American pocket watches may be found in a variety of cases. The most common are the types described here:
Screw Back & BezelOne of the most common types of cases is the "Screw Back & Bezel" (SB&B) case. This is an open-face case, designed to hold a movement with the winding stem at the 12 o'clock position. The back literally screws off. In fact, so does the bezel, which is the ring around the dial that holds the crystal (glass). Also, very few SB&B cases (mostly made by the North American Watch Co. in the mid-1920s) have a cuvette (an inner back). SB&B cases are characterized by the fact that there are no hinges (there are "invisible-hinge" cases, but these are somewhat rare and have that other distinguishing feature of a hinged case, a raised lip by the winding stem). On SB&B cases, you can see the fine lines of the joints between the back, the center ring (the part to which the winding stem is attached) and the bezel. If there is only a one joint, that between the bezel and the center ring, the case is Swing-Ring case (see below).
Hinge Back & BezelAnother of the most common types of cases is the "Hinge Back & Bezel" (HB&B) case. This is an open-face case, designed to hold a movement with the winding stem at the 12 o'clock position. The HB&B cases have hinges for the back and the bezel, which is the ring around the dial that holds the crystal (glass), typically located down at the 6 o'clock position, but not necessarily. There should be a slightly raised lip on the back normally, but not always, near the winding stem. There may also be a thin slot between the lip and the rest of the case. Many HB&B cases, especially for the larger size watches, have an inner back, properly referred to as the "Cuvette," which also hinges open in the same fashion as the back.
It is frequently said by people that HB&B cases were not accepted for use in railroad time service. Those people are not fully aware of the actual facts. In reality, such rules as mention the case seem to accept the HB&B case without saying so, referring to it in passing. An example appears in Webb c. Ball's rules for the 1906 Pittsburg(h) Division of the Pennsylvania Rail Road (you may have to copy the file and magnify it a bit to read it). Section 8. states:
The section can only be referring to a hinged case (or a hunting-case, another form of a hinged case) because the other styles of cases (Screw Back and Bezel or Swing Ring) do not have joints that can gape open. In fact, Ball Official R.R. Standard movements were offered in signed, "Ball Model" HB&B cases in a 1905 Ball Catalog and five years later in a 1910 Ball Ad (which was still running a year later in February 1911). Almost two years later, in December 1912, a mid-western, mail-order retailer offered a 16-size, 21-jewel Elgin Father Time in a hinged back and bezel case "Guaranteed to Pass Any R.R. Inspection." While not prohibited by railroad time service rules, the hinged back and bezel case fell out of favor and was almost universally replaced by the screw back and bezel case. One significant exception was the 17-size, 23-jewel, Illinois Sangamo Special which was still being Offered in July 1930. A number of examples from the highest serial number range (4,760,001 - 4,760,600) are reported to be in signed Sangamo Special stiff bow hinge back and bezel cases.
Hunting Cases"Hunting-Case" (HC) watch cases are those which have a hinged outer, metal lid , or cover, over the crystal. This case is designed to hold a movement with the winding stem at the 3 o'clock position. These have a hinge for the back as well. Under the lid, is a bezel, which is the ring around the dial that holds the crystal (glass). Many HC cases, especially for the larger size watches, have an inner back, properly referred to as the "Cuvette." The lid, cuvette and back are almost always hinged at the 9 o'clock position. A 1905 Keystone Ad shows the construction of a hunting-case. The Big Four - The Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway Co. and Peoria & Eastern Railway Co., Time Inspection Service Circular, Indianapolis, Dec. 15, 1897, section 10 shows that hunting case watches were accepted for railroad time service at that date, and probably much later.
Demi-Hunting CasesDemi-Hunting cases (also known as Half-Hunting cases) are a less-common, sub-group of hunting cases, to be fitted with a typical hunting movement. The lid over the watch crystal is plain-finished and has a smaller crystal fit in the center. Hour figures (probably enamel) are printed around the small crystal. The overall effect is to enable the time to be read without opening the lid (although the lid certainly could be opened). More common were those having Roman hour figures, such as appears in the center row, left, in this 1897 Fahys ad. Demi-hunting cases could also be had bearing Arabic hour figures. Note that movements placed into demi-hunting cases should be fit with "double-swell" hands which provide the normal appearance of hour and minute hands when viewed through the smaller crystal.
