|Joined: ||Thu Dec 10th, 2009|
|Location: ||California USA|
|Before viewing the photos of a RR Grade pocketwatch from a historically significant American watchmaker, some important history might interest many viewers.
The Ball Watch Company, an American watchmaker of the highest quality RR Grade pocketwatches available at the time, was established in Cleveland, Ohio by Webb C. Ball in 1891. However, much later in the 20th century, the company, its name, its logo, and all rights to manufacture watches under the Ball name was sold to Swiss owners, and Ball continues to manufacture superb wristwatches today, still bearing the original Ball logo, and the Official RR Standard name etched or embossed on the dials.
A massive train crash in Ohio in 1891 that killed several people, was caused by bad timing, where two trains sharing the same track were headed towards each other and where the engineer and conductor of one of the trains believed their train to be on time and schedule to reach the switch to the secondary by-pass track to allow the other train to safely pass, were obviously off time and the two trains crashed head-on before the one train could get off the main track. Webb C. Ball of Cleveland, who was at the time, the top timing official for all the hundreds of thousands of miles of railroad tracks in North America (US, Canada, & Mexico) was tasked by the United States government to establish uniform rules for the manufacture of timepieces to regulate railroad times and operations. Timing was of utmost importance, as timing regulated when trains that shared tracks would have to pass one another, as well as keeping passenger services on schedule.
Mr. Ball not only established rules for timing, but drafted designs for what was to become the Railroad Official Standard for RR Grade pocketwatches. He also established an inspection system whereby all certified RR Grade watches would be checked every two weeks, the watches carded, and any adjustments, repairs, and timing accuracy was listed, stamped and noted who did what to the watch and when. Traceability of each watch carried by each engineer and each conductor was established, and all engineers and conductors were required to carry their watch certification card at all times while on the job.
Prior to any uniform rules as to manufacture of timepieces for railroad operations, all pocketwatch manufacturers made their respective watches to their own standards. As you can assume, these standards produced a huge variance in timing conditions, where one watch did not match another and the accuracy of one watch to another was always in question.
When Mr. Ball presented his designs to the federal government, the most common of the requirements included such things as case design (the watch could have no metal cover over the dial, the watch must be a 16, 17, or 18 size watch, and the bow and crown must be at the 12 o'clock position), dial design (all numbers and minute markers must be present and of a particular size --you never will see roman numerals on a certified railroad pocketwatch-- and only certain fonts of a specific size were permitted on the dial, the dial must be white with black numbers and markers, there must be a subchapter for the individual small seconds hand, that timing accuracy must be within a certain amount of seconds per week, standards were specified for ruggedness and the ability to withstand hard use, all were required among other stringent requirements. All manufacturers in the United States were required to manufacture all railroad pocketwatches to these standards, and then the inspections were to commence on a regular basis. Only the watches that met these standards could be sold with the designation of Railroad Grade (RR Grade).
In addition, at that same time, W. C. Ball was a major player in establishing the Horological Institute of America, an institute that maintained these strict standards.
W. C. Ball never manufactured any railroad pocketwatches, but he did commission several other watch manufacturers, to name a few -- Hamilton, Elgin, Waltham, and others -- to manufacture railroad watches under his name that met or exceeded the specifications that he had established, and he sold his Ball watches, made for him by these other manufacturers to over 100 railroad companies. Of course these other manufacurers all built their own models of railroad grade and approved watches for railroad use.
A few of the most common and most important of these R. R. Grade models were the Hamilton 992, 992B, 950, and 950B, the Illinois (note that Hamilton owned the Illinois Watch Company) Bunn Special, Sangamo Special, and Commercial, the Elgin B. W. Raymond and Riverside, and many of them, especially the Hamilton "B" models were sold until the early 1960s when Hamilton finally closed its doors in Lancaster, PA.
Even today, if you can find fine examples of RR Grade pocketwatches, they will run precisely, keep time accuracy within a few seconds a day. They are jewels of craftsmanship that one sees in only the most expensive mechanical or automatic watches being manufactured these days, but the intricate and detailed designs, the embellishments and damaskeening found on the RR Grade movements are usually no longer seen, some of the characteristics of these railroad gems that make them worth what they are and make them prized items to collect.
The Ball Watches gained such popularity and were in such high demand by all railroad men, that the slogan, "Get on the Ball" was coined after the Ball Watch and was commonly referring to the Ball Watches' superior ability to correctly and precisely keep timing and railroad schedules in perfect order.
This first photo shows a Ball RR Grade 999B pocket watch where the trademarked stirip bow can be noted. The stirip bow was only used on Ball Watches, although it was not used on all of them.
Another view of the face and dial --- this watch is housed in a 14K gold filled 16 size case The case was manufactured by Keystone, a Pennsylvania company, for the Ball Watch Company. Keystone manufactured millions of cases to specification for most pocketwatch companies.
The back side of the case. Note that both the front side (bezel and crystal) and the back of the case screwed off so that the watch could easily be adjusted, and the removal of the front side was necessary to operate the lever-set pull to adjust the time:
Another view of the face, hands, dial, bow and crown of the Ball 999B
The beautiful movement, showing the circular damaskeening (this was typical of Ball pocketwatches), the movement grade number (999B), the Ball engraving. Note that this movement grade was essentially identical to the Hamilton 992B, a movement that had been introduced in late 1940, but the Ball movement has distinctive Ball damaskeening and the 999B grade number present. This particular movement and watch was manufactured and cased by Hamilton in 1942 making it 67 years old.
A final photo of the face of the Ball 999B
Last edited on Wed Mar 10th, 2010 05:16 pm by ChaunceyJack
ChaunceyJack [aka John]