#TBT Wyler Lifeguard Chronograph
Innovation is an oft-used word. Companies use it when talking about new technology or new ideas and while innovation allows us to progress, we’re constantly reminded of the fact that innovation often doesn’t work or can take some time to develop into something user friendly and effective. Consumer electronics, especially in former times, were classic examples of this and I can remember how bad my first MP3 player was in its functionality and user interface but these items have obviously improved. After a few discussions and some online research, I have yet to decide whether the innovations found in today’s #TBT subject were truly positive or not, but they are discussion worthy and, best of all, they keep this watch from being another “me too” piece. It’s time to look into a watch and a company primarily interested in innovation, but with a little “snake oil” salesmanship thrown in to boot! The Wyler Lifeguard chronograph is on #TBT!
My affinity for sporty chronographs led me to the Wyler Lifeguard and the fact that it contained a Valjoux 72 sealed the deal. I had heard of the brand but really knew very little about it, as it is definitely not on the forefront of collectors’ minds.
So, the research led me to find out some interesting things. The brand was founded in Switzerland in the mid-1920’s. They always used off-the-shelf movements, but starting in 1932, modified the balance wheel by suspending it with flexible arms. This essentially provided shock resistance to the balance wheel and Wyler coined this as “Incaflex”. The advertisement above shows a picture of the Wyler balance wheel and at least in looking at it, the concept makes sense.
The showmanship related to the Incaflex, though, came in the form of at least two documented stunts. The founder, Paul Wyler, dropped a Wyler Incaflex from the top of the Eiffel Tower in 1956 and the watch continued to function. It appears that this was repeated in 1962 from the Seattle Space Needle and took another drop from the St. Louis Arch. Day-to-day examples, per more online reading, recall hearing about Wyler salesmen, in an effort to display the toughness of their watches, asking jewelry storeowners to hurl Wylers against walls in view of customers. This was a favorite way of recruiting new authorized dealers. So, was the Wyler the progenitor of today’s bombproof Casio G-Shock? Apparently, they were supplied to certain military forces in WW2 due to their ruggedness, but in other discussions with watchmakers, I’ve heard about Wylers that didn’t fare too well at the hands of a 3 or 4 year old. So, innovative, maybe, but I won’t be handing the Wyler Lifeguard to my increasingly curious daughter!
Another innovation from Wyler came in 1937 when they introduced a monobloc case that provided supposed better water resistance. Wyler felt that by having only two, versus three on a non-chronograph, opportunities for water ingress was an improvement.
Furthermore, they developed a system without soft gaskets where the crystal actually “overlays” onto the top of the case and seems to be attached to a metal ring. A metal bezel then presses or “clicks” on top of the lip of the crystal to seal the case. It’s a fairly elegant engineering solution, but one that can create some serious problems today.
Finally, the crystals themselves are at least purported as tougher than their same era counterparts due to being “shrink-proof” and even led Wyler to offer a lifetime free replacement warranty. Sadly, the company went bankrupt in the 1970’s (they’re back today producing some “interesting” watches), so that warranty is no longer in existence. Here again, I’m lucky that my Wyler Lifeguard has a decent crystal.
So, with the innovation out of the way, what is the Wyler Lifeguard? Well, it’s a nicely sized 37mm all stainless steel chronograph with 18mm lugs. As mentioned, it features a modified Valjoux 72 complete with the typical 30 minute, 12 hour and running seconds registers. This version was seemingly available in both a white dial, with 2 black registers, and with or without rotating bezel. I found this one on eBay.nl a couple weeks back and was fortunate that Robert-Jan could procure it locally and bring it down to Germany a few short days later.
I was really impressed with the Wyler Lifeguard upon seeing it. It’s a nice, solid, and well-sized watch. The case design actually reminds me a little of the Enicar Sherpa Graph I reviewed several months back, but in a smaller form. The lugs are very similar with their triangular chamfers and the overall “round” form of the case and clean bezel remind me of the bigger piece as well. Head-on, it does seem to be in balance, but I think that a 19mm lug width would have provided a little more “beef” and would have worked. Then again, I’ve been looking at similar era Wyler 3-handers and it is very difficult to find anything above 33-34mm, so this was likely a stretch for the company. Plus, if surface area affected Wyler’s ability to offer its interesting method of waterproofing, perhaps this led them to smaller case and crystal sizes.
I do really like the nicely sized capped pushers and even the rather diminutive but signed crown. It actually ends being well sized and I think that it fits the overall dimensions of the watch. By the way, when I see things like a signed crown, it usually leads me to believe that I am dealing with a relatively high quality brand. It’s hard for me to assess how Wyler was perceived in the marketplace back in the 1960’s (the likely production era for the Wyler Lifeguard), but I have to assume that it was a nice watch. Innovation, nice finishing, a strong warranty and things like a signed case back carry all the hallmarks of a good watch.
