Rotherham & SonsCopyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2021 all rights reserved.
The firm of Rotherham & Sons could trace its origins back to a company started in Coventry by Samuel Vale. There is a blue plaque in Coventry that says this was in 1750. In a lecture reported in the Horological Journal in January 1924, Mr. Kevitt Rotherham said that Samuel Vale began watchmaking in 1747, and this date agrees with several other sources, so I take it that the blue plaque is inaccurate and that the founding date of the company that eventually became Rotherham & Sons was 1747. However, in advertising Rotherham & Sons often gave the date of foundation of the company as 1750.
According to Britten's “Old Clocks And Watches And Their Makers”, from 1754 to 1790 Samuel Vale was a partner in Vale, Howlett & Carr, but other source call this into question. The spelling of Howlett also varies, Britten cites a watch Vale and Howlett, London, dated 1782, some sources have Howlette. George Howlette served as Lord Mayor of Coventry three times and The Lord Mayor’s Administrator informed me that the correct spelling is Howlette.
In 1776 Samuel Vale and his partners leased premises in Spon Street, Coventry, for a factory. According to Priestley, after 1790 the partnership traded as Vale & Company. The Coventry Trade Directory for 1805 contains this name, and the Birmingham Assay Office register has an entry in 1816 for Vale & Company
In 1790 John Rotherham (1758-1823) was listed as a partner. In 1810 the partnership was listed as Samuel Vale (son of the founder), George Howlett, John Carr and John Rotherham.
Richard Kevitt Rotherham (1789-1864) was apprenticed to the company. This would usually have begun when he left school at age 14, so around 1803. He married Charlotte Carr (1791 - 1874), daughter of John Carr.
The company was a relatively large and important employer in Coventry, and the directors took their civil duties seriously. Samuel Vale was Mayor of Coventry in 1777, and also in 1811, 1812, 1813 and 1814. In 1784 and 1792 George Howlette was Mayor. Richard Kevitt Rotherham was Mayor in 1832.
The date of formation of Vale & Rotherham is not currently known. The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry has a pocket watch in a gold case with an engraved bust of Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, on the inner back cover. The case, which I have not yet seen, is said to be hallmarked 1819/20 and is said to carry Vale & Rotherham's sponsor mark. However, Philip Priestley records that the sponsor's mark V·R in cameo within an oval shield was first entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 6 February 1822 by Vale and Rotherham. A similar mark V&R in cameo within a rectangular shield was entered on the same date under the same name.
Rotherham & Sons
The first sponsor's punch mark entered by John Rotherham at the Birmingham Assay Office on 7 April 1841 was the initials R&S for Rotherham & Sons in cameo within a rectangular shield. This is the earliest date I have found Rotherham & Sons mentioned. From 1842 the company was listed in trade directories as Richard Kevitt Rotherham & Sons, and from 1850 simply as Rotherham & Sons.
In the early days of Rotherhams, watches were assembled by traditional English hand finishing methods from components supplied by outworkers. Later frames (collections of parts assembled as rough movements) were bought in from John Wycherley in Prescot, Lancashire, and finished in the factory. In 1867 Rotherhams tested seven Wycherley frames with one set of ‘materials’, arbors and wheels also supplied by Wycherley, and found the parts to be interchangeable. This meant that the wheels were correctly depthed, that is spaced apart the correct distances for tooth meshing. It did not mean that the pivots and bearings were within tolerance, these were still fitted by hand.
Rotherham & Sons head office and factory were on Spon Street in Coventry, Warwickshire. Although Coventry had a long history of watchmaking it was on a small scale before the middle of the nineteenth century. Spon Street was a thoroughfare in the centre of Coventry and had been an industrial area since medieval times. As watchmaking in Coventry increased during the middle of the nineteenth century, some watchmakers moved from the city centre to land released by Act of Parliament in 1845 to create a new suburb Chapelfields, and later some to a new satellite "garden" development at Earlsdon, a little way outside the city on farmland purchased in 1852 by a Coventry housing association, but Rotherhams remained in Spon Street.
