The Model 92 Story

There are historic periods that are dramatically impacted and even defined by events or occurrences, be they political, economic or technological.  The late 1800s could certainly be considered one of those periods.  Although affected by all three of these forces, technology in general and the Railroad specifically, brought more than its share of change to American life.  Suddenly manufacturers were able to move greater quantities of goods further and faster than ever before.  In addition, people could move from place to place in numbers and at rates unheard of and unthinkable up to this time.  The completion of the Trans Continental Railroad cut the time of crossing the country from months to days.  As the railroads grew, the large-scale movement of goods and people increased and coordinating this movement became an increasingly demanding task. These demands brought about the need for a more accurate and dependable timepiece.


“Railroad Standards” for a railroad man’s timepiece had begun evolving previous to 1891 because of the frequency of accidents, but an horrific train wreck at Kipton, Ohio in that year brought the call for a universal set of very stringent criteria that a watch accepted into railroad service had to meet.  Although it would be some time before universal standards would be actually be established, the bar was significantly raised after the Kipton crash.  The American watch manufacturers of the time met this escalating demand with some of the finest timepieces the world has ever seen.   


The task of meeting the higher standards of railroad timekeeping was only one of several challenges facing American watch manufacturers as the end of the 19th Century was approaching.  From Charles Moore’s “Timing A Century”, a history of the Waltham Watch Company, we learn that an economic depression in 1885 brought about a general downturn in business.  In that same year, trade associations were instituted in an unsuccessful effort to stabilize prices.  By 1891 the jobbers’ association collapsed and new rounds of price cutting began, “with a vengeance” (Timing a Century).  While competition in the marketplace was stiff, technical competition along with one-upmanship was every bit as stiff.  The jewel frenzy was about to begin as the standard number of jewels in a quality watch increased from 15 to 17.  Soon some manufacturers would be jewelling watches up to 24, 25 and even 26 jewels.  Even as companies like Waltham, Illinois, Rockford and Elgin were slugging it out, a new contender, the Hamilton Watch Company, was entering the fray with its eye on the railroad trade.  In 1893 another decline in business came about when a great economic panic set in causing banks, businesses and several railroads to fail.  It is into this setting that Waltham introduces the Vanguard movement, later to become known as the Model 1892.  Click here to see a First Run Vanguard


It is generally felt that the various models of Waltham watches derive their names from the year in which they were introduced.  Although eventually named the Model 1892, the Vanguard movement does not actually hit the market until 1894.  It makes its appearance with quite a description of its attributes in the advertising of the time.  Waltham is not at all bashful about its new creation, stating that the Vanguard is the “Latest and Greatest achievement in watchmaking” and “the finest 18 size movement in the world”.  After the fifth run of the Vanguard movement, Waltham begins making it in other grades and the word Vanguard becomes a designation of grade.  From this point on, our use of the word Vanguard will indicate the same.


The major source of information regarding all Waltham watches is the serial number list published by Waltham in 1946 and again in1954.  It is titled “Serial Numbers with Description of Waltham Watch Movements”, but is commonly known among collectors as the Gray Book because of the color of its cover.  That is how it will be referenced on this site.  The Gray Book was published to aid watchmakers in the ordering of parts and is of little use to the collector in terms of production figures, as different grades of a model were frequently grouped together under one name.  It does however give us a stepping off point, without it we would be completely lost.  For the most part, it is accurate when stating a certain model occurs in a given serial number run but there are cases where that is not true.   Another source of information for early Waltham movements up to around serial number 7.5 million are the original Handwritten Records.  Occasionally however, even the handwritten records are vague and confusing.  An ongoing attempt is being made to construct a database that will produce accurate production figures for the Model 1892 movement by collecting serial numbers from actual watches. At present there are 7800 numbers in the database.  The author has to admit that dead accurate figures may never be a reality and will point out the areas that are particularly uncertain.  Any statements made here reflect conclusions that have been drawn from the data collected to this point in time.  There certainly may be movements out there that will alter some of these conclusions and it would be the author’s hope that the owners of any such movements would contribute the serial numbers to make the database more accurate.  As this site was being constructed, new information came to light about  the change in the orientation of the jewel screws on the upper balance cap jewel.  Originally they were positioned on a north/south axis and then were positioned on the east/west axis.  It remains to be seen if other variations are out there waiting to be discovered.  


The Model 92 was one of Waltham’s most successful watches.  For us, it possesses everything a collector could ask for. It is a high quality movement with a variety of grades, some short lived like the Royal and the Riverside and others, like the Vanguard, Appleton Tracy and Crescent Street that were manufactured throughout most of Model 92 production.  Unlike most other Waltham models, there are no 7 jewel or unadjusted Model 92s.  It was made in a number of different jewel counts and private labels.  There are movements that were made for foreign markets like the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Canadian Railway Time Service and the New South Wales Government Railroad. There are two-tone movements like the P.S. Bartlett grade and some early Crescent Streets and the above mentioned Royal. It is commonly known among collectors that a Pennsylvania Special is a "rare" or scarce watch.   If you explore the site you will see that there are also some equally scarce and desirable variations of the more well known grades.  And to top it off, it is a thing of beauty.  A hundred years after its making one look is breathtaking, even to a non-collector.  To this day I still remember the first time I ever saw one.  It is hoped that the reader will find this site helpful in assessing potential additions to his or her collection and that you  may find new areas of collectability in the Model 92.