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!

Elgin Grade 206

 This one is an Elgin grade 206, 6 size, 7 jewels, made about 1904, in a striking gold hunter case.

American Waltham Watch Company, 1892

 Here's a Waltham 1892, Crescent Street model.
It is an 18 size, 17 jewel, lever-set watch in a classic open-faced case.

The double-sunk dial is a nice touch.

Elgin Advertising, 1927


A watch may never lose a second yet be many years slow

The bond between a man and such a watch is a secret tie, unknown to a critical and unsympathetic world. So the watch, no matter how highly it may me privily prized, is often publicly condemned as old-fashioned and out-of-style...  A man, in fact, is judged by the watch he carries, and if that watch be a modern Elgin, the appraisal is ever flattering.  For the Elgin is true alike to the time-minute and style-minute...  accurate and dependable, unbelievably thin, handsomely cased, a criterion of good taste.


A Wonderful Illinois Watch Co, 18 size Hunter

Here is a big and heavy 18 size, 17 jewel, lever-set watch made about 1915 by the Illinois Watch Company, Springfield.

Elgin Grade 291

 The Elgin grade 291 is 16 size, 7 jewel watch.
This one has an especially good metal dial.

Operation of the Watchmakers' Licensing Law

From The American Horologist magazine, October 1938

Operation of the Watchmakers' Licensing Law
Address delivered by Arthur C. Hentschel of Milwaukee, Wis., past president Wisconsin Retail Jewelers' Association. member of Wisconsin Board of Examiners in Watchmaking, F'riday, September 2nd, at the American National Retail Jewlers' Association at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York.

THE plan of regulating, licensing or certifying watchmakers is not new. Way back in 1908 an examining board for watchmakers was set up by the Wisconsin Retail Jewelers Association. The duties of this board were expressed as follows: "To design and layout plans whereby the Standards of Watchmaking would be raised." The opinion prevailed at that time that this might help to improve prices for watchwork and also be a means of bettering wages for watchmakers.

The President of the W. R. J. A. appointed a committee at that time to formulate a standard of requirements by adopting a number of questions, which if intelligently answered and the practical work required executed in a satisfactory manner would entitle the watchmaker to a Certificate of Master Watchmaker.

It was expected that when a watchmaker could produce such a certificate of efficiency he would have a decided advantage over those who could not show such a recommendation. Two examinations took place; one in 1911, and one in 1912, and the records show that in spite of a most strenuous campaign by all officers concerned the result was not satisfactory. Only three candidates were awarded certificates. These three formed the nucleus of the Guild of Master Watchmakers instituted in Wisconsin 30 years ago.

It is most evident that the first effort to register watchmakers in Wisconsin did not prove successful nor did it receive the proper support and it also proves that even at that early time the welfare of the watchmaker did receive serious consideration.

No doubt the sore distress of the watch repair department and also the watchmakers' plight were the gn~at concern of our organization during those years.  

The H. I. A. has done and is doing a marvelous job in this same field and did meet with a greater degree of success but even their efforts are only partially successful.

Perhaps other State Associations can report the same as Wisconsin.

The N. R. A. offered us an apparent solution to the watch repair problem, but unfortunately it did not materialize.

Along about the time of the N. R. A. the watchmakers of America became conscious of the fact that only through organization could they expect to ever improve their lot and organization became the order of the day.

The watchmakers of Wisconsin, after a series of trials and tribulations, finally arrived at that organization stage where they were able, under sound, efficient and able leadership to draft and enact a state law regulating the profession of watchmaking. That this sound and helpful legislation is on our statute books is entirely due to the untiring efforts of the Wisconsin Watchmakers' Association and due credit belongs to them. True, the Wisconsin Retail Jewelers' Association assisted both morally and financially. This law became effective April 29, 1937.

We are led to believe, by certain groups or interests, that laws cannot and will not correct certain evils and abuses, and that we already have too many laws on our statute books which attempt to halt or retard business and that free, unhampered and unbridled business practices and competition should prevail.  Truly: we have an abundance of laws and regulations that are outmoded and should perhaps be repealed, but it is a positive and glaring fact that the time is here right now when we must have laws that will either by license or regulation protect the trade or profession we have acquired by long years of toil and study. Be it called regimentation or governmental domination, a control, enforced by law,is the only solution to the many vicious and unsound practices that beset us today.

The power to enforce these licenses or regulations must by law be delegated to proper boards or committees appointed by and responsible to our lawfully elected representatives elected by the people and not by private interests set up by themselves and responsible only to themselves.

As I stated before, the law regulating watchmaking in Wisconsin became eflective April 29,1937.

This law defines what watchmaking is, and requires everybody doing watchwork for profit to be registered or licensed. The law sets up a board of 5 watchmakers whose duty it becomes to administer its provisions. The Governor of Wisconsin appoints this board. The board has full power and authority to set up proper examinations and superintend the apprenticeship provisions. It also sets forth reasons for revocation of a certificate. One very important cause for revocation is price advertisement of watchwork. The law also provides proper fines, even imprisonment. In fact, our law is very broad in its scope.

The board, after its appointment, was faced with several important and necessary duties such as registering all watchmakers who were entitled to a certificate without examination, planning and adopting a proper examination for future applicants and also preparing for the registering of apprentices. These three problems consumed a vast amount of time, but the board feels that a just and proper solution has been found for these necessary objectives.

