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.

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.

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.

The Great Ocean Liners Potter

The popularity of cruise holidays has grown in recent years and represents a continuation of a great elegant tradition, that of the great ocean liners of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Opulence was the word from luxurious fabrics to state of the art gadgets combined with the best dining experience and sumptuous state-rooms, the great age of the ocean liners was truly a Bishop & Stonier Water Jug and Bowl 1playground for the well healed traveler. Obviously only the best was good enough and this applied to everything, including the china. One major supplier of china to the luxury shipping industry was the company Bishop and Stonier. The company Bishop and Stonier was formed by William Livesley, Edwin Powell and Fredrick Bishop under the name of Livesley Powell & Co in 1851. Livesley and Powell were both potters, but Bishop was a lawyer who funded the operation. Much of their wares were shipped to the USA, for example in 1851 over one million items were recorded as having been shipped to New York. On Livesley’s retirement in 1866 the company name changed to Powell and Bishop. In 1878 Powell and Bishop were joined by John Stonier. John Stonier was a glass and china merchant based in Liverpool who had built up a considerable business fitting out the great liners of the day, including the ships of the White Star Line. In 1891 Stonier formed a new company with Duncan Watson Bishop using the trade mark Bisto incorporating the first two letters of both their names along with the Wand of Caduceus. Their advertising slogan was “The sun never sets on Bisto ware” and of course this implied a link with Bisto ware and the glamour of the great liners plying the oceans of the world. Stonier and Co was the supplier of china for the Titanic and unsurprisingly Bisto ware featured highly on board the ill-fated ship, including plates carrying the small pattern used in 1st Class along with the Delft pattern and Flow pattern used in 2nd Class. By the 1920s many producers of pottery had started to experiment with more flamboyant patterns and colours. Bisto was amongst these and produced a number of quite eye catching art deco bathroom sets (Figure 1) along with the now famed Aztec ware. Bisto was sold to George Jones & Sons in 1933 and they continued to use the Bisto mark until 1939. For more details about the china aboard the Titanic see “A look at the china patterns used on Titanic“. For more details about Bishop & Stonier marks see the Potters Index.

The Bulova Watch Company

by Morgan Denyer  (Penrose Antiques Ltd)

