Pitkin Pocket Watches

1838 -1852

When their jewelry business in Hartford, Connecticut closed in 1837, brother’s James and Henry Pitkin started a turning point in the history of watch making. Their goal, as thought out by Henry, was to start manufacturing pocket watches by machine.

The brothers built their own machinery and imported parts to manufacture their movements. Parts imported by the company were the hands, hairsprings, dials and balance jewels. The company did, however, make their own cases which were gold and silver. The brothers managed to put out their first product, a watch that was 16-size and had a ¾ plate, in the fall of 1838. The initial fifty pocket watches produced by the company we named after Henry Pitkin, but the company later stamped its watches H & J. F. Pitkin. In 1841, the Pitkin Watch Company relocated to Fulton Street in New York, but struggled due to being surrounded by companies that provided a cheaper product.

By 1845 the brothers had no choice but to focus solely on producing watch cases as opposed to a complete pocket watch. Amariah Hells, a longtime employee for the brothers, continued to run the business until he retired in 1852 after Henry was committed and his brother James died.

A closeup view of a W Pitkin Hartford Dial

A closeup view of a W Pitkin Hartford Lever fusee Pocket Watch Movement

Images provided by: oldwatch.com

Source: Heritage Pocket Watch

Craig Duling

Craig Duling's fascination with timepieces goes back at least to his college days, when he built a digital clock from scratch for his senior year physics lab class. Currently the head of Heritage Management Services, a business management firm in San Francisco, Craig Duling is also a significant collector of rare antique pocket watches. Pocket watches are often associated with images of 19th-century railroad conductors consulting them as steam trains left the station. This close attention to correct time was essential. In the 19th century, most trains traveled in both directions on single sets of tracks. Sidings were placed at regular intervals to allow trains to pass safely. Printed timetables showed the arrival and departure of trains, as well as when they were waiting in sidings. This system depended on accurate watches. The problem with this became evident in 1891 when two trains in Ohio had a head-on collision, killing nine people. Investigation disclosed that the engineer's watch on the passenger train had stopped and restarted, making it four minutes slow. This tragedy prompted railroad officials to set up standards for pocket watches. These specifications mandated that watches share a common design, as well as being reliable, easy to read, and impervious to extremes of temperature.

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