About 1100 watchmakers have been registered by exemption, this was a most interesting finding as nobody knew before how many men were really engaged in watchmaking in Wisconsin. It is a sad fact that about 20 or 25 men who were entitled to register by exemption failed to do so and must now take an examination. The examination which everybody must now take before practicing in Wisconsin is divided into three distinct sections or phases namely practical, oral and written.

This is what the examination consists of:

Part 1. Practical demonstration of applicant's skill in the manipulation of watchmaking tools. Time limit 9 hours.
Subject A. Applicant is given a 16size, 17-jewel watch of good quality with a broken staff, hairspring distorted and escapement mutilated, required to completely make and fit a staff and completely repair and re-assemble watch. 
Subject B. Applicant given 6 3/4 ligne or smaller wrist watch without a stem, required to completely make a stem and completely overhaul and re-assemble.
Part 2. Oral examination. This oral examination gives the board a true picture of the applicant. His fitness, his character, his honesty is closely scrutinized by the board during his oral examination.
Part 3. Written examination. This consists of about 75 questions relating to the technical knowledge the applicant may have on the subject of watchmaking.

The above examination consumes two days and the board is after that time very well qualified to pass upon the qualification of the applicant as a watchmaker.

Our third duty was to set up a proper apprenticeship plan and I am glad to state that I believe we have a good sound and workable apprenticeship indenture.  Eight apprentices are now indentured under it.

The Wisconsin law recognizes only registered watchmakers and registered apprentice watchmakers. Everyone else is prohibited from engaging in watchmaking. There are only two ways to learn the watchmaking trade. First, study in an accredited trade school, combined with practical experience or a four-year apprenticeship indenture issued by both the watchmaking board and the State Industrial Commission.

This in short gives you an outline of the operation of the Watchmakers' Law for the first year. The short time allotted to this subject will not permit going into all details as they confronted the board.

I am firmly convinced that the retail jeweler should wholeheartedly support the Watchmakers' Associations in their endeavors to pass a law similar to the Wisconsin law.

I have been unable to conceive one sound or logical reason why we as retail jewelers should oppose such legislation.  Let us enumerate some of the reasons why we should give our support, yes, perhaps even lead the way:

First. The proper enforcement and application of the provisions of this legislation is a positive protection to the public against fraud and botchwork.  This is a most important consideration because we must ever in all our endeavors protect the public.
Second. It eliminates one bad and destructive evil, I refer to price advertising, such as these: "Any make of watch cleaned and oiled, mainspring or jewel, 39 cents." "Watches repaired, all makes, jewels or mainsprings or cleaning, 60 cents." Wisconsin has eliminated this evil entirely, all price advertising signs have disappeared.
Third. Our repair department will become more profitable through eliminating all untrained and undesirable workmen. It will also lead to a higher wage scale for the watchmaker.
Fourth. A finer and higher class of young men will be attracted to enter the trade. A protected profession can always offer a better future to those who may enter it.
Fifth. And this reason is perhaps the most important one. The fear of union activity entering into our business. It is my belief that by virtue of a licensing law the trade will be better protected and will never feel the urge to unionize.

I have given but 5 reasons why the retailer should back up this watchmakers' licensing law. Everyone of the reasons I have mentioned is more or less selfish as far as the retail jeweler is concerned and we as an association have wished for a solution for the watch repair evil for more than 30 years and now a solution is here for us to grasp.

A problem our board is now experiencing and one that we must and will meet is classifying or accrediting schools for the teaching of watch repairing.

A young man who took an examination before our board, upon being orally examined was asked why he selected watchmaking as his profession and also how he happened to select the particular school that he attended, told the board that he was mechanically inclined, having worked in a garage at times, so a watchmaker he wanted to be. He was a farmer boy and from general appearance would never be able to do work on small wrist watches. He told the board that he had noticed an ad in Popular Mechanics which stated that watchmakers were earning $100 a week and that after he had finished his course at that school they would find a position for him. He enrolled as a student and paid 250 good dollars for his course. After attending the school for the required time no position could be found for him for various reasons, but he was told that he could continue at school and work on trade work on a percentage basis. This was the boy's statement made before the board. He made a very poor examination and the Board failed him. Nevertheless his $200.00 is gone and he no doubt will go back to the farm. Without our law he would now be butchering up somebody's watch and create bad competition for some watchmaker. We have examined three men who attended the same school that this young man attended and all failed to make the grade.  On the other hand, some very good and competent men came from other schools. Some were up in theory, but not so good in practical work. Placing proper approval or credit upon Watchmaking Schools will be a most serious but necessary problem, it is one of those problems our Board must solve. The Board has not come to any solution upon this matter, but a study of this subject may lead to the conclusion that privately owned schools conducted for profit only, are not the best schools to qualify. Certainly a school that conveys the impression to their prospective students that $100.00 a week jobs await them is not the right school to endorse. 

Elgin Grade 452

Here's a nice grade 452, named for George M. Wheeler.

It's 12 size, has 17 jewels, and was made about 1921.

Sea Water

Here's a 6 size Elgin, grade 286, 7 jewels, made about 1910.

