the scrapbook of diving history


2002 Dräger helmets are ‘made in Poland’

In 2002 I placed an advertisement in ‘Historical Diver’ Magazine, the magazine of the ‘Historical Diving Society USA’ as I had five or six ‘half helmets’ requiring either a breastplate or a bonnet to complete them. In the advertisement I listed what I needed and several weeks later I received a fax from a dealer here in Holland who offered me a Dräger breastplate. I had a Dräger set but needed a breastplate to complete the bonnet into a helmet and make the equipment complete. We agreed that he would post the breastplate to me and the day that I was due to leave on holidays it arrived. I quickly opened the box and immediately recognized that the breastplate was not genuine: the finish was rough and poor. I felt let down and insulted. I had no time to do anything about it but on my return I decided to sell the breastplate for what it was ... a reproduction (and in so doing expose the fraud). I completed my Dräger set with the reproduction breastplate and offered the whole lot for sale at a 'knock-down’ price (1600 euro for the complete set: helmet, suit, weight, boots etc.). The equipment was quickly sold to a collector here in Holland who was not worried by the reproduction breastplate (as the sale price was cheap enough). But then the following happened: the dealer who sold me the fake breastplate visited the man who had bought my equipment. The collector explained to the dealer that he had bought the equipment at a reduced price due to the fake breastplate. The dealer then told him that "he knew about that breastplate as he was the breastplate supplier and the collector had been given an excellent deal because the breastplate was in fact genuine"! That evening the collector phoned me in delight as he thought I had made a mistake by sell him a genuine breastplate for the price of a reproduction ... I explained to him that I had not made a mistake and I promised him photographs comparing the fake breastplate and a genuine one from my collection. They were also to send to the HDS ( btw: unfortunately, although the photos were sent to the HDS nothing was done with them). These photographs clearly show the visible differences in finish of the two breastplates:

The 3-bolt flange: the edge of the flange of the fake breastplate has a very roughly finish. The fake breastplate was also supposed to be in new condition ... new Draeger bonnets and breastplates have a fine layer of clear ‘Zapon’ varnish applied over the metal which gives the surface a 'sheen' finish (as shown in the photo on the metal surface of the genuine breastplate). There are other significant details to recognize a reproduction by, but I prefer not to include them here.

The client accepted my explanation, but less than a week later he called me again: the dealer (supplier of the fake breastplate) visited him once again and this time he had brought evidence supposedly to prove the breastplate supplied by him was a genuine one (he had an invoice from Drägerwerk stating that he had purchased two new Dräger breastplates)! When I asked my client if the invoice was dated he said that it was from 1985 ... ( and we are discussing a deal done in 2002 here ) ...

Now it is most unlikely that a dealer would still have had these two genuine breastplates 17 years after he had purchased them. I was astonished by the fact that the dealer was so eager to ‘make my client believe’ that I had made a mistake and that his breastplate was a genuine one. I also have to say that this dealer is the same person who had the 2-bolt Danish helmets reproduced in 1984, so I suppose there was more for him to lose than ‘just a breastplate’ ...

However in 2004 the truth did finally surface: My client (who had bought that Dräger set from me two years earlier) and I were driving to Denmark on a naval visit. Along the way, I had to pick up a knife which I had bought over the internet from an address in Hamburg. When we arrived in Hamburg we were invited in to the house of the knife seller and to the room where his diving equipment had been stored. We were astonished to find around 20 of the fake ‘Dräger’ breastplates piled up together. I asked the seller if they came from Poland and he admitted they were and told us that he stored them for an acquaintance. My client was now finally convinced ....

Fake Dräger helmets also started to appear on the open market around this time. From a distance they looked quite convincing but a closer inspection revealed them to be reproductions. When I came across one here in Holland I was lucky enough to have my camera with me at the time and the owner of the dive-shop allowed me take some photos of the fake helmet. Unsurprisingly, he had bought the fake helmet from the same dealer who had provided the fake breastplate to me in the beginning.

Above: the fake Dräger helmet which I came across in a Dive-Shop here in Holland in 2002, below: some other fake Dräger helmets which surfaced recently ... Do you owe a Dräger helmet and you have doubts about its origin then send us a few photos.