RGM 801 Aircraft
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Nose art, massive radial engines sputtering and smoking, squadrons of aircraft flying in formation—there are many visual details that conjure up recollections of America’s aerial might in WWII, but for the watch aficionado few are as compelling as the timepieces made by great American watchmaking companies of that era. RGM Watch Company has drawn upon such historical influences as elaborate cockpit clocks and timers to create their made-in-America 801 Aircraft series.
The inspiration for RGM’s 801 Aircraft watch is a navigational instrument created jointly for the US war effort by Elgin and Hamilton in the 1940s: the model AN5741-1 clock. It was the pinnacle of airborne timekeeping, used mainly in large bombers such as B-17s and B-29s. This 8-day clock with 24-hour display, date, elapsed mission time and chronograph was but one of the timekeeping devices that would have been found on such aircraft, but it was by far the most complicated and technologically advanced. Though its diverse combination of functions is fascinating to the watch & clock fan, the bold functionality of the dial--with its blend of numeric indicators, stealthy black background and luminous indicators—is clearly the focal point. It evokes a period in history. The RGM 801 Aircraft watch pays tribute to the AN5741-1, the role it played in Allied successes, and the heritage of American watchmaking that made it possible.
A hand-wound time-only watch with small seconds, the 801 Aircraft is powered by RGM’s exclusive19-jewel Caliber 801, the first wristwatch movement to be serially produced in the United States after a 40-year period of inactivity. Available with a plating of Rhodium or gold, the 801 movement is proudly housed in a case of brushed stainless steel. Distressed leather straps add to the vintage appeal.
But as with the original, it is the dial of the 801 Aircraft that makes this watch stand out. Using the original AN5741-1 as inspiration, RGM has combined elements of the 24-hour clock, the large 60-unit subsidiary register, and its distinctive color scheme into a tidy package suitable for 12- or 14-hour timekeeping. A special feature of this watch is the faithful recreation of the AN5741-1’s luminous hands with black hubs.
A variety of combinations of markers and luminous paint are available; the customer can choose to emphasize 24-hour time, 12-hour time, or elapsed minutes simply by the selection of dial. A large subsidiary seconds chapter aids in marking time accurately, and subtle details such as the Keystone logo and signature at 6:00 indicate the pride that RGM takes in manufacturing its components, and assembling the watch, in Pennsylvania.
More details about pricing and available configurations of the 801 Aircraft and other models of RGM’s American-made timepieces are available at www.RGMwatches.com or by contacting RGM directly.
Text © C. Bradley Jacobs, WatchCarefully.com; images © RGM Watch Company.
Caliber 20 Celebrates 20 Years of RGM Watch Company
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Originally published in WristWatch Magazine Summer 2012
RGM Watch Company of Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania, America’s premier maker of luxury mechanical timepieces, is celebrating their 20th year with the introduction of their third in-house movement: Caliber 20. As with many RGM products, the new creation combines the modern with the traditional and manages to mark new milestones in American horology.
Caliber 20 is, for many reasons, a rarity in the world of modern watchmaking. At a quick glance, the tonneau shape of the watch is clearly a departure from the trend in recent decades for round movements. Not since the 1940s has an American watch company introduced a barrel-shaped caliber; the last non-round movement manufactured in the United States was probably Hamilton’s Grade 770 of the 1950s-60s, made a handful of miles from RGM’s Lancaster County home. And like Hamilton movements of old, RGM is producing their new movement locally—along with their ground-breaking Pennsylvania Tourbillon and the brand’s first in-house movement, Caliber 801.
A closer look at Caliber 20 reveals not only very high-quality workmanship, such as manually applied anglage and perlage, but complexity far beyond the average hand-wound movement. Visible on the dial side of the movement is an innovative moonphase display. Because most mechanical moonphase indicators are susceptible to errors which can be compounded several times annually, RGM’s Caliber 20 was created with a very precise indicator which, if kept running, would not incur an error for over a century. RGM understands that keeping a hand-wound luxury timepiece running that long isn’t likely to happen, so they designed a quick-set mechanism that employs the crown, rather than a pusher, to adjust the moon display.