It turned out rather well considering it went through Hurricane Rita in 2005. The rust was severe. The sleeve and stem for example, were essentially fused solid, as was the mainspring.

Amazingly, the balance staff and hairspring where intact.


Elgin Advertising, 1907


The watch by which the hour-to-hour progress of this remarkable age is timed.

Used by men of action - women of initiative - people who don't stop.

An ELGIN WATCH is the favorite of the punctual - a companion of ideal habits.  Grades differ - prices differ, according to jewels and metals.

The G. M. WHEELER GRADE ELGIN is moderate in price, with a fame earned by years of service.

"The Watch that's Made for the Majority."

Adjusted to temperature - with 17 jewels and micrometric regulator.

ELGINS of equal grade and reasonable price for women - desirable new models.

War Demands And You

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

War Demands And You

Watchmakers can fill many positions now opening up in Government Defense work, but just because you happen to be practicing the art does not prove you are capable of fi!ling precision instrument work openings.  Such men are being used as rapidly as special demands are placed.

To those seeking some sort of work in plants serving our Government, we refer you to the United States Employment Service.

In a letter just received from Washington, D. C., we quote:
"Your letter of December 18 stating that large numbers of your men:bers are eager to utilize their skill in the service of the Federal Government is greatly appreciated." "As you are probably aware, there is an Employment Service in each state in the country. Together these services constitute a nation-wide system of Public Employment Services which are now recruiting workers for the defense program. Local offices are situated in approximately 1 500 cities throughout the country.

All of these local offices are advised of work opportunities in their respective communities, and through the nation-wide clearance facilities of the United States Employment Service they are also aware of job openings in other localities." "Accordingly, we suggest that your applicants be advised to register at the nearest local office of the Employment Service in order to obt~in suggestions and counsel concernmg the manner in which to find adequate employment to aid in war-time production." Should there be any question on the p~rt of State or Government agencies, as to properly classifying watchmakers, refer them to "Federal Security Agency;" "Currently Active Occupations Series;" "Interviewing Aid for Watchmaker," 4-71.510, Number lA-41.

This is the Government "Occupational Analysis Section," dealing with our profession.  

There is another avenue open, that of Civil Service.


The Elgin Time marketplace is finally up and running, using Google Sites and the Google online store templates.  This is where I'll be able to offer watches and other related items for sale.


Comments and feedback welcome...

Question Box

From Horology magazine, April, 1939

Question Box

Jeweled Bankings

Editor Horology, 
Dear Sir:
Please answer in your Question Box.

What is the advantage of jeweled banking pins? How many watches should a watchmaker, working full time at the bench, put in good order per day?

Answer: If the spot where the fork strikes the banking be examined with a microscope it will be found that it is not perfectly clean. It will show a coating on the fork as well as the pin, similar to the substance which appears on the contact surfaces of wheels and pinions. It seems to come from nowhere but is probably due to a minute sliding of the fork over the banking pin, especially if the pallet arbor fits freely in the jewels.

Assuming, therefore, that there is a sliding action, a jeweled surface becomes beneficial. However, the refinement of jeweling the banking is justified in none but highly adjusted watches.

The question of hew many watches per day one should turn out will remain unanswered for some time to come. For the output of work depends on general shop conditions as well as the skill and knowledge of the individual workman.

Among the horologist's tools, for instance, are a number of devices which are not often used. Those who own plenty of equipment seldom get stuck when something out of the ordinary is required. The horologist who limits his equipment to the ordinary bench tools gets lost when a slight alteration is needed or a new part has to be made. Another important factor is an adequate stock of material. Much valuable time is lost in hunting for material. To maintain a good stock, however, is not everything. It is equally important that the material be kept systematically, so that one may tell at a glance whether or not he has a particular piece.

A fair daily average also depends much on the policy of a store in accepting watches for repairs. In too many instances horologists are compelled to work on watches which should have been junked long ago. And last but not least, the general surroundings in the shop, such as light, air and working space, also affect the output.

The Effect of Reciprocal Treaty to American Watch Industry As Made Between Our Government and Switzerland

From American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, October 1936

The Effect of Reciprocal Treaty to American Watch Industry As Made Between Our Government and Switzerland

The following letter points out the necessity for greater interest in our American industries and affairs, source of information is authentic:

"I have read with interest the article on page 14 of your July issue, entitled 'Who Knows the Answer?' and I am not surprised that some of your patrioticallyminded readers are disturbed over the large sales of imported watch movements at a time of such great unemployment in this country.

"Employees, as well as employers, have something to think about when they realize the effect of the reciprocal treaty that our government made with Switzerland, which became effective on February 15th of this year. Before this treaty went into effect, the importations of Swiss watch movements exceeded the number manufactured in the United States and, as you are well aware, there was at that time a serious problem of unemployment in the watch-making industry. Every imported movement deprives American workmen of approximately ten hours of labor. In spite of that situation, the reciprocal treaty with Switzerland reduced the tariff on imported watches, with the following results:

"In the first six months of 1935, 375,347 watch movements were imported.  Under the reciprocal treaty with Switzerland, in the first six months of 1936, 590,880 watch movements have been imported, an increase of over 55%. This increase of 215,533 watch movements imported during the first six months of this year has replaced over two million hours of work that could have been performed in the United States.