A report of the Great Exhibition of 1851 said that "Messrs. Rotherham & Sons, of Coventry, whose establishment was the only one of the kind in England in which machinery impelled by steam power was employed for performing many of the processes in the completion of a watch, exhibited the various parts of a lever watch in the progressive stages of manufacture. All were shown as roughly cast, then as formed into proper shapes, and lastly, as finished. Several movements were also shown, and a beautiful display of 137 watches of all kinds, from the plainest silver watch, to the most elaborately finished and ornamental gold watch."
This reference to steam powered machinery is very interesting because the manufacture of watches "by mechanical means" in England is generally accepted to have started at a later date. I think here the difference is between conventional machines such as lathes and milling machines operated by a skilled person, and automatic machines that operated themselves and could be simply tended by semi-skilled operators.
A visit to the Rotherham factory in 1851 by Harriet Martineau is recorded in Charles Dickens' magazine “Household Words”. There were scores of men and boys “poring over their work” in the factory, in addition there were two hundred more working in their own homes. Ten years before the annual production was about six thousand watches, about 150 a week, which had increased to nearly nine thousand or about 180 per week at the time the visit took place.
Although Rotherhams are known to have bought rough movements from Wycherley, Martineau saw circles of brass being cut from strips material, machined, drilled and fitted with pillars to form the basic frames of movements. She also saw jewels being fitted into the holes, fitting the wheels and the fusee chain, inserting the spring (probably the balance spring), engraving the plates, making and engraving silver and gold cases, and finishing off the whole, all done in the factory. So it appears that at this time Rotherham were making complete watches, starting from the raw materials.
Martineau inquired into the price of the finished watches. The wholesale prices ranged from three pounds to thirty five pounds, although few were sold higher than twenty pounds. However, these wholesale prices would mount up to a good deal more in London shops once the retailer had added his mark up.
In December 1857 Charles Dickens gave a public reading of his story ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Corn Exchange in Coventry. Money raised by charging for admission was donated to the Coventry Institute. Dickens was invited back the following year for a public dinner to thank him for helping the Institute, when to mark the occasion he was presented with a gold repeater watch made by Rotherhams.
International Exhibition 1862
At the International Exhibition of 1862, Rotherhams exhibited over one hundred gold and fifty silver watches, said to be a fair sample of the goods which they regularly made both as regards style and workmanship. Some of the engraving and enamelling was very fine, executed by some of the best hands in the trade regardless of expense. They also showed an ordinary 20-size silver lever watch, with each part of it in every stage of manufacture, showing first of all the rough brass, steel, etc, and finally the finished movement. Likewise a ¾ plate movement, with as much of the plates cut away as possible, exposing all the work, in order to show the position of the wheels etc. These displays were very popular.
NB: This section is still under development and will change.
The principal members of the Rotherham family who guided the company through nearly two hundred years of watch production were; John Rotherham (1758-1823), Richard Kevitt Rotherham (1789-1864), John Rotherham (1815-1875) and John Rotherham (1838-1905).
In 1790 John Rotherham (1758-1823) was listed as a partner in Vale & Company, age 32. It seems likely that John would have joined the company as an apprentice at age 14 and worked his way up to partner. John Rotherham married Bridget Kevitt in December 1786. They had a son Richard Kevitt Rotherham 1st (1789-1864).
In May 1864 the Horological Journal recorded the death of a “Mr R. H. Rotherham in his 75th year”. This means that he was born around 1789, the same time as Richard Kevitt Rotherham (1789-1864). Since it is unlikely that there were two boys of the same age with virtually identical names, the middle initial H must be an error and should have been a K. This is the first mention of Rotherham's watch factory in the Horological Journal, which was first published in 1858.
Richard Kevitt Rotherham 1st (1789-1866) married Charlotte Carr (1791-1874), daughter of John Carr and Ann Vale. John Carr had been a partner and Ann Vale was a daughter of Samuel Vale, the founder of the company.
Richard Kevitt and Charlotte had two sons, John (1815-1875) and Richard Kevitt 2nd (1822-1866). The 1851 census records the family living at Hertford House in Coventry. The father Richard's occupation is recorded as Magistrate for Coventry and Watch Manufacturer.
On Monday 16 May 1853 a dinner was held at St. Mary's Hall in Coventry to celebrated Richard Kevitt Rotherham 1st being in the trade for 50 years. Richard sat at the head of the centre table with his sons John and Richard on either side. At this dinner Richard junior, at the end of his speech, remarked that the wives and children of the workmen were forgotten. In reply his father suggested a fund for aiding widows of watchmakers, which resulted in the founding of the Coventry Watchmakers' Widows and Orphans Aid Society.
