A Pocket Watch Brings Pathos to a Movie Scene

An Alpina pocket watch plays a prominent role in a new German-language film adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 1929 World War I novel by Erich Maria Remarque, debuting on Netflix in the United States on Oct. 28.

As a German troop is ordered to the front’s barren wasteland one last time — just 15 minutes before the 11 a.m. armistice was scheduled to begin — the lead character, Paul Bäumer (played by the Austrian actor Felix Kammerer), hears a fellow soldier flip open his pocket watch.

The viewer sees the time on the watch dial and, inside the lid, a picture of the soldier’s parents. It’s a fleeting moment of humanity and a rare respite in the final, brutal moments of the film.

“You can see that these are young men who were sons, who had families, and they were just thrown onto the battlefield to die,” David Hoffmann, the property master for the movie, said in a recent phone interview. “This watch needed to be the right size because we wanted that image of 10:45 to be powerful, and we wanted to fit a picture inside. The picture had to be big enough to be seen in the movie.”

The scene, which was in neither the book nor the 1930 film version, was the invention of the film’s director and co-writer, Edward Berger, who said in a recent phone interview that he added it based on research showing that both sides sent troops into battle even after the armistice was scheduled. He added that he felt that a pocket watch could capture the tragedy of those last minutes for the film, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September.

“We were very diligent with our research,” Mr. Berger said, “including the materials worn in battle, and pocket watches were a popular item at the time.

“We wanted to create authenticity, right down to the felt uniforms, which were so incredibly heavy when they got wet in the trenches,” he added. “It’s all about the details.”

The Alpina watch was rented from the Studio for Art and Design in Munich, which has provided props for dozens of movies and TV shows, including “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Game of Thrones.” Alpina, founded in 1883 and now owned by Citizen, has a long history of making military chronometers and watches, as well as what some consider to be the first sports watch, the Alpina 4, introduced in 1938.

“Alpina was recognized for the high level of its pocket watches before the First World War and received the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900,” Oliver van Lanschot Hubrecht, brand director at Alpina Watches, said by email. “For the entire Swiss watchmaking industry, the First World War represented troubled times. However, Alpina continued to manufacture pocket watches that were used by soldiers and civilians.”

As for the “All Quiet” pocket watch, Mr. Hoffmann said: “This was probably a pocket watch that his father or grandfather gave to him before he went off to war. They may have said, ‘Take care of yourself, my son, and come back.’ But this character probably didn’t come back.”

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