Classic watches, watchmaking, antique tools, history, vintage ephemera and more!

Learn about mechanical timepieces and how they work, the history of the American watch industry and especially all about the Elgin National Watch Company! Check back for new content daily.

Although this is technically a blog, the content is not generally in a time-based sequence. You can find interesting items throughout. Down the page some is an alphabetical word cloud of keywords used here. A great way to dig in is to look through those topics and click anything you find interesting. You'll see all the relevant content.

Here are a few of my favorites!

There are some large images on some posts, so that might impact your load times, bit I think you will find it worth the wait. Thanks for visiting!

Job Number 180017

This watch was sent back to me for being very hard to set. The movement is stem setting, it goes into setting mode by snapping out the crown.

Vintage American watches, usually, are what we call "negative setting" (modern watches use a "positive setting" design). On such a watch the pieces inside the neck of the case do the "snapping in and out", The watch movement actually has nothing to do with it.

These photos show the stem and the sleeve. The sleeve, with the stem inside, screws down into the
neck of the case. The crown then screws onto the thread part of the stem.

You can see a bump or ridge in the stem where the stem is bigger around. Below that is a much larger round section, and below that the shaft is square. Proportions vary from case to case, but almost all
vintage American watches have this.

The square part is what goes into the watch. It turns the winding arbor, which has a square hole in it. Nothing in the watch grips this square part, the size of the square part just has to match the hole in the arbor.

The next up, larger round section is what stops the stem from pulling out of the case. As it is pulled out through the sleeve, that fat part bumps into the tips of those spring like fingers of the sleeve and stops.

That next up bulge is what snaps to one side or the other over the fingers to make the stem snap in and out. To snap out, the stem has to be pulled so that part snaps over and past the sleeve tips.

The narrowness of the springy fingers of the sleeve and the size and abruptness of the ridge in the stem dictate how much "snap" the case has.

It important that this be just right. If the stem moves over the sleeve fingers too easily it will pop out into setting mode on it's own. Sleeve fingers are prone to breaking off leading to this situation.

There is no way to adjust the stiffness of the snap, as you can see. There is no screw to loosen or anything. Lubrication won't make any difference either as it will not
change the fingers of the sleeve spring.

My only choice is to trim a tiny, and I do mean tiny, amount off that ridge in the lathe.

This has to be done with care. You can't put metal back if too much is removed.

It's worth noting here that there is no standardization to the sizes of any of these parts. The stem's length, the diameter, length and position of all those sections of the stem, the thread pitch on the crown end, length of the sleeve fingers and the size and pitch of the threaded part of the sleeve, all of it, are all uniquely fit to each specific combination of the movement and the given pocketwatch case.

The one and only adjustment possible is that the sleeve can be set to differing depths in the neck of the case.

By making this slight change I can make the crown just a little easier to snap out and set the watch.

Job Number 160224

This is a grade 376, 16 size, 23 jewels, made about 1911

Veritas model, one of the best...
There's a natural diamond for the upper balance cap jewel. There's another one on the other side too, under the dial where no one sees it.

Q&A: Wind Indicators and Mainsprings

Q: A grade 454 Elgin with a wind indicate that reads a range of 0 to 40 hours only runs for about 36 hours on a full wind. Is this a mainspring issue?

A: With few exceptions, regardless of whether a watch has a wind indicator, the run times are designed-in the same, with the same requirements.

A watch stops when the power of the mainspring can no longer push through the friction of the mechanism, which is never zero. Exactly when this happens depends on many factors of the condition of the watch and the mainspring. The designers of the watch intended it to support fully winding and setting once a day, generally at the same time each day. And they intended that it still be running at that time. So "normal" is 24 hours plus some slack.

In my experience, the vast majority of usual and typical condition vintage watches run in the ballpark of 28-36 hours on a full wind.

As far as improving that...

The strength of the mainspring isn't the first thing to go after. If you think about it, all that's happening is the spring got turned X turns, it will "un-turn" X turns to move the hands. Power is slowly released by the escapement, but really it's just geometry; X turns in, X turns out. There
are no wasted turns. Even if a watch runs for 3 hours, no turns just disappear. It will just take that much fewer turns to wind it fully again.

In a perfect world. wasted power through friction would be close to zero. In this case the mainspring would need almost no strength to turn the mechanism. It's just about the number of turns. In practice, it really comes close to this. A fair condition watch, properly serviced, can be powered for well over 24 hours even by a nearly dead mainspring.

You can't gain more turns (and longer run time) unless you use a longer, thinner, and weaker spring, so that more turns can fit in the barrel.

A stronger mainspring, that turns the same about, may actually be problematic for an antique, that already has some wear on the mechanism. It will force the bearings to power through friction, more rubbing and grinding, on slightly damaged surfaces, causing more damage, where the watch would have otherwise stopped earlier.

A really unfortunate hack sometimes used in the old days by "botchmakers" was to get a watch to run by replacing a mainspring with a stronger one than intended - thus forcing it to tick. The replacement spring would be thicker, so fewer winds would fit in the barrel, so this was at the expense of run-time. Worse though, it was forcing the mechanism to run under more force than intended, potentially causing damage. Also, some original, actual, problem was left uncorrected. I've actually seen this in watches a few times.

But the short answer is that just because a watch has a wind indicator doesn't mean it's supposed to run that long. In fact, the wind indicator is one more little set of gears the thing has to power - more friction.

I usually set wind indicators so their hand is at zero when the watch is fully run down. In that way it likely does not fully wind up to its maximum reading. That way, the indicator truly shows run-time remaining as it was intended.

The Illinois Watch and Its Hamilton Years

I have just received this brand new, *five* volume set by Fredric Friedberg. Everything (everything) you ever wanted to know about the Illinois Watch Company and its relationship with Hamilton. An amazing resource!

Job Number 160291

This is another watch with a number of problems with the setting lever mechanism. For one thing one of the springs is broken. It's shown here with the replacement.
Here's an important difference in this watch from the vast majority of earlier American pieces. The movement has a male stem, which fits into a square hole in the arbor in the neck of the case. Most American pocketwatches are the exact opposite, having the square hole in the arbor in the movement.

Here is lever mechanism, under the dial. There are several parts here unique to this style of Elgin that were not used long - rare. Luckily, with a spring replaced, this one works quite well.

This case is one of those with a screw in the neck that hold the stem in. Luckily, I am able to easily get the movement in and out of the case without disturbing the screw. These screws are frequently in poor condition, and the threads in the soft metal case close to striped.

This watch is a grade 3, 16 size, 15 jewels, made about 1885

New Arrival...

New arrivals are piling up some. I'm behind on checking them in.

Job Number 170125

Here's a late model Hamilton, 992B, made about 1957.

Later American pocketwatches are interesting to work on because of how refined the designs are. Springs that needed to be stronger finally are. The steel seems higher quality. On this watch the difference between lever-set and stem set has been significantly simplified, no doubt reducing costs.

See the whole album for this project here.

See more Hamilton examples here.

Follow vintage watch service and repair projects here.

Find more content about vintage watches here.


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