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 Advertising, 1929


Published in hope that an ELGIN WATCH commemorates your graduation

Naturally, you can't just march up to that mother or father of yours and say in so many words that you'd like an Elgin watch for graduation.

But would you mind suggesting it?

That's what there pages are for...  Just to remind the busy race of parents of an obvious fact that might have otherwise escaped them.  Now, of course, they might not see this display, there's always a chance of that.  But, of course, you might see to it that they don't miss seeing it...  That's where being a diplomat comes in.

Somewhere in this array of watches is precisely the watch to carry the sentiment of your graduation day into the years to come.  Near you is an Elgin jeweler ready with your graduation present.  Prices range from $19 to $350.

Elgin Grade 223

The grade 223 is another 0 size with a nickle finish and 15 jewels. This nice example was made about 1900.

Elgin Grade 109

Elgin's grade 109 is a 0 size, 7 jewel model. This one features a great hunter case. It was made about 1897.

Balancing the Balance Wheel

One of my favorite tools is used to adjust the weight of a balance wheel to assure that it is not heavier on one side than another.  This called poising, and it is done whenever the staff is replaced, or anything else is done that might change the balance - or if it just isn't right to begin with.

Poising is done, in part, with a poising vise.

The poising vise has jaws of clean, polished ruby, both very hard and smooth.  It also features a built in bubble level to level the tool on the bench (although a separate level is generally more accurate).  Two of it's legs are adjustable.

The idea is to set the balance assembly, without the hairspring, resting on the edges of the jaws on its pivots only, and then adjust the weights of the balance so that it will sit idle on any position.

If the balance turns and settles with one particular side down, then that side is too heavy.  On the heavy side, a selected timing screw is removed and a very small amount of material removed from the underside of the screw head with a tool called an under-cuter.  The process is repeated until the balance is even.

Adjusting the Crown on a Grade 73 Elgin

Here we have an 18 size Elgin watch, 7 jewels, made about 1892 featuring a swing-out case with an older style stem-set mechanism.  The sleeve on the stem is built in to a top cap that threads onto the top of the neck of the case.

In general, the sleeve is a sort of spring that grips the stem.  The stem is the shaft that connects to the crown and goes down into the watch movement itself.  The stem will have a ridge and a shoulder in it at some point so that the sleeve snaps, over the ridge, from in position to out position.

Back to this watch, it is much more common to see cases were the sleeve threads into the neck of the case, as a separate part and there is no cap piece.

But stems and sleeves are a topic for another day.  This watch has an interesting problem related to the crown.  At some point it appears that the crown has been replaced with one that is not going to work.

The crown threads down on the stem.  Pulling and pushing the crown thus moves the stem in and out.  The bottom of the crown will, or should, come near to hitting the top of the cap on this case.  That would be the most the crown can be pushed down.  And that needs to be far enough for the stem to snap, and press into the movement far enough to engage the winding mode.  But this crown hits the cap too soon and can not be pushed down far enough to snap into winding position.  This was the owner's complaint - the watch seems "stuck" in setting mode.

To solve this problem the crown needs its inside cut back so that is will go down further before coming to the top of the cap and being stopped.  To do this we use the lathe and a special crown chuck. This chuck is basically a cup with an assortment of different sized threaded caps that hold the crown down in place against a pad inside the cup.  The caps are open-ended, exposing the crown.

Here we see the crown placed into the crown chuck.  The bottom of the crown is exposed.

And here we see the chuck set up, centered and true, in the lathe.  This now allows the inside of the crown to be cut back without damaging the crown.  The job is done slowly, taking several measurements.  It is important not to remove too much and leave the crown feeling loose when pressed down on the case.

Here see see the cut done. Compare this to the photo above.  The shine of the freshly cut area can be seen inside the crown.  The crown will now travel down over the top of neck of the case far enough that the stem will snap the key-less works of the movement into winding mode.

The watch is now ready to go, setting and winding working fine, ready to tick off countless days to come.

Where Do They Go?

A vintage pocketwatch with no complications has something in the ballpart of 100 parts, depending on what all you count.  It's a higher number if you count things that are not routinly disassembled, or if you count every individual screw and such.

I was asked a while ago how I remember where all those tiny parts go? 

When I first encounted a disassembled watch, I asked my Grandfather the same question.  He said there was no need to remember, "they only go one way."

Elgin Grade 488

The Elgin grade 488 is a 18/0 size, 7 jewel movement.

Nice case on this one.