The Bulova’s story starts with the immigration of a certain Joseph Bulova to the United States. Joseph Bulova was born in 1851 and emigrated to the US towards the later quarter of the 19th century to establish a small New York jewellers, J Bulova Company. By 1911 Bulova had started to make small table clocks and pocket watches, a venture aided by the opening of Bulova’s first watch factory in Bienne, Switzerland in 1912. Bulova Figure 1This was very much a time of growth and innovation in the watch making industry, partially drivBulova Figure 2en by the needs of the military. The 1st World War, saw Bulova working towards meeting the need for the new fangled wristwatches, and by 1919 Bulova was the first watch manufacturer to launch a full range of men’s wristwatches. At this time Bulova’s business was growing fast and to facilitate continued growth, Bulova, in 1920, moved to 580 Fifth Avenue, where Bulova built the first ever Observatory on top of a skyscraper (Figure 1). Accuracy was everything, thus the observatory was apparently under the direction of a mathematician, whose calculations were reputed to guide the factory’s watchmakers in their efforts towards absolute accuracy. Ever the opportunistic advertiser, the move provided Bulova with an opportunity to re-brand itself in 1923 as the Bulova Watch Company Inc. At this time Bulova’s methods of mass production allowed the production of high precision interchangeable components allowing rapid repair and servicing. The Bulova’s were always ready to support risky projects with the aim of grabbing a headline. For example it was the Bulova Watch Company that made the first ever radio advertisement in 1926, and it was Ardé Bulova, Joseph’s son, who offered a $1000 prize to the pilot who could make the first non-stopBulova Blog Figure 3 single-handed flight across the Atlantic. It seems that those who attempted this feet were all given a Bulova before they took off, and it is reputed that the first pilot, Charles A. Lindberg, who managed the trip wore a Bulova during the flight. It is also believed that Lindberg actually earned himself two Bulova watches and of course a nice large cheque as a result of his efforts. The first watch was given to him before the flight, and the second as a presentation watch after the flight in a blaze of publicity. Not to miss a trick, Bulova capitalised on this my creating the Lone Eagle model, the first ever commemorative watch. This watch seemed to be rather fittingly based on what was called the Bulova Conqueror (Figure 2 – see for more details). Rather perversely, prior to the successful flight the Conqueror didn’t actually sell that well, but on touch down, sales rocketed with the Bulova records showing 5000 sales within the first 3 days of landing. There is still considerable debate as to whether these were actual sales of physical watches to individual customers, or orders from jewellers. The latter seems most likely. The company continued innovating, producing the very first electric clocks in 1931 and making the first ever television advertisement in 1941. During WW2 Bulova dedicated its time to producing timepieces for the US military. After the war Bulova produced some truly lovely watches combining stunningly creative designs with the small sleek look of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Many of these watches were very high quality watches consisting of high calibre movements within 14ct solid white or yellow gold cases (Figure 3). Bulova Figure 4The 50s also saw social changes, this was an era of steadily increasing wealth, and massive technological advances. In the watch industry the race was on to produce the first electric watch. This was perceived as an almost impossible task because it required the miniaturisation of electrical components. However, by 1960 Bulova had developed the Bulova Accutron. This watch was remarkable in that it basically contained a mechanical movement driven by a 360 hertz tuning fork. The concept was brilliant, very ingenious and beautifully simple. Basically what Bulova did was to fabricate a means of driving a 25mm long tuning fork with an electronic unit consisting of a couple of coils, a battery unit and a couple of transistors. The tuning fork was manufactured so that one arm possessed a post from which extended an arm like structure terminating in a jewelled square (Figure 4a-c see for further details). The vibrations of the tuning fork allowed the arm to drive a micro-toothed wheel, tBulova Figure 5ooth by tooth. It was this micro-toothed wheel, which drove the mechanical gear chain allowing the hands to move. These watches don’t tick they give of a faint high-pitched hum, and it is down to the micro-toothed drive wheel that in these watches the second hand seems to move with a mystical smoothness. The Accutron was the very first highly accurate electric watches, and this was recognised by the Bulova Accutron wristwatch being the first wristwatch to be awarded the US Railroad Certificate. The value of this accolade should be explained. In the early years of the US railroad, accidents tended to happen because train drivers and signallers had watches that were not terribly accurate. To try and circumvent this, strict standards were set for the accuracy of watches used on the US railways to insure the appropriate coordination of time dependent tasks. Thus Bulova, because of the accuracy of its Accutron wristwatches, could market their wristwatches to the rail industry. To market these new watches, Bulova produced versions without a formalised face, thus the all-new movement could be viewed. These watches were meant to be display items only. However, customers wanted to buy them, and thus the Accutron Spaceview watches were born. These were, and still are, highly popular and when combined with the asymmetrical watch designs of the 1960s resulted in some lovely timepieces (See for details of some of the designs). One of my particular favourites is the so called Tilty (or floppy) Football (Figure 5), which consisted of a tilted asymmetrical almost circular 14ct solid gold case combined with the space view – a real peach of a watch! The Space View versions are very collectable and unsurprisingly kits are available to convert a standard Accutron to a Spaceview Accutron. The 60s also saw the race to the moon. Bulova was heavily involved in the space race. Their main rival in this market was Omega. Both competed to have the first watch on the moon. Unfortunately for Bulova, Omega won that race race, on the basis that Bulova didn’t guarantee 100% dust proofing, whilst Omega did. So the Omega Speedmaster Professional became the official NASA astronauts watch. However, all of the timepieces for the spacecraft, were based around the Accutron 214 movement, because NASA couldn’t be certain how purely mechanical timepieces would function in a zero gravity environment. The Accutron based watches were made between 1960 and 1977. The demise of the tuning fork based movement was driven by the invention of the quartz based movement which could be made much more cheaply. Bulova is still a major force in the watch manufacturing industry. The company was bought by Citizen in 2008 and continues to make watches branded as Bulova, Caravelle, Wittnauer Swiss, Marine Star and Accutron (which are now quartz based, although 1000 50th anniversary true tuning fork based Accutrons were made in 2010).

Builth Wells Antiques Fair (4th and 5th of May 2013)

Come and visit us at the Builth Wells International Antiques Fair this weekend. Look for the above sign to find us and if you tell us tell us you saw it on WordPress, Pinterest or Twitter we will give you a 20% discount on any item or items on our stand. We will be  in Hall 2 Stand B10.Penrose Antiques sign

Happy shoping

Rachel and Morgan

The Watchmakers Box

Most people like wooden boxes. Visitors to antique fairs gravitate towards them, opening and closing the lid and drawers. The more compartments the box has, the better. The attraction is to have somewhere to put all the nick-knacks and small treasures that we accumulate during our lifetimes.

For some professions a well-designed and well-constructed box is very useful. For example a watchmaker uses a range of small tools, and needs somewhere to keep them along with small delicate mechanical watch components, so watchmakers boxes were designed to meet these needs.

