In a previous life, Abercrombie and Fitch was an outdoor clothing and sporting goods supplier, based in Manhattan, that did a lot of business through a mail-order catalog. The brand began in 1892 with David T. Abercrombie founding Abercrombie Company supplying customers with the world’s best outdoors equipment. Jacob Gallagher for acontinuouslean.com puts this era into context, describing Abercrombie as having “an unflappable eye for high-end outdoor ephemera (you could say he was the first purveyor of gentlemen camping goods) which he used to punctiliously select items that were as upscale as they were utilitarian.” The market Abercrombie served included dignitaries and New York City’s elite. Among the brand’s most loyal customers was Ezra Fitch, a lawyer and real estate developer who, in 1900, purchased a large share of the company. Four years later, the brand was renamed to Abercrombie & Fitch Co. with David bowing out and selling his remaining share to Mr. Fitch; needless to say, the two men did not share a similar vision for the future of the company. Fitch and his predecessors led the brand into a golden age affectionately referred to as the “Fitch Years” by collectors. Before going bankrupt in 1976, Abercrombie & Fitch’s client list included Ernest Hemingway, Howard Hughes, Bing Crosby, Presidents Roosevelt, Hoover, Eisenhower, Taft, Harding, and Kennedy, Katharine Hepburn, Amelia Earhart, the Duke of Windsor, and Robert Peary.
This all begs the somewhat obvious question, what does this have to do with watches? Well, both absolutely nothing and everything to do. To better understand and appreciate watches with Abercrombie & Fitch printed on the dial, the context of the brand is required. These watches are not the vintage equivalent of our Armani Exchange or Jake Spade today. During the Fitch Years, A&F catalogs counted pages in the hundreds offering the best possible products able to be sourced, that includes watches along with snowshoes, backgammon sets, and golf clubs, to name a few. Abercrombie & Fitch worked with swiss brands like Mido, Movado, and most prolifically Heuer to create unique wristwatches aimed directly at their elite outdoors market. A&F watches included the Auto-Graph for motorists, the Shipmate for yachtsmen, the Super Shipmate for super yachtsmen, and the Seafarer navigating the high seas.
Abercrombie’s Shipmate was one of the longer running wristwatch offered by the brand produced from the late 1930s or early 1940s up through the 1960s. Most models were manufactured by Heuer and hand-selected by then A&F president, Walter Haynes, on his semi-annual trips to Switzerland. Nearly all vintage Abercrombie retailed watches came in a waterproof case, and the Shipmate is no exception, a simple but rugged time-only piece. Dials and handsets most often featured luminous material to go along with the rugged, outdoorsman theme of the A&F brand.
The Shipmate for auction here is a fairly early model from what we will call the second generation of the model run. Early first-generation models feature skinny beveled lugs and thicker syringe style radium filler hands, whereas thee second-generation Shipmates have more conventional case and lug shapes as well as thinner hands. Later generations saw the introduction of the Super Shipmate and an extremely rare alarm-equipped Heuer manufactured wristwatch all in similar case styles.
The case condition of this Abercrombie & Fitch is good, showing signs of a previous polish or two and a life of wear. No major flaws are seen such as deep scratches or dents. The case back is stainless-steel and presents nicely with few scratches. Other examples we have seen have a similar unsigned crown although the originality is unknown.
The Dial and Hands
This example’s dial is an older reprint. Original examples of this reference feature a slightly different “Abercrombie & Fitch Co” printing layout and “made in Switzerland” at the 6 o’clock edge.
A warm patina has developed turning a previously white finish to an eggshell or cream tone. Outside of two radium burns at 8 and 10 o’clock, likely from the hands sitting stationary for years, only minor flaws are seen. The original radium lume in each hour numeral is aged and slightly dirty but present.
The handset is correct for this reference and presumed original although lume replacement may have been done when the dial work was done. A UV inspection has not been done although, the radium in the hands is complete and matches that of the dial well. Condition outside of the lume is great with no noticeable flaws to the hand finish.
The Abercrombie & Fitch Co signed ETA 1080 is currently running. The service history is unknown.
UPDATE: The original condition report regarding the dial and hands was incorrect. That section has now been updated to reflect the new information that was given to us. As a result the opening bid price has also been reduced.
|Location||New York City|
|Brand||Abercrombie & Fitch|
|Movement||Manual, Abercrombie & Fitch Co signed ETA 1080|
|Case Material||Stainless Steel|
|Band Material||Leather Strap|