On October 23 and 24, WatchTime stages its biggest and most luxurious watch collectors’ event to date, WatchTime New York, in Manhattan’s Gotham Hall. (Click here for event details and to purchase tickets). Among the luxury watch brands displaying their wares at WatchTime New York will be U.S.-based RGM, which will showcase its new vintage-inspired timepiece, the RGM 801 Corps of Engineers watch.
Like other timepieces created by RGM founder and namesake Roland G. Murphy, this one has its roots in American horological history. When the United States joined World War I in April 1917, its allies Britain and France made the arrival of American engineers their top priority. By the end of that year’s summer, nine newly organized engineer railway regiments, recruited largely from the nation’s private railway workers, had arrived in France. Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had adopted the General Railroad Timepiece Standards of 1893, they brought with them about 1,000 American-made Hamilton railroad watches that met those standards. Each watch incorporated several technical features to ensure easy winding, legibility and accuracy to within 30 seconds a week. In an effort to reduce reliance on trans-Atlantic shipping routes, the AEF Quartermaster Corps shortly decided to acquire more such watches from within Europe — specifically, from several Swiss companies — rather than from the U.S.
These original Corps of Engineers watches had real glass enamel dials, which were widely used in the watch industry at the time but in today’s watches are quite rare. RGM realized that the only way to achieve this classical look was not to simulate the technique used to create it but to produce it in the same way — with the grand feu (French for “Great Fire”) enamel process, a high-risk art performed by a highly skilled craftsman. The enameling process typically begins with colored, powdered glass applied to a metal plate, after which the plate’s surface is heated to a temperature high enough to cause the powdered glass to melt and form a new surface. The grand feu technique raises the stakes, with repeated baking of successive layers of enamel at extremely high temperatures — ensuring a distinctively crisp aesthetic while permanently setting the enamel. Of course, using such extreme heat to create the dials also poses a risk: each time the dial is re-fired, the danger of its cracking, melting or burning increases.
Similar to the original model from which RGM drew its inspiration, the 801 Corps of Engineers watch adheres to the General Railroad Timepiece Standards of 1893, which required that watches have bold, Arabic numerals on a white dial with dark hands. RGM’s model features an easily readable deep white glass enamel dial with large luminous numbers. The period-accurate, vintage-style hands are made of luminous blued steel and filled with Super-LumiNova, as are the numerals. The watch is housed in a aviator-style, 42-mm-diameter case made of 316L stainless steel with a brushed pilot-style case. The flat winding crown echoes those of the watch’s historical predecessors.
The beating heart of this decidedly American watch is an American-made movement, RGM’s original in-house Caliber 801. Its highlights include classical bridge shapes, hand-polished and blued-steel components, a seven-tooth winding click (with optional wolf’s-tooth winding wheels available) and entirely hand-executed finishes and decorations that include perlage, anglage, and circular damascening. It features manual winding, a frequency of 18,000 vph, and a power reserve of at least 40 hours. The movement, which is visible under a flat sapphire crystal (the front sapphire crystal is domed), can also be customized at the client’s request.
The RGM 801 Corps of Engineers watch comes on a brown Tuscan calfskin strap, and is priced at $9,700. A bracelet version is also available for $10,450. If you’re interested in getting a closer look at this watch and seeing how it looks on your own wrist, click here to reserve your spot at WatchTime New York, America’s Luxury Watch Show.