The boxes needed to be compact, portable and not only provide adequate storage but also a non-slip and soft working surface. They often consisted of multiple felt-lined drawers or compartments of different depths mounted on some for of retractable felt lined worktop. These watchmaker boxes are hard to find and have often had rather a hard life.

We recently acquired a lovely example (figure 1). This box is made out of a lovely golden oak by DC Woodberry of Cardigan Road, Henleaze, Bristol (figure 2). It probably dates from the early to mid 20th century. The box is approximately the size of a large brief case but twice as deep, with a leather handle on the top. The simplicity of the design is stunning. It has 5 graduated felt-lined drawers arranged over a central felt-lined cubbyhole over a further 3 felt-lined graduated long drawers lower down. The retractable felt-lined working surface was designed to be removed and then function as the lockable box front. This particularly box is in very good condition.

Watchmakers watch 1

Figure 1 The early to mid 20th Century watchmakers box

At its first outing at the Bowman Antiques Fair March 2013 the box attracted a lot of interest, selling within 4 hours. The point here is that high quality, well-designed boxes with a clearly defined use are not just desirable, they are a hot commodity.

Watchmakers box2

Figure 2 The Makers label

Preparing for Stafford Bingley Hall Antiques Fair

Getting ready for an antique fair is always enjoyable. The preparations starts well in advance with a review of the stock. This is very important because different fairs have very different characters and attract very different buyers so the stock has to be matched to the venue. The next step is to put together a shopping list, this is a truly fun but a vital component of the preparation.  The shopping list has to be quite general, highlighting classes of antiques rather than specific items. Then comes the sourcing. Sourcing new stock can be both exciting and frustrating because success is very dependent on what is available at that time and being able to acquire desired items at the right price. Unsurprisingly, sourcing can be very time consuming, often involving hours in cold draft filled auction rooms or hours searching outdoor stalls at other antique fairs. However, there is the reward, a find that that fits the requirements at the right price. Buying stock isn’t the end of it, quite often new stock items have characteristics that need further research, for example an inscription on a piece of silver can add provenance, or an unusual makers mark on a piece of pottery or a piece of furniture. There is always an element of risk when buying, and that one item that looks good but you just need to check up on it to make sure. This adds a real thrill to the chase. The research component is accompanied by cleaning, servicing in the case of watches (All our watches are serviced by a very well established watch and clock maker JH Oxtoby and Sons) and photographing. We find that photographing our stock is very important. We keep a pictorial record of our purchases and this combined with good well-researched descriptions means that we build up a fantastic resource based on personal experience. Having done all that, all there is left to do is head off to the fair and set up.

For our next fair at Stafford Bingley Hall on the 8th, 9th and 10th of March we have sourced a whole load of goodies, see a tiny sample below (Figure 1). Come and visit us, we are easy to find being located on the red carpeted area by the ladies loos two stands down from the little shop.

Stafford pic 3Figure 1 shows A) An continental silver and gold Longines pocket watch dated to 1925, B)A silver footed bowl with hallmarks for Sheffield 1902 and makers marks for Fenton Russell & Co, weight approximately 16oz, C) An Edwardian 9ct gold double Albert watch chain (37 cm in length, weight approximately 18g) with a 9ct shield fob, D) A Victorian silver snuff box with hallmarks for 1859 and makers marks for Frederick Marson, and E) A Royal Worcester miniature porcelain tortoise, date marks for 1907.

Antique Silver and the Opportune Moment

Good silver is steadily becoming harder to source. Over the past 3 years, the silver price has been strong. As a result, vast quantities of Victorian, Edwardian and later good quality silver has sold at scrap prices to scap merchants. Even Georgian silver has fallen victim. The volume of silver that has been destroyed is incredible

Many of the scrap buyers relied on a growing silver price for their margin. Profit was made on a volume basis. Some merchants actually had hollow-ware crushers made, so they could rip off non-metal handles, and pack their purchases more effectively. Some of the metal dealers had huge monthly turnovers working to a margin of just a few percent. As a result, vast amounts of stunning silver has been lost from the antique market, and has probably be turned into components for computers, mobile phones, and other pieces of consumer-ware. Thankfully times have changed, and because of a shortage of good silver the price of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian silver has increased quite dramatically. This, combined with the fact that some investors have moved into tangible assets such as antiques, particularly those with an intrinsic as well as an aesthetic value has meant that sourcing antique silver has become more expensive. As dealers in antique silver, this is something we welcome. Yes we need to spend more to buy stock, but this means that now the lovely silver that 12 months ago was within the reach of the scrap merchants is for the time being safe from the short term profiteers. Is it a good time to buy good silver? We believe so, it is a case of supply and demand and at the moment demand is outstripping supply.

%d bloggers like this: