South Bend Watch Co., South Bend, Indiana
The assets of the bankrupt Columbus Watch Company were purchased by brothers Clement Jr. and George Studebaker, sons of Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company cofounder Clement Studebaker, in 1903. They formed the South Bend Watch Company, building a new factory in South Bend, Indiana, and hiring 145 former Columbus employees. They also hired watchmaker W.C. Shelton, Sr. from the Appleton Watch Company in Wisconsin who was put in charge of production. Clement Studebaker Jr. was named president of the newly formed company.
In 1905 production began. The first models were full plate and similar to the Columbus watches, with some relatively small changes. South Bend's first 16-size 3/4 plate railroad grade model 1 movements were the 19-jewels No. 292 and No. 293, and the 21-jewels No. 294, and No. 295 (even nos. hunting, odd nos. open face).
Over the next twenty-five years or so of its existence, the firm produced nearly 900 thousand watches, about 80,000 of which met railroad time service requirements. All watches carried an "insured for a lifetime guarantee." Perhaps the best known South Bend railroad grade watches were The Studebaker grades, the open-face, 18-size of which (grades Nos. 323 and 329) were introduced by ads in 1910. The 16-size model 2 The Studebaker was introduced in 1911, grades No. 229 (21-jewels) and 223 (17-jewels). The most successful South Bend railroad grade watch was the 16-size, 21-jewel No. 227, with an estimated 43,000 watches sold1.
Studebaker Watch Co. formed to sell watches by mail
Originally, South Bend marketed its watches directly to retail dealers, rather than selling through distributors. In the mid-1920’s, it formed the Studebaker Watch Co. to sell watches by mail order directly to customers. The Studebaker watches were identical to the South Bend line and were made on the same production line. These watches had dials labeled “Studebaker.” The Studebaker line was sold on credit, requiring only one dollar down.
When the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, South Bend found itself with more delinquent accounts than it could handle. The factory shut its doors in December 1929, telling the nearly 300 employees the plant would reopen in January 1930, however, the plant never reopened. Liquidation was completed in 1933. Approximately 35,000 watches were in production when the factory closed. Shelton, along with two other employees, completed the assembly of the remaining watches and sold them. Shelton continued to operate the company's service department until his retirement in 1954.
South Bend railroad grade watches (not all were railroad approved)
The following is from list of railroad grade watches which is generally attributed Webb C. Ball. Not all of these were railroad approved even though all are railroad grade.
- 18 Size: Studebaker 329, Grade Nos. 323, and 327, 21J 18S;
- 16 Size: Studebaker 229, Grade Nos. 223, 227, 293, 295, 299, 21J;
- Polaris, 21J.
South Bend Production Dates by Serial Number
Note: These are approximate dates, actual dates may vary by years. The serial number being referred to is the serial number on the movement of the watch, not the case.
|1903 - 380,501||1910 - 600,000||1917 - 860,000||1924 - 1,070,000|
|1904 - 390,000||1911 - 660,000||1918 - 880,000||1925 - 1,105,000|
|1905 - 405,000||1912 - 715,000||1919 - 905,000||1926 - 1,140,000|
|1906 - 425,000||1913 - 765,000||1920 - 935,000||1927 - 1,175,000|
|1907 - 460,000||1914 - 800,000||1921 - 975,000||1928 - 1,210,000|
|1908 - 500,000||1915 - 820,000||1922 - 1,000,000||1929 - 1,240,000|
|1909 - 550,000||1916 - 840,000||1923 - 1,035,000|
Pocket Watch Database: - Serial number lookup and information for Hamilton, South Bend, Illinois, Rockford, Waltham & Elgin.
NAWCC Chapter 149 South Bend Watch Database - Serial number lookup and information for South Bend watches.
1 Ueberall E. and K. Singer. South Bend Standard Watches, part 1. Bulletin of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc., No. 329, December 2000, Columbia, PA., pgs. 813-821.
2 "The Word 'Railway' on Watch Movements," The Jewelers' Circular - Weekly and Horological Review (August 1, 1900): p. 34.