By looking even closer at the Caliber 20, the astute watch aficionado may recognize a feature that RGM considers both an improvement over the industry’s standard technology and a nod to the finest American watches of bygone eras; RGM’s anniversary movement is the first wristwatch caliber to be motivated by a Motor Barrel. Invented in the USA over a century ago and used on the highest grades of American Railroad pocket watches through their heyday, the motor barrel features a two-piece arbor that allows the barrel to work more efficiently—like a wheel in the gear train, set in jeweled bearings. Though requiring more complex manufacturing processes, the resultant reduction in friction and wear, combined with more efficient power flow, convinced RGM that this innovation from the past was overdue for a renaissance.
Many other noteworthy design features are present in Caliber 20. The main plate and bridges are fashioned from German silver, set with 22 jewels. Many of the shapes are reminiscent of the Caliber 801 and Pennsylvania Tourbillon, each of which were designed to honor traditional American watchmaking. The train bridges are decorated with fine Côtes Circulaires—similar to those seen on the highest grades of the RGM 222 Signature Series—emanating not from the center wheel but from the balance jewel setting. This wonderful touch draws attention to the unique shape of the balance cock and signals to the onlooker that this RGM is innovative and unique indeed.
Thanks to their modern capabilities for design and manufacturing, RGM spent only about a year in the design, prototyping and manufacture of the production versions shown here. Next, RGM’s creative attention will be focused on cases and dials to fit the new Caliber 20. Like the movement it holds, the case will be shaped instead of round. Company owner Roland Murphy and his staff worked tirelessly to produce a high-grade movement, beautiful in its form, efficient in its function, capable of commemorating a milestone anniversary for the only American company who has dared to produce movements of their own design domestically. For more information, images and video, or to sign up for the brand’s newsletter, please visit www.RGMwatches.com.
Text © C. Braldey Jacobs, WatchCarefully.com, photos © RGM Watch Co.
A short review of the RGM Scatola del Tempo watch box
A WatchCarefully Review by C. Bradley Jacobs
Posted on EOT 02-24-2019
Overlooked in most reviews of RGM watches is the quality of the accessories they offer with their watches. Along with straps of high quality, RGM-branded knives and loupes, RGM is known for choosing fine materials and craftsmen to produce the boxes and wallets for delivery and storage of their watches. The newest item in their catalogue, a small travel box from Scatola del Tempo is no exception.
The intent with this piece is to provide the RGM watch owner with a versatile and stylish receptacle which can be used for either storage or travel. In a market where enormous boxes of lacquered wood or flimsy leather are commonplace, Roland Murphy intended for this to call to mind the small, eye-catching boxes of decades past; items which were both understated and well-made. Rather than force watch collectors to make room to store large and useless monuments to the importance of the watch company, this leather case is easy to fit into a dresser drawer, a carry-on bag, or a bedside table, and its sturdy construction means it will hold up on your travels.
Constructed of textured leather, this hand-made box is at once rugged looking and elegant. The stitching, leather quality and pattern call to mind some of the finest padded watch straps, while also being reminiscent of fine vintage fitted luggage. There is a generously proportioned recess within, with a cushion small enough to accept a woman’s watch but snugly held in place so even a heavy watch should be stable in transit. As with any luxury item made in Italy, the choice of fabric for the inside, and leather outside are smart and stylish—the box and interior wrapping gives a clue to the quality within.
Embossed with RGM’s logo, and accompanied by an RGM polishing cloth, the package is quite enticing and useful. The size is 11cm x 8cm x 6cm. Inside, a 9cm recess is 5cm deep and includes a 5.75cm opening for the watch case. The fabric-wrapped hard cushion is 7cm x 2.2cm. It is available via RGM’s website or by calling the company directly, as they do not maintain a network of retailers, instead choosing to focus on direct-to-customer relationships and service.
For more information about the RGM Ref. 222-RR pictured above, feel free to read my review here.
Text and images © C. Bradley Jacobs, WatchCarefully.com
RGM Ref. 200
HMS Victory Commemorative Watch
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Originally published in International Watch
21 October 2005, Lancaster, PA. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, RGM Watch Company announces a new addition to its Tall Ships commemorative watch series: RGM Reference 200, HMS Victory. Each Victory watch features a unique, hand-engraved dial with a different depiction of the venerable ship--a typical example shows her sails set resolutely and cannon ablaze amid the chaos of the Battle of Trafalgar. Other dial images will be available, each based upon original artwork by RGM's chief designer. The dials also feature applied dot hour markers and hands of yellow gold with subtle luminosity for visibility.
