George Unite – A Birmingham Silversmith and His Family

George Unite was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire in 1799. His father was Charles Unite (b1775 ). Not much is known of his early life but George Unite was apprenticed to Joseph Willmore in 1810, and went on to register his own makers mark in 1832, which was used until 1865.

George married Ann Wilkenson (b1840) on 3rd October 1824 at St Peter and St Paul in Aston, Warwickshire. Their eldest son George Richard Unite was born that same year. The couple had 7 children in total – George Richard was followed by Dora in 1827, Samuel b1829, Barbara b1831, Edward b1833, William Oliver b1835 and Frances b1841.

The eldest son George William Unite had followed his father into the silversmithing business by 1860. He married Anne Maria Loach that year at St Bride Fleet Street London, and gave his occupation as silversmith. Anne was a widow three years older than George William, and the couple had no children.

The second son Samuel was listed in the 1851 census as a silversmith, although it seems he specialised in the fashionable Japanware, being listed as a Japaner with premises at 27 Northwood Street in Birmingham in 1855. He married in 1856 but died in 1861 without children aged 32.

The census of 1861 shows the third son Edward still living in the family home of 65 Caroline Street, Birmingham, and his occupation is given as jeweller. The street today lies within the Birmingham jewellery quarter. Four years later in 1865, the business became George Unite and Sons, and all three sons were involved in the business. This agreement continued after George Unite’s death 4th July 1874 until 1896 when, with the death of eldest son George Richard Unite, the business partnership dissolved.

Third son Edward had married Mary Jane Moffat in Sollihull in 1867. They had one son – George Willoughby Grosvenor Unite b 1871. The fourth son William Oliver Unite had married in 1861. He had 4 children but his only son George Lander Oliver Unite predeceased him in 1886, dying aged just 14.

Of George’s three daughters, Barbara and Dora didn’t marry. The youngest child Frances married Thomas Turner a gun maker in 1868. The Unite family wealth seeems to have gone to Edward’s only son George Willoughby Grosvenor Unite, who was independently wealthy. Marrying in 1900, the 1901 census shows him as living on his own means with 2 servants. He died in 1942 age 71 at Granard House, 98 Dovehouse Street London, leaving £66,000 to his widow Mary. In today’s money that would be £2.6 million.

Movado Watches a History of Stylish Innovation

The luxury watch brand Movado has a long and highly illustrious history. The company was founded in 1881 in La Chaux–de-Fauds, Switzerland by Achille Ditisheim. Within a mere 8 years Movado watches were starting to gain awards and the company invested heavily in research and developed the ground breaking Polyplan watch in 1912. This top winding wrist watch was not only one of the first bespoke wrist watches but was renowned for its movement which was built over three Figure 1planes allowing it to fit into a superbly curved stylistic elongated tonneau case. By the 1930s Movado was producing some absolutely stunning art deco design watches often marketed by top retailers retailers. A nice example of this was their truly lovely art deco drivers watches (Figure 1) produced for and signed Tiffany & co. These tank watches were equipped with the top end Movado 440 15 Jewel chronometer grade movements and were designed such that the case extended to outwardly curved flexible lugs allowing the watch to either be worn normally or on the side of the wrist when driving. These watches in good working order are increasingly hard to find and as a consequence are highly sought after by collectors.

By the 1940s Movado’s position as a leading designer of cutting edge watches was assured. However, ever an opportunist retailer the company moved on to market the now famous Nathan George Horwitt designed museum watch. This watch was initially designed for Vacheron & Constantin-Le Coultre in 1947, but Movado copied it in 1948. The watch was revolutionary in that it consisted of a black face with a single dot at the 12 o;clock position representing the sun at its meridian. Even today the design is striking, but in its day it caused a considerable stir. So much so that in 1969 it became the first watch to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This resulted in the watch subsequently being sold by Movado as “The Museum Watch”.