More Swiss Fakes

In the late 1800s high grade American watches were widely copied by Swiss companies, which produced amusing watches, very cheaply made, but designed to look like the superior American pocketwatches.

Here are two examples of the "Swiss fakes" from this era, both are large 18 size movements.  They have all the giveaways of fakes - bushing screws that do nothing, "jewels" made of cellulose, markings that make no sense, and more. 

The two exposed wheels at the upper part of the image of this second one are comical.  Close examination reveals that there is no click, nor ratchet.  In fact, these two wheels are not attached to anything but each other, they are just screwed to the plate, sitting there doing nothing!

I also like the rather cryptic marking "HEAT & COLD".

For more on early Swiss copies of American railroad grade watches, take a look here:


I have yet to run into anyone that collects these Swiss fakes.  They turn up now and then on eBay, generally not identified, generally in poor condition and generally cheap.  I find them interesting and telling of this early period in the watch industry.

Elgin Grade 291

The grade 291 is a 16 size watch, a slightly larger version of the very popular 12 size grades.

This one has an especially nice dial I think. It is a 7 jewel watch, made about 1931.

Buying a Vintage Watch

BwcMarlinNoSweepImage via WikipediaAll things vintage, usually meaning '60s and '70s (that's 1960s and 1970s), are ever more popular these days.  Here's a nice piece on buying a vintage wristwatch.


Of course the focus is on much later vintages than I normally deal with, but it definitely hits all the most important points to keep in mind when shopping for an antique watch for daily use.
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To Repair Clock Escape Wheel

From American Horologist magazine, October 1938

To Repair Clock Escape Wheel

When repairing clocks we often find Clock pivots should be well polished the escape wheel out of round and the escapement cannot be adjusted to function properly under such conditions.  To make the escape wheel is not a complicated job and can be done quite easily.

You mount one end of the arbor in the lathe, supporting the other pivot by means of a female center in the spindle of the tail stock. Then by raising the T - rest as high as it will go you use it as a means to support a very fine file or oilstone. Then when the lathe is in motion you take a very light cut off the top of the teeth until the wheel teeth are all the same length.

After this operation it may be necessary to cut the thickness of the tip of the teeth. To do this, use a fine cut file and cutting the front of tooth only until desired thickness is obtained. Never attempt to file both sides of an escape tooth as the results may be disappointing.  You are apt to find the spacing from tooth to tooth vary. In other words, the circular pitch of the teeth will be irregular, making it impossible to set the pallets and getting good results. Figure No. 1 shows mode of procedure.

Clock pivots should be well polished to make a free running train.  The work is easy and very simple.

Make a hardwood support with repair the escape wheel is not a compli- groove as shown in Figure No.2. It must be a close fit that there is no danger of slipping after once locked in place. Fasten wheel arbor in lathe chuck seeing that the V-groove is high enough to support the pivot to be burnished on center. Run the lathe at fair speed and use a burnish back file that has been cross-lined with a No. 2 emery buff stick. Take a few strokes with file applying a fairly good pressure and the results will be a highly burnished pivot.  See that edge of file is also cross-lined with a No. 2 emery buff stick. You will then have a nicely finished square shoulder. Any further detail is hardly necessary as cut is self-explanatory. (Figure 2. )

Construction Features and Service Information Grade 911 22/0 Size Movemen

From American Horologist magazine, October 1938

Construction Features and Service Information
Grade 911 22/0 Size Movement

Exhaustive preliminary tests show that the new Hamilton Grade 911 is remarkably trouble free and an excellent timekeeper. Its cushion shape permits greater variety of case styling and there is every indication that this grade will be widely accepted.

Here again the principle of interchangeability applies and watchmakers will have no difficulty in fitting any necessary replacement parts.

To examine a Grade 911 movement, first remove the bezel. Then be sure to note the small slot in the cup between numerals six (6) and seven (7 )-as shown in Fig. 1. This slot is provided for removing the movement from the cup.  Due to the unusual position of the balance wheel in this movement serious damage may result if the watch-maker attempts to separate movement from the cup in the customary manner. Although the balance wheel is well protected by the shape of the pillar plate it is advisable to exercise extreme care in this operation.

General Specifications (Figure 2)
Plates and bridges of Grade 911 are of nickel silver with soft line finish, rhodium plated to provide a hard untarnishable surface. There are 17 ruby jewels. Except for the hair-spring, true interchangeability of parts is provided throughout the movement. The stem work is simple, sturdy, and dependable. The Elinvar hairspring is vibrated to a harder, more durable monometallic balance wheel. A unique method of utilizing the space in the movement permits the use of a large improved escapement. The winding wheel is supported accurately and rigidly by a large sturdy hub.

