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Review: The Heuer Bundeswehr 1550 SG

Military Timekeeping
by Chester Lau on August 12, 2017

The Bundeswehr was formed in 1955 as the united armed forces of Germany, which during this period, was in defense of West Germany. As the spearhead of NATO forces and sitting on the proverbial borders of the Soviet Union, the Bundeswehr was one of the most modern and well-equipped armed forces of its time. The Heuer Bundeswehr 1550 SG was one such equipment that saw production through the period 1955 to 1990, which was the year that Germany was reunified and the Bundeswehr restructured.

 

The Heuer Bundeswehr 1550 SG.

 

The watch was created to be a Bundeswehr pilot’s instrument, but research shows that it also made its way to the other service branches. Men from the land vocations like the artillery were said to be also issued the 1550 SG. As expected of a tool watch, the timepiece is utilitarian, functional and overall well built. That said, over the production period of nearly four decades, the resulting stock floating in the market today while fundamentally congruous to the original design, are in multiple variations. This might be a cause of concern and confusion for collectors looking for their desired ‘original’.

 

The “3H” indicates tritium, as hydrogen-3 is the chemical compound for that radioactive luminous material. The lume on the hands, tip of the chronograph hand, and Arabic numerals all match and have aged beautifully.

The Dial

Possibly due to different factories at different periods of time, manufacturing the parts for the watch, in particular the dials, the Bundeswehr chronograph can now be found in various dial configurations. There are 5 main dial configurations:

  • the “classic 3H/T”; has a red 3H-symbol that appears just below the dial center, and a tiny “T” that appears just above “6”.
  • the “3H-only”; has a red 3H-symbol that appears just below the center.
  • the “T-only”; has a tiny “T” that appears just above “6”.
  • the “clean”; has no markings beyond the “Heuer” logo.
  • the “sternzeit”; worded with STERNZEIT REGULIERT markings just below the dial center.
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To add to the confusion, there are 4 different variations of the 3 H logo, and 3 variations of the Heuer logo. For full details of the different variations, the findings are documented in this PDF  written by W.A. Manning

 

In this review, we are looking at a “classic 3H/T” with a big letter red 3H-symbol and a tiny “T” that appears just above “6”. It also bears the “standard” Heuer logo which fits inside :58 and :02.

 

The Case

The stainless steel case has a gun metal color with a brushed finish. It measures 42mm in diameter and 13 mm in thickness. The case construction is mostly traditional, in the style of early chronograph wristwatches. It is a two piece case, with a 4-screw caseback design. The pump pushers are easy to access and has a good actuation mechanism. The unsigned big crown also makes it easy to wind and adjust.

 

The 4 screw caseback with military markings.

The Heuer Bundeswehr chronograph measures 42 mm in diameter and is fit in a stainless steel case with acrylic display.

The Movement

This watch possesses both the flyback chronograph function as well as a hacking mechanism. It uses the manual winding Valjoux 230 flyback chronograph movement which beats at 18,000 vph and has approximately 48 hours power reserve.

In a regular chronograph calibre the chronograph mechanism must be stopped before it can be reset. In a flyback chronograph, the mechanism can be reset while it is still running, making it particularly useful for timing consecutive short interval events. This is achieved by the addition of an additional lever in the chronograph mechanism. When the reset button is pressed the flyback lever lifts the coupling clutch from the chronograph centre wheel allowing the mechanism to reset.

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A true icon of time, representative of military timekeeping history in the context of the Cold War conflict.

Concluding thoughts

The Bundeswehr 1550 SG on the secondary market today is normally priced between $4000 to $10000. Prices affected in general by the condition of the watch, and popularity of dial types. While it may vary across different vintage watches, a pertinent dilemma stands for Bundeswehr collectors. Considering that the watches were produced from 1955 to 1990, collectors may struggle to decide if they would want the earlier production models; deemed as more authentic, or the later production models, with updated parts, and understandably in better condition. That said, our preferred dial variation is shown in the model we review today, circa 1970s, which is rather rare to be found in original yet pristine condition.

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