Swing Ring CasesThe term "Swing-Ring" (SR), sometimes referred to as "Swing-Out," is usually applied to those cases in which the movement is mounted on a ring which, is hinged to "swing-out" from a cup-shaped back. This is an open-face case, designed to hold a movement with the winding stem at the 12 o'clock position. An SR case appears similar to a screw back and bezel case. However, there are only two outer parts, the bezel, which is the ring around the dial that holds the crystal (glass), and back, so there is only one joint visible when the SR case is carefully looked at. This style was made by many watch case companies such as Crescent (Crescent Watch Case Co.), Illinois (Illinois Watch Case Co.) and the Keystone Watch Case Co. in Silveroid, or Gold-Filled (the other companies' swing-ring cases were also available in gold-filled styles).
The swing ring case style continued to be offered into the late 1920s, such as from the South Bend Watch Co.as seen in the page from a 1928 South Bend Studebaker Catalog, hosted on the South Bend Website.
Single Joint CasesThe "Single Joint" case, occasionally referred to as a Clamshell case, is a form of the swing ring case. This is an open-face case, designed to hold a movement with the winding stem at the 12 o'clock position. Its bezel, which is the ring around the dial that holds the crystal (glass), hinges open in a manner similar to the hinge back & bezel style case. The pendant, with its crown and bow (the loop to which the watch chain or strap is affixed) is attached to an inner ring which holds the movement. The inner ring is hinged to the back, normally at the 9 o'clock position.
Snap Back CasesSmaller pocket watches, and some inexpensive larger watches, are frequently mounted in cases whose back and bezel, which is the ring around the dial that holds the crystal (glass), simply snap on (and off). These are open-face cases, designed to hold movements with the winding stem at the 12 o'clock position. Display cases, also called salesmen's cases, are those with crystals on both sides of the watch. They too are frequently snap back and bezel cases. All but the cheapest larger snap back cases appear the same as hinge back & bezel style cases in that they'll have a small lip and can be opened in the same manner as a hinge back & bezel style case. Smaller snap back cases, usually those having art deco designs wherein the case is not circular, will have a groove into which a fingernail can be inserted with which to snap the back open with hinge back & bezel style case.
Display CasesDisplay cases, also referred to as saleman's cases, are those that have a crystal on both the front and the back. Most were used at the wholesale or retail level to house movements, allowing the backs to be seen. These were most typically nickel cases with snap bezels. Some of them, not intended to be carried, lack provision for a bow. Quite a few carry the watch manufacturers' names on the bezels. A smaller proportion of display cases were intended for consumer use and were marketed as such.
A few display cases were made out of "normal" cases by a local jeweler who cut a disk out of the back and fit a crystal. A number of screw back and bezel display cases have been created by collectors/dealers who fit a bezel from a second case to the center ring and front bezel of a "normal" case.
What is the purpose of a double-back on a case?Larger size hinged back & bezel and hunting-cases frequently have an inner back, properly referred to as the "Cuvette." Also, very few screw back & bezel cases (mostly made by the North American Watch Co. in the mid-1920s) have a cuvette. In the pendant-wind era, this was a matter of custom and style. The reason for the cuvette's existence goes back to the days of keywind watches. Since the back of the watch case had to be opened each day in order for the watch to be wound, the cuvette protected the movement from damage by a mis-aimed winding key. It also served to somewhat resist the exposure of the movement to dust and dirt during winding. After pendant winding systems became the norm, the use of the cuvette hung on for decades.
Convertible CasesA convertible case is one which converts from hunting to open face whenever the owner chooses to do so. All the components are integral to the case and everything just hinges or swivels around. "The Climax Watch Case" or Muckle case was a patented design case of the 1880s. A similar, later design was patented around 1903, was called the "Mystic Case."
Categories: Category Pocket watch cases