The younger Richard Kevitt suffered from poor health and died in 1866. It seems that his older brother John also suffered from poor health, because in 1903 his son John Rotherham remarked that his father's “failing health left him unable to attend to his business, and the burden of it fell on my shoulders at rather an early period.”
John Rotherham (1838-1905) was well regarded by his workers who, in 1903 on the occasion of his having completed 50 years in the business, presented him with a silver casket of the value of 100 guineas and an illuminated address. The gathering of the employees in the largest of the workshops was said to have presented a remarkable spectacle. With Mr. John Rotherham were Mr. Hugh Rotherham, Mr. Kevitt Rotherham, Mr. R. A. Rotherham, and Mr. Ewan Rotherham. Mr. E. G. Allen remarked upon the care of conducting the business through the transition between making the old verge watch and the English lever and that Mr. Rotherham made up his mind that no one should lose their work in consequence of the introduction of machinery so they had the two systems of manufacture side by side.
In his reply to the presentation, Mr. John Rotherham recalled joining the firm fifty years earlier at the age of 14 when both his father and grandfather still worked there. Shortly after he joined, his grandfather completed his fifty years with the company, meaning that a few months after the presentation between them they covered a century of service. If in 1903 he had been with the company 50 years since joining at age 14, he must have been born circa 1839. His grandfather must have joined the company in 1803, so was Richard Kevitt Rotherham (1789-1864).
In 1913 the death was recorded of Mr George Tansley, a watch case maker who was still working at Rotherhams at age 73. Mr Tansley had spent 62 years working at Rotherhams, having started there at age 11 in circa 1851. “Mr Tansley was employed under the late Mr. Richard Kevitt Rotherham, afterwards serving under Mr. John Rotherham and subsequently under the late Mr. John Rotherham, son of the last named gentleman.”
In 1924 Mr Kevitt Rotherham (1864-1950) gave a lecture to the Coventry Rotary Club in which he said he had been with the company 42 years, which suggests that he started there at age 18.
The American System
In the first half of the nineteenth century about half of Rotherhams' production had been exported, of which more than half went to America, but this had been declining. In 1856 John Rotherham (1838 - 1905) at age 18 was sent to the United States as a traveller to promote Rotherhams and to try to find out why Rotherhams' exports had fallen. This fall in sales could not have been due to American mass production of watches by machine, which was only just at its very beginnings at the time. John discovered that the reason was that Coventry made watches had gained a poor reputation in America; he returned to Coventry determined to alter this.
In 1876 Mr Gooding was appointed works manager. In 1880 he was sent to America by John Rotherham to purchase watchmaking machinery from the American Watch Tool Co. In the 1880s Rotherhams were operating on a very large scale by British standards. In 1890 they were reported to be making 100 watches per day with 400 to 500 employees plus about 200 out-workers active in the production of both movements and cases and the extensive use of machinery, although the figure of 100 per day seems to be an indication of potential rather than actual output.
In 1887 Mr. G. M. Whipple, the superintendent of the Royal Observatory at Kew, in a paper on "Watches and their Behaviour" speaking of a visit to the Rotherham factory, said : " To give you an idea of the extent to which watch production was being pushed in this establishment, and worked by girls and women, I would state that, having adjusted the machinery for the production of one size and class of watch, they were constructing them in batches of 13,000 at a time, and the place was filled with boxes about the size of a tea chest, each full of one single component part of a watch."
Rotherham's Coventry Factory
The advert reproduced here includes an image of the Rotherham's Factory in 1888. The only part that survives today is the three storey building in the top left corner which fronts onto Spon Street. This contained the offices of Rotherham & Sons and now carries a blue plaque erected 1 January 2000 that was commissioned by the Coventry Watch Museum Project. The view shown in the advert is of the back of this building and the workshops that stretched away from it. These were long narrow buildings with lots of windows to admit plenty of natural light.
The two images below show aerial views of the same part of Coventry to the South of Spon Street. The plan is from an Ordnance Survey taken in 1903/4, the satellite view is how the area is now.
