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Employee specials or “lunchbox” specials

Jerry Treiman

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Watch factory employees were known to have taken parts or complete movements and customized or upgraded them, on their own time, for personal use. Some factories may have even encouraged the practice. Indeed we seem to see more of these from the Waltham factory than most others. Please share here watches that appear to have more than the standard production features or finish, most likely at the after-hours hand of an employee.

My first such watch was a 16-size 1888 model Waltham. Serial number 6,560,271 appears in the handwritten ledgers as being one of 1,000 grade no.28 movements. The grade 28 had 15 jewels in composition settings. My movement, in hand, however is quite different. It is a beautifully finished 17-jewel watch with elaborate damaskeening, gold jewel settings and is engraved "Amn. Watch Co.", the mark of their second-best movement at the time. In fact, the winding wheels on this movement are the same as those used on the top "American Watch Co." grade movements. I have seen a photo of a correct grade no.28 from this run and it was clearly a lower-grade 15-jewel watch; the star wheel regulator has a plain steel star rather than the fancy gold starwheel on my movement (another indication of the custom finish). My watch was completed with a glass enamel dial, fleur-de-lis hands and a gold-filled Crescent W.C.Co. case.
6560271_oblique.jpg 6560271_front.jpg

My second employee project started life, mostly as a 7-jewel grade 610 (14,548,480) but ended up as a 23-jewel masterpiece. The employee modified the plates to a bridge configuration and took a balance cock and balance wheel from a P.S. Bartlett. From that point the employee upgraded everything - train, jewels, regulator and balance - to Maximus quality and added a simple Côtes de Genève finish.
14548480oblique.jpg
 

musicguy

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Employee specials or "lunchbox" specials
Maybe this one is one of them. I do not own it anymore.

It should be an 11j grade H but obviously it's been upgraded.


20210428_165240move.jpg






Rob
 
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Clint Geller

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This one may also qualify as an "employee watch." As its serial number suggests, this movement started out to be a nickel American Watch Company grade KW16 with 19 jewels and stopwork, but it had a Model 1868 stemwinding and lever setting mechanism installed.(True AWCo grade Model 1868's have 18 jewels with no stopworks, and have a different movement thickness than KW16's.) Unfortunately, owing to the difference in movement thickness between the KW16 and the Model 1868, no standard case will fit it properly without modifications. It is perhaps the prettiest orphan movement I have ever seen, though. The dial is glass enamel with a three line signature.

SN 501,569 -1.jpg SN 501,569 under dial view showing SW-SS mechanism.jpg
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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In 1995, I wrote up for the NAWCC Bulletin (whole number 296, page 304) a detailed description of an Aurora employee "special". On this one the employee even had his name engraved on the plates. Geez, I've been doing this "watch stuff" for a long time.
 

Clint Geller

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Here is another doozie. This 19 jewel ten size watch was made either by or for W. R. Wills, the foreman of Waltham's jeweling department. The current owner, a skilled watchmaker, tells me the movement plates are solid silver!

WR Wills Dial -2.jpg W R Wills dial siganture close-up.jpg W R Wills Movement -1.JPG W R Wills movement -2.jpg W R wills top plate.jpg W R Wills dial plate and wheel train.jpg W R Wills case front.JPG W R Wills case rear.JPG W R Wills cuvette and AWCo case marking.JPG W R Wills case markings.JPG
 
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Fred Hansen

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Awesome piece and thanks for posting! I’d see no reason to doubt it was Wills’ personal watch of that era.

I’ll have to take better photos sometime, but here’s a Wills’ watch from somewhat later that’s in my collection, a 14 size with damaskeened rose gold plates and a great dial.

Wills is also notable in Waltham history as the individual that conceived and produced the crystal plate watches.


1631973569903.jpeg


1631973596678.jpeg
 

Clint Geller

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Awesome piece and thanks for posting! I’d see no reason to doubt it was Wills’ personal watch of that era.

I’ll have to take better photos sometime, but here’s a Wills’ watch from somewhat later that’s in my collection, a 14 size with damaskeened rose gold plates and a great dial.

Wills is also notable in Waltham history as the individual that conceived and produced the crystal plate watches.


View attachment 672292

View attachment 672293
Fabulous watch, Fred. I was an avid tournament chess player for many years, so this watch speaks to me in more than one way.
 
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Clint Geller

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Of course, there is THE employee watch, which is in the collection of a friend, but it is hardly a "lunchbox special." This 21 or more jewel open face Model 1872, probabaly the first, has Charles vander Woerd's name on the dial. It is signed "American Watch Co" in gold inlaid engraving with no serial number on the movement, and has vander Woerd's patented sawtooth balance wheel and special escapement, and a unique experimental chronograph mechanism.

