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Thread: A Short History of the Star Watch Case Company

  1. #1

    Default A Short History of the Star Watch Case Company

    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.

    Jim Cameron

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    Default Cool! Thanks for the briefing. NT

    nt
    JacK

    “Before my father died, he said the worst thing about growing old was that other men stopped seeing you as dangerous.” LT Rorke, Act of Valor

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    Senior Member Joel M in New Jersey's Avatar
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    Good post, Jim. Thanks...didn't realize they were so diverse!
    1/13 2/14 3/15 4/16 5/17 6/18 7/19 8/20 9/21 10/22 11/23 12/24

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    Very interesting. Thanks for the history lesson

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    hi im the great great grandson of Andrew Hallberg. it was invented back in 1913 to 1919 and could do 27 to32 watches at a time.

  6. #6

    Default I wonder how many cases they made for the Speedmaster

    Hi C;

    Were they only used on the NASA issue Speedmaster or on regular watches sold in stores?

    I have never seen any cases marked 'Star' on all the Speedys I have owned.
    Good Luck
    James

    "'Tis with our judgements as our watches: none
    go just alike, yet each believes his own."

    Alexander Pope.

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    Senior Member lysander's Avatar
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    Question, The dates don't agree, 1975 cannot be the last years if they were making watch cases in 1978. Is that supposed to be 1968 and 1969?

    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

  8. #8

    Default Regulatory anomaly

    Quote Originally Posted by James Dowling View Post
    Hi C;

    Were they only used on the NASA issue Speedmaster or on regular watches sold in stores?

    I have never seen any cases marked 'Star' on all the Speedys I have owned.
    My take is that the 1972 re-testing at the insistence of Omar Bradley of Bulova may *potentially* have involved Star-cased Speedmasters as a deliberate effort to comply with the 'US-made' requirement. In my opinion though those may well be the only original Star-cased Speedmasters ever made, and the testing may well have consumed all of them. I wouldn't think it too unlikely either that Omega retained a sufficient quantity of circa-1972 cases as a hedge to qualify for the 1978 re-re-testing either.

    The trials were fraught will all sorts of oddities; among them, Bulova was allowed to "naturalize" some $23k of what were nominally research and development costs but in reality were likely just an effort to come up to par for the US-made standard for what was still by all other rights a Swiss watch. In another anomaly, at one point it supposedly came down to simple cost alone when Bulova was finally able to produce an "American-made" chronograph that performed similarly to the Speedmaster in testing. Bulova had agreed to provide watches to NASA at a nominal sum of $1.00, but Omega had agreed to provide for the even more nominal $0.01 and as the story goes won the deal.

    My presumption is that the US-made cases were only used for the trials; every image I've seen of astronaut Speedmasters in museums have what appear for all the world to be run-of-the-mill Swiss-made Speedmaster cases.

    I've some supporting links somewhere but I can't seem to find them with some quick Googling - if interested, PM me an I'll look on my other machine for the appropriate linkidge.
    Last edited by Rrryan; 06-27-2008 at 03:47. Reason: dang typos

  9. #9

    Default Additions to Star Watch Case History

    Hello,
    I am the Great Great Grandson of O.A.Stark, co founder of Star. I grew up in the 1960s when the watch case was still being operated by my Great Uncle, Bub Stark. 1979 would have been somewhat late for the original sale of the company to a group of employees. The company only operated for 4 or 5 years after that, before it closed. The plant was still standing into the late 1990s,

    Jim Shelby

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    Hi,

    My name is Alex and i recently acquired a 1940s omega watch. When i got the back open i found that on the inside of the watch back, in addition to 'omega' it said Star Watch Case Co.

    My omega is one of the bumper edition models and the movement is serial numbered 1395xxxx.

    I'm curious if anyone has more information about this.

    This is my first post on this forum.

    Thanks,

    Alex

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    Junior Member fizzbin1701's Avatar
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    Jim, Thank you for contributing your personal history to this! Has anyone written a book on the company? I would be happy to help.

    Quote Originally Posted by JamesSShelby View Post
    Hello,
    I am the Great Great Grandson of O.A.Stark, co founder of Star. I grew up in the 1960s when the watch case was still being operated by my Great Uncle, Bub Stark. 1979 would have been somewhat late for the original sale of the company to a group of employees. The company only operated for 4 or 5 years after that, before it closed. The plant was still standing into the late 1990s,

    Jim Shelby

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