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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!

Antikythera

P7240130.JPGImage by orngejuglr via Flickrhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eUibFQKJqI

Take a look at this remarkable demonstration of a model of the Antikythera mechanism, the earliest known (150–100 BC) device for calculating the positions of known astrological bodies. It is a mechanical computer of astounding complexity.

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William Samelius Seeks Rare Clock Part

The following was run in horological publications all over the country in about 1947. I found it clipped, by my Grandfather, from a copy of Northwest Jewelry. William Samelius was my Grandfather's teacher. He always spoke very highly of "The Dean".

Seeks Rare Clock Part

Elgin, Ill. - A search among collectors' clubs throughout the nation for the missing part of a clock so rare that less than a dozen are in use, has been launched by William H. Samelius, director of Elgin
Watchmakers College and dean of American horologists.
Samelius seeks a jointed doll, not more than three inches high and seated in a swing. It served originally as the "bobbing pendulum" of a clock produced in 1886 by the Ansonia Clock Company, now of Ansonia, Conn.
He explained that, unlike an ordinary clock, the bobbing pendulum operates in a vertical motion with the weight suspended on a helical spring. It is kept in motion by a regular escapement through a lever connected with the spring, the lever getting its energy from the escape wheel.
In the ordinary clock - says Samelius - the pendulum is suspended with a thin leaf spring and the pendulum is kept in motion by a lever that receives its energy from the escape wheel.
"Since the original equipment was lost I have operated my bobbing clock with a weighted buddha," he said. "Now I have other uses for the buddha and I believe that some collectors' group may put me on the
trail of the missing doll."
He will exhibit the clock to the collectors' group of the woman's club of Highland Park, a Chicago suburb, to get underway the hunt for the missing doll.


William Samelius was particularly expert in unusual escapements and owned a large collection of escapement models.

As an aside, the same page on which the above article ran included this interesting note, a sign of those times...

Clock Workers Alert
Boston - The national convention of the Independent American Watch Workers union has adopted a resolution barring "Communists" from holding appointive or elective office in the organization.
The delegates, representing 8,000 watch workers in Waltham, Mass., Elgin, Ill., Lancaster, Pa., Lincoln, Neb., and San Francisco, also sanctioned plans for expansion of the union into the clock and repair field.


The Klockwerks Chronulator

http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2008/12/klockwerks_chronulator.html?CMP=OTC-0D6B48984890

Check out this novel clock design combining modern/retro gauges with a classic clock case design. The clock works, using analogue gauges, is available as a kit.
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Lip

Olive's First BathImage by Brian Hathcock via Flickrhttp://www.wired.com/gadgets/gadgetreviews/multimedia/2008/11/gallery_watches

Follow the link for some interesting images of classic examples of 1970s design styles in watches from French watch maker Lip.

I don't know why this this picture of a dog is here though, anymore than anyone else.
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The Marie-Antoinette

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 12:  A museum emp...Image by Getty Images via Daylifehttp://www.crunchgear.com/2008/11/17/ladies-and-gentlemen-the-marie-antoinette/

Follow the link above for some information on a really spectacular watch, the "Marie-Antoinette", and a forthcoming book. I look forward to learning more about the book. It should be an interesting subject.
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Elgin Advertising, 1921

The Chronometer

Modern Navigation dates from 1762, when John Harrison's Chronometer reached the West Indies, after a voyage of sixty-one days, with an error of only five seconds.

The rich prize which Parliament had offered for half a century - twenty thousand pounds sterling - went to Harrison.  His victory, after thirty years of struggle, hinged on his previous invention of the Compensating Pendulum.

Unlike the modern ship's-watch, his timepiece was not suspended in gimbals but carried on a pillow.

The world war set new standards in naval timekeeping.  The torpedo boat, with its terrific vibration, baffled America's experts till Elgin railroad watches were adapted to the service,  And the first acceptable ship's-watches supplied our navy in quantities sufficient to equip the U. S. Emergency Fleets were - as might have been expected -
Elgin Watches

The $150 Corsican in yellow gold - Three fifths actual size - An unretouched photograph

Install Fool-Proof Clock at Illinois

From The American Horologist magazine, October 1938

Install Fool-Proof Clock at Illinois

Champaign, Ill. - The field judge's stop-watch will be a thing of the past at Illinois football games from now on, following the installation of an electric clock in Memorial Stadium.


The time, by quarters, will be official to the fifth of a second, and spectators, as well as players and officials will be able to tell at a glance the time remaining.


The clock, with a dial 12 feet in diameter, will be operated from the sidelines. A horn will sound automatically when a quarter ends. 

