South African Air Force Lemania 1872: All you need to Know

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   SAAF 5012 Lemania



SAAF Lemania 1872

Issued some 10 years before the legendary Lemania 5012,  the Lemania 1872 was the first dual pusher chronograph purchased for its pilots by the South African Air force. The Lemania 1872 was issued to another Air force in the early to mid 1970’s, namely, the Swedish air force.  The Lemania 1872 reference has a direct line to the Swedish and South African Air Force. Currently, my research finds no civilian models of the Lemania 1872 (**Branded Lemania**), however companies like TISSOT, RODANIA, CRONOGRAPH SWISS and PONTIAC had their own branded versions made with the Lemania 1872 (See later on in this article for info on these). The Lemania 1872 used a case, the 817, designed by Ervin Piquerez SA (EPSA) that originated in 1968 and is commonly seen in military chronographs by Breguet, Heuer, Sinn, and most notably Lemania.


In Action shot: Shackleton pilot, Maj James Kriel 1974 (Pictures: Dean Wingrin)



The Sample Pool


How many of these watches exist?

Purchase records show there were a total of 630 Lemania 1872s procured by the SAAF from 1971-1976 (320 in 1971 and the balance of 310 in 1975/6). To try to confirm this I documented the movement numbers of all the samples I could find. It is unfortunately not quite as simple as taking the lowest movement number and subtracting it from the highest movement number as they were purchased in batches, and Lemania Watch Co would have continued to manufacture these movements in the time between orders from the SAAF.

Although the comparison of numbers in the table below doesn’t confirm the number of 630 units procured, it does confirm that there were no more than this purchased. My very small sample pool suggests 176 Arrow Dials and 114 Non-Arrow dials. HOWEVER PLEASE NOTE ! If i were to find one more with a movement number that was say 100 away from the lowest movement number, this would change this result by 100. So this is far from scientific or accurate, but i will endeavor to keep this information current as new examples of the Lemania 1872 SAAF appear.


The last column in the table above takes the lowest movement (in a sequence) and compares it to the highest number in the same sequence, therefore establishing a movement batch pattern.


Two Dial Variations were issued

The 1872 was issued in 2 dial variations, namely “Arrow dial” and “Non-Arrow” dial. Both consisted of matte black dials with a 30min counter at 3 and a second counter at 9. Contrary to previous information available, I believe the Non-Arrow dial to be the first issue and Arrow dial to be second issue, by some 2000 movement count. Although I try not to refer to AF numbers for reasons explained, the chart below would confirm my suggestion that the Non-Arrow dial was first execution.

Although there are a few “outliers”, marked in deep orange and blue in the TOP table, there seems to be a pattern with regards movement numbers and dial variation on the SAAF procured watches. “Generally speaking” i have found all non-arrow dials to be lower movement numbers (in the 265 4000’s) and the Arrow dials to be in the 265 6000’s. The “exceptions or outliers” i can only put down to the possibility of a movement service or swop. I would assume spare parts or even complete movements were ordered in order to maintain these watches. Possibly the out of sequence watches are as a result of this. Also note, there are 2656000 serials with Non-Arrow Dials (The outliers), but NO 2654000’s with Arrow dials, once again confirming that Arrow Dial was second issue.

2654000 Non Arrow Dial and 2656000 Arrow Dial Lemania 1872s


I don’t believe, as per my article on Lemania 5012s,, that there is any current sequence to the AF numbers  on the case backs  (In trying to establish when they were purchased by SAAF) as these were often swapped during servicing. It should be noted that as watches arrived into “stores”, they would be engraved/stamped. This was “batch” executed and then shelved in “military stores”. I have it on good authority that they were issued randomly and not in AF sequence. As the movements were manufactured by Lemania in sequence, i think it best and most accurate to establish issue dates based on movement numbers.

There were other AF items that were stamped in between each batch, that included aircraft clocks and instruments as pictured below on this Mirage Aircraft Clock, AF11117.


