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!

Look, No Hands!

Here we have an odd watch.

This is a zero size, 7 jewel movement, Elgin grade 173. The odd thing is that it has been mounted in what seems to be, outwardly at least, as 12 size case. As a result it has no second hand. It has a metal factory dial, marked Elgin, with no sub-dial, no seconds marks and no hole for where a second hand would be, if this were a 12 size movement.

This watch movement was made about 1897, however the style of the case and dial indicate the late 1920s, or early 1930s. The inside back is marked "RADIO", and 14 kt gold filled, 20 years.

Obviously this piece needs some help. It's been in my to-do queue for awhile.

Video of a 16 Size Elgin Pocketwatch

Found on youtube, enjoy...

Elgin Grade 303

The Elgin grade 303 is a 12 size, 7 jewel watch; a size and style popular in the 1920s.

This one was made in about 1924 and features "fancy" hands, and a metal dial in gold in unusually good condition. I don't know exactly how they made these dials but they usually don't hold up so well, even when the crystal is fine.

Use of Complicated Watches Increases

From Horology magazine, July 1938

Use of Complicated Watches Increases

The figures quoted by Swiss Industry and Trade for watch exports show a decided increase in the use of complicated watches. During the first two months of the year exports of pocket chronographs increased from 17,000 to 19,000 and exports of wrist chronographs jumped from 11,000 during the first two months of 1937 to 18,000.

This would indicate that instead of being restricted to a few scientific or industrial applications these watches are finding increasing uses among sportsmen. Wrist chronographs, in particular, are becoming very popular.


It's always nice to get positive feedback. Getting a watch ticking again after many idle decades is the most rewarding part of the work.

* * *

dateMon, Dec 14, 2009 at 7:23 AM

Dear Jeff,

You may remember rebuilding my father's Elgin watch a year or so ago. I am very proud of it and show it off whenever I can.

I attended a luncheon last week and sported my Elgin in a vest pocket with a gold chain. It attracted a lot of attention and I was able to tell several people about how I found you, your background and how you performed your magic on my watch.

I keep my watch on a Victorian watch stand on a desk in the living room and each time I pass it I say, "Thank You Jeff".

I want to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.


New Elgin Portfolio Sees "Value" as Key to Christmas Sales

From The American Horologist magazine, October 1938

New Elgin Portfolio Sees "Value" as Key to Christmas Sales

Points Out Excellence of Elgin Holiday Values and Advantages of Tying-in With Pre-Christmas Drive. Offers Many New Tie-up Materials

A colorful and interesting portfolio, setting forth Elgin plans for the Christmas season, will soon be in the mail, according to advices received from the Elgin National Watch Company. This booklet, entitled "View Your Fortune in the Magic Sphere," analyzes selling trends, shows how the Elgin 1939 line keys in with the major trend, illustrates Elgin national advertising, and offers a wealth of display and promotional assistance.

According to "View Your Fortune," more and more consumers this year are seeking top values and finding them in products with top names. In keeping with this trend, Elgin points to the fact that its 1938-9 line includes the "finest values in 74 years." Particular mention is made of the new 15/0 Lord Elgins, the new Lady Elgins, the new, popular priced I5-jewel semi-baguettes, the new 17-jewel, 15/0 models, and the new low prices on 7-jewel semi-baguettes.

Millions of magazine messages, concentrated in the pre-Christmas season, will carry the Elgin value story throughout the nation. Full color pages will be employed exclusively. And in two of the advertisements the merchandise appeal will be enhanced by the use of fascinating personalities in whose families Elgin has been traditional for generations.

Elgin promotional assistance to jewelers this Fall includes an interesting new window display idea, free newspaper mats, individual advertising by the Advertising Department of the Elgin National Watch Company, a unique "quick-action" Santa Claus mailing piece, folders, post cards, movie slides, and radio commercials. 

Elgin Advertising, 1925

Santa Claus' Daughter Gets The Best Of All

When Santa Claus has finished his job of remembering the rest of the world, he drops quietly around to the jewelry store.

And There, unhurried and unjostled, he requisitions the Christmas joy for Mrs. Claus and the younger Clauses.

Some folks think of the jewelry store as the place to go, chiefly, for those gifts where expense is the second consideration.

But not Santa Claus!  That canny old gift expert knows better than that!

He judges the worth of a gift not alone by what it costs, but by what it yields - in service and satisfaction...  And long ago, he discovered that a dollar goes farther at the jewelry store than it does anywhere else, in procuring enduring usefulness and pleasure.

For the jeweler deals in imperishables - in Gifts That Last, like the fidelity of a fine friendship, for as long as life itself!

