A Put-Together Watch I Am Happy to Own

Discussion in 'American Pocket Watches' started by Jerry Treiman, Jul 27, 2009.

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  1. Jerry Treiman

    Jerry Treiman Registered User
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    Having seen Scott's sad story of swapped parts on his B.W. Raymond, here is a happier tale. This is a high-grade 23-jewel bridge-model watch that I am delighted to own. I hesitate to call it a Waltham, although it is made exclusively from 1899-model Waltham parts. It was probably assembled and finished by an anonymous factory employee on his own time (a somewhat common practice, it seems). Based on serial numbers under the various parts this watch includes pieces of at least three watches. The barrel bridge is un-numbered, the balance wheel is upgraded from a P.S. Bartlett, the balance cock is upgraded from another P.S. Bartlett. The pillar-plate, train bridge and pallet bridge are all modified and re-finished from a grade 610. Other parts, as well as the finish, are Maximus grade. This represents, then, several movements that never made it out of the factory on their own. I, and most people I have shown it to, think it is pretty neat.

    If such a watch were cobbled together today, by a skilled watchmaker with access to factory-grade equipment, would it be viewed as favorably? I am jumping to a perhaps ill-founded conclusion that someone here will not consider my watch an "abomination". But what if it were put together by someone famous? How much does the fame or skill of the craftsman mitigate what was done?
     

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  2. Lorne

    Lorne Registered User

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    Could it be that the difference between a "rare one-off" and a "abomination" is that you one one and I own the other?


    Lorne
     
  3. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Registered User

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    Jerry, let's see if I understand what you are asking.

    It seems you are asking whether a watch that was made from pieces stolen from the factory by a factory worker should be viewed differently than a watch made by an amateur watchmaker from parts taken from different donor watches.

    Is that a fair assessment of your question?

    If so, I'd suggest that my answer would be obvious based on the way I worded the clarification.

    Mixing and matching parts from various watches creates an abomination, as far as I'm concerned, regardless of the skill or fame of the person combining those mismatched parts.

    - Greg
     
  4. Jerry Treiman

    Jerry Treiman Registered User
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    Greg - your assessment of my question is not quite correct, although I am not sure if the difference is critical to the discussion. It was my understanding that the employees of the time often did this after hours with the permission of their employer, so the parts are not necessarily "stolen" from the factory. Perhaps the plates were from rejected movements? Perhaps they paid some few cents for discarded material. We really don't know. Based on the special finish of the watch, especially the damaskeening, I believe this would have been assembled and/or finished after-hours in the factory rather than from mis-matched parts smuggled home in a lunchbox, and that is a distinction that may be important.

    If the stolen aspect was not critical to your understanding (nor the experience of the watchmaker), I would rephrase your summation as follows: "It seems you are asking whether a watch that was made from spare factory parts by a factory worker should be viewed differently than a watch made by a modern watchmaker from parts taken from different donor watches". I think I am trying to explore how broad the gray area is between the mix-and-match watches we see today and a watch like mine. Mine is still mixed from various watches, even if those watches were never completed and shipped from the factory. Does that make a difference or is an employee's watch also an abomination in some folk's minds, regardless of the circumstances? Perhaps the employee was learning new skills under the tutelage of a foreman? It may not even be much different than a school watch.

    Does it become a problem to merely take an original factory piece (as was done with this 7-jewel Waltham) and modify it for one's own pleasure or experimentation, perhaps modifying plates or adding parts that were never intended to be there? How much do the circumstances affect one's answer?
     
  5. Fred Hansen

    Fred Hansen Registered User
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    I've read/heard comments from collectors stating that Waltham allowed (if not encouraged) this type of in-house activity among their skilled employees. If this is accurate and Jerry's watch represents an example of this factory practice then I wouldn't see any pertinence here to Greg's line of questioning.

    Here is a link to a past thread with comments along these lines ... https://mb.nawcc.org/showthread.php?p=310342

    And here is a link to an interesting watch on Tom McIntyre's webpage described there as an employee's piece ... http://awco.org/AWCo/Other/Employee83/employee83l.htm

    Fred
     
  6. BILL KAPP

    BILL KAPP Registered User

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    Jerry,

    Nice to have met you at the Chapter 75 mart yesterday. I saw the watch in question and it was a nice quality job and very pleasing to the eye.