The 42 mm case exhibits the recognizable RGM style but is fashioned in 18k yellow gold with a white gold plaque to display the name HMS Victory. A hand-engraved display-back commemorates the date of the Battle of Trafalgar and allows an unobstructed view of the modified Valgrangres 16.5-ligne automatic movement. The movement is adorned with authentic guilloché and a solid gold rotor engraved with a representation of the ship's figurehead and her motto: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense. This edition of six unique pieces combines the most up-to-date RGM watchmaking technology with the finest of old-world craftsmanship. Few makers of fine timepieces offer this combination of hand engraving, hand-turned guilloché, and the personal attention to detail that RGM requires of each watch they produce.
Inspired by their love of sailing vessels, RGM founder Roland Murphy and his team plan to use the Tall Ships series as a vehicle to commemorate some of the world's elite historical ships. Each edition will be approached differently by the RGM team, and the watches themselves will be as different from one another as the ships they represent. The inaugural watch in RGM's Tall Ships series was Reference 170, introduced in 2004 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of America's last all-sail warship, USS Constellation. The Constellation edition was limited to 25 pieces in 18k rose gold with a coin-impression image of the ship on the solid silver dial.
HMS Victory, moored on display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in England, is revered as the world's oldest commissioned warship. It was launched in 1765 and received its commission to the Royal Navy in 1778. It continued in active service for 32 years and was the flagship of the British fleet at the decisive Battle of Trafalgar. During this battle, the British fleet captured the commander of the combined French & Spanish fleets and nearly two dozen ships. British losses included 1500 men but no ships, while the opposition included roughly 14,000 men killed or captured. The most significant loss to the British, however, was their commander Admiral Lord Nelson who was struck in the spine by a sniper while aboard HMS Victory. At the time of his death, 4:30 PM on the 21st October, 1805, he was assured of an English victory which deterred Napoleon's planned invasion of England and ensured British naval superiority worldwide.
RGM Watch Company is located in the heart of one of America's premier historic watchmaking centers: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. An independent firm, RGM produces fine watches including a minute repeater with tourbillon, the William Penn collection of elegant rectangular watches, a series of steel pilots' models, and special editions utilizing the nearly lost arts of engraving and engine-turning. Mr. Murphy's company is one of a select number who will endeavor to make a totally exclusive, unique, high-grade timepiece at the request of the customer.
RGM Caliber 801
The first watches built with a new American-made movement
are coming from RGM Watch Company
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Originally published in iW magazine
In the March 2008 issue, iW was honored to announce the introduction of RGM Caliber 801, the first mechanical watch movement to be produced in series on American soil since the late 1960s. Named for the street address of the RGM Watch Company’s workshop in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the new movement represents a bold step in American horology, and one that owner Roland Murphy hopes will bring international attention to his company and to the United States as a watchmaking center.
The first watches containing Caliber 801 are being produced as this magazine goes to press and so the photos represent only a small number of options that will be available to those interested in purchasing an 801-powered RGM watch. A significant number of watches the company produces are customized to some degree--perhaps a custom dial, special movement engraving, or a completely unique piece--and the RGM team expects to produce personalized versions of the 801 immediately upon its introduction.
The standard model will include a silver dial decorated with guilloche cut in-house on RGM's vintage rose engines. A subtle "801" nameplate will be visible on the dial. Blue steel hands and fine leather straps will also be included, but the focus of this watch is, of course, the movement. For that reason, a large glazed caseback will offer a panoramic view of the glorious innards.
An attractive option for the connoisseur desirous of something out of the ordinary is a dial-less RGM 801. The dial-side of each Cal. 801 plate is manufactured with a lovely engraved logo and functional numerals at 6:00. 9:00 and 12:00. With the contingency of a dial-less watch already well thought-out by RGM all that remains for the buyer is to decide upon a decorative finish from the large number of perlage and guilloché options pictured at RGMwatches.com. Gold and rhodium plating in various colors is also available.
