The old tradition of watches having engraved names on the front
The wish to get a unique, personal watch, is by far not a new tradition, but the one which persisted centuries ago. In 18th and 19th century watch ateliers, a vast variety of unique watch cases with an off-the-shelf movement could be made, but they are pricy. A more budget way to grant an uncommon present was to personalize it, mostly it involved engraving a monogram or an emblem on the back cover (see example – custom monogram order page from F.Winter’s catalouge). As well as that, it could be a plate with the owner’s name and initials on the pocket watch chain, a family emblem, or a custom engraving. A pattern on the dust cover was a popular feature at the times too, the included gift titles and the like things, they have the historic value of a memory.
Though, we will review a more creative and interesting method of turning a watch into a unique, personal and outstanding accessory: a custom, made-to-order dial without any numbers. 12-letter abbreviation of the owner’s name is painted instead.
This is by far not the easiest method, as there weren’t many able watchmakers around, also in nearly every case the watch dial lettering was hand-drawn by another specialist.
An interesting find
As usual, an unusual feature could fire up the interest to an item. I have a Swiss movement from 1880s, taken from a pocket watch. I featured a unique dial “AUGUST PIERES”. This enamel face with letters is surely a custom personal dial ordered by the owner. It is certain straightaway, that the watch was ordered by an Argentinian Baron.
Enamel, fine letters, golden finish on the patterns, watch hands and calendar apertures. AUGUST PIERES – the owner, who ordered himself a watch.
It is not any less common to find initials on the inside too, as it has a rare combination of features: chronograph and a disk calendar showing the day+date. The movement is made to the highest standard, and is in very good condition, but it will still need some restoration to give it a proper look.
Getting rid of the footprint the time left on it, as well as choosing the fit watch hands and manufacturing a new wrist watch case makes a unique, large watch.
A calendar with disk indication sits under the dial, which appears to be a rare feature when found in a chronograph watch.
The next thing to do was to find pieces similar to this one, and soon it was clear that this letter-numbered dial is not alone. Though, it was really interesting to look at a variety of letter-dials, as well as compare the creativity and imagination behind them.
1. An English tradition
The oldest examples of named watch faces happened to be made in an English manner. Back in the early 18th century, youy could find examples of watches with letters in place of numbers.
WILLIAM HATTON, a dial taken from a pocket watch. This is enamel with glaze finishing. Double LL – an interesting compacting solution.
JOHN, KIRKHAM, silver, 1806-1807s as chester stamps mention.
Pay attention to the comma and the full stop, there is a digit left on the 12 o’clock
JOHN MELVILLE, movement comes back from 1810s, and again you see a comma and a full stop.
ROBERT GREEN and a wonderful sun on the capital number 12.
As you may see, there is an interesting problem with 12-digit format: it s both a puzzle, and has a great outcome when solved. It must be read clearly, look beautiful and not create confusion and letter overlapping. English watchmakers used commas and full stops to make it even simpler, although, in the later examples, the punctuation were gone.
2. South America
Second-popular units include old watches for rich south-American customers. Actually, the South-American style is similar to the Russian merchant products, as there is important attention and affection being paid customer. Spain-style names look quite uncommon, here is an example: you decide. Anyway, the Russian names on the dials would look no less exotic to people from other countries.
GRANDE PEDRO – a great watch whose name is Peter.
There was no simple movement inside of the ‘Big Peter’: one taken from a Girard-Perregaux! The movement will be turned into a timepiece soon, by the way, and the case is already on the planning stage.
LUIZ PORTODOM with an enamel dial, though the whole other watch part of it is unfortunately gone.
Here, we’ve got the LONGINES brand with the movement taken from a gold chronograph watch. The custom watch face features the name JULIO AGUILAR.
XAVIER BONITO – a typical cartel boss! Gold+engraving, year 1920.
EDUARDO POMBO made from gold with a higher-class movement, made in 1920s.
You may have by now seen that looking any personalized dial, it is not housed in a cheap watch. Such pieces are very frequently made either from silver or gold, usually with enamel and additional movement functions. For branded (corporative) orders, serial watches exist, but any personal watch for the beloved-you would most likely be made of more expensive and higher quality material, and of a better standard.
3. Family – corporative orders
EUROPE TAMIJN in the gothic style, an organization from an Indian company times.
Based on the following movement, this watch was created (see link)
The HUMBLE brand, a series for the winners of the competition, year 1937.
The dial is not hand-made, but more like a stamp. That means that a series was ordered.
CHARLES KNAPP – a brand name, most likely a watch belonging to the brand owners’ family member, or any of the relatives.
4. Russia and America
Of course, the English traditions were responded not only by the Russian merchants, but also by the American nouveaus.
The ‘G. ZUBCHANINOV’, the Mussard manufactory , St. Petersburg, 1800-1820s.
The old English gothic, although it is made in a style typical for America.
NATHAN. C. DANIS, (watch by Illinois Watch Company), late 19th century
The magic druids! The branch-like digit ornament is single and unique for the following American watch. SHERMAN HEWETT, see where the capital letter ’S’ is shifted. Two landscapes remind of the motherlands.
5. Gifts to the beloved
Isn’t it a great idea to order a custom watch as a present for your other beloved half, with his/her name on the watch face!?
JULIA IMOGENE. A ladies’ watch, golden case with silver dial, guilloche and enamel.
The watch looks amazing, and the attention is soon fixed on the detail as no digits are found to be in their original places. The watch makes the observer’s curiosity fall in love with the unique item that will keep the family name and the memories of the grand ancestry for a long time.
Is it possible to order one?
In short – Yes, yes you can.
Divise a way of placing your name onto the 12-hour dial, and we will be able to manufacture personal timepiece in our watch ateliers. It is also possible to manufacture from gold, silver and platinum, as well as with enamel and hand engraving. An alternative method would be taking a ready watch, and making a personalized watch face that you so desire. Though any way is great, and it surely is an incompeteable masterpiece in terms of a gift.
Instead of P.S.
Returning for a minute to the English style, try to read the name on the following dial:
It is a very good puzzle, the owner surely liked a unique style, as well as a challenge!