Friday, 28 February 2014

Spot the difference - 1899 vs 1908 Vanguard.

1908-Vanguard 23J 1913/14
Top right is a newly restored 1908-Vanguard made in 1913 or 1914, below is the 1899-Vanguard made in 1904 or 1905 shown in detail in a previous post (anatomy of an 1899 Vanguard). Both have 23 jewels so what is the difference?

Well as you can see, not a lot, this particular 1908 model has the better type of regulator but most 1908's have the star macro regulator seen here on the 1899.

The later model also has ruby & sapphire jeweling with diamond end stones to the balance and the 1899 is missing the diamonds but again only a minority of the 1908's had them.

1899-Vanguard 23J 1904/05
In fact a glance at my 1939 edition of the Waltham spares catalogue show only trivial differences (trivial that is if you don't happen to need one of the few variant parts!). JS, a long term collector and correspondent points out that "The fundamental difference between those models is the configuration of the winding crown wheel. The radius of the right-angle gearing is greater (and it is beveled) for the 1908 model, making for easier winding, and less wear, but with more turns."

In fact there were some bigger changes to the 1908 during its extended life time than there are between the 1899 and 1908 models.

So the bottom line is that the model number change was as much a marketing ploy than anything else.

Some things never change.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Two Tone Waltham 1892 Royal

A rare and very attractive size 18 1892-Royal Two Tone from 1896/7 just finished restoration. It is pendant set and the Swiss Lever movement has 17 Jewels and a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance with single roller.

Probably as much that is known about the production history of this  grade and model is on this specialist site so I will not repeat it here.

Web Site

I understand that some customers cannot access the web site, neither was I this morning but I thought it was fixed by lunch time. I am chasing the service provider to find out what is going on and hopefully they will sort things out!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

February Market and Stock Update

In the three months to the end of January I sold 90 watches which is far in excess of the rate I can restore them as a “one man band”. During February the number sold dropped significantly, probably as a result of very low inventory, seasonal factors and a bias in my inventory towards more expensive American railroad watches over the last couple of months. But still inventory only increased slightly.

Good quality English watches continue to be in very short supply, I have not had a restorable English Benson or a Rotherham in since November and the next level down is almost as bad. I have therefore been buying a lot of railroad and other high grade Waltham watches from America and probably now have the best selection of these watches available in UK if not in Europe. More are on the way but anecdotal evidence suggests that the US market is also tightening which suggests a worldwide shortage of good quality pocket watches and a general increase in prices of watches for restoration, as I have seen here in the last 4 – 6 months.

With the Salmon and Trout fishing season starting shortly in this part of the world I will “only” be working 4 or 5 days a week (this is meant to be a “retirement” business!), so the current level of demand would be about right for me but enquiries are starting to increase again with the approaching spring wedding season so I anticipate that availability will not improve significantly in the medium term.

The Waltham Equity

This is one of a series of posts illustrating the main grades of Waltham size 16 watches, primarily the 1899 & 1908 models. Note that specifications did change over time, the description below being typical.

The Equity was originally sold as being made by the Equity Watch Company of Boston and was not associated with Waltham, later after it became generally known that it was by Waltham it was bought in from the cold as a Waltham model.

It is essentially a Waltham 1908-Traveler with the variant plate design but in nickel.  The movement has 7 Jewels, a Swiss lever escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance. It is unadjusted and has a single roller. About 54,500 were made in total.
The example shown is from 1918 and is signed by Waltham.




Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Double Watch Frustration.

This recently restored watch bought together two very common frustrations in restoring old English watches.

The first is common to all types of watch, and it is people’s belief that drowning a watch in oil will get it working, even in this case when it had a broken main spring.
This movement was covered in a recently applied film of an oil far too heavy for use anywhere near a watch causing components to stick together and to my tools. The hairspring was drenched with most of the coils stuck together and could not possibly work.
The cleaning process took about three times as long as usual even with the help of an ultrasonic cleaner and some serious de-greasing agents. Fortunately it was successful and the movement is now running exceptionally well after getting a new mainspring and a lot of TLC. 

