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 95

The Elgin grade 95 is a 6 size, 7 jewel, watch.

This one, made about 1887, has a nice hunter case.  Note that this movement is lever-set.  The lever is shown extended near the seven. 

Elgin Grade 291

The grade 291 is a 16 size, 7 jewel movement.  This one was made about 1932 and is an outstanding example of this classic.

A Fancy Elgin Grade 315

 The grade 215 is a 12 size, 15 jewel watch.  Elgin made a lot of these, it was a popular watch.

This one, from about 1925, has a fancy dial in unusually good condition.  These dials are almost always found chipped and cracked.

Elgin Grade 495

The Elgin grade 495 is a 12 size, 17 jewels movement.

This one was made about 1933.

Elgin Advertising, 1926

Santa Clause receives his Christmas Gift

A purchase from your local jeweler is an investment in permanent value

Vintage Elgin Watch Ads

Here's an assortment of watch advertising from various eras.

Enjoy vintage ads? There's a lot more to see here too!

From Elgin National Watch Co

The National House

The National House and Gymnasium was built by the Elgin watch company in 1890.  It was a multi-purpose employee rec center with a gym and ballroom.  The building is long gone today.
From Elgin National Watch Co

Mr. A. J. Shadley

From The American Horologist magazine, November 1936

This movement, a 21-jewel watch, was constructed by Mr. A. J. Shadley while attending the Elgin Watchmaker's College, Elgin, Illinois.

On completion this watch showed a very fine rate, being adjusted to five positions, heat, cold and isochronism.  It shows excellent workmanship and is a credit to its maker. 

Determining a Horologist's Ability

From Horology magazine, September 1937

Determining a Horologist's Ability

THE FOLLOWING letter from a subscriber offers a practical solution to a problem which has been a source of worry to every jeweler employing a horologist.

Dear Sir:
Although I am not a watchmaker but the proprietor of a jewelry store, I have been a subscriber to and reader of HOROLOGY for the past three years, and through your columns have learned to realize that it is impossible for an employer or store owner to determine the quality of work done by the watchmaker by mere observation.

For years the store owner has been accepting repaired watches from the watchmaker and delivering them to his customers without any means of checking the work done, with the result that in many instances the store owner is made the innocent victim of the customers' ire, as well as loss of patronage and long established friendships through the carelessness or incompetence of the workman intrusted with the work.

However, the various articles published in HOROLOGY on the testing of watches by the watch rate recorder suggest that this method could be successfully employed at the time of hiring a watchmaker and for the testing of new and repaired watches.

Purchasing new watches is a gamble, a certain percentage being found out of order, both before and after a sale has been made, necessitating the watches being sent to the repair department to be put in order at the expense of the sales department.

The watch rate recorder, as I now see it, offers a solution to the employers' problems bv requiring the watchmaker to furnish a printed watch rate recorder certificate with each watch repaired. This would require a higher standard of workmanship resulting in increased wages for the competent workman, and eventual elimination of the incompetent and uneducated worker who is non-progressive, and is usually a threat and a menace to his emplover and a destroyer of harmony in his craft.

The equipment of a central testing station in each of the large cities where watches could be tested at very small cost offers a fair and equitable means of securing high grade work and at the same time protecting the employer and jeweler against unscrupulous dictatorship which he now faces through intimidation and coercion.

In conclusion, I suggest that representatives of well known jewelry stores, members of the executive boards of the horological Associations, heads of wholesale material houses and trade shops meet and freely and conscientiously discuss the problems now confronting the watchmaking craft.

Respectfully yours,

Elgin American

Elgin made a few different lines of pocketwatches under other names; Atlas and Sundial and a few others.  These watches did not say "Elgin" anyplace on them.  They seem, mostly, to be less finely finished versions of known Elgin models.  Their serial numbers also seem to fall into line.

I was recently sent some pictures of what appears to be an 18 size, 7 jewel Elgin watch marked "American".  To my knowledge there no record or other examples of this particular alternative brand.

The dial reads: "AMERICA", "PHILADELPHIA" and "USA".

Philadelphia? There's no relevant connection between the Elgin company and Philadelphia to my knowledge.

The watch's owner says it was purchased recently in Norway.  Could Elgin have made this watch for the European market?

For now it remains a mystery.

Elgin Advertising, 1937

For the noblest Christmas gift of them all -

Lord Elgin
Lady Elgin


What to give this year becomes so easy ... and so exciting!  The new Lord Elgins offer advantages to be had in no other make of watch.  Each is 21-jeweled and aske winding only once in 45 hours.  Styling is thoroughly masculine.

The Lady Elgins are the only 19-jewel American wrist watch created for women.  Their patrician charm is the work of foremost designers.  Cases are solid gold or 14 karat gold filled.  See them at your jeweler's.

Only ELGIN creates such watches.  For only here exists the perfect partnership of expert craftsmen and scientists.  Only here are watches timed directly to the standard of the stares.  Lord Elgins are priced from $50; Lady Elgins, from $47.50.  Other ELGIN models in a wide range of prices.