"If this deliberately planned program, which is affecting labor in the American watch-making industry, was proving to be of proportionate benefit to some other class of workmen in the United States, there might be some justification for such a program. There appears, however, to be no possible justification, as our total export and import business with Switzerland during this same period shows a decline in goods they took from us of over 12 million Swiss francs, while they increased their sales to us over 3 million francs, buying less and selling more. This, of course, shows an alarming trend as it creates an unfavorable trade balance and it is impossible to justify a treaty with any foreign country that produces such a result. This trend is increasing rather than decreasing, and employees and employers alike face a problem of government policy that not only does not tend to relieve the unemployment situation in the United States, but actually increases it."

What May We Expect Next From Our Government Officials?

Our office has been deluged with protest against recent Government officials' actions and statements detrimental to our entire industry, one of the most current being that of our Secretary of Labor as appeared in Walter Winchell's Column, as follows:

Friday, September 4, 1936 

"A newspaperman just returned from Geneva was in. Said that Miss Perkins, our Secretary of Labor, on August 10th, held a special press conference for United States reporters. At which she stated that she had brought a watch all the way from here to Geneva to be repaired by "any" watchmaker. That there weren't any good ones in America. This from the Secretary of Labor!" 

Do You Know?

From The American Horologist magazine, October 1938

Do You Know?
Directed by 
W. H. Samelius, Chairman
Science of Horology and Technical Board

 Table showing the thickness of washers and about how many seconds they will slow up a watch having 14 weight screws in the balance and otherwise like an average 18 or 16 size balance:

.O2 mm. 30 seconds in 24 hours, 
.04 mm. 60 seconds in 24 hours, 
.07 mm. 120 seconds in 24 hours. 
.09 mm. 180 seconds in 24 hours, 
.12 mm. 300 seconds in 24 hours, 
.18 mm. 480 seconds in 24 hours.

If washers are made for 0 size watches or smaller, the above rule will not apply as the effect of washers will be about 3 to 4 times greater.

During the years when the music box was in favor, the musical m'lchinery was reduced so small that there were musical snuff boxes, musical seals, musical watches and even musical rings.

The first equation clock to show both mean and apparent time was made in Lcndon about 200 years ago.

We often find hard steel pallets badly pitted or grooved, both on the locking face and impulse face. 

When the brass tooth of the escape wheel drops on the locking face of the pallet the impact will cause any abrasive material that may have settled on the face of the pallet to become embedded in the soft brass tooth and in this way the tooth becomes charged and as the tooth then passes over the hard steel pallet, a groove or pit mark will be the natural result.

When refinishing a worn pallet, be very careful to maintain original lifting and locking angles.

There are two centers to a lathe; the center that fits in the headstock is called the live center and the one the fits into the tail stock is called the dead-center.

The light rays from an arc light travel 186,000 miles per second.

There are over 1,000 separate and distinct inspections thruout the making of a complete watch and in all there are over 200 separate pieces in a watch movement.

The first planatary machine made in England was built by the celebrated clockmaker, George Graham.

With a contour projector as used in our modern watch factories, a small watch plate is enlarged on a screen 150 times in order to detect any error as to locations for pivot holes, screw holes, etc.
The thickness of a baguette hairspring is 64/100,000 inch and the width is 4/1000 inch.

The standard of accuracy in one of our largest watch factories is three-one hundred thousands inch.

During the early days of clockmaking the seconds-beat pendulum was known as, or called a "Royal Pendulum." 

Many fresh water pearls are found in the waters of the United States such as the Mississippi and its tributaries There are also many fine pearls found in Scotland.

All salt water pearls are given the trade name "Oriental." They are found in the Persian gulf, South Sea Islands, Venezuela, Panama, Australia and Japan. 

Lesson 22

I've posted another lesson from the Chicago Watch School home study course.  This is a good one; The Principles of The Lever Escapement.

The escapement is the key to making a mechanical watch a watch, by regulating the unwinding of energy stored by coiling up the mainspring.

There are many escapement designs, but the lever escapement is the most common type and has been used in nearly all watches designed since the 1800s.

Find lesson number 22, on the lever escapement, here:


I received the following email October 25, 2010.

Mr. Sexton,
I am writing in regards to current links on your website displaying entire Lesson Plans of the Chicago School of Watchmaking Home Correspondence Course. The web address is located at http://www.rdrop.com/~jsexton/watches/csw/. As the rightful copyright owner for this publication, I respectfully request that the links to these Lesson Plans be removed from your website. Many years ago, I donated a few sets of the complete course to the National  Association of Watch & Clock Collectors (NAWCC) Library and Research Center. Therefore, anyone interested in studying this course are encouraged to join the NAWCC in order to borrow the material from their lending library program. Thank you for your cooperation.

Steve Sweazey
It appears that the Chicago Watch School home study course will have to remain of "underground", limited and exclusive availability.  It's a shame they can not be available to a wide audience, but there it is...

From a Quacker to His Watchmaker

From The American Horologist magazine, May 1940

From a Quacker to His Watchmaker
(This letter is supposed to have been written about 75 years ago).

