Pocket Watch Dials

Dial Manufacture

The the methods and economics of dial manufacturing are discussed in both 1889 and 1893 articles entitled "Modern Watch Dials" and "The Manufacture of Watch Dials in America" (you'll have to copy and enlarge the 1893 article to read it). While pointing out that one large, efficient dial factory could meet the entire needs of the American watch industry, the latter article admits that there were numerous small dial companies, perhaps like the Suffolk Dial and Enameling Co. (whose Sag Harbor home was in Suffolk County on NY's Long Island), in addition to those operations run by the largest watch factories. The Illinois Watch Company was one these; fortune the dial making process was captured in a 1922 film entitled "The Making of a Watch" The dial making process appears around minute 33.


By the mid-1860's, American dial construction began to get complex. Double sunk dials originated at the United States Watch Company, Marion New Jersey, 1866 and soon thereafter by the New York Watch Co. Pieced dials were held together by additional materials, other than lead, while most enamel dials that began to be built of two or more major pieces were soldered together to create multi-level dials:


A flat dial is simply a flat disk of one level. It is used on smaller watches and inexpensive larger watches. Less expensive, third-party, fancy, hand-painted dials were made this way. Also, an inexpensive line of replacement dials produced in the late 1970's or early 1980's were flat dials.


A single-pressed dial is one that is made of a single flat metal disk that has been stamped in a press to create the lower level for the seconds hand. The dial then has the enamel applied and is fired. It can be distinguished from a single-sunk dial (below) by the lack of a sharp transition, or edge, where the level changes. Although a few were supplied as original equipment on some watches, the larger number of single-pressed dials are replacements. Some of these, usually third-party, fancy, hand-painted dials, were put on when the watch was first purchased from the jeweler. Most were inexpensive third-party replacements added decades later.


A single-sunk, or sunk-seconds, dial, is one whose seconds bit (dial) is a separate enameled disk . It is soldered (or otherwise fastened) into a matching hole, at a lower level, that has been cut, or ground, into a previously fired enamel dial. The main purpose of doing this is to position the second hand lower to ensure that the hour hand clears it. It is often used on smaller or less expensive watches. Since single-sunk dials tend to be less subject to cracks than the more expensive double-sunk dials, they were sometimes used on watches where durability was desired. One example of this is the vast majority of Ball Watch Co. watches that were furnished with single-sunk dials. Perhaps because of the increased durability, or maybe as part of the process of value engineering a product, single-sunk dials were widely applied to Elgin watches, starting in the mid-to-late 1920's. As an example, the Elgin Watch Co. started furnishing single-sunk dials on its B.W. Raymond grade watch in 1923 (at which time, it became Elgin's only grade of railroad watch) and was still doing so about 35 years later at the end of its pocket watch production in the 1950s.


Like single-pressed dials, double-pressed dials are made of a single flat metal disk that have been stamped in a press to create the lower levels for the center and the seconds hand. The dials then have the enamel applied and are fired. They can be distinguished from double-sunk dials (below) by the lack of sharp transitions, or edges, where the levels change. A moderate number of double-pressed dials were furnished on higher grade watches by the Seth Thomas Clock Co. and perhaps others. It is difficult to distinguish between the original dials and the high quality double-pressed replacement dials that began appearing in the late 1990's. A good rule-of-thumb is that, until the late-1920's, the vast majority of railroad standard watches (except for those sold by the Ball Watch Co.) were furnished with double-sunk dials, not double-pressed.


Pressed-center dials are of similar construction to double-pressed dials, except that the area of the seconds bit is ground out and separately-fired seconds bit is soldered in place.

Ground Center

Ground center dials are single-sunk dials (also referred to as sunk seconds dials) whose center has been ground down to a level approximately half way between the surface of the hour chapter and that of the seconds bit (dial). This process leaves a matte finish in the center of the dial. Waltham furnished a moderate number of these dials.


Double-sunk dials are considered to be the highest quality dials and were furnished on most of the higher grade American watches. This is a dial whose entire center section has been ground (cut) out and replaced by a thinner, enameled disk that creates a lower level when soldered into place. This assembly then has an appropriate hole ground (cut) out for an even thinner seconds bit (dial) that is also soldered in place at a second, lower level. The edges, joints, where the parts (different levels) come together are sharp and well-defined. It can be readily seen that the dial is made of three different pieces.


Some watches have an additional hand and scale for a winding indicator, a dial that displays the number of hours since the watch was last wound. When a double-sunk dial has a hole cut out for the addition of a winding indicator dial (which would be at the same level as the seconds dial) it is sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as a triple-sunk dial.

