Meeting Recap: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Radium Dials

Kathleen McGivney, COO, RedBar Group and Director of Operations, Horological Society of New York
November 7, 2017

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

Many watch collectors own watches with radium dials - even seeking them out specifically. But do these watches present any dangers to the collectors who wear them? In her lecture to the Horological Society of New York on November 7, 2017, HSNY's Director of Operations and Red Bar's COO Kathleen McGivney delved into the history of radium dials and answered those pressing questions.

Radioluminescence, the process by which light is produced by bombarding a reactive material with ionizing radiation, was widely used as the demand for watches that were readable at night grew. Radium, discovered by the Curies (who coined the term “radioactivity”) in the 1890s, was ideal for that use due to its radioluminescent properties. Also, since radium was viewed at the time to have medicinal benefits (even touted to cure arthritis and high blood pressure), its potential deleterious effects were ignored… to deadly effect. 

Starting in the 1910s, thousands of young women began working at factories devoted to producing watches with radium dials. They would dip their camelhair brushes into a solution of radium, and then moisten the tip of the brushes between their lips to give them a finer point. The “Radium Girls” churned out dials, knowing that the watches they painted would adorn the wrists of soldiers fighting “over there” in the First World War.

By the 1920s, the Radium Girls began to fall ill and die of wasting diseases that doctors attributed to their ingestion of the element, eventually filing lawsuits which led to the establishment of OSHA. Which brings us to the present day: since the watch industry used radium until well into the 1950s, many watches with radium dials survive. Are these watches dangerous to handle or wear? The short answer is no. 

McGivney shared videos of readings she took with a Geiger counter from watches with radium dials. While all emitted some radioactivity, McGivney concluded that the exposure was not enough to harm the people who wear them. However, McGivney recommended that collectors store these watches in lead-lined pouches. 

HSNY thanks Kathleen McGivney for her fascinating lecture!

Submitted by Christa Chance, Recording Secretary, HSNY

Meeting Recap: Fakes, Forgeries and the Birth of Mass Production in the European Watch Industry, 1750-1820

Dr. Rebecca Struthers FBHI FRSA Ph.D., Birmingham, UK
October 2, 2017

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

Anyone who has visited Chinatown in New York has seen the thousands of “imitation” watches on offer. Though it might seem like a product of the age of mass-machining in which we live, such a concept is much older. In her lecture at the Horological Society of New York on October 2, 2017, Dr. Rebecca Struthers, FBHI, FRSA, PhD, Birmingham, UK, discussed her groundbreaking research on 18th-century “Dutch forgeries.” 

London was the center of horology in the 18th century. This was the Golden Age of British Watchmaking. Watchmakers like Tompion and Mudge produced roughly 1,000 watches a year. But the emergence of a vibrant and hungry middle class in Britain meant that these master watchmakers—faced with heavy taxation on precious metals after the Napoleonic Wars—could not meet the demands that the middle class posed on them. However, watchmakers in Europe were not faced with the same economic structures. European watchmakers capitalized on the depression in England to flood the market with cheap watches, often using fictitious names—like Harry Potter. 

These were called “Dutch forgeries” but, as Struthers pointed out, they were not Dutch made, nor were they forgeries of specific well-known makers like Mudge or Tompion. These watches imitated the Dutch style, often with scalloped edges on the dial, but with an inferior quality of metal and materials. Struthers used her past experience as a metalsmith to study the cases and came to the conclusion that they had been stamped and then soldered with lead, not cast as previously thought. 

Since standardized mass manufacturing didn’t emerge until the mid-19th century in America, the fact that these watches were produced and then distributed in such large numbers is astounding. Their existence spoke of a novel and innovative redistribution of labor, allowing for over 40,000 watches to be produced in a year. These watches proved that cheap watches would sell because there was a market to buy them. This changed the face of horology forever, as portable accurate timekeeping was no longer only the province of the rich.

HSNY thanks Dr. Rebecca Struthers for her fascinating lecture!

