American Waltham Watch Co.
A UNIQUE YELLOW GOLD HUNTING CASED PERPETUAL CALENDAR FIVE-MINUTE REPEATING SPLIT SECOND CHRONOGRAPH WATCH WITH PHASES AND AGES OF THE MOON
1888 MVT 3793210 CASE X0201
- DIAMETER 34 MM
Time Museum Inventory No. 2934
William Scolnik, New York
The Most Complicated Watch Made by the Waltham Watch Co.
The Waltham Watch Company remains the only American watch manufactory that produced a repeating watch. Exact production numbers of these pieces are not known, but it is thought to be between 1,250 and 1,350. This is actually quite a small number given the firm's total production run of roughly 33,000,000 total pieces. Scholars have separated the repeaters into seven runs, the present lot falling in the production of Group VI, Nos. 3793001-400.
Overall, very little is known about the quantity of multiple complication watches Waltham made, but certainly the number is probably small and could be as few as five pieces, each with varying complications. Regardless, the present watch is the only one to combine the functions of perpetual calendar, five minute repeater, split second chronograph and moon phases, making it indisputably the most complicated watch made by Waltham.
Of the small group of Waltham multiple complication watches, the Time Museum also had in its collection the only known minute repeating split second chronograph watch, No. 3793206. The movement numbers of the minute repeating split and the present lot indicate that these are only four numbers apart and both belong to Group VI. For an illustration of the minute repeating split second watch, see Sotheby's New York, October 14th and 15th, 2004, Masterpieces from the Time Museum, Part Four, Vol. III, lot 1014.
Other than the above-mentioned minute repeating example, Waltham exclusively made five minute repeaters. Production of the repeaters began sometime between 1886 and 1887. The earlier series, Groups I through V, were thought to have been made employing Swiss design and parts by such makers as George Aubert of Vaud and Henri Onesime Stauffer of Neuchâtel. The mechanisms, after having been acquired abroad, were then fitted to the movements by the New York agents for Waltham.
Groups VI and VII stand out because they represent the beginning of Waltham's collaboration with C.H. Meylan. Although he manufactured his own line of watches under the name C. H. Meylan, Le Brassus, he lived and worked in New York. He held three American patents that protected his repeaters made for Waltham, giving credence to the thought that watches from these groups were made entirely in the United States.
The present lot, No.3793210, is also unusual given that its case number is not part of the standard case number series. The case number X0201 is a departure from Waltham's typical case numbering system, which used a numeric system. However, in this instance, the case number begins with X, and thus one can assume these were reserved for special production watches.
Two other examples have been identified with "X" case numbers:
• X4557: rock crystal plate watch, sold Sotheby's, New York, Masterpieces from the Time Museum, October 14th and 15th, 2004, lot 1019
• X4480: rock crystal plate watch, sold Sotheby's New York, February 5, 1988, lot 320. That watch was an unusual 16 size rock crystal plate watch, the dial painted en grisaille with a scene of the Waltham Watch Factory.
The combination of unusual features and numbering make it plausible that these watches were intended for a large exhibition or World's Fair, allowing Waltham a forum to demonstrate their ability to produce highly complicated watches, and not only precision mass production watches, for which they were well known. The small number of complicated watches produced by Waltham suggests that the firm found the profits not of great enough interest to warrant continued production.
For further discussions of Waltham repeaters and chronographs see Harrold, "American Watchmaking," in the NAWCC Bulletin Supplement, pp. 98-104, 1984 and Thomas L. De Fazio, "The American Waltham Watch Company Repeaters," the NAWCC Bulletin, Vol. 19, issue 88, 1976, pp. 271-279.