Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hands-on with the Aristo Sextant

This is the second in an occasional series about watches that one of us currently owns, or has owned. A Patek Philippe Complication Ref. 5054 was the first in this series.

The Aristo Flieger Sextant has its roots in a German sextant watch used by Wernher von Braun and his team at the Peenemünde rocket proving ground ("Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemuende") in the early 1940s.

Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun (23 March 1912 – 16 June 1977), was a German-American rocket scientist and engineer who was one of the leading figures in the development of rocket  technology in both Germany and the U.S. during and after WWII. 

A one-time member of the Nazi Party and a commissioned SS officer, von Braun would later be regarded as arguably the foremost rocket engineer of the 20th century for his work at NASA.  He was the central figure in Germany's pre-war rocket development programme, responsible for the design and production of the V-2 combat rocket first at Peenemünde and then Mittelwerk, after the British bombed Peenemünde in August 1943.

After the war, Braun and some of his team were taken to the U.S. as part of the then-secret Operation Paperclip.  Von Braun worked on the US Army intermediate range ballistic missle program before his group was assimilated by NASA, under which he served as director of the newly-formed Marshall Space Flight Center, and as the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the booster rocket that propelled the Apollo II lunar mission. In 1975 he received the National Medal of Science.

Made by Lange & Söhne, the 22 of the watches were delivered to the Heeresversuchsanstalt in 1943 at a price of 360RM, as the equivalent of at least 2,000€.  As a point of comparison, the first VW Beetles sold for 990RM.

When viewing at the dial through a mirror sextant, Braun and his team used the watch to calculate the ballistic data for the rockets they developed.

The Aristo Sextant (Ref. 5H40S), a modern homage to these watches, was first manufactured in 2001 by Aristo in Pforzheim.  In developing this model, Aristo followed the first prototypes of 1942, with the guidelines : "Black dial with Roman numerals, with Arabic 1/5 Second indication numbers 5 to 55 and corresponding set of numbers in mirror writing".

Movement: Swiss ETA 2824-2
Case: Titanium
Case Back: Titanium Back with engraving
Bezel: Bead blasted
Dimensions: 37mm diameter, 44mm lug-to-lug
Water Resistant: Water resistant to 50m


Von Braun's long time colleague Arthur Louis Hugo Rudolph suffered a slightly different fate to von Braun.  A fellow rocket engineer and member of the Nazi party who helped develop and produce the V-2 rocket, he followed von Braun to the U.S., working for the U.S. Army and NASA, where he was involved in the development of several important systems including the Pershing missile and the Saturn V. In 1984 he was investigated for possible war crimes and was forced to leave the United States and renounce his US citizenship.


NickO said...

But why the reverse numerals on the dial?

Head Tart said...

A great , educational read about a watch I previously knew nothing about , thanks for researching and presenting this article !

H T .

The Sydney Tarts said...

NickO - Apologies. It's for measuring the rocket ballistic data. I've just added a few words to that sentence to make it more clear.

The Sydney Tarts said...

HT - Thanks!