Inner Circle

A moderate number of dials had a sunk seconds bit and a black circle, imitating a sunk center, fired into the enamel to give the impression of being a double-sunk dial. These are referred to as inner circle dials. Examples of these are on some watches built in the 1890s, the late 1930s and, WWII and post WWII railroad standard watches made by Elgin and Waltham.



Huge numbers of dials are enamel, fired onto copper. These may be cut and soldered into different levels as described above.


With one major exception (see below), metal dials were used to impart a certain style or elegance to a watch. These dials, typically finished in gold-filled or silver, tended to appear in conjunction with more heavily styled cases. Although some had the hour figures painted on the dial, others had enamel hour figures fired onto the dial, and a large number had hour figures of a different color metal soldered on to the dial. A popular replacement dial, perhaps of the 1950's, had a gold finish with black painted numbers. These are frequently seen on hunting-case watches that have been converted for use in an open face case, (like this example).

Silver-Finished Dials

Silver-finished dials were promoted for railroad use starting around 1909 for Elgin and 1910 for Waltham. They may well have been accepted for such use in the teens and twenties, although time service documents that mention silvered dials one way or another have yet to be brought to light. There seem to be enough surviving examples that appear to be original to a watch to support this thinking. However, judging from the lack of very large quantities being found that seem to be original to standard watches, although they're not uncommon, silver-finished dials may not have been very popular, or may have been actively discouraged for railroad use, if not actually prohibited.

Although it is not supported by any documentation available to date - its believed by some that many of the silver-finished dials now on railroad standard watches are the ones that were left over in stock after all of the enamel Arabic dials got used as replacements over the last sixty years. In 1935, silver-finished dials appeared in a Hamilton Material Catalog; 18-size No. 529 and 16-size No. 502M (top and second row right, respectively). It not clear how late these dials were available, but they were still being listed in a 1947 Hamilton Material Catalog. The line of thinking (which may be incorrect) is that the better it looks, the less likely it is to have been original to the movement, or the more likely that it has been refinished. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that some percentage of silver-finished dials are original to the watches, are in original top condition and that some were undoubtedly used in railroad time service.

Radium Dials

Radium dials have an outstanding feature - they glow in the dark without having to have been previously exposed to a light source. These dials started being made in the 'teens. The dials themselves weren't radium, but the hour figures, hour marks (and perhaps all of the minute marks), along with the hands, were painted with a compound containing radium. The advantages are immediately obvious and were heavily promoted, not only by the watch companies, but by at least one supplier, the Radium Dial Co. Versions of the material were even sold (to the trade) for aftermarket use, and there was also a service to which a watch could be sent out for dial/hand conversion (you've got to love their trade mark). The feature of luminous dials and hands was valued by the military and had wide appeal for civilian use.

Although occasionally promoted for Railroad Time Service, radium dials were not accepted (for example - see 1946 Union Pacific rules, section 41) due to the possibility (one might say likelihood) of the paint flaking off and getting into the movement. In judging the benefit of more easily reading the time against the need for a standard watch to be as reliable as possible, reliability was deemed to be more important.

The hazards of using radium weren't recognized at the time and health issues took a decade or more to be understood. Collectors should use care in opening watches having radium dials.opening watches having radium dials. For more information, see: "In-Depth Luminous Dials, What Makes Them Glow, And How To Spot Their Differences" by Jack Forster,, Radium Dials by Roger Russell and The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (see References).


There are two main types of mounting means of dials on American watches.

Dial Feet

The most common, and more modern, mounting means utilizes three dial feet, although occasionally there may be two or four. Dial feet are small, cylindrical posts soldered perpendicular to the back of the dial. They fit into mating holes in the movement, most being held in place by tiny set screws in the rim of the movement. Earlier movements may have their dials pinned in place by the use of taper pins set into holes in the dial feet. Less frequently, prior to the widespread use of set screws, other means have been used to secure the dial feet to the movement.


A snap-on dial is shaped like a very shallow, circular cake pan. The "sides" of the pan literally "snap" onto the rim of the watch. Keystone-Howard's value-engineered, Series 11 Railroad Chronometer is one of the best known examples of watches using this dial type.



Arabic dials are just that - dials which have Arabic numerals for the hour figures. Frequently, the figure '6' is obliterated by the seconds bit. Although Roman dials were still accepted for use on railroad watches well into the first decade of the twentieth century (notably on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway), Arabic dials became universally required as the twentieth century progressed.

Roman Dials

Roman dials, as the name suggests, use Roman numerals for the hour figures. Frequently, the figure '6' is obliterated by the seconds bit. Nearly all Roman pocket watch dials (and clock dials as well) use 'IIII' rather than 'IV' for the 4th hour figure. The reason for doing so is lost in antiquity, but possible reasons are talked about in the online discussion Roman IIII vs. IV on Clock Dials. Since watches started out as small clocks, whatever reasons for using 'IIII' on clock dials applied to watch dials as well.