The buildings that I have outlined in red on the plan correspond very well with those shown in the view of the factory in the 1888 advert above. The long lines of workshops with their connecting buildings are clearly visible. It is not clear where the Southern boundary of the site was, but following enclosing lines on the OS plan gives the area outlined in green, which might have been the extent of the factory buildings by 1903/04.
The buildings outlined in red on the aerial view are all that that remains today, basically just the offices that fronted onto Spon Street. The building is now home to IDP Group specialising in architecture and landscape.
Although they remained based in Coventry, some time before 1890 the company also opened offices at 1 Holborn Circus, London, and after this some of their watches were signed “Rotherhams, London”. This was later to become the company head office.
After the turn of the century in circa 1905 Rotherham started to diversify into also making parts for the Coventry bicycle and motor industry. In 1914 they advertised in Whitakers Red Book as Manufacturers of watches and expanding bracelets; cycle and motor accessories; gas and electrical appliances.
During the Great War (WW1) Rotherham & Sons went largely over to war work. They were the sole British maker of a very accurate clockwork shell fuse. There is a story that Rotherhams made no watches at all during the Great War. It is true that the factory did make other thing during the war, but Rotherhams said that the story that they didn't make watches during the war was put about by a competitor, almost certainly Williamsons, a rival Coventry watch manufacturer.
Rotherham's Coventry Factory in 1924
After the war Rotherham returned to watch making, producing wristwatches as well as pocket watches. They also carried on making clocks, and imported watches from Switzerland. Cutmore in "Watches 1850-1980" states that reports of British Industry Fairs show that in 1920 and 1921 Rotherhams showed at trade exhibitions cases for movements made in "their own factory in Switzerland". Cutmore suggests that this could possibly be the Rode Watch Company of La Chaux de Fonds, whose watches Rotherhams marketed, but D. H. Bacon says that they became British agents for Rode only in circa 1930.
The image here, taken from a booklet "English Clocks and Watches and Their Makers" prepared by the BHI for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 shows the enormous size that the factory had grown to by the 1920s.
Rotherhams also continued with their diverse engineering work, also entering the market for aircraft parts and accessories.
In 1932 after the collapse of H. Williamson Ltd., another Coventry watch manufacturer, Rotherhams took on the British agency for Buren, and later became agents for Ulysee Nardin.
Rotherham & Sons stopped making watches in Coventry at some time before or during World War 2, but the exact date is uncertain. One report says that in 1934 the watch department was transformed into a department for making precision instruments. Another report says that the watch department was destroyed when the factory was bombed in 1940, and the HJ remarked that Rotherhams was the only concern in the Coventry watchmaking industry to survive and continue to make watches until bombs destroyed the factory during the war.
The company passed out of Rotherham family control in 1958 to Corner Croft Engineering, which was subsequently bought by Bimec Industries.
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The company was based in Coventry but, because Coventry never had an assay office, gold and silver watch cases were sent to the Birmingham, Chester and London assay offices for hallmarking. This required that the company's details were registered and sponsor's punch marks were entered at each assay office.
The reasons for choosing a particular assay office varied. Birmingham had a poor reputation at one period so Chester was favoured as the next nearest. A Chester hallmark was preferred by some customers, whereas other customers considered the London hallmark to be more prestigious. There were also the more mundane considerations of fees and turnaround times, which varied from office to office and time to time.
The earliest sponsor's marks were entered for Vale & Company in 1816. Presumably, before then the company bought in cases from Coventry watch case makers which had their own sponsor's marks. The entry of a sponsor's mark might have been because the company had become large enough to bring case making in house, or it could be that Vale & Co. specified that cases made for them be marked with their own sponsor's mark.
The first mention of the Rotherham name in the records of sponsor's marks appears to be the sponsor's mark V·R in cameo within an oval shield, first entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 6 February 1822 by Vale and Rotherham.
Vale & Rotherham Sponsor's Mark, Birmingham Hallmark for 1833 to 1834
Vale and Company V&Co. Sponsor's Mark, Birmingham Hallmarks, date letter for 1822 to 1823
The incuse punch mark "V&Co" shown here was entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 24 January 1816 for Vale and Company. Howlette and Carr subsequently left or retired from the company and the partnership was renamed Vale and Rotherham.
