Columbus Watch Company, Columbus, Ohio

Columbus Watch Co. Model 3 grade No. 97 mfg 1887The Columbus Watch Manufacturing Company was founded by Dietrich Gruen in December 1874 in Columbus, Ohio, finishing movements imported from Switzerland. In November 1882 the company was reorganized as the Columbus Watch Company, with Dietrich Gruen President and General Manager. In 1883 the Columbus Watch Company began to manufacture movements in a newly-built factory in Columbus, Ohio. The company's primarily made 18-size movements, and also developed a smaller and thinner 16-size movement. The highest grade 18-size movements were marketed as "finely adjusted and just the thing for railway service."

In its earliest years, Columbus used numbers to identify its watch grades, the top grades were the 18-size 16-jewels No. 18 (hunting) and the No. 99 (open face). Also 18-size 16-jewels, grades No. 28 (hunting) and No. 98 (open face) were more moderate priced movements, grades No. 27 (hunting), No. 97 (open face), and 15-jewels grade No. 35 (hunting) were more affordable priced movements which were also manufactured to meet railroad time service requirements1.

Around 1889 Columbus introduced one of its earliest named grade, the Railway King, a high grade, 18-size, 16-jewel movement, furnished with a micrometer regulator and adjusted to temperature and positions. The Railway King was initially released as a hunting case movement, an open face version was released later. The more moderately priced 18-size 15-jewels R.W.K Special was introduced in 1892.

In 1889 Columbus introduced 16-size 16-jewels adjusted movements grades No. 47 (hunting) and No. 87 (open face) "specially adapted for use by railroad men." Other 16-size watches manufactured for railroad service included grades No. 48 (hunting, 16-jewels), No. 87 (open face, 16-jewels), No. 46 (hunting, 15-jewels) and No. 86 (open face, 15-jewels).

In 1894, following the financial panic of 1893, the Columbus Watch Company went into receivership, operating with new management until 1903, producing watches under the names Columbus Watch Company and New Columbus Watch Company. Initially the new company's movements were a continuation of the existing models and grades.

Columbus Watch Co. Model 3 Railway KingIn late 1894, the 18-size 21-jewels Time King grade was introduced for railroad service, adjusted to temperature, positions, and isochronism. The 16-size 21-jewels Ruby grade was introduced for railroad service in 1895, also adjusted to temperature, positions, and isochronism.. New Columbus continued to manufacture the Railway King as a 18-size 17-jewels movement until New Columbus brought out the new Railway King in about 1899. These were 17, 21, 23, and 25-jewels movements. Columbus King movements, nearly identical to the Railway King in 17, 21, 23, and 25-jewel versions, both open-face and hunting-case models, were produced starting in the late 1890's. These new higher grade watches were issued with a special block of serial numbers, starting at 500,001.

In July 1900 the Hampden Watch Company secured the trademark rights to the word "Railway" on a watch, forcing New Columbus to drop the Railway King name2.

The assets of the New Columbus Watch Company were purchased by brothers Clement Jr. and George Studebaker, sons of Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company cofounder Clement Studebaker, in 1903. They formed the South Bend Watch Company, building a new factory in South Bend, Indiana, and hiring 145 former Columbus employees.

Columbus Watch Company and New Columbus Watch Company railroad grade watches

The following is from list of railroad grade watches which is generally attributed Webb C. Ball. Not all of these were railroad approved even though all are railroad grade.

  • 18 Size: Columbus King, 21, 23, 25J
  • Railway King, 17-25J
  • Time King, 21-25J
  • 16 Size: Ruby Model

Columbus and New Columbus Production Dates by Serial Number

Note: These are approximate dates, actual dates may vary by years. The serial number being referred to is the serial number on the movement of the watch, not the case.

1874 - 1 1883 - 25,000 1892 - 185,000 1901 - 383,000
1875 - 1000 1884 - 30,000 1893 - 207,000  
1876 - 3000 1885 - 40,000 1894 - 229,000 NCWC Named Grades
1877 - 6000 1886 - 53,000 1895 - 251,000 1894 - 500,001
1878 - 9000 1887 - 75,000 1896 - 273,000 1896 - 501,500
1879 - 12,000 1888 - 97,000 1897 - 295,000 1898 - 503,000
1880 - 15,000 1889 - 119,000 1898 - 317,000 1900 - 504,500
1881 - 18,000 1890 - 141,000 1899 - 339,000 1902 - 506,000
1882 - 21,000 1891 - 163,000 1900 - 361,000  
Columpus Watch Company Factory at Columbus, Ohio (from Henry G. Abbott)

Links to other sites for additional information:

Pocket Watch Database: - Serial number lookup and information for Hamilton, South Bend, Illinois, Rockford, Waltham & Elgin.

NAWCC Chapter 149 South Bend Watch Database - Serial number lookup and information for Columbus and South Bend watches.

1   Frauenhoff, Greg and John Dimar "High Grade Columbus Watches Part 1 - The Columbus Watch Company" NAWCC Bulletin, February 2003, pp. 81-89.

2   "The Word 'Railway' on Watch Movements," The Jewelers' Circular - Weekly and Horological Review (August 1, 1900): p. 34.


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Pacific Time Illustration from Henry G. Abbott, The Watch Factories of America, Past and Present. Geo K Hazlitt & Co. Chicago, 1888. Part of the material used for research courtesy of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors Library and Research Center. Watch photos and text by Richard Boehle, a special thank you to the private collectors for the use of the watches photographed.
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