For 2008, RGM expects to produce between 75 and 100 Caliber 801 movements. Initially, Caliber 801 will be available in any case configurations that RGM already provides for housing movements of its size (a movement with comparable dimensions is the Unitas 6498 found among the movements used in RGM watches), but plans are in the works for a special case which will only be offered with the new movement. Any existing RGM model that uses the Unitas caliber will be available as an upgraded Cal. 801-powered edition, but retro-fitting of the new movement to watches that have already been sold will not be offered. Special limited-production pocket watch versions are also being discussed. Connoisseurs of RGM & American horology have much to be proud of with the introduction of Cal. 801 and are advised to watch for future announcements from Lancaster County, PA. In a recent interview, Roland Murphy hinted that some special editions of the Cal. 801 are being considered—possibly with complications—but he stated that any variants of the base 801 will require additional R&D. Actual production plans have not been disclosed.
Pricing for Cal. 801 watches starts just under $8000 for a 42 mm steel model on leather straps with guilloché dial, Breguet hands, standard movement finishing and an RGM leather carrying case.
The introduction of Caliber 801 is meant to celebrate not only a milestone in the history of RGM Watch Company but also in the tradition of American horology, of which RGM is clearly the modern era's major proponent.
Text © C. Bradley Jacobs, WatchCarefully.com; images © RGM Watch Company.
RGM Caliber 801
After nearly four decades, the phrase “Made In America”
is once again stamped on a mechanical movement
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Originally published in iW Magazine
It is always a noteworthy event when an independent watch company introduces a new mechanical movement, but when that company is located in the United States and represents the first such horological development in nearly forty years, to claim this as merely newsworthy is an understatement. The RGM Watch Company, of Pennsylvania, is preparing just such a momentous announcement—the unveiling of their proprietary Caliber 801.
Caliber 801, named for the address of the company’s work shop in Mount. Joy, Pennsylvania, is a 16-ligne time-only movement with small seconds in hunter configuration. In a time when other boutique watchmaking houses are cooperating with specialist houses to produce unique complications, it is fitting that RGM’s owner, Roland Murphy, has chosen a traditional time only movement for his company’s first foray into movement production. His brand is known for its traditional approaches to watch assembly and decoration—such as the use of antique rose engines for application of authentic guilloché--therefore a classic three-hand watch seems a good, and typically American, place to start.
The impetus for creation of a new movement by RGM came from two major sources. One is purely practical: the desire to be more independent; the other is more idealist: a craftsman’s natural urge to create a beautiful object of quality, without compromise. To this latter end, the planning and design of Cal. 801 went through several phases over four years’ time. The result is a versatile movement—suitable for either wrist or pocket watch use; and Murphy plans future elaborations—that hearkens to watchmaking traditions once strong in the United States, indeed in RGM’s own back yard.
An examination of America’s newest mechanical watch movement reveals much about the integrity of its makers. It would have been easy for RGM to rely heavily upon established Swiss suppliers for the majority of the material in the new movement, but Mr. Murphy felt strongly that the movement should have a recognizably American character and be produced, as much as possible, in Lancaster County, where RGM is located. Though in the current state of American horology it was unavoidable that some components such as jewels, balance and hairspring be outsourced to Swiss specialists—indicative of a decades-long decline that felled all the major domestic houses of yore—the spirit of ingenuity and entrepreneurship that characterized American watchmaking at its peak was found to be alive and well. Thus RGM partnered with local experts in computer-aided design and machining to bring their vision to life. Production of the bridges, plates and other parts are made not only in the USA but in Lancaster, County Pennsylvania, the final work of tapping or reaming holes, setting jewels, finishing of plates and bridges, adjustment and assembly will take place in the RGM workshop in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.
