Despite receiving little credit for his contributions, the early dial manufacturing process in the United States was greatly influenced by John Webb. Dial making was a delicate process requiring a deep understanding of the art form. At the time, this level of expertise was severely lacking in America.
John Webb was the son of an expert English dial enameler and painter, from whom he learned the trade of dial making. After a lengthy apprenticeship, Webb emigrated from Liverpool to the United States in 1855, just as the early watchmaking industry was being formed in America.
Within a few years, Webb was associated with the young watch company organized by Edward Howard and Aaron Dennison. At the time, Dennison was working to find a reliable method to produce a dial with a sunk seconds bit. Fortunately, Webb possessed the knowledge of an effective process, and the first sunk second dials were made under the Appleton, Tracy & Co. name in 1857. Shortly thereafter, John Webb was appointed as foreman of the dial department at the newly-constructed watch factory in Waltham, Massachusetts.
The process of creating the sunk seconds bit was still guarded as a trade secret, even to the factory employees. For this reason, Webb frequently worked at home to provision the holes in the enameled dials and delivered the results back to the factory for finishing.