Hamilton Grade 911 employs the most modern system of friction jeweling.  The specially large hole jewels are inserted directly into the plates and bridges -a feature which permits the use of larger stronger jewels. Only highest quality friction jewels are used to insure accuracy and concentricity.

When replacing bar jewels it is recommended that the old jewels be removed by driving from the outside as illustrated in Figure 3.

The new jewel should be inserted from, the underside as illustrated In Figure 4.

Balance olive hole jewels should be driven out from the underside (figure 5) and replaced from the top side as shown in Figure 6, using a flat punch with a hole in the center slightly larger than the size of the hole in the jewel.  Careful measurements should be made so that the jewel is .02 mm. below flush with the balance endstone cap seat. See Figure 7.

If these instructions are followed, and genuine Hamilton material used, it will seldom if ever be found necessary to ream or modify the hole in any way.  In doing this work, a standard staking set or any of the special friction jeweling tools on the market can be" used.  In all cases where the finished side of the bridge is in contact with the stump as in Figures 4 and' 5, be sure to use a stump having a highly polished flat surface so as not to damage the finish.

For repair jobs where only the changing of a mainspring is required, it is not necessary to disturb the train bridge.  Simply remove the ratchet wheel and barrel bridge, and the barrel will lift out without any difficulty.

Cannon Pinion 
The Cannon pinion used in this movement is of the closed-end type (blind hole). Be sure when cleaning and reassembling the movement that this hole is perfectly clean.

Balance Staff 
When removing a broken balance staff from a balance wheel it is advisable to turn off the seat of the hub before driving out the staff. This procedure is described in Hamilton Technical Data Bulletins 11 7 and 119

The Timepiece and the Auxiliary

From The American Horologist magazine, October  1938

The Timepiece and the Auxiliary

IN THE busy over-full days in which we now live, we find it often necessary to budget our time, so much for this, so much for that, and by so doing depend largely on that most important marker of time the clock. The clock and watch so much in use, so often consulted, that we feel them a common place fixture that it is a spoke in the wheel of existence. We just take it for granted and if it should stop ticking we listen for the radio time or call a local watch and clock repair shop, still depending on the timepiece whether it be ours or that of another.

Do we even stop to think how important is this piece of mechanism? How many hours of study and patient workmanship brought it into existence? God in His infinite wisdom must have looked down through the ages and felt the necessity of such and endowed mankind with the mentality and ingenuity to fashion a measurer of time.

Time has been an important factor since the creation of man, in God's word we find the mention of the first timepiece -the Sun Dial-that had been in the possession of the twelfth King Judah, Ahaz. God set back this timepiece that a good man, Hezekiah, might live. "Behold I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the Sun Dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward so the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it wa's gone down." Isaaiah, 38 :8.

Since the Sun Dial, day by day, century by century, the making of timepieces has been a profession that has greatly aided mankind, and made at the crude home-made bench of yester years or in the modem factories of today it is no longer a luxury but a necessity in the home, place of business, church or school; as all machinery it must be kept in repair, this then is the need to consider and know our repair shops, know the watchmaker, the clockmaker; his ability, his honesty and accuracy in his work.

As the wives, daughters or employees of those engaged in this profession, have we fully realized that their success has been due largely to the honest and sincere love of their work? Tedious sometimes it may be yet their patience must be limitless, since the days of the first known clockmaker - 1364 - this has been true, and then with that, do we realize that the ongoing of this success comes in a great measure from the sympathy and complete understanding in the home?

As individuals we may contribute that factor and, then as an auxiliary, give encouragement with harmonious understanding to their organizations. Thinking along this line we might readily conclude that as the timepiece is so necessary in our work-a-day world so is the Auxiliary to the Jewelers' and Watchmakers' Associations, United Horological Association of America and other similar groups. Local groups of eligible women contributing encouragement to their local Guilds, so the State and National groups convene with the purpose to stand by ready to assist in whatever duty presents itself. We will no doubt find the social activities pleasant, the meeting of new friends interesting, exchanging ideas and problems helpful and certainly a great satisfaction in knowing that as an Auxiliary we will become NOT an Advisory Board as some feared, as that is not our purpose, but, become that necessary sector that makes the circle complete.

