My Pocket Watch

(by Turner Howard)

My silver Colibri pocket watch is about 49mm in diameter and 11mm thick. It consists of a silver-colored metal casing embedded with a clear glass face cover . The white face of the watch is enumerated with black cardinal numbers 1 through 12. There are also small red numbers 13 through 24 above the black numbers to indicate all 24 hours of the day. The name "Colibri" is displayed on the face between the number 12 and the center of the watch. On the lower half of the face, between the number 6 and the center is written, "17 JEWELS INCABLOC". At the edge of the face, written around the number 6, are the words, "SWISS MADE". The only other markings on the face of the watch are short, evenly spaced black dashes that indicate minute markings for any three consecutive minutes between the five minute markings that are already denoted by the numerals 1 through 12. The watch has a 13mm black hour hand that is thin and straight at its end but is composed of several decorative loops where it connects to the turning shaft at the center of the watch. The design of the 19mm black minute hand is similar to the hour hand, but it is slightly narrower. The 23mm second hand is a thin, straight, black strip that pivots approximately 4mm from its end. The backing of the metal casing has six evenly spaced indentations that provide a place for a tool to unscrew the backing from the case. Inside the casing is a self-contained watch movement that is attached to the free-floating white face of the watch and a small metal shaft that extends up to the winding and setting dial at the top of the watch. The round watch movement is held in place at the center of the watch by a piece of formed metal that fits around the movement and snugly into the metal casing of the watch. The winding dial of the watch is mounted into a small base that protrudes from the casing directly above the number 12 on the face of the watch. A small loop that can swivel around the winding dial is also attached to the protrusion that the winding dial sits in. The winding dial must be twisted back and forth at least 20-30 times every 48 hours for the watch to keep accurate time. The time setting of the watch can be adjusted by pulling the winding dial out and twisting it in either direction.

My Colibri pocket watch was given to me as a gift from a friend who is the son of a Jeweler in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The watch arrived in a package delivered by the United Parcel Service to the downtown store of Lasker Jewelry in Eau Claire. It was shipped directly from the Colibri Corporation in Providence, Rhode Island. The Colibri Corporation in Rhode Island imports all of its pocket watches from Switzerland where the parts are manufactured and assembled. The casing for my particular pocket watch is formed from extruded stainless steel which is polished to produce a very shiny, smooth surface finish. This casing was almost certainly produced by a Swiss company, but the mechanical watch movement or some of the parts for the movement may have been produced in other countries like Japan. All of the final assembly of the watches, however, is done in Switzerland. The specific Swiss companies involved in production and assembly of the watches is proprietary information of the Colibri Corporation. The head of marketing for the Colibri Corp., Philip Crouse, could only reveal that Colibri has long term relationships (20 or more years) with several watch manufacturing companies in Switzerland.

The stainless steel protrusion that holds the winding dial of the watch was probably formed from some kind of an extrusion process like the rest of the casing. It was then either brazed or welded onto the casing. The mechanical movement of the watch is a very delicate, self-contained assembly. It was not manufactured specifically for this pocket watch. In fact, it is a very general watch movement that is intended for use in wrist watches. A technician from the Alpha Omega Jewelry and Fine Watch store in Harvard Square, opened my watch and found that the movement was marked by a microscopic serial number reading "FFST969N". He looked in his parts and manufacturing handbooks to find that the "FF" in the serial number stands for the Font Manufacturing Company of Switzerland, and the "ST" stands for Standard Manufacturing Company based in Japan. The rest of the serial number describes the specific movement, but I was unable to obtain any information about this movement. I can only infer from this information that the production of the movement was a joint venture between the Swiss and Japanese manufacturing companies. However, clearly engraved on the surface of the movement are the words, "COLIBRI" and "SWISS, 17 JEWELS", so the majority of the manufacturing for all of the watch components and certainly all of the final assembly must occur in Switzerland.

The 17 jewels in the movement are either synthetic rubies or sapphires that are used as seats for all of the tiny rotating shafts, and gears in the mechanism. Jewels are used because of the their low contact resistance and durability. The rest of the movement mechanism is composed of several gears, springs and plates all screwed together with tiny flat-headed screws. The movement is about 25mm in diameter and 4mm thick, and most of its components are machined from steel.

