After yesterday’s epic 1500 word “Watch A Day” post, I decided to go for something simpler. Today I’m wearing a classic dress watch from a little-remembered brand. This Roamer Rotopower features a 44-jewel (!) movement, 14 karat gold case, and classic dress watch styling.
I spotted this watch at auction and instantly loved the classic looks. The sunburst dial is a classy chameleon, appearing gold or beige sometimes and clean gray or silver in different light. The applied bar markers, classic dauphine hands, and refreshing lack of complications cements the deal. It’s Mad Men class through and through.
The case has classic dress watch proportions that are similarly out of date. It’s just 33 mm in diameter, a dimension the bezel-less look and straight lugs exemplify. Tiny dress watches were all the rage at the time, and this would fit right into a 1960s display case filled with Calatravas and the like.
The case dimensions are deceptive, though. Although the body is just a few millimeters thick, a much larger element lurks underneath. And the crystal is domed to cover the hands and markers which rise above the bezel. Overall height is 9.2 mm, 1/3 thicker than my Lange Saxonia Thin, but you’d never know that even while holding both in your hand. Such is the masterful illusion pulled off by Roamer.
The Roamer brand is not well known today, but it was quite successful in its time. The company dates back as early as 1888, then known as Meyer and Studeli or MST, with the Roamer name appearing after 1917 and becoming the company’s primary brand in 1951. MST developed automatic movements fairly early and was also a pioneer with bi-directional winding and de-coupling to prevent over-winding. Roamer made every component in-house, including the screws and hardware.
Roamer lasted until 1983 as an independent company, incorporated into ASUAG that year, but did not make the cut for Swatch Group two years later. It faltered, becoming part of Hong Kong-based Chung Nam before being reformed in 2009. Today the new firm continues producing lower-priced Swiss watches mainly for the China and UK market.
in 1962, Roamer introduced the Rotopower line with the 44 jewel MST 436 movement. Decades ahead of its time, these movements had extremely low friction and remain wonderfully reliable today. Five of those rubies are ball bearings for the rotor – Eterna also boasted ball bearings but theirs were steel. It was not until today’s ceramic ball bearing rotors that any other company came close to Roamer. The winding reverser wheels also use five ruby bearings, and the company placed the rest at other pivot points. The winding system is geared extremely low, reducing stress and helping these watches last into the present day.
The Rotopower includes a fixed or captive bar between the lugs, making it difficult to replace the strap. In fact, given the signed clasp, the supple padded leather strap on mine might date to new. Certainly I couldn’t replace it easily. Given the low level of wear overall for my watch, it is possible that the whole piece is original. Mine appears to have been serviced in 2013, as the inner case back is marked with that date.
My Roamer Rotopower cost a few hundred dollars at auction, despite the fact that the case is solid 14 karat gold. This low price is due to the small size of the watch, unfamiliarity with the Roamer brand, and a weak market for classic dress watches. But it’s wonderfully comfortable and a joy to wear.