Specializing in jewels, the jeweler sees to it that every article in his stock is truly a jewel.  And whether it be for adornment or for utility, it must measure up to jewel-standards, in craftsmanship and integrity.

He who must coddle a lean purse or she who may indulge a fat one, both will find there the gifts they would most like to give - comfortably priced within their respective Christmas budgets.

But whatever the price, the quality is always jeweler's quality - uncompromising in its fine standards.

Ask Santa Claus.  He knows!

Life Membership Card Presented to W. H. Samelius by Indians Association

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

Another Creative Watch Fix

Here's a different solution to the problem of a pin missing from the movement on an old style Elgin 18 size watch.

This type of watch has, normally, one case screw on one side and a pin on the other that fits into a hole in the case. On this watch the pin is long broken off. Long, long ago a watchmaker placed a case washer on the screw, which would not normally be needed but it makes the screw tighter, and on one of the plate screws there is a flat piece of steel, crudely formed, acting as a second washer. The movement isn't very secure, but it is at least prevented from falling out.

I could have replaced the pin in the plate, but this is the sort of vintage "repair" I like to leave intact on an old watch. It's part of the history and character of the old pieces.

Elgin 6 Size

Here's a nice Elgin 6 size, grade 206, 7 jewels.
Made about 1899.

Creative Repair

One of the interesting things about restorations on very old watches is the history of watchmakers that have gone before. In the early years, even with factory made watches, it was much more cost effective to fabricate or repair a part than to obtain a factory original replacement. Basic materials were also sometimes in short supply. Watchmakers kept quite a bit less material on hand than one might expect.

I'm always finding creative repairs in watches. As these are part of the history and character of the piece, I feel it's important to keep those repairs in place, if at all possible. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it does not.

This first photo shows a balance cock from an 18 size Elgin pocket watch. The hairspring was intact on this watch, but it had slipped out of the stud. In this photo the stud is still locked into the cock by it's set screw, at the end in the lower part of the photo. The reason the hairspring slipped out is also clear on inspection. In stead of the usual brass pin slipped into the stud with the spring end and finished off on each end, some creative watchmaker used a sliver of wood! In fact, the sliver of wood is still there, in the stud. Well, that's not going to work...

This second photo shows another interesting repair on a different watch, also an 18 size Elgin. The photo show the dial side of the lower plate. This watch is a particularly old key-wind model that has one case screw. On the other end of the movement from where that screw goes, a pin sticks out, which mates to a hole in the case. The movement is thus held secure from two sides.

On this watch it appears the the pin broke off or was worn away. The watchmakers has soldered a small finger of steel into the edge on the dial side of the plate to replace the pin.

My Grandfather always said, you never know what you will find in a watch until you get in there.

Find more "creative repairs" here.

Question Box

From Horology magazine, April, 1939

Question Box

Regulating Watches

Editor Horology, Dear Sir:
I enjoy reading this magazine very much and cannot praise it too highly.

Would like to ask you why the Swiss factories do not give the watchmakers a break. They fill all the holes in the balance wheels with screws so that the watchmaker can not make any change in the weight of the wheel for regulating, except by placing washers or substituting larger screws, which detract from the appearance of the wheel. Many times there is hardly any clearance for larger screws. Would like to have you answer this in the Question Box.
C. O. A.

Answer: Factories maintain that the horologist should never have to change screws for the purpose of regulating a watch. It is quite proper to make a slight change in weight with balance washers.

These, however, should not be larger in diameter than the heads of the screws.

The horologist should always bear in mind that adding or removing a pair of screws may seriously affect the temperature adjustment of the watch.

Of Broken Mainsprings

When working on an old watch it's not unusual to find a broken mainspring. Usually, they break in one, or maybe two places. This can happen simply because of age, and with the stress of being coiled and uncoiled many times.

Sometime though you find something more like the spring shown here in this 18 size, key-wind Elgin. The top of the barrel was loose and came right off with the bridge.

Yep, I think it'll need a new spring!

Manistee Pocketwatch, Part Two

I've posted some images of a very strange Manistee pocketwatch here:


Can anyone offer an explanation for this movement?

Manistee Pocketwatch

I'm currently working on a 16 size watch by the Manistee Watch Company. It's an interesting piece for several reasons. For one thing, the lower plate is actually two pieces, shown here, held together by three very short, wide screws. The minute wheel is fixed between them. Perhaps this made the parts simpler to machine? It's not clear. More on on this project later... These photos are taken before any work has been done.

Making a Fly Cutter

From Horology magazine, November, 1937

Making a Fly Cutter

HOROLOGY, Los Angeles, Calif.

