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 466

The grade 466 is a 16 size movement, with 17 jewels.  There's nice gold jewel bezels and a micro-regulator.   It is a lever-set movement.

This example in an engraved, base metal, open-face case, was made about 1921.  The heavy hands and larger Arabic numerals were popular at that time for giving a watch a "professional" look.

Anti-Rust Soap

From Horology magazine, August, 1939

Anti-Rust Soap

Why are pliers, tweezers, and many other horologist's tools so often covered with rust? Every workman knows that the answer may be moist, perspiring hands. Watch parts also are exposed to this annoying cause of rust and many a good repair job is ruined by moisture that is deposited on repair parts from the horologist's perspiring hands.

This problem was solved by a Swiss chemist who developed a soap which the horologist could use in place of ordinary soap and which would keep his hands dry all day. He need only wash his hands twice daily with this soap and they would remain comfortably and safely dry.

Swiss watch factories soon recognized the advantages of supplying this soap to their men. Bulova, Gruen, Longines, Omega, Movado, Tavannes, Patek-Philippe are all using it now in their factories in Switzerland.

An American trade journal recently called the attention of American watchmakers to the merits of this anti-rust soap.

Swartchild & Co., after tests that proved to their satisfaction the unquestionable merit of the soap, obtained from the inventor and manufacturer the exclusive right to distribute the soap in the United States. Every horologist can now avail himself of this excellent protection for his watch parts and also his tools.

Marshall Introduces New Cement for Unbreakable Crystals

From Horology magazine, August, 1939

Marshall Introduces New Cement for Unbreakable Crystals

C. & E. Marshall Co., is now offering to the trade a new cement called Permatex Unbreakable Crystal Cement. This cement is specially made for greatest efficiency with unbreakable crystals. It is guaranteed to keep crystals from coming loose from bezels. This unusual adhesiveness to both the bezel and the crystal is due to the fact that Permatex cement remains in a semi-plastic state and compensates for any slight expansion or contraction due to extreme conditions of heat or cold.

Elgin Announces Its Special Anniversary Line

From Horology magazine, August, 1939

Elgin Announces Its Special Anniversary Line

Diamond Jubilees don't happen every day! And when they do-Elgin believes in celebrating the event in a genuinely spectacular way. And so, to honor its own 75th Anniversary, Elgin has created a brilliant Anniversary line, which is just being announced to the trade. Early reports reveal that dealers from coast to coast are realizing already the great promotional possibilities in the occasion and laying plans to make the most of it. As Mr. Schaeffer, Vice President of Elgin, points out:
"The 75th Anniversary Elgins, recently introduced to the trade, are, we believe, the most exceptional timepieces ever created in Elgin's 75 years of American watchmaking tradition and progress.

These superlative watches divide themselves into four classifications: Diamond Set Elgins; Lord and Lady Elgins; Elgin "De Luxe" models of 17 jewels; and EIgins of 15 jewels and less. Each of these groups numbers new models of remarkable beauty and advance styling. And all are constructed in strict accordance with Elgin's latest standards of exacting technical design. For example, all the Lord and Lady Elgins are now being equipped with Elgin's exclusive Elginium hairsprings and Beryl-X balances. As for price - every Elgin Anniversary timepiece bears a most attractive consumer price tag - yet gives dealers a full profit margin."

Fluorescent Mercury "Daylight" Now Available to Horologists

From Horology magazine, August, 1939

Fluorescent Mercury "Daylight" Now Available to Horologists

Fluorescent mercury light, which is being used more and more in institutions where exacting work is done, or where light approximating daylight is especially desirable, is now available to the horologist, who more than any other workman is in need of better light. Constantly aware of this need, he has availed himself of the many new improvements in bench lighting, but even the best lamps heretofore have produced too much heat and glare.

The fluorescent mercury tube is entirely different in principle and effect from the ordinary incandescent lamp bulb. It never becomes hot and it radiates almost no heat whatever-a factor that increases comfort considerably, helping to keep the workman and the surface of his bench cool. The mercury tube is 18" long and sheds light from its entire surface. It burns only 15 watts but produces a very powerful diffused light, almost like daylight, which illuminates the entire bench.

While it gives a far greater volume of light than ordinary lamps, the mercury tube is without dazzle or glare and one can look directly at the lighted tube without discomfort or squinting. An ideal lamp for the watchmaker because it reduces eyestrain and improves visibility.