Figure 2Figure 3Movado’s innovation was not limited to fashionable designs, by the 1950s, and 1960s Movado was making the Kingmatic automatic watch (Fig. 2). However, even with these watches Movado added little touches to the design of the movement, such as lightweight cut out rotor blades based upon the Movado logo (Fig. 3). That these were never seen by the wearers of the watch is beside the point, it reflects the companies tremendous attention to detail.

Movado is still in operation today. It was bought by Gedalio Grinberg 1983 and is currently run by his son Efraim Grinberg. Movado now concentrate on the production of luxury quartz based chronometers.

Henry Morley and His Stirling Landscape Paintings

Henry Morley was an influential Stirling artist. He was born in Nottingham in 1870 and trained in Paris before studying in Stirling with Joseph Denovan Adam the renowned painter of Highland Cattle. Henry Morley chose to live in the Stirling area and married the rectors daughter and artist Isobel Miller Hutchinson in 1901. Henry and Isobel Morley were leading lights in the arts & crafts movement, to the extent that they commissioned Crawford and Fraser to build the arts & crafts house, The Gables, St Ninians, into which they moved in 1910. It seems they were very much at the centre of Stirling society and entertained artist and designers at the heart of the Scottish arts and crafts movement such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The impact of the Henry and Isobel Morley in the area is still very evident even today with Morley Crescent in Stirling being named after them.

Henry Morley mostly painted recognisable Stirling rural landscapes, in which he often captured the work of agricultural labourers (See Figure 1 “The Horse Pond”). His work was well liked in the Stirling area and he sold many of his works locally via exhibitions at the Stirling Fine Arts Association held in The Smith Institute (now The Stirling Smith Art gallery & Museum). More recently (2005) the importance and popularity of his work was celebrated in a large Henry Morely dedicated exhibition in the same location.

The Horse Pond, Oil on Canvas, Henry Morley Circa 1934 1Figure 1 The Horse Pond, oil on canvas by Henry Morley. The painting depicts a Stirling rural scene agricultural workers watering horses at “The Horse Pond”. The painting is 14 inches (35.5cm) X 17 inches (43.18cm) and is presented in its original glazed frame. The reverse of the frame carries a label from the Stirling Fine Arts Association showing the title of the work (The Horse Pond), the artists name (Henry Morley), his address (The Gables, St Ninians, Stirling) and also the date of the exhibition (16th January 1935).











Late 18th Century and Early Nineteenth Century Porcelain Handles: Loop, Ring & Wishbone

One of the most striking features of porcelain collecting is the array of different handles used in the early nineteenth century. However, frequently used designs incorporated aspects of the loop, ring and wishbone patterns.

Simple loop handles: these handles are a single loop. These can be plain or adorned. In this example of a Newhall cup decorated in pattern 155, the handle has gilt decoration on the handle sides and down the centre.Figure 1


Ring handle – a ring handle has circle within the handle. This example is an Old Derby coffee can dating to about 1810. Figure 2


Wishbone Handle – the wishbone handle looks like a J shape. The top part of the handle is often flat for the thumb to hold, then the lower part of the handle forms the second part of the wishbone. This is shown in the lovely Old Derby teacup below. In this instance the handle is undecorated.Figure 3b


Meadowlands: An Iconic Art Deco Burleigh Ware Pattern

Of the many English pottery companies Burleigh is one of the great survivors. Established in 1851 as Burgess and Leigh the business has had its ups and downs. One of the greatest periods for Burleigh was the Art Deco period of the late 1920s and 1930s. During this time Burgess and Leigh had an incredibly creative team of modellers and designers, including Earnest Bailey and Harold Bennett. Harold Bennett at this time functioned as the Art Director of the company and was responsible for introducing Art Deco tableware modelled by the Earnest Bailey to the UK market. Many of these designs were revolutionary, such as the wonderfully angular Zenith designs decorated with patterns such as the beautifully colourful and striking Meadowlands which swept the market. It isn’t hard to see why the period between the late 1920s and the Second World War has been described as the golden age of Burleigh Ware.

Today Burgess and Leigh Art Deco pottery is gaining again in popularity. Good examples are rare but do occasionally become available on the collectors market where they achieve quite good prices.

