We’ve covered American watchmaker RGM on several occasions as it is, for the most part, the only true vertically integrated manufacturer in the US. Weiss Watch Company in Los Angeles has the in-house calibre 1003, but it’s generally an ETA/Unitas 6497 copy. That’s certainly not a bad thing but doesn’t match the unique designs and complexity of RGM creations. The brand’s latest piece is the Model 500-GMT, a sports watch designed in collaboration with bicycle frame building legend Richard Sachs. It has an ETA automatic in lieu of something in-house but is nevertheless a well-executed piece for the frequent traveller with an aesthetic born from two great artisans.
We’ve talked in-depth about RGM and its atelier in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for many years. Roland Murphy developed the brand from scratch in 1992 and it has since matured into a full manufacture with several unique in-house movements. The Classic Enamel PS-801-CE and Caliber 20 are great examples, and the initial in-house Caliber 801 in 2007 was the first American movement in almost five decades. The RGM Pennsylvania Tourbillon (Caliber MM2) demonstrates the brand’s technical prowess and reinforces that haute horology is alive and well in the US. This isn’t the first time that the brand has partnered with Richard Sachs, a decade ago he collaborated on a limited edition of the RGM North Pointer GMT (ref. 254). Only 20 watches were produced at the time, but it sparked enough interest that the two traditional craftsmen again joined forces in 2019.
Who is Richard Sachs? The American bicycle frame builder has been custom building racing and cyclo-cross bikes in Connecticut and Massachusetts since 1975. His handmade production is world-renowned and limited to less than 100 bikes per year. He doesn’t draw out frames, use CAD software or the like, and works completely alone. Riders in the sport call him a magician as he produces by “feel” or “musical improvisation” as his analogy goes. This traditional craftsmanship and obsession with details is a perfect fit for an RGM collaboration as Roland is cut from the same cloth. He combines modern production methods with traditional techniques, such as guilloché dials made with antique, hand-operated machinery and hand finishing/decorating of movements. The company is also among the few luxury watchmakers to offer fully bespoke watches in the same vein as Richard Sachs. Watch repair and restoration services are also sought by museums, watch companies and collectors as RGM is among the best in the world. The Model 500-GMT is the combined vision of two great American artisans.
Sporty Case and Design
The stainless steel case is the first RGM model to feature a bi-directional GMT bezel. It’s a classic sport and traveller’s design, with the bezel working in tandem with a 24-hour hand. However, with its ability to rotate, a third time-zone can actually be tracked. 24-hour Arabic numerals are engraved and ceramic filled in two-hour increments on the sloping, brushed steel bezel. It may sound a bit like the Rolex Explorer II on paper, but the overall designs are very different.
At 41mm in diameter and 11.3mm in height, the RGM Model 500-GMT is a contemporary size with a diver’s vibe and sport aesthetic. It wears smaller than the diameter suggests, however, as the wide bezel and somewhat compact dial kind of trick the eye. It’s also anything but utilitarian in appearance as attention to detail is in typical RGM fashion. All sides sport a deep ribbing that resembles the knurled pattern on a crown, similar to the tonneau-shaped RGM Caliber 20 case (although not as pronounced). The lugs are long and narrow (51mm lug-to-lug), attaching to the strap with conventional spring bars – many RGM pieces use screws.
The caseback is solid with the Richard Sachs logo engraved in the centre and two gaskets are used for increased water-resistance. The sapphire crystal is 2mm thick for added durability and the signed crown screws down for a water-resistance of 100 metres. It’s certainly a unique case with a strong personality.
DIAL AND HANDS
The matte black dial of the RGM Model 500-GMT features four oversized Arabic numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock for excellent legibility – it is a sports watch after all. Bold indices mark the remaining hours. A raised minute track circles the outer perimeter with virtually identical indices every five minutes, almost as if they’re an upper step to the hour marks. It’s a subtle but cool effect that provides some depth. The dial has classic elements of sports watches, yet with its own personality too – the numerals and hands aren’t that classic.
The sword-style hour and minute hands are openworked with lume tips, but there’s a solid option with full lume for additional legibility. A white seconds hand with a small diamond counterweight joins a black GMT hand with a red tip styled like the Richard Sachs logo. It may seem like a small detail, but really enhances the aesthetic. An angled date window is tucked between 4 and 5 o’clock, which would usually earn my ire, but this one has been tastefully executed with a matching black background. It’s not an eyesore and blends in well. The overall design is both familiar and unique, and together with the case has that unmistakable RGM vibe.
Not all watches produced by Roland G. Murphy carry an in-house calibre (and your wallet will thank you), but the ETA 2893-2 employed in the RGM Model 500-GMT is a well-proven Swiss automatic. It has 21 jewels, beats at 28,800vph (4Hz) with a 42-hour power reserve. The caseback on the Model 500-GMT is solid, but the movement comes decorated with both Côtes de Genève and perlage.
Functions include central hours, minutes and seconds with an additional GMT hand and date. The GMT hand can be set independently by pulling the crown to the first position. Turn it clockwise to adjust the hand in one-hour increments, while turning it counterclockwise will adjust the date. The movement isn’t hacked during this process.
Strap and comfort
The Model 500-GMT comes with a 22mm Hirsch Performance leather strap with an alligator patterned black front and bright red rubberized back. It’s finished with a standard stainless steel pin buckle engraved with RGM’s logo. It definitely adds to the sporty aesthetic and is comfortable out of the box. The combination of patterned rubber and leather makes a break-in period unnecessary, and as a bonus, it fits smaller wrists well. There’s an unfortunate trend where many supplied straps are designed for 7-inch and above wrists (often comically oversized), so this is certainly welcome. A stainless steel bracelet will soon be an option as well.
RGM is best known for American-made calibres that rival Swiss and European counterparts, but its ETA-equipped watches shouldn’t be overlooked. Models like the 107-P Pilot and 300 Professional Diver are solid offerings with RGM quality and design, as well as relatively accessible prices. The new Model 500-GMT is an interesting blend of the artistic visions of two American artisans that honours old-school craftsmanship. Both Roland G. Murphy and Richard Sachs construct very different products, but the process of getting there is very much the same. The watch is, of course, much more of an RGM creation with Richard Sachs design elements, but it represents a somewhat dying art in America where technology is replacing old-fashioned handwork. It’s fittingly a sports watch with a rugged case and GMT function for outdoor travellers and, perhaps, competitive cyclists with a Richard Sachs frame.
Like many RGM pieces, the Model 500-GMT is a limited edition with a production of only 50 watches. It’s priced at USD 4,750 and available at RGM’s website. That’s certainly not cheap, but keep in mind that this is a watch done in limited production, by one of the rare American horologists. And that is the real deal here.