Contrary to popular belief, Roman dials were accepted for railroad time service on some roads at least as late as 1906. The following clearly indicates that Roman dials were accepted on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) at that time.
Rule 4 - Fancy dials or those other than regular factory product, vis.: plain Arabic or Roman figures or the Company's standard dial are prohibited.

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, 1906 rules
Note: This was the road for which Henry S. Montgomery was the General Watch and Clock Inspector and the "Company's standard dial" referred to in the rule was Montgomery's marginal minute dial.

Five Minute Track

Prior to the 1920s, it was common of dials to have every Fifth Minute Numbered in the outer margin of the dial. This is referred to as a five minute track, frequently abbreviated as "5MT." The commonest color for the five minute track is red, giving rise to the abbreviation of R5MT, although black was used (Blk5MT) and, occasionally, blue (Blu5MT).

Railroad Dials

There are many types of Railroad Dials, but they all share two common features. Each hour is numbered (except on many dials, the 6th hour is obliterated by the seconds bit) and each minute is delineated. A detailed article on railroad dials appears the August 1999 issue of the NAWCC Bulletin (see References, below).

Marginal Minute Dials

Marginal minute dials are those dials having each minute numbered in a ring of minute figures next to the marks delineating the minutes. These dials have those minute numbers out in the dial's margin, hence the term, marginal minute dials. There are many different designs of marginal minute dials, the most popular being the Montgomery Dial, also known as the Montgomery Safety Numerical Dial. Watch companies developed their own, sometimes distinctive, designs of marginal minute dials, such as the one used and promoted by the E. Howard Watch Co.

Robert Sweet and, later, Jeff Hess uncovered a patent awarded to H.S. Montgomery in 1920 for a "Safety First" marginal minute dial. It's not known if this was actually intended to be used (certainly not of a watch in railroad time service), or if it was just a promotional item. To date, no examples of this dial have appeared. "Safety First" was a major theme of railroad safety programs, initiated on the C&NW in 1910 and emulated elsewhere, such as an Erie Railroad program and the description of a New York Central program. The theme was also used by Webb C. Ball in promoting a series of meetings with various railroads' inspectors, held during the 'teens.

Montgomery Dials

Henry S. Montgomery was the General Watch and Clock Inspector of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) from 1896 to 1923. During the first decade of the twentieth century he patented a marginal minute dial that had three distinctive features. The patent has been lost, but the features of a true Montgomery Dial are known from Montgomerys writings. First, the marginal minute numbers were all upright, as opposed to radial numbers which were used on other dial designs. Second, the five minute numbers were slightly larger than the other minute numbers. Frequently, the five minute numbers are red, whereas the remainder are black. However, its not known if the five minute numbers being red was a patented feature. Finally, the sixth hour figure is included, contained within the seconds bit. The sixth hour figure is generally unusual amongst pocket watch dials.

It is known that Montgomery's marginal minute dial appeared on Santa Fe Railway Clocks in 1900 and was subsequently applied to a variety of clocks. A notice in the Jewelers' Circular, posted by Robert Sweet, shows that Montgomery's dial was in use on watches accepted for railroad time service on the Santa Fe in late 1899. By 1906, it was being referred to as the AT&SF's standard dial, as evidenced by this extract:

Rule 4 - Fancy dials or those other than regular factory product, vis.: plain Arabic or Roman figures or the Company's standard dial are prohibited.
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, 1906 rules

Note: The "Company's standard dial" that the rule referred to was Montgomery's marginal minute dial.

Nevertheless, it didn't seem to be promoted for use on the railroad watch until 1909-1910 (based on ads by the major watch companies advertising their availability around that time). A 1910 Elgin ad proclaimed the availability of This New Minute Numerical Dial (Montgomery Patent), while a 1910 Hamilton Watch Co. ad stated that, "Hamilton Watches furnished with Montgomery Safety Numerical Dial when desired."

Also, it was in 1910 that Ball launched his campaign against the Montgomery dial (and Ferguson and other dials), but this is another story (see below). By 1911, Illinois was offering Montgomery's dial. The dial was also advertised by the Montgomery Safety Dial Co. (whose ad was discovered and first posted by Robert Sweet). In 1912, Hamilton was furnishing the Montgomery Numerical Dial, "without extra charge," on any one of their railroad standard watches. Hamilton continued using the Montgomery Safety Dial Co.'s advertising slogan (in an ad discovered and first posted by Robert Sweet), "It almost speaks the time." for at least another eight years, as shown by a June 1919 ad. The South Bend Watch Co. also offered a Montgomery dial as dial No. 314 on page 46 of a 1914 South Bend catalog.