Above is nice example of a Burgess and Leigh Art Deco Zenith design Meadowlands patterned china coffee set consisting of a  coffee pot, six cups and saucers, a milk jug and a sugar bowl. Full sets like this are rare and extremely hard to find largely because dealers often sell pieces individually. As a result of this full sets like this do not stay in a display long. For example this particular coffee set was sold by Gloucester Antiques Centre within a week of being displayed. The buyer intended to display it and occasionally use it.

William Comyns

The silversmiths firm of William Comyns was established in approximately 1859 and by the early 1880s had become notable because of the high quality decorative silver ware the company produced. William Comyns gained particular fame for pieces incorporating highly integrate designs and also for his silver and tortoise shell pieces incorporating William Comynshigh quality silver pique work. The popularity of William Comyns was aided by the company selling its products via prestigious London retailers such as Tiffany and Co, Henry Lewis, etc. The desirability of William Comyns silver and Tortoiseshell pieces was so great that William Comyns became the primary and most desirable producers of items such as the highly ornate tortoiseshell and silver clocks. Examples of these in good condition fetch very good prices at auction. William Comyns also collaborated with good porcelain  manufacturers such as Royal Worcester and Crown Staffaordshire to produce some wonderful silver and porcelain tea and coffee sets consisting of fine china coffee cans held within ornate silver holders presented on matching china saucers (Figure 3).

Figure 3 for Comyns BlogThere are collectors who specialise in William Comyns and because of this good pieces are steadily disappearing into private collections. This of course makes William Comyns silver quite hard to find with a consequent knock on effect in terms of value. However, it is still possible to acquire good pieces at reasonable prices, for example a late Victorian William Comyns Bonbon spoon (Figure 1) may be bought for between £150 – £200 and, a good Edwardian William Comyns silver and tortoiseshell trinket box (Figure 2) may be bought for between £450 – £550.  We try to ensure that  keep a number of Victorian and Edwardian William Comyns pieces in stock.

The History of Cyma Watch Company

Cyma is a watch brand that has long been associated with accuaracy. Even the name Cyma, derived from the French cime for top or summit indicated the aims of the company, that of reaching the pinnacle of of accuracy. Cyma can trace its routes back to the Schwob brothers Joseph and Theodore, who initially established cyma in 1862 as a watch manufacturer that assembled watches from components derived from multiple Swiss sources.  At about the same time 1871, Henri Sndoz established Sandoz & Cie in Le Locle. However Sandoz moved to Tavannes in 1891, just North of Biel where he focused on the manufacture of highly complex repeaters and chronographs. Soon after this move Sandoz formed a developed a business relationship with the Schwob brothers and Cyma was officially registered in 1903. Sandoz used the most modern of manufacturing processes and produced very high quality time-pieces, trademarked as Tavannes, Cyma and Cyma Tavannes. The quality of the product allowed Tavannes/Cyma to develop into one of the largest Swiss watch manufacturers by 1910. Even basic models were very accurate and many were consequently sold as officially tested chronometers. By the 1920s, Cyma had followed a growing trend to standardise watch part manufacture, but typical of the company, it wasn’t enough to just produce parts that were interchangeable, they had to be precision made to ensure long term accuracy.

Early watch movements tended to be very susceptible to damage via physical blows. Thus during the 1930s efforts were made to develop shock proofing systems. The very first effective shock proofing system for watches  (Incabloc) was invented by Georges Braunschweig and Fritz Marti in 1934. These systems were incorporated into many watches by numerous watch manufacturers. However, by the 1950s, Cyma had developed its own shock proofing system, Cymerflex, which it installed in its high grade watches. These proudly advertised the fact on the dial  (Figure 1). It is a bit of a testament to Cyma, that of all of the numerous watches that have passed though our hands as dealers in vintage watches over the years, we have never had a troublesome Cyma.

