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!

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.

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

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.

Click "Older Posts" just above for more, or use the archive links right here.

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