Manafacture of Machine Made Watches

Frank Menez

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During my Forty plus years of being involved in the Horological World, I have been led to believe that The American Waltham Watch Company was the first to successfully manufacture machine-made watches.

Antiquarian Horology No one Vol 29 Sept 2005 Pg 98 Lecture at the AGM of The Antiquarian Horological Society. First Lecture--David Penny began his lecture by explaining that it was his intention to dispel the deeply embedded horological myth that the American Waltham Watch Co.. or any other American Watch
for that matter ,was the first to successfully manufacture machine made watches. Later in the lecture in conclusion Penny states-The American system of watchmaking should perhaps be re-named the Ingold System of Watchmaking. (Pierre Frederick Ingold) was one of the pioneers in the field of machine manufacture.

What say you MB members and others on this lecture? Who was the first to manufacture machine made watches:???:?
 

Jon Hanson

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Do you mean American machine made?

It is interesting to note that some models of Pitkin watches are interchangeable.
 

Tom McIntyre

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I don't think David would question the term mass production or production for the consumer market.

However, there is pretty good evidence that Nicole and Capt (later Nicole Nielsen) made watches for the London trade at rates inconsistent with hand work. As in most of the English tradition, the watches were produced to whatever level of finish the retailer wanted before being sold to the retailer for final assembly and test.

This model is very different from the Waltham model of producing a complete watch in a single location.

David lectured on this in the Boxboro Seminar and his article should be in the new supplement.
 

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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An earlier version of the paper by David Penney is:

Title: Pierre Frederick Ingold 91787-1878): His Impact on Watchmaking both in Europe and America
SubTitle: [A paper given at the 2002 annual Seminar of the NAWCC]
Author: David Penney
Publisher: see parent document
Keywords: biography CH/F-Jura machinery
Language: ENG
Notes: A biographical review of the life and achievements of Swiss horological inventor Pierre Fredrick Ingold who invented some of the technology that gradfathered replacable precision parts and thus industrial watchmaking, including Ingolds ventures in the UK and the USA
Kind: Content
Type: Timekeeper (general)
Geographic area: Switzerland
Topic: MakingGeneral
Organization: Person
Pages: 17
Entered By: FMM
BHM ID: 7531


tHIS IS CONTAINED IN:

Title: Boston: Cradle of American Watchmaking - Special Order Supplement No. 5 of the National Ass. of Watch and Cloc
SubTitle: Based upon the proceedings of the 23rd Annual NAWCC Seminar
Author: George L. Collord, Clint B. Geller, Michael C. Harrold, Thomas McIntyre, David Penney, Ron Price, Phillip Priestley, Craig Risch, NAWCC
Publisher: National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors
Keywords: watch
ISBN: 0 9668869 4 8 -- Library of Congress: TS543.M37B67 -- Dewey: 681.1'140974461
Language: ENG
Notes: Proceedings of the 2002 Annual NAWCC Syposium on the early history of the American industry made Pocket Watch, contains 8 papers presented, plus CD ROm catalog of watches exhibited
Edition: 2005, 1st edition -- Copyright: 2005
Kind: Book
Type: Pocket Watch
Geographic area: USA
Topic: History
Organization: ColAssociation
Pages: 120 -- Height in cm: 28
Print Status: 1 (1 means in print - 2 means out of print)
Entered By: FMM
BHM ID: 7527


Which is a book published by NAWCC and just released from the printer this week.
 

Modersohn

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There were several people,among them Ingold (who was rebuffed in both Switzerland and Britain), who attempted to establish machine-made watch companies, or producing facilities. However, none of them were successful in having their ideas accepted or implemented.

The Swiss had made advances in machine making of watches that may not be fully appreciated in the US. Although they had n't achieved anything as effective in mass production as AWC did, they were quite a bit more developed than, for example, the British. I dont' know exactly what they had done, but they weren't entirely as unaware of this need as is often represented.

Also, I was readiong that several Pitkin workerswere induced to join the American Waltham effort by Dennison, et al, and that their contributions may have been important.

I'll have to look at the article to give further details.

Jessica
 

Michael Harrold

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For whatever it is worth, I tend to believe that Ingold's influence on industrial watch making was limited primarily to several London shops, such as Nicole & Capt, and had no influence at all in America. Ingold conceived and developed a complex manufacturing system which was beyond the techincal capability of his era. His thinking was correct, but was seen in hardware only as American factories fully automated during the 1890's. (He saw the final goal, but not the evolutionary path.) Part of the problem was that early industrial watch manufacture, in America and Europe, was NOT automated. Machines controlled the shapes of parts produced, but to a high degree were operated and controlled by hand, even if steam powered. Meanwhile, a separate series of industrial enterprises had established successful industrial practices, prior to Boston watchmaking of the 1850's.

