RGM Pennsylvania Series 801 Classic Enamel Offers Traditional Timelessness Bridging Past, Present, And Future
The past is ever present, and we like it that way.
Have you ever noticed that when it comes to architecture and design, we often look to the past for inspiration – and in many cases seek to emulate the past as much as possible? Granted, there are always those who look forward and try the untried, but taking inspiration from the past is generally a smart move because a good idea has already been proven.
History is, if anything, a fantastic teacher of success since we can see what failed and what caught on. We can learn from the past.
Some may argue this does not illustrate success but rather longevity or popularity. However, I would argue that popularity of a design, product, or invention is social success. It works like evolution in that there is no objectively “good” design, rather one design is more successful if it gets more widely replicated in the specific society or environment in which it exists.
Classical architecture is a chosen style because cultures have continued to use its design principles whose features are now well established. Bauhaus is still a driver of modern design due to designers constantly borrowing details from the style. Repeated exposure to aesthetics strengthens those details’ importance and value.
There are always new designs; someone is always trying something risky and new. But that risk doesn’t always pay off, and choosing to utilize the best from the past seems to be a very wise decision when creating anything new.
That is why some of the greatest-looking products, buildings, and fashion don’t feel locked into a time period or place but rather classic and universal. The little black dress, the stone arch, the claw hammer; all of these designs are lasting thanks in part to them being chosen time and time again.
The same happens in the watch industry when brands look to the past to find the absolute best details to combine into a killer timepiece. Depending on the goals of the brand, the result can be a terrific diver, a classy chronograph, or, in the case of American watchmaking company RGM, a fantastic pocket watch-inspired, enamel-dialed wristwatch like the Pennsylvania Series 801 Classic Enamel.
The Classic Enamel is the latest in the 801 series and may just be one of the most aesthetically successful watches RGM has ever made. That remark is subjective, but when RGM takes classic aesthetics and puts its own flavor in the details, everyone is a winner.
RGM 801: a series that makes sense
The Pennsylvania Series 801 is the most classically inspired collection for RGM, primarily because it features in-house hand-wound Caliber 801, which is the most traditional of all movements by RGM.
The brand does use vintage movements from the likes of Hamilton in another collection, but of the movements built in-house by RGM the 801 exemplifies all the qualities that the brand (and by extension, RGM founder Roland G. Murphy) holds dear.
The case style of the Pennsylvania Series is much more reminiscent of early wristwatches and pocket watch conversions than modern-day examples, and the dial details all hark straight back to the glorious pocket watches of the end of the nineteenth century, most of which were made in or near the same Pennsylvania region in which RGM is at home. It is only fitting that a backbone of the brand is a direct homage to the history found just down the road.
It also makes sense that different details from history would find their way into various models like the tonneau styling of Caliber 20, the diagonal driving layout of Model 222-RR Boxcar, and the copious amounts of guilloche found on movements and dials throughout the entire collection.
But no model matches the intended emotions as simply at the 801 Classic Enamel; so much so that it might even give old-school Peter Speake-Marin fans a reason to switch allegiance.
Pennsylvania 801 Classic Enamel: the devil is in the details
The historically inspired Pennsylvania 801 Classic Enamel can be broken down into three main stylistic categories; case, dial/hands, and movement. Each of these elements offers distinct features that have proven very popular over the years and have not lost any of their potency.
First up is the case, a rather traditional-looking one that feels right at home nearer to the turn of the last century. It features a ribbed – often also described as fluted or “coin edge” – case band that is something not often seen in watches today, though it doesn’t feel like a relic of the past but instead a traditional niche design that has lasted for decades.
The straight lugs extending squarely from the case make it feel like a pocket watch case was modified with a profile to turn it into a wristwatch, a step up from the soldered wire lugs that first turned chronographs into pilot’s watches.
The lugs aren’t fully formed into the case like more modern wristwatches, lending a definite early watchmaking vibe to the assembly. These details are as classic as you can get and when done right have never ceased to look incredible. This is why the 801 Classic Enamel looks fresh even with the vintage body.
The dials are another story altogether.
Each dial is made from three pieces, a prime example of the complicated high-fire enamel process, which, when done right, provides an effect that is not only stunning, but timeless.
The dial has three sections: the outer ring, inset central panel, and the doubly inset small seconds subdial. Each section must be enameled individually, and each section must be fired multiple times as the enamel is slowly built up for depth.
Making what’s known as “grand feu” enamel is one of the riskiest enamel processes due to the multiple possibilities for something to go wrong.
Every time each section is fired there is a possibility for an inclusion (like dust) or a bubble, leading to an imperfect surface. The enamel can crack or vary too much in thickness if the enamel powder is applied poorly. The surface could accidentally get dirty, which could inhibit the enamel from properly bonding.