The image here shows a watch case with the sponsor's mark V·R in cameo within an oval shield and Birmingham Assay Office hallmarks for sterling silver, the date letter is the "K" of 1833 to 1834.
An incuse punch SV over RR was entered at the Birmingham Assay Office on 20 August 1834 by Samuel Vale and Richard Rotherham for the company Vale & Rotherham.
The Birmingham Assay Office was founded by an Act of Parliament in 1773. The Act stipulated that only silver wares produced within twenty miles of Birmingham could be marked at the office. In 1824 The Birmingham Assay Office Act allowed Birmingham to hallmark gold as well as silver, and required that all silver or gold wares manufactured within a 30 mile radius be sent there to be hallmarked. Rotherhams felt that there was a prejudice against Birmingham jewellery which affected the sale of watches marked with the Birmingham hallmark, so they bought many cases from London case makers that were hallmarked in London. These had to carry the London maker's sponsor mark because the 1824 Act precluded Rotherhams from registering with any other assay office than Birmingham. The Gold and Silver Wares Act 1854 removed the monopoly of the Birmingham Assay Office over local work by allowing manufacturers to send work to any assay office they chose.
JR: John Rotherham
R&S in cameo within Diamond
On 17 June 1857 an incuse mark with the initials “HB” was entered at the London Assay Office by Henry Buckland of the Rotherham Watch Factory, Spon Street, Coventry.
On 24 February 1858 an incuse mark with the initials “RKR” was entered at the London Assay Office by Richard Kevitt Rotherham of the Rotherham Watch Factory, Spon Street, Coventry.
Rotherham & Sons also entered punches at the Glasgow Assay Office, which seem to have been used only for imported Swiss watch cases.
R&S: Rotherham & Sons Ltd
The first punch mark entered by John Rotherham at the Birmingham Assay Office on 7 April 1841 for Rotherham & Sons was the initials R&S in cameo within a rectangular shield, address given as 4 Spon Street, Coventry. This remained the only R&S punch registered at Birmingham until a punch with the same initials in cameo within a diamond shaped shield was registered in 1912, and then three similar punches were registered in 1917.
A mark of the initials JR in a serif face in cameo within a diamond shield (not shown) was entered at the Birmingham Assay Office, together with the same initials JR in a sans-serif face in cameo within a diamond shield as shown here, on 15 July 1886 by John Rotherham, as watch & case makers trading as Rotherham & Sons of 4 Spon Street, Coventry. Similar punches were registered in 1888, 1901 and 1908.
R&S: Rotherham & Sons Ltd
A punch with the initials JR in a sans-serif face in cameo within a diamond shield was entered at the London Assay Office on 7 March 1881 by John Rotherham.
Philip Priestly lists punches that made the R&S mark with rectangular shield as being registered at Birmingham in 1841 and in London between 1907 and 1919, and the R&S mark with diamond shield as being registered in Birmingham between 1912 and 1917. The Birmingham assay office would be the nearest office to mark watches made in Coventry, whereas the London assay office would be a more natural choice for watches imported from Switzerland, which would come in by ship through the port of London, and a large proportion would then be retailed in London.
Rotherhams also imported watches as well as making them. The image here shows hallmarks in an imported Borgel watch. The sponsor's mark of the initials R&S in a rectangular shield with cut corners was entered at the London Assay Office in 1907 in response to the Assay of Imported Watch-Cases Act. It is shown here alongside London import hallmarks for sterling silver, the date letter "i" is for 1924 to 1925.
JR: John Rotherham or Joseph Radges?
J.R: Joseph Radges, London Assay Office 1876
JR: John Rotherham 1881
There is a temptation to ascribe any "JR" sponsor's mark in a nineteenth century English watchcase to John Rotherham. However, the larger image here shows a JR mark that was not entered by John Rotherham.
The large image shows the inside of a watchcase back with London Assay Office hallmarks for sterling silver, the leopard's head and lion passant. The date letter "M" is for 1887 to 1888, remember that date letter punches were changed part way through the year when new wardens were elected, so a date letter refers to parts of two calendar years.
The sponsor's mark is not the similar punch mark that was entered at the London Assay Office in 1881 by John Rotherham, which is the shown in the smaller image. The surround of Rotherham's mark is square, set in a diamond shape, the face of the initials ‘JR’ is sans-serif, and there is no period between the initials.
