Although the lever watch was not invented in America, it was the USA who was responsible for the mass production of American lever watches. Until this point all watch parts had been hand made and then assembled together by human beings. Not only was this process time consuming but it was also a very expensive option.
With the introduction of machinery, watch parts could be made quickly and replicated and produced even quicker. This was what then made the quick and fast production of watches an achievable goal. The person who made this possible according to The Pocket Watch Handbook was an Aaron L Dennison who was known as the founder of the American watch factories.
This makes a lot of sense as this same factory process was modified and the factory eventually became known as the Waltham Watch Company. In effect this was the realisation of the capability of watches becoming available to almost everyone.
In the next 100 years they would be responsible for producing 35 million watches so no-one can say that this process didn’t work. One big advantage that we have today because of that industrial revolution is that they had to identify, mark and record parts. Now clearly that makes it much easier for us to not only date the watches, but also to identify the types of material used.
This is for example where we get the serial numbers for Elgin watches and also other brands. Many catalogues were produced at that time where parts were named, listed and priced for jewellers who would be doing most of the repairs. Those same catalogues have produced an invaluable source of information over the years.
A lot of people confuse mass production with low quality but that was not the case. For certain watches could be produced faster and as such could be made cheaper simply because of reduced labour costs. The materials used were still the same and in fact they were probably made better as machines are not subject to human error.
It is a bit of a myth that something that is hand made is better quality than a machine made piece. That is the same with any product. It is only when cheap materials are used or quality processes changed that poor low quality goods are produced. This was not the case with most watches that were produced. There were some cheaper ones made for sure as one of the goals of mass production was to make sure every American could own a watch.
These became known as the $1 dollar watches. The principle behind this was to make a watch that was the equivalent to a typical day’s pay. That is certainly an interesting concept and was quite a novel one, back in the day. The Ingersoll company led the way in that particular quest and as you know they are still around today. If you think about how much a day’s pay is for the average person in the USA today, we came up with a figure of around $200. The question is I guess, would you think paying a couple of hundred bucks was good value for a watch.
Back in the day, they most certainly did, and I guess there was also the novelty factor that working class people could now afford a time piece of their own.
The key to this was to introduce what is called a pin lever movement. In essence the more expensive jewels were replaced by metal pins. Cases were also made from a cheaper base metal and the plated in gold or silver. They managed to achieve all of this and yet these watches still kept really good time. That of course was vital to their success.