Mozart Watch
Research Notes

1883 Poster
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Web Horology

Mozart DialMozart Movement

Mozart watches are one of the rarest and most unusual ever made in the United States. Invented by Don J. Mozart, who was born in 1820 in Italy, he migrated with his family to the United States at 3 years of age where his parents settled in at Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a watchmaker in the old country and reportedly practiced his trade in Boston. Young Don was mysteriously kidnapped to sea at the very early age of nine, spent three years at sea before he finally escaped from the ship, and eventually found his way back to the US after another four years. He never located his parents after searching the eastern United States and Italy.

At 34 Don settled down, married and opened a jewelry store in Xenia, Ohio. Finding that retail was not to his liking he began spending most of his time experimenting and developing his horological inventions. Soon he closed his store and relocated to New York, then moved on to Connecticut as he strayed from watches to begin development of his complicated clock of which he held several patents, August 1859 and December 1863. All of this resulted in failure due to clock manufacture difficulties.

After this brief interruption he moved again back to New York and his true love--watches. He invented a 3 wheel watch which was a cross between a lever and a chronometer. His idea was trashed while in Providence, RI and those involved began the New York Watch Company in a new location in Springfield, Mass circa 1866. Meanwhile Mozart moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan and incorporated the Mozart Watch Company in 1867. Historians report that 10 watches were originally assembled and cased by Mozart and Ernest Sandoz; later another 20 were finished and cased also. About 1870 Mozart soon was back at his jewelry store attempting other watch innovations but was committed to the county mental hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was deemed incurable from his breakdown and was committed to the state hospital where he died in 1877.

Just ten watches/movements have been recorded and seen by me, but only 4 remain in their original G. W. Ladd gold filled hunting cases. An additional example was reported to me years ago, but it has not come to light. While some movements are just company signed, others are named (presented) or satirically signed, such as the first one recorded and found by Major Paul Chamberlain (It's About Time author and described by him in detail in the 1919 Feb 5th Jewelers' Circular), signed on the back plate, "Made expressly for Clarke Cornwell, stock holder of the Mozart Watch Co. at a cost of $2500 under Don J. Mozart, patent Dec. 24, 1868, Mozart Watch Co., Ann Arbor, Mich., No 7," and on the cuvette "Chronometer escapement by Don J. Mozart, full jeweled, made for Clarke Cornwell, who is a chip off the old block, A.D. 1869" and another which is engraved "Tightwad." Some finds, including ones by yours truly, are legendary and will be discussed at another time. The most publicized discovery was made by the late Dave Olson, clock and watch collector, who captured his movement at the well known watch supply house of Ray Smith in downtown Los Angeles in 1956 for a reported $5.00! Word spread like wildfire, especially in So. California watch circles (a hot bed of early American watch activity during the 1950s and 1960s), and this discovery was well publicized at the time and later by Chas. Rosenberg (of Beverly Hills, Calif.) in his small watch identification booklet (American Watches and Their Identity). Eventually the gossip leaked back to Ray Smith and he forever refused to allow collectors behind the counter to rummage through his inventory. Sometime in the 1960s Russ Nelson also discovered one (for even less money) with the same number as an existing example in a museum. Word quickly spread that this one was stolen which proved to be untrue as Russ's lacked the name identity, other characteristics such as a different and a repaired click, plus the whereabouts of the other movement with the same serial number. Several others were discovered in shoe boxes with other watches; one, all original, was discovered in Long beach, California and another movement in an attic in Connecticut. It is interesting that 4 of the ten known examples were discovered or unearthed in So. California! It is interesting to note that the original cased one discovered in Long Beach was found along with a very low numbered and all original New York Watch Company stem wind with matching case number and various dollar watches. However, the greatest example, in pristine all original condition and presented to Chas Tripp, President of the Mozart Watch Co., was unearthed over 20 years ago from a bank vault in Colorado. This watch ranks of one of the greatest of all American watches -- for the serial number, historical significance, rarity, originality and condition.

All products are 18s key wind and set from the back, three quarter plate, gilt and were originally cased in fancy gold filled Ladd hunting cases of the period. Very few of these watches are known and they are totally of a unique American design. Thanks to Don Mozart for creating these fantastic watches and the stories associated with them. Collecting, researching and hunting these watches have been a thrilling, ongoing experience.

Jon Hanson

April 2008