I hint at this in the 2002 Seminar article, "Why Boston During the 1850's". My copy of the seminar publication has not yet arrived, so I have not seen how it came out.

Ingold developed sophisticated die sets and arbor lathes, perhaps unmatched in America. But, Americans also developed beautiful die production results and excellent lathe methods, the latter along a different course of production. Ingold's most sophisticated concepts are seen in plate and arbor lathes designed to entirely complete their parts in one setup. His plate lathe might perform 20 operations in series, on both sides of the plate, using manual manipulation of the lathe's complex parts between opeartions. This is much like modern NC machinery performing hundreds of operations in a single setup. Ingold's problem resides in the many manual manipulations, and with the fact that the other 19 operations remain idle because only one operation happens at a time. The latter continues to limit such manufacturing to lower production rates, where comlexity and precision are critical.

During Ingold's time, high-volume industrial shops used more like 15-20 separate machines for the 20 operations. Even though hand manipulated, the machines could be power driven at relatively high speeds, optimum speeds differing for each machine. In a matter of minutes, all 20 operations had been performed on a group of parts. The machines were relatively simple, amenable to both continuous improvements and conversion to different functions. The overal system of machines was sophisticated, high-speed, highly flexible, and easily evolved toward high output and gradual automation. And the machines could assure interchangeable parts. This is essentially the American system of manufacture.

Eli Whitney's 1798 contract to supply 10,000 muskets in 2 years relied on such techniques, although he did not produce interchangeability. He also took far longer to finish the guns, but subsequent American armories evolved these techniques to a high level. Aaron Dennison was well familiar with the Springfield armory, prior to starting the Boston Watch Company.

Eli Terry's 1809 Porter contract was for 4000 clock movement within 3 years. He used similar American techniques, met the contract, and achieved interchangeability; perhaps the first such operation, but maybe not. American clock factories subsequently made gazillions of wood works clocks and later brass clocks. Many methods simply used jigs and fixtures to guide repeatable hand manipulations. Match plates were used to drill interchangeable hole patterns in plates, and dies were used for all sorts of metal blanking, piercing, and forming. Simple versions of these techniques were used by Pitkin, Fasoldt, and Charles Hoyt to produce watch ebauches having interghangeable plates and bridges. Edward Howard was a clockmaker, using such methods, prior to starting the Boston Watch Company. Howard also had a government contract to produce thousands of postal scales, whereby he had taken industrial methods to notable production rates.

The Boston Watch Company was surrounded by, and grounded in, an existing American system of high volume industrial manufacture of interghangeable parts. The system was based on multiple machines to complete, in parallel, an extended series of operations on each part. Besides semi-automation, the next step was toward machines having multiple, but separate, stations for completing separate operations in parallel. The final phase was toward fully automated machines programmed to complete a series of opeartions on a single part, in one setup. In Europe, this final phase was exemplified by Roskopf's development of the "Swiss" lathe, similarly programmed for an extended series of operations on a single part.

Clearly unrelated to this American industial trend, Japy Freres of Beaucourt, France had evolved essentially the same system during the 1780's, mass producing relatively interchangeable watch ebauches, using powered machinery. Japy conceived an array of simple machines to perform the many required tasks, then continuously improved and evolved the system to ever increasing production rates. Japy presents a complete successful prototypical production system, among the very few which can stake prior claim to the "American" system. This has been somewhat overlooked, perhaps because ebauches may not be viewed as a finished product. In fact, ebauches remain a complete finished industrial commodity to this day.
 

Michael Harrold

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What, me ramble? Was there supposed to be a point?

There seem to be a couple of versions of a couple of questions.
Who produced the first machine made watches?
Who first mass produced machine made watches?
Did any of these use the Ingold system?

Most everything is evolutionary, and the progression seems something like:

By the 1780's, Japy industrially mass produced ebauches. Not quite watches, but a remarkable pioneering accomplishment, that could easily have been nudged closer to true watchmaking, had their environment permitted and demanded it.

By 1810, Americans industrially mass produced wood works clocks, soon followed by guns and textiles. The Americann system was much like Japy's, and took off toward all sorts of products. By 1840, Americans industrially mass produced brass clocks.

