Added to museum: December 31, 2012
George Thomas (seated) with partner Hartwig Balke inspect some of the watches now produced by their small watch company. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)
George Thomas was born in Prague, Czech Republic in 1930 and grew up in Prague, Vienna and Zurich. In 1945, he apprenticed with a watchmaker in Prague. To escape the communists in 1948 he went to Panama and worked in Panama City for an agency servicing all major brands of timepieces. In 1951, he moved to San Francisco where he worked for a time as a watch maker, but he soon realized that there is more money in other endeavors and spent the next 35 years in the plastics and chemical industries. While working in that industry he invented a process of molding sawdust into rustic outdoors dishes called “Stonewood.”
During that period he never lost his interest in timepieces and spent some of his spare time restoring antique and complicated watches. Among his accomplishments was the restoration of the world’s oldest known signed and dated watch from 1530. The watch belonged to Phillip Melanchton, an associate of Martin Luther. He also restored the world’s smallest watch made in 1860 for the Czar of Russia. (See The Technique and History of the Swiss Watch by Eugene Jaquet and Alfred Chapuis, plate 116.)
As noted from the company's web site, the Towson Watch Company was founded at the beginning of the new millennium, in 2000, by two gentlemen whose passion is working with mechanical time pieces. After 40 years of experience repairing high grade watches, repeaters, chronographs and making his own turbillion watches, George Thomas, a master watchmaker met his partner Hartwig Balke, a graduate in mechanical engineering and talented watchmaker, by chance. In an Irish Pub in Annapolis, after sailors’ small talk, Thomas and Balke soon discovered their common love for high grade mechanical watches. Before the evening ended and they parted to return to their boats, they promised: “We have to meet again!”
To create something special, mechanical instruments of beauty and precision, was always their dream. Thomas built his first tourbillion pocket watches, displayed now at the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania, in 1985 when he was 53 years old. Years later, in 1999 Balke made his first wrist chronograph when he was 56 years old. It was worn during the first space mission in the new millennium, the STS-99 Mission. He made the watch for a NASA astronaut and mission specialist. A second watch, worn during the same mission, is also on display at the Columbia Museum.
Thomas and Balke now sail together, also in the watch business. Soon after their first meeting, the idea of creating their own watch line became more and more serious and the first 25 wrist chronographs were sold in weeks. George Thomas and Hartwig Balke are partners in TOWSON WATCH CO. LLP. Watches made by Towson Watch Company are not mass-produced, they are made in limited series according to customer’s individual wishes. Towson Watch Co. timepieces appeal to watch connoisseurs, collectors, successful people in sports, arts or professionals like engineers, aircraft pilots, astronauts.
Helping to solve the Abraham Lincoln watch mystery
George was asked to help solve the mystery of the Abraham Lincoln watch. For years a watch belonging to Abraham Lincoln was rumored to have a special inscription inside it relating to the start of the Civil War. Jonathan Dillon had repaired the president's gold pocket watch in 1861 and scratched an inscription inside it before sealing up the case. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History commissioned George Thomas to open the watch as interested parties, Douglas Stiles, (the great-great grandson of Mr. Dillon) and the national media looked on. Yes, the inscription was there, although not exactly as originally noted and off by one day in reference to the date of the first shot fired at Fort Sumter. Though no longer able to be wound and run after remaining sealed for over 100 years, the watch was in amazingly good condition. Detailed photos of the inscriptions and the inside of the watch were taken and then it was re-sealed for display. Being entrusted to be the one to open the case was quite an honor.
An article in the New York Times in 2009 detailed the task: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/arts/design/11linc.html?pagewanted=all
The LA Times also covered the event in this article: http://articles.latimes.com/2009/mar/11/nation/na-lincoln-watch11
George has made 4 tourbillion watches, 3 of which are in the NAWCC museum in Pennsylvania as well as a Carousel watch also in the museum. There are few craftsmen left in the world capable of making a complete watch from scratch, part by part.
He recently founded the Towson Watch Co. ( TWCWATCHES.com ) in 1999 with fellow watch craftsman Hartwig Balke. They build high quality, precision watches in very limited production quantities, two of which have travelled into space on the earth mapping mission in 2000. These watches were build by Hartwig, who is a brilliant engineer and a skilled watchmaker who came to this country 20 years ago from Germany.
The Towson Watch Company, founded at the beginning of the new millennium in 2000, is one of the few U.S. watch companies that design and manufacture their watch line in the United States. When George Thomas and Hartwig Balke decided to create and manufacture their classical mechanical watch collection no one expected immediate success. The style, quality and beauty of this rare unique timepiece collection soon became a benchmark for success, good taste and quality life style. They dedicated their collection to the region they love so much and it became the Chesapeake Class Watch Collection.
George inspects an assembly on the bench. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)
Along with the many old-school manual tools you find in George's shop you will also see a small computer controlled lathe. Watch making is a very traditional trade, still using many tools and techniques developed hundreds of years ago, but it is one thing to make a single watch by hand for a museum and quite another to make a line of watches that can compete in the marketplace with others made by world's most famous watch companies. Even companies like Rolex now take advantage of the speed and repeatable accuracy provided by computer controlled machines to make some of the parts; however, the industry still relies heavily on skilled workers to tune and assemble these parts into a timepiece that keeps accurate time.
Samples of some of the product line can be seen at http://www.twcwatches.com/user_area/twc.pdf.
(Click any photo to view a larger image.)
Views of the Towson Watch Company workshop.
The company has a well equipped workshop with modern and old traditional watchmaker tools and machines, some of which are over a hundred years old.
(Left) Precision vertical mill previously used in the Hamilton Watch Company model shop, vintage about 1940
(Right) Levin lathe with slide rest, vintage 1940-50
(L) Levin lathe set up for gear cutting
(R) 8 mm Boley lathe, vintage 1970
(L) Boley lathe set up with bezel chuck
(R) Boley lathe set up with American jewelling attachment
(L) Setting a jewel with the above attachment
(R) Swiss precision 10 mm Schoublin lathe
Precision Swiss-made Hauser drill presses
Drill press converted for perlage work
|Hartwig at work on a small manual lathe|
|Hartwig programs and runs the CNC lathe. Even traditional fields like watch making now take advantage of what computer controlled machines have to offer for some parts.|
(Click any photo to view a larger image.)
Various operations during the making if the handmade watch
Partially finished watch next to the original Brequet movement that served as model
|Inside the finished watch|
|Making the hand|
|The finished watch|
(Click any photo to view a larger image.)
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