Elgin Advertising, 1929


...Named in honor of men who have made American efficiency world-famous

After such brilliant achievement many men might have settled back to a leisurely life, but today Harvey S. Firestone is still one of the busiest men in the world.  Typifying the energy, and efficiency and appreciation of the value of time, which have crowded incredible achievement into hours of the American business man.  So one of the models in ELGIN'S new American Efficiency Series has been named in his honor.   Americans know time... and know time is money.  So for American life this American watch.  Created by ELGIN for American needs.  For the needs of the busy, time-pressed man who must know the exact time to the very minute whenever he glances at his watch.  The American Efficiency Series is ELGIN'S reply to the man who says his time is money.  And are they handsome watches?  Slender?  Owning that elegance that a fine piece of jewelry should have?  Just see them at your nearest ELGIN jewelers!

The Elgin Watch Factory, 1869

These illustrations are from a piece in Harper's Monthly, 1869, titled "Making Watches by Machinery."

From Elgin National Watch Co

Elgin Grade 240

The Elgin grade 240 is a high-end model.  It has many desirable features including the double-sunk rail-road style dial and lever-set mechanism.

18 size, 19 jewels...

This one has seen a little use, but the movement is in great shape.

This watch was made about 1908.

Note the dial repair above the 5 in this photo that also highlights the setting lever.

Elgin Drive to Boost Gift Sales

From The American Horologist magazine, November 1936

November 17 Opening Date in Elgin Drive to Boost Xmas Gift Sales for Jewelers

YOUR Quality jeweler Invites You To A Special Pre-Christmas Showing Of Fine Gifts - Starting Tuesday, November 17th. With this urgent headline across two full pages in The Saturday Evening Post, The Elgin National Watch Company will present this month one of the most spectacular advertisements ever run in the interests of retail jewelers.

To assure maximum readership for the advertisement, no expense has been spared in its preparation. One of the country's foremost artist was engaged to create the dominant illustration. A gay Christmas spirit is imparted by the use of a brilliant red background for the new Elgin watches shown, and by holly sprigs in natural green. Other colors, combining to create velvety purples, rich yellows and soft flesh tones, endow the two facing pages with a warmth and beauty that is unusually appealing.

The selling message in the advertisement points out that gifts of jewelry for Christmas are truly smart-certain to please-and available at prices each customer desires to spend. An early visit to jewelers is strongly suggested so that selections may be made unhurriedly and from stocks that are complete. The text closes by recommending that buyers take advantage of jewelers' willingness to hold the chosen gifts until Christmas.

Advertisement Has 3-Fold Objective In explaining the thinking behind the advertisement, T. Albert Potter, Elgin President said: "Studies emphasize that the jeweler's real competitors for consumer dollars are not other jewelers, but the distributors of radios, automobiles, washing machines, refrigerators, furniture and household appliances. A great number of these items are purchased as gifts at Christmas time. If we can implant the idea of a 'jewelry Christmas' in the minds· of gift buyers early enough this season, we feel confident that we can re-route many of them to jewelry counters instead of into competitors' stores. This strategy will also bring to jewelers a long season of good selling and an increased flow of store traffic."

Backed by Coast-to-Coast Radio Show 

While the "gift preview" advertisement is doing its important share in sending customers to retail jewelers, another tremendous force is at work toward the same end. "The Elgin Football Revue", on the air over 56 Columbia Broadcasting Stations at 8 :30 p.m. Eastern Time every Saturday night is going out to 81,000,000 potential listeners, with an urge to select gifts of jewelry and to select them early. The market reached in a single week by this brilliant half hour show together with the powerful "gift preview" advertisement can be calculated at more than 95,000,000 individuals.

A special display card showing the "gift preview" advertisement in full natural colors has been mailed to Elgin jewelers. Officials of the watch company point out the necessity of keeping this card prominently displayed in order to reap full benefits from the national advertising.

Making a Pallet Arbor

An 18 size Waltham Tracy Appleton model had a broken pivot on the pallet arbor. The usual repair, other than replacing the part if possible, would be to re-pivot the arbor. This involves drilling a hole into the end and fitting a freshly made steel pivot in. I have never had much luck with that in hard steel, so in this case the thing to do was to make a whole new arbor.

After taking detailed dimensions of the original, we start with a rough outline cut out of a rod of hardened steel on the lathe, with a carbide graver.

When we get closer, and both pivot ends are roughly in place, the part is cut off the rod.  Note that there is to be a slight taper to the arbor.  It starts to show here.

Here's a tip...  If you take a razor blade and place its edge against a fine file, and strike it with a hammer.  It turns into a very fine saw.

The key is a very, very sharp graver, and to work very slowly.

Getting closer to the final dimensions we switch to an arkansas stone, and then to a jasper stone.

The final pivots are .2 mm in diameter (two tenths). This has to be exactly right. Too big and the part will bind in the jewels, too small and the extra side shake will disrupt the escapement.

The pivot are finally burnished with a steel burnisher, and polished to a mirror finish.

Here is the completed assembly. The pallet is friction fit (in the staking tool) so thus the slightly tapered shape of the arbor is critical. It can not be adjusted.

The pallet must fit with the right amount of snugness at exactly the right height so that the fork addresses the roller correctly on the balance end, and at the other end the escape wheel teeth come midway on the faces of the pallet jewels.

Finally, the new part in place, a well running watch.

Elgin Grade 96

This is a nice example of the Elgin grade 96, an 18 size, 7 jewels model.

This one was made about 1897.

Here is shown some details of the lever-set mechanism.  The watch is not set by pulling the crown out.  There is a lever that is pulled out to put the works in setting mode.  The crown then turns as usual.

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

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