The underlying metal dial substrate could warp or twist, effectively making an enamel potato chip. Finally, due to the repeated thermal expansion and contraction, close tolerances can be obliterated if the effect isn’t uniformly repeated.
But after all that careful work (by a master enameler, mind you), the result is a clean, crisp expanse of pure white enamel with a subtle depth and translucency that is so far nearly impossible to recreate with any other method.
It truly takes a master to produce a fantastic enamel dial, and while RGM has extensive experience with guilloche and dial making in-house, these dials are produced by an old friend of Murphy’s who makes them in a home workshop in Switzerland.
This is also an example of knowing when to call in a specialist to help build something just outside of your capabilities.
Pennsylvania 801 Classic Enamel: beauty from front to back
The multilevel dial is a delicate triumph upon which RGM creates a perfectly timeless layout that could just as easily be in a 150-year-old pocket watch as a modern wristwatch. A mixture of Arabic numerals for the minute track and Roman numerals for the hours has been a popular combination for numerous decades, and the proportions and details are aesthetically spot on.
The minute track separating the two is minimal, with tiny pyramid marks to match the numerals at five-minute intervals.
The inset running seconds dial follows the theme with a very subtle railroad track around the edge and emphasized markers again at five-minute intervals. The hour numerals are conventionally spaced at ten-minute intervals to reduce visual clutter, and each five-minute mark is extra long to separate the numerals.
Finally, the center inset dial features a simple and very classic brand logo that avoids the modern monogram style logo in favor of a more classic text form. This choice is seen on specific pieces from RGM that seek to clearly differentiate themselves as vintage inspired. That inspiration is helped tremendously by Breguet-style blued steel hands, the ultimate classic hand shape.
All of this long-lasting beauty on the front is more than mirrored in the 801 caliber visible from the rear. This in-house movement is designed specifically to honor some of the best in American watchmaking history, including Illinois Watch Company and the Keystone Howard Watch Company.
The bridges and their layout is reminiscent of Keystone Howard while other aspects are inspired by Illinois, including the deeply polished groove on the winding mechanism and the design of the click. These are things that I wasn’t even aware of when I first saw the movement, but I was darn sure I had seen the details before.
Better yet, I love the look, which feels so incredibly American and perfectly assembled, like all the details belong together. That is the mark of a talented curator, a person so well versed in design that all the best parts can be combined into something without looking slapped together or incoherent.
RGM even takes its movement design one further, offering “extras” you can purchase for your movement, options incorporating more complex or unique details.
If you so desire, you can request the addition of a hacking (stop) seconds mechanism, classic wolf’s tooth profiles for the winding wheels, a motor barrel mechanism, and optional engraving on the balance cock.
All of these additional elements come straight from exceptional movements of the past and have found their way into other RGM pieces. Adding all of these into Caliber 801 would take an already terrific movement and move it into the realm of a masterpiece – and an American made one at that!
Aside from a lack of guilloche (which I’m sure would be possible to add to the movement bridges if desired), the 801 Classic Enamel puts all of RGM’s special expertise on display and then some. This movement shows that the brand has a masterful command of watchmaking from an American perspective, something still woefully underrepresented in modern watchmaking.
I have loved a lot of RGM pieces over the years – and the brand as a whole – but the 801 Classic Enamel stands a bit apart. It really feels like a culmination, best displaying the brand ideology.
If some guilloche were added to the movement it would be a complete demonstration of what this brand is.
And this is thanks to the avoidance of reinventing the wheel, with RGM instead using the best aspects of watchmaking that came before it to create a truly amazing watch.
You might discover (if you haven’t already) that American watchmaking still has a steward fighting the good fight in rural Pennsylvania.
And now to break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 8.85 Making a watch timeless is a hard task, but this one succeeded beautifully!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 82.6» 810.029m/s2 The past can be a powerful thing, and in this case enough to keep you glued to your seat for days!
- M.G.R. * 65.8 In-house American-made movement finished to the nines and featuring numerous options makes Caliber 801 top notch!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A As seems too regular, another time-only watch made its way through my assessment. It doesn’t make it any less incredible, but you can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream today!
- Ouch Outline * 9.4 Slipping on a boulder and almost tumbling into the river! My ankle and my pride are hurt, but I did manage to stay dry. But that is why they say always avoid walking on slippery stones right next to a wild river unless you are looking to get wet. I’d do it again, though, if it meant getting the 801 Classic Enamel on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * one minute per side! Looking at this watch from either side will only take a few moments to bind you two together forever!
- Awesome Total * 838 Take the caliber number (801) and add the number of hours of power reserve (40), then subtract the number of layers of enamel on the dial (3) for a classically awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.rgmwatches.com.
Quick Facts RGM Pennsylvania Series 801 Classic Enamel
Case: 43.3 x 12.3 mm, stainless steel
Movement: manual winding American-made RGM manufacture Caliber 801
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: $11,900 in steel, $24,700 in gold
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Also published on Medium.