We all know how a pocket watch looks, right? .. actually let’s assume we don’t, so here is a picture of a pocket watch.
Before we look at the best railroad pocket watches throughout the time, let’s set up some things about these watches, straight.
Now that we know how a pocket watch looks, you might be asking yourself what does it make it a railroad pocket watch?
What does an approved railroad pocket watch is?
An approved railroad pocket watch is a watch that was approved by a railroad company, to be used by employees, especially conductors while on duty. These regulations started to be implemented slowly while the railroad industry started to develop.
Starting with the 1890’s, after a head-on collision between two trains in Kipton, Ohio, the railroads were desperate in finding ways to make train travelling safer.
Soon after the accident, it was found that one of the conductor’s watch stopped working for few minutes, being the main cause of the fatal accident.
This was the beginning of what we know today, the Ball’s Standards.
What is the Ball's Railroad Watch Standards?
The Ball’s Standards are a set of rules and regulations which would assure a high accuracy and perfect reading for the railroad employees.
To obtain the Ball’s Standards Certification, the railroad pocket watch must have no lid on the dial, have a plain white dial, bold black hands and arabic numbers, have a minimum of 17 jewels, must have a double roller, must be lever-set, accuracy with a gain or loss of maximum 30 seconds a week, and few more.
One of the most prominent features of a railroad pocket watch was the lever-set mechanism, which requires the user to literally remove the bezel of the watch and use the lever to place the watch in setting mode. Which is a more tedious process than pulling the winding knob away from the watch, then pushing the crown back to return to winding mode. However, this was done on purpose, and the important reason behind it was to ensure that the time on the watch cannot be accidentally changed.
Now that we have the basic knowledge about a railroad pocket watch, let’s see which are the best ones.
Of course, the term “best” can be subjective, especially when discussing watches, what would make the best railroad pocket watch? By “best” should we consider the technology the watch has? The accuracy? The design? Easy repairable? Best in which period of time? Would it be fair to compare a watch from 1940 with one from 1910?
Even if we consider all of the above, it would be extremely hard to make a top of the best ones. So I have decided to list them in a random order, consider all of the below railroad watches to be the best that ever existed.
Best Railroad Pocket Watches - In History
These watches are listed in a random order.
Hamilton 992B, 950B and 950E - Railroad Pocket Watch
Probably the best timekeepers, a well known high quality watch, the watch (Hamilton 992B) has a diameter of approximately 2 inches (5cm) and it weighs about 3.14 oz (90 grams).
All upper jewel settings are gold.Hamilton is one of the most respected railroad pocket watch brands, they created the most technically-advanced USA pocket watch. In the early 1940s, Hamilton had introduced two newly developed watches, the 992B and 950B. They were easier to service and repair, they had an Elinvar Extra alloy hairsprings which was greatly superior to the earlier Elinvar alloy.
Waltham Railroad Pocket Watches
Waltham Watch Company produced watches (and few other precision instruments) between 1850 and 1957. Canadian Pacific Railway ordered from Waltham Watch Company two groups of high-quality watches, even personalized to some extent, with one group of watches having the “Canadian Railway Time Service” engraved on the movements and the other group has the shield and beaver emblem of the Railway engraved on the movements.
One model that was well known in the railroad industry was the 1915 Wind Indicator Waltham Vanguard 23J.
The majority of the parts on this watch were identical to the regular Vanguard railroad movements, however having the wind indicator which shows how much wind is left on the watch, set this model to be a rare railroad watch model and one of the most expensive.
Only 2,200 Wind Indicator Waltham Vanguard 23J were built.
Elgin Railroad Pocket Watches
The Elgin National Watch Company, was a major US watch maker using the largest manufacturing complex in the world, located in Elgin, Illinois.
They manufactured over 60 million watches over the life span of almost 100 years.
In my personal opinion these are the three best railroad pocket watches manufactures, and models.
What I need to mention is that, mechanically speaking, most of the 1900’s railroad pocket watches were highly accurate, sharing great performances and enhanced features.
With features like fixed regulators (to avoid timekeeping interruptions due to impact), over 19 jewels which helped reduce the friction of the gear train, built out of solid materials, like gold, gold plated trains, many are magnetically resistant and much more.
Let me know in the comments if there is something you would like to add, perhaps a another model that I skip or more information about the existing ones.