Some watch companies also offered Montgomery dials on their 12-size watches, such as seen in this 1912 Hamilton ad, posted by Robert Sweet.

Probably all other watch companies offered some form of marginal minute dials, but a number of them changed one aspect or another from Montgomery's patented design, perhaps as some have said, to avoid paying royalties. Even companies which had previously supplied correct Montgomery dials switched to an altered, non-Montgomery, marginal minute dial. One example is Elgin, whose "Minute Numeral Dial" appears to have been retrofitted onto a grade No. 349 movement dating to about 1909. South Bend had an example shown as dial No. 514 (erroneously identified as a Montgomery dial) on page 28 of a 1917 South Bend catalog containing a 1920 price list. Both of these dials lack the hour figure 6, a key Montgomery feature.

The following is quoted from 'Webb C. Ball vs. Henry S. Montgomery "... a species of delirium",' Larry Treiman, NAWCC Bulletin No. 180, February 1976, pp. 47-55 (available online only to NAWCC members).

Mr. Treiman discussed being in contact with Miss Ethel L. May, who had worked for H.S. Montgomery at the Santa Fe Railway Time Service Department, starting in late 1917 or early 1918. She also handled some of the duties of the Montgomery Dial Company, which had existed at that time.

She reported that:

"... the Montgomery Numerical Dial (with upright minute figures numbered from 1 to 60) had been designed primarily by Henry S. Montgomery in the early 1900's and as nearly as could be determined, a patent had been issued to him, possibly sometime in 1907 or 1908."


"A true Montgomery dial must have a 6 figure, which is usually somewhat smaller than the figures for hours 1 to 5 and 7 to 12."


"... the various watch manufacturers paid royalties to the dial company for the dials used on their products, and that from those royalties quarterly dividend checks were issued to the stockholders of the Montgomery Dial Company."

A Montgomery Dial, A Marginal Minute Dial - Or Just A Mistake?

For many decades, the presence of the sixth hour figure in the seconds bit has been considered a requirement for a dial to be considered to be a Montgomery dial. However, in early July 2009, Jeff Hess has called attention to an 18-size dial (mounted on a Hamilton grade No. 940 - serial number 596882) that is marked "Montgomery's Standard Numerical Dial - The Hamilton" and which lacks the sixth hour figure in the seconds bit. Examining the back of the dial, it can be seen to be of three-part construction and it appears to be unaltered.

Just because the dial proclaims itself to be a Montgomery dial, that doesn't make it one. There is no indication who actually produced the dial. Since it is not marked "Montgomery Safety Dial Co.," there's no reason to believe they made it. Use of the name "The Hamilton" suggests it is a dial for a private label watch insofar as Hamilton factory grades bear dials signed either Hamilton, or Hamilton Watch Co.. If Hamilton had produced the dial, one hopes that they would have had the integrity to have made it properly (and pay the royalty to Montgomery).

One possibility originally considered was that it was a factory mistake and that the wrong seconds bit was soldered into the dial 100 years ago. However, the likelihood of this sharply decreased when Jeff Hess reported a second, seemingly identical dial which was mounted on Hamilton grade No. 940 - serial number 1444274. That this dial is in better condition than the one linked to above shows that it is not the same dial that had been switched to a different movement.

Type II Montgomery Dials

The Montgomery dial that is commonly discussed is the one that Henry.S. Montgomery patented in the first decade of the twentieth century (most references say 1906 - but the patent has yet to be found, so the actual date is uncertain). However, Montgomery patented another dial on April 20, 1920 (dial drawing and description posted by Robert Sweet), referred to by collectors as the Type II Montgomery dial. Although it was a marginal minute dial, it was significantly different from previous dials in that the hour figures were de-emphasized in a small circle in the center of the dial while the minute figures were made more prominent. Very few examples are found today, indicating that it was not a very popular dial.

Ferguson Dials

The Ferguson patented dial is one of the most well-known of the after-market, or third-party, dials. Its "look," emphasizing the minutes over the hours, was patented in 1908 by L. B. Ferguson of Monroe, LA. With its large black five-minute numbers and much smaller red hour numbers, there is no mistaking its appearance. Ferguson didn't just sell dials. Using today's terms, he marketed a time display system. With the dials, he also supplied hands; color matched to the minute and hour numbers, that is, a black minute hand and a red hour hand. A 1910 Ferguson ad ambiguously refers to the hand colors while a 1913 distributor's ad is very specific about them. In addition to the standard Ferguson dial, a marginal minute version of the dial was also available (as noted in the 1910 ad). Since the standard Ferguson dial looks crowded to begin with, the marginal minute version really has its numbers squeezed.

