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!

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!

Now here is a simply beautiful, all natural and handmade soap, at a great price!

You'll love this soap's fennel fragrance. It reminds me of bike rides by the river in the summer time, fennel plants lining the river bank in full bloom. It's a nice, clean, outdoorsy-licorice scent (also said to be an aphrodisiac...). Colored with dried safflower, a very healing plant A touch of honey is added to this ethereal bar for soft skin.

Order some today, it makes a wonderful surprise gift! 

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.

Elgin Advertising, 1921

The First Watch Factory

For three centuries after the first "pocket clock," watchmaking remained a one-man industry.  The made the cost prohibitive, except for the wealthy few.

But up in the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland a modern manufacturing idea was stirring - the principle of specialized labor.  By 1840 this idea had assumed factory proportions.  The first factory building was a mere assembly plant - the real factory was the mountaineer's home.  Here all hands specialized in shaping or finishing some one watch part, under the guidance of the manufacturer.

As everything was hand work, aided only by the fiddle-bow lathe, no two parts were precisely alike.  A broken watch went back to the maker of the broken part for repair.

Not an ideal manufacturing situation - yet a long upward step toward organized production of our day which has made possible those marvels of standardized, interchangeable construction -

Elgin Watches

Elgin Advertising, 1929

When minutes mean life itself...  ELGIN keeps time

Down twenty fathoms to the slither and muck of the ocean floor where death dwells in the queer green twilight, slowly sinks a diver.

On deck men stand intent at the air lines...  eyes fixed to the stream of bubbles rising from the diver going down, eyes fixed to the air gauges  ...and to the creeping hands of an ELGIN.

For here...  as the heroes of the Falcon salvaged the sunken submarine S-51... life itself was measured by time.  Let time fail...  let a watch deceive the man at the air-pressure controls... and the "bends" will attack the diver...  that strange deep-sea affliction that bends men into knots, that maims and twists and paralyzes...  its perils are vividly set forth in Ellsberg's book "On the Bottom."

Here was no mild and ordinary test of timekeeping.  Here was the grimmest, hardest test a watch can know.  For here life itself was pinned to the hands of a watch.

The odds are certain that you will never don a diving suit and explore the ocean's depths.  Perhaps you'll never pilot a plane...  nor a locomotive.  Never call upon your watch to share in some vast heroic service.  Yet there's pride in owning such a watch that would be worth the payment of a higher price.

But there is no higher price...  ELGIN'S meet and compete in price with every watch of comparable quality.  And as for its accuracy, its timekeeping, its utter dependability...  ask Ellsberg...  or any admiral, general, railroad man from engineer to president, ask any aviator who has told us... and you... how finely their ELGINS have served them.  And just ask your jeweler to show you his array...  as for ELGIN'S style and smart good looks.

Elgin Advertising, 1926

One of a series of little biographies of Elgin Watches

A truly great product is one that gives the buyer more than he has a right to expect.  I have found the Elgin Watch to be that kind of product.

My first Elgin was a gift of my father and mother - presented to me when I graduated from High School thirty-eight years ago.  It was guaranteed for twenty years.  But it served me faithfully for twenty-eight years - almost a decade beyond its guarantee.

It was keeping perfect time when I retired it - but I wanted a lighter, open face watch.

My present Elgin is a Corsican Model - a beautifully thin, almost wafer-like watch that exemplifies the new-day manufacturing principle of maximum efficiency with minimum bulk.



History of a New Year

From American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, June 1946

History of a New Year

New Year's Day on March 25th?
Sounds strange! But, March 25th has been observed as the first day of the year for many more years than has January 1st. Professor William H. Barton, Jr., curator of the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History, explains that as late as the year 1752, many countries still observed the 25th day of March as official New Year's Day.

Barton says that Julius Caesar is generally credited with changing the start of the new year to January 1st, but at that time' the change was not widely accepted. As a consequence, it seems that in those days a person in Europe could, without the slightest difficulty, find himself in three different years, in a matter of a few short weeks. 

Food for Thought for All Watchmakers and Watch Manufacturers

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

Food for Thought for All Watchmakers and Watch Manufacturers

I would like to say a word or two, or rather comment a little regarding some of the articles published in The American Horologist magazine.

First, in regards to state legislation governing the license of watchmakers, I would enjoy very much doing everything I can to push this idea through.

It is a disgrace the kind of work we see being done by these so-called cheap jewelers or watchmakers. I am sending you an imitation jewel which I found placed in a 16 S-21 J South Bend adjusted to 5 position. This piece of metal. was used as a balance foot hole jewel. Also the staff had one pivot badly bent (naturally) and one mean timing screw was gone. The watch had been returned to the owner and a charge was made for the repair work.

How can we get rid of such fakes? 

Second, regarding your Resolution No. 5 in the July issue. This is my Idea exactly, but how can it be done?  I might suggest that a request form be signed by all members of the U. H. A. A. and sent to the manufacturers, or some such thing be done as a united group and explaining our pomt of view on the subject. We do not handle drugs; we do not sell drygoods; or run a hardware store. Our business is the sales of jewelry and the sales and maintenance of time measuring instruments. Then why not let us have that business and cut the drug stores and son from butting into our line; we let theirs alone!

Third, in regard to training the public in regard to the proper care of the timepieces, can you suggest any method by which we can get the . manufacturers to include, or rather supply the jewelers who sell watches and clocks, with small pamphlets of a few pages, brief but to the point, eXplaining the proper care of the wa tch. I believe the cost would be small in regard to the good it would do. I believe such pamphlets printed and sent out by the manufacturers, signed by them, would go a long way toward getting watches out of the hands of the watch bungler. Yours for success.

Elgin Advertising, 1924 - The Elgin Time Observatory

"Go to the Stars for the Exact Time"
said the Astronomer

So in 1911 Elgin built the Elgin Time Observatory.

The Elgin Time Observatory takes the time direct from the stars.

Moreover, the Elgin uses its time observatory, hour after hour, every working day, in practical time-taking service.

The Elgin Time Observatory is equipped with a telescope and allied observation mechanism.

It has a battery of four Riefler clocks, the most accurate type of time-recording instruments made by man.

The precise time so observed and recorded is transmitted throughout the Elgin work-shops and timing laboratories.

The Elgin Time Observatory is under daily charge by the leader of the Yerkes Observatory Eclipse Expedition to Cataline Island to record the official time of the sun eclipse last fall.

The Elgin Time Observatory is one of the U. S. Government Weather Stations.

And now, Elgin Time is available also to every member of the Radio audience.  It is broadcast daily for three minutes each time at 3:12 p.m., 5:57 p.m. and 10:57 p.m., Central Standard Time, from the Elgin Observatory through The Chicago Board of Trade Station WDAP at the Drake Hotel Chicago.

Elgin seeks to put the precise time into the pocket or on the wrist of every owner of an Elgin Watch.
The Professional Timekeeper

The New "B. W. Raymond" - 21 jewel Railroad Model - the most highly specialized timekeeping instrument ever produced for the railroad man.

Question Box

From Horology magazine, April, 1939

Question Box

Idler Constructed from Plans Published in Horology

Editor Horology, 
Dear Sir:
I am sending you a picture of an idler which I have made solely from the specifications published in your magazine some time ago. This idler was made and milled out, including the base, on a watchmaker's lathe. The material cost less than $5.00. I also have under construction a poising tool and filing machine. Will you please send me working drawings and specifications of a relieving attachment?
Paul T. Hinman Tulsa, Okla.

Answer: We are pleased to note that you have found the plans for construction of tools published in Horology useful. At the moment we have no plans for a relieving attachment but expect to design such a tool in the near future.

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