Cymaflex WristwatchBy the late 1960s and early 1970s the watch industry was changing, the advances of Hamilton and Bulovea in the production of electric watches set the scene for the era of the quartz watch. By 1973 Cyma had produced their first electric watch and they were ready to embrace the new technology whilst other watch manufacturers were decimated by it.  The brand is currently owned by Stelux International, Ltd and continues to lead in the production of high quality quartz watches. Having achieved this it seems that Cyma has met the goals set out by its founders, after all Cyma now produces watches that are always absolutely accurate.

Rudolstadt Porcelain

The antique porcelain market in the UK is dominated by a combination of Chinese porcelain and English porcelain  from Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Derby. Strangely the English buyer of porcelain seems to be less well informed about continental porcelain. Thus in the UK porcelain from France, Germany and Austria is not always fully appreciated. Take for example Rudolstadt porcelain.  Although easily recognized by buyers in Europe and North America, Rudolstadt remains pretty much unrecognised in the UK, with some of the beautiful Rudolstadt blushware pieces being mistaken by British buyers for Royal Worcester!

Figure1aThe history of Rudolstadt porcelain goes back to 1869 when the German company Lazarus Straus & Sons (L.S.&S) was established to sell imported  ceramics. The Younger member of this partnership Nathan Strauss must have had a very good entrepreneurial mind because in 1874 it seems he managed to form a business agreement with none other than R.H.Macy’s & Co. For those not familiar with Macy’s, R.H.Macy is a mid to upper range US chain of department stores initially established by Rowland Hussey Macy who opened 4 dry goods stores between 1843 and 1855. These initial businesses failed but he eventually moved to New York where he opened R.H.Macy & Co on 6th Avenue. The business grew and despite some difficulties along the way gave rise to the huge chain store brand that Macey’s represents today.

This business relationship between Nathan Strauss and Macey’s allowed Lazarus Straus & Sons retail space in every Macey’s store, thus opening up the US export market.  This actually led to the formation of a US company, New York and Rudolstadt Pottery Co. Inc. 1882. This US company traded in the porcelain manufactured in and shipped over from the German factory, which functioned independently from its US partner.

Figure3aTo meet the growing demand of its growing export market Lazarus Straus & Sons expanded, Figure2aopening decorating studios in France and Bohemia giving rise to L.S.& S. Limoges’ and the Austrian ‘L.S.&S. Carlsbad. Both these decorating studios used their own decorators mark. However, the mark used in Germany revolved around a crown over a shield shaped lozenge containing the letters RW for Rudolstadt Works. Variations of this mark were used between 1895 and 1924, with a more ornate version being used between 1900 and 1918.

The quality of the porcelain and the quality of the painting was superb and Lazarus Straus & Sons porcelain rivaled the very best porcelain manufactured across Europe and the US. Take for example the lovely pair of Rudolstadt vases shown in Figure 1.  They are of a classical form  with a long  ovoid body extending up towards a partially fluted  neck. The form of the vases is finished with lovely ornate handles extending from the necks to the vase bodies.  The form of these vases alone is not only pleasing to the eye, but incredibly tactile. However the story does not stop there.  These blush ivory vases have been richly decorated with stunning flowers, and leaves with fine tube lining of the leaf veins in gilt and tube lining of the petal extremities to give the painting a rich almost three dimensional quality (Figure 2). Each vase is truly a work of art and caries the more ornate Rudolstadt  (figure 3) mark indicating a date of manufacture between 1900 and 1918.