We women now have the opportunity to create and bring into existence an organization that we will be proud of, an Auxiliary to our 'vVatchmakers' and Jewelers' Associations.

Let's take advantage of this opportunity.


Elgin Grade 288

The Elgin grade 288 is a popular 7 jewel, 18 size watch. This one is in a typical swing-out case, where the bezel screws off and the movement swings out of the back on a hinged ring.

It was made about 1911.

Elgin Grade 295

Here's a very nice example of Elgin's grade 295.

The grade 295 is a 6 size, 15 jewel watch. This one was made about 1913.

Ladies Hampden, 0 Size

Here's a nice Hampden pocketwatch in a 20 year gold-filled case, only about an inch across.

It was made in about 1910.  
There are gold inlay details on the dial that don't photograph well.  It's always nice to see these fancy dials intact.

Setting an Elgin Watch

The other day I found out that there are links to some web pages of mine on these ehow.com pages, here:


and also here:


There are perhaps others. The links to my content are toward the bottom, under "references" and "resources." I'm happy that those links are there, but there are a few amusing things about this. One is that what I assume to be their automated system has credited my web pages to "R. Drop". It actually says "Rdrop" but I think "R. Drop" is funnier. It makes me think of R. Mutt. I assume that the attribution is generated from the URL http://www.rdrop.com/~jsexton/watches/.

R. Drop aside, the ehow.com page provides more to comment on.

To begin, there are the remarks about lever-set watches. Lever-set watches reflect a typically older design where by the watch is not set by the usual pulling out and turning of the crown.  Instead there is a lever to be pulled out which shifts the watch to setting mode (there's some photos and notes about this here: http://www.rdrop.com/~jsexton/watches/faq.html). Lever-set watches were considered more "professional" because they where hard to set and thus less likely to set accidentally if the crown pops out on its own.

The ehow.com page states that "Most jewelers recommend that antique lever set Elgin pocket watches be set by a professional. The process requires special tools and may be too difficult for someone with no antique watch repair experience to complete."

Not really. Setting a lever-set watch can be tricky. The lever is small, the watch is fragile and the mechanism will often have eccentricities, especially on older watches. However these are consumer products, designed to be used, and set, by their owners. It would be pretty impractical to have to take a watch to a watchmaker every time you have to set it (which could be frequently). Special tools are not required, although a good finger nail helps. Vintage watches are very much more difficult to use than modern watches, and yes many people do not realize the extent to which this is the case - one needs to know a bit about them, but the statement above is an exaggeration I think.

Another chuckle on the same page...  "It is not necessary to wind Elgin quartz watches before setting the time."

Well 1) it is not necessary to wind a quartz watch ever, and 2) as the same page states above, Elgin went completely out of business in 1968. They never made a quartz watch.

The other page at ehow.com includes this odd statement, "Vintage Elgin mechanical watches should be wound and set daily to keep the movement lubricated. The movement is the tiny spring mechanism inside the case that runs the watch."

I'm not sure why the bit about a spring is there, but moving on...
In the old days, organic oils were used in lubrication of watches. It is true that these oils relied on compression to maintain their characteristics, otherwise they become firm and gummy, and naturally the watch stops running. With modern synthetic oils which seem to have gradually come into use in the 1970s, this is not so much the case. If you have a watch that has not been serviced in several decades, it should be cleaned and the oil replaced. After that, a watch does not need "exercise." In fact, every time a vintage watch is handled is one more chance for it to be dropped or damaged. If a watch is stored in a clean and dry environment, it will be fine. I recommend special occasion use for most watches.

Then there's this;

"Setting the time on modern Elgin watches is identical to the originals, but post-1970s quartz models need no winding."

Elgin went out of business in 1968. The name has been owned and widely used by several companies since then, but these products are not Elgin watches. Elgin never made a quartz watch. As an aside Elgin never made clocks either, unless you count clocks for cars, and military applications, which are typically 16 size, no-frills pocket watch movements.

"Shake an Elgin automatic watch once or twice to get it running."

Never, never, never "shake" a vintage watch. It is common for an old watch to need some external motion to get the mechanism running. A gentle rotating movement of the wrist will provide this. It will get the balance wheel to turn, or in the case of an automatic, it will turn the rotating weight inside to give the mainspring a bit of power.

Interesting this second page provide more detail about lever-set watches.

I'm not sure how these ehow.com pages are created. It would seem to be automated at least in part. They could use a little work though, but it could be worse I suppose.

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

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