Born In The USA: RGM Pennsylvania Tourbillon
What can be said to be the first step in finding your future? Well, I might suggest learning where you come from so that you can know where to begin and why. Every year, millions of people take a step in a new direction, be it with a new job, relationship, or a new home in someplace completely unfamiliar.
One thing that these people all have in common is that they have relatively little idea of what their future will actually be like. But one thing that only a fraction of those people know is what brought them to this point.
People have a tendency to remain oblivious to their past and how it has affected them.
But there are also many who consult the past to build their future, in business as well as personal matters. This practice can be of great benefit because it allows one to learn from mistakes and successes that either you or others have made before. For this reason, some of the best business plans incorporate information that allowed similar endeavors to thrive.
The best product in the world isn’t always enough to nourish a company that does everything else wrong, perhaps committing the same errors that made hundreds of other businesses fail before it. But the minute business owners start understanding what made other businesses successful and how they can be emulated, presence explodes and rewards are reaped.
Sometimes, though, what needs to be learned from the past isn’t necessarily how to succeed at this or that, but how to do something that isn’t even considered important anymore.
Consider the scribe, a person who copies text or books by hand and helps keep track of records. This job has been obsolete for at least five hundred years thanks to the advent of printing, not to mention desktop publishing.
But the art of writing is kept alive by calligraphers, and the skills are still appreciated if not widely practiced. To those partaking in the activity there can be a true understanding of the history and importance of the task and the necessity of keeping the practice alive.
The same can be said about other activities as well, but the one most near and dear to my heart is, of course, watchmaking. Actually, it’s not so much watchmaking as it is the art of making, with skill, any machine or mechanism that provides a useful function.
Watchmaking just happens to be one of the coolest iterations of such an idea.
That idea, as many might know, has a long and rich history spanning the globe and is considered, though incorrectly at times, a lost or dying art. I think George Daniels proved this thought train false sometime in the 1960s, so we don’t need to argue it. But still it is important to remember that many have little to no idea about the history of timepieces and are discovering them every day.
Yet others discovered the history long ago and have made it their mission to preserve as much of that history as possible while creating something entirely new.
One such man is Roland G. Murphy. And his finest example of that mission is the Pennsylvania MM2 Tourbillon. Released in 2010, the Pennsylvania Tourbillon made a pretty big splash among those who have educated themselves about such things. It is, after all, the only serially produced tourbillon made in America.
Caveat Emptor: Now I am not here to debate the term “Made In…” I understand the realities of watchmaking, heck, the realities of making anything; I do similar things for a living. So I am not concerned with trivial details like the spring may have been sourced from here or the jewels were sourced from there. Let’s continue.
The Pennsylvania Tourbillon is simply an increditastic watch from any perspective. Design, function, and finishing: it is at the head of its class. It borrows lessons learned from the history of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and the entirety of early American watchmaking.
With the region and the U.S. being a watchmaking epicenter during the 1800s, there was a treasure trove of inspiration and knowledge to be had by those that knew where to look. This is seen first and foremost by the guilloche of the MM2 Tourbillon.
American production methods
Guilloche work has a strong background in American watchmaking; many antique American pocket watches have some form of guilloche work on their dials. This example is even more special, though, because the hand-cut guilloche is actually cut into the finished main plate of the movement rather than a dial and was produced on one of the seven vintage rose engines that RGM has acquired over the years.
This not only means that one mistake and the entire piece must be thrown away, but since that piece is the main plate, every other mating component must be checked and possibly adjusted for slight differences between two finished main plates.
The delicate hand-skills of the guilloche are balanced by another lesson originating in early American watchmaking: automated fabrication with precision machines. This is actually the key to American watchmaking’s dominance in the 1800s.
American watchmakers began applying modern production methods to watchmaking and using high-precision, automated machinery to fabricate as many components as possible. This created a culture of accurate and consistent mass production that made higher volumes and higher precision possible.