I have read with interest your notes from time to time in HOROLOGY on the making and use of fly cutters used in watch wheel cutting.

For a number of years I have used a type of fly or wheel cutter that has proven very satisfactory and during a recent chat with Major Paul M. Chamberlain he told me that others might be interested and suggested that I submit the idea for your approval.

I first cut a steel blank about 1/8" in thickness from a round piece of drill rod 5/8" diameter, using a cutting off tool in slide rest so as to leave the sides true and smooth.

Next drill and ream a hole through the blank the exact diameter of the wheel cutter arbor which you intend to use, place the round blank on the arbor and tighten the collars down hard, next put arbor with blank in lathe and form the outside with graver or tool in slide rest, making the disc or blank exact shape of wheel you wish to cut. In the case of a hardened steel winding gear I have used the old wheel as a form tool in the final finishing of the cutter, this is done, by clamping the old wheel with a small toolmaker's clamp on to a piece of steel that will fit in the tool post of your slide rest then run the old wheel up on the blank letting it scrape off any surplus material.

After the cutter is formed, remove same from arbor and enlarge hole .008 to .010 over arbor diameter. A portion of the cutter is then ground away making the cutting edge (see sketch for detail).

The cutter is then hardened and tempered and reground on the cutting edge mentioned in previous paragraph, same is now ready for use and is replaced on the arbor and while collars are tightened the cutter is held off center as far as it will go caused by looseness on arbor towards the cutting edge. This gives the cutter its proper clearance or backing off, on account of this type of construction the slight drag on back of cutter gives a nice burnishing action which really makes a smoother job than regular type relieved cutter. The cutter can be ground indefinitely, always replacing same on arbor so that cutting edge will be on high side.
Yours very truly, 
(Signed) H. C. WING, 
Greenfield, Mass.

17 Jewel Illinois, The Banker

Here's a nice 12 size, 17 jewel Illinois.

"The Banker"
Note the spade hour and minute hands don't match the second hand. The second hand is original. This watch had been missing its crystal for awhile and had developed significant rust issues. The hour and minute hands had to be replaced.

A Nice Elgin Wristwatch

This man's Elgin watch belonged to a woman's father. She regularly wears it. The style of many vintage men's watches work well for women today. I suppose there is some irony in this in that for a long time, prior the WWII, wristwatches were considered overly feminine by many men.

The owner reported that the watch had been to a jeweler a couple of times but still did not run well.

I found an issue with the hairspring , and improper oil - much too much here, none there.

Suggestion Department

From Horology magazine, November, 1937

Suggestion Department

A subscriber, Leonard P. Coggin, of Philadelphia, writes "I have two suggestions that I'd like to make at this time.

"The first idea is for you to create a new department in your magazine, a suggestion department. This department will advertise that it will publish any shop wrinkles that readers will send in.
If you like you can offer a monthly or annual prize to stimulate interest in this new feature. Suggestions may be little gadgets that help the watchmaker in his work, easy short-cuts, methods or what have you.

"The second suggestion is this, 'Why don't you publish an annual index to your publication?' This will make it very much easier to locate an article in a back issue." 

Thank you, Mr. Coggin. Your suggestions are most welcome. HOROLOGY has decided to carry them out and at this time formally announces the new Suggestion Department. It will appear for the first time in the December issue. This department will be open to all horologists who have any contributions of a practical nature which will be of assistance in every day work. A prize of five dollars will be awarded monthly for the best suggestion.

All contributions should be addressed to HOROLOGY, Suggestion Department, 747 South Hill Street, Los Angeles. Whenever possible a sketch, drawing or photograph should accompany same.
HOROLOGY reserves the right to publish any or all of the suggestions submitted and will be the sole judge of the prize winning suggestion.

The matter of an index is being given consideration and a decision will be reached soon.

Question Box

From Horology magazine, November, 1937

Question Box

Tightening Cannon Pinions

Dear Sir:

Recently I happened to pick up a copy of a July 1936 issue of HOROLOGY. I was much impressed with the article on Systematic Repairing and the explanations on the cannon pinion friction. In my opinion that article would be complete if recommendations of tools used in tightening a cannon pinion were given.

I would also like to know something about the hollow center pinions which were not considered in that article. To get the right friction on the pin which goes through the center has always troubled me. I have been using the triangular punch for tightening the pinion on the pin. For the center friction I roll the pin between two coarse files. Some watchmakers insert a bristle of a brush in the center. What would you recommend?