The second frustration is that I do not know who made it, a recurring problem with watches from the fragmented English industry. This 13J English Lever was made in Coventry in 1893 from a Prescott ebauché - a kit of the main parts of the watch. So all I can say is that if the serial number represents the number actually made it is by one of the smaller Coventry makers.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Waltham 1888-Riverside

This is one of a series of posts illustrating the main grades of Waltham size 16 watches, in this case an 1888-Riverside.

The 1888 was the forerunner of the 1899 model and is very similar, apart from the shape of the plates and balance cock there are two main differences, firstly the winding and setting mechanism is wholly contained within the movement with a captive winding stem rather than having the stem captive to the case with the in/out position set there as was the case with the 1899  model which used the newly introduced "standard" case.

The second difference is related in that the movement is secured into the case with a pin and a single case screw rather than two case screws.

The Waltham production records show about 37,000 15 jewel and  20,000 17 jewel versions of the Riverside, of the 17J versions about half were hunters and the rest open faces or undefined. In addition one 19 jewel version and thirty seven 16 jewel versions are recorded.

Shown is a recently restored example made in 1894, it has an adjusted17 jewel movement, the  Swiss lever escapement has a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance with micro adjuster and double roller.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

An "In Beat" Design by W. Ehrhardt.

W. Ehrhardt Full Plate Keyless. 1920
At first glance this is a fairly standard full plate keyless watch, albeit a very late one from 1920. However things  are rather different under the covers, instead of a normal balance cock this design has the balance cock mounted on a ring that fits into the top plate of the watch.

This design makes the watch rather more robust, slightly slimmer (although it is still considerably thicker than a three quarter plate) and makes it very easy to get the watch "in beat".

Being in beat means that the balance action is symmetrical swinging an equal distance in each direction and that the balance staff, impulse jewel and pallet arbour are in perfect alignment. If you think in terms of a long case clock the "tick" equals the "tock" and it has a steady rhythm.

This can normally be a tricky operation involving quite a lot of work and often much fiddling with the hairspring which always has some risk attached to it. With this design the impulse jewel can be lined up simply by rotating the balance cock to the correct position and locked there with the two screws that hold it to the movement.

Three views of the movement, left before fitting the balance cock, the lever pallet can just be seen in the "well" where the balance fits, centre is the balance cock and regulator in place and right with the balance assembly in place (click on the image for a larger view).
After initial adjustment this example was within beat to 0.14%,  better than my  modern Rolex which is still excellent at 0.45%.

Unfortunately it did little for Ehrhardt who was out of business shortly after, or for watch design as the full plate movement was already obsolete by the time this was made, replaced by the three-quarter and split plate movements.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Anatomy of an 1899-Vanguard part 2.

Waltham 1899-Vanguard, 23J, 1904/5
Waltham 1899-Vanguard, 23J, 1904/5
The Vanguard in the previous post ran stronger and stronger as the oil circulated and things settled down, in fact is was running too strongly and was reaching the point where the balance could swing too far and, particularly if knocked at just the wrong time the impulse jewel could have broken. So a  steel spring has replaced the alloy (which is stronger for its size) and all is now well.

The watch has metal dial which although not perfect is in remarkably good condition for is age - whilst they do not hairline like ceramic dials they can get very shabby.

The case is Filled Gold by Bates & Bacon, owned by Philadelphia Watch Case Co when this case was made.

Now for the next watch, an Omega this time I think.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Anatomy of an 1899-Vanguard

Face or "Bottom" plate
This is one of a series of posts illustrating the main grades of Waltham size 16 watches, primarily the 1899 & 1908 models. It is not practical to put a huge number of photographs into each post or to illustrate each of the  grades to be covered with more than a couple of pictures so I have taken detailed photographs as I worked on this 23 jewel 1899 Vanguard Railroad grade movement to show what is inside.

Although this is a very high grade watch all of the 1899 & 1908 movements are of the same basic configuration. Click on the image for a much larger picture.

There is not much to say about the bottom plate except to point out the damascening even where you can't see it. Top centre is the winding / setting mechanism controlled by the Lever on the other side.

