I recently had the opportunity to visit the Star Watch Case Company collection in the archives of White Pine Village in Ludington, Michigan. Although the records were very incomplete, I was able to gather the following information.
The White Star Watch Case Company of Ludington, Michigan is well-known for having produced possibly the finest quality stainless steel military watch cases, specifially the Bulova A-17A and 3818A from the 1950's. Surprisingly, I discovered that Star also produced the cases for the Omega Speedmaster Professional starting in 1978.
The Star company begain in 1897 in Elgin, Illinois producing, not surprisingly, pocket watch cases for the Elgin Watch Company. Following the destruction of the factory in a fire, in 1905 the company relocated to Ludington, Michigan, a small town on the northern shore of Lake Michigan.
The company continued to produce watch cases for Elgin, specializing in engraved speciality watch cases. Particularly popular was a design depicting the battleship Maine ("Remember the Maine!"). Star handled both the design and manufacturing of all their cases. In the archives, there are beautifully hand-painted and inked drawings of Elgin Pocketwatches, done to show the look of the finished prototype watches. By 1938, pocket watch cases still comprised 90% of Star's production.
During the war, the company made submarine parts, small weapons and brass compass cases, but apparently not any significant number of military watches. The war years were a period of low profits due to high corporate taxes designed to eliminate war profiteering. This, and the inability of the company to invest in new machnery, led to severe financial problems after the war. Employment peaked at 550 employees during the war.
In the late 1940's Andrew Hallberg, a Star employee, invented a pantograph machine that allowed 40 watchbacks to be engraved at a time. Star owned the patent for this invention, and closely guarded the technology. Two of these machines (working) can still be seen at the White Pine Village in Ludington. The company received several large military contracts, producing the cases for the Bulova A-17A and 3818B hacking aviation watches, as well as the rare Hamilton "Grade II" watch. These watches are among the finest quality US military watches ever made. It is also likely that the extremely rare, never adopted Bulova prototype dive watch (spec Mil-W-22176) from 1958 had its case made by Star. During the post-war years, Star also made watch cases for Elgin, Hamilton, Longines-Wittenauer, Gruen and Waltham.
In the 1960's, the fortunes of the Star Watch Case Company followed those of the rest of America's watch industry. Competition from the Swiss and Japanese, with newer and more efficient manufacuring factories, led to decreased sales and a bleak future. Still, through the 1970's, Star continued to produce very high quality watch cases, including the cases for the first Pulsar digital watch and the innovative HP calculator watch.
In 1978, Omega contracted with Star to make the cases for the legendary Speedmaster Professional. This was done, in part, to comply with a NASA procurement rule that 50% of the parts used in any watch for the space program be US-made. Omega must have been pleased with the quality, because they also contracted with Star to produce gold-filled cases for dress watches. Blueprints for these watches can be seen in the archives.
In 1979, Star was sold to Precision Watch Case Co., a subsidiary of the Swiss watchmaking conglomerate SSIH. Three years later, production was shut down and the company went out of business. In 1975, the last year, only 75 employees were left. The building fell into decay, and was demolished in the 1980's.