L. D.

Answer: The use of the triangular punch for tightening a cannon pinion cannot be too strongly condemned. Aside from the mutilation of the pinion the friction thus created is never lasting or smooth. Even if these three nicks should survive long enough to be pushed on the post, the first few times the hands are set they will wear off. For tightening an ordinary cannon pinion there is nothing better than the cutting plier illustrated in Figure 2. The edges of this plier are very thin enabling one to get into the narrow groove of a small pinion without burring the square sides of the groove. Of no less importance is the adjustable stop screw, an absolute assurance that the pinion will not be cut in two. In addition one should always insert a round steel broach in the pinion while tightening it.

The hollow center pinion, a cross section of which is shown in Figure 3, needs a somewhat different treatment. The insertion of a bristle or rolling the pin between files is unmechanical and is not recommended, even if it does work after a fashion. In case the center pin is badly damaged or hopelessly small nothing short of a new pin will do. It is possible, however, to place the pin in the staking tool on a flat stump and tap it with a flat punch as shown in Figure 4. After it is thus flattened it may be stoned to size either in the lathe or by holding in a pinvise on the filing block.

Open Forum

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942


NOTE (This column is ~ours uncensored or edited. We assume no responsibility for statements made.)
By J. H. HUFF. Flagstaff, Arizona

"Just a word in addition to the article in the November issue of the AMERICAN HOROLOGIST by Mr. Pentcheck regarding the method of finding the troubles between the fork and roller table.

"His method is very good so far as he went, but there is at least one more test that I think should be made.

"In performing all the tests he gives, it is very evident that all are made with the watch lying flat on the desk D. D. postion. Now should the roller jewel be so low as to just clear the gua,rd pin all would be O. K., but due to the fact that the pallet arbor has or may have more end shake than does the balance staff, then in turning the watch in the D. U. position the roller Jeweler could then come in contact with the guard pin either stopping the watch or rubbing enough on the pin to retard the motion of the balance and impair the possibility of regulating.

"In the December issue I see where one asks how to remove finger marks from a cleaned movement. I say, don't put them there in the first place.  What is watch paper made for? Some will say they cannot use it in handling small movements. Why not? I do, if one will use it on all work it will soon become very easy. In touching the balance with a finger take a piece of small paper and fold it over the end of the finger holding it in place with an elastic band."

Elgin Advertising, 1925


Soon I called it my "old reliable" - and in forty years it has never failed me

One of a series of little biographies of Elgin Watches

An experience as a commuter is very apt to give any man a high respect for an accurate watch.  For a commuter soon learns that a fickle time-piece may lead to calamity; such as a lost business engagement in town or a cold dinner at home.

While practicing law in the city of Chicago, I was commuting each day from Wheaton, Illinois, and an erratic watch was a source of frequent apprehension to me.

One day - in 1885 - I missed my train.  And it was then that I decided to acquire an Elgin - purchasing it from Giles & Company, then a Chicago landmark.

It was a Number Fifty model in a heavy gold case, recommended to withstand even the rigors of commuting...  Soon I called it my "old reliable" - and in these forty years it has never failed me.

It still keeps correct time, and is always "on call" when my present-day watch - a much handsomer and thinner Elgin - is sent away for cleaning.

To File Flat

From American Horologist magazine, October 1938

To File Flat

By W. H. SAMELIUS, Chairman, National Technical Board

To FILE flat and have the file marks look as if the piece worked upon had been brushed, is an art acquired only by practice. Clock work requires sometimes the use of a file on large pieces, but watches for repairs seldom call for any large pieces; but the principle of filing is to be learned by beginning on large work. A visit to any large machine shop and noting the operations of expert filers will give better ideas of the manner of holding and operating a file.

Good practice would be obtained by making a lathe something after the pattern of the ordinary brass Swiss lathe, and even if unsuccessful in making a lathe adapted to watch work, it could be used for polishing. Take your casting as it comes from the brass foundry and screw it firmly in the vise, standing up before your work,· holding the file by the handle in the right hand and guiding the end with your left; hold it flat and push forward with some vigor.

Keep it flat by feeling, and note the cut it makes. Lift it entirely off the piece you are working on when you draw back, and note the effect, which will enable you to adjust your hands so as to make the next stroke more correctly. Be careful to avoid an oval motion. The tapering shape of many large files is such that by simply pressing the file down on your work you can give it just the shape of the taper of the file; but this is to be avoided, and only practice will teach how it can be done. The eye must be frequently called in use, so as to have sides parallel and corners square. After all the casting marks are removed and the article has been shaped and reduced to proper size, a smoother-cut file is used to remove the coarser file marks and get nearer to size. When this is completedcare being constantly exercised to keep the file marks running in one uniform direction-use a flat piece of Scotch stone with water to remove the file marks, after which a flat buff with tripoli.