Roland Murphy drew upon many of the elements of American watchmaking that he admires, and even pays homage to such significant firms as Howard, Illinois and Hamilton in Caliber 801. This may be more than mere coincidence, considering the first two of those firms all became the property of the third, itself headquartered a short buggy-ride from RGM in the city of Lancaster. However, the new RGM movement is anything but a copy of any existing or historical movement. To the pocket watch enthusiast familiar with the Howard Watch Company, the bridges of Cal. 801 will bear a striking resemblance to one of that firm’s finest products. Cal. 801 intentionally has similar bridge shapes, chosen by Mr. Murphy for their beauty and ability to expose all the workings of the gear train. To paraphrase a recent statement by Roland: what would be the point of making the movement visible through the back of the watch without also allowing a clear view of the interaction of the wheels? Aficionados of Swiss watches will also understand RGM’s stipulation not to employ wire springs in the new movement—a quality measure akin to those necessary for the famous Geneva Seal. Caliber 801’s elegant semi-hidden click spring and similar springs within the setting mechanism are milled from solid steel rather than fashioned from bent metal wire.
The Caliber 801 has many more impressive technical features, most of which lie beneath its beautifully gilded surface. The plates and bridges, machined from brass, house nineteen jewels including two large barrel jewels made specifically for RGM. Though the necessity of jewelling the barrel is debated to this day, Murphy and his team have discovered wear in the metal bearings of barrel arbors in movements that RGM services and felt it would run contrary to their aims of top quality if they did not address this potential source of friction. Other issues of assembly and servicing were addressed in the design stage, one example being an extended pilot hole which will guide the full length of the winding stem yet allow for proper lubrication and freedom of movement. All feet of the bridges are integral--created from the original billets of brass as the bridges themselves are machined.
Not all such production decisions were made purely for technical reasons. Several almost invisible elements of the movement were the result of conscious aesthetic choices coupled with the team’s striving for ideal functionality. Murphy and his designers made sure that every hole and recess in the plate of Caliber 801 is functionally necessary--as a result, no extraneous holes detract from the beauty of the movement in its uncased state. Only three holes, intended by Murphy for attachment points for future modules, are unused in the plate, and these are untapped and unobtrusive. The recesses milled into the plates for the gear train are a pleasing array of overlapping circles; other recesses near the edge of the plate match up directly with the sides of the bridges; dial screws that penetrate the sides of the plate serve to reduce the clutter on the dial and train sides of the plate. If all of this seems excessive, there is a beauty, as well as a method, to the madness.
A decorative element of Caliber 801 that particularly pleases Murphy, and he hopes will be of significant attraction to watch connoisseurs, can be seen on the main plate. Every Caliber 801 plate is manufactured with functional engraving on the dial side: an hour chapter ring with numerals denoting 3:00, 9:00 and 12:00, the oval RGM logo, and the words “Lancaster, Penna. USA,” below the sub-seconds area. RGM intends to offer a variety of dial options (and dial-less decoration options) for the new movement but every example of Cal. 801, regardless of whether it is assembled with a dial, will have these features as a trademark.
The last time that high-grade mechanical watch movements were produced in the United States was 1969, the year that Hamilton ceased a period of more than 70 years of continuous manufacturing at its facility just down the road from RGM’s current headquarters. Subsequent to that event, Hamilton was parceled out and its watchmaking arms sold to the precursor of today’s Swatch Group and many years have passed since Hamilton watches were produced at their ancestral home. Thus a strong tradition of Pennsylvania horology—also including such manufacturers and schools as Dudley, Keystone, Bulova and Bowman —has lain dormant until the emergence of RGM as America’s premier producer of fine timepieces. Now, with the re-introduction of local movement production, and with entities such as the Lititz Watch Technicum, the NAWCC’s Museum and its School of Horology, enthusiasts of Pennsylvania horology hope this combined local effort will serve as a foundation for a general revival of American horology.
Regardless of the possible national implications, Mr .Murphy is very happy with RGM’s newest accomplishment. His intention to create a big caliber “that watchmakers will love” and is “beautiful to view, so you can see what is going on” has certainly been realized. During a recent interview he made it clear that even if this new caliber is not a success financially, he is completely satisfied with the results of his and the company’s effort. For 2008 RGM intends to produce 75 to 100 examples of Caliber 801. Eventually it will become the standard that represents the image of the company. Once RGM’s existing supply of Swiss 16-ligne movements is exhausted, all models thus powered will only be available with Caliber 801. In the next installment of this article, we’ll see the actual watches that will be created to showcase the new movement and learn more about the company’s plans for their official unveiling and subsequent distribution.
Text © C. Bradley Jacobs, WatchCarefully.com; images © RGM Watch Company.