What are the Jewels in a Railroad Watch?

watch jeweksBecause they are both beautiful and rare, stones such as diamonds and rubies, have been adorning jewelry since the beginnings of recorded time. However, it wasn't until the mid nineteenth century "industrial" uses for them became common. And we can thank the watch making industry for that.

Every since the first timepieces were made, accuracy has been a goal of watch makers. By the early 1800s fairly sophisticated clocks and watches were being produced. However long term dependability and accuracy was lacking. The culprit was friction.

How friction damages a railroad watch.
The working parts of watches, called movements, consists of cogged wheels known as gears. The gears have a center shaft called an "arbor". The ends of the arbors are held in place by tiny holes that have been drilled into an upper and lower plates. The wheels then rotates in these holes as the watch winds down. With time the friction caused by continual rubbing of metal against metal wears away at the hole and it gradually gets larger. This in turn causes the gears to start to wobble. Once this is started the watches accuracy is seriously diminished and eventually stops working.

Reducing friction is important to watchmaking.

Instead of metal moving against metal, watch makers discovered that jewels cause little friction or wear. Jewels
are hard and don't wear down very quickly. By the time of the American revolution, tiny doughnut shaped rubies were being inserted into pivot points on watches to keep them from coming into direct contact with the edges of the hole. This in turn would make the watch last much longer. The jewels could be diamonds, sapphires, or most commonly rubies. However, the process was time consuming and expensive. Jewels were placed in only very high quality watches of that era.

The number of jewels used on wear points of a watch is an indicator of its quality. The higher the jewel count, the less wear and friction the watch will have, and the more accurate and long lasting the timepiece will be. During the early years of the 1800's, the watch makers art saw improvements that allowed watches to typically have 6-10 jewels. By the mid 1800's pocket watches with 11 to 15 jewels where commonplace, and by the end of the century 21 and 23 jewel movements could be purchased on high quality timepieces.

Jewels and Railroad Watches.

With the arrival of "The General Railroad Timepiece Standards" for a railroad watch in 1893 there was a well established relevance between the number of jewels a pocket watch possesses and its accuracy. Initially the railroad system adopted 17 jewel movements as the "minimum" necessary for the railroad watches of its conductors and engineers. By the early twentieth century many railroad companies specified 19 jewels or more. While there are watches that where made to resemble a railroad watch with less jewels, they were made as cheaper imitations for the general public.

You may have noticed that there are tiny red or pink dots at various places on the bridge and pillar plate of your railroad watch. These are the jewels. This diagram illustrates the location of the jewels on a 16 size, 23 jewel Illinois "Bunn Special" railroad watch.

Bunn Railroad watch jewel diagram

According to Experts, prices on Railroad Watches are expected to rise even more. Perhaps you should Invest in some yourself. You'll be glad you did!
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