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The Early Process of Dial Making at the National Watch Company: Part 1


In 1869, Harper’s Monthly Magazine published an article by Albert D. Richardson describing his recent visit to the National Watch Company factory in Elgin, Illinois.

Within a series of department descriptions, the author details the work of dial room, providing insight into the early dial manufacturing process:

“The dial, a plain circular plate of Lake Superior copper, no thicker than a silver three-cent piece, is first covered with a paste of fine white enamel, carefully spread on with a knife, to the thickness of three-one-hundredths of an inch. After it dries a little, a workman with a long pair of tongs places the dial flat upon a red-hot iron plate in the mouth of a flowing furnace, watching it closely and frequently turning it. The copper would melt but for the protecting enamel, and, at the end of a minute, when he takes it out it is as soft and plastic as molasses candy. The baking has “set” the enamel, but has left it rough, as if the dial face were marked with small-pox. After cooling it is ground smooth upon sandstone and emery, and then baked again.

Now it is ready for the painters, A girl draws six lines across its surface with a lead-pencil guided by a ruler, making each point for the hours. Another with a pencil of black enamel traces coarsely the Roman letters from I to XII. A third finishes them at the ends to make them symmetrical. A fourth puts in the minute marks. Then the dial goes to an artist, who, holding it under a magnifier, paints the words “National Watch Co.” in black enamel with a fine camel’s hair brush. The inscription measures three-fourths of an inch from left to right, and less than one-ninetieth of an inch up and down; but even then it is perfectly legible; and the swift, cunning fingers will paint it twice in five minutes.”

Pictured: “Baking the Dials.” Engraving published with Richardson’s article, “Ancient and Modern Time Keepers.”

The entire article detailing Richardson’s early factory visit has been digitized and can be read online:

Early “National Watch Co.” Dial


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