History of the Hamilton Watch Company

By Morgan Denyer

Figure 1The history of the Hamilton Watch company goes back to 1886 when Figure 2Abram Bitner bought the Lancaster Pennsylvania Watch Company factory to establish the Keystone Standard Watch Company. The keystone Watch company developed a 18-size, 3/4-plate movement, with 15 jewels that incorporated a patented dust-proofing system (Figure 1) and was accurate enough to for use on the railroads. Unfortunately the company struggled and was eventually auctioned at a Sheriffs sale to a group of Pennsylvanian businessmen (J. W. B.Bausman, John F. Brimmer, Harry B. Cochran, Frank P. Coho, C. A. Fondersmith, George M. Franklin, John Sener, John C. Hager, J. F. McCaskey, H. M. North, Martin Ringwalt, J. Frederick Sener, William Z. Sener, James Shand, Peter T. Watt and H. S. Williamson. Charles D. Rood and Henry J. Cain of the Aurora Watch company) following its bankruptcy in 1892. The new company merged with the Aurora Watch Company of Illinois and was given the name The Hamilton Watch Company in honour of James Hamilton, a local and important historical figure who served as an elected member of the Provincial Assembly, was the Mayor in 1745, and was commissioned by the Penn family to function as lieutenant-governor on a number of occasions between 1754 and 1773. James Hamilton also owned large tracts of land granted to him by the Penn family and he used some of that land to build the State House and surrounding public spaces. He has been credited with founding the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The Hamilton Watch Company was set up with the aim of manufacture watches of the highest quality. The company didn’t have the resources to compete with the American watch making giants of the time (Waltham and Elgin) but what they could do, by producing very high quality watches, was to try and corner the railway watch market. The very first model they produced in 1893, a size 18, 17 jewel pocket watch did just that. This first watch, the Broadway, not only became known as “The watch of the Railway”, but was also the official timepiece of all U.S. Expeditionary Forces by the turn of the 20th century.  It was the Broadway and the later 21 jewel 992 Figure 2) railway grade movement that accounted for the majority of Hamilton sales during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Figure 3WW1 resulted in a need for a new type of watch, the Figure 4wristwatch or trench watch. Hamilton being a provider of watches for the US military very quickly produced its first trench watch in 1917 (Figure 3 & 4). This watch was based around an 0-sized (1 inch) 17-jewel 983 movement which was initially designed for use in ladies watches (see, the movements of these watches were even signed Lady Figure 5Hamilton. Hamilton produced 6900 of these movements and only about 1500 were cased as trench/aviators watches. They were quickly replaced in 1919 by men’s watches incorporating the O sized 981 calibre or 985 calibre movements. However, it seems that Hamilton couldn’t manufacture these watches fast enough to keep up with demand. The problem lay in the fact that the Hamilton watches were of an extremely high quality and were thus time consuming and expensive to manufacture. It is possible that Hamilton chose to manufacture high-grade wrist watches because to do otherwise could have damaged their brand and their major market, the railroads (see Hamilton continued to grow in the 1920s, buying the Illinois Watch Company in 1927/28 and as a result of this expanded its range to include numerous lovely Art Deco wrist watches including the stunning and very highly desirable Piping Rock (Figure 5).

Figure 6By 1939 WW2 had started in Europe and Hamilton Figure 7started to produce wristwatches that by modern standards would be more recognisable. Many of these were designed with almost an anticipation of future involvement in conflict. For example in 1940 Hamilton produced its first watch with a central sweep second hand, the Hamilton Sentinel (Figure 6). This watch contained a 17 jewel 987S calibre hack movement, in which the pulling out of the crown to set the watch stopped the second hand. Figure 8This of course enabled the synchronisation of watches. Talk about reading the market, Hamilton’s timing was perfect. In 1942, following the entry of the USA into WW2, Hamilton ceased producing watches for the civilian market and instead produced a million or more watches for the troops being sent to Europe and the Pacific. These watches were often equipped with movements incorporating the hack mechanism, originally used in the Hamilton Sentinel. After the war many of the designs used in the WW2 military watches were retained in military style dress watches, such as the beautiful 14K solid gold Hamilton Secometer. (Figure 7) The period after the WW2 also saw a return to the manufacture of lovely slim tank watches and Hamilton excelled in the production of some superb watches such as the Hamilton Donald (Figure 8).