Cocks and watch bridges are generally turned out with a lathe, and finished flat by machinery, although we have seen some very nicely filed out and polished.

The peculiar matted appearance is produced by acids; and when plates were fire gilted, before the application of electro gilding, the process of fire gilding increased this matted appearance.
Having learned the knack of flat filing, to reduce the practice to small work a good plan will be to put such small pieces as clicks, ratchets, ratchet plates, etc., on a small white pine or basswood block, and by pressure imbed them in the wood. Sometimes a few pins made with the pin vise, drawn around the edges pretty deep into the block, greatly aid; and some articles can be better handled by holding in the fingers and passing the file over. To remove file marks from steel, use oil stone, either in slips or by rubbing on a large flat stone. Much depends on the piece you have to work upon. 1 In these days when all kinds of material is so abundant, it is not often necessary to make a new piece from a steel wire or bar, but if you find a piece of steel material that will nearly answer, don't undertake to complete the fit by filing until you have drawn the temper; it will cost you less for files, broaches, etc., to do this, and besides save time.

To be sure you will have to re-harden, temper and finish, for you can't get a nice polish on soft steel.  After you have the knack of carrying the files so as to do flat work, it will not be necessary to stand; but for anything large the standing position is always to be preferred; there is something in the swaying motion of the body when standing that enables you to execute better work, and on small work you can bring the principle to bear when sitting at the bench. 

A mechanical eye is almost an absolute necessity for a watch repairer. vVhenever you have a piece to make it should be made so that if the man who made tbe watch was to examine it he could not detect the piece replaced unless by superior excellence. All the botch III akers of the trade have no idea of finish-their only idea is put in something that will work, no matter how unsightly. 

Elgin Advertising, 1924 - the Time Observatory

The Old Homestead of Father Time

All that we know about time the astronomers have taught us.  The only absolute measure of time is the stately procession of the stars as the revolution of the earth brings them across the zenith.

But, for convenience in the everyday affairs of men, "time" must always mean what our watches tell of the passing human hours, minutes and seconds.

So one of the great practical services of the astronomer today is to contribute star-time precision to the making of watches for men and women.

And as the Elgin Professional Watch Makers are never satisfied to do anything by halves, years ago they established a Tim Observatory at the Elgin Watch Factory, for the sole purpose of taking star observations.  And so supplying the most precise time standards to the making of Elgin Watches.

All through the Elgin Factories the electric sounders are reproducing the ticks of the Observatory Master Clock, checked by star-time.

Every process in adjusting and timing the Elgin Railroad Watch carried by the conductor and engineer of your morning train was performed in the light of these standards.

So, too, with your own pocket watch; your Elgin Strap Watch; the Elgin Wrist Watch you gave your wife or daughter.  Not a single watch ever comes from Elgin gains in professional timekeeping character from the work of the Elgin Time Observatory.

Nor is this all.  To every man and woman in the Elgin factories, the Time Observatory is an inspiration - a constant reminder of their obligation to all who buy Elgin Watches.

The watch-owner, too, feels the inspiration in higher understanding of timekeeping standards, and the desire for better and better watches.

And the Time Observatory of the Elgin Watch comes in a peculiar and literal sense to be the "Old Homestead of Father Time."
The Professional Timekeeper

The new model - extra thin Elgin "Streamline" - 17 Jewel adjusted, in white or green engraved, or plain polished green, 14-Karat gold-filled case - $40.  In attractive gift boxes.

Model of 200-Inch Telescope to be Displayed

From Horology magazine, July 1938


The planets, moon and stars, will be brought "down to earth" at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on San Francisco Bay.

To the edification of millions of visitors to the Hall of Science at the $50,000,000 World's Fair of the West, the whole galaxy of the universe will be brought down to the level of the human eye by means of a vast astronomical exhibit planned by the University of California.

Center of the display, which will be a part of the University's $1,500,000 array of exhibits, will be a model of the 700ton telescope now being installed on Mount Palomar in Southern California.  It will be built exactly to scale, with the 200-inch mirror being duplicated by an eight-inch facsimile, and every other feature being faithfully reproduced in proportion.

The telescope will be flanked on either side by a series of transparencies giving close-ups of the planets and other heavenly bodies. One panel will show the moon as if it were brought within 24 miles of the earth. Other panels will show the relation of time to the planets and still another set of transparencies will show the relation of astronomical bodies to everyday human life.

