RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands-On

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands-On

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands On   hands on

Last year at the Geneva Time Exhibition (GTE) I met with Roland Murphy of RGM to see the prototype of their third in-house made movement called the Caliber 20. RGM is and has been the premier US-based watch maker and for years didn’t make their own movements. Instead they sourced Swiss movements and made fine watches with their own dials and cases. Eventually they released their first in-house made movement with the caliber 801, and then with the MM2 inside of the Pennsylvania Tourbillon. Their most recent movement is the tonneau-shaped Caliber 20.

One of the more interesting elements of the Caliber 20 is its mainspring barrel which is what is called a “Motor Barrel System.” This system improves upon the traditional mainspring barrel design by making it more durable, less prone to failure, and longer lasting. This is all about how it is attached to the movement plate. It is also said to offer more consistent timing. RGM didn’t invent this system, but rather put it for the first time in a wrist watch movement. The Motor Barrel is a uniquely American invention and was used in higher-end pocket watches made in the United States. According to RGM it has been over 50 years since anyone built this type of system anywhere. The point of it is really to assert the American personality and origin of RGM watches and celebrate the United States’ past in mechanical watch making.

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands On   hands on

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands On   hands on

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands On   hands on

The Caliber 20 is also one of the few tonneau-shaped watch movements around. For that, RGM of course put the Caliber 20 in a tonneau-shaped watch. The steel (or optional 18k gold) case is 42.5mm tall by 38.5mm wide. Case quality is fantastic. RGM does not produce their own cases, but they do finish them. The cases are however American-made and produced very nearby to where RGM is located near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I can’t emphasize enough the fine finishing work on the cases and how wonderfully smooth and pleasing to the touch they are. Oh, and at 9.7mm thick, the RGM Caliber 20 watch is rather thin.

Functionally the Caliber 20 has the time, a subsidiary seconds disc near one o’clock and a moon phase indicator. Why a moon phase indicator? Well, RGM simply claimed that there was collector demand for one, and it looks quite cool how they designed and integrated it. The movement of course is manually wound, and the escapement operates at 18,000 bph.

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands On   hands on

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands On   hands on

Aesthetically, the Caliber 20 is up there with each of RGM’s other movements – meaning the polishing and decoration are all very bold and noticeable. Quality is rather good as can be seen by the luster and evenness of the polishing. RGM also skillfully applies different polishes to different parts of the movement so as to emphasize them. They aren’t the only ones to do this, but compared to many other watches the movements in RGM watches really ‘pop’ nicely. There is likewise a handsome depth to the movement and I like the larger sized synthetic ruby stones in the pallets.

The semi-skeletonized dial of the Caliber 20′s dial is a matter of taste. Personally I like the hand guilloche engraved dials that RGM offers mixed with the beautiful open case back. Here you get all of that on the dial, and in doing so, it does it well. I think I just like symmetrical dials a lot more. A feature that RGM is also proud of are the “Keystone” hands. Pennsylvania is the keystone state, and the image is used on the tips of the hands. RGM admits that a now long defunct watch maker from the past used them, but RGM is bringing this back as an option on its timepieces. Note the keystone on the crown as well.

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands On   hands on

RGM Caliber 20 Watch Hands On   hands on

Many people have been waiting a while for the caliber 20 so I am happy to have seen it in the flesh. It is quite a beautiful watch and lately aBlogtoWatch readers have been asking for more RGM coverage. That seems to indicate that there is a lot of interest in US-made watches, especially US-made mechanical watches. Most everything in the Caliber 20 and other RGM in-house made movements are from the US (I think only the hairsprings and perhaps one or two other parts are sourced from Europe). While I don’t think that there will ever be a renaissance of American mechanical watches, small shops like RGM and hopefully others will keep these wonderful traditions alive.

Compared to their Swiss counterparts, RGM watches represent a really good value for a hand-decorated and assembled mechanical watch with beautifully made dials. Caliber 20 watches in a steel case start at $19,500, and go up from there for more unique custom orders and gold cases. RGM sells direct for the most part, so expect lead times while your watch is being made. rgmwatches.com

[Update: July 8, 2014 - While we value the quality of their product, in light of recent events, aBlogtoWatch will no longer cover RGM products and cannot endorse RGM as a company. - Ed. (What's This?)]

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11 comments
randytg
randytg

"RGM didn't invent this system, but rather put it for the first time in a wrist watch movement"

As much as I love RGM, the second part of this statement is not true.

I was all set to purchase an RGM PS 801E and was looking at a site online that had a very good review and video of the watch and the movement, but another watch they also had done a similar review of caught my eye.  I decided to purchase the other watch based on the features and the cost.  The watch Manufacture (and they are a true manufacture) in question is the French watchmaker Pequignet.  If you look at their Calibre Royal and the description of the movement and the barrel you will see that they also use the Motor Barrel, but they do not refer to it as such.  They introduced their first model with the Calibre Royal in May of 2011 and obviously had been working on creating the movement for at least three years prior.

I still plan on owning an RGM watch in the next few years, but unfortunately they cannot claim to be the first to use the Motor Barrel in a wristwatch.

Zeitblom
Zeitblom

Yes, more RGM please. How about a hands-on for the 801 aircraft, one of the most beautiful pilot watches in existence?

Neil C
Neil C

A halo piece for me.


Ryan B
Ryan B

One of my favorite brands and they never disappoint, the Caliber 20 is another example of fine American craftsmanship.

SuperStrapper
SuperStrapper

It is very nice, but although I can't quite put my finger on it, something about the dial seems to be... Missing? I don't want to say lacking, because this is obviously a beautiful and amazing piece, but just something about the dial leaves me wanting more.

Scott A
Scott A

Great report. This is a beautifully done watch. I have not seen this one in the "metal" yet but saw the 801 at Martin Pulli's jewelry last year.     http://www.martinpulli.com/watches/rgm-watch-company/

I think any collector should have watches from independent watchmakers because they are made with such passion, unique style and add depth to a all around collection. I love big brands too (PP, A.L&S, AP, VC, JLC, UN...etc.) but in my view there is something very special about a watch from an independent watchmaker. This watch being a good example of that! I also think people that enjoy this review should look at the Habring reviews too on this blog. Ariel, thanks for all the work you do!!!

Just another thought....Most that do not know about watches will compare or ask, "Is it as good as a rolex?" Though it's a completely different animal in all categories , its a better value for your money. There are not a million of these made every year!

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

Makes one proud to be an American. Beautiful finishing on an exquisite watch. Keep the RGM reviews coming!

nateb123
nateb123

@Kris C I suspect it has to be seen in person.  I'm looking at how the light hits the guilloche, perlage and brushed pieces on the dial and they don't show up rather well.  I think it's just too much variety for a single lens to do justice too, parts will always appear washed out or too shiny.  Basically "Good job Ariel on shooting this.  It must have been an absolute pain"