Sunday, 11 September 2016

Thoughts on the failure of the Lancashire Watch Company

A Size 14, model 116, "Excellent" grade with the
addition of 2 pairs of jewels and signed for the retailer.

The Lancashire Watch Company failed in 1906 (although it continued trading in administration until 1910), many have blamed the failure of the skilled workers (many of who would have had to sell or wind up their small business after the formation of the LWC) to embrace new ways of working, Cutmore [1] argues that given early success this in unlikely and that poor marketing, bad forecasting, unwanted products and a plethora of designs & products and by implication pricing were to blame. Looking at the trade catalogues from 1898 [2]  and later I would go with the later point.
The three-quarter plate keyless watch is a good example:


In 1898 the three-quarter plate keyless was available in two forms, both were pin set with the crown connected to the movement through bevel gears in the case and on the movement.

A Full plate LWC movement showing
the hinge and sprung loaded catch
required for a swing out movement.
#104: a swing out movement with the hinge integrated with the face plate and a catch opposite to secure it in the case. This model is rare and I have never one complete with its case.
#116: what became the more familiar type retained in the case by two screws with the addition of a locating pin to stop the movement turning in the case through the action of the bevel winding gear. This was not yet the “Standard” watch case.

The under-dial of the #116 type
movement shown above.
Both types were available as open faced and hunter types and each in six sizes from Lancashire size 10 through 20.
By now we have 2 x 2 x 6 = 24 variants but there is more, all of these were available as “Ordinary Quality” or “Excellent Quality” movements. Apart from improved finish to a number of components the main differences are that the “Excellent” quality movement:
·        Had a Breguet sprung compensation balance rather than an over-sprung.
·        Was timed (adjusted) in 4 positions.
·        Had 11 jewels with the 2 additional pairs of ruby jewels on the escape and 4th wheel. Except when to go in a gold case in which case it had 15 jewels.
Optionally each grade could have additional pairs of jewels added up to a total of 15 at a trade price of 2s 6d in rubies or 1s 9d in garnets, the price to the end customer would probably be double that, if not more.
The number of variant movements is now growing quickly with 24 x 4 (jewel combinations) x 2 (types of jewel) = 192 types of “ordinary” quality movements and 24 x 5 (jewel & jewel type combinations) = 120 “Excellent” quality for a running total number of 312 variants.
Each grade could also be supplied as “non-magnetic” for an additional trade price of 10 shillings so now there are 624 different orderable movements.
Additional options available were double sunk dials, naming on the dial, name engraved on the movement and a silver dial.


The back of a type 4 half hunter case -
"Extra weight, Engine turned with
shield and garter"
Each type of movement, of course required its own type of case, and both where available in open faced, hunter or “sight” [half] Hunter. There were then three styles – plain, plain with shield and garter and engine turned with shield and garter. And with either a Crystal [3] or Lunette watch glass on open faced watches.
Available as standard were cases in solid 18 carat gold in two weights, gold filled and silver in three weights for open faced and two weights for hunter and half hunter. That makes for well over 600 types of case plus a significant number of different watch glasses.
Of course this was not enough combinations! So in addition you could specify gold joints on silver cases, engraved and ornamental cases (special quote) and heavier silver and gold cases to the retailers own specification. Also many cases were supplied hallmarked with the retailers “makers mark”, examples of this include watches to J.G. Graves and Fattorini.


A 1905 Keyless Chronograph, 1905.
So for this one product there were, ignoring many of the “extras” available, over 600 orderable movements and over 600 different cases for them to go in. In addition there were a number of other watches in the catalogue:
  • Full plate going barrel key wind clockwise
  • Full plate going barrel key wind anticlockwise (the “dummy”),
  • Full plate Fusee key wound
  • Full plate going barrel Keyless.
  • ¾ plate key set,
  • Key wind centre seconds [Chronograph],
  • Keyless centre seconds [Chronograph] (no swing out version).
 And all but the last had a similar number of possible combinations! So ignoring many of the "extras" there were in excess of 4,500 different orderable movements, each with a significant number of components and a lot of manufacturing operations. A similar number of case variants would be required as there was little commonality, the full plate fuse for instance had the hole for the key in a different location to the going barrel. All this in a company making only 500 watches a week.
The company would have made a selection of popular movements and cases in batches for stock but inventory management and control of excess and obsolete stock would have quickly become  major issues [4]   and it would not have been helped by the many small orders received, with (in 1905) discounts offered for as few as 12 watches.
Probably nowhere near 4,500 different products would actually have been made for sale but the implications for design, production engineering, manufacturing and inventory management of so many variants is huge and it is unlikely that in such a small operation as this could be effectively managed today let alone in 1898 – and things got worse in around 1900 as a mass of new products were introduced with many of the old products retained (including the key set & Fusee models).

[1] M. Cutmore “Watches 1850 – 1980”, David and Charles, 1989.
[2] In the National Museums, Liverpool and reproduced in ""Lancashire Watch Company History and Watches" by J.G. Platt, Inbeat publications, 2016.
[3] Today we generally refer to a watch glass as a crystal, technically however a crystal has a bevelled edge and can be flat, domed or concave. A Lunette glass generally is a low domed glass with no edge above the rim of the watch case bezel. A Hunter can have a Lunette or a variant being slightly raised at the edges but with no sharp bevel.
[4] The fact that LWC watches were still being sold years after production finished attests to the high levels of inventory being carried. 

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