The sponsor's mark in the watch case has a diamond shaped suppround that is wider than it is tall, the initials ‘J.R’ are in a serif face and have a period between them. This punch mark entered by Joseph Radges at the London Assay Office in November 1876 (Culme 9893). Joseph Radges is recorded as a watchcase maker, address 11 & 14 Summerland House, Butts, Coventry.
Although Radges' address in Coventry suggests that this watch was finished and cased in Coventry, it also suggests that it was not made by Rotherhams. If it had been made by Rotherhams the case would have one of the sponsor's marks entered on behalf of the company, which it does not. It is most likely that the movement was finished by one of the many other Coventry watchmaking companies, possibly a watchmaker working in The Butts such as Newsome & Co., who contracted Radges to make the case.
This shows how important it is to consider every aspect of a sponsor's mark, not just the initials. The exact shape of the surround, if there is one is important, as is the type face of the letters and any punctuation. These two JR marks are quite different so it is easy to spot, sometimes it is not so easy.
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Rotherham Registered Trademarks
RS Trident on Swiss movement
R&S on Swiss movement
The British Trade Mark Registration Act 1875 came into effect on 1 January 1876 and many British manufacturers registered trademarks. The image here shows a trademark registered by John Rotherham on behalf of Rotherham & Sons on 9 February 1880. A virtually identical mark was registered in May 1915 with the central serpent wrapped around a trident as shown in the upper right corner.
Swiss movements imported by Rotherhams sometimes carry trademarks on the movements such as the initials RS either side of a trident or the initials R&S in an oval such as the ones shown here.
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Coventry Factory Production
Rotherham Production: D. H. Bacon, Antiquarian Horology Winter 1996.
An article by D. H. Bacon, "Watch Production in English Factories" in the Winter 1996 edition of Antiquarian Horology discussed Rotherhams' output of watches. Data gathered by the author from serial numbers and case hallmark dates indicated that Rotherham restarted their numbering sequence in circa 1880. This was perhaps as a result of beginning machine made mass production of selectively interchangeable parts, when a knowledge of the specific group into which a movement fell would enable spare parts to be supplied from stock. I have heard it said that Rotherham's used different serial numbers for different sized watches, but the data gathered by Bacon does not support that.
The use of case hallmarks dates gives a general idea of the rate of production, but cannot be used to pin down when a movement was actually made. The basic materials used in a movement, steel and brass, were relatively cheap. The major cost of a machine made movement was in the machinery and tools. Because of this, machine made movements were made in large batches, and some could be held in stock for long time before they were required to fulfil orders. They were kept in stock bare and cased up as needed.
Cases were not held in stock for long because they were not mass produced so remained expensive, especially those in gold and silver. Because of this they were not held in stock for long if that could be avoided. They were made more on demand as orders came in. This means that the movement was made before its case and the hallmark date in a case is always later than the date of manufacture of the movement.
The figure here reproduced from the article shows a plot of movement serial numbers against case hallmark dates. I have added the grey grid lines. The meaning of the outlier labelled “+ H.S.3” is not recorded. There are a number of features of this chart to note.
The hallmark dates are plotted as single years, which is not correct because it does not take account of the fact that date letter punches were used over two calendar years. Date letter punches were changed part way through the year when new wardens were elected, at the end of May for the London Assay Office, the end of June for most others, so a date letter refers to parts of two calendar years. So hallmark dates actually start about half way through the year and span a full twelve month period into the next calendar year.
The drawing of the straight regression line is misleading on two counts. Rotherham's output would have fluctuated in response to economic conditions, so production data would really be a curve. But also, because movements were not cased until needed, the date of production of a movement would be before the hallmark date plotted on the chart. However, the slope of the line might be a reasonable representation of Rotherhams' average rate of production over the 30 years (1883 - 1913) covered by the data.
The red bar on the plot refers to the wristwatch described further down on this page which has serial number 253272. The red bar falls well below the main sequence of movement serial numbers, 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 regression line (green arrow) suggests might have been 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.
The lowest and highest serial numbers were 13,806 and 401,197. For some reason not explained in the article, the highest number is neither dated or plotted; it was probably an uncased movement, or one that had lost its case.