Mainspring assembly: This grade of watch has jewels to the mainspring arbour, they are housed in in the top of the barrel (shown centre bottom) through which the two part arbor ("axel") passes. The barrel is top left and the spring fits inside it with the geared lid or top, naturally, on top. The whole is kept together by the little screw thingy bottom right going through the barrel and into the other part of the arbour. On lower grade watches the arbor is in one piece and the barrel and top are not secured together directly but held together by the plates of the movement.

Next we have the part of the frame holding the main top jewels plus the bridge that holds the lever pallet. On this high grade movement the jewel settings are gold and the three larger ones are set using screws rather than pressed.

The lever pallet and escape wheel both have cap jewels (bottom left and on the pallet bridge - but they don't show up very well). The engraving on this model has been highlighted with a gold wash.

Having been cleaned the movement is now ready to go back together and the main wheels are "planted" into the face plate, the mainspring barrel has been placed early to show how it fits in.

Note the steel escape wheel on the Swiss lever escapement ( the lowest in the picture). The centre wheel is gold whilst the other wheels are brass.

It takes a little fiddling about, particularly with the escape wheel with its end jewels making for a very shallow hole to get the pivot into but soon we end up with the movement basically back together and the lever pallet can be put in which is another fiddly job.

Almost there now and its time to fit the balance. The Vanguard has gold balance screws which gives a heavier balance and better timekeeping but requiring a stronger hairspring.

The double roller can be seen in the centre on the "axel", the main benefit of the double roller is improved timekeeping when being subjected to the normal bumps it will take whilst being worn.

A second advantage (later not usually taken) is that the roller can be made in two parts one of Bronze and the other steel which allows the impulse jewel (just visible at the bottom of the light brown disk) to be set into the bronze without glue - which is not practical in steel - whilst the rest be the stronger metal needed there.

Why the Blank Faces?

Have you ever wondered why so many pocket watches do not have a makers or retailers name on the face? Well wonder no more.   

A Waltham 1899-620 with a bespoke 3 piece dial by Fattorini
the name was incorporated into the dial during manufacture
an expensive option and not common. This is from 1903, later
the Waltham name would probably have been included or a
Waltham dial used with the Fattorini name applied later.
In England (but not normally in America) it was the custom for the retailer, not the maker, to sign a watch, probably harking back to when watches were finished locally. The maker might sign the watch under the dial (e.g. Rotherham) or not at all (most others), an analysis I carried out of watches from three important Coventry makers showed 70% were not overtly signed by the maker. Most Swiss makers conformed to this custom at least into the 1930s although they may have had their own "English" brand, such as Revue signing their movements "Vertex".

American makers almost always signed there movements and faces (despite the dials being sourced in UK for from Switzerland) although a retailer might then add their name with a transfer print or commission their own dial as did Fattorini in the example shown here.

Names were applied to watch faces in two main ways, the expensive and best method was to have the name applied along with the numbers, chapter ring etc. during the manufacture of the ceramic face, this meant the name would be permanent but this was really only practical for relatively high volumes or for expensive watches and brands.

LWC watch for Fattorini
Alternatively the name could be painted on or more likely applied by a transfer print process which was much cheaper. The problem is that these are non-permanent solutions and the name would flake off and when it got too bad the owner or restorer would remove the rest.   

That is probably what happened to this recently restored watch by The Lancashire Watch Company for Fattorini & Sons, dating from 1911, although the movement is not signed the silver case has the Fattorini hallmarks so we can be sure that it was one of “their” watches and it would surely have had their name on the face.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Waltham S16, 1899-620/625 & 1908-620/625

1899-620 Hunter 1902
This is one of a series of posts illustrating the main grades of Waltham size 16 watches, primarily the 1899 & 1908 models. Note that specifications did change over time, the description below being typical.

The 1899 and 1908 versions are essentially the same and so can be treated together.

1908-620 Open Face 1918

This was probably the best value watch in the range in terms of price performance, in todays terms the movement without a case cost $297, certainly a big premium on the 7 jewel -610 which was $187 (and the Traveler the Gilt version) but it was $79 cheaper than the 625 which was the same except for two extra jewels which would not have made a significant difference to the performance.

