Brief History: Pitkin Watch Company / James & Henry Pitkin

Including Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Hartford, Conn. and New York, N.Y.

1838 - 1852

Drawing of Henry Pitkin Watch

Drawing of early H. & J. F. Pitkin watch No. 66 showing

layout of Pitkin movement.

By unknown sketcher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

James and Henry Pitkin were early pioneers of American watchmaking. Henry Pitkin is credited with the first attempt to manufacture American pocket watches using machines. While there is some debate as to whether Pitkin really deserves credit as America's first watch manufacturer, there is little doubt that they were the first to use American machine-made parts in the manufacture of their watches.

Brothers James and Henry Pitkin were successful jewelers and silversmiths in Hartford, Connecticut. When a business downturn forced the closure of their jewelry business, Henry Pitkin began to develop his ideas for "mass-production" of watches using machinery. The Pitkins designed and built their own rather crude manufacturing equipment. Movements were about 16-size and used a 3/4 plate design. Plates were rolled brass, and were punched out with stamping dies but often had to be hand-finished to specified tolerances. As they were skilled silversmiths, they produced their own cases in silver and gold. Balance springs, jewels, dials and hands were imported, so their watches were not entirely American-made.

The Pitkin Brothers moved the business to New York in 1841, but their business struggled in the face of stiff competition from less-expensive imported watches, and never achieved much commercial success. They continued to produce watch cases until about 1845, when the brothers left the business. Amariah Hells, a longtime employee, continued to operate the business until his retirement in 1852.

Repair and Conservation of Pitkin Watches

An original Pitkin watch is probably a museum-piece, and should be treated as such. Watchmaking was one of America's first industries, and there are few surviving examples from one of America's first watchmakers. Any repair or restoration of an original Pitkin watch must be approached with great care, and with an eye toward historical preservation and conservation. Such work should only be entrusted to individuals with extensive expertise with early American watches.


James & Henry Pitkin

Serial Numbers and Production Dates

Total Production: Approx. 900 Watches

Year Marked S/N
1838 "Henry Pitkin" 1 - 50
1839 "H. & J. F. Pitkin" 51 - 377
1841 "Pitkin & Co. New York" 378 - 900

Be sure to use the serial number on the movement (the works) of the watch. Do not use the serial number from the watch case.

Can’t find your serial number in the table? Click here for an explanation and example of how to use our serial number tables.

Need help finding the serial number on your watch? Click here for instructions on how to identify and open most common case types.