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During the early 20th century, there were several horological companies that began making the Masonic Pocket Watch. Freemasonry has been around since the late 16th century and easily transferred into the United States as the country grew. Freemasons came from all walks of life. Some of the members in the early 20th century wanted to do something special for the Brotherhood and began designing pocket watches utilizing some of the sacred symbolism of the organization.
The best known Masonic watches came from William Wallace Dudley of the Dudley Watch Company. Dudley learned how to make watches at the age of 13 when he took an apprenticeship. After many years learning and working with several different watch companies like Waltham, Illinois, South Bend and the Hamilton Watch Company, Dudley finally started his own company when he was 69 years old. During the years he spent working on pocket watches, he saw some that really caught his eye made from England's M. Tobias & Company that incorporated Masonic symbols. He thought he should make some of his own Masonic watches since Freemasonry was an important part of his life.
Dudley was a long time member of the York and Scottish Rites Masonic orders, the Nobles and the Mystic Shrine as well as the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. He decided to design a watch using Masonic symbols as the bridge plates on the movement. His design used the slipper, trowel, plumb, level, compass, square, the letter G and a Bible. His fellow Mason, Willis R. Michael, machined these pieces for Dudley as he built his new design. According to his family, Dudley worked on his Masonic watch for 15 to 20 years before he finally applied for his patent, which was granted June 29, 1923.
Dudley joined with George Adams and John Wood, two fellow Masons and local jewelers, to create his company. They incorporated in 1920, opening their company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Their first Masonic pocket watch was a 14 size, 19 jeweled watch with a 14k gold case. This was known as Model 1. The movement utilized many parts from the Waltham 1894 and 1897 models, while the winding mechanism and the plates were made in Dudley's factory. Dials and hands came from Switzerland, where they were manufactured to Dudley's specifications. Dudley used cases from the Keystone, Wadsworth and Star Watch Case companies.
By 1923, Dudley found heavy competition in his market. Customers preferred smaller pocket watches, and their 14 size sales began to falter. In response, Dudley made a 12 size, 19 jeweled 14k gold-filled watch they called Model 2. This model had a silver Bible attached that covered the winding pinion. The movement utilized wheels and escapement designs from the Hamilton 910 and 912 models instead of the Waltham parts the previous model used.
The Dudley Watch Company hired 18 to 20 employees when at full production, including Dudley's two sons, Arthur and Clifford. All the employees were skilled watchmakers, and preference was given to those applicants who were also Masons. Top of the line watches sold from $125 to $250, which was a high price at the time. In the early 1920s, the wristwatch was introduced. This cut deeply into Dudley's sales and by 1925, the company had filed bankruptcy. The company limped along with their Model 3 for a little while longer before Dudley took a job at the Hamilton Watch Company at the age of 74. Losing his watch company left him nearly destitute. He retired at age 80 in 1931. Dudley died on February 9, 1938 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Today, his watches are rare and highly collectible. When the company was folding and leftover pieces went to other companies, sometimes Model 3 watches were made with some plate pieces from the Model 2 that were left over, leaving many collectors today to ponder the differences in their watches. Model 3 was a 12 size that had a raised silver Bible screwed on the winding plate and the top of the rectangular level was rounded. On the face, Model 3 used Masonic symbols in place of numerals.
Collectors today can trace their watches through the serial numbers. The Dudley Watch Company made watches from 1920 through 1925 with serial numbers ranging from 500 to 1900. The P.W. Baker Company picked up where they left off, making watches from 1925 through 1935, numbered 2001 through 4800. Finally, the XL Watch Company in New York used leftover workings and made the Masonic watch from 1935 through 1976, numbered 4801 through 6500.
There were several other companies that made Masonic pocket watches besides Dudley, though Dudley was best known for their unique design. Many companies added a Masonic design after they saw how popular they were.
Elgin made several designs that utilized Masonic symbols on the dial. Some of the models had white dials, some black. Cases varied from nickel to gold filled to 14k gold. The movements varied between 7 and 15 jewels. They were manufactured between the late 1800s and the mid-1900s.
Tempor Swiss made a triangular Masonic pocket watch complete with a carved sterling silver case. A 15 jeweled movement in nickel made up the timepiece. The dial was mother of pearl with Masonic symbols in place of numbers. Replacing the numbers with symbols seemed to be a popular choice among many companies. The symbols were all individually colored.
Waltham also made several Masonic designs. They came in both open and hunter cases. The painted porcelain dials featured symbols in place of hour numbers, but had smaller Arabic or Roman numerals along the outer edge. Those with Roman numerals marked hours also, but those with Arabic numerals marked minutes in increments of 5. The watches were gold plated for the most part, but a very special 17 jeweled version was made in 14k gold and another 21 jeweled version was made in 14k rose gold. Both of these special designs were open faced 16 size watches. The rose gold design featured Roman numbers on the dial, using Masonic symbols only for decorating the center of the face.
Hiram made a triangular 14k gold pocket watch in the mid-1930s. The triangular case was decorated with Masonic designs and the blue dial had symbols instead of numbers. The watch had a 15 jeweled movement.
Minerva made a 19 jeweled watch in a sterling silver case. The case was shaped with Masonic symbols on both the front and back. The dial was blue with a white pyramid in the center. The numbers were again replaced with Masonic symbols. This is a rare watch with only approximately 250 of them created.
If you take a quick look at my pocket watch values page, and search for Dudley you will see the sort of prices that these watches command today. Even ones needing repair are sought after by collectors worldwide, who will pay a hefty price to get their hands on one of these watches. If you would like your chance to buy one, keep a look out on my featured auction page because Dudley Masonic Watches appear on a regular basis.
|1920 - 1925||Dudley Watch Co||500 - 1900|
|1925 - 1935||P.W. Baker Co||2001 - 6500|
|1935 - 1976||XL Watch Co||4801 - 6500|
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