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Special Named “Private Label” Dials on American Pocket Watches

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B.H. Stief Private Label Dial on Elgin Grade 55 Movement, c.1874.
Pictured: B.H. Stief Private Label Dial on Elgin Grade 55 Movement, c.1874.

American watch factories offered private label watches since nearly the beginning of the watch industry in the United States.

The term “private label” is primarily a modern expression used to classify a watch that was custom-marked for a retailer, jeweler, jobber, or wholesaler. Original advertising generally described the custom movements and dials as “special named.” The term “private label” has not been found in any original factory publications or advertisements.

Some factories offered custom-marked dials free of charge on higher-grade movements. Others required an additional fee, typically $0.50 to $1.00 per dial, especially when hand-painted dials were standard. These fees adapted over time as production methods improved, and specially named watches became more economical for customers.

By the early 1900s, the Elgin National Watch Company offered special named movements and dials free of charge on all grades except seven-jeweled movements, which customers could still order at a premium of $0.80.

9 Comments

  1. Great piece of information. Of all the private dials, I am trying to complete the “N. Gamse” series of private labels.
    Gamse was a jeweler who started his private label idea in Cleveland, Ohio, then moved to New York around 1890 or so. He not only placed his name on the dial as well as the movement, but also gave his movements “pet names”.
    Example:
    The Queen
    The Atlantic
    The American Leader
    The Globe
    and so on.
    It was his marketing strategy that helped sell thousands of these PL watches.
    As of now, I own 5 of the known 15 watches the he had named. For me it is like a child collecting Pokemon cards. I would really like to collect the entire series, but sadly, Gamse watches are getting harder and harder to find.

    Thanks Nathan for publishing this piece.

    As always, Glenn Anderson

    • Glenn – Thanks for the comment. The N. Gamse watches are certainly a prestigious group of private labels and are increasingly challenging to find. I always enjoy seeing examples from your collection. Cheers.

  2. We have just inherited 2 Elgin watches moon type one has number 993838 the other 680010 and they have different movements one has Elgin on the face and Elgin movement seven jewels the other one has no writing on the face and a Rolex movement does this alter the value of the watches .thank you.

  3. Hello,
    I just discovered your interesting website. I enjoy looking at all of the old pocket watches and reading information on them.
    I have an old Elgin Pocket Watch, the serial number indicates it’s from 1926.
    On the open face, it reads: Elgin and underneath Elgin it reads: J L Massetti in script. The J and the M are red lettering.
    I cannot find any information on the name.
    Would this be a Private Label perhaps?

    Also, does anyone know of a private site where pocket watches can be sold. I have a few old ones and it takes a long time
    to research them. Listing on Ebay or other sites that charge large fees seems to be the current way to sell them.

    Any information on my questions would be appreciated.
    Thank you.
    M. Conner

    • Yes, it sounds like a private label. If you upload images to the database in your collection, I can take a closer look.
      For selling – there are plenty of other venues, but sites like eBay will attract the most buyers. That is what you are paying for with the large fees. It is certainly a trade-off.

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