The Bengal Club of Calcutta has been an exclusive institution since the mid-19th century. Its members belonged to the upper echelons of the British Indian Society of the time. Such was its exclusivity that only shareholders or directors of the largest companies could become members and even though it was open to the Indian Civil Service (ICS) staff, only the highest officers were accepted into the club.
ICS staff were employees of the the British crown, an elite corps of public administrators that implemented British rules and policies in the Subcontinent. The recruitment process was tough, the candidates had to appear in competitive exams and selections. Meritocracy was the base of every promotion.
However, the sun would set on the British Empire’s reign in India in the 1940s. It is around this period of time that a rare and interesting timepiece producted in the Forties by Longines and co-branded with West End Watch and Co appeared. It featured a nice patina dial with the inscription “West End Watch Co” and with an almost impercetible signature Longines in red, Swiss Made marking at 6 o’clock and Arabic numbers coated with radium.
Arnold Charpie, West End’s enterprising agent in India realized that the Indian buyer was more likely to buy a more British sounding brand.
It was sold by Longines on the July 1, 1944 to the West End company , the Longines exclusive importer until 1957 for the Indian market. It was assigmed to the C.S.(I), the Indian Civil Service, as evident from the markings on the caseback. Besides that, the case shows the importer’s logo and the reference.
The West End Watch company was set actually set up as Alcide Droz & Sons established at St-Imier in 1880. Arnold Charpie, it’s enterprising agent in India realized that the Indian buyer was more likely to buy a more British sounding brand. So The West End Watch Company, the name inspired by theater district of Central London, was established in India with branches in Bombay and Calcutta.
During the First World War, the company was the first distributor of Swiss watches for British troops stationed in the Middle and Far East, even if they didnt sell directly to the armies. It is believed that Lawrence of Arabia bought a timepiece from them during this period.
In 1934, West End Watch Company introduced the Sowar First, a model that would go on to become a bestseller for the brand. Sowar, which is a reference to an Indian cavalry, was the first wristwatch to feature the “Incabloc” shock absorption system. Over 13 million watches were sold in the Middle and Far East. Reports suggest that just in Iran, about 1,000 watches were sold a day.
Unfortunately, West End Watches were forced to wind up their India operations in 1975 thanks to restrictions that the Indian government imposed on imported goods.
Back to the Longines in questions, the assignment on the caseback is not a traditional military one, but an unusual "civil award." In another timepiece very well preserved and carrying the same reference number and same caliber (Longines 10L) below the WEWC logo the co-branding Longines is clearly visible. The movements were always co-branded with Longines logo and the letter W inscribed into a star logo. The movement had a refined finish and featured blued screws.
West End Watch Company watches have a special place in the hearts of Khaleejis. The brand was among the first Swiss brands to retail in the region and old-timers still recall the brand fondly. In the late Forties, Ahmed Qasim Seddiqi of UAE retailer Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons purchased a first lot of 12 West End Watches from Yacob Yousuf Behbehani of Kuwait, then agent for West End Watches in the Gulf. The UAE retailer has been selling West End Watches in the UAE for more than 60 years now. Ahmed Seddiqi famously referred to West End as “The Mother of Swiss Watches”.