The nickel movement has 15 Jewels, a Swiss lever escapement with a Breguet Sprung cut compensating balance with micro adjuster. It is unadjusted and has a single roller. Hunter and open faced versions were produced, all are pendant set. There were a few 17 jewel versions made but I have never seen one in UK.

The difference in movement layout illustrated by the two examples is down to the difference between a Hunter and an Open Faced design to get the winder at 3 o'clock.

The 1899-625 & 1908-625

1899-625 Hunter from 1903

The -625 is the same as the - 620 but with the addition of 2 jewels for a total of 17.

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Waltham S16, Riverside Maximus

1899-Riverside Maximus c1903 Courtesy of John Scott
This is one of a series of posts illustrating the main grades of Waltham size 16 watches, primarily the 1899 & 1908 models. Note that specifications did change over time, the description below being typical.

The Maximus grade was reserved for some of the most prestigious watches made by Waltham, although technically the size 16 open faced lever set versions  exceeded the requirements to be a Railroad grade watch, being very similar to the best Vanguards, they were not marketed as such and had enhanced cosmetics. They were also available in open face and hunter configurations and both were available as Lever or Pendant set.
The face of the same watch. Courtesy of John Scott

The movement is in damascened nickel and is adjusted to temperature, isochronism and five positions. The Swiss lever escapement with steel escape wheel has a double roller and a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance with micro adjuster. The train, jewel mounts and balance screws are in gold and it has 23 diamond, fine ruby and sapphire jewels.

The example shown is a Pendant Set 1899 model Riverside Maximus dating from approximately 1903. It is in hunter configuration and in a filled gold half-hunter case.

Three Completed S16 Waltham Watches.

The three movements shown below are now back in their cases.

On the left is the Pendant set 17J 1899-Riverside from 1900/01. The Three piece dial (see previous post) is signed by Fattorini & Sons  Watch & Chronometer Manufacturers, Bradford, Fattotini are still in business as makers of insignia, medals and trophies (they made the FA cup among others), their dials come up on occasion buy rarely do you see these nice three piece dials on a size 16 Waltham.

The middle watch is a railroad grade 21 Jewel 1908-Crescent St, it has an uncommon (for a lever set watch) hinged front so it is more convenient and quicker to set than a watch with a screw on bezel. The three piece dial is a US railroad approved type.

On the right is a 23J 1908 Vanguard from 1935/6 and shortly after this one was made the movement was changed loosing the nice screw set jewels in their gold mounts (see this post below), the dial is typical of these later watches.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Watch Face Construction

An item for potential watch anorak's (or watch buyers).

Since the middle of the 19th Century pocket watch faces were usually ceramic (not porcelain!) with a few made in various metals and  "Dollar" watches often having a paper dial stuck onto the movement. Here are three examples from Waltham watches, you may need to click the image to see the detail.

The first two are "Normal" dials with the secondary dial recessed slightly for affect and to give the second hand a little more room under the hour hand, the third dial, on the right, has a lower section in the centre as well as having the recessed secondary dial which looks very good. Now lets look at the backs:

Now we can more easily see that the two on the left are made differently, the first had the recess simply pressed into the surface of the enamel whilst the higher quality middle dial has a separately made subsidiary dial fixed into the main dial which gives a much more pleasing effect in "real life". The right hand dial takes this a stage further and has a third recessed section in the centre of the face and on this example it is again a separately manufactured piece.

On older watches you can also get dials with no recess and lower quality dials can be found with two recessed sections can be made from one or two pieces but this does not give such a crisp finish..

The number of pieces matters!

Three size 16 Waltham movements.

Some work in process, three good Waltham movements all of which have nice Gold plated cases now being cleaned. From left to right (click the image for a larger view):

1899-Riverside, 17J, Pendant set, 1900/01.
1908-Crescent St, 21J, Lever set, 1926/27.
1908-Vanguard, 23J, Lever set, 1935/36.

The Riverside has a particularly interesting dial, watch this space! Also coming soon will be an illustrated review of all of the commonly available size 16 movements by Waltham.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

“Hallmarks” may not be what they seem.

A watch arrived today signed on the movement and dial by Russell of Liverpool a well-established and reputable firm, initially watch makers who during the first half of the twentieth century had a large business reselling imported watches. This one was advertised as being Sterling Silver and “running strong”, it isn’t but that’s another story.