The NON-ARROW DIAL minute counter is (labeled 10-20-30-40-50-60) and its sub second (Labeled 5-10-15-20-25-30). It has outer Arabic numerals 1-12 which are lume filled in a puffy cream coloured Tritium mix. The 3 and 9 hour markers are incomplete numbers as this space was take up by the two slightly recessed sub dials. The outer ring of the dial has second and 1/5th sub second markers labeled in 5 second increments. Lemania is printed in white below the 12 hour marker with the “Lemania Crown” above it. Just outside of the sub second markers, below the 6 hour marker is printed T swiss T between 28 and 32 seconds.

The ARROW DIAL minute counter is labeled 10-20-30 and its sub second is labeled 20-40-60 . It has outer Small Arabic numerals 1-2-4-5-7-8-10-11 and a large 6 and 12, which are lume filled in a puffy cream coloured Tritium mix. The outer ring of the dial has one second markers joined by a continouos outer ring. Lemania is printed in white below the 12 hour marker with the “Lemania Crown” above it. There is also a military T printed just below the word Lemania.   Just outside the sub second markers, below the 6 hour marker is printed “Swiss made” between 29.8 and 31.2 seconds. The crows foot or arrow lies between the 6 hour marker and the dial center.

The Arrow or crow’s foot was a bit of a mystery to me. As this was a sign of Royal military property, what on earth is it doing on a South African Air force issued watch?  READ BELOW,  LEMANIA 818, THIS DIAL WAS ISSUED IN 1975 TO THE RAF.

Below pictures show the difference in the sub second dials of the NON-ARROW dial left and the ARROW dial right. Notice the flat circular grooved surface surface on the Non Arrow dial vs the flat circular grooved to two thirds, then slightly beveled smooth surface of the arrow dial.


Lemania 818 ROYAL NAVY also used a broad arrow dial. Issued 1975

Lemania produced a 2 button chronograph for the Royal navy Air Arm, reference 818, WITH THE BROARD ARROW DIAL housing the same 1872 signed movement. This was delivered in two batches of 250 in 1975 and 1976

Identical dials but different cases. Royal Navy 818 vs the South African Airforce 1872 (817)

The below table shows 818 movement prefixes

Notice how the first 302 prefixes are first issue /75 stampings and 305 prefixes are /76


I assume that the initial Non-Arrow dial was superseded by the arrow dial in 1975, and when SAAF ordered their last batch, from Lemania, they were sent with the new dial configuration. The Movements I have seen, both delivered to the Royal Navy, have had Movement Prefix  305**** (0552/924-3306 5307/76)  and #302****(0552/924-3306 4198/75). I also happened to find ONE Lemania 818 that was said to be issued to the Isreali Army  that also had Movement Prefix 305**** (M1612). As there is only evidence of one of these, I would like to find more in order to draw a proper conclusion regarding whether this was actually issued to them. Thank you Bruce for your contribution.

The Hands

The lemania 1872 SAAF Shares a minute and hour hand with the Omega 861 (Essentially the same movement), but has the sweep second hand of an omega 1045, which is a modified Lemania 5100 and The Lemania 5100 itself. Sub register hands are also the same as the Omega Speedmaster Professional 860/1 movement produced from 1969 to the early 80’s..All hands are white and tend to go a slight cream colour with age. Lume tends to darken with age. I have actually come across a few that have had their sweep second hands replaced with Speedmaster 861 hands (AF10344) is an example of this.

The Movement

The calibre 1872 used is a signed and numbered Lemania movement. It is a 17 Jewel 21600bpm movement with a 40hr power reserve. The only difference between the 1872 (Omega 860) and the 861 is the 12 hour counter of the 861. It is a manual wind movement with a cam switched sub second.

SAAF Lemania 1872 movements were stamped and had a serial number prefix of 265****. The Swedish airforce (See more details later on in this article) serial number prefix is 279****. I came across 2 anomalies that stood out from the rest, and this was prefix 305****. One of these has appeared on a known issued SAAF watch AF10762 and the other on a Viggen #291. My theory to this puzzle is that Lemania had a specific prefix for “Service Movements” and think that both of these were swapped or replaced during a service.


