Blog: Rotherham & Sons English Wristwatch
Date: 21 April 2017Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved.
I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently, but because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages the changes are not very noticeable, so I decided to create this blog section to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that I have recently either changed or added to significantly.
The section reproduced here is from my page about the Coventry, England, watchmaking company Rotherham & Sons.
If you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page.
An English Wristwatch
Rotherham & Sons were one of the few English companies to make wristwatches. They could not compete on scale or price with American or Swiss manufacturers so these wristwatches are not seen very often. Rotherhams also imported Swiss watches so not every watch with a Rotherhams mark on it was made in England.
The images here show a wristwatch manufactured by Rotherham & Sons in Coventry. The case has London Assay Office hallmarks for a sterling silver item made in Britain with the date letter "t" for 1914 to 1915 and the R&S sponsor's mark entered by John Rotherham.
The serial number on the movement is 253272. I have added this to the graph in the Coventry Factory Production section as a red bar spanning 1914 and 1915 indicating the actual period when the case could have been hallmarked, remembering that hallmark date letters span two calendar years. The movement serial number suggests that it was made around 1906, but the red bar falls well below the line of dates drawn from case hallmarks, which suggests that the movement had been in stock for some time before it was cased up as a wristwatch.
The fashion for ladies to wear wristwatches began in the 1880s and soon displaced the wearing or carrying of fob watches, so the demand for fob watch sized movements fell until the Great War created a demand for men's wristwatches. This explains why a movement that Bacon's graph suggests was made in about 1904 was not cased up until 1914 or 1915. The sudden surge in demand for wristwatches during the Great War caused many fob watch movements that had lain on the shelf for years to be dusted off and cased up for duty at the front on an officer's wrist.
This wristwatch was undoubtedly made in response to the demands of newly commissioned British officers leaving for the front during the first year of the Great War. British Army officers were expected to purchase their own wristwatches as part of their kit, for which they were given an allowance. The dial is not luminised, a feature that quickly became a requirement during the war for watches intended for military service.
The watch case was made along traditional lines for an English lever watch. The watch is stem wound and set so, unlike key wound watches, there is no need for an opening outer back, the single case back or bottom is rigidly fixed to the band, the middle part of the case, and does not open. The case is 34.6mm diameter excluding the lugs and crown, a good size for a man's wristwatch.
The view of the dial with the bezel open shows the traditional English method of fixing the movement to the case. At the top there is a joint above the twelve o'clock, with the two outer silver knuckles fixed to the case band and a central brass knuckle fixed to the movement bottom plate. At the bottom, below the six o'clock position, there is a catch that can be released to allow the movement to be swung out from the case, as shown in the picture of the watch opened. Even in the second half of the nineteenth century this looked old fashioned, but it didn't inconvenience the wearer.
The three quarter plate movement measures 29.25mm across the dial plate which makes it an "0" size on the Lancashire Watch gauge, or 13 lignes on the Swiss system. The mainspring is housed in a "going barrel" and drives the train directly, teeth on the outside of the barrel drive the pinion of the centre wheel. English manufacturers had gradually given up on their love affair with the fusee that made watches bulky and was almost impossible to make keyless wound.
The movement shows Rotherhams' typical high level of finish with gilded plates and cocks, polished and blued screws and bright polished steel parts. The ruby jewels are set in chatons and, in addition to the balance wheel, the escape wheel and lever pivots have cap jewels or end stones. The jewel count is not stated but is most likely 19, the 15 jewels usually found in a lever escapement movement jewelled to the third wheel, plus the extra end stones for both the lever and escape wheel.
The escapement is an English right angle lever with pointed tooth escape wheel. The English right angle lever brings the escape wheel closer to the balance staff than does a Swiss straight line lever, which is why the escape wheel is set down below the rim of the balance. The balance has a cut bimetallic rim for temperature compensation, and gold screws for timing and poising. The balance spring has a Breguet overcoil. The regulator lever has a bevelled slot at the end so that its position against the graduated scale can be read off without parallax error.
The top plate of the movement is engraved with the name of the retailer, The Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company, 112 Regent St. London.
Rotherham Keyless Mechanism
The view of the case shows, at the top, the two knuckles attached to the middle part of the case or band which a pin passes through to hold the movement to the case, forming a ‘joint’, the watchmaker's term for a hinge.
The image of the case also shows Rotherhams' peculiar design of stem winding. The crown and a short case stem with a bevel gear on its inner end are fixed to the case. The crown is secured to the case stem by a recessed hollow round nut with a slot that is shown in the inserted detail in the top right of the image and in hidden setail in the sketch.
When the movement is locked into the case, the bevel gear on the case stem engages with a bevel gear in the movement. The toothed edge of this gear is visible in the picture of the movement between the plates, at the bottom of the image below the "smiths" part of the engraved name.
The sketch shows how the two bevel gears mesh together at right angles when the case is closed. These gears have teeth cut on their edges at 45 degrees so that the action of turning the crown and case stem is turned through 90° to wind the mainspring.
I have to say that this is not a great design. Holding the gears in mesh as they are turned presses the case stem against the case, which is a plain bearing. This is not well lubricated and is also a prime place for the entry of dust, so is liable to wear. Wear in the case at this point will eventually allow the gears to fall out of mesh and the watch could not be wound. If you have one of these watches, make sure you get the stem bearing in the case cleaned and lubricated regularly.
Turning the crown normally winds the mainspring, the hands are ‘pin set’. There is a small olivette on the outside of the case just below the crown with a movable pin, which is pressed inwards to shift the keyless work into hand setting mode.
Wrist Strap Details
I am sure that the wrist strap is original to the watch, which is why I haven't changed it for one of my designs. It is a two piece strap that is stitched where it is attached to the fixed wire lugs. It appears to be made of pig skin.
The sterling silver buckle has Rotherham and Sons' R&S sponsor's mark. The hallmarks stamped by the London Assay Office are difficult to read because they have been double stamped with an initial shallow stamp overstamped by a second deeper set of marks. The remains of the first set of marks are arranged and spaced exactly the same as the second set of marks showing that they were made by a single combined punch that carried all three part marks, the lion, the leopard's head, and the date letter. I have examined the marks carefully and I am sure that the date letter is the "n" for 1908 to 1909.
Combined ‘press punches’ were also used for stamping the hallmarks in the backs of watch cases, which placed them in a regular pattern triangular as can be seen in the case back of this watch. Combined punches were pressed into the case by a manually operated fly press, a press with a flywheel that the operator spins, which turns a screw thread carrying the punch. When the punch meets the work piece, the momentum of the flywheel drives the punch into its surface.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved. This page updated December 2019. W3CMVS.