"I herewith send thee my pocket clock which greatly standeth in need of thy friendly correction.  The last time he was at thy friendly school, he was in no way reformed, nor in the least benefited thereby; for I perceive by the index of his mind that he is a liar, and the truth is not in him; that his motions are wavering and irregular; that his pulse is sometimes slow, which betokened not an even temper; at other times it waxeth sluggish notwithstanding I frequently urge him - when he should be on his duty - as thou knowest his usual name denoteth, I will find him slumbering or asleep - or, as the vanity of human reason phrases it - "catch him napping."

Examine him, therefore, and prove him, I beseesh thee, thoroughly, that thou mayest, by they being well acquainted with his inward frame and disposition, draw him from the error of his ways, and show him the path wherein he should go.  It grieves me to think, and when I ponder thereon, I am verily of opinion that his body is foul and the whole mass is corrupted.

Cleanse him, therefore, with thy charming physic, from all pollution, that he may vibrate and circulate according to the truth.  I will place him a few days under thy care, and pay for his board as thou requirest it.

I entreat thee friend John, to demena thyself on this occasion with right judgement, according to the gift which is in thee and prove thyself a superior workman.  And when thou regulate his motion for the time to come by the motion of the light that ruleth the day, and when thou findeth him converted from the error of his ways, and more comfortable to the above mentioned rules, then do you send him home with a just bill of moderation, and it shall be sent to thee in the root of all evil.

The RGM Tourbillion

There's a write up the new RGM Tourbillion watch at ablogtoread.


This watch is outside of my price range (just a bit), but it's an amazing work.  And it is entirely hand-made in the US, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

You can see more at the RGM website.


How Accurate is a Vintage Watch?

There was a nice post over at the "I Already Have a Watch" blog, which is generally concerned with more "modern" vintage, regarding the accuracy of vintage timepieces. This post has been removed, but it was originally here:


Here's a quote:

"While many of these old watches can be repaired and adjusted to run very accurately there are simply some that are old, tired, worn out antiques. Very often mechanical watches were sorely neglected especially in the post-1970 era when inexpensive quartz replacements could be had and watchmakers began getting harder to come by. Some vintage watches are lucky to be running at all after the way they’ve been treated for three or more decades.

"But in general it’s perhaps unreasonable to expect a decades-old watch to perform like new, and a +/- 1 minute a day rate for most any 30-60 year old watch with unknown or even no previous service history isn’t too bad in my opinion, especially for watches that may not have been capable of chronometer performance when new."

I agree, and the entire post is worth reading. It raises a few issues that I'd like to expand on here.

Most, almost all in fact, of the watches I work on are family heirlooms and of a wide variety of original quality levels ranging from budget 7 jewel grades, to the 21 and 23 jewel railroad models, and ranging from the mid 19th century through the 1950s. The accuracy of these watches after cleaning and repairing any serious faults (that is, faults that prevent a watch from running), also varies. The vast majority fall in the ballpark of +/- one to two minutes per 24 hours. There are outliers though, both more and less accurate, creating a wide range. Every vintage watch is a truly different, unique individual. The important thing is that the watch be functioning correctly, without fault. The actual rate of a watch can vary by several minutes per 24 hours in a completely properly functioning watch.

In my work, I strive to get the best mechanical state I can for each watch, while using as many original parts as possible - even if those parts are not in perfect condition. It may always be possible, in theory, to improve the accuracy of a watch by replacing slightly worn parts that are not ideal. But to what end? There are several issues to consider.

Most of the watches I deal with are American-made vintage pocketwatches. Even when they are slightly rare pieces, at least some replacement parts are at hand - and frequently factory new parts are available. But the more that is replaced, the closer we are to a different watch. If a part is marginal, but the watch runs, that is, within a minute (or two or three) a day, and does not stop in a certain position, for example, I would tend not do the replacement. It would likely be possible to marginally improve the watch by replacing more and more components with pristine parts, moving closer to an "ideal" or exemplar watch, but it would be far more practical to simply purchase a different watch that is in better condition, than to bear the cost of replacing each individual part until one watch is made over into another watch anyway. The cost of replacing parts, a lot of parts, in an antique watch approaches the cost of buying a different movement quite quickly for common pieces. For most people, since they are dealing with a family heirloom, replacing the movement is not what they are looking for, and rightly so I feel. And so accuracy is a secondary concern.

Even when a new, and presumably "better," part is not available, it can usually be made. In addition, factory parts in a watch might be tweaked and adjusted, perhaps using a modern method, tool or material, and again the accuracy of a watch improved. But the reason for putting the word "better" in quotes above is that, again, accuracy is not all that goes into the choices made. A watch should also be original. Boring a hole in a plate and adding a bushing to improve a worn, un-jeweled pivot, is a "repair," but it is also an irreversible alteration to an antique.

Further, is it really desirable to create a watch that is better than new?  In the early days of watchmaking, before railroad standards, accuracy of +/-10 minutes a day would not be unheard of.   Although 10 minutes is extreme, restoration of an antique to a level of performance typical of it's period seems reasonable and appropriate.