From The "What is It?" Department

Here's a tool you don't see everyday. This is a watchmakers' lathe accessory known as a crown chuck. A pocketwatch crown is held in this chuck with the top facing inward (toward the stock). Caps are provided in a variety of sizes. These caps screw on holding the crown secure for lathe work on the stem end.

Why Your Watch Stops, Part 3 of 3

These images are from a vintage booklet titled "Why Your Watch Stops". See part one, here, and part 2 here.





Why Your Watch Stops, Part 2 of 3

These images are from a vintage booklet titled "Why Your Watch Stops". See part one, here and part 3 here.





Why Your Watch Stops, Part 1 of 3

These images are from a booklet titled "Why Your Watch Stops", publisher and date unknown. It's intended to assist the watchmaker in explaining problems to customers. It is probably from the late 1930s or early 1940s, judging from where I found it. The following text is from the first page. All the other pages contain only the picture, twelve pages in all.

INTRODUCTION
There are no more delicate or complicated mechanisms than the watch you carry in your pocket or on your wrist. The miniature machine shop, manufacturing and recording the fleeting minutes and hours is an amazing and facinating thing. Your watchmaker must spend many arduous years of apprenticeship before he is a qualified watchmaker. His work is a profession in the true sense of the word. Naturally such a marvelous and intricate mechanism occationally breaks down - due to rough handling, defective parts, inferior materials - or a combination of all these. You are interested in knowing what has caused your watch to stop. With this book your watchmaker can tell you - and at the same time show you what he must do to put it in good working order again. Give him your confidence - he is deserving of it.
Have Your Watch Cleaned and Oiled Once a Year . . . You Will Save Expensive and Annoying Breakdowns.







See also part 2 and part 3 for the rest of the images.


RGM 801

The latest Horological Times features a piece about an impressive new watch movement, notable not just for its workmanship, but for the fact that it is made in the United States. The new Caliber 801movement from RGM is the first watch movement made here in the US since the 1960s. There's some nice photography on their website. How much to buy one? Well, you could buy a pretty good used car instead. As they say, if you have to ask...

And while we're talking about RGM, be sure to take a look at the page on engine turning at the RGM website; here.

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Elgin Advertising, 1922

The Value of Time
By Kronos
Paintings by HARLOLD DELAY

"TIME!"  One of the shortest words in the Railroad Man's mother tongue - and doubtless the most tremendous.

A race with Time!  There you have the Railroad Man's summary of his very life.  For Time is his one great objective.  His shippers, his travelers place above almost every other consideration the Value of Time.

Speed and safety travel together only when Father Time himself leads the way.  For Father Time, on America's railroads, stands for that amazing development of Time-Service and train dispatching which alone make speed and safety possible.

For half a century, too, Father Time has stood for the finest railroad timepieces that money, brains and skill can produce -

Elgin Watches
THE RAILROAD STANDARD FOR HALF A CENTURY

Another Swiss Fake

Here's another example of a 19th century Swiss-made imitation of a high-grade American railroad watch.

Interestingly, this one is in a 20-year gold filled case with a decorative engraving on the back. In those times, watch manufacturers did not typically make cases, so someone bought a nice case for this movement. It's not unusual to see really good watches in cheap cases, and the reverse, as we see here.

Lastly, the watch is marked as adjusted for temperature. This adjustment is of course simply made up.

This movement, marked "Wall St", features fake jewels, which are really celluloid caps over normal pivots, non-functional external wheels, and a solid balance with phony "timing screws". It is also marked "heat and cold" which makes no sense what so ever.

At the center wheel, the brass ring meant to look like a jewel bushing is missing, showing that the jewels are just red disks sitting in recesses in the plate. Also, close examination reveals that the heads of the screws that would normally be holding the jewels in place, on this watch do not overlap the jewel bushings at all and so are also serving no purpose except appearance.


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Swiss Fakes

In the late 19th century, American made "railroad grade" watches were widely considered to be about the best available. In addition, the American market for watches was huge and growing. This led to the appearance of cheap, Swiss-made imports designed to look like high-grade American pocketwatches. Here's a nice example.

This watch's "manufacturer" always makes me laugh. The watch is marked "H. Milton W. Co", not to be confused with "Hamilton" (or is it?). It includes many of the features typical of these sorts of high-grade imitation watches.


Note the jewels. The watch is marked 21 jewels, however the "jewels" are actually just caps over non-jeweled pivots. The "jewel" for the center wheel is missing, making the actual pivot visible. And in fact, the "jewels" are likely to be celluloid. Next, note the balance wheel. It is one piece, not split and not bi-metallic. The timing screws are actually just pins sticking out from the wheel.

