Copper in the Arts

February 2016

Continuing America’s Watchmaking Legacy at RGM

By Robyn Jasko

RGM Pennsylvania Series PS-801-EEThe Pennsylvania Series PS-801-EE.

Photograph courtesy of The RGM Watch Company.

Roland G. Murphy, founder of The RGM Watch Company, continues America's legacy of modern watchmaking with his luxury line of handcrafted timepieces. After a lifelong interest in timepieces led him to Switzerland for training, he founded RGM in 1992, and has been reviving America's rich history in watchmaking ever since. Each timepiece at RGM is crafted by hand, the same way it has been done for centuries. Unlike many of their competitors, RGM is very dedicated to keeping production of their timepieces in the US, versus outsourcing to other countries. Every detail is fine-tuned by local craftsmen who handcut and assemble each piece.

"As a watchmaker, it's a passion to produce my own movements, and other watch parts," he says.

By keeping it local, Murphy is carrying on the legacy of America's most notable watchmakers, some of whom were located just miles from where his company is headquartered.

"There were three main areas known for watchmaking in the USA---New England, Illinois, and Lancaster, PA," he notes."There were several companies that started near here in the 1800s including Lancaster Watch Co, Keystone Watch Co, E. F. Bowman, Hamilton, Dudley... and then us."

RGM uses American-sourced nickel silver, a copper-based alloy that his highly resistant to tarnishing and corrosion, for all of their watch movement, main plate, and bridges. Stronger than brass, nickel silver, which is made of about 60% copper, and has a soft, natural look, with the sheen of silver (although it does not contain silver).

"In watchmaking, nickel silver is the traditional material used," he adds. "In Europe, it is often referred to as German Silver. Murphy adds that the copper alloy is more stable then brass. "When machining it will not spring or move out of shape,"he says.

Every handcut movement begins as a flat stock sheet, which RGM purchases from a supplier in Texas. Then, after several processes and treatments, RGM artisans cut and create each intricate piece of the watch movement and dials by hand.

"We machine the nickel silver using CNC mills, a manual jig bore and other tools," Murphy reveals."We have many hand steps to get to a finished parts."

Among the many styles Murphy has created at RGM, he is drawn to the mechanical aesthetic of The Pennsylvania 801 and Caliber 20 lines.

Founder Roland Murphy with Martha StewartFounder Roland Murphy with Martha Stewart

Photograph courtesy of The RGM Watch Company.

"I love all the shapes of the bridges" he says. "They both feature every classic looking mechanical watch movements."

Over the past two decades, RGM has had several notable customers and celebrity clients. They even caught the eye of Martha Stewart.

"We were picked to do the Balvenie Rare Craft Tour," he says. "Martha Stewart was one of the visitors when we were in New York and Anthony Bordain was the curator." Classical pianist Awadagin Pratt is also a customer.

Now approaching their next milestone, Murphy says he will continue to keep the great traditions of fine watchmaking in focus.

"We are close to the 25th anniversary now," says Murphy. "We made the Caliber 20 to celebrate our 20th in 2012. "Not sure what we will do but it will be special."

Resources:

RGM Watch Company801 W Main St., Mount Joy, PA

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