I should also make another point with regard to historic watchmaking practices. The considerations above would not have been taken into account by the old watchmakers that have previously serviced a piece in the 19th century. In those cases a watchmaker would in fact do whatever they needed to do to achieve the best timekeeping they could. Keeping in mind that watchmaking historically is a "by-hand" tradition, and was not all about standardized factory parts until much later, it is no surprise that hand-made parts and clever, jury-rigged repairs are pretty common in vintage pocketwatches. I see them all the time, especially in pocketwatches in use in the 1800s.

Sometimes these are awful hacks.  But these repairs are also part of the history of the watch and (hopefully) a tribute to the skill of the old watchmakers If they are not interfering, if they are working, it they are doing no harm, and if they don't require an alteration to another original part, I leave these fixes in place, even if a "proper" repair would improve the accuracy of the watch. In fact once or twice I have even "repaired" an old "repair".

Lastly it should be said that some watches should not be repaired. Occasionally I see something handmade, very old, and/or very rare or special in some way, such as having been owned by a significant historical figure. These watches are much more valuable in an "un-restored", as-found state. The best thing to do in these cases is stabilization, usually making the watch run (or at least tick), assuring general cleanliness and good lubrication, and replacing little if anything, depending on the circumstances. The original character of such items matters, not their accuracy.

And so regarding accuracy...   I am reminded of my Grandfather, who had forgotten more about watchmaking than I will ever learn in a lifetime, once expressed to me his puzzlement that anyone would want an old pocketwatch repaired. He asked me, "why would anyone want an old watch when the new ones are so much better and cheaper?"

Read more here:

Waltham 1899

This is a nice Waltham model 1899.
It's a 16 size open-faced pocket watch with 7 jewels and, for added interest, an Indian Motorcycles logo dial.

New Organization Aids Available

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1939

New Organization Aids Available

Several new aids are now available in limited quantities to associations and prospective associations. These pamphlets and booklets are:

"Educational Service Directory," listing hundreds of slides and thousands of feet of film, 16 mm. and 35 mm., as well as all association material, 260 pages, price 5Oc.

"How to Organize." This booklet has aided many an association and guild.
You will find it a real aid. Free.

"Organization Talks" embodies twelve effective and helpful talks for associations and guilds. Free.

"Legislative Aids." A recent compilation of such material as will help all seeking watchmakers' protective legislation. Questions and answers of a popular character. Proofs, programs for financing, etc. Free to associations.

"Membership Campaign Aids." A complete series of letters for new, old and delinquent members, jewelers, etc., as well as popular questions and answers. Free to associations and guilds.

All of these booklets are in limited quantities, and we reserve the right to refuse same to parties, should supply run low.

Elgin Grade 314

The 15 jewel grade 314 is a lmore scarce than other 12 size Elgins.
This particular example has the distinction of having been through a mashing machine prior to being sent off to me.

The train is oriented the opposite way around from the more common 315 and other 12 size grades, making the movement like a "mirror image" of others.

I don't see an advantage one way or the other.  The parts, other than the plates themselves of course, are all interchangeable.

Elgin Grade 81

Here's a great 18 size, 7 jewel Elgin, grade 81.
It's a key-wind and key-set G. M. Wheeler model in a silver hunter case all in great shape.


Here's something a bit different. It's a 16 size, 17 jewel Longines pocketwatch. This one is an extra thin design.

How pocket watches are adjusted for temperature and timing

From American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, December 1959

How pocket watches are adjusted for temperature and timing
by W. H. Samelius

editor's note: Replying to a question by "W.A.", Mr. Information, Please" has written a techical article of practical value to every serious watch repairman.

TEMPERATURE adjusting is the first adjustment necessary in watches, and is confined entirely to the compensation balance. This particular adjustment is always done at the factory, and watchmakers should be careful not to change it. The principles are simple and have been determined by some millions of experiments. They are based on the fact that brass has greater expansion than steel, and if the steel is soft, the metal having the greater mass will completely overcome the other.

Speaking generally, a proportion of 2-fifths steel and 3-fifths brass have been found well adapted for this purpose.

The relative proportions between the width and the thickness of the rim is a matter of importance. The thinner the rim in proportion to its width, the more active it will be and the greater it its deflection due to changes in temperature.  Also, the deflection by centrifugal force will be greater as will be the danger of losing the true form by slight jars or by careless handling.  It is also evident that in order to produce a total given weight, a thin rim must have a greater weight in screws than a thicker one. A rim with a thickness of 36 per cent of the width has been found about right. There are four screws located about 90° apart (two at the ends of the arms, and two halfway between them on each rim) which are used to determine the practical working diameter of the balance. These are called "timing" screws and should never be changed unless to slow the balance or to increase its speed.  The other screws are simply to add weight, and their position in the holes drilled, has in every case been found by trial at the factory.

Moving these screws toward the cut ends of the balance changes the temperature compensation. The nearer a screw is to the cut end of the balance segment the farther in or out it will be carried with changes of temperature and consequently, the greater the effect will be.

A watch with a brass balance and tempered steel hairspring, if regulated in a temperature of 40° F, when run for 24 hours in a temperature of 90° F, will lose about 6 minutes, 15 seconds per day, or about 15 seconds per hour. Of this, 47 seconds is due to the increase of size of the balance, due to the heat, while the rest, 5 minutes, 28 seconds, is due mainly to the loss of elastic force of the hairspring.

