For sale we have a rare and impressive example of the world’s first automatic watch from John Harwood of Harwood Watch Company. This example has a 30mm 9ct rose gold case, which dates to 1928. It has horn lugs and fix bar lugs, with a coin edge bezel for hand setting. The dial is a silver tone with a clouded texture and black Arabic numerals. The thermally blued cathedral hands shine in the light. Inside is the bumper automatic movement, created by John Harwood. It has been recently serviced and is keeping good time. Here is a chance to buy a charming example of watchmaking history.
John Harwood returned from WW1 and settled on the Isle of Man. He worked in a workshop and noticed a consistent problem with watches. Dust and moisture enters a watch case through any gap, such as around the crown. It then damages the mechanism.
How to counter this? His solution was simple. Eliminate any gaps by sealing the watch. His method was genius. Instead of a crown to wind the watch, the movement would wind itself. A centrally pivoted weight would swing 230 degrees between spring book ends. Rumour has it, he was inspired by seeing children play on a see-saw.
But how to set the hands without a crown? Use a rotating bezel which engages with the movement to set the time. Okay, how do I know when the hands are set? He came up with an indicator cut out of the dial, white indicates the hands are in setting mode, red indicates the hands are set in position. Simple, but genius.
He protected his idea via patents in all of the major markets, Britain, France, Germany, America and Switzerland. He had a prototype from an old pocket watch and to commercialise this dream, he needed to go to Switzerland. Here he formed a partnership with the movement maker Anton Schild and the case maker Walter Vogt, from Fortis watch company.
In 1926, Harwood officially presented the Harwood automatic watch at Basel trade fair. Sadly, timing wasn’t on his side and with the economic crisis of 1929 he lost his sponsor and the chance at significant growth. Harwood watches were produced and marketed to the public mainly between 1928 and 1931, a short-lived run. The company failed in 1931 and the patent expired.
This is a charming 9ct rose gold example. The case has British hallmarking from London assay office for 9ct gold. It has the date letter ‘n’ which dates the watch to 1928. The case has the sponsors mark for George Stockwell. The case has the Swiss hammer mark for Vuilliomenet & Co case maker.
It is a 30mm x 30mm case, with a lug-to-lug measurement of 35mm. It is a petite watch by modern standards, but it is a joy to wear on the wrist. It has an unusual symmetry due to the lack of the winding crown. The coin edge bezel is designed to set the hands, but it is also a very attractive design adding significant presence and texture to the watch. The horn lug design is neat, leading into the fixed bar lugs. The case is in good condition for its age.
The dial is original and has a rarely seen clouded finish which is incredibly eye-catching. This makes this a very appealing example, combined with the stylised Arabic numerals. The minute markers are gold and three-dimensional, further adding texture to the dial. The hands are thermally blued and shine in the light.
The rear of the case snaps off to reveal the genius automatic movement. It travels 230 degrees, with bumpers on either side and a solid section stopping its 360-degree travel. This solid section is also responsible for the engagement of the hand setting via a cog design. The detachment of the winding and hand setting was incredibly inventive. The movement has been recently serviced and is in good condition for its age.
Full condition report below. Please see the images as these compliment and aid the description provided below.
The dial is original and is in good condition with some darkening with age. It has some small scratches. It also has a circular tracing mark from a hand rubbing in the past. The clouded finish is good. The signing is original, good and clear.
The hands are original and are of Cathedral style. They are in very good condition and are thermally blued, with an even tone and no signs of corrosion or bending.
The acrylic crystal is a modern replacement and is in very good condition.
The 9ct rose gold case is formed of 3 pieces, with central piece having wire lugs, snap on bezel and snap on case back. The bezel rotates as it should to set the time and is in very good condition with little wear to the coin edge. The central piece is in decent condition with the wire lugs being strong and free of wear. The right side of the case has a dimpled dent. The left side has some marking from opening attempts.
The case back is formed of 9ct gold. It is in good condition with only light surface scratching. It has not been polished. It has a small, dimpled dent. It closes tightly.
The watch comes on a new genuine leather strap with metal tabs for fixed lugs.
The movement is an A.Schild 8.75 Lignes, with 15 jewels and two adjustments. It is a Harwood bumper automatic movement, the first automatic movement in the world.
It is signed with the patent 106585.
The watch has been recently serviced by ourselves. It’s keeping time to -60 seconds a day, with an amplitude of 270 degrees and a beat error of 1.4m/s.
Case width: 30mm
Case length: 30mm
Case length lug to lug: 34.5mm
Case Depth: 10.75mm
Lug width: 17mm
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