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  1. #11
    Member radger's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Quote Originally Posted by sherwoodschwartz View Post
    interesting. it was my impression that time-keeping ability wasn't one of the stipulations of the geneva seal. so, with this in mind, i have always found it an over-rated standard. i'd be interested in counter-points.
    It is a quality assurance, pure and simple.
    No one ever mentioned timekeeping ability as being a stipulation.

    Ah 'overated' standard? Maybe if you are coming only from the point of view that quality is irrelevent
    to function. After all a Chippendale chest of drawers will do the same job as a MDF chest of drawers from
    MFI or Ikea.
    Last edited by radger; September 8th, 2012 at 12:01.

  2. #12
    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Its important to remember that all those "standards", whether it's the Kew certificiate, COSC standard, or "Railroad standard", existed largely as marketing gimmicks to help sell watches to the common folk who didn't really understand the difference between geneva stripes and engine turned damasking. The watch makers were primarily focused on selling watches (of any type); the only significance to the "higher quality" watches was that they tended to have a higher margin. That, itself, tells you something. The railroad standard was one of the "better" standards in that there was an understandable logic behind them, and a well-understand sense of liability. If a watch worn by an engineer wasn't accurate enough, the consequences could be dire. That gave the railroad standards a degree of consumer appeal that things like observatory certification had a hard time matching.
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  3. #13
    NAWCC Forum moderator Ben_hutcherson's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Quote Originally Posted by AbslomRob View Post
    the only significance to the "higher quality" watches was that they tended to have a higher margin.
    Everything I've seen and read seems to indicate that at the extreme high end, quite the opposite was true.

    High grade American watches were very slow sellers by most accounts. Waltham made fewer than 1000 "American Watch Company" '72 models from the mid-1870s up through the 1880s, and still had a significant number of these in stock after 1900.

    Everything I've seen seems to indicate the American makers had very slim margins on the highest grade watches, and mostly made them as a proof of the fact that they could.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum, witness the fact that Ingersol/Timex continued along quite happily even after most of the other American companies had long since closed.
    Member National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, member NAWCC Ch. 149 Early American Watch Club

    Serious collector of American pocket watches-Waltham(and the predecessor companies) is my specialty.

  4. #14
    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Oh of course, I'm referring to watches that adhered to (and marketed) the various standards that have come and gone over the years. I'm sure, for instance, that most of the American Watch Company watches would have qualified under the "railroad standards", but I doubt that was ever a design criteria for them. At the very high end, the goal is simply to have the watches exist almost as a status reference, not as a revenue stream. It wouldn't surprise me to find that many of those "high end" watches ended up as gifts for notable clients, and provided no revenue at all.

    As for the notion of "Ingersol/Timex" continuing on quite happily, those companies existed on a very thin margin, and survived by volume alone. In some respects, their low-quality was to their benefit, as the watches would typically not last very long in regular use, and so gave them a level of repeat-sales.
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  5. #15
    Member radger's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Quote Originally Posted by AbslomRob View Post
    Its important to remember that all those "standards", whether it's the Kew certificiate, COSC standard, or "Railroad standard", existed largely as marketing gimmicks to help sell watches to the common folk who didn't really understand the difference between geneva stripes and engine turned damasking. The watch makers were primarily focused on selling watches (of any type); the only significance to the "higher quality" watches was that they tended to have a higher margin. That, itself, tells you something. The railroad standard was one of the "better" standards in that there was an understandable logic behind them, and a well-understand sense of liability. If a watch worn by an engineer wasn't accurate enough, the consequences could be dire. That gave the railroad standards a degree of consumer appeal that things like observatory certification had a hard time matching.
    I have to disagree that observatory chronometry standards and testing was just 'largely a marketing gimmick' and had less consumer
    appeal than the U.S RR standard.

    An Observatory Chronometer certificates primary function was to 'guarantee the accuracy of a time piece', consumers who required a very accurate watch to maybe 3 secs a week would look to this standard and purchase watches which passed these standards, they would not look to the RR standard.

    Consumers like just about every government in the world who wished to purchase very accurate watches (and hence very expensive watches) for their Navies and Airforces.
    Pre WW11 even the U.S government had to look to the Continent to supply them with very accurate watches, watches which were over and above the U.S RR standard.

    The need for an accurate watch goes far beyond mere marketing gimmicks and the 'understandable logic' you apply to the R.R standard yet not to
    an Observatory Chronometer doesn't make sense.
    Last edited by radger; September 9th, 2012 at 03:25. Reason: format screwed

  6. #16
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben_hutcherson View Post
    Actually, I'm not so sure that I agree with that. While a lack of a fancy damaskeen pattern certainly does not indicate a lack of quality, there ARE quantifiable and discernible differences between different grades of American watches and in many cases they are an indicator of quality.

    In particular, low grade watches tend to have fairly simple and relatively easily executed patterns.