The pictures on the advert were too small to make out the detail of the “hallmarks”. It turned out to have the mark of Arthur George Rendal (Importers) of Clerkenwell, London (not shown on the picture) , after that things started to go wrong, a mark 0.925 was there to indicate Sterling Silver, that is not an official hallmark but does appear from time to time on imported items and 0.935 appears on Swiss silver.

The other marks are meaningless and although they are designed to look like hallmarks, they aren’t.
You have been warned!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Who really made the Benson “Bank” watch?

A horological who-done-it.

The history of J.W. Benson is a bit of a mystery partly because retailers, particularly those who also made their own movements frequently did not want to let on who was making their product, but primarily in this case because all of their records were destroyed by German bombing in 1942.

The accepted view, reported by Cutmore[i] and others, has been that Benson made the “Ludgate”, “Bank” and “Field” models in-house and bought in movements from the English trade, primarily from Rotherham and P & A Guye and from a number of Swiss makers.
However as Priestly[ii] reports a minority view suggests that the “Bank” was in fact made by P & A Guye.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the minority are correct, at least for early versions! Here are the main reasons why:
  • Cutmore says that P & A Guye made for Benson but I have handled dozens of Benson signed English movements and I have identified almost all of them and none of those were made by Guye, most being made by Rotherham, principally their excellent 19 jewel ¾ plate.
  • P & A Guye were a medium sized company by English standards but I have only come across 2 or 3 identifiable Guye movements from over 400 English movements examined. So where are they all?
  • But I have, in the last couple of years, come across at least half a dozen movements in cases by John Woodman of Clerkenwell and all unsigned except by the retailer, that are identical to the “Bank” and on one occasion I put the top plate from a signed Bank onto one of these unidentified movement and it worked.

Cutmore speculates that Benson may have made for the trade but I now believe it was the other way about and that the “Bank” was made for Benson by P & A Guye who also sold the movement to small retailers to sell under their own name.

In a 1930s sale catalogue Benson claimed to be making the Bank in-house but the description does not match that of the early "Bank" so it is possible that as Guye moved out of watch production into related watch activity some time after 1905 Benson took over production, possibly with a revised model.

The Ludgate, Field and their derivatives I am sure were made by Benson.

Update Feb 2017: Two recent finds and subsequent analysis have enabled me to further tie down the relationship between Benson & Guye, explained in my post J.W. Benson and P & A Guye two London watchmakers, later effectively one?

[i] Watches 1850 – 1980 M. Cutmore, David & Charles, 1989
[ii] Watch Case Makers of England, Philip Priestley, NAWCC Bulletin Supplement #20 Spring 1994

The Waltham 1908 Marquis

This version of the famous 1908 model was probably made for the English market and tastes having a gilt movement with blued screws in the English fashion. It is basically a 1908-Traveler with 15 Jewels or a 1908-620 with a gilt finish.

Production records show that 500 hunter "Marquis" movements were made with only 7 jewels, 6,200 15J Hunters and 5,300 15J Open Faced. They are not that common but not I think quite as rare as this and I suspect that many are recorded as "Export" or other models.

Here are two:

Top is a half Hunter from 1917 in an English Filled gold case by Dennison, by this time the nice screw set jewels had been replaced by machine set.

Bottom is an open faced version from  1912, in Filled Gold by the Illinois Watch Case Company of America.

More Posts on Facebook

The posts below were originally made on on Facebook and were added here when I started the Blog, the originals, some with comments and older posts are to be found there.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


Here we have two Waltham 1908 23j Vanguards, both are size 16 Rail Road Grade movements so will have had similar superior performance when manufactured. 

The on the left is from 1907 and has extensive damascening, gold mounted screw set jewels that are mainly ruby plus diamond end jewels on the balance.

The one on the right has machine pressed synthetic jewels and is from 1940.

Monday, 3 February 2014

E-Mail Problems

Not for the first time Yahoo are having problems with their e-mail system, I am moving to GMail and have set up forwarding but if you were expecting a reply from me and have not received one, please try again.