The post war period witnessed an increasing wealth and the race to produce the first electric watch. Hamilton, apparently in response to rumours that Elgin were working on the development of an electric watch (, started Project X in 1946. This eventually resulted  in Hamilton unveiling the worlds first battery powered electric watch, the 14K solid gold Ventura in 1957 and soon after the 14 K yellow and white gold filled Pacer (Figure 9). These watches was something new, the design was striking and had its origins in the emerging space age. These watches were incredibly popular, even Elvis had one. Unfortunately the first Hamilton electric movement, the 500 was a bit unreliable, watch makers were un-used to them and refused to service them, so many were sent back to the manufacturer. Modifications of the 500 led to the development of the much more reliable 505 movement in 1962 and this was manufactured right up until 1969, when Hamilton finally admitted the superiority of Bulova’s Acutron. Despite the unreliability of the Hamilton electric watches they are still highly desirable, although there are only a very few specialist dealers/repairers such as the UK Electric Watch Guru Paul Wirdnam ( who can service and repair them.Figure 9

During the Hamilton Electric watch period, Hamilton changed its logo to a stylised H symbolic of the electric watch era (Figure 10). However, Hamilton continued to make very high grade mechanical watches Figure 10during this period. In 1966 hamilton bought the Buren factory in Switzerland giving rise toHamilton Buren. This allowed Hamilton to incorporate the highly inventive Buren micro rotor blade into its automatic watches. Hamilton stopped making watches in the US in 1969, and shifted their watch making to the Hamilton Buren manufacturing base. By 1972, the Hamilton Buren association had dissolved and Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH – Omega & Tissot) bought the Hamilton brand. Via the merger of SSIH and ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG) which gave rise to SMH (Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Ltd.) in 1984, Hamilton is now a subsidiary of Swatch. Following the success of the film Men in Black (1990) Hamilton re-launched the Ventura design with a quartz movement. Since then Hamilton has gone on to produce very high quality watches for the luxury market. Hamilton currently sponsors Nicolas Ivanoff (Aerobatic pilot) and his plane the Hamilton branded Edge 540, they host the Hollywood “behind the Camera Awards, and are the official timekeepers of EAA AirVenture and sponsor the annual event at Wittman Regional Airport, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The English Waltham Watches

by Morgan Denyer (Penrose Antiques Ltd)

Here is a bit of a horological heresey, the English Waltham! The Waltham watch company was steeped in American History, the company was founded by David Davies, Edward Howard and Aaron Lufkin Dennison who  in 1850 set up a company in Roxbury Massachusetts to manufacture watch parts. The company was reputedly set up under a cloud of secrecy because David Davies, Edward Howard and Aaron Lufkin Dennison were going to do something quite inventive, set up a watch manufacturing company in which all the components were made in their watch factory subject to strict quality control. This was quite unheard of and pretty much a world first. The watches they produced represented  a revolution in watch making, they could mass produce watches with interchangeable parts.

The first watches were made in 1852, and the company was named the Boston Watch Company in 1853. However the cost of production and retooling took its toll and the company was declared bankrupt resulting in the sale of the factory and larger machines to Royal E Robinns in 1857. He renamed the company Appleton Tracy & Company (ATCo) and retained Aaron Dennison as the factory superintendent. That year the company completed the development of the Model 1857 movement. By 1861 and the start of the American Civil War, ATCo had started to manufacture the William Ellery Model 57 watch. These watches were cheaply mass produced and became popular with Union soldiers who could buy them from roving merchants for a mere $13 or so. It seems that by the end of the civil war in 1865, the William Every Model 57 (Figure 1) accounted for 44.6% of the Waltham sales with the American Civil War Ellery watch serial number reaching around 161,000. (see  “Origins of the Waltham Model 57”   and “A closer look at a Civil War watch “ ).

