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.
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.
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.
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?