Celebrating A Classic: RGM Model 600-B

This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 Issue of the WatchTime print magazine.

In 2022, the American watchmaker’s 30th anniversary, RGM added a striking blue dial version of its vintage-inspired Model 600. We went hands on with the bicompax pilots’ chronograph.

Roland G. Murphy’s RGM Watch Company is located in a small town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, an area with a rich history of watchmaking in America’s past. Thanks to Murphy’s vast knowledge and love of watch history in America and Switzerland, and his huge experience in restoring and creating watches, RGM itself has become an important chapter in America’s watchmaking present in the last 30 years. “The goal was to make a living doing what I love,” said Murphy. “It wasn’t about becoming a big international company, I always wanted to stay small and stay involved in doing what I like.”

Some examples of this? In 2008, Murphy conceptualized and executed the first American-made, in-house movement since 1969. Given the name “Caliber 801” (the address of the company’s workshop in Mount Joy), Murphy followed it up in 2010 with the Pennsylvania Tourbillon, containing RGM Caliber MM2 (for “manufacture movement 2”), with a tourbillon that was fully constructed in the horological heartland of Lancaster County. In 2013, RGM celebrated its 20th anniversary with the firm’s third in-house movement (and its first shaped one), Caliber 20. Five years later, movement #4 was released, which used Caliber 801 as a base and added a central seconds hand. In 2019, Murphy returned to Caliber 801 once again with a skeletonized take that took him over a year to develop.

Another specialty of RGM are customizations: A production model, for example, can be customized with a unique dial or a personalized engraved rotor. Such modifications represent a more cost-effective way for an enthusiast to obtain a unique example of an already limited-production watch. At the other end of the scale, RGM can also create a bespoke timepiece that is designed, built and assembled completely in-house. All things combined, RGM is currently producing “somewhere under 400 pieces” per year.

RGM’s Model 600 was first introduced in 2021 as part of the company’s regular collection of mechanical watches, the foundation on which the brand was launched in 1992. Murphy commented, “This watch really is inspired by those military watches that Hamilton and Lemania made for the British military. It’s very much in that flavor. I basically took the elements I liked from both of them and put it into this watch. I really wanted to have that feel of those 1960s military chronos. I purposely didn’t want to make it just another chrono with a glass back; I wanted it to be real. That’s why I didn’t put a calendar on it.” After the Model 600-M with matte black dial, RGM introduced a blue dial option in the beginning of 2022. “We get a lot of requests for blue dials,” said Murphy. “There are people that really like, for instance, our Model 151 pilots’ watches; we sell the black dials, we have other colors, but the blue dials sell really well. People like that vintage classic look, but jazzed up a little bit, and that’s what the blue dial option does. I came out with the black one first, because I wanted that to be truer to the inspiration. And now this is just a little bit of a departure from that, just to jazz it up a little bit with a radial finished blue dial.” 

The Model 600 is also RGM’s first production model with a box-style raised sapphire crystal, resembling the acrylic glasses used for the originals. Murphy explained, “It gives you the classic look, but also makes the watch appear slimmer, because you can step your way up. And the crystal is part of that step now, instead of just all metal. So that helps with keeping the watch looking slimmer on your arm and more visually appealing to the wearer, and it’s a model that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now.”

On paper, the 42-mm chronograph is 12.4 mm tall. Factoring in the sapphire crystal, however, the total height comes close to 15 mm. Unsurprisingly, the visually well-balanced watch offers a lot of presence on the wrist, partly because of the case length (from lug end to lug end) of 52.2 mm, but mostly because of the clean, symmetrical dial layout with two subdials and almost no text on it, and the striking blue dial color, which creates a wonderful contrast to the brown leather strap.

The case is made of stainless steel with a mostly brushed finish (the threaded bezel is polished). The chronograph pushers are at 2 and 4 o’clock, and the large crown has a double gasket and Keystone insignia, the latter being a reference to the unit patch of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Infantry Division, the oldest division-sized unit in the Department of Defense (the Germans called it the “Bloody Bucket” because of the blood-red keystone insignia and vicious fighting tactics during the Normandy Campaign). Coupled with a sterile, solid caseback, water resistance is guaranteed up to 50 meters. The watch is fitted with a thick 22-mm wide brown leather strap with white stitching, quick release spring bars and a standard pin buckle.

RGM opted for the Valjoux 7753 automatic chronograph movement with 48-hour power reserve (and the typical noticeable rotor movement when worn). Instead of the three subdials and a date at 6 o’clock, RGM went with a no-date bicompax execution. The Swiss workhorse movement is rhodium-plated and decorated with côtes de Genève; the caseback is held in place with seven screws (which would, in theory, have allowed for a perfectly aligned caseback engraving).

Interestingly, RGM only applied lume on the dial dots and on the hour and minute hands. Neither the chronograph functions nor the Arabic numerals glow at night, which makes it difficult to quickly check if the watch is still running, and impossible to use the chronograph at night (which, admittedly, rarely happens). Overall, legibility is excellent, thanks to the contrasting bright white dial elements, but it would have been a nice touch to have the chronograph functions and the time indication somehow paired.

All in all, the Model 600 is one of RGM’s cleanest and most mature designs so far. The refreshingly clean dial layout combined with the incredibly beautiful blue color with sunray finish leave little to be desired; the chronograph is comfortable to wear and easy to operate. Therefore, for those looking for a comparatively exclusive watch from an independent brand, the Model 600 feels like an ideal way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of the most passionate American watchmakers of our time. Both dial versions are priced at $4,250 each and are available through RGM’s website.

RGM Model 600-B Specs:

Manufacturer: RGM Watch Company, 801 West Main Street, Mount Joy, PA 17552, USA 

Functions: Hours and minutes from the dial’s center, seconds on subdial (9 o’clock), chronograph with central elapsed seconds hand and counter for up to 30 elapsed minutes (3 o’clock) 

Movement: Valjoux 7753, automatic, 28,800 vph, 27 jewels, stop-seconds function, 48-hour power reserve, diameter = 30 mm, height = 7.9 mm, rhodium finish and Geneva stripes 

Case: Stainless-steel case, box-style raised sapphire crystal, water resistant to 50 m, crown with double gasket and Keystone insignia 

Dial: Blue lacquer with sunray finish 

Strap and clasp: Brown leather strap with stainless steel pin buckle 

Dimensions: Diameter = 42 mm, length (lug to lug) = 52.2 mm, height = 12.4 mm (approx. 15 mm with crystal), lug width = 22 mm, weight = 108 g (with strap) 

Price: $4,250

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