Ollech & Wajs Early Bird
December 1965. Across the United States, families gathered together to watch something that had never before been seen on television. Before their eyes, a spacecraft—Gemini 6A—splashed down in the North Atlantic.
The mission of Gemini 6A coincided with that of Gemini 7 and marked the first time two manned spacecrafts orbited Earth together; furthermore, the satellite that broadcast its reentry—Early Bird—also achieved a first of its own.
Intelstat I, its official name, was created by Hughes Space and Communications Company. It was the first satellite to be launched into geosynchronous orbit. While orbiting 22,300 miles above the equator, Early Bird handled network traffic—telephone, TV, and fax transmissions—between Europe and North America.
Early Bird was operational for four years, and ended its service with the broadcast of the Apollo 11 mission.
The same year that Early Bird was launched, Ollech & Wajs released an Early Bird of its own.
Established in the 1950s by Albert Wajs and Joseph Ollech, Ollech & Wajs specialized in the production of tough, purpose-driven military divers and automatic watches.
The Early Bird, released in 1965 and named after the satellite, was typical of their products—in the best way possible.
Like the Glycine Airman, the Early Bird utilized a 24-hour dial layout. However, the Early Bird’s added benefit of a 24-hour bezel (in classic blue and red, reminiscent of the Rolex GMT Master) meant that it could display two timezones at once. The Early Bird’s robust 38mm case (rated to 200 meters) and legible dial meant that it was an ideal choice for servicemen in Vietnam, many of whom bought Early Birds to replace their general issue watches.
This particular Early Bird has a sharp case, flawless dial, and a bezel that’s retained its vibrant colors - easily the nicest one we’ve ever had.
Strapped on a Tropic-style rubber strap, it’s the kind of get-up-and-go watch that anyone—whether servicemen or sportsman—could admire.
While Ollech & Wajs was founded in the 1950’s, they have become quite well known, and rare, amongst vintage military/pilot collectors for their Vietnam Era pieces.
O&W initially began building watches in Switzerland to sell through catalog orders, primarily in the US and UK. This business model swiftly transitioned into sending watches to US military base PX’s overseas once the Vietnam War was proven to be firmly engaged.
This 2834 model has since become highly sought after for those who are aware of them, as they are the vibrantly-colored GMT watch that O&W offered. One of the later advertisements describes it:
“Specially designed for SKIN DIVERS, PILOTS, WORLD TRAVELERS, MILITARY. Hour hand revolves once in 24 hours. 24-hour revolving bezel shows AM or PM time in any 2 time-zones.”
In recent history there was a large release of the second generation Early Bird models from the factory in Switzerland, which is typically what you’ll be looking at if you see one of these that appears to be in pristine condition.
However, the model you’re viewing here is the real deal: the FIRST generation to be produced and earliest model that would have been offered to US troops overseas. It can most easily be distinguished by the metallic finish on its bezel with triangular markers in place of odd numerals. (The second generation style has a flat color painted bezel with straight, linear odd numeral marks.)