TimeZone Washington DC Gathering – May 2001 (Part II)
After a nicely done lunch prepared by Clyde’s staff, the speaking began.
Roland Murphy gave an excellent talk (polished, no doubt, by RGM’s recent first appearance at the Basel Fair) on RGM’s lines and plans for the near future, and also gave us some insight into how RGM was started and has grown. Here are some tidbits from his talk:
- RGM is a very small company – a total of three watchmakers (including Roland himself), a graphic designer who pulls double duty as a dial designer and webmaster, and a very small office staff. They have their own line of watches, which cover the range from a simple automatic pilot’s watch to tourbillons, and in addition do both custom manufacturing of watches as well as restoration of vintage pieces. Total production in 2001 is expected to be 300 pieces, with 2002 ramping up to 400.
- RGM has recently brought out the William Penn collection, kicked off with a rectangular manual-wind with power reserve and small seconds, using the rectangular case introduced with the original jump-hour design. This new model has a shaped movement which is new (not NOS or vintage). Roland plans to expand this line by re-introducing the jump-hour, and by adding models with moonphase and date.
- Roland also has a new calendar plate in the works, designed to work with a variety of round movements. The plate has a calendar and moonphase at 4 and 8, and will fit a seven-days movement, a regular automatic, and may also appear on a NOS Valjoux 23.
- The custom end of the business is quite interesting, and has also covered a wide range of work. In addition to relatively simple custom modifications to the RGM pilot’s watch, Roland has been asked to develop everything from repeaters, repeaters with additional complications, and tourbillons. He showed us a very interesting minute repeater tourbillon drawing, which has the movement reversed. This allows the tourbillon and hammers for the repeater to be visible through the dial, and the racks and snails of the repeater will be visible through the display back. RGM makes four or five custom pieces each year.
- When asked about recasing old pocket watches, Roland explained that while it is possible, it is often very difficult because an elaborate effort is required to fully measure and dimension the existing movement in order to fit a case properly. Depending on the complexity, this may require very sophisticated measurement techniques.
- Custom cases, however, are actually fairly easy to design and have manufactured – easier than a small series production for a new case in fact. This is because a single custom case can always be made by hand, whereas a series of cases requires tooling to be produced. This has lead RGM to purchase in minimum lots for their series cases – for example, they have purchased 600 cases for future William Penn production – twice this years production for ALL lines.
- Similarly, batches for dials are usually in the 20s for engine-turned dials, and in the hundreds for simple dials like the pilot’s watches.
- RGM only uses real engine-turned guilloche dials – never stamped or embossed. The prototype William Penn dial is made of solid gold, and is silvered afterwards, as is done by Breguet and other high end makers.
- The small production of RGM in some ways gives them more business flexibility than larger makers. For example, the recent Swatch Group pronouncement that Lemania production would be reserved for Swatch brands hasn’t impacted Roland directly even though he uses their tourbillon and other movements. What it has done, in fact, is put the entire industry on notice that these things may happen, and has pointed out the need for new suppliers like Progress watch to succeed. (Roland also mentioned that another unnamed Swiss company was considering competing in the ebauche market.) In addition, use of vintage or NOS movements is easier for RGM than for larger companies since the total production is small. Finally, the Internet has been a big boon to RGM, allowing them to advertise in a medium with relatively small costs – a scenario which wouldn’t have worked if RGM had been founded earlier.
- RGM was started at an opportune time: in the early 90s, the suppliers market was not nearly as healthy as it is today, and thus RGM was able to establish relationships with suppliers that today would not consider doing business with such a small company. It was also pretty clear that Roland must spend a lot of time working directly with his suppliers; he even mentioned that it is not atypical to come to business deals over dinner. Despite these relationships, delivery time has recently become an issue with RGM – some shipments are being delayed as much as five or six months. This uncertainty is currently causing a relook at their supplier situation.
Bill Deschler followed up by dropping a few hints about what was coming from IWC, and he also brought along the new GST rattrapante and perpetual watches in salmon dials, as well as a Spitfire and a recent production pocket watch with a complete calendar and moonphases.
- IWC is currently working on a new automatic movement, different from the Caliber 5000. In addition, plans are in the works to use the Caliber 5000 in some other watches, such as perhaps a perpetual calendar and a “1461” semi-perpetual. It is not clear how much IWC will use JLC movements in the future (for example, the 889 is currently used in the small Portugieser). Details are sketchy at this point in time, and plans are always subject to change.
- In terms of the service department, they have been in their new facility since October, and are growing in capability. Right now, turnaround times from IWC are very fast for simple servicing or repairs – 2 or 3 weeks – and the Winchester service center is beginning to work on pieces that they used to send to Schaffhausen. It was also revealed that JLC and IWC in Winchester share their workplace and equipment, but the staff is separate (although Bill will work with both brands’ watchmakers).
- Bill has not noticed a significant difference at his level since the acquisition by Richemont. He attributes this to the fact that Gunter Blumlein is still in charge of all three LMH companies, and in fact has been given other Richemont brands to direct. These include Vacheron Constantine and Panerai, but excludes Cartier. For the time being, he foresees only administrative changes (e.g. accounting systems, etc.) as a result of the acquisition.
- When asked which of IWC’s movements are hardest work work on, he suggested that they all each had their own issues. For example, ultrathins have their typical difficulty in adjusting and timing because of their thinness, while other movements have their own complexities. He did say that ETA’s movements were usually very straightforward to work on because of their simplicity.
- When asked about what young aspiring watchmakers (e.g. still in high school) should do, he suggested that above all, they must want to do it because they enjoy it – this is not the kind of career to get if it is just a job. While he suggests that the US programs are quite good, the advantage of the Swiss WOSTEP program is the ability for the students to visit the different manufacturers right there in Switzerland, and for this reason have a leg up on US-based schools.
- Finally, when asked about the strangest repair they have had to perform, he mentioned a few watches that had been in fires (“the screws were all blued”), and a watch that the owner had run over with a lawnmower by accident (owner took watch off and put it on a hammock, it fell off, and then he cut the grass…)
The gathering closed with a raffle to give away several goodies generously supplied by some companies:
IWC brought three Pellaton models and a Revell plastic model of “Iron Annie”, the Junkers-52 sponsored by IWC on a recent round-the-world flight attempt. Chronoswiss supplied a nice video, “The Fascination of Watchmaking”. RGM supplied leather single-watch travel pouches for everyone. Finally, although they could not make it in person, Breitling sent a huge amount of goodies – hats and polishing cloths for everyone, and a t-shirt, backpack, nylon flight jacket, and a nice metal desk clock (inspired by cockpit clocks).
On behalf of my co-organizers Stephanie, Aran, and Scott Stephens, I want to thank everyone for attending, the companies which participated, and especially Roland Murphy and Bill Deschler for spending their valuable time with us.
Thanks also to Aran and Gary Hodge for their photos.