RGM uses modern manufacturing techniques such as CNC stations and wire-EDM (electrical discharge machining, also known as wire spark erosion) machines to cut many critical components in larger quantities. This allows for tight control of tolerances and speedy production while still staying true to the American tradition of watchmaking.
At the same time, all of the finishing techniques and many other parts, including wheels, are made manually to achieve the finest watches possible with the best combination of tradition and progress. This allows for unique features and attention to detail that is generally seen on much more widely known pieces.
Flat polishing, côtes de Genève, perlage, anglage, and spiral, straight, and circular graining, and hand-inked markers and numerals are some of the examples of the hand-finishing techniques found in this one watch. Also to be found are hand-polished wheels, wolf’s tooth winding components, and screw-mounted gold chatons, which help the Pennsylvania Tourbillon achieve fine watchmaking status while being made in the U.S.A.
This is something for sure to be proud of, if not for love of country, then for the love of all things done well. I can’t say that anybody has ever called me a die-hard patriot, but almost everybody knows that I will always support doing something correctly and to the best of one’s ability, which is what RGM has done.
The Pennsylvania Tourbillon is truly the culmination of all the skills attained so far by Murphy and his company, and in my opinion the design is their best to date.
I think it’s clear at this point that I love awesome movements, and I truly love deep, complex dials, so when any brand combines the two I hold that piece higher than the others. It shows that the brand can make something so well that there is absolutely no need to hide it behind a dial or a case back and that every component receives the same star treatment.
This star treatment can be seen in the MM2’s movement if viewed from the front or back. Each and every part of the movement is finished to the best level RGM can muster.
And the design for the bridges, springs, wheels, and tourbillon cage show a dedication to the unity of the whole. The watch has one feeling of tradition and excellence with a definite American accent. Some collectors might snub their noses at just that, probably the same ones who find it hard to admit that the Grand Seiko is a fantastic piece of engineering and skill as well.
But these people will be missing the point or, more importantly, the lesson. America has a proud tradition of watchmaking, especially in the areas surrounding Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Learning about this through research and RGM’s interpretations is an important part of the WIS journey.
The details of the Pennsylvania Tourbillon are undeniably American and indubitably fine watchmaking. The benefits of learning from the past are clearly evident in this example of fusion horology.
With its 2013 release of Caliber 20, RGM has continued down its path to be not just an American producer of timepieces but a top-notch producer of fine watches, regardless of origin.
I am happy to see this level of watchmaking in the United States again, and am looking forward to seeing where it goes in the future.
But until then, the breakdown!
• Wowza Factor * 9.3 Awesome movement, awesome finishing, and American-made. What more can you ask for?
• Late Night Lust Appeal * 78.2 » 766.880m/s2 The history incorporated into this watch is nothing to scoff at and the execution brings it to life to keep you lusting all night.
• M.G.R. * 69.5 High-quality, American-made, hand-guilloche, hand-finished tourbillon displayed for the world to see. Geek level achieved.
• Added-Functionitis * N/A Like many before it and undoubtedly many after it, this piece has but one function, to tell the time. Because of that you can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the still-amazing non-swelling.
• Ouch Outline * 11.11 – Slipping On Ice And Falling On Your Tailbone Those of you from the warmer climates in the world may not know this feeling, but I can tell you it is more than extremely uncomfortable. But…but, to get this watch on my wrist, I may just purposefully take the fall!
• Mermaid Moment * 60 Seconds One trip around for the tourbillon, one trip around to win your heart. Better get fitted for a cummerbund.
• Awesome Total * 420 Multiply the number of teeth in the wolf’s tooth winding click (7) by the tourbillon’s period of rotation (60 seconds) and you get a very respectable total.
For more information, please visit www.rgmwatches.com.
You may also like Made In America: Not Only On Independence Day.
Case: 43.5 x 13.5 mm, available in stainless steel, gold, or platinum and fully customizable; made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Movement: manual winding Caliber MM2 with one-minute tourbillon, vintage-style design and layout, base plate in German silver, screw-mounted chatons for jewels
Functions: hours, minutes
Price: $95,000 in stainless steel