VdW Front.jpg VdW Movement.jpg VdW Balance Wheel Close-up.JPG
 
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Clint Geller

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Here is another great employee watch. This one belongs to my friend Don Barrett, who loves Waltham crystal plate watches. It is a very likely unique 14 Size crystal plate example with an elaborately engraved and fenestrated gilded brass balance cock, which was made for Edgar Lippet Hull (1848 - 1937). Hull was the foreman of the AWWCo Dial Department in the 1890s, and he is credited with the design for the AWCo Grade Model 1894 and Model 1899 bridge model dials. Apparently, he was a mason.

Don reports that the movement "was bought years ago by a traveling gold buyer in a hotel down south," who had scrapped the case. Don subsequently found appropriate hands for the movement, and the 14K gold case that currently houses it, helping to preserve this important artifact for posterity. When Don first described the movement to me over the phone, I asked him how the dial was signed. He said, "It has somebody's name on it." I asked, "Can you read the name?" hoping, but not really expecting that it was a name I recognized. After a pause, Don said, "It looks like, 'Edgar L. Hull.' " My jaw flopped open. I said, "You're sh@%#ing me!"

ELH Dial.JPG ELH movement -4.JPG
 
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Ethan Lipsig

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I am not sure that the only "lunchbox special" candidate in my collection qualifies as one. It is a Am'n Watch Co. grade Waltham Model 1888 with Cole's Resilient Escapement, in a 14k Roy hunter case. It was put together by Pat Caruso, foreman of Waltham's Experimental Section long after Model 1888 production ceased.

IMG_2583.JPG IMG_2582.JPG IMG_2585.JPG IMG_2586.JPG IMG_2581.JPG IMG_2577.JPG IMG_2578.JPG
 

Clint Geller

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I am not sure that the only "lunchbox special" candidate in my collection qualifies as one. It is a Am'n Watch Co. grade Waltham Model 1888 with Cole's Resilient Escapement, in a 14k Roy hunter case. It was put together by Pat Caruso, foreman of Waltham's Experimental Section long after Model 1888 production ceased.

View attachment 672588 View attachment 672587 View attachment 672589 View attachment 672590 View attachment 672586 View attachment 672584 View attachment 672585
A lovely watch, Ethan. But something tells me you are not actually poised to go galloping off into the wilderness with that watch in your pocket, as resilient as it may now be. :)
 

Clint Geller

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Here is a Waltham KW20 watch movement that may well have been modified at the factory. Indeed, the factory records suggest it is part of a run of movements that was never made. It was apparently redesigned to serve as the movement of a small desk clock, with a regulator dial with additional hands for winding reserve and days of the week, shown on subsidiary dials. Movement SN 125,329 is currently in the collection of the NAWCC Museum in Columbia. It is nominally Appleton, Tracy & Co. grade, but it appears to have several additional jewels beyond the usual fifteen, and the exposed stopwork is of the more elaborate style usually seen on 19 and 20 jewel American Watch Company grade KW20 movements. Also, the presence of a curb pin adjusting screw on the balance cock indicates that the movement has a Breguet overcoil hairspring as well. The unusual combination of Stratton's patent barrel and Fogg's patent cam ("tadpole") regulator with curb pin adjusting screw indicate that this movement was completed considerably after its serial number otherwise would suggest.

KW20 Movt SN 125,329.jpeg KW20 Movt SN 125,329 regulator dial.jpeg
 
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Paul Regan

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Here is one I do not own anymore however it certainly is an employee watch deserving to be seen. This watch was owned by Joseph Bates who was the American Watch Co Chief Adjuster at the time of the Philadelphia Expo. I would be willing to bet he had something to do with the timekeeping of AWC 670,095 which was the best of the Expo. The watch has several “updates” including conversion to lever set, updated dameskeening, updated dial, jeweling up to 19 Jewels and the necessity to update the case. Notice the original dameskeening under the updated. The cartouche carries the initials of his daughter. Notice the serial number on this one. The watch was purchased from the descendants of Joseph Bates.
Paul

7E89DAF5-E351-40E4-AB82-9F8E400AE5D9.jpeg EBB9B343-137B-4304-882F-0CB1A409D591.jpeg
 

Kevin W.

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Really nice seeing so many unusual watches.
 

Tom McIntyre

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Here is one I do not own anymore however it certainly is an employee watch deserving to be seen. This watch was owned by Joseph Bates who was the American Watch Co Chief Adjuster at the time of the Philadelphia Expo. I would be willing to bet he had something to do with the timekeeping of AWC 670,095 which was the best of the Expo. The watch has several “updates” including conversion to lever set, updated dameskeening, updated dial, jeweling up to 19 Jewels and the necessity to update the case. Notice the original dameskeening under the updated. The cartouche carries the initials of his daughter. Notice the serial number on this one. The watch was purchased from the descendants of Joseph Bates.
Paul

View attachment 676792 View attachment 676793
Actually Paul, 670,044 was the top performing watch according to the report from the Exposition. It's history is not quite as pristine as the Bates watch since it was given to Len Dionne in a box of watch parts while he was working at Polaroid. I do not know the name of the person who gave him the watch. I supplied the case it is currently housed in.