From the slope of the regression line, Bacon estimated that Rotherhams' output was about 240 watches per week between 1883 and 1913, about 12,500 per annum. This is considerably lower than the 100 watches per day reported in the press. This was probably a difference between a capability of making 100 watches per day and the number that were actually produced to fulfil orders.
There is a story that Rotherhams made no watches at all during the Great War. It is true that the factory did make other thing during the war, but Rotherhams said that the story that they didn't make watches during the war was put about by a competitor, almost certainly Williamsons, a rival Coventry watch manufacturer. Production of watches in Coventry continued after the Great War but Rotherham stopped making watches in Coventry in the mid 1940s.
Bacon estimates the total output of watches at Rotherhams' Coventry factory as circa 425,000, but assumes that watch production ceased in the early 1930s. Max Cutmore estimates Rotherham's production at about 600,000 over 50 years, i.e. about 12,500 per annum over the same period, although it is unlikely that this rate was sustained over the full 50 years. However, Rotherhams' production did not stop until the mid 1940s, so Cutmore's figure might be closer to the total achieved by that date. Both figures are tiny compared to the output of Swiss or American factories.
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Rotherham & Sons and Electa
10 August 1926 transfer of trademarks
July 1927 notice
In 1926 the Electa watch movement factory and its contents were purchased from Gallet by Rotherham and Sons. The notice reproduced here dated 10 August 1926 records the transfer of the trademark names Eureka and Electa to "Rotherham and Sons, Overseas Limited" based in London with a branch in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The notice also says "fabrication, La Chaux-de-Fonds". This implies that there was a factory, so it seems possible that Rotherham's bought the Electa factory as well as the name.
The notice reproduced here from a Swiss trade journal of July 1927 advises that the trademarks Eureka and Electa are the exclusive property of Rotherham and Sons Overseas Limited and that they will pursue judgment against anyone who uses these marks without their authorisation.
My records show that the involvement of Rotherhams with Electa goes back to before the Great War. I have seen two wristwatches with Electa movements in sterling silver cases with Birmingham Assay Office import hallmarks for 1914 to 1915 and John Rotherham's registered sponsor's mark. During the war Rotherhams were entirely taken up with the production of war materials, mainly fuses for which they gained a high reputation for their accuracy.
It seems that not only did Rotherhams cease manufacture of watches at their factory in Coventry for the duration of the war, they also stopped importing Electa watches. I have only seen two Electa wristwatches with London Assay Office import marks and John Rotherham's registered sponsor's mark, but then all of the other wristwatches with Electa movements in sterling silver cases that I have seen with hallmarks from the war years 1914 to 1918 have London Assay Office import hallmarks and the sponsor's mark A•G•R for Robert Pringle & Sons.
There is a gap in my Electa records from 1918/19 to 1924/25, but I have seen Swiss watches with Rotherham's sponsor's mark and import hallmarks for 1918/19, so it seems that they started importing Swiss watches again soon after the war finished.
My records of Electa wristwatches with Rotherham and Sons R&S sponsor's mark continue with Chester Assay Office import hallmarks for the years 1925/26 to 1926/27. These dates include watches that were imported by Rotherham and Sons in the period between the Electa factory being offered for sale or rent and the liquidation sale in 1926. It seems likely that Rotherhams rented the factory in 1923 and continued production of Electa watches until the dispersal sale, when they acquired the factory and contents.
The latest wristwatch with an Electa movement in sterling silver case that I have records for has Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks and Rotherham and Sons R&S sponsor's mark. The date letter is "i" for 1931 to 1932.
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An English Wristwatch
Rotherham & Sons were one of the few English watchmaking companies to make wristwatches. They could not compete on the scale of production with American or Swiss manufacturers, so these wristwatches were expensive at the time and are not seen very often. Rotherhams also imported Swiss watches so not every watch with a Rotherham mark on it was made in England. However, the watch shown on this page was produced entirely in Rotherhams' Coventry factory.
The watch shown here was manufactured as a wristwatch 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, first entered at the London Assay Office in 1907 for Rotherham & Sons.
