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!
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From The American Horologist magazine, October 1938
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.
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.
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
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.
From Horology magazine, April, 1939
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."
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:
"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!"
From The American Horologist magazine, October 1938
Do You Know?
W. H. Samelius, Chairman
Science of Horology and Technical Board
.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.
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.
From a Quacker to His Watchmaker
Submitted by EMANUAL SEIBEL
(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.
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.
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:
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.
I don't see an advantage one way or the other. The parts, other than the plates themselves of course, are all interchangeable.
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.
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.
Horologists Builds Own Street Clocks
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.
Here's an unusual private label watch marked "John Mitsch, Allegheny Pa."
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.
One of a series of little biographies of Elgin Watches
WRITTEN BY EMINENT ELGINEERS
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.
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.
Date: Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 8:46 AM
Subject: Chicago School of Watchmaking Lesson Plans
From Horology magazine, July1938
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