Monday, 20 March 2017

J.W. Benson Inter-war Period Manufacturing.

J.W. Benson "Field" dated from the silver case to 1920.
A good number of sites on the web state that Benson stopped making watches during WWI following a bombing raid which resulted in the loss of 12,000 watches (or some other large number).

Whilst I am told that there was bombing in the Ludgate Hill area during WWI, it did not destroy the factory and they continued to manufacture at least well into the 1930's and probably until they were bombed out in 1941.

Here is some of the collateral for this statement:
  • Horological historian Max Cutmore writes: “In 1892 a steam-powered factory was opened at Belle Sauvage Yard (in Ludgate Hill) at which their well-finished, elegant three-quarter plate pocket watches were produced in considerable numbers until 1941 when the factory was destroyed by Bombs.”[i]
  • The Horological Journal in April 1935 reports a visit to the factory [which was making watches].[ii]
  • The 1941 Bombing report says 12,000 watches were destroyed [in 1941, not in WWI].[iii]
  • My Benson Sales Catalogue c1935, referring to the "Field" watch explicitly says  “Manufactured in our London Factory”, other watches are described as “our best London make” which is a bit ambiguous.[iv]
  • A Letter from J.W. Benson Ltd, which I have seen a photograph of, dated 1957 clearly states “our Ludgate Hill premises were destroyed by enemy action in 1941”.
I hope that demonstrates that Benson undoubtedly had a factory and made watches after 1917/18!

This is another picture of the "Field" watch from 1920 shown above.




[i] “Watches 1850-1980”, M. Cutmore, David & Charles, 2002, p111,
[ii] “High Grade Watches made in London”, HJ,77, April 1935, 254-7 quoted in [i].
[iii] Letters from Garrard & Co Ltd dated October & November 1985 quoted in [i].
[iv] 67th edition “A” catalogue, J.W. Benson c 1935, and definitely after 1932.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

J.W. Benson and P & A Guye two London watchmakers, later effectively one?

J.W. Benson 17J half hunter 1878.
The histories of both J.W. Benson and P & A Guye are incomplete, in the case of Benson this is due to their factory and records being destroyed in the Blitz of 1941, having previously survived an attack during WWI.

In the case of P & A Guye it is largely because they supplied almost entirely to the trade and disappeared from Kelly's guide as a watch maker after 1905, but they are known to have stayed in business, related to the watch trade until at least 1932.

I am rapidly firming up my belief that they ended up as sub contractor to, a partner of or even as a subsidiary of Benson.

An unrestored movement signed by P & A Guye,
But one thing at a  time!

The first thing to do is to establish what Max Cutmore was unable to do in his work [1] and that is to establish if Benson were customers of P & A Guye and if possible to go a bit further.

The watch movement shown to the right is clearly signed by P & A Guye, 13, Northampton Square, London.

It is rare and the first I have seen signed by the company, Max Cutmore [1] stated in his coverage of the company that he had been unable to positively identify any movement by the company, although there were some possibilities.

It is a size 12 hunter movement with 19 jewels, unfortunately I can't date it as it came without a case, here is a view of the face plate:

The face plate of the unrestored P & A Guye movement shown above.
I just restored this 1878 silver half hunter (pictured cased top right) signed by J.W. Benson and described in some detail in my previous post. Here is a picture of the faceplate:

J.W. Benson 17J half hunter, 1878.

Clearly these are from the same maker, or at least of the same design, and that is confirmed by other factors such them having the same train layout, the same construction of components and the use of the same type of cap jewel. The real differences are that the Benson movement is a smaller, scaled down, version and that if has 17 rather than 19 jewels.

P & A Guye very rarely sold under their own name and would not have purchased a Benson made watch and branded it as theirs, it therefore follows that P & A Guye made for J.W. Benson in the 1870's.

QED!

Who "owned" the design is not however clear as Guye could have made movements for Benson and under licence to sell on to third parties.

The "Field" & "Ludgate" watches.


Now check out the face plate of this Benson "Field" of 1899:

J.W. Benson "Field" 13J, 1899.
 
 

This movement has the Benson patent dust ring and whilst it is clearly not the same movement as the ones shown above the similarity of the face plate and winding mechanism are obvious and much of the train and component designs are very similar to the earlier watch.

