Heartbeat: Stunning American Natural Beauty And The RGM Reference 151BE
Too little is usually written about the few great watchmakers located in the United States. And, admittedly, they are very few and far between.
Which is why I’d like to take a moment to offer a glimpse into the work of Roland Murphy of RGM by way of some interesting photos of my own watch, the RGM Reference 151BE.
Having taken it with me on a trip through the southwestern United States, I managed to photograph my 151BE against the backdrop of some of America’s most famous natural beauty, the vivid blue of the solid silver dial perfectly contrasting with the breathtaking scenery of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite’s Half Dome.
Originally hailing from Maryland, Murphy discovered 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 the ticking treasures; and it wasn’t long before he was constructing his own.
Murphy’s proclivity for watch and clock movements becoming apparent, he attended Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Bowman Technical School and then graduated from the famed Wostep program in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. A few years in the late 1980s working at Hamilton taught him how the watch business worked.
In 1993, he called RGM to life in the same city in which Hamilton was previously located: Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “RGM” stands for “Roland G. Murphy.”
RGM has evolved over the decades, but a few key elements have formed the golden thread that runs through Murphy’s timepieces: an understanding of modern Swiss watchmaking, a deep appreciation for historical and modern horology, and a love of the hand-created art known as guilloche 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.”
At the beginning, Murphy chiefly based his watches around Swiss technology, heavily relying on ETA for supply. But his biggest wish was to make his own movement – which is why his Caliber 801 now exists, a caliber that can be said to be the first serial mechanical watch movement manufactured in the United States since 1969, when Hamilton stopped production of its Caliber 992 B.
Since there is no longer an industry for making timepieces in the U.S. – which also means there is no infrastructure or supplier system in the country – this venture is a lot harder than it sounds. Caliber 801 is a classic movement in the tradition of the USA’s greatest manufacturers.
Murphy has meanwhile also introduced his Pennsylvania Tourbillon (see Born In The USA: RGM Pennsylvania Tourbillon).
Needless to say, I have always enjoyed Murphy’s work, and early on in my own watch journey I acquired a Reference 151BE. What fascinated me so much about this particular model is its blued solid silver dial embellished with a hand-guilloche pattern that I had not ever seen before – or since.
While some may dismiss its movement as “just” being a purchased ETA 2892-A2, I not only enjoy its extreme reliability, but also the hand-engraved and hand-guilloche rotor made especially for it by Jochen Benzinger.
The edition I have is no longer available as a new watch, but RGM continues to make the 151 series in a decided aviation look and slightly different case constitution now featuring a locally made case. However, I am very sure that if you wanted a similar one, Murphy would have no problem offering you your own bespoke version.
For more information on RGM, including Murphy’s bespoke program, please visit www.rgmwatches.com.
Quick Facts RGM Reference 151BE
Case: stainless steel, 38.5 x 11.3 mm
Dial: blued solid silver with hand-applied guilloche
Movement: automatic ETA Caliber 2892-A2 with custom rotor
Functions: hours, minutes, sweep seconds; date
Original price: $5,200