The watch is stem wound and set, with a push pin in an olivette on the side of the case to put the keyless mechanism into hand setting mode. The case is 34.6mm diameter excluding the lugs and crown, a comfortable 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 called “bolt and joint”. At the top, above the twelve o'clock, there is a joint, the casemaker's term for a hinge, with the two outer silver knuckles fixed to the case band and a central brass knuckle fixed to the movement. At the bottom, below the six o'clock position, there is a spring catch called the bolt that can be released with a finger nail to allow the movement to be swung out from the case, as shown in the picture of the watch opened further down the page.
Bolt and joint was a very traditional way of fixing a movement into a case. By the second half of the nineteenth century this looked increasingly old fashioned, although it didn't inconvenience the wearer. By the time this wristwatch was made in the early years of the twentieth century, the design was really showing its age compared to watches with modern and more compact cases. The movement is also rather old fashioned, with a traditional right angle English lever escapement although it doesn't have a fusee. The stem winding design is poor in engineering terms, forced upon the watch by the constraints of the case. Although externally it looks like a modern early wristwatch, it is really a last hoorah! of traditional English watchmaking, like a surviving dinosaur.
The serial number on the movement is 253,272. 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 was hallmarked, remembering that hallmark date letters span two calendar years. The red bar falls well below the average line of dates drawn from case hallmarks, showing that the movement had been in stock for some time, perhaps as long as eight to ten years, before it was cased up as a wristwatch. This is not surprising given the changes in fashion that were taking place at the time.
Movements mass produced by automatic machines were made in large batches, because a lot of time was involved in setting up the machinery but the cost of the raw materials was low, so once set up the machines were left to churn out large numbers of identical components. These were assembled into movements, which were not cased but kept in stock until they were needed. The fashion for ladies to wear wristwatches began in the 1880s and it soon displaced the wearing or carrying of fob watches, so the demand for fob watch movements like the one in this watch fell, and many movements were left unsold. The movement of this watch might have never been sold had not the Great War created a huge demand for men's wristwatches, which 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.
The date letter shows that the case was hallmarked between June 1914 and May 1915, after which it would have been returned to the factory to be finished and to have the movement fitted. This timing shows that the wristwatch was undoubtedly made in response to the demands of newly commissioned British officers 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 officer's trench watches.
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 their love affair with the fusee, which made watches expensive to make, bulky and 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. At the time this watch was made, British retailers did not generally allow manufacturers to put their names onto watches. If there was any name on the dial at all, it was usually that of the retailer. This was frequently applied in enamel paint, which does not stick too well to vitreous enamel dials and has usually partially or completely fallen off.
The watch case was made along traditional lines for an English lever watch although, because the watch is stem wound and set, there is no need for an opening outer back as was made for key wound watches. The single case back, or case bottom, is rigidly fixed to the band, the middle part of the case, and does not open.
The view of the case with the bezel open 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 casemaker's term for a hinge. At the bottom, below the six o'clock position, there is a spring catch called a “bolt” that can be released to allow the movement to be swung out from the case. This method of holding the movement into the case is called “bolt and joint” The other image shows the movement swung out of the case on the joint.
The case has hallmarks struck by the London Assay Office, shown by the mark of the leopard's head, for a sterling silver item made in Britain, shown by the walking lion passant. The Merchandise Marks Act of 1887 introduced different standard marks for imported watches, which meant that the lion passant standard mark was only struck on items made in Britain. The date letter is the “t” of 1914 to 1915, remember that date letter punches were changed in the middle of the year when new wardens were elected. The sponsor's mark R&S was entered at the London Assay Office for Rotherham & Sons.
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 detail 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 between the plates in the pictures of the movement, near to the “...smiths” part of the engraved retailer's name “Goldsmiths”.
Rotherham Keyless Mechanism
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 with high pressure grease. The bevel gears themselves must not be oiled or greased.
Turning the crown normally winds the mainspring, the hands are “pin set”, meaning that hand setting is engaged by a push pin in a small olivette on the outside of the case just below the crown. The pin is pressed inwards to shift the keyless mechanism 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; an initial shallow stamp was overstamped by a second deeper set of marks. This occurred because the operator realised that the first set of marks was too shallow and had another go, but the punch moved slightly between the two blows. 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 “press punch” which made all three parts of the hallmark, the lion, the leopard's head and the date letter, in one go. I have examined the marks carefully and I am sure that the date letter is the "n" for 1908 to 1909.
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.
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Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2021 all rights reserved. This page updated March 2021. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.