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Tom McIntyre, member since 1971
For many pocket and wrist watch collectors it’s all about the stories—stories of a great and unexpected find, where the pieces were made, and under what circumstances. Tom McIntyre’s collection of elite Waltham pocket watches is a source of great stories.
McIntyre tells a horror story that undoubtedly is the nightmare of every serious collector. When he moved to Massachusetts, he left his burgeoning watch collection of about 60 pieces in the new house, while he and his wife stayed in a motel. Neighborhood adolescents broke into the house and stole the entire collection. “It was very ironic,” McIntyre says, “I figured they would be safer in the house than in a motel.” The incident turned him off watch collecting for about a decade, but an inspiring find convinced him to begin again.
When Tom was in England on business a number of years later, he asked a vendor at Portobello Market if he had anything that would be of special interest to an American. The vendor responded with two beautiful Waltham pocket watches: (1) a Waltham five minute repeating watch that indicates the time on demand with a musical tone and (2) an even rarer Waltham 20-size watch made in Nashua, NH, by a rogue contingent of Waltham employees.
The dealer, who was quite experienced, remarked it was the nicest keywind watch he had ever seen. McIntyre bought both. “I called my wife and told her that I needed to be wired a substantial amount of money, which she did, oddly enough.” McIntyre says, “It’s one of the prides and joys of my collection, and it got me interested in Waltham watches in general.”
This interest, sparked in 1981, led to a collection that today features every highest-grade Waltham made, which with examples from other makers, totals over 200 significant pieces. In addition to Waltham pocket watches, McIntyre owns some antique, eighteenth-century chronometers and other extraordinary timepieces.
It’s more than the chance meeting in an English market that made McIntyre fall in love with Waltham watches, though. He sees the way that they intersected with American history. In 1852 Waltham made the first watches using a machinery-driven, assembly line process. “The watch industry contributed substantially to the industrial revolution.
These watches marked the first precision industrial process.” He says, “It was an important time and those were important things in the development of our country. Because of that, I see Waltham to be the “father” of the computer industry and in many ways the automobile industry and all other industries.”
McIntyre knows that it is fascination with the stories of history that drives the collection of antique watches. Collectors are chasing after a distant moment in time, catching it, and holding onto it through the timepiece that might have been present there. “A watch represents a point in time,” McIntyre says. “Owning one is owning a piece of history.”
Sacrilege to most collectors is a fraudulent watch—one that has been fitted with modern parts that corrupt its historical authenticity. “If it was put together from various bits of history in the last five or ten years, then most of its merit is gone,” he says. One of the most interesting watches in his collection, the 1869 Charles Vander Woerd’s patent model, however, fits that description. McIntyre bought the original plates from one of the last master watchmakers at Waltham. “I had been looking for Vander Woerd’s patent watch for years and years out of curiosity,” he says. He couldn’t pass up the chance to own it, even if it was not all original. “As long as the story is intact and the description of the watch is accurate, I still want it.” He does, however, acknowledge that some of his watch-collecting peers deride it or consider it worthless, dubbing it as a “Frankenwatch.”
One of McIntyre’s most personal pursuits of a rare watch involved a short-lived, high-end pocket watch that coincidentally carried his last name. The McIntyre pocket watch was an attempt by two veteran watchmakers, Fred McIntyre and Charles DeLong, to produce an American pocket watch that would rival the mastery of Swiss luxury watches such as Patek Philippe. Unfortunate circumstances halted the production run before it began in earnest, leaving behind only a few prototypes.
“It’s such a romantic story that it appeals to me a lot,” he says about the McIntyre watch company. “The name is certainly what got me interested,” he acknowledges. “The watch itself though is an outstanding thing in terms of American watchmaking. It very well might have been the most significant thing ever.” In addition to being beautiful, the watch was incredibly precise and simple to repair. The prognosis that McIntyre holds is that if things had gone differently, McIntyre would have taken over the world of watches. With only a handful ever produced, Tom could not purchase one, but he did procure the original factory material inventory. He was recently able to purchase an example that had been finished in the 1920’s by DeLong and his student Vance LaPorte.
These stories—and others like them—will be carried on into the future; McIntyre isn’t worried about that. He acknowledges that its true that young people don’t collect pocket watches and that there are more convenient and technologically advanced methods of timekeeping. But, he explains the state of watchmaking and watch collecting and adds a wry laugh, “Watches, in all their forms, are historical artifacts, even the ones being made currently.”
McIntyre and his peers prefer that. “Watchmakers are artisans who are preserving those technologies and developing them further. It is an art form at this point. There is no end to the innovation, but it is innovation in an art form,” he says.
Waltham watches, and pocket watches in general, are tangible accompaniment to the story of American industrialization. In many ways, they run parallel and give structure to the story of McIntyre’s life as well.