Submitted by Christa Chance, Recording Secretary, HSNY

Meeting Recap: Choosing a Clock: Regulation, Cosmopolitanism and Humbuggery

Professor Kevin Birth, Department of Anthropology, Queens CollegeCity University of New York
September 5, 2017

 

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

Imagine if you will, Grand Central Terminal at rush hour on a Friday afternoon. Now, imagine that every train line had clocks that told a different time. What chaos would result! At the September 2017 meeting of the Horological Society of New York, Professor Kevin Birth discussed the history manipulating time for political gain, known as time pluralism.

Birth gave examples from medieval times up to present day. Highlights include English, Austrian, and American history, including the 1859 New York Democratic Party Convention. Over the centuries, hours have changed dramatically from country to country and from season to season, beginning with sundials and even paper hour tables that served to explain what church clock bells meant from many different cultures. Clocks controlled business, the work day, and were also used to predict tides for merchant who moved their wares on rivers and canals. 

HSNY thanks Professor Kevin Birth for the fascinating lecture!

Ed Hydeman Named Executive Director for HSNY

HSNY has experienced phenomenal growth over recent years, and the need for a new position to manage behind-the-scenes aspects of the Society has become evident. With this in mind, HSNY's Trustees elected Ed Hydeman as the Society's first Executive Director at the June board meeting. Hydeman's extensive experience in the watch industry, along with serving as HSNY's President for eight years make him perfectly suited to the job. Congratulations, Ed!

Above, Ed Hydeman and Nicholas Manousos at HSNY's 150th Anniversary Gala, March 2016

Meeting Recap: The History of the Tourbillon

Stephen Forsey, Co-founder of Greubel Forsey and CompliTime SA
June 5, 2017

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

In his lecture at the June 5th meeting of the Horological Society of New York, Greubel Forsey Co-founder Stephen Forsey detailed the history and functionality of tourbillon watches. Invented in the late 18th century by Abraham-Louis Breguet, the tourbillon has evolved with many enhancements to rate accuracy and reliability. Mr. Forsey pointed out several inventions and improvements made by Greubel Forsey, including their 30 degree inclined tourbillon. Also explained was the scientific methodology that goes into testing tourbillons.

Complimenting the lecture, a selection of Greubel Forsey timepieces were on display, allowing Society members a chance to examine expertly crafted tourbillon mechanisms up close. We thank Mr. Forsey for visiting the Horological Society of New York and delivering such an intriguing lecture.

Submitted by Walter Pangretitsch, Recording Secretary, HSNY

Meeting Recap: Glashütte on Board – 130 Years of Marine Chronometers From Saxony

Ulrike Kranz - Glashütte Original
May 1, 2017

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

There is always something new and interesting to learn at HSNY lectures. This was proven once again at the May 1st meeting when Glashütte Original's Ulrike Kranz discussed the history of German marine chronometers. Since the late 19th century and continuing to the present day, watch companies located in the city of Glashütte have produced marine chronometers used by countries worldwide to aid in sea navigation. 

Ms. Kranz pointed out that the Glashütte horological industry went through hard times after WWII. Much of their machinery, equipment, and designs were confiscated by Russian forces as part of war reparations. However, they were able to retool most of their factories, recreating designs from memory. It was a remarkable achievement since there was a postwar blockade preventing imports from the west. The new GDR state controlled all factories. Nevertheless, outstanding timepieces continued to be exported. 

Kranz explained that after the reunification of Germany the Glashütte Observatory was reopened, and today houses a chronometer testing facility. The Glashütte Observatory also officially certifies the chronometers made by Glashütte Original – the legal successor of the VEB Glashütter Uhrenbetriebe. HSNY thanks Ulrike Kranz, Glashütte Original and the German Watch Museum for the incredible look at German horological history!

Submitted by Walter Pangretitsch, Recording Secretary, HSNY

Event Recap: HSNY 2017 Annual Gala & Charity Auction

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

On April 3rd, the Horological Society of New York celebrated its 151st anniversary with a gala dinner and charity auction in Midtown Manhattan. Members and guests from across the country gathered to celebrate New York's horological tradition, see the presentation of the Henry B. Fried Scholarship, and bid on a collection of vintage timepieces.

