I’ve been aware of Illinois watches, of course, but the brand always represented pocket watches, which have never interested me much. But at the NAWCC national conference last week, I came face-to-face with a wide range of Illinois wristwatches and became enamored. Yep, it was love at first sight.

 I’ve always liked Art Deco-style watches. The bold designs stand out from the more staid, professional-man-on-a-mission styles that became so prevalent later on. Plus the watches, especially the early ones, are often a bit larger, more in-line with current trend.

 But seeing all these Illinois timepieces in one place completely shifted my point of view on the brand. Every one I saw was unique and interesting. Chunky cases with rich engraving housed often spectacular movements under eye-catching dials.

I was prepared to buy myself a birthday gift at the show, and had already purchased a 1928 Hamilton Tonneau (which will be the subject of another post). But the seller (Mark Kolesinskas – no web site I’m afraid), also had a number of Illinois watches, including the one in the photo above.

I was immediately taken with the classic styling, sharp dial, and even the pocket watch-style crown. At just over 30mm wide without the crown, it sits well on my wrist. And there’s something kind of soothing about having a piece of 91-year-old machinery ticking away next to me. I can only hope I’ll be ticking as well when I’m the same age!

Illinois made this particular watch shortly after Hamilton bought the company (in 1927) and not long before the onset of the Great Depression

If you want to learn more about Illinois watches, I’d strongly recommend visiting The Illinois Watch, the site run by Fred Friedberg, whom everyone considers the world’s authority on Illinois. There you’ll be able to see sample pages (including the introduction) from his definitive four-book set, The Illinois Watch and It’s Hamilton Years. If you join the Vintage Deco Illinois Watches group on Facebook, you can even buy the set at a special price from Fred himself. If you’re looking for a less-expensive foray into the brand, Fred’s book The Illinois Watch: The Life and Times of a Great American Watch Company is less pricey if far less complete, and, by the author’s own admission, not as accurate as his later research as he dug deeper into the Hamilton acquisition.

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