    As we will never know its true origins and you are the first owner to acknowledge its existence perhaps we could dub it the Trieman #1! and Tom's watch the McIntyre 1. such watches would not be hurt by a careful engraving with such a designation.

    I am tempted to start renaming many such disputed watches.

    Then collectors could make informed decisions as to the market value of these ("one offs") without the hype that most owners make trying to establish their legitimacy or originality.

    happy hunting,
     
  7. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Registered User

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    Actually, the "stolen" aspect has little to do with whether the resulting watch is an abomination. The marriage of mismatched parts has more to do with that.
     
  8. mdavis00

    mdavis00 Registered User

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    #8 mdavis00, Jul 27, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2009
    'Abomination'? That's an awfully strong word.

    The people that worked in these factories watched millions of these watches being produced. Parts were being machined left-and-right. Model watches--like the interesting Bunn that was posted recently--probably lay around the factory floor for reference. There would have been botched parts by the thousands dumped.

    The concept of 'originality' did not occur to these people. 'Quality' and 'consistency' would have been issues, but not 'originality.' I have little doubt skilled employees were encouraged to practice their craft. Any innovations made could have resulted in new patents and new models or features.

    'Employee special' watches were just that: special. They were unique, hand-crafted items. Crucially, they represent a vital part of the history of watch production--the human element. Because of their rarity, they are arguably a more important item for collecting and preservation. They tell a story about the watch companies that we cannot possibly get from what rolled off the line.

    To expand this question a bit: watches altered 'officially' at the factory--even if produced in tiny batches--constitute a rare and highly collectible item. These employee specials were produced at the factory, by employees, so what's the difference?

    This watch is hardly an 'abomination.' It is a vital piece of history worthy of preservation--more so than the common pieces it was assembled from.

    To answer Jerry's original question: the difference is that this watch constitutes a part of the history of early watch production in the US. It has a value that transcends its mismatched parts for that reason. While I'm not about to denigrate Lorne's work bringing his watch into working order as he saw fit, I think we can all agree that it doesn't hold the same historical significance.

    EDIT: Having just read Bill's post, I think the value of Jerry's watch would be much different if it is not representative of some part of the Waltham story. If it were produced by someone not affiliated with the factory or at a much later time, then I think its status as a historical item would be greatly diminished.
     
  9. Jon Hanson

    Jon Hanson Registered User
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    There are plenty of caable watchmakers today that can make up these types of watches...................zzz
     
  10. Fred Hansen

    Fred Hansen Registered User
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    Let's get specific Greg, what is the critical "mismatch" you are seeing here?

    The fact that some of the internal serial numbers differ?

    The finish and execution of this movement appears to be excellent, and certainly vastly superior to what a "grey" 610 train bridge or P.S. Bartlett balance cock would have been been made to for a regular production piece.

    If this watch was produced at Waltham by a skilled employee as part of an accepted in-house practice, I think this would become an interesting part of factory history to many rational collectors.

    Given the level of execution and finish, if this piece was produced by the above process I personally would see little importance if the raw ("grey") material of this movement came from existing unfinished stock of differing pieces. If anything it is somewhat more interesting to me that some of the "grey" material used was initially earmarked for relatively low end production pieces.

    Fred
     
  11. Greg Frauenhoff

    Greg Frauenhoff Registered User
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    Jerry,

    Neat watch! Thanks for the pics.

    As regards factory employee pieces, years ago I published a Bulletin article on an Aurora watch made from variously numbered bits. The employee who made it actually put his name on it.

    Morgan,

    Very nice post as well. Too many collectors delude themselves about what these factories were all about. Among other things, they weren't making objects to a "sacred immutable pattern". They were making watches to sell for profit. It is interesting to note just how casual an approach to making changes in the features of a given grade might be, but this is a bit off topic and sometimes people get touchy about "thread drift".

    Cheers,

    Greg
     
  12. Paul Regan

    Paul Regan Registered User
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    For what it's worth Jerry, I think you have a very nice watch. If all the parts had not been similarly dameskeened then it would be just another put-together. As it is it is pretty nice! Paul
     
  13. Jerry Treiman

    Jerry Treiman Registered User
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    Just a quick response to Bill's post. I would not consider it appropriate in any way to "dub" these watches other than with the name of the watches creator (if known). Subsequent ownership is perhaps useful for provenance but otherwise irrelevant. We are just the temporary caretakers. I hope Bill was joking about engraving these with any labels. FYI, my watch was purchased from Manfred Trauring in 1975 who merely described it as a "special 21 jewel [sic] Waltham pocket watch without any markings".