Steve Eagle (HSNY's Director of Education, right) presenting the 2017 Henry B. Fried Scholarship to Justin Shellenberger

The Henry B. Fried Scholarship was established to assist American watchmaking students in their studies at full-time watchmaking schools and was awarded for the first time at the 2017 Gala. HSNY's Director of Education, Steve Eagle, spoke on the merits of horological education and reflected on his time at watchmaking school. Eagle then introduced the 2017 Henry B. Fried Scholarship awardee to the crowd, Justin Shellenberger. Shellenberger is a first year student at the Lititz Watch Technicum in Pennsylvania. In his scholarship application, Shellenberger referenced the impact that the writing of Fried and Daniels made on his watchmaking ambitions.

Nicholas Dawes calling the HSNY 2017 Charity Auction

A collection of vintage timepieces bequeathed to HSNY over forty years ago was auctioned at the 2017 Gala, with proceeds going towards HSNY's newly established endowment fund. Bidding was enthusiastic, with over $30,000 raised from the five lots. The charity auction was made possible by HSNY sponsor Heritage Auctions, and called by Nicholas Dawes of PBS' Antiques Roadshow fame.

The crowd was a diverse mix of watchmakers, clockmakers, collectors, journalists, auctioneers and executives, reflecting the friendship and generosity of the NYC & US watch industry. Plans for HSNY's 2018 Gala are already underway, we are looking forward to seeing you there!

AWCI Teams up With Richter & Phillips Jewelers to Host an Afternoon at Their Museum Focused on Chronographs

The chronograph is one of the most widely loved complications in the watchmaking world. While it may seem simple to make those secondary hands start, stop, and reset there are many components which need to interact with one another precisely in order for the watch to perform correctly.
  
On April 22nd, the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute hosts Richter & Phillips Jewelers’ watchmaker Matthew Schloemer, CW21 at their museum near Cincinnati as he lectures on the chronograph mechanism, its history, and its function. Matthew will demonstrate several different chronograph movements and point out key differences between them. He will dive beneath the dial and illustrate from the watchmaker’s perspective all the moving parts and how they interact.
 
The afternoon event is the first of what AWCI hopes will be many technical events for collectors. Each event will have limited seating and be both social and educational. The $50 registration fee will support watchmaking education and those in attendance will enjoy cocktails and light refreshments, tour the Orville R. Hagans History of Time museum, peruse the library collections, and sit down in their state-of-the-art classroom for a technical presentation.
 
Limited seats available. Register at awcimuseum.eventbrite.com

7th Annual Madison Avenue Watch Week, May 8-13, 2017

Madison Avenue will once again become the epicenter of haute horlogerie during the 7th Annual Madison Avenue Watch Week. Slated this year for May 8-13, Madison Avenue’s premiere watch retailers and brands will preview their newest and most exceptional timepieces that recently debuted at Baselworld and at SIHH in Switzerland, along with a weeklong immersion into the art of watchmaking.

Open to the public, premier watch brands are welcoming enthusiasts and collectors with special events and offerings during business hours in the participating Madison Avenue stores located between 57th and 86th Streets. For more information, a calendar of events, a map and to request an invitation, visit (new edition of the website coming soon): www.madisonavenuewatchweek.com.

Madison Avenue Watch Week is presented by the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) and sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. The event is supported by the Horological Society of New York.

Meeting Recap: How to Win (and Sometimes Lose) at Watch Auctions

William Massena - Managing Director of TimeZone.com
March 6, 2017

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

The speaker at the March 6th meeting of the Horological Society of New York was William Massena, well-known expert in the field of buying and selling watches. In his second lecture at HSNY, Massena gave practical advise on how to deal with auction houses. Some of the largest firms, such as Phillips, Christies and Sotheby's, handle only high end timepieces. Several others share the growing watch auction market, soliciting bids internationally.

It is up to the buyer to be knowledgable about their potential purchase. Sometimes catalogue descriptions are not sufficient and may be exaggerated. Massena suggests doing your homework, reading a condition report about the watch from the auctioneer and personally inspecting it, if possible. These are valuable tips for collectors and investors who undoubtably drive the auction market. HSNY thanks Massena for his great presentation.

Submitted by Walter Pangretitsch, Recording Secretary, HSNY