Tuesday, August 13, 2019


As always is the case, one thing leads to another, so unexpectedly my research on Australian Railroad wristwatches has sparked interest in German Railroad watches.  Clearly not my area of expertise, however, happy to share the little I’ve discovered so far.

The history of modern German rail can be traced to December 1835 when the first long-distance railway was completed between Leipzig and Dresden.  

Following WWI the Deutsche Reichsbahn was formed. After WWII Germany (1945-1949) and the DRG was divided into 4 zones: US, British, French and Soviet. From 1949-1994 the DRG's successors were named Deutsche Bundesbahn in West Germany and Deutsche Reichsbahn in the East. On 3 October 1990 Germany was reunified, however, reunification of the German railways was delayed.  The Railway Reform came into effect on 1 January 1994 when the State Railways were reunited to form the current German Railway Corporation (Deutsche Bahn). 

While German Railways did not have a single official Railroad watch brand or maker, s 408 in their work regulations required every employee, as far as possible, to wear a watch to work that kept perfect time (as you can imagine!). What's interesting is that the specifications initially said "accurately running watch".  However, it was believed this was not specific enough as a watch could be accurately running but not showing the correct time if the hands had fallen off or the hands were having problems moving forward, so the wording was later changed to "correctly showing the time".  

German Railroad wristwatches were issued by the Rail Authority and individually numbered on the case back. The number starts with the letter “D” where the D stands for Dienstuhr (Service Watch).  The case back also bears the German Railway symbol which is the winged wheel - das Flugelrad is a symbol for progress in general and travel and railroading in particular. The origin goes back to Mercury (the patron of commerce and travel, who commonly is depicted with winged sandals and a winged hat).  Of course, the winged wheel is not unique to German railroad watches.  It is commonly found on almost all national railway watches.  However, the German symbol itself is very restrained and I believe dates from the 1930’s. 

There are a number of suppliers to Deutsche Bahn but the one that constantly pops up is Bellana from the 1960’s to the very early 1980’s. 

Bellana watches were officially certified by the Railroad company up until the 1990's. These watches were not given to staff but had to be purchased.  If an employee could not pay for the watch in advance they were able to pay by instalments with direct debits taken out of their monthly salary.  Bellana sales representatives regularly went to railroad canteens to showcase their new collections.  They would also take in any watches for repairs or maintenance, at which point a replacement was provided for the relevant period.

While Bellana timepieces were produced for the masses, they are the kind of treasured and sentimental family heirlooms that you don't expect to see too often, given the original recipients were railroad civil servants with a job for life.  It is fair to say that while German watches are not that rare, the German collectors market is very mature and sophisticated, and such pieces rarely appear on eBay; rather they are traded primarily among collectors.

This particular Bellana is fitted with ETA 2750 21 jewel manual wind movement and inside the case back there is the date "10/73" which is most likely the date when the watch had been issued.

A small curiosity: the watch doesn’t appear to have been overhauled in all those years but it still keeps time.  

This Bellana watch is not for sale. 

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