In a compensation balance, the screws are adjusted so that these losses will be made up by what amounts to a practical reduction in the mean diameter of the balance. This is all there is to temperature adjustments, and, as stated, they are determined by trial for each balance by running them at 40° and 90° in the factory.

It can be seen, therefore, that it is best to let the balance alone unless one is provided with means of maintaining accurate temperatures over extended periods while a watch is being rated. The watch factories have these necessary facilities, yet they find it necessary to determine by actual trial the proper position of the screws on each balance.

It is, therefore, a good plan to let the screws alone, except to screw them in or out a trifle if the balance is found to be out of poise. Every watchmaker should by all means have a good poising tool and test each balance for poise as this will have an effect not only on the timing but also on the pendant positions in adjusting.

A balance heavier on one segment than on the other will not perform at the same rate in the pendant positions. Screwing the timing screws out will slow the rate; screwing them in will reduce the practical size of the balance by bringing that much weight nearer the center and hence the balance will run faster.

With a well-poised balance properly adjusted for temperature at the factory, and not monkeyed with afterward, it is possible to bring the watch to time, solely by means of the timing screws with the regulator in the center and this is the method followed in the factories.

Many fine watches and pocket and marine chronometers have no regulator.  The manufacturer brings the watch to time in the factories by timing screws, and leaves off the regulator deliberately, so that the purchaser cannot change the rate. If the buyer finds the watch is losing or gaining he must then take it to a jeweler who knows what he is doing . . . one who can change the rate with a slight touch to the timing screws.

When a watch is known to lose time in heat and to gain in cold, or vice versa, the first thing to do is to compare it with a new watch from the same factory and see whether some watchmaker has not changed the screws without knowing what he was doing. If the competent watchmaker handles many watches of the same kind, insensibly he becomes familiar with the position of the screws in the balance and will know at once whether they are where they should be. If not, a comparison with a new watch of similar make will soon put him right and save a lot of time. 

Lookup Elgin Serial Numbers

You can find out about how old an Elgin watch or pocketwatch is from the serial number on the movement.  Here is a way to lookup Elgin serial numbers for the year of manufacture, number of jewels and other details:


The information on this resource should not be considered highly reliable. I am still merging together various sources and applying manual corrections in light of watches I have seen. I plan to expand the information presented over time.

Data on Elgin serial numbers that begin with letters is not included at this time.


Horologists Builds Own Street Clocks

From Horology magazine, July 1938

Horologists Builds Own Street Clocks

O. W.Dreyer, Long Beach director of the Horological Association of California, has created something original in the way of street clocks. The large cuckoo clock over the entrance is an actual working model with the cuckoo appearing every half hour. It was made entirely by Mr. Dreyer in his own shop.

He also designed and constructed the working mechanism of the elaborate neon sign projecting over the sidewalk. The second hand of the large watch is arranged to rotate once a minute just as in a regular watch.


Once in a while, I'm asked about the photos that appear here. Here's a few details on a sample. Click on the photo for a larger view.

This is a real nice Elgin 12 size. We see a lot of these watches, but this one is quite near mint.

Anyway, the photo is taken with a Nikon D70 using a Nikor 120 mm VR lens for 1/4 second at f/5.6, ISO 200. A remote trigger is used.

The camera is mounted on a rig my Grandfather built for the purpose of making photographic copies of family photos. The rig features a heavy vertical post to which an arm, movable up and down by a worm gear, allows the camera to be mounted pointed straight down at a platform.

Lighting is critical. On the post are mounted two flexible arms, below the camera arm, with two bright lights with photo hoods. This together with good sunlight in the workshop gives a nice mix of lighting.

It can be tricky to get a good photo of a watch. They have a lot of detail, and reflective parts. We need the camera close, but some depth of field is needed to keep the internal parts in focus.

I send photos of each watch I work on to their owners.

John Mitsch

Here's an unusual private label watch marked "John Mitsch, Allegheny Pa."

It's also marked "Manfd ELGIN ILLs". It would seem to be an Elgin grade 55, 7 jewels, key wind and set.

The dial is marked "National" and not Elgin, The National Watch Company being the original name of the firm. The National name was used until it was officially changed in 1874. It was changed since customers developed the habit of calling these "watches from Elgin" so the new name was thought more descriptive and fitting.

Note the solid balance on this slow-beat design.

The watch features an hour wheel which has been repaired at some point in the past. A tooth has been replaced - nice work too.

The repair is hard to photograph but the silver solder around the brass of the replacement tooth is visible in the last image.

Elgin Advertising, 1925

My paragon of punctuality - keeping time as accurately as the Gray-Beard with the Scythe

One of a series of little biographies of Elgin Watches

Gentle who make pictures and books and plays and such things for the divertissement of their fellows, are not supposed to work by the watch.

But even an artist has appointments to keep, orders to fill, and the 5.15 to catch.  And if he is habitually late for dinner, the cook will not stay.

For many years, I might have been known as a "two watch man."  I carried an opulent, turnip-shaped watch bequeathed to me by an ancestor - and another given me by an associate.  Between the two, by checking one against the other and striking a happy mean, I have managed to secure a fair approximation of time.