When we move onto the dial of the Wyler Lifeguard, things get a bit interesting. First off, I’ll mention all the applied markers, “12” and “Wyler” logo. Here again, I see this as nice quality and a lot better than so many of the printed dials that now reek of moldy patina. Sure, the lume within the hour indices is gone and the dial has turned a bit, but these are nice little precision metal parts. In a nod to my anachronistic country, there’s a surrounding, angled, inner bezel that is used to measure distance in miles!
The hands are also interesting as the central chrono hand has a cool red tip that aligns well with the red striping in the middle of the central hour and minute hands. Other interesting, arrow-shaped, hands are found within the step down white sub registers at 3 and 6:00. And then there’s that odd running seconds register at 9:00 in black with an even stranger hand…
If there’s a “look” of the Wyler Lifeguard chronograph, it’s defined by this register with its dual-sided, propeller-like hand. The register is outlined in white and is portioned into quadrants, also in white, every 15 seconds. But that hand…what’s happening here? It’s honestly still a bit of a mystery to me and one where we’d love to have YOUR help! I posted this watch in my Instagram account and received a thoughtful response that just may very well be the right answer. Apparently, in sailing, there’s a need to time something for 15 seconds and in rough seas, this dual-sided hand makes it easier for one to glance quickly and see how much time has elapsed. The obvious answer would be to use the chronograph, but maybe this isn’t practical when one’s hands are doing something else on the boat and perhaps using a pusher in a wet environment was not recommended. However, I can’t, for the life of me, see how this is helpful if the time starts anywhere but on one of the line-marked quadrants as an exact representation would then be a best guess.
I also had a chat with Henrik, the yacht-master himself, of heuerchrono.com on the mysterious Wyler Lifeguard and he wasn’t sure of how 15 seconds was even relevant in the types of sailing racing that he knows. In a final attempt, I entered the land of those who regularly sport Sperry Topsiders and wear lobster-embroidered chinos (ok, that was a little rough) and found some regatta rules posted by various yacht clubs. I did find a reference to 15 seconds mentioned and it relates to a whistle being blown prior to the start of the race and entrants having 15 seconds to raise their sails. So, is this it? Again, I would love to know, but at the end of the day, this feature makes the dial look incredibly different than my other chronographs and really sets it apart.
The Wyler Lifeguard looks great on the wrist. I have it temporarily paired with an inexpensive plain leather strap. It arrived on a rather disgusting black lizard print leather strap that seemed straight from the 1960s/1970’s, but it looked very good. So, my next step will be to find something similar or to pair it with my normal racing-style strap from Giuliano. In any case, the watch fits very well and other than the slightly narrow lug width, it’s similar to a Carrera 2447. In this version, the slim stainless bezel also helps to make the watch appear a bit larger. So, yes, I am happy with it.
Finding a Wyler Lifeguard is not easy. They don’t come up for sale often and when they do, there’s usually an issue with the bezel, the crystal or both. First, I’d bet that 90%+ of the Wyler chronographs I’ve seen are missing their bezels. I think that most of these came with the rotating bezel and perhaps the overhang was so great that they often caught on something and were lost or broken. Good luck to find a replacement, as I have never seen one. When looking, there should not be a “step down” in the bezel area; it should be smooth such as in the model you see here or contain a rotating bezel. Second, in having a brief chat with Craig at Chronodeco, crystals are extremely difficult to find because of the fact that they lay over the case. Essentially, one cannot buy a generic, same diameter, crystal for a Wyler and expect it to fit. Even if one conceivably works, it likely won’t allow for clearance of the bezel on top of it. So, the bottom line is that if the piece is lacking its bezel or needs a new crystal, be wary. I’ve also never run into any replacement parts such as dials or hands, so keep this in mind too. The other concern you must be having is on the Incaflex balance wheel. Well, not to worry, as this can actually be replaced by a normal Valjoux 72 component. Of course, it wouldn’t be original any longer, but it certainly wouldn’t be noticeable.
As far as value, the Wyler Lifeguard is truly, as @watchfred likes to say, “under the radar”. I’d guess that most are now long gone to the trash heap ormissing components. I’d even gather that there weren’t loads to begin with, as this seemingly wasn’t Wyler’s sweet spot. I found this piece for roughly $1,100 and to me, that’s good value considering the modified movement, condition, overall style and the innovation included. eBay and watch forums seem to be the best places to look. I’d say that most pricing tends to be in the $1,600-1,800 range but these are often missing bezels (there’s a piece on eBay suffering from this right now). I would not pay that amount for an incorrect watch that will likely never be rectified, but I’d consider that amount for a correct model.
I hope you enjoyed this longish look at the Wyler Lifeguard; an interesting piece that introduces some differences from some of the other V72 chronographs of the day. As I mentioned I did not know much about Wyler before stumbling upon this piece and I am glad that I took the time to read about the company and its innovations. What I also learned is that despite thinking that I’ve run across every 1960’s/early 1970’s chronograph, my journey is likely still in its infancy! Until next week…