    I would also be careful to differentiate my employee's watch from Tom's as his is a much more elegant example that (I assume) does not have any mismatched plate numbers. Here is another probable employee's upgrade that is more in line with the latter style. This one (#6560271) is listed as a 15j grade no.28, is engraved as an "Amn. Watch Co." grade, and has the damascening and winding wheels associated with the "American Watch Co." grade.
     

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  14. Jon Hanson

    Jon Hanson Registered User
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    What American finish? The above pictured watch hardly represents an American grade!
     
  15. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Registered User

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    Did you read the base post, Fred? Here's the excerpt:
    - Greg
     
  16. Fred Hansen

    Fred Hansen Registered User
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    I would think its pretty clear that I read the base post since my comments referenced multiple specifics (mismatched internal serials, grade 610 train bridge, P.S. Bartlett balance cock) from it.

    zzz

    Fred
     
  17. crsides

    crsides Registered User

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    Nice watch Jerry.

    I like it.

    Charlie
     
  18. Jon Hanson

    Jon Hanson Registered User
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    An American grade with a PSB COCK?:eek: Oh please.:bang:
     
  19. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Registered User

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    Great... so your question was rhetorical, then?

    Just trying understand what you're really saying.

    - Greg
     
  20. Fred Hansen

    Fred Hansen Registered User
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    #20 Fred Hansen, Jul 27, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2009
    Greg -

    This should help.

    I'm interested to discuss your stated opinion on this topic further, and am hopeful you will prove willing to answer my question here with something more than a useless question in response.

    To this end, I'll expand here on what I'm interested in your opinion on.


    Considering Mismatched internal serial numbers ...


    I have no disagreement with the word "abomination" for a movement that has been compiled in recent times from mixed and matched regular production plates/bridges outside the factory setting.

    But consider now this situation and for argument's sake assume that the historical scenario alluded to here is accurate ...

    • Skilled Waltham employees are permitted by the factory to purchase movement components for assemblage into their own watches and these employee projects are undertaken and finished inside the factory on the employee's own time
    • These components included grey (unfinished) bridges, plates, and cocks that were stamped with the serial numbers of the various products they ultimately would have been finished as but for whatever reason remain in inventory in an unfinished and separate state
    • Jerry's watch represents a surviving example of a Waltham employee's pursuit of this accepted factory practice, and was made entirely in-house from available unfinished components into a finely executed piece
    So within this context, my question to you would be to explain why you believe the presence of conflicting internal serial numbers on such a piece should have any meaning or impact on its desirability to modern collectors?


    Fred
     
  21. Jon Hanson

    Jon Hanson Registered User
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    Or, one could be something made up yesterday by a good fabricator!
     
  22. Paul Regan

    Paul Regan Registered User
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    I know of one person (lives near you Jon) that has two working dameskeening machines. I suppose he could have done it. :eek:
     
  23. Tom McIntyre

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    If it were made yesterday by someone with that skill level, they would have made the parts just a little bit thinner and replaced the serial numbers. The mismatched numbers could be take as a statement of authenticity. i.e. something no forger would do.

    The winding wheels on Jerry's 1888 are American Grade. There are a wide range of finishes on American Grade 1888's and I would consider his more an Am'n grade myself. Generally on 1888 Employee Watches, of which there are quite a few, the upgrades are relatively simple decorative effects. Bill has one nice one with gold hubs on the winding wheels.

    I would like for Greg to keep his eye open for watches of this kind. I will rescue him from the abominations. :D
     
  24. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Registered User

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    That's a great place to start. What I take from this is the assertion that the same practice, if done outside the factory by a non-factory trained individual using finished parts results in an abomination. On that we seem to be in sync.

    It's not JUST the presence of conflicting serial numbers.

    Products produced by the factory undergo specific stages of development... the first of which is desgin. Someone (or some team) sets about designing the product to achieve certain requirements. The individual parts are designed to achieve those requirements (whatever they may be), and they are designed to work together in specific combinations. A set of specifications is created to insure that the parts (and in the end the product) meets the design requirements, and the parts are produced to those specifications.

    I'll skip the descritpion of the other manufacturing steps and go straight to assembly. Assembly is generally done by people who don't fully comprehend design. As much as they might be skilled at assembly and adjustment, they generally aren't really at the level of designing new products.