Ferguson dials were made under contract. It appears that the early dials were made domestically while the later original dials (as opposed to reproduction dials) were Swiss-made. They were made in both single and double-sunk versions. It seems that single and double-pressed dials were made as well. A pressed dial is a dial whose different levels are created on a single disk of copper that has been formed in a press and then enameled, rather than by being assembled from individual flat pieces of enameled copper, soldered together. Pressed dials, or ground center dials, were also used by some American manufacturers as a lower priced alternative to double-sunk dials.

There is no question that the Ferguson dial accomplished its goal-calling attention to the minute, not the hour. However, it was characterized as a "freak dial" by Ball at the same time he derided the marginal minute dial (see below). Regarding this dial, some agree with Ball. It is akin to today's speed-typing (as opposed to "qwerty") keyboards. Although one can get used to it and achieve superior results - recognizing the minutes faster - it flies in the face of convention. And, although every comprehensive collection of railroad watches ought to contain at least one example of a Ferguson dial, some collectors think that they sure are ugly.

Ball's Aversion to Montgomery and Ferguson Dials

Webb C. Ball, the founder of the Ball Watch Company did not like the Montgomery dial nor other dials, particularly the Ferguson dial, that did not have just plain black numbers on a white background. Ball's aversion to Montgomery and Ferguson dials can be traced back to at least February 15, 1910. That is the date of a Ball Railroad Time Service circular to the "Local Watch Inspectors" of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway (the Rock Island Line). In that document Ball stated:

Watches having dials with confusing figures spread all over them and around the edge are impractical for Railroad Service, and this will be your authority to rule out any "New Standard Watch" with such dial, when presented for inspection, after this date.

The attached sheet for your guidance illustrates some of the dials above referred to.
Note: The attached sheet had pictures of three dials - a Montgomery dial, a radial marginal minute dial (such as used on Keystone-Howard watches) and a Ferguson marginal minute dial

The complete document (courtesy Bob Schroeder) can also be seen on pages 780-781 of the December 2002 issue of the NAWCC Bulletin.

In 1920, Ball gave a presentation to the Steam Railroad Section of the ninth annual congress of the National Safety Council on the subject of suitable watch dials in which he stated:
Another very important factor of safety is the dial, that part of the watch which quickly and surely reveals the correct time to the engineer, the conductor and other trainmen. As this information is often required at night when lights are dim and obscure, it is needless to emphasize the importance of dials that give the hour and minute without any confusion of fantastic figures or freakish designs.

"Annual Meeting of the National Safety Council," Railway Age, October 8, 1920, page 617.

Writing to the editors of Railway Age, following the report of Ball's presentation in that publication, Montgomery pointed out that the management of the Rock Island Line made Ball retract the above mentioned circular and to allow Montgomery dials.
("The Montgomery Safety Watch-Dial," Railway Age, November 5, 1920, page 784).

For more on this, see: 'Webb C. Ball vs. Henry S. Montgomery "... a species of delirium",' Larry Treiman, NAWCC Bulletin No. 180, February 1976, pp. 47-55 (available online only to NAWCC members).

The disagreement came to an end after Webb C. Ball's passing, on March 8, 1922. Three years later, Ball Railroad Time Service Circular #177 was issued, formally stating that "... we take occasion to advise that no objection has been made to the Montgomery dial for some years." The circular was signed by Webb C. Ball's son (who had taken over the running of the Ball businesses long before Webb C. Ball's demise), Sidney Y. Ball, General Time Inspector. Nevertheless, it seemed to be some years before Ball Official RR Standard watches appeared with Montgomery dials.

The watch companies tried to avoid the controversy. On the one hand, the Ball companies held the contracts for railroad time service inspection on about half of the railroads in the country (so Ball claimed) and had a large sales and distribution network for the marketing of railroad standard watches. One the other hand, the Montgomery dial (patented and promoted by the Henry S. Montgomery, General Watch and Clock Inspector of one of the largest railroads in the country, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway - the AT&SF) was popular on railroads in the southwest and. perhaps to a lesser extent, elsewhere. The solution was to tailor their advertising and promotion to suit their customers.

Elgin ran ads in the nationally distributed brotherhood journals promoting their No. 49 dial (available in both an enamel or silver finish) that was just as Ball described. But similar (almost identical) ads in localized railroad employe magazines of those roads upon which the Montgomery dial was widely accepted, especially that of the AT&SF, promoted the (Montgomery Patent) Minute Numerical Dial. Hamilton did the same thing, promoting a double-sunk, Arabic numeral dial in the Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen's Magazine while simultaneously running nearly identical ads showing the Montgomery dial in the Santa Fe Employes' Magazine.

