Friday, November 15, 2019

Major C. P. Heydenrych

Its been ages since we spoke about railroad pocket watches!

Today, the focus of our interest is a 1925 Omega SAR-SAS railway pocket watch number 1498, fitted with a 19 LBN calibre movement. The watch arrived in very poor condition, with a number of movement parts missing and heavily worn out engraving on the nickel case back. However, the writing on the porcelain dial is well preserved and it is one of those rare quad sign examples which bears railway designator as well as Omega brand name, local co-brand, and co-brand location. (SAS-SAR, Omega, C.P. Heydenrych, Johannesburg)

South African Railway watches are so rare that any example in any condition is worth our attention. Unfortunately due to current workload I will not be able to undertake any restoration right now. But I can't wait to get my hands on to it. In the meantime, the preliminary research is presented here for your enjoyment:
SAS-SAR stands for South African Railways - Suid Afrikaanse Spoorweg, spelt in both English and Afrikaans respectively. The railways have always been an essential part of South Africa’s transport system, and the SAR infrastructure is the most developed across the continent.

In 1860, the first locomotive was introduced to South Africa which connected Durban to Harbour Point, by the Natal Railway Company. Other railway lines linked towns and cities within South Africa, constructed and operated by Cape Government Railways and Netherlands South African Railway Company.

In 1910, the four British territories of Cape, Transvaal, Natal and the Orange Free State republic gained nominal independence from Britain. These four provinces formed the Union of South Africa and as a result, the railway lines across the country were merged creating the South African Railway.

The railway pocket watch dial on today’s agenda is inscribed:
C. P. Heydenrych

But who exactly is CP Heydenrych?

Carel Petrus Heydenrych of Johannesburg was the son of Johanna Jacoba Heydenrych (born Theunissen) and Carel Petrus Heydenrych. He was an important military figure: A Major and Colonel who served with the Rand Rifles during the Boer War and with the Witwatersrand Rifles during the First World War. His war achievements were recognised with an honorary war medal in his name: The Major Heydenrych Medal.
After the Great War ended, CP Heydenrych commanded the South African Armoured trains throughout the 1920s. An armoured train is a locomotive that is protected with armour - artillery and machine guns for example. Armoured trains proved popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially during wars, as they could easily transport large amounts of firepower.
Johannesburg, 18 March 1922. Major CP Heydenrych, Lt-Col RC Wallace and Major JM Greathead with troops at troop train on station platform.

Since 1893, working on the railroad required officials to carry railroad timekeepers to ensure trains were on time in order to avoid catastrophic collisions. By the end of the 19th century, Omega, together with its brand sister Gurzelen Brandt, had garnered a reputation of producing outstanding railroad watches, supplying South African Railways with the very watch we have in our workshop.

The nickel case back has the issue number 1498 and did have a locomotive motif engraving, however this has been completely worn away with time. In it's original condition, it would've looked something like the pocket watch on the left: 
As a railroad commander, the Omega SAR-SAS pocket watch would have most probably been a part of CP Heydenrych’s uniform. However, it is unlikely that this pocket watch is a one-of-a-kind unique timepiece. What is more likely is that there were a number of pocket watches made by Omega, and due to Major CP Heydenrych's military status, the porcelain dial bears his name almost like a 'special edition' of the SAR pocket watch.

Omega railroad pocket watches are far more than just a timepiece. They are a piece of history which carry huge horological importance. And this watch in particular not only preserves railway history, but the military achievements and life of Major and Colonel Heydenrych.

"Railroad watches may be considered as the first reference watches of the manufacture, much before the record precision chronometers, the Olympic chronographs or the NASA Official Speedmasters." – A Journey Through Time. 

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