The regulator includes a spring that actually doesn't do anything except hold the regulator in one place. It's just there to look nice, and to imitate actual micro regulators.

There is no click on the "ratchet wheel". And in fact the exposed winding wheels are also just for show. The do not move.

Lastly, the watch is marked as adjusted for temperature. This adjustment is of course simply made up.

It's not unusual for these watches to include non-sensible claims on the movement, misspelled words, fake wheels and other humorous features. Meanwhile, the movements definitely resembled high-end American makes. The cases also often would include a picture of a steam engine, as was at the time a popular way to give a watch an association with quality.

All in all, not exactly a great watch! But it is an interesting piece of history.

Educational Service Notice

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1939

Educational Service Notice

All guilds and associations not using old slide catalog are herewith notified that same is obsolete, and orders cannot be properly filled from same. Secure the new Educational Service Directory at once and comply with all new and additional rulings.

Your National is progressing. Keep in step, and up to date! New ideas, programs and services are now available.

Additional new pamphlets available soon. Place your order now for copies of the following new pamphlets under formation and process.

"Auxiliaries." How to organize them and their purpose.
"How to Finance Guilds and States." 
"Meeting Programs." 
"What Officers Should Know." 

All are free pamphlets. Limited number being prepared.

Setting Mainsprings - Additional


In my last note here regarding mainsprings I mentioned an example of a spring that, although unbroken, is so badly set that it is locked fully into the shape of the mainspring barrel. Here is that sample.

Amazingly, this is also a spring for an 18 size Elgin pocketwatch. It is the exact same size and type of mainspring as those pictured in the prior post.
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Setting Mainsprings

The mainsprings provides the power than drives the watch. When a watch is wound, the mainspring, a flat ribbon of coiled steel, is coiled up around a center arbor. The force of the spring wanting to uncoil turns the mainspring barrel providing the initial motion of the watch's wheel (gears in other words) train. Were it not for the escapement, the watch train would rapidly run, spinning the hands, as the mainspring unwinds and turns the barel.

Over time, a couple of years of continuous use perhaps, this compression/expansion cycles cause the mainspring to give up some of it's force of wanting to return to it's original shape. Such a spring is said to be "set." In the most extreme cases , a spring can actually suddenly set into a fully coiled tight state. Although this is rare, some setting is notable in a mainspring even fairly quickly as it is in use. Watches in daily use need a new mainspring on a regular basis.

Shown here is an old spring and a new spring for an 18 size Elgin pocket watch. Note that the new spring turns back on itself at the outside end. This curve compensates for the fact that the force provided by the mainspring varies from when it is fully wound to nearly unwound. This variation can impact timekeeping over the watch's run-time.

Another Classic

I posted a new watch for sale today; a big 18 size with an early serial number. Here's the details...
http://www.elgintime.com-a.googlepages.com/watchforsale22

In The Family

This weekend I had the privilage of doing an overhaul, for a customer, on watch last cleaned by my Grandfather, Everett Sexton. The watch bears his mark in back of the case. The work was done in the early 1970s, judging from the mark's number.
The watch is a nice 17 jewel Hamilton. It was brought in Clark's Jewelry (formerly Overjourdes' when my Grandfather owned it) in Coeur d'Alene.

Elgin Grade 303


The Elgin 12 size, 7 jewel grade 303 is a work horse. This one was made about 1924.

Geting Started: Watch Crystal Codes

This website is for information, tips, odds and ends, and thoughts on vintage watches and watchmaking. Expect to see a mostly content here regarding Elgin National and other American makes. That's the area where I focus most of my attention.
I'm not sure of the best way to present things like this (ordinary web site? Blog? Online document?). There are a lot of choices these days so I may use more than one now and then, to see what works best.
Anyway, to get started, here is some information on watch crystal codes.

* * *



Watch crystals are categorized using a cryptic code of letters and numbers the meanings of which may seem completely arbitrary at first. It may surprise some, but there are actually meanings to these codes.
Firstly, the basic shape of the crystal is given by a letter. The following letters are used in one common code system, used for G-S Flexo crystals.

