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Does anyone have any ideas as to which company was the first to use a display back in serial watch production? Or perhaps the first to introduce the piece?
 

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Interesting question. I also wonder, do I like exhibition casebacks? It begs the question: what's the point of high-end finishing on a movement that's not to be seen? (I don't think the answer is that there is none, I'd just like to see it articulated.)
 

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For the majority of the years of American dominance of the watch industry, most watches were made in standard sizes and sold as movements only(with dial and hands) and cased by the retailer at the time of sale to suit the customer's taste and budget.

As such, it was standard practice to ship movements from the factory in glass-backed shipping tins that allowed both the dial and the movement to be viewed.

Nearly as common were so-called salesman's sample cases, which were fully functional cases(with a stem, crown, and bow) with glass front and back covers to allow easy viewing of the movement. Normally, the movement would be removed from these at the time of sale and placed in a regular case. These are commonly also called glassbacks, although they would be exhibition backs to use modern terminology.

There are pocket watch cases that have what is commonly called an "exhibition back", although these have a very specific form. Basically, they are standard fully-functional hunting cases or hinged back and bezel open face cases. The standard case of this format will have two back covers, a heavy outer cover for protection and a light gauge inner cover(called the cuvette) that snaps tightly directly over the movement and provides a dust seal. The exhibition case replaces the cuvette with a glass crystal set into a bezel, much as is done for the dial side of a hunting case.

So, I think that any of these might meet your criteria. These all date to at least the 1880s.
 

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That's neat information, but it doesn't answer the question "Who was the first to put a display back on a standard-production wristwatch?" which I think is the more interesting question. When did this become a thing that real watches do?
 

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That's neat information, but it doesn't answer the question "Who was the first to put a display back on a standard-production wristwatch?" which I think is the more interesting question. When did this become a thing that real watches do?
I don't see the word "wristwatch" anywhere in the opening post

Despite what some here may thing...horological history didn't begin 50 years ago. Most "modern" watch designs have a precedent.

And, just what exactly do you mean by a "real" watch?
 

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I don't see the word "wristwatch" anywhere in the opening post

Despite what some here may thing...horological history didn't begin 50 years ago. Most "modern" watch designs have a precedent.

And, just what exactly do you mean by a "real" watch?
I think they're asking, "Who first realized consumers of mechanical wristwatches want an exhibition back and deliberately made it part of a model design?"

Or, "Did people not appreciate the awesomeness of mechanical watches until after the Quartz Revolution?" :-d
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Ben,

Thank you for the interesting reply about pocket watches. I have several, but none with a glass back, although I have seen it. I'd assumed, however, it was a later addition, because it was a screw-on glass on a standard case rather than a snap on under a hunter case as you describe. Do you know was it ever the custom to sell pocket watches to the public witha glass back? I've seen the movement presentation tin you talked about for sales to watch companies, but what about visible movements as a sales pitch to the end user of a pocket watch?

I had in my original post been thinking about glass backs on wristwatches, although I realize I wasn't clear on that. I'm still curious to learn about that, because it does seem to be a recent feature, and as Colin notes, it would be interesting to know if it was the foundering of the mechanical watch industry in the '70s that precipitated the feature, did it emerge after the resurgence, or even did it exist at the dawn of the wristwatch? Obviously, decoration of movements had been going on pre-wristwatch, so a reason to proudly display a movement was there, bit what was the impetus to take it public?

Whatever the case may be-- pardon the pun!-- I'm also curious to know who was the insightful watchmaker that began to use a glass back as a marketing element (i.e. point of distinction) on their regular wristwatch production?

Finally, just as an aside, I happen to believe that movement decoration reached its zenith in pocket watches. Maybe it is the size of the canvas and the scrolling often found, but to my eye, pocket watches movements are the most beautiful I've seen, but that's really another thread topic!
 

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Hi,

I beleive Chronoswiss is one of the first "modern" manufacturers to have an exhibition back as standard.

And to answer Bronte's question, A lot of the "decoration" is actaully for functional purposes. For example, in higher-end brands, a lot of the edges of bridges are anglaged to make the part run smoother and to prevent rought edges from chipping away at other parts. However, you will not actually be able to see this "decoration" from an exhibit caseback. The finishing that you see on the "outside" accounts for actually very little of the total "finshing" work in terms of time and money. (I suppose this ties in a bit with the other post about the difference between higher end watches and lower end ones.)

Have a look at Walt Odet's "The Horologium" at timezone.com. very informative.

Cheers,
Bruce
 

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Interesting question. I also wonder, do I like exhibition casebacks? It begs the question: what's the point of high-end finishing on a movement that's not to be seen? (I don't think the answer is that there is none, I'd just like to see it articulated.)
There is certainly something valuable about high-end finishing, even if it is not to be seen. For example, even on high-end movements that DO have exhibition backs, top tier manufacturers will often finish the entire movement, not just the part that you can see through the case back. I think that watches have a bit of an emotional or even esoteric dimension; whereby the IDEA of what goes into a watch is often as important as what you can see and touch. For example, the fact that a movement was developed and manufactured in-house carries higher value to most enthusiasts- but why? Because people like the idea of thought, skill, and craftsmanship going into their watch. In the same way, I would prefer a Lange Datograph with a solid case-back to any Valjoux 7750 with a display back. You know what I mean? Sure I'd rather see the movement of the Datograph, but I still know it is there even if the back is solid and that is valuable to me. Just some thoughts.

As to the question at hand, I really have no idea who was the first.
 

