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Celluloid “French Ivory” Watch Dials from the Keystone Watch Company

Celluloid “French Ivory” Watch Dials from the Keystone Watch Company
Pictured: Celluloid “French Ivory” Watch Dials from the Keystone Watch Company

In seeking an inexpensive alternative to standard enamel dials, the Keystone Watch Company introduced a watch dial manufactured from celluloid, also known as “french ivory.”

Celluloid was originally developed in 1856 by Alexander Parkes and is considered the first thermoplastic, initially called “Parkesine.” However, it was not until 1869 that John Wesley Hyatt modified the process of manufacturing the material to closely imitate ivory and was granted a patent for “celluloid.”  

In the late 1880s, Abraham Bitner saw an opportunity to produce inexpensive watch dials for the failing Keystone Watch Company using celluloid. These dials originally featured a color similar to ivory, but most have discolored to a creamy yellow tone over time. The subtle wavy groves in the surface of the material are characteristic of “french ivory.”

Unfortunately, the celluloid dials were not enough to save the troubled company, and the factory closed in 1890. Soon after, the company assets were purchased to form the Hamilton Watch Company. 

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