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Military chronographs are a fascinating and highly-collectible sub-category in vintage watch collecting. A bonafide military heritage takes a watch with a versatile, perhaps even ubiquitous, complication and makes it into something worth owning. Brands such as Gallet, Excelsior Park, and Zenith all contributed timepieces to the war effort, producing chronographs for many of the world's militaries.
Like Universal Geneve, Wittnauer, and Gallet, Angelus is a defunct brand whose chronographs have been gaining a lot of momentum in vintage collecting circles. Like these brands, Angelus has a long and storied history of making watches--and making them well. Established in Le Locle in 1891 (four years before Universal Geneve was founded in the same village) by the Stolz brothers, Angelus at first assembled watches out of parts made by other manufacturers. But as the 20th century dawned, Angelus were designing and manufacturing their own movements entirely in-house. They won awards at international exhibitions almost every year from 1902 to 1926.
Starting in the late 1940s, Angelus began producing chronographs for the Hungarian Air Force. Hungary had been banned from having a military air force by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. So the Royal Hungarian Air Force (Magyar Királyi Honvéd Légierő or Légi Erő) started covertly as civilian flying clubs. But by the 1930s the Légi Erő was officially established and recognized. As World War II began and Hungary's neighbors to the north--Poland and Czechoslovakia--fell, the L.E. added their airplanes to their air force, proving worthy foes to the encroaching Soviet forces in the East.
The watches that Angelus equipped these pilots are large for the day, in bright 38mm steel cases with sharp tapering lugs that sit well on the modern wrist. Their dials share a trait with other military chronos (for instance, the Gallet MultiChron Regulator and the Zenith A. Cairelli): legibility. Black, with large (irradiated) Arabic numerals and hands, the Angelus is designed to be read in the low light of an airplane cockpit. On the back of the case is the tell-tale inscription that guarantees the watch's pedigree: "L.E." for Légi Erő.
Inside it beats the Angelus Caliber 215, which deserves to be ranked up there among the likes of the Valjoux 72 or Longines 13ZN in terms of legendary chronograph èbauches. Robust, deceptively simple to look at, the Caliber 215 does what's required of it with a minimum of fuss if kept in good working order. And its notoriety didn't end when Angelus went out of business in the 1960s--Paneristis will recognize it as the basis of Panerai's Mare Nostrum prototypes released in 1943!
The vintage market is a constantly-evolving ecosystem, and we're always keen to identify trends and speculate on the future. If the outpouring of complimentary feedback on the various chronographs we've offered so far by Angelus is any indicator, big things are coming down the pike for Angelus. Our advice is to grab a good one, and this one--with a sterling military record--certainly is.
Stainless steel case is approximately 38mm (excluding crown and pushers). Angelus Caliber 215 Manually-Wound Chronograph. Circa 1950s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition considering its age, with sharp bevels and no signs of over-polishing, and minimal signs of use and wear. Dial is in very good condition with fine overall patina and no signs of major discoloration or hand drag. Case does show signs of age, including darkening of the luminescent material of the Arabic numerals and hands. Unsigned crown; Angelus case back is in very good condition, with military engravings "L.E." for Hungarian "Légi Erő."
Includes one 20mm black leather strap and two 20mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle