Dating Watches Imported to the U.S. By Tariff Law-Required Markings

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
2,471
2,353
113
72
Pasadena
Country
Region
Another person who posts messages to these forums sent me a fascinating private message to the effect that one can approximate manufacture dates of watches imported to the U.S. based on the markings on the movement. He told me that each successive U.S. tariff law required a different set of markings. Hence, a movement with a particular set of tariff-markings was imported to the U.S. while that tariff law was in effect and normally would have been made shortly before being imported. My version of the marking information this person gave me is as follows:
  • No jewel count: pre-1897
  • Jewel count, but no adjustment count: 1897-1908 (Dingley tariff - first import duty on # of jewels, leading jewel count to be stamped (example: "17 Jewels, Adjusted"))
  • Jewel and Adjustment Count, Double Numbered, Numerals First: 1909-1912 (Payne-Aldrich tariff - required jewels & adjustments be spelled out (example: "17 Seventeen Jewels, 5 Five Adjustments"))
  • Jewel and Adjustment Count, Single Arabic Numbered: 1913 - Sept. 1922 (Underwood tariff - removed requirement to spell out (example: "17 Jewels, 5 Adjustments"))
  • Jewel and Adjustment Count, Double Numbered, Numerals Last: Oct. 1922-1929 (Fordney-McCumber tariff - required jewels & adjustments be spelled out (example: "Seventeen 17 Jewels, Five 5 Adjustments"))
  • Differentiation of Adjustments: 1930-35 (Smoot-Hawley tariff - required differentiation of adjustments (example: "Seventeen 17 Jewels, Three 3 Positions & Temperatures))
  • Three-Letter Import Code: Post 1935 (e.g., HXE)
I would love to hear your views as to the reliability of this dating system and any further information or suggestions you have about it. I couldn't find any other threads discussing this subject in the NAWCC forums.
 
Last edited:

musicguy

Moderator
Staff member
NAWCC Member
Sponsor
Jan 12, 2017
7,812
4,336
113
New York State
Country
Great information Ethan!, and a good starting point.


Rob
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
2,471
2,353
113
72
Pasadena
Country
Region
Dan Gentry and other researchers from a Vintage Gruen forum compiled the tariff dating information in this thread. I appreciate their fine work, for which they should get all credit.
 

Ethan Lipsig

NAWCC Gold Member
Jan 8, 2006
2,471
2,353
113
72
Pasadena
Country
Region
Dan Gentry has sent me corrected information as the 1909-1912 required markings. It is reflected in the corrected list below:
  • No jewel count: pre-1897
  • Jewel count, but no adjustment count: 1897-1908 (Dingley tariff - first import duty on # of jewels, leading jewel count to be stamped (example: "17 Jewels, Adjusted"))
  • Jewel and Adjustment Count, Double Numbered in any Order: 1909-1912 (Payne-Aldrich tariff - required jewels & adjustments be spelled out in words and numbers, but did not specify the order (example: "17 Seventeen or Seventeen 17 Jewels and 5 Five or Five 5 Adjustments")). A watch that complied with the Oct. 1922-1929 requirements would meet these requirements, which may result in dating confusion.
  • Jewel and Adjustment Count, Single Arabic Numbered: 1913 - Sept. 1922 (Underwood tariff - removed requirement to spell out (example: "17 Jewels, 5 Adjustments"))
  • Jewel and Adjustment Count, Double Numbered, Numerals Last: Oct. 1922-1929 (Fordney-McCumber tariff - required jewels & adjustments be spelled out (example: "Seventeen 17 Jewels, Five 5 Adjustments")). A watch that complied with the 1909-1912 requirements would meet these requirements, which may result in dating confusion.
  • Differentiation of Adjustments: 1930-35 (Smoot-Hawley tariff - required differentiation of adjustments (example: "Seventeen 17 Jewels, Three 3 Positions & Temperatures))
  • Three-Letter Import Code: Post 1935 (e.g., HXE)
 
Last edited:

thesnark17

NAWCC Member
Jul 11, 2020
85
87
18
Country
Region
I have been working on this for a while as part of the effort above, though my contribution was limited to providing observations from my data.

An important note: the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff requires differentiation of Adjustments, if movements are marked for adjustments at all. It also raised the tariff rate so high on adjusted movements that the manufacturers began importing movements marked "Unadjusted" instead.

The vast majority of imported watches in the 30s and later are marked Unadjusted for this reason alone. Most if not all were actually adjusted in Switzerland (or other country of manufacture), though some manufacturers claimed to have adjusted the watches in the US after import (leaving the movement stamp as-is, of course). Only the finest/most expensive movements bore true adjustment text after 1930 - the watch had to sell for a premium for it to be worth the extra expense.
 

Forum statistics

Threads
167,114
Messages
1,456,266
Members
87,316
Latest member
goodgoff
Encyclopedia Pages
1,057
Total wiki contributions
2,914
Last edit
E. Howard & Co. by Clint Geller