The case back

The stainless steel caseback has the words “Fab. Suisse”, “Swiss Made”, “Acier Inoxydable”, 817 stamped on the inside, positioned centrally below the half way point.

Case back engravings

Most case back engravings are done in one line and consist of AF followed by 5 numbers. I have seen examples where it has been engraved with a cutting head panto graph system and others where the engraving is done by means of a vibrating head that leaves its engraving made up of thousands of very small dots.

I did however come across one example that is slightly different. As well as having a completely different layout, it also has an out of sequence movement number…..305xxxx. I hope with time that I am able to shed some light on this variation as more sample become available for comparison.

Clean up operations

“We will fight them on the beaches”. The Lemania 1872 below was found on beach in the Cape in South Africa. It was bought home in this state and then left in a cupboard for years. So glad to have had the privilege to breathe life into this piece of South African history!

The Swedish Air force (VIGGEN)

As mentioned in the beginning, the Lemania 1872 was also issued in the same year to the Swedish Airforce. It is unclear of numbers of these issued, but from issue numbers from caseback stampings (Assuming they started at 1) I have found one stamped #302. It isn’t really a conclusive way of establishing numbers, but gives us a possible scenario. If I work on movement numbers only and take the lowest and highest, I come up with a number of 180 units. I think it would be fair to assume they made between 180 and 302+. The Viggen movement prefix is 279 vs SAAF of 265. The Viggen also carries a Bakelite outer bezel vs SAAF’s aluminum bezel.




Non Military Variations

There were however a few civilian versions of this watch branded Tissot, Rodania, Chronograph Swiss, Pontiac ……I suspect, due to their exact matching details, that these were manufactured by Lemania and then sold and branded by various other companies.


Pontiac was a brand mainly intended for the Belgian market and Pontiac delivered other models to the Belgian Air Force. This watch was probably civilian and is more or less identical to the Tissot Navigator, Rotary, Selectron, Rodania etc.

Selectron Chronograph Swiss Lemania 1872 Ref 817 case (Not to be confused with Chronograph Suisse or O&W Selectron). It has a Lemania signed movement as per the military versions. This is fully a civilian model made by a Swiss company that doesn’t seem to have produced many watches or lasted long. They must have purchased the watches from Lemania and just branded the dial. Movement Prefix #305****

This particular watch represents the Rodania 817 chronograph.– The applied Rodania signature appears to be an oval sticker above the original ‘Lemania’ signature. It seems that the Rodania is a civilian version, as there are no military engravings on the caseback. Rodania provided tool chronographs to the Canadian military. Movement Prefix #302****

Tissot Navigator Military chronograph with Lemania 1872 movement. Movement Prefix #250****

Summary of prefixes


Once again may I reiterate that the information in this article is from my own research. There is very little detail on these due to their limited numbers and the time since they were procured. Should you have any comments or wish to add anything at all, it would be most welcome. Please contact me on or 0027 082-926-1534 (South Africa).

If you enjoyed this article PLEASE leave a comment in the space below, it would be greatly appreciated. Be sure to also read my article on the SAAF Lemania 5012- ALL you need to know here:





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17 Responses
    1. Anton Fick

      I thoroughly enjoyed the article,as i am the priveleged owner of one of these watches with serial number AF 11076.
      The watch belonged to my father who was issued with it as a Navigator with the SAAF

  1. Michele

    Ciao mi è capitato un lemania militare quello senza ghiera siccome ho letto con attenzione tutto molto interessante
    Vorrei mandarti delle foto per valutare la originalità (credo che abbia il quadrante ristampato ) ma per il resto mi sembra coevo con quello che hai scritto

  2. Lee Logan

    Great piece of research; thanks very much for doing so much work to make the rest of us more knowledgeable about these terrific pilots watches.

  3. John Lewis

    Hi Matthew. Thank you for a wonderfully researched and written article on this model watch. I`ve inherited this watch – AF10916. If you are interested in more information and/ pictures thereof, feel free to contact me via email.

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