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The Great Citroën Watch Mystery 

In the autumn of 1999, Joe Judt, editor of the Citroënian was manning the Citroën Car Club Helpline and took a call from a gentleman who was not a Club member but who had a query relating to a watch which had the word 'Citroën' on the dial.

Joe was unable to cast any light on the subject but suggested that Mike (as I shall call the gentleman in question) contact me since I have a number of contacts at Slough and Neuilly.

At a Citroën Car Club Standing Committee meeting, Joe mentioned this to me and asked if it would be alright to put Mike in contact with me.  I agreed although I did not hold out much hope of being able to help.  Joe said he thought it might have been a promotional gift given to dealers some fifty years ago.

Shortly afterwards, I received an e-mail from Mike in which he described the watch.  He wrote, Last November I bought a beautiful platinum and diamond ladies 'jewel' watch, unusual firstly by virtue of its size (the face is just under 12mm in diameter) and secondly because the winding button was recessed into the back of the watch, rather than being situated to the side. 

I knew this to be a feature of certain watches made by Jaeger Le Coultre and since the watch bore no other visible maker's mark, thought that this might have been a clue to its origin. A subsequent examination of the mechanism however revealed the maker to have been Blancpain rather than Jaeger Le Coultre and showed the watch to have been of superior quality.

Although it was in good mechanical condition overall, the winding button, winding stem and winding pinion were missing and had to be remade without the benefit of drawings or the original parts. As you can imagine this proved a difficult and demanding restoration task and because of the size and quality of the watch, could only be undertaken by a highly skilled craftsman.

While the restoration was taking place, I decided to turn my attention to finding out as much as I could about this interesting and unusual piece and embarked upon what has been a fascinating (if at times frustrating) piece of detective work. My starting point was of course the name Blancpain and having searched the internet for information I contacted Blancpain SA in Switzerland to see whether they could identify the movement and tell me something of its history.

Blancpain proved extremely helpful and from the information they sent me, I was able to identify the type of movement and arrive at an approximate date for its production.

The movement appeared to be one of a series produced during the mid fifties, the most famous of which was known as the `Lady Bird'.

Officially launched in 1956. The 'Lady Bird' was the smallest round movement produced with a diameter of 5 ligns (11.85mm) and its tiny size opened up new dimensions in the creation of ladies' watches and `jewel' watches.

As well as producing their own 'calibres' however, Blancpain had always been the exclusive manufacturers of movements for other prestige makers and in 1955 for instance they produced a number of their tiny 5 lign calibres for Longines.

So I was now able to give the movement an approximate date, but what about the case? What could that tell me about this beautiful and fascinating watch?

One surprising feature was that the face of the watch was inscribed CITROËN rather than bearing the maker's name. I say surprising because the name of a prestige maker would normally feature prominently on the face of a quality watch. Unless that is, the watch had been produced especially for a company like Citroën, to commemorate a very special event or as a presentation piece.

Having conducted a search to eliminate the possibility that  Citroën was also the name of a listed watchmaker or seller, I decided to see whether I could establish a link between the Citroën Car Company and my watch. 

Once again I used the internet, but this time to search for historical information on the Citroen Car Company, particularly during the 1950's.  It didn't take me long to discover that the Citroen DS was launched at the Paris Salon on October 5th 1955 and that this was indeed a prestigious event. Could this be the link I had been searching for?

I looked on the Citroen Car Club website and was directed to Joe Judt who put me in touch with you.

It's been a fascinating search so far and if there really is a link between  this watch and some major event involving the Citroën Car Company, I would be delighted to find out what it might be.”

Mike then provided me with a brief description of the watch.  The case is made of platinum, circular in shape with a diameter of approximately 12.00mm. The bezel, which surrounds the face, is set with eighteen diamonds and the setting has been designed in such a way that the stones are recessed to protect them from damage. An unusual feature of the watch is that the winding button is situated to the back of the case rather than the side.

The face is white in colour, the hours being indicated by silver coloured strokes rather than numerals. The hands are also silver In colour. The centre of the face bears the name CITROEN in silver on its upper half.

The movement is circular in shape and marked `Blancpain'. It is extremely small - under 12 mm in diameter. The movement number is 4380 and the calibre is R350.

The case is attached to a slim platinum bracelet comprising 34 square links and each link is set with a diamond in a recessed setting. The clasp has a `push in' type of fitting secured by wire safety clips to each side of the bracelet.

From this description, it was obvious that this was not the sort of freebie given to dealers as part of a sales promotion - even for so prestigious a vehicle launch as that of the DS.

I then contacted Julian Leyton of Citroën UK, Erik Verhaest of Citroën Nederland and Grø Hoeg of Citroën France.  Neither Julian nor Erik could help but both suggested I contact Grø and it was she who came up trumps.

In 1959, Citroën gave the watch to Mme. Coltelloni, the wife of the Monte Carlo winner, Paul Coltelloni who, with co-drivers and close friends Pierre Alexandre and Claude Desrosiers romped home in an ID19 bearing the number 176.  The same year he had also won the European rally Championship in an ID19.  This was the ID's first major rally victory and it was up against much more powerful machinery from the likes of Jaguar and Aston Martin.  Another ID, driven by Marang and Badoche achieved fourth place while the ID of Trautmann and Richard won the Tourisme «spéciales» et Grand Tourisme normales et améliorées 1300 to 2000cc class.

The watch was presented to her at the Hôtel Ritz in February 1959.  At that time, rally drivers received no pay from Citroën but their wives were frequently given expensive gifts - as was the case here. 

Sadly, Paul Coltelloni died in Paris in July 1999.

I passed this information on to Mike shortly before Christmas 1999.  He was absolutely delighted to hear the history of this unusual watch and told me that he had been researching this for over a year.  He said he was astounded that I had managed to trace the watch’s origins in such a short time.

© 2000 Julian Marsh

This article was originally published in the Citroënian.

© 2000 Julian Marsh