Watches by Machinery
This is an article we found in the spring
issue of Harpers
tells the story of the new factory at Elgin Illinois. I have placed
the pictures in place where they appeared in the text, but I made
them a link so you don't have to wait for them to load if you are
interested in the text only.
Several months ago a Swiss imitation, labeled "Chicago Watch Company," began to appear in our markets. It looks well to unskilled eyes, but is so rough and cheap that the "movement" can be sold for five dollars after paying the import duty. And lately another imitation, bearing the same inscription, but manufactured in an Eastern factory, has made its appearance. Buyers who would be sure of avoiding these spurious watches should purchase only of some reputable and established jeweler, and never of unknown, irresponsible parties, however honeyed and seductive their advertisements. But this counterfeiting, both foreign and domestic. of an American product less than two years old, at least shows that the genuine article has won enviable reputation.
Two facts in the consumption of the Elgin watches are the shadows of coming events. First, fully half, thus far, have been sold in the East, and a large proportion of them in New England. Second, the Company are filling orders for India, which have come from London, without solicitation or advertising abroad. The prairies are beginning to manufacture for the Orient! What will this grow to in the near future, when three Pacific railways bring India, China, and Japan to our doors ?
The Company make "movements" alone, dealing with the public only through local jewelers, whom they leave to case each watch according to the customer's taste or fancy. Making cases-a business quite distinct from making watches-is done on a large scale by two or three houses in the United States, and on a small scale by a great many. Crystals cost the jeweler from two and a half to seventy-five cents apiece. The finest are made in Europe; cheaper ones in New York and Pittsburg. Gold cases cost from fifty to one hundred and fifty dollars each ; silver ones from six to thirty dollars; German silver about three dollars and fifty cents.
Thus we have followed the watch through its various stages until it is ready for the pocket. An expert jeweler working by hand might perhaps make a watch in three weeks. The Elgin factory, with less than four hundred and forty employees, turns out one hundred and twenty- five a day, or one every three days and a half for every worker in tile establishment, including all the young boys and girls, the book-keepers and clerks. As eighteen is to three and a half so is machinery to hand-work. In watchmaking alone, within the last fifteen years, American inventiveness has increased the efficiency of human labor more than fivefold.
Increase in product always brings a still larger increase in demand. When Denison conceived the daring project of manufacturing three thousand watches a year, his sober friends fancied that he could never find purchasers. Since then our imports have increased enormously. In 1868 we bought two hundred and fifty thousand watches, costing four millions of dollars, from Switzerland alone. About one fifth were gold; the rest silver. An enormous proportion were of the grades which sell without cases for from five to ten dollars each, and which as time-keepers are worth about the value of the powder it would take to blow them up. In addition to this foreign supply, one hundred thousand watches a year are now manufactured in the United States. Still the demand is so great that the Elgin factory is often two or three months behind its orders for the most popular grades. The same is doubtless true in other establishments. It will continue true in the time not far distant when a good watch in a silver case can be purchased any where for ten dollars, and when American factories are turning out a thousand watches a day, for the United States and Europe, and swarming Asia.
But no degree of familiarity can ever take the charm and interest from a great watch factory: It will always be a magician's palace, which makes the story,of Aladdin prosaic and commonplace.