    A skilled watchmaker can take mismatched parts and force them to work together, to be sure. One with access to factory tools and techniques can take it a little further, putting the finishing touches on that the average watchmaker could not. But they still would not have created a new watch. They would have created something cobbled together from mismatched parts.

    My perspective, if you're curious, comes from many years of working with computer companies. During that time I have built MANY computers myself, and not a few from pieces and parts pulled from other systems. None of the systems I created was ever designed to operate as a whole the way I assembled them. The fact that they worked well didn't make them a product... they were computers, yes (and in a couple of cases the computers were combined into clusters), but they were not supportable as product.

    Do you see the difference?

    So to me the cobbled together watches are abominations, despite the fact that they were made by skilled factory employees. Mine may well be the minority opinion, and I'm fine with that.

    - Greg
     
  25. mdavis00

    mdavis00 Registered User

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    #25 mdavis00, Jul 27, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2009
    Really? Were the models always designed meticulously on paper in that way? Or did certain design innovations sometimes come from a watchmaker tooling around with parts on hand? Bear in mind that 'design' had as much to do with aesthetics on the higher end watches as it did with functionality.

    Take everyone's favorite analogy--the American automobile. Prototype cars are often nearly mules that hardly work, and they are also often cobbled together of parts on hand, but those prototypes are highly prized by car collectors for good reason.

    IF this is an "employee special" and IF it was the result of the Waltham folks encouraging this sort of creativity, then I can only imagine it served a purpose within the company. Being from the computer industry, you may be familiar with Google's practice of encouraging employees to engage in creative projects on company time for more or less the same reason.

    And really... every computer that I've cobbled together from hobbyist parts could stand toe-to-toe with any Dell or Gateway and probably beat them easily for stability and lack of hardware failure. I wouldn't be surprised if people cobbling together watch parts in the factory were not knuckle-dragging, lever-pulling idiots.

    I could certainly be wrong... and am without a doubt playing devil's advocate a bit here :devil:
     
  26. Jon Hanson

    Jon Hanson Registered User
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    Tom, the wheels can't really be seen clearly.
     
  27. grtnev

    grtnev Registered User
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    #27 grtnev, Jul 27, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2009
    Nice watch Jerry. I lean toward the side of the wall that says that it is a one off speciality made by factory employees - definitely collectible to some, obviously not to all.

    What I keep struggling with on this forum is that there is sooooo much knowledge yet there seems to be sooooo little acknowledgement that another viewpoint is as good as your own. Many posts wind up being less informative and more something else. That is ok, to a point, after a while it gets old.
     
  28. Jon Hanson

    Jon Hanson Registered User
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    There term is ONE-OF, as in one of a kind!
     
  29. Jerry Treiman

    Jerry Treiman Registered User
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    I enjoyed a nice afternoon at the beach and now have a chance to catch up on this discussion. Thanks to those who have taken the issues seriously and with an open mind. What I wanted to illuminate is that there is a continuum of modifications, from an intact factory production-line watch, to factory experimental pieces and factory upgrades, to employee watches, to post-factory modifications of various significance. We have seen examples of all of these in various threads. The last category of post-factory modifications range widely from the unfortunate mismatched plates of Scott's B.W. Raymond and amateur skeleton watches to Charles DeLong's modifications of various watches (such as the Borresen patent watches and others). Some of these modifications are inspiring, interesting, important and collectible and some are the extreme opposite. However we should keep in mind that they are part of a continuum and while we might agree on the end-points (the best and the worst) there will probably always be watches in between about which we will disagree. Let us continue to disagree with civility and to include relevant facts and observations when we do.
     
  30. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
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    You are right Jerry, the spectrum is continuous.

    Some of the early 1859 model watches, from the very first run I think, were modified by Nelson Pitkin Stratton to have a helical hairspring and other odd fixtures like what appears to be a beat setting device on the lever.

    Unfortunately, I was not able to make pictures of the watch when I had the opportunity and it now is thoroughly hidden but it represents the general atmosphere at Waltham.

    The Marsh Brother's 8 day examples are also, technically at least, Waltham Employee Specials.

    Some of us read the word abomination in the sense it was used in the Bible as "that which must be destroyed." I don't think that is what Greg really meant and I wish he had chosen a less loaded word.
     
  31. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Registered User

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    I didn't choose the word abomination. Jerry did in the base post.

    - Greg
     
  32. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
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    I stand corrected Greg. I should have read more carefully.
     

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