Watch Snippets: Gallet Clamshell

Watch Snippets: Gallet Clamshell

Known as the first waterproof chronograph wristwatch, the distinct "Clamshell" case was patented in 1936 by Schmitz Freres & Co., and acquired in 1937 by Gallet. It’s a unique two-part compression case with a specialized flared crystal. The “Clamshell” case is also easily recognizable by the presence of four screws on the reverse side of the case, located under each lug.

The watch featured here is my Gallet MultiChron30M “Clamshell” with black “snail” dial, which was specifically produced for the battlefield as an artillery timing instrument. The watch was found in an old military trunk amongst other personal belongings of the previous owner.

I won the watch at an online auction back in May, 2016, and the watch was not in working condition when I won it, so I decided to send it to Gallet Service Department in the US right after winning it. With the help of Gallet Managing Director David Laurence, Gallet CEO Walter, and Gallet Chief Technician Lou, as well as the Gallet service team, the watch was properly documented by Gallet and underwent a “Museum Restoration” which includes servicing to restore full functionality and appearance while carefully preserving history and provenance. And I finally received the watch in metal for the first time in Australia, 11 months after winning the auction. 


The previous owner, Robert K. Zelle, was a dashing, Yale-educated, World War II pilot from St. Louis, Missouri. He attended John Burroughs School in St. Louis before graduating from Yale. He was a war veteran, accomplished entrepreneur, and noted philanthropist. Bob Zelle joined the United States Army Air Corps after graduation and served as a pilot and instrument instructor in World War II.

He was a devoted supporter of educational institutions and philanthropic causes and was a committed volunteer. He served on the boards of Darlington School, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, The University School of Nashville and Alive Hospice. He was one of the founders of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

In 1989, Bob Zelle established a charitable remainder unitrust, naming USN as a beneficiary. This testamentary gift was the largest of its kind in the history of the school. In honor of exceptional philanthropic leadership, the USN Board of Trustees established the Robert K. Zelle Society, a donor recognition society. The Society was announced in 1997, and Bob was honored at the October 1997 board meeting with a formal resolution.

The Zelle Society membership recognizes friends of the school who have made a provision for USN in their estate plans. Today, the Zelle Society includes estate-planning vehicles from a growing group of trustees, alumni, parents, grandparents, and faculty. And University School remains grateful to its namesake, Robert K. Zelle.

I was also able to obtain some of his personal artifacts including his USAF sterling silver bracelet and his society pin. Being a Yale graduate, it is no surprise that someone like Bob Zelle was a member of the Wolf’s Head and Torch Honor Society. His name was also mentioned in the book “Flushing Out Skull & Bones: Investigations Into America’s Most Powerful Secret Society”.

Another notable “Clamshell” type watch is the Original Gallet Flight Officer, it’s a two-register chronograph with cities aroud the world listed by time zone, and a rotating bezel for multiple time zone calculation. The 33rd US President, Harry S. Truman, wore the first series of Gallet Flight Officers that was a gift from two members his Senate staff. President Truman’s watch now now resides in the collection of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

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