Sometimes the best deals are those that come unexpectedly
While looking for Australian Railroad watches, I bumped into a New Zealand Railway piece auctioned in the US. I was immediately drawn to it. The plan was simple: sooner or later I will bump into a New Zealander with an Australian watch and this NZR piece will put me in a great bargaining position.
But when the watch arrived I was in for a surprise. It was one of the first 150 pieces commissioned by the New Zealand Government.
A beautiful Gillett & Bland Railway Guard Pocket Watch recently sold at auction and has brought to light how rare these pocket watches were. Charles Bland joined William Gillett in 1854 as a sales man and set about building up the relationship of the company with overseas buyers like the New Zealand railway.
The earliest records found in the remaining ledgers we have for this time are for 14th August 1875 when the New Zealand Government put in an order for 50 Railway Clocks. Then on 22nd May 1878 an order for 150 Railway Guards watches was made at £4.10 each.
These watches were made for railway service and we believe they were put in place before the following ruling was made by Law, Rule 55 of the New Zealand Railways Department Rules & Regulations of 1907 reads “Every member connected with the train service and every ganger, leading Hand in Charge of Works, or any person who may be required to run a trolley or velocipede on the Main Line, must provide himself with a reliable watch and keep it regulated to Railway time.”
This means that those people required to have watches were required to provide their own. However by 1911 the NZ Railways Department was importing pocket watches in bulk, and then selling them to staff at the cost price. This arrangement probably went further back before 1911.
The watches were made from heavy nickel double-bottom case with original thick (unbreakable) flat glass and a front bezel release catch revealed only when the case back is opened, the case was numbered as was the movement and engraved with its railroad number on the back.
The movement was a large key wound full plate fusee movement with 22 size plate diamond shaped cock foot, a calliper specifically designed for strong use, a single roller detached lever escapement, and compensated balance with a spiral spring. Perfect enamel dial, original blued-steel hands. 61 mm diameter.
The movement was inscribed Gillett & Bland, Croydon, London as was the dial.
The movement maker and case maker are both well known. John Wycherley 1871-1891 made the movement and was known as one of the best manufacturers of rough movements used by the best watch finishers in the country.
And here is another bit that makes an NZR pocket watch very special. As you can see, at some point of time the watch serial number has been obfuscated. For whatever reason, the intention was to make the numerals indecipherable. Unfortunately the "crook" did a rather poor job and the numbers are still visible at certain angles. This is clearly NZR 127 out of 150.
It goes without saying that a Gillett & Bland pocket watch should be on the top of your To Get List. We don't know how many of these watches are still in circulation. Perhaps only a dozen or so. If you ever see one, snatch it at all costs.
PS: Some interesting NZ Railway highlights: In 1892 The Wellington and Manuwatu Railway (WMR) Company's No 10 locomotive established the world speed record with an average speed of 68kms per hour with a top speed of 103 on its two hour journey. During WWI over 5000 permanent New Zealand Railways employees served (about 40% of the NZ workforce). The New Zealand Railways Magazine began publication in May 1926, continuing until 1940. It regularly promoted leisure and tourism opportunities via its rail network to New Zealanders with a circulation of 26,000 in the 1930's.