The United States doesn't impose any regulations on the Colibri Corporation for the production of pocket watches because all of the production is done in Switzerland. There are regulations on the importation of these watches though. As with all goods imported into the United States, Colibri Corporation must follow the importation regulations as set by the Customs Department which is part is part of the United States Department of Treasury. Colibri must pay all applicable tariffs based on the materials used in the watches and the quantity of watches imported. Colibri's importation of watches is also regulated by various government agencies like the Trade Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency probably isn't directly involved in regulating the import of pocket watches like the one I have. They would instead be involved if radioactive substances were used in luminescent devices for watches.

The head of marketing for the Colibri Corporation, Philip Crouse views their marketing strategy as somewhat different from competing companies. He explained that Colibri employs a large traveling sales force with more than 50 representatives that call on stores throughout the country. Crouse said that this kind of sales strategy was prevalent in the 1950's and 60's, but that few companies use traveling sales representatives to the extent that Colibri Corporation currently employs them. Crouse also said that Colibri is able to develop and drive their own market because they have control over production, distribution and sales of their products. The traveling sales agents are particularly useful for identifying new markets for Colibri watches throughout the U.S., and they are able to maintain old markets by calling on stores that have carried their products in the past. At Lasker Jewelry in Eau Claire, WI, where my pocket watch ultimately came from, the management usually orders Colibri watches through Colibri's catalogue, but they informed me that sales representatives also make regular stops at this store to take orders and push sales.

There is quite a long history of attempts at time measurement, and the development of modern mechanical timing devices like my pocket watch has origins reaching far back in time. The regular rising and setting of the sun was used by the Chinese and Babylonians in the first attempts to measure or quantify time. At around the same time, there is evidence of the Egyptian's use of sundials to measure the passage of time. It is not known when the first attempts were made to make mechanical time measurement devices. The first mechanical clocks, using an escapement and weight-driven gears, appeared on some of the cathedrals built in France and England in the 14th century. An escapement is the specially designed gear that advances in small increments at regular time intervals when a constant force is applied to it. The escapement is the key timing element in most mechanical timing devices. With the development of spring-driven clocks, first appearing in Flanders or Burgundy, it became possible to reduce the size of the large weight-driven tower clocks to much smaller clocks that could fit into a room. Portable clocks, or watches were first produced on a large scale with the invention of the spiral spring by the Dutchman, Christian Huygens. The spiral spring allowed for more accurate time keeping by providing a more uniform unwinding of the spring. Much of the early production of these pocket watches was centered in France and Switzerland.

Innovations in watch production in the 18th century made great leaps in the accuracy and efficiency of watches. In fact, the design of most mechanical watches produced today is very similar to the design of watches produced at the beginning of the 19th century. One of the most important innovations in watch technology was the introduction of jewel seats for all of the moving parts. Until the time of the discovery of a way to bore rubies, metal seats were used in watch mechanisms. These metal seats needed to be lubricated with oil to reduce the friction between moving components. Bored rubies as the seat for moving watch components, first introduced in England, reduced friction and wear considerably, and the strength of springs could be reduced. This allowed much smaller and thinner watches to be produced. One of the final advancements in mechanical pocket watches was the development of the second hand at the end of the 18th century. Jewelers and professional clock makers were the only source of clocks and watches until about the middle of the 19th century when industrial production and mass production of timing devices started to take over the watch market.

Today's watch industry is a mixture of mass produced watches, and high quality time pieces made in the tradition of the great clock makers of the 18th and 19th centuries. My pocket watch very clearly fits into to the realm of mass produced products. Their is nothing unique about my particular pocket watch that makes it collectible or classifies it as a finely crafted timing device. The movement of the watch, which is essentially the heart of the watch, is designed as a standard movement that can be used in various wrist watches or pocket watches. Although it is a precision-made, delicate mechanism, it has no value among collectors as a well-crafted timepiece. This became evident to me when the technician at the Alpha Omega jewelry store looked with disdain at the contents of my modest pocket watch. As a collector of antique pocket watches, he explained that my pocket watch is a kind of cheap, imitation pocket watch because it is simply a basic wrist watch movement embedded in a casing made to look like a traditional pocket watch. However, he did admit that my watch was still in principle a pocket watch, and that the movement used in it is of relatively high quality.


1. Willsberger, Johann. 1975. Clocks and Watches. The Dial Press. New York.

2. Daniels, George and Markarian, Ohannes. 1980. Watches and Clocks. Sotheby Publications. London

3. Smith, Alan. 1975. Clocks and Watches. The Connoisseur. London.

4. Distin, William H. 1977. The Clock Collection. The Edison Institute. Dearborn, Michigan

5. Crouse, Philip. Head of Marketing. Colibri Corporation. Providence, Rhode Island.

Turner Howard