By 1840, the Pitkin brothers industrially produced watches in Hartford Connecticut, using punch press technology inspired by the clock industry. Their product and methods were simple, cheap, and somewhat stillborn, for they stopped after about 180 watches. They had designed for at least low volume production, and seemingly could have kept going. While they made a few more watches in New York, nothing further directlly resulted from their system, which was of the American style. Their punch press watch was much akin to later dollar watches, but was not directly related. This was the first technically successful industrial watch, but did not reach mass production, and did not begat a successful system.

By 1845, Ingold industrially produced watches in London. Ingold's system was complicated, expensive, and somewhat stillborn, never reaching a scale that could be called mass-production. Subsequent Nicole ventures may have had similar technical capability, but it is not clear that they truly produce finished watches by machine. Because of how they functioned in the London trade, they may have been somewhere between ebauche and watch manufacture. Ingold's is the second technically successful industrial watch, but did not reach mass production, and did not begat a successful system.

By 1857 the Boston Watch Co. had industrially mass produced watches, and gone bankrupt. They had flushed about $200,000, much of that to scale up for mass production. They made perhaps 2000 watches, plus materal for maybe 2000 more. When merged with Royal Robbin's distribution system, they achieved both technical and financial success, and begat the American watch industry.

That is how I see it, anyway.

Mike
 

Michael Harrold

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Pitkin's output may have been more like 300, and the survival rate is probably low, for they are not the awe-inspiring kind of mechanism that old jewelers would have salvaged.

As I recall serial numbers, only about 200 were made in Hartford. The New York numbers are in the high 300's, but grouped together there as if only a small group in that range were completed, not a full 400. The best way to estimate is to collect the few known serial numbers. Anybody have numbers to contribute?

Mike
 

Richard Watkins

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Sorry. The Adams Brown reprint of "Complete History of Watchmaking in America" by Charles S. Crossman states (page 5):

"The movements were not interchangeable." Certainly the preceding text explaining their various attempts to vary side and end shake support this view.

Has the word "not" been omitted in another printing?

What do the original articles in the Jewelers' Circular say?
 
D

D.H. Grace

Richard and Frank,

I know almost nothing about the Pitkin enterprise.

I do know, however, that Crossman was writing many years after the Pitkins folded up shop, and that he was not a trained historical researcher. His articles are incredible sources, but they are little more than accounts that he had heard and stories that he knew and wanted to preserve for posterity.

Some of Crossman's information is accurate. As with most hearsay, though, there are also large numbers of errors and some outright fabrications there. These problems make Crossman a frustrating source to use today. And the frustration factor is doubled by the fact that so many people have simply taken Crossman whole and reprinted what he says as the truth without doing any fact checking. Marvin Whitney's history section in the Marine Chronometer stands as a prime example. Whitney not only repeated most of Crossman's errors about New York City's chronometer makers, but often compounded them in an effort to make the stories even more interesting. Because these stories have been reprinted as fact, though, they are now commonly assumed to be true. For anyone interested in the history of chronometer making in America, it's made a bit of a mess.

So, to return to the topic at hand, I wouldn't by any means dismiss the possibility that Pitkin watches had some interchangeability simply on Crossman's word, whether page 3 or 5.

Maybe some current Pitkin scholars and collectors can help us out?

Regards,

David Grace
 

Richard Watkins

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David,

Your points about Crossman are well made. We are continually struggling to separate unfounded myths from reality.

I have to agree with you that "I wouldn't by any means dismiss the possibility that Pitkin watches had some interchangeability simply on Crossman's word." But equally we cannot assume there was interchangeability. I gather there are so few Pitkin watches in existance that it would be impossible to find out by experiment. So I think we will be forced to argue what is likely. And I think it is far less likely that the watches were interchangeable than not.
 

Jerry Treiman

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Addressing Mike's request for serial numbers, I find three examples in published sources.

Henry Pitkin No.46 was illustrated in the catalogue of the spectacular exhibit at the 1976 NAWCC National Convention in Anaheim, CA
[also shown on Jon Hanson's WEB SITE]

H. & J.F. Pitkin No. 148 used to be part of The Time Museum collection and was illustrated in Hoke's catalogue/book of that collection.