Box Car Dials

In 1925, Ball introduced a new Official RR Standard dial referred to as the Box Car dial. It had plain, sans-serif, heavy hour figures making the dial extremely easy to read. Waltham offered a similar dial, No. 1608, also calling it a Box Car dial. Ball was about ten years ahead of Waltham in offering the Box Car dial, but both firms used the term. Elgin, who had introduced a sans-serif dial in 1923, came out with a heavier version in the 1930s, referring to the style as a Heavy Arabic dial. Hamilton had a similar style, calling it the Heavy Gothic dial.

Canadian Dials

Dials containing an inner ring of 13-24 Hour Figures were (and still are) referred to as "Canadian Dials" due to Canadian railways going to a “twenty-four hour system” as noted in a CPR June 10, 1886 circular (thanks to Nick23, we can see his Waltham model 1874, serial number 1994499, bearing the described sticker, or one similar to it). Such dials were widely used in Canada, as exemplified by this excerpt from a 1914 D.E. Black catalog page and this from a 1953 Eaton catalog.

One interesting version of the Canadian dial has 1-60 marginal minute numbers as shown on the Longines standard watches illustrated in the upper right-hand corner of the 1914 D.E. Black catalog page linked to above. Other examples are this, mounted on Waltham Grade No. 845, serial number 18,106,736 (courtesy of Antarctic Jamie) and the dial on 23-Jewel Waltham Vanguard, serial number 16,187,957 (courtesy of StanJS). Since Montgomery's dial patent is lost and since there is no documentation showing that Montgomery actually described a dial having its minutes numbered and having an inner ring of 13-24 hour figures, it is not quite correct to refer to these dials as Montgomery dials. Their proper description would be Canadian marginal minute dials.

In later days, we have this report on Canadian practice:
It was in 1969 that CP Rail established 24-hour time as standard, system wide. At that time, all standard clocks used in CP divisional points and way stations were converted to uniform 24-hour dials. My understanding is that, prior to '69, CP east of the Manitoba, Ontario border used 12-hour time, while CP west of that border used 24-hour time. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, all railroad approved watches in Canada have had 24-hour dials.
Courtesy Doug Sinclair, posted on NAWCC Pocket Watch Message Board 23-May-05

Later still, we have this quote from C.P. Rail rules:

C.P. Rail
Calgary, Alberta
December 9, 1982

File 035
Bulletin No. 384

Railway Grade Watches
1.7 Watch movements and cases used in service must be of the approved standard in effect at date of entry. All watches entering service must be of the antimagnetic type, fitted with 24 hour dial, waterproof, shockproof with stainless steel screw-back case and equipped with tension ring crystal. Cases with gold plating on stainless steel and stainless steel with gold top are permissible.

Employees operating in two time zones must have their railway grade watches equipped with double hour hands, one red and one black to reflect both time zones.
Courtesy Larry Buchan

By the end of the pocket watch era, after wrist watches were accepted into railway time service, the Canadian National Railway devised a dial that, properly, put a 0 In Place of the 12 and the 12 where the 24 was located. A pocket watch version of this dial has yet to come to light.

Despite being referred to as a Canadian dial, this style of dial was also used in Mexico, as shown in a 1973 Calendar print (courtesy Larry Treiman), and on some U.S. railroads as well. One such example is the Union Pacific Railway which switched to 24-hour schedules in the late 1880s (although this didn't seem to stay in effect for very long).

Also, single-sunk dials bearing an inner ring of 13-24 hour figures were furnished on 992Bs supplied to the military for use by U.S. Army railway battalions in Europe during WWII. These movements were marked "U.S. Govt" and were fit into chrome-plated, base metal, Keystone Watch Case Co., screw-back-and-bezel cases bearing military and government contract markings on the back.

Moorhouse Dials

Fancy Dials

Fancy dials are those multi-colored, hand-painted dials, frequently having light pink or light blue hour figures or designs with gold accents. Other fancy dials, had scenes, or subjects, such as horse racing, painted in the center. They were available from the watch manufacturers, or from third-party suppliers. Examples may be seen in a December 2010 message board thread. Still more examples are posted in a thread on Fancy Illinois Dials started in May 2008. The decorations; and hour, minute and second figures; of many fancy dials are fired into the dial and are usually under a top layer of clear glaze. This makes the artwork permanent, not subject to loss during cleaning. However, some dials have decorations that are just printed on the top layer of glaze and can be damaged easily. Thus, care should be taken in cleaning.

Dial Images: Photo and Hand-Painted

Photo and hand-painted dial images are discussed in some detail in the Images on Cases or Dials Encyclopedia article.

Runic Dials

Runic dials are special-ordered dials in which letters, usually an owners name, appears in place of the hour figures. An example is shown in a NAWCC Message Board thread started by Tom McIntyre. Other examples appear in Message Board posts by Greg Frauenhoff and Piers Lawrence. Runic dials are seen from time to time but are not all that common. There is some collector interest in runic dials, but seemingly not enough to justify a large premium, unless the name itself is historically significant.