It does not count as an Employee Special since it seems likely it was just tossed into a drawer in the Engineering Department after it came back from Ann Arbor.

I have seen quite a few great items that lived most of their "life" in the Waltham study collection with no particular idea of importance as an artifact. The stories were important but the items themselves were not. The Bates is a great watch because it was loved for its entire history.

1634603196849.png
 
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Paul Regan

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Thanks for that correction Tom. I think my brain(very old) was attached to the fact that the Bates watch is one digit south of 670,095. Joseph must have truly treasured the watch to have done so many “updates” on it. I thought his dameskeening over the original dameskeening was a bit unusual though.
Paul
 
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brg404

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Here is an 18s Hamilton I believe to be a watch put together from factory rejects. Every numbered part on this watch has a different serial number, but nothing newer than 1902. And many of the parts show either remediation efforts or material flaws that would fail QA. For example, the dial plate has some severe metal delamination.

Chrome Hamilton.jpg


The balance bridge is a Ball model, the dial plate is raw brass (unplated) the top plate is smooth chrome plated, the mainspring bridge is from a Hunting movement used on an Open Face movement (I didnt know that was possible!) It is 17 Jewels (with a 940 top plate serial number) and 937 balance. The watch runs great after servicing/adjusting. I put it in a display case celebrating the old saying: "If you cant fix it, feature it"! haha :)

I also had a 5th pinion 18s Illinois movement that was up-jeweled to 19 jewels. A 15 jewel watch with center wheel and 5th pinion jewels added. I thought it might be a student/apprentice project, but could have been a factory employee project, all the jewels matched one another.

Bruce
 

hc3

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It always surprised me that the factories never offered solid silver plates. The material would only have cost what, $5 and the finishing nothing extra.
 

musicguy

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Silver oxidizes and the plates would turn black.


Rob
 

Clint Geller

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Silver oxidizes and the plates would turn black.


Rob
When my watchmaker friend first acquired the Wills 10 Size watch that has silver plates, which I showed earlier in this thread, he said the plates were "black as coal."
 
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Tom McIntyre

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Many useful alloys of nickle also tarnish and for later top line watches Waltham plated the nickel alloy plates with pure nicke.
 

Clint Geller

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Many useful alloys of nickle also tarnish and for later top line watches Waltham plated the nickel alloy plates with pure nicke.
Tom, I'm thinking that occurred right around SN 2 million or so, at least on the high grade Model 1872's. Is that your understanding as well?
 
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Jerry Treiman

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I am not sure if this 16j movement is an employee upgrade or just part of a small run of higher jeweled movements within a block of 5,700 7-jewel movements. With the custom double-sunk dial I am inclined towards an employee special.
4s_m3.jpg Ill_4size_d.jpg
 

Clint Geller

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Here is a highly nonstandard, oddball Waltham movement, pictures of which recently were sent to me by the owner. I think it belongs on this thread. The personalized double sunk dial carries the name of Revilo M. Hinds, who was not a Waltham employee that we know of. Rather, he was the police chief in Waltham. However, he likely had friends at the Waltham factory, perhaps even among the company management, who might have had many reasons to curry favor with him.

The movement is signed "American Watch," rather than "American Watch Co.," and it appears to be an amalgam of early and late American Watch Co. grade KW16 model material with an anomalous serial number. The engraving is otherwise quintessential Waltham of the period. It is a 19 ruby jewel movement with the more elaborate style of exposed stopwork seen on the early high grade KW16's that typically came equipped with Stratton's barrel, together with Fogg's cam regulator (a late KW16 feature) and a curb pin adjusting screw on the balance cock ( a very late, nickel KW16 feature). The balance spars are flared, and the owner reports that at least the center wheel, and possibly the entire wheel train, is gold. If the factory records can be trusted for such an unusual movement, the serial number, 970,975, suggests a production date of May-June, 1877, but the records also say the movement is William Ellery grade, which it clearly is not. The movement carries neither the Stratton's barrel patent of the early AWCo grade KW16 movements, nor the Fogg's pinion patent marking of the later AWCo grade KW16's. The owner has promised to examine the movement and let me know whether it possesses either of these features, despite not being marked.

R  M Hinds dial.JPG R. M. Hinds movement.JPG
 
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hc3

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My understanding is that sterling tarnishes, but pure silver doesn't. I could be wrong.
 

Clint Geller

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My understanding is that sterling tarnishes, but pure silver doesn't. I could be wrong.
I doubt that, hc3. Tarnish on silver is primarily silver sulfide, and silver readily combines with sulfur. There are naturally occurring minerals (acanthite and argentite) that are more or less pure silver sulfide. So I don't see why Sterling silver (92.5% pure) would tarnish when pure silver would not.
 
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Clint Geller

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pmurphy

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Awesome thread! This has got me wondering if back in the day there were watch enthusiast clubs or other organizations for discussing watches and the latest trends/styles of the day.
 

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