Monday, August 22, 2016

Identifying a Mystery Swiss Army Watch from the 1990s

Not this Swiss Army Calvary watch, but similar.
Writing a blog can require me to be part observant sleuth and wide-eyed student. This obsession takes effort. Nobody "just knows" about watches (except maybe Arial Adams!).

Ask collectors and they might tell you that they spend countless hours reading articles, watching videos or discussing the finer points of horology with other aficionados. Watch collecting is a rich and rewarding hobby and a great way to connect with other people.

Recently, I was contacted by a man who wanted help naming a vintage Swiss Army watch model that he once had, and wanted to acquire again many years later. I was glad to help, and I believe that the Sherlock Holmes in each us likes solving mysteries.

The challenge started with this photo of a Swiss Army Calvary watch and a description of how his watch differs from it. He gave the following clues...
  • It was released probably between 1992 and 1993.
  • The crown / winder was at 4:00, not 3:00 as it normal is, and slightly embedded in the watch case
  • There is no black line around the date, just a square bevelled frame
  • It came with a steel bracelet option, so I don't believe it had the permanent strap bars affixed.
With this info, the search was on, and it was going to be tricky because we are talking about a watch from the 1990s when the internet was still a baby. Much advertising from that time existed only in magazines. The print ads are almost lost to history unless someone scanned a copy of the ad and posted it online. This is actually kinda how I found the answer. If you ever run into he same situation, here are a few tips on identifying a mysterious watch.

Ask the Manufacturer 

Many watch companies have historians or customer service reps who can help identify an old watch. They keep old catalogs for reference. I have had good luck with Swiss Army and Longines. It never hurts to start there since it is their baby.

Ask Amateur Experts

There are probably more experts per square inch on watch forums than anywhere else in the world. Join a watch forum and post your question. You might be surprised at the loads of help that you get from total strangers who can solve the mystery.

Creatively Use Search Engines 

Google and other search engines have revolutionized the way we all find information. The better one uses the algorithms, the better the results should be. This can be less straight-forward than one might think because the internet is full of misinformation.

A Google search for "Swiss Army watch 1990s" found a comment describing a watch on Pinterest, which was linked to the image itself. This used human comments to identify a photo. This discovery got me a little closer, but still no model name was there so I had to refine the search parameters.


By purposely using the wrong name in a search, "1990s Swiss Army Calvary Watch," the right item appeared. It's counterintuitive, but this actually worked because people misname products all the time.

A Swiss Army print ad from the 1990s
The product name was hidden in the small pixelated text of this old advertisement. I had to enlarge the blurry image to try to make out the words. Google does not yet examine photos for text, but probably will soon.

Swiss Army Delta ad close up

Drumroll please.... 

The name of the mystery watch is... DELTA. It came in a men's model and a smaller women's model. According to the ad, the lugs were designed to be pivotal and not rigid meaning that it should fit wrists better. Here is what the Delta watch looked like with a metal bracelet. The mystery was solved, even if the guy wanting to find it got the location of the crown wrong. It is really at 2:00, but that "red herring" did not stop us.

A very early Swiss Army watch with pivotal lugs and offset crown called the Delta

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