When completed, the Mount Palomar telescope is expected to open new lines of exploration in the universe. The Exposition model will show exactly how this is to be done, at least a year before it is actually accomplished.

American Machinist Gear Book

There's a new book available on line from Google that may be of interest to watchmakers, or anyone interested in the design of gears and pinions.

The American Machinist Gear Book, 1922.



Master Watchmakers' Association of Oregon

From The American Horologist magazine, May 1937

Meeting of April 6th, 1937

"The Master Watchmakers Association of Oregon held an open meeting in the Chamber of Commerce Building on April 6th, 1937, at 6:30 P.M. A regular dinner was served to about forty watchmakers. The meeting was opened informally with President Drews in the chair. Other officers present were: N. S. Conger, Vice President; L W. Ross, Treasurer; W. W. Siemen of Gresham, Director; L. W. Young, Director; Wm. R. Johnson, Director; Harold Sabro, Secretary.

"President Drews stated that nominations for candidates to attend the convention in Chicago were in order: N. S. Conger nominated Harold Sabro; L. W. Hugett nominated R. E. Drews. The president asked that not too many candidates be nominated. The roll was called by the secretary.

"The resolutions by Sabro, sent to our national association: Uniform ledger and dependable radio time signals from Arlington were adopted.

"Collins Garfield was next declared the most popular in our group and was presented with a Sunbeam Mixmaster, donated by Butterfield Brothers for the occation. The moving picture "Time," loaned to the association for the evening by the Elgin Watch Company, was then shown and was very well received. Talks were given by H. E. Anderson, R. E. Drews, Harold Sabro and L. W. Hugett, after which the meeting adjourned in good followship."

Question Box

From Horology magazine, November, 1937

Question Box

Rusty Hairsprings

Dear Sir:

Would you please send me information or print in your Question Box about care of hairsprings regarding rust. I believe this would be of interest to other horologists close to the sea coast as I am.
1. Is there any way to treat a hairspring so it will not rust when used in a damp climate?
2. Is there some way to save a hairspring that has one or two rust spots on it?
3. How would you clean and care for the hairspring of a watch that has been in water but was brought in before rust has started, say in a few hours?
Yours truly,
R. S. P.

Answer: There is no way to prevent a steel hairspring from rusting if it is subjected to dampness. Many modern watches are made with hairsprings of nonrusting material such as elinvar, nivarox, etc.

Very little can be done with a spring which has already started to rust. It may be carefully cleaned and heated in oil but in time thr rust will spread and completely ruin the spring. 

A watch which has been in water must be cleaned as soon as possible. If rust has not yet started no particular treatment other than a careful cleaning job is necessary. In such a case a watch cleaning machine will undoubtedly do a more thorough cleaning.

The Roskopf Watch Movement

I recently had the opportunity to work on a Roskopf watch movement. These are interesting pieces in that they have three wheel trains instead of the usual four. What would normally be an idle wheel between the hour and minute wheels on the dial side is instead directly driven by being attached to the bottom an over-sized mainspring barrel. This attached pair of wheels slips somewhat to allow a pin/stem setting mechanism, on this watch. The cannon pinion slips completely freely on a fixed center shaft. The three-wheel train governs the motion with a pin-pallet escapement. There is no fourth wheel, and no second hand.

Although this style of movement was widely copied in the mid to late 1800s I believe this one to be an actual Roskopf. In addition to other indicative details, it is completely handmade.

After the application of every trick in the book, and the fabrication of a single new screw, it's actually running quite nicely.

Defense Bondsl to J-B Employees

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

Defense Bondsl to J-B Employees

Word was received by us today through Mr. Max Jacoby, President of Jacoby-Bender, Inc., manufacturers of J-B Watch Bands that the company is distributing as a bonus to their employees over $15,000 in United States Defense Bonds. 

Lost to Matrimony

From American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, June 1946

Lost to Matrimony

Miss Catherine Raso, after six years of faithful service to the U. H. A. A., three of those years as Assistant General Manager to Orville R. Hagans, National Executive Secretary, will leave her position in July of this year, to become the wife of Mr. Sam Dionisio, who at the present time, is with the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey of the Department of Commerce. Miss Raso and Mr. Dionisio will be married in Denver, Colorado, and plan to make their home somewhere in Maryland.

The profession, especially those who have worked with her personally, will miss Catherine Raso and her pleasant personality. It has come to know her as a good friend and a conscientious worker. Starting as office girl in 1940, she rapidly advanced to one position and then another, due to her intense interest in organizational and business affairs. During the three years from 1940 to 1943, she served first as Circulation Manager, then as Private Secretary to Mr. Hagans. In 1943, Miss Raso was promoted to the position of Assistant General Manager of all the Orville R. Hagans' Enterprises.

