Mystery of Lincoln’s watch solved!

A hush settled over the anxious crowd. George Thomas, America’s most renowned watchmaker and historian, slowly leaned back in his chair, abandoning the hunched over stance he had occupied for what seemed to be hours, and raised the pocket watch so it was fully visible to the crowd. Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch to be more precise, and reportedly the only one he ever owned. This was the moment of truth. Had the New York Times gotten it right all those years ago in a largely-ignored bit article buried in the back of the paper? Was there really a secret message inscribed into the back of Lincoln’s watch the day the first shots of the Civil War were fired that even the President himself never knew about? The descendants of the alleged inscriber waited among the crowd with bated breath. The master watchmaker slowly beckoned them to the podium to examine what he had found…

Ft SumterOn April 13, 1861, Confederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumter beginning a bloody war that would divide our nation and change the course of history forever.  That day, Irish immigrant and watchmaker Jonathan Dillon was working for the M.W. Galt and Co. jewelers in Washington, D.C., and had the distinct honor of repairing President Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch.  In a brief New York Times article published on April 30, 1906, the eighty-four year old recalled what happened that day:

“I was working upstairs when Mr. Galt came up. He was very much excited and gasped: ‘Dillon, the war has begun, the first shots have been fired.’ At that moment I held in my hand Abraham Lincoln’s watch which I had been repairing…I was in the act of screwing on the dial when Mr. Galt announced the news. I unscrewed the dial and with a sharp instrument wrote on the metal beneath.”

AbrahamLincolnEngraving_LincolnWatch_158wIt wasn’t until over a hundred years had passed that Dillon’s story was finally put to the test.  Lincoln’s watch had been in the possession of the Smithsonian since 1958 and in 2009, Dillon’s great, great grandson convinced the museum to verify the story that had been passed down in his family for generations. George Thomas, renowned jewelry expert and historian, had the honor of dismantling the pocket watch in front of a live crowd. This is the message he found, read aloud to anxious onlookers by Dillon’s great, great grandson:

“Jonathan Dillon April 13-1861 Fort Sumpter [sic] was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon April 13-1861 Washington thank God we have a government.” Jonth Dillon

LincolnWatchBack_LincolnWatch_194wFor the remainder of his life, Abraham Lincoln carried this treasured timepiece, never aware of the hopeful message it contained. Through his secret inscription, Dillon provided a glimpse into the sentiments of an everyday American on a pivotal day in our nation’s history and turned a pocket watch into one of jewelry’s great mysteries.

Expert watchmakers have painstakingly recreated the design of the dial and position of the small second hand and they have even replicated the mysterious engraving on the back of the movement. The design of the hands is especially rare. The movement employs vintage-styled manual winding with 20 jewels and the case is plated in 14K gold to perfectly match the color of the original. The George Chatterton Watch Company has set a strict limited edition and Stauer is the only place that you can find this important piece of American history.

Visit Stauer to learn more about the George W. Chatterton Lincoln Pocket Watch