This large Benson signed Champaign watch (without the dust ring) has the same configuration:

J.W. Benson Campaign watch, 19J c1900.
and so does the early "Ludgate"

Benson "Ludgate" movements.

As explained in my previous post on the Benson "Field" and "Ludgate", the design of both watches changed over time, most are not like the movement identified as made by P & A Guye, but there was clearly a close the link between the two companies.

The "Bank" watch.

A previous post of mine  suggested that P & A Guye made early versions of the "Bank" watch for Benson and also sold it unbranded to other retailers. When I wrote that the option had to be left open that it was Benson selling to the third parties, I think that now it can be proved that P & A  Guye made for Benson, that option can be discounted but, as with the watch first mentioned, it is possible, that it was a Benson design which Guye made for Benson and also sold to third parties under licence.

Conclusion.

From numerous adverts and other sources it is known that the "Field" and "Ludgate" were claimed to be made in-house by Benson (although I recently discovered one "Field" made at the Errington" factory), so at the least Benson and  Guye were sharing designs, technology and probably manufacturing capacity. 

P & A Guye were probably, as suggested above, acting as a subordinate partner to Benson either making components or complete movements. I think the former is most likely as assembly by Benson would enable them to claim the watch as made by them.

It is even prossible that Benson had an equity stake in Guye again enabling them to claim that Guye made watches were made in their (Benson's) factory.


[1.] “Watches 1850-1908” M. Cutmore, David & Charles 1989

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A silver half hunter signed by J.W. Benson from 1878

This is a very rare find, in fact it is the earliest complete English three-quarter plate, going barrel, keyless I can remember having and certainly the oldest Benson three-quarter plate.

And it is a high grade watch even by Benson's standards of 50 years later.

It has significant implications for the relationship between Benson and P & A Guye  and the history of Guye which is very sparse in the books I have read so I have written that up separately but I am putting the description of the watch here to help keep that post to a manageable size.

The movement was made for Benson by P & A Guye, which is demonstrated in my post J.W. Benson and P & A Guye two London watchmakers, later effectively one?

The pin set, slow train, movement has 17 jewels including cap jewels for the pallet and escape, a true English Lever (variously described as horned, spiked or ratchet) escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensating "Chronometer" balance with what appear to be gold timing screws, four of them Vernier. There is functional Geneva Stop Gear to control mainspring pressure.



It is about a size 10 but cased up is about the same size as a later size 14 American or Swiss watch. The movement is engraved "J.W. Benson 25, Old Bond St, London".



The English made double backed premium case with gold hinges has London Hallmarks for Sterling Silver, 1878, the mark of the Hurst Brothers of Clerkenwell, London and the same serial number as the movement which authenticates the date of manufacture to 1878/9 (the hallmarking year starts later).


A full set of photos are available on Zenfolio.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Rotherham Three-quarter plate keyless watches.

Open Faced (left) and Hunter (right) 19 Jewel Rotherham three-quarter plate
movements. All that I have had have had the curved top plate, but other
makers used a similar shape so that alone is not a guarantee it is a Rotherham.
Introduced in the very (?) late 1880s the elegant Rotherham three-quarter plate movement remained in production with minimal changes until the company stopped watch production in the mid-1930s.  
 
Under the dial view showing the Rotherham logo (Centre right) and the
rocking bar setting mechanism. the general layout is the same as Rotherham's
Keyless Full plate model of the 1890's and into the next century.

The majority that I seen[1] are from 1890 through to WWI with a few from the 1920s. The earliest dateable one I have seen was from 1890 and the latest, for J.W. Benson, was in a case hallmarked 1934.

An 11 Jewel Size 6 half Hunter for Rowell of Oxford. 1891.
The movement was made in many sizes from zero through to size 16 and initially at least, with many combinations of jewels including 11J, 13J & 19J.

Rotherham did not favour jewelling the centre wheel for reasons explained in another post and would go for cap jewels on the escape before jeweling the 3rd wheel and often before jeweling the fourth or the lever pallet as they did in the 11J example for Rowell shown on the right.

