It is always a joy to see an old friend. In this case, I recently spotted a rare Victorinox Swiss Army Solar Compass Limited Edition for sale on eBay. This watch made the top 10 rarest Swiss Army watch list so it definitely got my attention. Most photos are credited to that auction and presented here as a record of the rare model.
This auction was only for the watch so no box or papers were included. Often, the literature that comes with these limited editions offers more information than is commonly known about a watch. Traditionally, Swiss Army would release a limited edition to introduce a new model. Unless we uncover the booklet that came with this model, we may never know because these booklets often tell the intent of the company for each limited edition.
The number of watches produced for a limited edition can vary, but the Solar Compass LE seen here had a very low production count. Only 100 were made, which is a tiny amount for worldwide distribution. You can see the number on the top left of the case back.
Not much information appeared in the auction, but I can describe the images that were included. From the front, you can see that this model does not have a sweeping seconds hand or seconds sub-dial. This makes the watch a simple minutes and hours timepiece.
I had the chance to buy one of the Solar Compass LEs a few years back, but I decided that I needed some motion on the dial to satisfy me. Having a sweeping hand would have proven that the watch had a mechanical movement inside. The standard-issue Solar Compass watches have a second’s hand and are much easier to find.
The LE’s case back reveals a high-spec, hand-winding mechanical ETA 6497. These 17-jewel movements have different levels of quality and the highest level, elabore, have blued screws and some minor embellishments such as Geneva stripes. That caliber is currently my best guess since the plates on this watch’s movement look a little different than images online. Normally, you would see a regulator index, but that appears to be hidden by a plate below (outlined in pink). It is unclear if the movements were modified or if it is some other caliber besides an ETA 6497.
The large crown would likely make this a joy to wind. The crown can be seen from the front of the watch through a tiny slit, but you cannot wind it without opening the hinged bezel. This slit provides a visual balance with the hinge located at 9:00.
The dial is as beautiful as it is simple. Applied metal numerals and indices for every 5-minute interval shine brightly with reflected highlights. The famous Victorinox shield logo is applied, and SWISS ARMY words are printed at 12:00. This is an old-school watch that was released before Victorinox added its name to the branding. It is a cleaner, simpler look prized by collectors.
This branding can be seen on the side of the watch as well. From the angle below, you might infer that this watch is hiding something, which is true. Like a cartoon Transformer, this watch is “more than meets the eye”.
This model has a supple tan calfskin leather strap with brownish-gold stitching. A signed deployant clasp appears to be original to the watch.
This version of deployant clasp seems to have a small, central attachment point to the swingarm. I don’t recall seeing other Swiss Army watches with this feature.
Up until now, this Victorinox Swiss Army Solar Compass Limited Edition seems like a typical watch. However, the bezel flips up to transform the watch into a solar compass. The underside of the bezel is etched with directional headings.
The user aligns the sun, hour hand and bezel to give discern a compass heading. Don’t ask me how it works because we never did this exercise in the Boy Scouts. Regardless, this watch would have earned a badge for being a useful survival tool.
Luckily, I was not the only one watching the auction. By the end, three bidders drove the price up to $355. This probably is not a bad price to pay for one of the rarest Victorinox Swiss Army watches around. Hopefully, it went to a good home.