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There is certainly something valuable about high-end finishing, even if it is not to be seen. For example, even on high-end movements that DO have exhibition backs, top tier manufacturers will often finish the entire movement, not just the part that you can see through the case back. I think that watches have a bit of an emotional or even esoteric dimension; whereby the IDEA of what goes into a watch is often as important as what you can see and touch. For example, the fact that a movement was developed and manufactured in-house carries higher value to most enthusiasts- but why? Because people like the idea of thought, skill, and craftsmanship going into their watch. In the same way, I would prefer a Lange Datograph with a solid case-back to any Valjoux 7750 with a display back. You know what I mean? Sure I'd rather see the movement of the Datograph, but I still know it is there even if the back is solid and that is valuable to me. Just some thoughts.

As to the question at hand, I really have no idea who was the first.
Yes I know exactly what you mean, and I agree. Well put. Bruce185, good information. Thanks.
 

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That's neat information, but it doesn't answer the question "Who was the first to put a display back on a standard-production wristwatch?" which I think is the more interesting question. When did this become a thing that real watches do?
I doubt that the question of who or maybe which company was the first can be reliably answered. There were several companies that offered glass windows on their pocket watch backs. I am not sure why knowing the first is all that important. That it is a feature enjoyed by owners of many different watches over the past 130 plus years seems more interesting to me.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Are the terms finishing and decoration synonymous? I think of finishing as more comprehensive than, but including, decoration, which I think is purely the decorative part of the finishing process. Is that a generally accepted distinction?
 

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Aside from Ben's answer - which in my view is the definitive one - I really don't remember exhibition casebacks as a general rule on wristwatches until the 21st century. Maybe a few exceptions were around in the 1990s.
 

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Aside from Ben's answer - which in my view is the definitive one - I really don't remember exhibition casebacks as a general rule on wristwatches until the 21st century. Maybe a few exceptions were around in the 1990s.
Not to pick a fight, but I'm curious in which sense you think Ben's reply was definitive? To my reading, there was nothing definitive about it all all, no dates, no producers, no answer to my questions...interesting and insightful, yes, but I don't think definitive is applicable, unless I misunderstood the content of his post.
 

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My first watch with a Crystal caseback is JLC from 2001.

I do not think that crystal casebacks were very interesting for the manufacturers. They tried to make as slim watches as possible, and a crystal caseback is allways much thicker than a solid one.
 

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Definitive in the sense that the first display backs appeared on pocket watches. You want some names? Elgin, Waltham. He gave a date of 1880s which is general but probably close enough. I doubt you are going to see any of these glass display backs before the advent of stem winding.
 

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Interesting question. I also wonder, do I like exhibition casebacks? It begs the question: what's the point of high-end finishing on a movement that's not to be seen? (I don't think the answer is that there is none, I'd just like to see it articulated.)
I definitely enjoy being able to see a nice movement through a display back, but I also think there's something really romantic (in the philosophical sense) about a intricately finished and decorated movement hidden inside a solid case. It's about the pride of craftsmanship, beauty and perfection for its own sake rather than for the admiration of others.

For the majority of the years of American dominance of the watch industry, most watches were made in standard sizes and sold as movements only(with dial and hands) and cased by the retailer at the time of sale to suit the customer's taste and budget.

As such, it was standard practice to ship movements from the factory in glass-backed shipping tins that allowed both the dial and the movement to be viewed.

Nearly as common were so-called salesman's sample cases, which were fully functional cases(with a stem, crown, and bow) with glass front and back covers to allow easy viewing of the movement. Normally, the movement would be removed from these at the time of sale and placed in a regular case. These are commonly also called glassbacks, although they would be exhibition backs to use modern terminology.

There are pocket watch cases that have what is commonly called an "exhibition back", although these have a very specific form. Basically, they are standard fully-functional hunting cases or hinged back and bezel open face cases. The standard case of this format will have two back covers, a heavy outer cover for protection and a light gauge inner cover(called the cuvette) that snaps tightly directly over the movement and provides a dust seal. The exhibition case replaces the cuvette with a glass crystal set into a bezel, much as is done for the dial side of a hunting case.

So, I think that any of these might meet your criteria. These all date to at least the 1880s.
That was really interesting. Thanks for the information.
 

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Definitive in the sense that the first display backs appeared on pocket watches. You want some names? Elgin, Waltham. He gave a date of 1880s which is general but probably close enough. I doubt you are going to see any of these glass display backs before the advent of stem winding.
In fairness, the pocket watch examples he cites, the "display cuvette," if you will, were under a solid case cover, so not really the same thing as an exhibition back in the modern sense, which is literally the back of the watch case.

Granted, the pocket watch usage environment was different from a modern wristwatch's, but the fact remains those are different things, and while, as I said, his reply was interesting and insightful, it didn't meet any of my criteria for a satisfying answer to my questions, and was certainly not definitive.

To be sure, I'm glad for his post, though. I have several American pocket watches from the first quarter of the 20th century, but none of that description, so his post opened up a new line of inquiry for me, namely why, if viewing the movement of a pocket watch was valued, did the practice of a glass back not carry over to wristwatches as they became popular?
 

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He mentioned a display back in the sense of a double case with a dust cover. but there were lots of open face cases that had a single glass display back. Most of the ones I've seen like that were in the 1900-1920 timeframe but there may have been some earlier examples. You didn't specifically mention wristwatches in your original post so I think he did provide a useful answer.
As far as being valued, display cases had a specific purpose to sell or display the movement and they aren't particularly rare or valuable. The display back as we know it right now is a consequence of the preoccupation with mechanical movements today. That preoccupation didn't really exist before their rediscovery after the quartz revolution. Back when mechanical was all you had, nobody cared to look at it as long as it worked.
The display case gave the customer a chance to handle a watch and look at the movement that would later be cased for him at the jeweler. Once the watches started to be cased at the factory there wasn't much need for a display back.
 
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