Journal

Waltham Watches

Sep 24, 2023

Waltham Watches

The biggest story in American Watchmaking is a story of human ingenuity.

Established in 1850 in Waltham Mass., The Waltham Watch Company has been setting modern standards for the production of clocks and watches, and has over one thousand watch and instrument patents.

Waltham produced about 40 million watches, clocks, car speedometers, compasses, aircraft instrument, time fuses, and other precision instruments between 1850 and 1957 and was the watch household name in America.

Waltham is also the inventor of the “American Watchmaking System” , the industrial organisation and workflow by which watches could be produced efficiently and in large quantities. Waltham Watches has effectively industrialized watch production, giving consistent quality to watches. This system has later also been widely adopted in Switzerland.

In fact, while not the birthplace of horology, the USA has given rise to the modern way to make watches. In the 19th century Watchmaking was primarily a Swiss business. It adopted the "etablissage system" which involved making certain parts under the roof of a factory while obtaining other parts from workers who used their own cottages as workshops to produce components.

This system required skilled and costly labor and was not very scalable. At the same time in the USA new manufacturing techniques were developed by the USA Armory that called for using interchangeable parts. This was made possible by a strict organization system, the extensive use of machines, and quality control systems that utilized gauges and measurement instruments to ensure precise and uniform dimensions.

Aaron Dennison a watch repair man from Brunswick, proposed to use similar techniques for the manufacture of watches because it allowed rapid assembly of the final watches. In 1850 Dennison partnered with clockmaker Edward Howard and they eventually gave rise to the Waltham Watch Company to apply armory practices to watches thereby creating the American System of Watch Manufacturing which allowed to achieve strict production tolerances and less manufacturing defects.

The idea of applying armory practices to watchmaking allowed an efficient production where final assembly could be done by lesser-skilled workers, reducing labour costs, and where the same components could be used to manufacture different watch models. The American Watch Making system was exported and adopted by the Swiss through Florentine Ariosto Jones who moved to Switzerland and founded IWC.

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