Mid of last year I got an interesting Enicar from a guy who bought it 20 years ago himself. The seller two decades ago was an old Swedish gentleman, who told the story, that this particular watch was part of a Swedish arctic expedition in the 1950s.
The watch I am talking about is this lovely Enicar Sherpas Ultrasonic Chronometer, Ref. 100/76 AaNS. From the outside it looks like the known Seapearl and Healthway dive watches, but in difference to them it houses an automatic Cal. AR 1134 movement with chronometer certificate. Chronometer watches from Enicar are very rare, cause Enicar has its own title for these type of super accuarate watches, called Supertest.
But lets come back to the polar story. It was a nice story, which could have been true, but also just made up to sell the watch. Thanks to some Enicar 50s and 60s ads, we know that Enicar really sponsored the Swedish-Finnish-Swiss expediton of the Geophysical Year 1957/58, lead by “Institut Suisse de Météorologie” director Jean Lugeon.
This week I found some additional very interesting documents that tells us a bit more about the connection of Enicar and this arctic mission. Sorry for the bad quality, unfortunately I just found low res pics.
So here is the text:
I should like to confirm the telephone conversation I had with your collaborator Mr. Robert-Tissot, just after my return from the Swiss I.G.Y. expedition to the north of the Spitzbergen archipelago, latitude 80°.
In the course of a pleasant ceremony that took place on the 1st August 1957, I handed the Enicar Ultrasonic Sherpas watches to the members of the expedition, all of whom signed the parchment diploma prepared by you for the occasion.
The ENICAR Ultrasonic Sherpas watch that I wore on my left wrist from the time of my departure from Switzerland, at the end of July, gave an impeccable performance. During the first week, there was a slight error of about two seconds, due no doubt to the difference of athmospheric pressure between Zürich and the low-lying territories of Scandinavia. Then, during my six weeks’ stay in the Arctic, the watch showed a gain or loss of one second only. When I arrived at Hornesund, seven weeks after having put it on for the first time, it was keeping perfect time. This watch went through storms and got wet on several occasions. The watches I gave to those spending the winter in the Arctic also behaved remarkably
Thanking you again most warmly for the great pleasure you gave to the Swiss expedition for the International Geophysical year, I am, dear Sir.
Yours very truly,
Institut Suisse de Météorologie
So now we know, that they used a type of Enicar Ultrasonic Sherpas during that expedition. Sherpas was the early name that was the predecessor to the later Sherpa (without S) line of dive and tool watches. If we can trust Mr. Lugeons observations, even compared to today this watch shows remarkable accuracy!
Let’s have a look at the second page, which is a bit better readable. Here a Mr. Bischof forwared a telegram from expedition member Wasserfallen to the Enicar headquarter in Lengnau to report a status of his watch. In 4 months he hasn’t resettet his watch and the maximum deviation he had during that time was +/- 15sec! Wow!
Even more wow is the fact that he is talking about a Chronometer. Sherpas, Chronometer,…. this sounds like my watch! But it will be even better. He is also talking about the personal number of his watch: “3165”.
When I was reading this letter I immediately got my watch and checked the caseback: Bingo, “3166”! Close enough for me to believe the story of the old Swedish guy. The number by the way is not specific for that mission, but reflects the serial number of the chronometer movement inside (as you can see at the movement picture at the end of the article).
But let’s come back to the Geophysical Year expedition back in 1957 and see, if there is more proof.
The International Geophysical Year (IGY) was an international scientific project that took place from 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958. The IGY focussed on eleven fields of science: aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determinations (precision mapping), meteorology, oceanography, seismology, and solar activity. It was perfectly timed with the peak of solar cycle 19.
Sweden, Finnland and Switzerland combined their intellectual forces and build up a place for their experiments in Spitzbergen, 1000km away from the northpole. The Kinnvika station consisted of a few wooden buildings but contained everything the scientist needed for their work and living.
Of course the scientists needed support from outside for fresh food, new experiments and reinforcements. The group relied on a Consolidated PBY “Catalina” used by the Swedish Air Force to get the goods to Spitzbergen. Sometimes it was very tricky, as we can see on some pictures of that time.
In the above letter of Mr. Lugeon he also had a nice story to share about the Enicar Sherpas and their experience with the Catalina in arctic waters:
“Owing to the extremely difficult condition under which the Catalina Seaplane of the Swedish Air Force had to come down on the sea, it was necessary to call out lifeboats. Two of these foundered, and several members of the expedition who were wearing your ENICAR watches jumped into the water to save the aircraft. Though their watches were immersed in seawater for about two hours, they were not in the least affected by their unexpected bath.“
Browsing through hundreds of pictures, I was just able to identify the Sherpas on two of them. The first is showing the leader of the mission, Dr. Lugeon himself, preparing some experiments. The second is showing an unknown member of the expedition while he is probably killing some time with dancing 😀
The list of the mission members gives us a rough number of how many watches could be issued. 13 members were listed, but just around 10 of them belonged to the main party. Since I have seen fotos of scientists with other watches than the Enicar, it is also possible that not every member got an Enicar watch.
My guess is that less than 10 watches were issued for that expedition. Would be interesting to find a document that connects every member to his watch and to see who the owner of my “3166” was.
If you have a similar story to tell, documents, brochures or anything Enicar related let me know. Every small piece is important and could lead to knew knowledge, as we have seen with the two letters.