    Higher grade watches tend to have more complicated and difficult patterns. Furthermore, at least on better grade Walthams of the 1870s through 1890s, the patterns are essentially unique on each individual example. On some particular watches, especially the 1872 and 1888 model "American Watch Company" grades, there are differences in the pattern on every example. I collect 1883 model "Crescent St" grades(I'm up to 10 of them now) for this very reason. I have been told that the rose engines employed in the damaskeen department required a master to operate, and that the artists were given a good deal of freedom as to what they did with them.

    Furthermore, American watches tend to have the pattern spread out over multiple plates, and on many high grade watches(especially the top grades of the 1872 model) the pattern is also carried over to the pillar plate. I'm told that it required a great amount of skill to get perfect registration of the pattern across multiple plates, and higher grade watches tend to do this.

    At the end of the day, damaskeening adds about as much to the timekeeping ability of a watch as do chamfered plate edges, and as I explained above, can allow the maker to show their skill.
    I can see by your description of the process, the skill and artistry required to produce these unique Damaskeen patterns.
    Do you know if this was all down to the skill of the rose engine operator or did the manufacturers have in house graphic designers sending down these
    Damaskeen patterns to the operators on a daily basis.

    I can see how this uniqueness in individual watches of the same cal appeals to collectors and it definately adds interest to the subject, I used
    to collect postage stamps I understand these things.

  7. #17
    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Your concept of "consumer" is a bit broader then I had intended; I wouldn't consider Governments to be "consumers"; customers yes, consumers no. There was definitely a market for extremely precise movements, same as there was for extremely high-quality watches. Both markets are, however, extremely small. The role of the observatory certificates for that small market is, unsurprisingly, rather important. However, all of this means very little to the guy on the street looking to buy a watch. The fact that a company was capable of making extremely accurate watches doesn't in any way imply that the watch <<I>> buy from that same company is going to be any better or worse then one made by any other company. That doesn't (and didn't) prevent companies from touting this ability in their sales and marketing. The cuvette's of many early 20th century watches were often covered with competition medals; there weren't doing that for fun, or even pride. They did that because they wanted the consumer to associate their brand with watchmaking excellence, and the observatory trials were to the watch industry what the professional racing circuits are to cars.
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  8. #18
    Member radger's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Quote Originally Posted by AbslomRob View Post
    Your concept of "consumer" is a bit broader then I had intended; I wouldn't consider Governments to be "consumers"; customers yes, consumers no. There was definitely a market for extremely precise movements, same as there was for extremely high-quality watches. Both markets are, however, extremely small. The role of the observatory certificates for that small market is, unsurprisingly, rather important. However, all of this means very little to the guy on the street looking to buy a watch. The fact that a company was capable of making extremely accurate watches doesn't in any way imply that the watch <<I>> buy from that same company is going to be any better or worse then one made by any other company. That doesn't (and didn't) prevent companies from touting this ability in their sales and marketing. The cuvette's of many early 20th century watches were often covered with competition medals; there weren't doing that for fun, or even pride. They did that because they wanted the consumer to associate their brand with watchmaking excellence, and the observatory trials were to the watch industry what the professional racing circuits are to cars.
    So what are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Surely Horological excellence in a hard and fast physical form such as a pocket watch is self evident and even more so when backed
    up with certification of standards, be it Geneva Seal, Observatory or R.R standard.

    You argue that the marketeers have been fooling us all, maybe they have, or maybe only some of us.

  9. #19
    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    The OP's question was a bit vague and maybe I'm interpreting it wrong, but my sense is that they're asking about the best pocket watch makers. And my point is that it depends. A watch that has an observatory certificate is clearly a good watch. Even the modern COSC certification, as watered down as it is, still tells you that the movement was a good movement. But that only tells you about that watch. It doesn't necessarily tell you about the non-certified watches from the same company. Some brands (like Patek) have always focused on higher-quality, so it's easy to point to them and say "high quality". Waltham, on the other hand, made a range of products from cheap, simply finished 7j watches to exquisitely finished and high precision Observatory Certified watches. That means that you can't just pick up a Waltham and say "That's a good watch". The same is true of most American companies. In fact, that's true of most watch companies period, but the Swiss have this knack for re-inventing themselves. Omega is the most notable; back in the early 20th century, they were the same as any of the American companies in terms of the range of products they offered. But to the modern consumer, there's this implicit belief that if it says "Omega", it must be high quality. Rolex went through an early phase of offering lower-quality watches, but nowadays even their 2nd tier brands go for a premium.
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  10. #20
    Member georges zaslavsky's Avatar
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    Re: What are the best vintage pocket watches?

    Omega and Zenith had observatory chronometer grades in some of their pocket chronometers. Jaeger Le Coultre, Longines and IWC have also made some extremely fine calibers
    Omega the sign of Excellence since 1848. Jaeger Le Coultre Horlogerie de Luxe depuis 1833
    22 times Olympic games timekeeper, Nasa watch supplier and holder of several world records of precision, Omega has the world's trust
    Omega and Rolex for ever
    Eterna Nothing but Watchmaking since 1856
    Zenith Swiss Watchmaking and Chronometry champion since 1865

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