Private Label Dials

Private label dials are discussed in the Private Label Watch Encyclopedia article.

Conversion Dials

With rare exceptions, stem-wind watches were made with their stems at the 12 o'clock position to fit in open-face cases and at 3 o'clock for use in hunting-cases. When a watch is not cased as intended, the resulting orientation of the stem to the numbers and/or the seconds bit is awkward. A "conversion dial" is used in order to place a hunting-case movement in an open-face case and have the winding stem at the hour figure '12.' The configuration places the seconds bit at the 3 o'clock position and works to smooth over the stem-hour figure position mismatch. This 16-Size example was made by the Hampden Watch Co. for its model 2, grade No. 107 movement. Another example is an E. Howard & Co. conversion dial (posted by Clint Geller). Conversion dials were available from both the watch companies and from third party suppliers. Even the modest Waltham 0-size, 7-jewel, Seaside hunting movement could be fitted with a factory conversion dial (posted by orlimarko). Such dials were occasionally used in railroad time service to allow otherwise suitable hunting-case movements to be placed in open-face cases and meet the typical requirement "All watches put up in open-face cases must wind at figure 12, except such open-face watches as have heretofore passed inspection." The dial on this Waltham 18-size, model 92, Crescent St. hunting movement serves as an example of a hunting movement in an open-face case, bearing a conversion dial to comply with the rule. The rule quoted above is from Webb C. Ball's 1906 rules for a division of the Pennsylvania Rail Road, at the bottom of Section 3. Similar wording can be found in rules from across the country and over the years. A later example appears at the bottom of Section 4 of the USRA-NYC Instructions to Local Watch Inspectors, April 1, 1919.

Very occasionally, a different version of a "conversion dial" is used to place an open-face movement in a hunting case and have the stem located at the hour figure 3 that is convenient for movements in such a case. On these dials, the seconds bit ends up at the 9 o'clock position, as seen by the Elgin example in this Message Board thread posted by PhilDev, or the Waltham example posted by mikeh.

Replacement and Reproduction Dials

As the supply of original factory pocket watch dials became exhausted, a large number of third party dials were marketed to meet the demand for dials to either modernize the watches or to replace badly damaged dials. As a general rule, these were inexpensive and, since they don't really look very much like original dials, they are easily recognizable. Quite a few show up on watches and New-Old-Stock supplies were widely available in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and may still be around today. Their appearance is exemplified by this conversion dial (posted by BCMontana), and an Illinois conversion dial (posted by Stephen Chen). Collectors tend not to like these dials and their desire to "restore" their watches to "original condition" adds to the demand for remaining original dials and high quality reproduction dials.

Over the years, a large number of reproduction dials have been made. One example of an Illinois replacement dial exhibits a clear red flag to experienced collectors; in addition to the overall strange appearance, Illinois didn't hyphenate the grade name Bunn-Special. For the most part, the quality of these reproduction/replacement dials was considerably below that of the original dials, and they are fairly easy to spot. A number of these were made in Switzerland and marketed by Manny Trauring in the 1980s. Pictures of what may be an example of one of these dials were posted by Dave Coatsworth, although he states that he believes it was brought in by S. LaRose. He may very well be correct, but if so, S. LaRose was selling a much better, double-pressed dial in the late 1980s or early 1990s (see below).

In very recent years, low quality reproductions of fancy dials have been emerging. Their poor appearance really stand out when compared to an original dial posted by Greg Frauenhoff.

A variation of these mass produced reproduction dials are, made-to-order, individual "refinished" dials or "re-created" dials. These dials attempt to mimic the original dial on the movement, but those with a practiced eye can easily spot them.

There is a feeling amongst some collectors that all of the replacement or reproduction dials are "Fakes" and that they hurt the hobby. To some extent, this is true, especially since many can't easily be detected on watches when seen in lower quality pictures at internet sales sites and the seller doesn't mention it. However, they are as valid a replacement part as a mainspring, only that the value of a watch bearing a replacement dial is significantly less than one with a reasonable quality original dial.

High Quality Reproduction Dials

Starting in the late 1980s, and continuing into the early 1990s, a series of high quality (reproduction) dials were imported from Switzerland (and are so marked on their backs), commissioned by S. LaRose. The term "high quality reproduction dials" is used because these are a whole order of magnitude above the earlier, lesser quality reproduction dials that are only single-sunk (or even unsunk) and not as finely finished, so much so that they look crude by comparison. One of these new, higher quality dials is now being marketed by Otto Frei (Illinois, 16 size PWD-5, No.FB-11011). It seems to have been made of a single piece of metal, impressed with double-sunk "look" which is then finished with the base surface, printing and a top gloss layer (these can be referred to as double-pressed dials). The same page also shows an example of an earlier, unsunk Illinois "Bunn-Special" dial (Illinois Bunn-Special, 18 size, No. FB-11009).

