In order for a student to graduate, it was prerequisite that he (or she) first produce a masterpiece watch. Except for the very early years, each watch had a serial number assigned and it was engraved on the movement, along with the student's name and a reference to the CHI.
Two categories of students created watches. The first, "A-1"s, were the individuals Playtner considered "born mechanics, young men who are artist mechanics by nature and endowed for the highest positions…" Their watches were made from raw material and all the parts were constructed by hand with the exception of the dial, mainspring, hairspring and jewels.
The second type were "A"s which Playtner defined as "young men with at least average ability and capacity that cannot elect to do the work of group one." The creation of their watches was considered slightly easier in that they were produced from an ebauche movement so the individual had to only contribute to the design, not start from scratch. The serial numbers assigned to their masterpieces had a suffix "A" appended to the number to differentiate them from the "A-1" creations.
With the exception of the first few years, the type of watch produced was left solely to the discretion of the student. I have found examples of precision levers, tourbillions, chronometers, hunting-case levers and repeaters and no two are exactly alike.
Of the approximately 500 students who attended the CHI, it is estimated that only about 50 masterpiece watches were produced. Through advertising circulars I have been able to find photographs and/or photo engravings of about 35 but in some cases the details are unclear. One interesting point to note is that while the majority of "A-1" watches were created in the mid-to-late 1890s, the bulk of the "A" watches were produced between 1902 and 1906. I have been able to compile a fairly detailed list of "A-1" students and their associated masterpiece number, but to date I am missing the majority of "A" watchmakers whose masterpiece numbers run between 5A and 21A.
Some of these watches are still owned by the families of the students but most are in the possession of watch collectors in the USA. While the collectors know the true value of these watches and how unique they are, the families have little idea of their importance to the history of horology and the history of Canada. It is my hope that relatives of these graduates will see this website and contact me so I can tell them more about their relative's impact on the world of watchmaking.
I can be reached at CHI_Information@yahoo.ca. Please note I would be willing to pay for good quality photographs of any masterpiece watches.