As time went on the lower jewel count movements became far fewer and the odd movement begins to turn up with 20 jewels.
From my sample, by far the most popular was the size 12 with 19 jewels.


A rare 19J size 0 Rotherham 3/4 plate, 1907; the only significant difference with the larger models is the
lack of a seconds hand, it even has Geneva stop work. The case is 1.5" in diameter excluding the pendant etc.

The 20 Jewel version, 1902. Very unusually it
is marked as adjusted.
All of the movements had true English Lever escapements many had Geneva stop gear and this was retained on the 19 & 20 jewel models  until well after WWI.

Almost all had steel Breguet hairsprings with cut compensating balances but a few were produced with Elenvar Breguet springs with solid gold balances. 

It is likely that the many, if not all, of the 19 & 20 jewel movements were half-chronometers but  although print advertising often made much of this it was not the custom to mark English movements as "adjusted" and only a few later models I have seen were so marked.

The most common Rotherham three-quarter plate, a size 12 19J.
This one for Reid & Son of Newcastle upon Tyne. It is now back
with a descendant of the retailer, the result of a long search!
Cases were mainly silver and solid gold, the former at least made in house, the later were much less substantial and “frequently swing out” types”, I have not seen enough of these to even guess at who made them.

A typical Silver Half-Hunter case, this one a 19J size 12 for Butt & Co
branded "The County". 1911
Filled gold cases are seen from time to time, early ones are simply marked 14K Filled Gold, later ones are fully marked by Dennison as their 14 carat Filled Gold “Sun” grade. I suspect all of the filled gold cases were bought in but have no real evidence to support that.

A Hunter in a 14 Carat Filled gold
"SUN" grade case by Dennison c1929.
Rotherham supplied a lot of the smaller 19J movements to J.W. Benson and like about 80% of Rotherham’s production the only Rotherham mark is hidden under the dial.

A fairly rare variant of the standard movement was made for dress watches, this was slimmed down by about a third compared with the standard model and had a clip on dial.



The slim variant of the 19J Size 12 in a
14 carat solid gold case, 1932.

A centre seconds variant was also produced but I have seen very few and had only one, these where not chronographs having no stop function.


A rare centre seconds variant with 20 Jewels for
retailer W.J. Storey, 1894.




 [1] I have seen just over 80 Rotherham ¾ plates from size zero through 16, some are datable, others not.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Watches for evening wear.

Waltham 1894-Royal a 17J size 12 in Filled Gold 1903.

Introduction


During the day a hundred years ago, pocket watch users would have been wearing suits in heavy worsted, flannel or tweeds perhaps varying in weight from 12 - 17 ounces or more (compared to 7 - 12 ounces for a modern business suit), in these clothes even a size 18 movement in an oversized case would probably not cause much of a bump, particularly if the suit was cut for comfort.
A fairly typical American style screw backed case, this one
although a S16 has a particularly narrow bezel etc.
making it usable with evening wear. The movement is
23 Jewel Waltham 1899 model Riverside Maximus.
 

In the evening however finer fabrics were used (although not as light as current ones) and they would be a fashionably tight fit (especially  Army Mess Dress) so a slimmer watch was required to avoid unsightly bulges.

This type is usually referred to as a "Dress Watch" and is usually the type of watch to go for if it will be worn with a dinner suit or military Mess dress.

Usually movements would be size 10 or 12, built to be thin and light weight and in a tightly fitting case, probably with a single back rather than double for slimness.

Many size 16's in American style slim cases can also work with evening dress, most of the better movements would be American or Swiss as English makers were generally slow to move to suitable movements.

 

What Material?


A typical design of case from the 1930s, this one holds
a fairly rare 19J Rotherham pin set and is in 14 carat gold.
Metal faces such as this were particularly favoured.
Solid gold would usually be the first choice for the well to do, the smaller size of the case would, to an extent, help to keep the price down and the cases would be made thin for the same reason. The down side of this was that the cases were easily bruised, dented or otherwise damaged and with the high price of scrap gold (over £17 per gram for 14 carat at the time of writing, and it has been higher) many of these watches were broken up for scrap.

Silver was also popular and might be more appropriate with some military Mess Dress.