But one day, it dawned on me that it might not be economic wisdom to use two implements for the work of one.  So I secured an Elgin - which has since become my paragon of punctuality - keeping time as remorselessly and accurately as the Gray-Beard with the Scythe.
by Charles Dana Gibson

The Chicago School of Watchmaking

I am in the process of posting web editions of the Chicago School of Watchmaking Home Study Course, here:


There's a lot of material, this will take awhile, but there are two lessons available now. Enjoy...


I received the following email October 25, 2010.

From: Steve Sweazey <stevesweazey@msn.com>
Date: Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 8:46 AM
Subject: Chicago School of Watchmaking Lesson Plans

Mr. Sexton,
I am writing in regards to current links on your website displaying entire Lesson Plans of the Chicago School of Watchmaking Home Correspondence Course. The web address is located at http://www.rdrop.com/~jsexton/watches/csw/. As the rightful copyright owner for this publication, I respectfully request that the links to these Lesson Plans be removed from your website. Many years ago, I donated a few sets of the complete course to the National  Association of Watch & Clock Collectors (NAWCC) Library and Research Center. Therefore, anyone interested in studying this course are encouraged to join the NAWCC in order to borrow the material from their lending library program. Thank you for your cooperation.

Steve Sweazey
It appears that the Chicago Watch School home study course will have to remain of "underground", limited and exclusive availability.  It's a shame they can not be available to a wide audience, but there it is...

Elgin 730A

Here's an Elgin model 730-A wrist watch featuring the Durabalance free-sprung balance. This was one of Elgin's last great designs.

The 730-A features 23 jewels, one of which is the post on which the minute wheel runs.

This one has a B. W. Raymond dial.


Question Box

From Horology magazine, July1938

Question Box
Double Faced Clock

Editor Horology,
Dear Sir:
I would like to get some information in regard to the following problem that I had last week.

I have a Swiss 8 day clock with two faces, that is, it has two dials, one on each side of the clock. The movement is exactly the same as a regular watch with the exception of the connection of the minute wheel which is also on both sides of the movement, fastened by a shaft that goes through the movement.

Now here comes the trouble. One side of the clock shows the time, say exactly 3 o'clock, but the other side of the clock shows 3 minutes past 3 o'clock. This, a3 far as I can see, comes from the amount of play in the gearing. This amount is by all means correct and nothing can be altered there. After the clock has run for 3 minutes the hands of both dials are together again. But, should one set this clock from the other side of the movement, that is, from the extra dial, he will set his clock at the correct time, but the hand will not start moving until after 3 minutes, thereby making the clock 3 minutes too slow right from the start.

The only possible way that I find to eliminate the error is by setting the hands of the clock backwards and then it seems to be alright. The extra minute wheel, has a friction spring underneath it. I have tried to remedy this by adjusting this friction, but to no avail.

Your opinion on this problem would be greatly appreciated, as I am not sure if this clock always did this or not. One cannot tell on which side the balance wheel is or the cannon pinion when the clock is all assembled into its case as both sides are exactly alike.

A. P.

Answer: The construction of these clocks is such that the hands on one side will always be several minutes behind the others because of the backlash in the gearing. For this there is no remedy.

Ship's Bell Strike 

Editor Horology, 
Dear Sir:
Will you kindly explain in your Question Box how to set the hands on a ship's bell clock, the kind that does not strike the full 12 hours.

Answer: The striking mechanism of a ship's bell clock divides a day into 6 four hour periods, beginning at 12, 4, 8, etc.  At the beginning of any of these periods, at 12 o'clock for example, it strikes 8 times. Then at 12 :30 it strikes 1 bell, at 1 :00 it strikes 2 bells, etc., until at 4 :00 0' clock it again strikes 8 bells and the cycle repeats itself.

Mainspring Too Strong 

Editor Horology, 
Dear Sir:
I have an --- watch which is constantly rebanking. It already has the thinnest mainspring which I could obtain and yet the power still seems to be too great. It starts to rebank when it is wound up only half way. Can you tell me how to overcome this difficulty?

H. R. S.

Answer: The proper method of preventing the watch from rebanking is to use a weaker mainspring. Even though the size is not to be had already provided with a brace, an ordinary Swiss spring can be cut to length and the old brace riveted to it. Another method is to replace the balance staff with one having larger pivots and jewels to correspond.


The highest mark in the watch trials for 1937 at the National Physical Laboratory (Teddington, England) was again obtained by the Omega Watch Company with 97.3 points. The best chronometer was submitted by Thomas Mercer, whose chronometers have received the highest marks since 1928.
It is interesting to note that of the 63 watches whose rates are given in the official report 9 were tourbillons, all made by Patek, Philippe & Co.


Under this title an interesting book on the evolution and history of English domestic clocks has been published. Only a very limited number of copies of this work by H. Alan Lloyd have been privately printed.

The connoisseur and collector of clocks will appreciate the numerous details calculated to facilitate the placing and dating of old clocks. The book contains many beautiful illustrations of pieces in such well known collections as C. A. IIbert, ]. Wainwright, and the South Kensington Museum. 

Copies of this volume may be obtained from Malcolm Gardner, 3 Earnshaw St., New Oxford St., London, W. C. 2, at the price of 6/4d (approximately $1.60). 


I just saw these on eBay and snapped them up.


Item number 270606876958, workshop drawer pulls from the Elgin watch factory. Nice vintage design!

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