It is with regret that we see her leave us. However, it is our hope that she will be supremely happy. She deserves the best!


Here a nice video of what it takes to test a watch, a Valjoux chronograph in this case, for water resistance to 20,000 feet.


Oh, and you can also shoot at it...

Pallet Stone Setter

From Horology magazine, April, 1939

Pallet Stone Setter

Harold H. Howard of Phoenix, Arizona, is the maker of the pallet stone setter shown here. It is made with a micrometer screw which can be swiveled 
in two places so as to be adjustable for any pallet stone. Either side may be heated independently. Mr. Howard uses a small electric heater to warm the tool.

Straightening Balance Pivots, Straight

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

Straightening Balance Pivots, Straight
D. E. OVERSTREET, Kiowa, Kamas 

I use R. E. Dorrington pivot lathe, fastened to front edge of bench, using 20 x microscope that I fastened to a heavy base that extends 6 inches back of microscope tube. When turning wheel in lathe and at same time watching through microscope, one can be sure of pivots truth.

I have a brass arm 4 inches to right of lathe, that I turn up, to rest one end of heavy steel pivot tweezers against, as a guide, grip pivot tight and turn lathe. Repeat this until pivot spins perfectly true.

I have tested this and' proved it on railroad watches, then bringing to the official 6 seconds in 72 hour rate test. I find many a watch that pivot looks true until tested by turning in lathe.
This also burnishes and smooths pivot. I use the above 100 per cent if pivot is cut or damaged, and I replace it with a new staff.

What Is A Watchmaker?

Watchmaker's latheImage via Wikipedia
Today the word "watchmaker" brings to mind a person that makes watches from raw material, something very few people actually do. I'm asked about this a fair amount. The history of the word is a bit complex. Are people how repair or restore watches watchmakers?

In prior centuries, a watch was the product of a long period of labor by a single individual that would make, by hand, every component of the timepiece from plates, wheels and springs to the case. In these times, one person would make, from scratch each component. Every completed piece was unique. This is the source of the tradition of "signed" or later called "named" movements.

During the early industrial revolution, especially in England and in Europe otherwise, watchmaking became more of a cottage industry wherein individuals would do specialized portions the work, passing a watch from worker to worker until the watch was complete. Specialized sources developed for complex parts, and for the basic raw "plates" that form the foundation parts of a watch. Frequenly such parts would even be imported from other countries.

Moving watch manufacturing from this stage to a mechanized factory setting, which Americans pioneered in the mid 19th century, was an easy step. In early factories, trays of watches moved from work station to work station, where workers would use bins of machine-made parts to do their portion of the process.

The term "watchmaker" over this time came to refer to the designers of watches, and the skilled crafts people that continued to repair and maintain watches individually. One may ask, isn't the worker in the 19th century factory a watchmaker? Not really, the assembly line workers are really watch assemblers, capable of doing a limited subset of specific tasks, without the need of a detailed understanding of the mechanism.

In modern usage, as then, a watchmaker has a more complete understanding of the history, theory and design of a watch, together with the ability to repair or create from scratch, at least most, if not all, the components of a watch - something the watch assembler does not do.
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Watch Running Too Fast? Too Slow?

Low temperature coefficient alloy balance and ...Image via Wikipedia
Does your watch run much too fast or much to slow?

Whether new or vintage, railroad grade or something more common, mechanical watches rely on the period of the balance wheel to allow the escapement to advance the mechanism at a regular pace. When a watch is designed, and then built, a hairspring is used that will have a period appropriate to the watch, given the mass of the balance wheel.

The most common rate of a vintage mechanical watch is 18,000 beats per hour, although there are other rates. The watch's rate is the ideal period of the balance wheel, which is essentially a pendulum whose period is dictated by the length of the hairspring, and the mass of the balance. In most vintage watches, the length of the spring can be controlled by a regulator. The regulator turns around the center of the balance and moves two regulator pins along the beginning stretch of the hair spring. The spring passes between the two pins. Moving these pins makes the hairspring effectively longer or shorter and thus changes its period.

In most watches, the full range of the regulator will not result in a change of more than two or three minutes a day, give or take.

Mechanical watches do not have perfect rates though. If everything else is functioning well, the intent of the regulator is to evenly distribute rate errors, created by things like the watches physical orientation throughout the day, or temperature changes, so that on average the watch reads well over a period of time, such as a whole day. But it is a relatively fine adjustment.

What if a watch runs very, very fast? Like gaining a minute or more in an hour?

