RGM’s 25th Anniversary Begets 3 New Watch Models, Including The Enigmatic 222-RR ‘Boxcar’
“It’s always been my dream to make my own movement. That’s the heart of the watch.”
In 2006, Roland Murphy could not have summarized his career more succinctly than when he revealed his big news concerning the then-upcoming Caliber 801 to me; this was a year before his eponymous American watch brand publicly introduced its first in-house movement. The 801 – named for the address of the RGM workshop in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania – was the first serially made American-made movement since 1969, when Hamilton stopped making the 992B railroad movement.
Re-launching the production of an all-American movement is something Murphy is justifiably proud about.
Murphy’s RGM brand manufactures about 90 percent of the components for the movement right in Lancaster County, and then his own watchmakers in Mount Joy nicely finish the components and assemble them. RGM has made close to 400 examples of Caliber 801 in the decade since it was introduced.
Roland Murphy: a passionate watchmaker
Originally hailing from Maryland, Murphy had a natural talent for working with his hands at a fairly early age. Learning woodworking at a vocational school, he made cabinets at a clock company – which is where he discovered his love of ticking treasures; it wasn’t long before he was constructing his own clocks.
Murphy’s proclivity for watch and clock movements becoming apparent, he attended Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Bowman Technical School before graduating from the famed Wostep program in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Returning to Pennsylvania, he worked at Hamilton for a few years in the late 1980s, an experience that taught him the rest of what he needed to know about the watch business.
In 1992, Murphy called RGM to life. The company’s name comprises Murphy’s initials: Roland G. Murphy. And in 2003, he moved his company to the old bank building right in the middle of town that has become the charismatic headquarters of an American institution in watchmaking.
“You have to make money to survive,” Murphy reminded me when Joshua Munchow and I visited him in July 2017 (see RGM Watch Company: American In-House Manufacturing Case Study), “but my career path has been more passion, love, and the quest than that. Twenty-five years is simply remarkable.”
Murphy’s company has evolved over the quarter century since its inception, but a few key elements have formed the golden thread that joins each and every one of his timepieces: an innate understanding of watchmaking and its history, a deep appreciation for it, and a love of the handcrafted art known as guilloché that adorns many of RGM’s dials.
“I make watches I like, and I hope other people like them,” Murphy has philosophized to me. “Because RGM is small, each watch has its own special appeal. They are not just a commodity pumped out of a factory that changes ownership every five years. I may not have a 150-year history with a famous name, but I have high-quality watches.”
RGM Caliber 801
Caliber 801 joined RGM’s repertoire in 2007. Because today we are practically bombarded with announcements of new, from-scratch movements, speaking of a new movement may not mean much to the average reader. However, it is important to remember that unlike Switzerland, there is no longer an industry attached to making timepieces in the U.S., which also means there is no infrastructure or supplier system in the country.
So a venture of this magnitude is a lot harder than it may actually sound.
Caliber 801 is a classic movement in the tradition of America’s greatest manufacturers. And because of the way that Murphy has set up his business, the movement can be customized to the wishes of the client in terms of decoration, plating, and other elements since RGM makes fewer than 350 timepieces per year.
RGM 25th anniversary model: 801SW-COE Corps of Engineers Sweep Second
Murphy drew his inspiration for his Corps of Engineers series from the U.S. Corps of Engineers timepieces of World War I. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had adopted the General Railroad Timepiece Standards introduced in 1893 to define and identify a genuine railroad pocket watch.
When nine newly organized engineer railway regiments arrived in France at the end of August 1917, they brought with them around 1,000 American-made Hamilton railroad watches that were outfitted with technical features to enable easy winding, extreme legibility, and accuracy to within 30 seconds per week.
On the outside what distinguishes the 801SW-COE Corps of Engineers Sweep Second aside from the clear design of the large numerals is a grand feu enamel dial paired with blued steel hands. Genuine enamel dials are not common in watches today, and it is hard to successfully simulate the look of real enamel using other materials.
Another fact about this dial that is sure to delight lovers of high-end watches is that these dials come from a traditional dial factory in Switzerland.
What distinguishes this particular edition on the inside is the newly upgraded Caliber 801SW (“SW” for “sweep”), which features a large sweep second hand. This model does look very similar to RGM’s 801-COE; the big distinguishing difference is the large blued steel center second hand making its way around the enamel dial.
