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!

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.

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

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