H.& J.F. Pitkin No. 164 was in the exhibit of the 2002 NAWCC Seminar and is illustrated at THIS LINK

That's three. How many more are known, and is it enough to deduce some measure of interchangeability within any particular model?
 

ron schneider

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rw have you ever handled a pitkin you have misquoted jon hanson parts are interchangeable as noted picture has already been linked by jerry treiman for the unique henry pitkin we also viewed this watch at the chapter 149 free seminar and display in 2002 at the ft wayne regional
 

Richard Watkins

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Ron,
No, I have never handled a Pitkin watch, but as there are only 3 known examples that is not surprising.
You write "you have misquoted jon hanson parts are interchangeable" (if I have got the sentence structure right). Jon Hanson's web site reads in part "many of the parts ARE interchangeable" but he does not say which parts, nor does he provide an explanation. I am not sure how I have misquoted him.
Yes, I missed the Link in Jerry's message. Sorry. I am not sure who owns the Pitkin No. 46, I assumed Jon does. If so it would be very helpful if he provided high definition colour photos of it.
My desire for Jon to provide an explanation is because interchangeability is a difficult concept which has been defined in many different ways by many different people. I accept that Pitkin watches may be partly interchangeable, but the statement needs clarification.
 
D

D.H. Grace

Ron,

I'm not quite sure why you think Richard has misquoted Jon. He cut and pasted Jon's comment from Jon's own post above. And Jon does not seem to have misstated his case, since the comment fits perfectly with the claims he makes on the interesting web page that Jerry has provided the link to.

Jon apparently has good reason to think that Crossman was wrong and that the early Pitkin watches were, in fact, machine made upon the principle of interchangeability.

That's very interesting.

I have no reason to doubt Jon. His knowledge of early American watches is unparalleled. What I, and I assume most of the rest of us on this thread, don't know, though, is how Jon and others have come to this conclusion. I can only assume that it's some specific trait about no. 46, since there aren't other examples for comparison.

I, for one, would love to hear about it.

I'd also be interested if someone could point me to any sources that explain the Pitkins' connections in New York City. New York seems to have been a focal point for ideas and workmen, even though it didn't prove to be a fruitful place for watch manufacturing until later.

Regards,

David
 

ron schneider

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hi david i was reading jons website remarks and other posts on another site where he states that some of the parts are interchangeable he owns more than one example and will reveal several other new discoveries one day in a monograph you are quite correct about crossman most books and articles have many mistakes and collectors keep repeating the errors
 

Richard Watkins

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Yes, I saw on the Pitkin section of the webhorology message board that Jon was working on a monograph. That was back in August 2004 and I had hoped it might be completed by now. I wrote directly to Jon, but he must be on holidays or very busy, because I haven't had a reply as yet.

It is fascinating to hear Jon has more than one Pitkin watch. Ron, do you think you could persuade him to put up pictures and a bit of information about the other(s) on his web site?
 

Michael Harrold

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After a kick start from Jerry, I found my notes which were long lost from moving. Pitkin watches which exist, or were known to exist at one time:
Hartford full plates 46, 60, 66, 148, 164
New York 3/4 plates 367, 379, 389

So, about 200 in Hartford, and nowhere near 400 in New York.

Mike
 

Richard Watkins

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Partly in response to Frank's mention of Eric Bruton ...

I have gone through most of my books looking for significant references to Pitkin. I won't give the details here (they are available), but the authors are:
Abbott (1883-1905, 4 books), Bailey (1975), Bruton (1979), Clutton et al (Brittons 1956), Crossman (1885), Cutmore (1989), Dixon (1978, but he just quotes others), Harrold (1981 and 2005), Hoke (1991), Meibers (2001), Rosenberg (1963), Shugart (2002), and Small (1954).

Two interesting features emerge.

First, no-one cites any conclusive evidence. Everyone makes statements which appear to be based on earlier authors or opinion. The only serious gap is that I don't have the 1905 revised version of Abbott "History of the Watch Factories of America" (I didn't know it existed until I read Small, which is embarrassing). Anyway, Small quotes it quoting Ambrose Webster and this may be a bit more substantial than the other opinions.

Second, there is a wide divergence on whether Pitkin watches were interchangeable or not.

Three (Bruton, Meibers and Small quoting the 1905 Abbott), and of course Jon, say parts were interchangeable, but Bruton and Meibers are not reliable (Meibers says the watches had fusees!).

Only Crossman and others who just quote him say they were definitely not interchangeable.

The rest seem to have decided to sit on the fence and talk about interchangeability in a qualified way. The usually make statements along the lines of "reputably interchangeable" or "hand-finishing was necessary".

The problem with the rest is that they debase the concept of interchangeability to the point where it becomes meaningless. If we allow "considerable fitting skills" (Cutmore) then much of the late 18th century/early 19th century French, Swiss and English output is interchangeable. And I don't think anyone wants to accept that!

I personally do not regard parts that require fitting to be interchangeable, and I think most authors are simply avoiding making a decision. In which case, the majority state or imply that Pitkin watches were not interchangeable.
 

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