Brief History: South Bend Watch Company
Including South Bend Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates
South Bend, Indiana
1903 - 1929
The South Bend Watch Company was formed by three brothers, George, Clement and John M. Studebaker subsequent to their purchase of the Columbus Watch Company. The company produced watches in the style of the Columbus Watch Company. South Bend movements were identified as model 1, 2, or 3, with grades numbering 100 to 431. Even number grades denoted hunter-case movements, and odd number grades were intended for open face cases.
Through the first two decades of the twentieth century the company grew and prospered. During its peak years the company produced 60,000 watches annually and employed nearly 600 employees. Ambitious nationwide advertising was largely responsible for this early prosperity. Full-page ads showing the South Bend watch running in a block of ice were particularly effective. Later this was discarded and watch illustrations were shown with a purple ribbon across the watch face. Numerous styles and models were available with a price range from $16.00 to $125.00. All watches carried a “insured for a lifetime guarantee.” In fact, there are thousands of South Bend watches still running today.
A Studebaker in the Mail
In the 1920s the company offered a "Studebaker" watch on a mail order basis. The Studebaker watches were identical to the South Bend line and were made on the same production line. The Studebaker watch ads of this era did not indicate any connection between the two watches, but instead gave the impression of a separate company. The naming of the watch, however, was an obvious attempt to capitalize on the good name of the famous brothers of Studebaker automobile fame. Most ads carried the following line:
“Directed by members of the Studebaker family—known for three-quarters of a century for fair dealing.”
The Studebaker watches were sold on a credit basis and could be purchased with a down payment of only one dollar. With the onset of the Depression, the company found itself with many delinquent accounts and the banks were unwilling to cooperate in those unstable times. This and the fact the company never switched to production of men’s wristwatches was responsible for their eventual demise. On Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday, November 27, 1929, the nearly 300 employees of the company were notified the plant would be closed until January 1, 1930. The company never reopened.
After the closing, the machinery was eventually sold and liquidation completed in 1933 with creditors being paid off fifty-cents on the dollar. In later years, the old factory building at 1720 Mishawaka Avenue was used for a warehouse, a soft drink bottling plant, an Army reserve center and various other businesses. On July 8, 1957, a fire started in the old factory and destroyed the last evidence of a once world famous factory.
South Bend Watch Grade Numbers
South Bend followed a fairly predictable pattern in the designation of their numbered watch grades. Movement models were assigned a grade number which ranged from 100 to 431. The first digit denotes the size of the watch as follows: 1 - 0s or 6s, 2 - 16s, 3 - 18s, 4 - 12s. The third digit denotes the type of movement: even digit for hunting case movement, and odd digit for open-face movement. So a grade 347, for example, would be an 18-size, open face movement.
South Bend Watch Company
South Bend Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates
Be sure to use the serial number on the movement (the works) of the watch. Do not use the serial number from the 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.
At Renaissance Watch Repair, we are experts in the repair and restoration of South Bend watches. Please contact us if you have any questions about the repair of your vintage South Bend watch.