Murphy’s tastes in watch and watch movement design are decidedly classic and he was determined to have his 801 movement decorated with classic Geneva waves (Murphy favors the French expression for them, côtes de Genève). So he went to Switzerland to find a machine for producing Geneva waves. Due to budget constraints, he hoped to buy a used one. To his chagrin, he learned that the mechanical-watch boom has driven demand for pre-owned Geneva-wave-makers through the roof. “I’ve got a list of 30 people looking for one of those machines,” one Swiss tool company exec told him. “I’ll never have one for you.” Stymied, he looked at new machines. The cheapest one, a semi-automatic, was $15,000. Murphy was aghast. When he discovered a small manual one, his heart leapt. “I was thinking, ‘It’s manual; it’s got to be less, right?’” Wrong. It cost $20,000. “With all the other things we had to do, it was cost-prohibitive,” he says. He came home empty-handed.
He mentioned his problem to a friend in nearby Manheim, PA, a machinist who works for a medical equipment company. “He’s their machine guy,” Murphy says. “He fixes machines, restores them, sets them up. He’s a machining wizard. He said ‘Let me think about this.’” The friend mulled it over and came up with a solution: a made-in-America Servo drill press that he had at home. The machine wizard attached the press to a sliding sled that moves backwards and forwards. Then he hooked compressed air to it, which helps regulate the speed and consistency of the motion. Murphy supplied the proper 3M abrasive paper (he’s since switched to a brand that Swiss watch firms use) and, voilà, a home-made côtes de Genève maker. It worked so well that Murphy bought his own Servo drill press on eBay for $2,000. “Nice little thing,” Murphy says, “made of a mill base, so it’s really solid.” His friend converted that drill press into a Geneva-wave machine, too. “Instead of spending $15,000 or $20,000, I have $3,600 in this machine and it works awesome,” Murphy says. “But it took time to figure all of that out.” He’s also proud of his Nikon optical comparator, used to inspect and measure components. “It’s probably 25 years old, but it’s in beautiful shape. I got it for $1,700; a new one is probably 15 grand. It works great.”
Murphy’s team does their own perlage, or circular graining, on the movements. “Perlage is easier because you can use basically any drill press,” Murphy says. “It’s a fairly simple process. It’s just a matter of doing it precisely for it to look good. So we made a little table for turning and moving it around, so it can do nice, precise circles. We’re having equipment made to do a specific job. We’ve been able to build good equipment reasonably. We’re a little company, so we have to be practical.”
In 2008, Murphy says, “I made the final tweaks and changes and we ran 100 sets of parts.” He and his team decorated and finished the movements by hand and assembled the watch.
The first series of RGM Caliber 801 watches, with a seconds subdial at 6 o’clock, debuted later that year in steel cases with a 42-mm diameter and 10.5-mm thickness. They proudly proclaimed their origins inside and out: “Lancaster, Penna” is printed at the bottom of the seconds subdial and “Lancaster, Penna, U.S.A.” is engraved prominently on the movement’s bridge.
It’s worth noting that all of the guilloché work on Caliber 801 watches — and all RGM watches — is done in-house. Murphy is something of a guilloché freak. His shop has five guilloché machines, unheard of in the watch world: three antique rose engine machines and two straight line machines. It was a major investment; the machines cost between $12,000 and $25,000 each. He stocked up on guilloché machines a few years ago, when his Swiss supplier of hand-made guilloché dials suddenly refused to sell to him anymore. With the help of a master engine-turner in Switzerland, who agreed to teach him, Murphy mastered the art and has passed it on to his colleagues.
In January, Murphy unveiled a second series of Caliber 801 watches with a larger stainless-steel case (43.3 x 12.3 mm) made in Lancaster County. All RGM watches with this case are designated as the Pennsylvania Series. Today Caliber 801 watches come in seven versions, priced from $6,400 to $9,500.
In 2010 Murphy realized another dream: he produced an American-made tourbillon. “There are a lot of tourbillons out there but no one is building one in the United States,” he says. The new MM2 caliber in the RGM Pennsylvania Series Tourbillon uses a Swiss balance, “but we build the entire tourbillon part: the fourth wheel, the carriage, all of the tourbillion parts are built here in Lancaster or Mount Joy,” Murphy says. Murphy is producing the watch in a small numbered series, as either a standard model or customized, in stainless steel ($95,000) or 18k gold (pricing on request).
Like the Caliber 801, Caliber MM2 proclaims its Pennsylvania origins. The movement is engraved with an emblem Murphy created for the piece: a “T” (for tourbillon) inside a keystone, the symbol of Pennsylvania, the Keystone State. “U.S.A.” is also engraved on a bridge. Other distinctive features of the watch include a small window on the side of the case with a view of the tourbillon mechanism, a seven-tooth winding click and wolf-teeth wheels.
Murphy, now 51, looks back on his American movement adventure with some satisfaction. “Getting through that seven-year learning curve has paid dividends,” he says with a laugh. “The biggest dividend is seeing the watch come to life. The first day you see that new creation and it’s working in your hand, that’s the biggest day, it really is. That’s the biggest excitement that I have. I say, ‘Wow. There it is. It works. It’s ours. We built it.’”
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