A very fast rate is well beyond the range of the regulator to control. It is an indication of a serious problem. The most common cause is dirt, oil or even rust, on the hairspring. This can cause the spring's loops to touch as the spring coils move in and out. One can see this happening with careful observation of the running spring. If the coils touch, at all, this simply has the effect of making the spring shorter, and thus faster - much shorter and much faster. Magnetism can also cause this same problem.

A hairspring problem is the most common cause of a watch running much too fast. There are others. For example a mainspring that is too strong can drive the escapement too fast. The escapement may be damaged causing it to sometimes slip. Or a wheel may be missing a tooth causing it to jump ahead as the bad spot comes around.

What if a watch is very, very slow, such as losing minutes an hour?

Interestingly, under normal conditions where all the parts are correct, a watch can not physically run very, very slow. Again, the period of the balance dictates the frequency at which the escapement allows the mechanism to unwind. The speed of motion during each instant that power is released is a small factor in the watch's time keeping.

If a watch is behind by an hour at the end of a day, it is almost certainly because it is actually stopping completely at some point and restarting without being noticed. A watch might do this once for a long period, or several times during the day. A huge array of factors play into problems causing a watch to stop, some of them causing just slight pauses each hour, which may be hard to notice.

The long and short of it is that vintage mechanical watches have imperfect rates, rates which also vary slightly as they run. Small rate errors can be accounted for, through the fine adjustment of the regulator. But larger errors indicate a more serious trouble. A very fast watch probably has a hairspring problem. A very slow watch is probably stopping.

You can read more about the accuracy of vintage watches here. For other questions (and answers!) check out the Q and A posts!

Learn more about antique watches here at the ElginTime website!

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Watch Plant Workers Give Red Cross $6,000

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

Watch Plant Workers Give Red Cross $6,000

Four thousand four hundred donated $100 each. Action cited as record.  That is what Elgin employees will donate to war relief fund of the American Red Cross.  The Company will donate 35c for each dollar given. 

Closing Hairspring Collets

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

Closing Hairspring Collets

As 1 am a member of the Capitol City Guild and enjoy reading 'your paper very much, and see Mr. J. A. Beimel's article on closing a hairspring collet that has been forced over a staff that was too large, I want to give you a method I find very easy and satisfactory.

I take a piece of peg wood and sharpen it to a long taper and insert it into the collet, and select a chuck that will just take the, collet, and put it in the lathe and screw the chuck enough to bring the collet back to shape. You will find it will come back to a perfect shape.

The idea of the peg wood is that it will give enough so it will let the collet back and not break. I have found this method very satisfactory and it saves a lot of work and time. r hope this will help some one as it has me. 

Waltham completes "space" clock

From American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, December 1959

Waltham completes "space" clock

ADVANCED ENGINEERING and manufacturing skills of the Waltham Precision Instrument Company are aiding in the efforts of the United States to put a man into space and to bring him back alive, accoraing to the . president of the firm, 1. R. Ripley.

In June Waltham undertook to develop a "Satellite Clock" or Chronometric Programmer for Project Mercury, and their success was recently announced. The "Satellite Clock" is more than a super-refined watch, the company reports: It is a complicated device combining electrical and mechanical systems that will produce telemetering signals to earth among other important functions.

Waltham Precision Instrument is the offspring of the Waltham Watch Company which made watches continuously from 1850 to 1955, when plant operations ceased. At the peak of its production the company employed around 2,500 persons.

New management, under the name of Waltham Precision Instrument Co., took over in June, 1957, and the current staff is 375, said Andrew C. Bayly, vice president of engineering of the company. 

"Elginium" and "Beryl-X" Are Latest Elgin Contributions to Watchmaking Progress

From The American Horologist magazine, September 1938

"Elginium" and "Beryl-X" Are Latest Elgin Contributions to Watchmaking Progress 

All the new Elgin 15/0 watches now on exhibit are equipped with the new self-compensating "Elginium" hairsprings and "Beryl-X" solid balances.

Elginium is a special alloy-protected by registered trade marks.  It is ideally suited for use with Elgin's unique selfcompensating Beryl-X balance.

The Beryl-X solid balance is made from a heat-treatable alloy, which combines the characteristics of distortionresistance, stiffness, and wear-resistance that are required of an exceptional balance.

Elgin test have shown that where an Elginium hairspring and Beryl-X balance are used together, either part may be replaced without altering the temperature adjustment of the watch, because neither Elginium nor Beryl-X are appreciably affected by temperature variation.  Other tests have proved that magnetism has little or no effect on Elginium and Beryl-X, separately or in combination.   And neither alloy will rust.

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

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