The bridges of this manually wound movement, like so much else at RGM, are inspired by the U.S.’s watchmaking history: they are reminiscent of those found on the Keystone Howard Watch Company’s Edward Howard model, one of the highest-grade American watches of its time according to Murphy.
Caliber 801’s unique click, a spring or pawl that keeps a wound mainspring from unwinding at the wrong time, was inspired by the Illinois Watch Company’s Illini model, while its polished winding wheels are finished in the manner of the company’s Bunn Special. (For more on clicks see The Schmidt List: Top 5 Funky Clicks.)
The Bunn Special was that company’s most famous railroad chronometer, and the 801SW’s finish and construction style references it.
For more on this very attractive watch, please see www.rgmwatches.com/watches/801swcoe.
Quick Facts RGM 801SW-COE Corps of Engineers Sweep Second
Case: 42 x 11.7 mm, stainless steel
Dial: high-fire enamel
Movement: manually winding Caliber 801SW, American-made, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz, seven-tooth click (optional wolf’s tooth wheels), 40-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking seconds
RGM 25th anniversary model: 222-RR
“RR” obviously stands for “railroad,” so the inspiration for this watch is easy to divine.
This is a truly American watch, the kind that RGM really specializes in.
The 222-RR is a modern-sized stainless steel wristwatch with a beautifully large (yet unobtrusive thanks to its wild positioning) oignon-style crown that runs on a vintage Hamilton 10-line pocket watch movement. RGM resurrected these movements for use in wristwatches, refurbishing them with only the best quality components.
All of these calibers have new custom made mainsprings, and the steel parts are tin-polished by hand so that they look better than they ever did, even when new. One RGM watchmaker assembles and adjusts the movement from A to Z – there is no production line in Mount Joy.
The movements used in the 222-RRs are Hamilton Caliber 921 or 923, both of which are distinguishable by their finishing. The 921 movement with 21 jewels was originally made in large quantities, while there are less than 4,000 examples of the 923 (with 23 jewels) in existence. And it should be noted that the RGM upgrade results in a far better quality watch with far better finishing than the originally mass-produced movements ever did in their own heyday.
Over the course of about 13 years, Murphy’s outfit has used about 200 of these movements in RGM watches.
The grand feu enamel dials of the 222-RRs have been designed with the prevailing railroad theme in mind, modeled after American railroad watches of the past and outfitted with loyally recreated blued steel hands and so-called Boxcar-style dials.
Webb C. Ball’s official standard railroad dial of 1925 was referred to as the Boxcar style. It was characterized by plain, thick, sans serif hour numerals, which were as easy to read as it gets. And not only Ball offered the style: it was also available from Waltham, Elgin, and Hamilton. These were obviously popular with railroad employees according to Murphy.
The placement of the crown at 1:30 references early twentieth-century watches. The asymmetrical placement of crown and dial is unusually easy to read and manipulate on the left wrist.
For more on this wonderfully unusual and masculine watch, please see www.rgmwatches.com/watches/model-222rr.
Quick Facts RGM 222-RR
Case: 41 x 12 mm, stainless steel
Dial: high-fire enamel
Movement: manually winding Hamilton Caliber 921 or 923, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: $5,900 (Caliber 921) or $7,900 (Caliber 923)
RGM 25th anniversary model: variety of versions of Model 25
Visually, the new Model 25 versions are my favorites, and my reasoning is probably not hard to guess if you know anything about my personal taste in watches.
First off, the various dials offered on this model are all made using RGM’s own in-house guilloché machines, a skill that the brand is well known for. The various guilloché patterns crafted at RGM and embellished numerals along with blued Breguet-style hands are an absolutely delightful combination to my personal eye.
And the new American-made 40 mm coin-edge case that goes along with the dials was particularly conceived without bezel, creating an element that leaves the watch wide open, accentuating the dial. Like a true stage offering the best and brightest the showplace of honor.
A choice of various guilloché patterns are available for the dials of Model 25 in several different colors.
I would also like to draw attention to the case, which is made from American stainless steel and machined and wire-cut (not stamped) by RGM’s local supplier located just six miles from RGM. The final finishing of the case and the assembly of it are done in RGM’s own workshops.
For more on this wonderfully decorative and customizable timepiece, please see www.rgmwatches.com/watches/model-25.
Quick Facts RGM Model 25
Case: 40 x 10.4 mm, American-made stainless steel
Dial: RGM guilloché
Movement: automatic ETA Caliber 2892-A2
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds, (date optional if desired)
Price: from $6,450