The development of railroads and the development of watches and time standardization are closely linked. The US railroad watch standards expressively excluded Swiss watches, however, IWC was part of the Italian railroad history. But how did watches evolve to be indispensable equipment of railroaders?
As early as 400 B.C. time was measured by sun dials. As the sun reaches its zenith in different places at different points in time the sun dials showed a local time. At the advent of mechanical timepieces, most of them kept in monasteries, the mechanical timepiece was daily adjusted to the sun dial.
When industrialization started, for the first time in history huge volumes of crude materials and goods had to be transported over great distances. That fostered the development of railroads and railroad companies to run them. But to set up timetables and to run trains according to timetables is quite complicated using the different local times of the different stations in the railroad net. The longer the distances grew and the more places were integrated in the railroad network, the more the use of local time turned out to be impracticable.
Italy by order of the King in 1866 introduced the local time of Rome as the standard time to be used by all railroads and for all telegraph and postal services. So the turret clock of the local railway station in many places was the only clock showing the standard time, while the town hall and churches still showed the local time.
The watch industry benefitted a lot from the demand for more watches and clocks caused by the constantly growing railroad networks and the rail connections run on them. The demand was not only for pocket watches used by the train staff, but as well for turret clocks and for precision pendulum clocks as master clocks, regularly checked against the time signal of observatories transmitted via telegraph.
So we move on to railroad pocket watches, watches which in these days were indispensable equipment and today are sought after collectibles. Watches which can be clearly identified by their distinct style not made to be fashionable, but legible, accurate and sturdy. In Italy they were issued by the railroad companies and normally showed the logo of the respective railroad company and an inventory number. The conductor in chief was responsible for adhering to the timetable and the security of the train. For that reason, he was equipped with a pocket watch as well as with a lantern, a whistle, flags and detonators in order to stop other trains, when his train blocked the line.
The watch of the conductor in chief was set to the time provided by a master clock before the train service started and “transported” the exact time to smaller stations not integrated in the time signals by telegraph. Thus on all trains the train conductors in chief and all stations masters enjoyed synchronized time. Only that allowed to run the trains adhering to the time tables published.