On true, original, double-sunk dials, the edges, joints, where the parts (different levels) come together are sharp and well-defined. It can be readily seen that there are three different pieces. However, the edges of the high quality reproduction dials, where the levels come together, are somewhat rounded and less distinct. If you held a high quality reproduction dial side by side to an original double-sunk dial, you'd spot the difference (which is not as easy to see in pictures) in a moment. The only way to duplicate the appearance of the original dial would be to duplicate the process, which would most likely be prohibitively expensive.

However, it should be noted that some companies, Seth Thomas for one, Ferguson for another, used original double-pressed dials. Other companies, such as Waltham, used "ground center dials" on which the center of a single-sunk dial has been ground down to create an intermediate center level (the centers of these have a slight matte appearance). There are other variations created by the watch companies who were trying to make less-expensive, more durable dials (true double sunk dials are more fragile than single-sunk, or double-pressed dials).


Online - Message Board Threads

Fancy Dials

Other Fancy dials appear in thread entitled "O'Hara Dial on not?"

Other Dials threads are compiled in the "Past Pocket Watch threads" posting by Fred Hansen.

Greg Frauenhoff's October, 2020 thread entitled Dials in the 1880s and the transfer process discusses the development of dial lettering during that period.

Online - Articles

American Timekeeper - All About Dials

Back issues of the NAWCC / Watch & Clock Bulletin are available online to NAWCC members who are currently logged in. Back issues are also available to members on loan by mail from the NAWCC Lending Library, using the Lending Library Form.

"Dials: A Treatise On The Subject," Theo. R Schwaim, NAWCC Bulletin No. 276 (February, 1992), pp. 3-19.

"The O'Hara Story - Part 1: Watch Dials," Gerrit Nijssen, NAWCC Bulletin No. 367 (April, 2007), pp. 173-###.

"The O'Hara Story - Part 2: New Products," Gerrit Nijssen, NAWCC Bulletin No. 368 (June, 2007), pp. 265-272.

"E. Howard & Company Watch Dials," Clint B. Geller, NAWCC Bulletin No. 285, August 1993, pp. 387-419.

"Research Activities and News: More Unusual Josiah Moorhouse Dials," Clint B. Geller, NAWCC Bulletin No. 297, August 1995, pp. 516-517.

"Vox Temporis Letters to the Editor: More on Hampden Ball Dials," Clint B. Geller, Watch & Clock Bulletin No. 388, October 2010, pp. 597-598.

"Restoring Dials with Rub-On Decal Material," Jonathan Weber, NAWCC Bulletin No. 365 (December, 2006), pp. 667-670.

"Railroaders' Corner - Dials," Ed Ueberall and Kent Singer, NAWCC Bulletin No. 321, August 1999, pp. 492-503.


The Radium Girls
, Kate Moore, Sourcebooks, Naperville, IL, 2016.

Online - Dial Catalog Sheets And Ads

Waltham, 1910 Silver-Finish Dial, Ad
Waltham, 1936 Mat'l Catalog

Ball, 1917, February - Single-Sunk Dial, Ad
Ball, 1925, October - Box Car Dial, Ad

Elgin, 1909, August - No. 49 Enamel & Silver-Finish Dial, Ad
Elgin, 1910, January 5 - Minute Numeral (Montgomery Patent) Dial, Ad

Hamilton, 1914 - Canadian 24-hour Dial, Catalog
Hamilton, 1915 - Montgomery Dial "Adjusted For Railroad Service", Tucker Catalog
Hamilton, 1919, April - Montgomery Safety Numerical Dial "It almost speaks the time." Ad
Hamilton, 1935 Mat'l Catalog
Hamilton, 1947 Mat'l Catalog

Howard, 1909, November - Marginal Minute Dial, Ad

Illinois, 1911, January 18 - Montgomery's Numerical Dial, Ad
Illinois-Burlington, 1915, April 18 - Radium Dial, Ad

Video Program No. 565: The Story Of A Watch: a 1922 government film from the National Archives of the Illinois Watch Co. (51 min)
This silent, black and white movie was made circa 1922 by the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce (and now filed uder the Bureau of Mines) in cooperation with the Illinois Watch Company. The intricate processes in the manufacture of watch parts and their assembly is shown. Also shown are the instruments in an astronomical observatory used to check the time of master clocks. Views of social and welfare facilities of the watch factory are included. This movie is currently playing in the NAWCC Museum and is also available for viewing online to NAWCC members who are logged in. It is also available on YouTube for those who aren't NAWCC members.

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