SSquare
RRectangular with cut corners
T"Tonneau", two straight, parallel sides (short) the other two (long) convex
QSquare with cut corners
C"Cushion", four convex sides
DDiamond or an elongated octagon
NOctagon
OOval
HHexagonal
W"fancy" barrel-shaped
QSquare, cut corners
V"Rococco", concave corners
YSimilar to T but with convex short sides instead of long sides
ZRectangular with concave sides
HRound
F"Fancy" - any other shape, generally irregular such as hearts
These letters designations on their own refer to flat crystals. Crystals fitting a curved watch use an 'M' in front of the above letter. A 'C' in front the 'M' and the shape code indicates a "cylinder" crystal. Cylinder crystals are formed such that their thickness is even from end to end, making them "hollow" in the back. This allows extra space for the watch hands while the top follows the shape of the watch, usually curved. A cylinder designation with a flat crystal (non-'M') does not make sense.
These letters (one, two or there) are followed by a number indicating the specific crystal.
Here's a few examples:
MT2005 - A tonneau crystal, not flat but curved, number 2005
MS1975 - A square crystal, curved, number 1975
CMS2050 - A Square crystal, curved, and cylinder
There are a few other labels, types and designators found on watch crystals such as "Durex", which is a extra thick. Also, lines of plastic crystals ("unbreakable") frequently prefix a 'P' to the entire code. Watch-Craft and Rock-Craft are quite common crystals these days, but they use shape codes different from the above.
This is not the only crystal designation system. Many manufacturers used their own systems which were either completely different, or included additional shape codes. This is inconvenient, but to me it is one of the fascinating things about vintage watches. These systems where early attempts at standardizations that we take for granted today. The systems are cryptic because they were created in a time long before computers. At that time, having any system at all was a major selling point for watch companies, watch parts houses and suppliers ("jobbers").
Finding the right crystal for a particular watch can still be a challenge even with this system. But that's another topic...

Elgin Advertising, 1925

I could not find a watch that agreed with me until I secured an Elgin

One of a series of little biographies or Elgin Watches
...Written by Eminent Elgineers

It was Oscar Wilde who wrote the "a man will kill the thing he loves," and while I would not care to confess to being a time-killer, I must admit that I have submitted my watches, for which I had a real affection, to many punishments, including the water test.

For in my younger days, I served as coxswain of an eight-oared shell, and in one dramatic practice spin on the Schuylkill, the boat was swamped and the crew made a most inglorious exit from the water.  I swam ashore, but the watch that went overboard with me - my father's and a fine English make - was never quite the same.

My second watch was a gift from my mother on my twenty-first birthday.  It served me faithfully for several years and then for reasons best known to itself, suddenly lost its reputation for unerring accuracy.

With no little reluctance I discarded it, and purchased an Elgin which, decade in and out, has never miscounted a minute that I've been aware of.  It has won my regard as a true friend, on which I can rely almost to the second. 
by John Drew
ELGIN
THE WATCH WORD FOR ELEGANCE & EFFICIENCY

Elgin Advertising, 1936

"Family tradition says I'll wear an Elgin home from commencement"
writes Stuart Hotchkiss, Yale '36

"Land ho...  Marsteinen Light dead on!"  And Stuart Hotchkiss navigated the schooner "Vagabond" to the finish of the greate Newport-Norway race of 1935.

Twenty-five days on the the Atlantic...  3,600 miles logged...  the longest, most hazardous ocean race ever sailed!  Here was a record of which his ancestors who captained the fleets of Salem a century ago would have been proud.

Now young Hotchkiss is graduating from Yale.  "I'm looking forward to receiving an ELGIN at commencement," he says.  "Like the sea and sailing; ELGINS have been a tradition with us for generations."

And no graduate could wish for a finer gift than Elgin!  Study the newest models and you will agree.

There is a bracing freshness about them.  A sturdy, well-conditioned appearance that invites confidence.  And on the technical side, they are perfection itself!

ELGIN is the one place in all the world where master watchmakers join in perfect partnership with modern scientists.  Together they plan, create, and completely finish each ELGIN movement under a single roof.

The result is timepieces that incorporate many watchmaking advances...  accuracy-checked to the standard of the stars by an electrical timing device, developed in cooperation with ELGIN craftsmen.

Choose an ELGIN for your graduate now.  The new models are at your jeweler's.   Prices: $17.50 to $500.

A. 17 jewel "Crusader", 14 K. natural solid gold case.  Raised gilt figure dial.  Model 1823.  $65.00
B. 17 jewels, 14 K. natural gold filled case.  Raised figure dial.  Leather strap.  Model 1925.  $47.50
C. Model 1989, combination steel and rolled gold plate case.  Gold filled band.  Curved dial.  $27.50
D. Pocket watch with 17 jewel adjusted movement.  17 K. natural solid gold case.  Model 556.  $75.00
E. 15 jewel "Crusader", 14 K. natural gold filled case.  Curved gilt figure dial.  Model1845.  $42.50
F. 15 jewel strap watch.  The case is natural gold filled.  Embossed figure dial.  Model 1929.  $37.50
G. Model 1464, in smartly styled natural gold filled case.  The dial figures are embossed.  $24.75


ELGIN
MARK OF AMERICAN LEADERSHIP SINCE 1865

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