A Rolled gold case showing a typical pattern found on
American gold and base metal cases in the early 20th century.
Filled or rolled  gold (yellow, white and sometimes green) and filled silver was cheaper and stronger and are a good alternate.

Many size 12s, such as the Waltham Royal at the top of the page were made in America for day to day use and as Dress Watches, although they are no where near as slim as some of the English and Swiss watches of the 1930s, the Rotherham shown right is closer to the American models than these super slim designs.

The Riverside Maximus above has a rare decorated case,
which I suspect was intended for evening wear, it has
a filled gold body, silver bezel and a silver back with
yellow, green and rose gold inlay.

Base metal with a chromium or other plating were very popular, particularly in the USA, and offered a cheap alternate for an occasionally used Dress Watch whilst something more substantial was used during the day.

Chains.


Advice on selecting a chain can be found in this blog post, but in general with evening dress a light weight chain is likely to be best, unless a big statement is to be made or perhaps if it is to be worn over a highly patterned waistcoat where a thin chain could get lost in which case a medium weight chain could be used. The very heavy chains are probably best avoided in the evening.

For a double breasted waistcoat you need a “slider” double or a longish single Albert (as the distance from the button-hole to the pockets is not equal) for a single breasted waistcoat a single or double will work.

Fob Watches.

An alternative to a Dress Watch, an English size 0
half hunter fob watch in silver.

A small watch, carried in a trouser fob pocket is another option, particularly if a waistcoat is not being worn but finding suitable chains can be an issue - a snake chain would be best but of course does not enhance a waistcoat. A Cummerbund might also get in the way.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Omega's patent winding and setting mechanism.

The Omega 1896 design with their patent setting and
winding mechanism.
From the user’s point of view, Omega watches with this system work as a normal pendant set watch, just pull out the crown, turn to set and press back in.
 
The design was intended to give (and does) a more positive and robust action to setting so as to persuade railroad companies and regulators that the watch was safe for railway use, reducing the chance of the time being accidentally changed. That failed to convince in the USA (probably not helped by the fact that Webb C. Ball, a key player, had a profitable business reselling American made railroad watches), but it was accepted in Austria, Australia and a few other places that had regulations regarding the design of pocket watches used on the railways.
 
The UK did not have any regulations for watches as the entire railway system had signalling of one sort or another so good time keeping was not a safety issue, just an annoyance for passengers when trains were late.
 
Which perhaps explains a lot.

A very rare J.W. Benson "FIELD" watch made by Errington.

J.W. Benson "The Field" Watch 16J made by C.H. Errington of Coventry 1898.

A Benson made "Field" c 1899.
This was a big surprise, Benson frequently re-sold, under their own name, smaller high jewelled  watches and full plate keyless Coventry made watches by Rotherham,  but I have never seen one supplied from the Errington Watch Factory (then owned by Williamson but managed by Errington). Not only that but this is branded "The Field", a name had I thought (and so does everyone I have read on the subject) was reserved for two in house designs pervious described here.

The movement itself was almost certainly a special run for Benson and has the best finish I have seen on an Errington, which is in any case is always pretty good, this one appears to have heavier gilding, the banking pins are steel rather than brass and all of the jewels are screw set, top and bottom.

It has Errington's patented spring release mechanism, a fast train, unlike the slow train of the later Benson made Fields, 16 jewels and a true English Lever escapement with a Breguet sprung cut compensating balance.

The under-dial of the Errington made "FIELD"
showing the screw set jewels.
The watch dates from 1898/9 - the serial number on the case matching that of the movement and it has the  Benson "makers mark, although it is almost certainly a Coventry made case, probably made in the Errington factory.

It has the "Queen & Prince of Wales" Warrants only used for a brief period but fairly common on early Benson made Field movements, it is probable therefore that this watch was a stop gap measure before the Benson made Field was introduced and implies that production of the Benson Field started in 1898/9.

Updates:

1. John Matthews responding to another post bought to my attention an advert from 1892 showing the "Field" watch, that states the watch was London made so in the late 1890s Benson were selling two completely different watches as the "Field".

2. Further investigation of that source found that both the "Bank" and the "Field" were mentioned in an advert in June 1890,