the Azienda Autonoma delle Ferrovie dello Stato was replaced by Ferrovie dello Stato. The workforce was halved. Privitisation occurred in 1992 with the creation of Ferrovie dello Stato SpA, however, shares were still owned by the Italian Government.

Nowadays rail tracks and infrastructure are managed by Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI) whereas the train and passenger sections are mainly managed by Trenitalia. Both of these are subsidiaries of Ferrovie Dello Stato (FS), once Italy's only train operator.  

I am not a collector of Italian Railway pocket watches myself so  I have only three pieces in my collection, two of whom are identical.  
On the left is a Perseo (Cortébert) calibre 530 going back to the late 1920's, early 1930's.  It is a 52mm nickel case pocket watch.  The porcelain dial is signed "Perseo" with their three star logo.

The other two pieces are from around the 1970's, fitted with UNITAS 6498 movement (by the way, this is the same mechanism we use in our rebelde line of watches).  Cortébert call this calibre 160 but it is entirely developed by UNITAS.  Robust, reliable and repairable - for sure.  This model is 49mm case size, and a much slimmer line.

Of course, what is of interest to us is not merely the Perseo brand.  Cortébert made countless number of watches for civilians, not just railroad.  Also, while some watches have "FS" engraving (Ferrovie dello Stato), that does not necessarily mean that the watch was issued to railroad workers.  Only watches with the FS logo and serial number engraved on the back are considered true Italian railroad timepieces

Another detail worth mentioning: note the difference between the engraving of the FS logo.  The older logo is clearly more refined and attractive than the more recent one.

Cortebert calibre 530

Cortebert calibre 160 (UNITAS 6498)

What is in it for you?

I strongly believe that an enthusiastic watch collector should have at least a few railroad and military pocket watches in their collection.  The history behind them is amazing.  They belonged to real servicemen who used them daily for many decades.  Yet they have stood the test of time and, when restored, will perform as good as new.

If you are an Italian, then having a Ferrovie Dello Stato pocket watch is an absolute must.  Look for the best examples you can afford, and avoid watches with damaged dials and missing hands.  But do keep in mind that even the best examples found online will still need a complete overhaul before they can be worn.

The three pieces mentioned here are not for sale but if I do get any duplicates I will certainly offer them to subscribers.  
The Target List

From my research, the following Swiss brands produced timepieces for Italian Rail:

Pocket watches:
Perseo (Cortébert)

Wrist watches:
Universal Genève
Perseo (Cortébert)

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