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!

A Timely Suggestion

From The American Horologist magazine, January 1942

A Timely Suggestion 
BY PRESIDENT ANDREW PARK From Horological Society of New York Bulletin

"We have read so often in the papers that there is a dire shortage of both skilled mechanics and precision machinery that we have begun to accept it as the truth." 

"Every American who has the interest of his country at heart has thought about this problem and some means to aid or help relieve the shortage in question." 

"There are roughly in the U. S. A.about 40,000 watchmakers of varying abilities and skills. It is a safe estimate that over half of them possess one or more horologists' or instrument makers' lathes, many with even more elaborate equipment. While the greater part of the watchmakers are engaged in non-defense projects, we are sure that they would be more than willing to devote at least two hours a week to their country in producing with their equipment whatever the OPM might find worth while for them to do." 

"The OPM could make a survey of the various industries to find out what small precise parts could be produced by such a process and then delegate the local Horological organization to distribute the work to these patriotic volunteers who might render their services with or without remuneration. If 20,000 watchmakers, or even half that number, make them selves available, it will mean 20,000 man hours of production a week. If a factory were to employ men of this skill and produce just what we propose they do, this fa,ctory, working on a fifty hour week, would have to employ 400 men. Considering the fact that no plant would be needed this possibility offers to the government a means for easing a shortage which definitely exists."

"This suggestion further opens the possibility of enlisting men other than horologists; men who own small bench lathes, grinders, drill presses, radio mechanics, amateur astronomers and many other intelligent skilled Americans who would only be too glad to make their abilities available to the government for no other consideration than investing in a democracy."

To watchmakers who are willing to participate in such a program we invite your correspondence, so indicating and setting forth your ideas, as we have officially presented this offer to our Government· agencies.

Elgin Grade 719, The Lord Elgin Chevron Direct Read

Now here's something completely different...

During the '50s and '60s the Elgin Watch Company was beginning to decline.  During these years they produced a number of odd-ball designs in an attempt to recapture market share.  One could call this innovation, but the results are just plain annoying for watchmakers.  

This is one of a line of "chevron" Lord Elgin wristwatches from that era.  It features a "direct read" display, with a jump disc for the hour.  The time is shown on two rotating discs for the hour and minutes respectively.  The hour disc does not turn smoothly, but rather "jumps" from one number to the next at each hour.  This is accomplished by a complicated, fragile and difficult dial-side complication.

This watch came all the way from France.  It seems no one over there wanted to work on it, and I can't say that I blame them.

The minute disc goes over the top of the hour disc.  The minute disc is larger and clear in the middle area.  These watches are almost always found with a broken minute disc, as this one had, because they are difficult to remove without cracking them.  Watchmakers have no doubt broken countless minute discs on these "digital" Elgin watches. 

By the way, I took some of these photos before disassembly and cleaning...

 This shows the parts under the hour wheel, separated.

The mechanism is so prone to "jamming" that the original factory notes I used as a guide actually mention how the watch should be set by the user to minimize (not avoid, but reduce) the problem.  The mechanism is so awkward that Elgin actually made two special tools for removing and adjusting the read discs (and no, I don't have them!).

Miscellaneous Technical Subjects

From American Horologist magazine, October 1938

Miscellaneous Technical Subjects 

Subject 1 - 0iling Fork 
There is friction in the roller jewel and fork action. In order to reduce this as much as possible, the very smallest amount of oil placed in the fork has been found to help maintain a steadier rate after the watch has run for several months.

In order not to get too much oil on the fork use a pointed peg wood moistened with oil. Place the peg wood at points as outlined in the drawing. Under no circumstances put oil on the jewel pin or on the horns of the fork. Do not get oiling at this point confused with the method as used in oiling the train or balance jewels, as very little oil must be used in fork, whereas the balance of the watch must be well lubricated. The inside of the fork must always be moistened with a little oil.

If it is done properly it is a good thing, if carelessly done it is not.

Subject 2 - Mainsprings
Don't fail to provide yourself with the best mainspring winder than can be obtained. See that the hooks on all arbors of the winders are no longer than the thickness of the smallest spring, thus avoiding kinking, and therefore, unnecespary mainspring breakage.

Don't use a mainspring that is too long, because it fills the barrel and prevents it from making the required number of revolutions, with the consequence that the watch will not run as long as it shou1d after each winding.

Don't use a mainspring that is too strong because it will set, thereby increasing the chances of breakage and probable injury to the watch.

Don't forget that a mainspring should not occupy more than 1/3 the diameter of the barrels, thus leaving 2/3 to be divided between the arbor and winding space, to enable the watch to run at least 36 hours.

Don't expect a mainspring to be flat if put in the barrel with the fingers. This method usually injures the spring, giving it a conical form, thereby increasing the friction in the barrel.

Don't expect a watch that needs a thorough cleaning, to run satisfactorily by merely putting in a new mainspring.

Subject 3 - Magnetism
Did you ever have a watch that simply would not time at all, and many good hours had been spent in trying to find the cause of it?

Make it a rule to test every watch you handle for magnetism. A small compass placed on top of the balance bridge, over the balance wheel, when the watch is running, will indicate by a vibrating motion if the balance is polarized.

If it is, the watch, case and all, should be put through a demagnetizer to remove all trace of magnetism.  (N ote: All material distributors carry one or more makes of demagnetizers.)

Subject 4 - Parallel Plier
How often has a balance wheel been put out of true by adding balance screws, washers or by turning the mean-time screws?

It always has been a delicate operation not to disturb the balance, especially in thin pocket and small wrist watches.

A plier, adapted with a rocker to one jaw will always close parallel, thus holding the balance in a firm position, when removing the balance screws or adding some weight to the balance. 

Another Elgin Grade 70

The Elgin grade 70 is an 18 size, 15 jewel, lever-set watch.  

This is one, made about 1889, of the best examples of this model that I have seen.

Elgin Grade 70

The Elgin grade 70 is an 18 size watch, with 15 to 17 jewels, lever-set.   

This is a 15 jewel, B. W. Raymond version made about 1889.  Note the fancy hands and the double-sunk dial, both nice "extras" on Elgin pocketwatches of this era.

The Hamilton Electric 500

Hamilton introduced the first battery powered wrist watch today in 1957.


"Battery life was relatively short, for one thing, so while winding was no longer necessary, frequent battery replacement — in some ways a more arduous chore — was. And “newer” doesn’t always mean “better,” which the 500 proved by being prone to failure, making it less reliable than the standard wind-up watch."

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

Blog Archive