Many collectors feel that American watchmaking reached its pinnacle with the invention of the railroad watch. In an effort to meet the stringent and rigorous demands of the railroads, where the incorrect time could and did prove disastrous, American watchmakers were called upon to make a watch that was incredibly reliable and incredibly accurate -- far more so than any watch previously being manufactured. And they met the challenge! Following years of development, by the turn of the 20th century American watch factories were producing pocket watches of unsurpassed quality. Watches that would lose no more than 30 seconds per week. Watches that were specially adjusted to keep accurate time no matter what position in which they were held, and in both cold weather and hot. Watches where all the major wheels were jeweled in order to prevent wear from long hours, days, years and decades of constant use.
The main requirement for a railroad watch was, of course, that it be accurate. Throughout the twenty years from 1890 to 1910, the various railroads' watch standards evolved, demanding more stringent adherence to safety and good timekeeping principles. Although minor local differences remained, they became uniform enough such that the watch companies could build, at reasonable cost, both 18 size, and later 16 size, watches that would be accepted on any railroad. By the 1930's, however, only size 16 watches were approved, and these watches had to also have at least 19 jewels, be lever set, open face and adjusted to five positions, temperature and isochronism [i.e. the watch couldn't gain or lose time as the spring wound down].
Not all watches that were built to meet the railroad standards were actually accepted for service on all railroads. After all, there were local differences and some railroads used official "lists" of approved watches. However, there were instances where even though a certain make and grade watch might not appear on the official list, it was accepted for service by the inspector out in the field. In addition, many pocket watches that were officially approved were actually made to higher specifications than required for a "railroad grade" watch. Many companies produced extra fine railroad watches that had 21-23 jewels [sometimes more!], that were adjusted to six positions instead of just five, and even had extra "wind indicator" dials to let you know how much the watch was currently wound. These watches are especially prized by many collectors as being the absolute best of the best.
-- from The New Collector's Guide to Pocket Watches, © 2000 Barry S. Goldberg
If anybody has some additional information about these watches that they would care to share with me, please send me an e-mail and let me know!
|This is an 18 size, 17 jewel Waltham Model #1883, "Santa Fe Route" Grade. Stem wind and lever set, marked "adjusted". Ca. 1896.|
|Waltham "Vanguard" pocket watch. Size 18, Model 1892. Stem wind and lever set. 23 jewels, adjusted to 5 positions. Housed in a lovely gold-filled hunter case. Ca. 1902.|
|Waltham Model #1899, "Riverside Maximus" pocket watch. 16 size, 23 jewel, stem wind and pendant set, adjusted to temperature and five positions. Nicely engraved gold-filled case. Ca. 1902.|
|Another Waltham "Vanguard" pocket watch. 16 size, Model 1908, stem wind and lever set. Not only does it have has 23 jewels, it also has a rare up-down wind indicator.It's in a gold-filled railroad style case and is ca. 1913.|
|This is a Waltham railroad watch made specifically for the Ball Watch Company. It is size 16, stem wind, lever set, adjusted to 5 positions and has 21 jewels. Ball watches are among the most highly prized railroad approved pocket watches. Ca. 1915.|
|18 Size Hamilton Ball Model #999 with 17 jewels, made by the Hamilton Watch Company specifically for the Ball Watch Company. Stem wind and lever set. Nickel swing-out railroad case. Ca. 1901.|
|18 size, 23 jewel Hamilton "946" railroad grade and railroad approved pocket watch. Stem wind and lever set, adjusted to five positions. Nicely engraved triple-hinged gold-filled case. Ca. 1906.|
|Hamilton "992" railroad grade and approved pocket watch in a factory made Hamilton display case. Size 16, 21 jewels, adjusted to temperature & 5 positions, gold center wheel. Stem wind and lever set. Gorgeous Montgomery dial! Ca. 1911.|
|Another Hamilton "992" railroad grade and approved pocket watch in a "bar-over-crown" railroad style gold filled case. Size 16, 21 jewels, adjusted to temperature & 5 positions, gold center wheel. Stem wind and lever set. Ca. 1929.|
|Illinois "Bunn" railroad grade and approved pocket watch. Size 18, 17 jewels, "adjusted". Stem wind and lever set. "Gothic" style double sunk railroad dial. Marvelous engraving of locomotive on back of case. Ca. 1899.|
|18 size Illinois "Bunn" with 17 jewels. Stem wind, lever set, with lovely two-tone damascening on the movement. Housed in a nice, plain-polished gold-filled case. Ca. 1901.|
|18 Size Illinois "Bunn Special" in a highly engraved solid 14k gold hunter case. Stem wind, lever set, with 24 ruby jewels. Ca. 1900.|
|Illinois "Bunn Special" railroad grade and approved pocket watch in a highly engraved solid 14k gold case. Size 18, 24 ruby jewels, adjusted to temperature, isochronism & 5 positions. Stem wind and lever set. "Gothic" style double sunk railroad dial. Ca. 1903.|
|16 size Illinois "Bunn Special" pocket watch, grade 163, rare type "I-R". 23 jewels, 60-hour mainspring. Stem wind and lever set. Housed in a lovely white gold filled "Bunn Special Model #28" case. Ca. 1931.|
|18 Size Hampden "John Hancock:" railroad grade pocket watch. Stem wind, lever set, 21 jewels. Heavy gold filled hunter case with gorgeous engravings on both the front and back. Stunning fancy glass enamel dial. Ca. 1898.|
|An 18 size Hampden "New Railway" pocket watch with 23 jewels. Railroad grade and approved, stem wind and lever set. Housed in a nicely engraved gold-filled case. Ca. 1909.|
|Elgin 18 Size Model #8, "Veritas" railroad approved pocket watch. It is stem wind and lever set and has 23 jewels. It is housed in a nice plain-polished Silverode case. The serial number of 8400348 dates it to about 1900.|
|Keystone Howard Series 11 "Railroad Chronometer". Size 16, 21 jewels, adjusted to temperature and 5 positions, stem wind and lever set. Housed in an original Howard gold-filled swing out case. Ca. 1917.|
Back to the Pocket Watch Collection Main Page