Figure 1 Blog2Heated debate about the Ellery 57 Model watch represented a turning point in the career of Aaron Dennison. He fell out with Robinns in 1861 and Robinns eventually dismissed him for being a “vocal Dissenter” in 1862. One can imagine that this was a bit of a blow, but the success of the Ellery 57 and the perceived vindication of Dennison’s views seemed to drive him on to his next commercial venture.  In 1864 Dennison took the opportunity to set up the Tremont Watch Company with A. O. Bigelow. The idea here was to assemble watches in the US from fine parts sourced in Switzerland and larger parts sourced in America. Seemed like a good plan, but whilst Dennison was away in Switzerland organising the transport of components, his partners decided to move the company to Melrose and manufacture complete watches there. Needless to say Dennison was not pleased, he left the new company predicting utter disaster and moved to Birmingham England in 1871 where he established a watch case making business in 1872. His timing was perfect because of the opening in 1874 of the London office of the American Watch Company by N.P. Stratton, (assistant superintendant to Dennison in 1857, see “Watches Factories of America; Past and Present” by Henry G Abbott). Here was a ready market for Dennison’s cases and the person he had to convince of the value of his watch cases was none other than his old assistant superintendent at the American Watch Company. Unsurprisingly the majority of  the output of Dennison’s new watch case manufacturing business ended up being used by the London branch of the American Watch Company. What was particularly interesting about this though was that these early Dennison cases did not carry the Dennison makers mark, but AWCo, presumably because Robbins wouldn’t tolerate a Dennison makers mark on his watches.

Fig 2 Blog 2The association between the Dennison Watch Case Company and AWCo and the Later Waltham Watch Company, was maintained long after Aaron Dennison’s death in 1895. The success of this collaborative venture was exemplified by the Waltham Traveler (Figure 2). The Waltham Traveler consisted of a 7 jewel movement and was favoured for the export market in the early 20th century. Tens of thousands were sent to the UK where they were mostly cased in Dennison gold or gold plated cases. These watches were robust and many have survived in good working order. They represent a very good investment for those wishing to buy a good antique watch. The real benefit of these watches is that because they were mass produced, the parts are readily sourced and are fully interchangeable.

By the First World War Waltham had become a major supplier of watch movements in the UK, but the market was changing. Pocket watches were of little use in the trenches of the European battle fields and troops had started to modify their watches by the addition of wire lugs. Dennison, having his business located in the UK was in a prime position to take advantage of this. By 1914/15 Dennison had started to make transitional or trench watch cases consisting of what looked like pocket watch cases fitted with wire lugs (Figure 3). These were designed to fit Waltham movements and were a favorite with British officers heading of to war. The design actually gained such popularity with the conservative British that the Dennison transitional watch cases were made right through the 1920s and into the mid to late1930s. The latest example we at Penrose Antiques Ltd have encountered dated from 1938.Fig 3a

Post WW1 there were also drivers to further refine wristwatch design. This was very much a period of the tank watch, a design first created by Louis Cartier in 1917. Virtually all watchmakers leaped on the tank watch bandwagon, and Waltham, was no different. By the 1920s Waltham was producing a range of movements designed to fit slim rectangular dress watchcases. Many of these movements made it to the UK to be encased in lovely simple but elegant slim lozenge shaped curved art Art Deco Dennison cases.

In the history of watch making, many watch manufacturers had watch movements made to fit their watch cases, for example the American Ball Watch Company used Swiss made Avia watch movement. Thus one could argue that the Walthams assembled in the UK form English made Dennison cases represent a special bread of English Walthams. After all many of the Dennison cases, although designed to fit Waltham movements were also designed for the English market. For example the early trench watch cases made by Dennison specifically met the needs of the British heading off to the trenches. The design was only later adopted by Waltham in the US to meet the needs of American troops post April 6th 1917 when the USA entered the war. So perhaps Britain, via the efforts and perseverance of Aaron Dennison can bathe in a small portion of the glory of the historically great American Waltham Watch Company.

The association with Dennison and the English market may also have played a part in the eventual downfall of the Waltham Watch Company. The British were by nature very conservative, but the UK was a major market for Waltham. Perhaps to meet the needs of this market, Waltham maintained a more conservative output, and it may have been that the English conservative influence led  Waltham watches to be perceived as a bit boring in the home US market. This perception of conservatism was believed to have played a part in a decline of sales and the eventual bankruptcy of the Waltham Watch Company  in 1949 and closure of the American Waltham Watch factory in 1957.

%d bloggers like this: