Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

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28800bph
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Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by 28800bph »

Last weekend my wife and I had the incredible opportunity to visit the RGM Watch Company in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. They organized a special tour event to celebrate their 20th anniversary. It was an inside look into their watchmaking facilities. They allowed access to some areas of their workshop that had never been shown before. I took several photos and wanted to share them here.

RGM was founded by Roland G. Murphy in 1992. A large part of their business has always been service -- they are the North American authorized repair center for many well known brands such as Sinn and Girard Perregaux. Currently they service several thousand watches per year. The other end of their business is manufacture, with a focus on in-house movements and guilloché decoration. On average their production rate is one watch per day.

RGM is located in a former bank in Lancaster County, built in 1916.

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One advantage of this location is they have the full bank vault for secure storage. This is my photo of the original door. The lock mechanism is a work of art, it reminds me of a high-end watch movement with the perlage, engraving, plating, and exhibition back.

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RGM has a small team of world-class watchmakers, and we got to meet them all. Here are a few at work.

Alan:

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Helen:

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Ian:

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Ralph's bench with an ETA 7750 disassembled for service:

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So far RGM has designed and produced three in-house movements, the Caliber 801 Manual, the Caliber MM2 Tourbillon, and the (soon-to-be-released) Caliber 20 Tonneau with Motor Barrel. RGM does all the mechanical design and I saw they use Alibre CAD software. This is some of the CAD design for the Tourbillon.

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Here is the room with two CNC mills where they manufacture parts for their movements. This is Benoît, the engineer/designer/watchmaker who gave us a demonstration of milling the main plate of the Cal. 801.

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As a machine tool afficionado, I noticed these mills are the Levil WL400 model. These are meant for small precision work and are built tough for 24/7 industrial production. I saw that the spindles were upgraded to PDS 73 Colombos, so I'm sure these mills cost ~$25,000 each. They have a flood coolant system with enclosure, and automatic tooling change system. You can see the array of tools on the left.

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This is the Cal. 801 main plate machining up close:

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A spread of some of the in-house machining samples for the new Caliber 20.

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Milling is just the beginning. The components are parted from the machined blanks using a microfile to cut through the remaining tabs. Then these parts go through intense hand finishing. Here is a lathe for applying anglage (a.k.a. beveled edges).

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And a basement room for some of the polishing and finishing.

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An 8 mm lathe for cutting gears.

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Here is Adam, RGM Watchmaker in Training, applying Côtes de Genève. In this picture he is applying radial stripes to bridges of the Cal. 801. The machine was adapted by RGM specifically for this purpose. In fact it is a drill head that is mounted on a stiff mill base. The abrasive tooling they use is typically < 15 micron.

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Here is a Nikon optical comparator they use to inspect components. It projects a magnified silhouette of the parts so they can be checked for geometry and dimensional tolerances. The screen shows two gears under inspection.

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This is a partial assembly of the Cal. 801. It's not fully decorated, and it's been handled enough that it has lost much of its luster. But it is still a work of art.

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The most impressive finishing at RGM is the Rose Engine Turning, also known as Guilloché. This was demonstrated by Roland Murphy. He is one of the few experts in the world practicing this art.

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If you want some in-depth explanation, check out RGM's youtube video on engine turning, or the last chapter of George Daniel's Watchmaking. I'll attempt a high-level explanation: the rose engine is a lathe. The part to be cut is mounted on the rotating spindle. The spindle axis is free to travel laterally as it rides on a rosette wheel that determines its path relative to the cutting tool.

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With this set of wheels, there is an unlimited combination of designs. The operator slowly cranks the spindle by hand, and applies appropriate pressure to the cutting element. He can lift up the tool to stop cutting, for example ending the cut to accommodate the gap around a date window.

Here are some of the sample patterns that can be turned. RGM decorates dials, cases, and movements with this technique.

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In addition to radial engines, they have a straight-line engine. All this engine equipment is vintage from early 20th century. Nobody makes these machines any longer. So they fetch a premium whenever one comes available for sale on the secondary market.

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An example dial piece showing straight-line guilloché.

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The tour was capped by a chance to see and handle the finished watches and chat with Rich, RGM designer and general manager. What a display!

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This is the new RGM ladies watch, not yet released. My wife is checking out the front and back:

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Here are some of our other favorites.

This is the RGM PS801ES. Beautiful guilloché work on the main plate showing through the partial skeleton dial.

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This is the RGM 175, a Minute Repeater Tourbillon ($275,000!!).

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This is the RGM MM2 Tourbillon prototype. Unlike the production models, it has not been decorated.

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Here is the new RGM Caliber 20 movement, not yet released.

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And here is the RGM 801A. This aviator design was inspired by a Hamilton cockpit instrument clock. It was fun to see these two timepieces side-by-side.

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At the end of the tour I bought a RGM watch, one of an edition of only 20 pieces. I'll post pictures soon.

Everyone on the tour received a gift bag, including a travel watch case, watch winder, perpetual pocket calendar, microfiber cloth, and this RGM Caliber 801 made by a local chocolate artisan.

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Thanks to RGM for a fun tour!

(update -- here is a link to my photo review of the RGM Model 250 that I purchased on this trip: http://christopherwardforum.com/viewtop ... =8&t=14495)
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by nathanclarinet »

Fantastic post, what a great read. Looks like you had a greqt day out and those watches look stunning. Thanks for sharing!
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by Helix Von Smelix »

What an amazing visit. looks like nice people, and a great tour. Thank you for the report and pictures.
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by scooter »

What a great opportunity you and your wife had.

That was a good read with some top photos. Looking forward to seeeing and reading about your own buy.

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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by asqwerth »

Great post and pics!

Looking forward to your review and pics of your new RGM acquisition.

By the way, how small is that ladies' watch, 28000bph? The movement looks like a miniature Unitas 6498-1! Is it a Unitas or something else?
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by Cirrus »

Thanks for posting that - was a very interesting read!

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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by Kip »

Spectacular report and congratulations on the RGM purchase. Looking forward to those photos.

As an engineer type, you must have been in absolute heaven on this tour. Congratulations and Thank you so much for sharing this with us. :thumbup:
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by Drmarkf »

Brilliant.
I've been a couple of times to Pennsylvania on work-related trips, and I've now got another place to visit while I'm there.

These are quite upmarket watches - I guess their market position might be roughly where CW is aiming with recent releases (JH and C900) in mind.
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by Lavaine »

Great photo essay. Reaffirms what I've said in the past. I'll drop 8k on an RGM Cal. 801 before I'll spend the same money on a Rolex. These watches are truly something special, hand assembled and decorated by true craftsman.
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by ianblyth »

1 watch a day. :shock: I suppose that means if you have to ask how much they cost you can't afford one.
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by androo »

Very interesting and some good looking watches. Must say I love the safe.
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by AliBar »

Cracking story with the complimentary pictures to go with it. What an opportunity... something I'm sure many of us on here are green with envy about :thumbup: .
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by downer »

Great story and fantastic pictures. Those watches look pretty special. :)
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by Helix Von Smelix »

Anyone else notice the Heinz Baked Been watch? Third picture from the end. :)
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Re: Watchmaking in Action! Our visit to RGM.

Post by AliBar »

Helix Von Smelix wrote:Anyone else notice the Heinz Baked Been watch? Third picture from the end. :)
Ahhh, but Heinz has 57 varieties not 6 :).
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