Credit for making fluorescent mercury light available to horologists goes to Swartchild & Company. Their new improved Triumph Bench Lamp is designed and manufactured exclusively for horologists. It is solidly constructed, is statuary bronze plated, and requires only a small space for fastening it back of the bench. Naturally it can be adjusted to any position.

Employees Given Vacations

From Horology magazine, August, 1939

Employees Given Vacations

The Watch Motor Manispring Company of New York this year inaugurates a new policy of giving vacations with full pay to all its factory personnel.

New Hamilton Watch Numbers

From Horology magazine, August, 1939

New Hamilton Watch Numbers

The Hamilton Watch Company, now announcing introduction of 1940 models, is keynoting Fall promotions this year on the theme of "Pre-proven rightness".

Emphasizing the point that new numbers planned for distribution to the trade by September first provide the retail jeweler with everything he needs to satisfy all the demands of fine watch markets, sales director W. R. Atkinson has summarized the reasoning behind the coming campaign as follows: "First, Hamilton's new watches have been made up in grades and price ranges that have fully demonstrated their sales appeal many times over. And, second, the addition of these fulfills the need for a complete Hamilton family from highest to popular-priced fine watch quality. Thus, we are affording the retailer his much desired opportunity to concentrate on one line of watches completely, rather than on several lines incompletely." 

Popular Hamilton grades 911, 180, 987, 995, and 997 are all represented in the new group.

Need For Improvement in Mainspring Winders Stressed

From Horology magazine, April, 1938


Horology, Los Angeles, Calif.
If I may be permitted, I would like to say a few words in regard to Mr. Arthur Des Jarlais' article in the February number of Horology, together with editor's note in which Mr. Des Jarlais condemns the efficiency of mainspring winders and describes his method of winding mainsprings.

While I do not care to disagree with or engage in any argument with the editor of Horology, I have. for the purpose of verifying my own opinion of mainspring winders, discussed this article with a number of watchmakers of this city, and all have heartily agreed that Mr. Des Jarlais' article is to a great extent well merited.

We have often heard the remark by watchmakers that they wished the maker of a certain watch had to repair it. For me the same thing goes with mainspring winders and their use. We are all aware that there is an adjustable bracelet mainspring winder on the market which (if the mainspring barrel is not too small) works very well on barrels up to about 6/0 size.
Next we will say comes the 0 size.

If there has ever been a mainspring winder on the market that can be used successfully for 0 size barrels, personally I have never seen it. I have a mainspring winder of a well known make for the larger size watches. It has about eight interchangeable barrels and three arbors.
On an 0 size barrel the tool is useless to me, and, due to the freak sizes of the barrels, I often find it useless on watches of larger size.

Until there is some satisfactory improvement in mainspring winders, I for one, feel we might be better off to throw away the winders we have bought to use on the larger size watches and use Mr. Des Jarlais' method.

Yours truly,
C. WILKERSON, Denver, Colo. 

The Enthusiasm For Legislation Grows

From Horology magazine, April, 1938

The Enthusiasm For Legislation Grows

A year ago the horologists of only three or four states were actively engaged in trying to put licensing laws through their respective legislatures. In one state, Wisconsin, they succeeded.

Even though the Wisconsin law has been in effect only a short time, its benefits are already noticeable. Besides raising the standard of workmanship and producing better horologists, certain provisions of the law have eliminated unfair and unethical business practices which have been the bane of the jewelry business for a hundred years. Today there is no advertising of prices for watch repairs in Wisconsin.

With the enthusiasm created by the knowledge of a working example, horologists in nearly every state are organizing to work for the passage of similar laws. It is only a question of time until most states will adopt them.

When the Horological Institute of America meets in Washington next May, one of the chief topics for consideration will be licensing legislation. With the characteristic foresight of this institution the question of uniformity of standards and reciprocal recognition of certificates is to be discussed.

Undoubtedly it would be well to give this matter serious thought before too many licensing laws are passed. In other professions there are reciprocal arrangements by which a person licensed in one state, may, upon moving to another state, be granted a certificate without examination, provided the standard of examination in both states is equally high.

It is to be recognized, however, that sometimes local conditions interfere with with the drafting of uniform legislation by requiring bills to be drawn up according to specified codes. Many persons have suggested that the certificates of the Horological Institute of America be recognized by the various state boards. This seems to be a matter for legal minds to consider, that is, whether or not it would be constitutional.

One thing is certain. Licensing legislation for horologists is an accomplished fact. Its spread to other states must inevitably follow. 

The Most Popular Posts

This is the sort of thing that goes on at year's end, right?

Here are the five most popular posts, most viewed, posts from this blog.  Most posts get views in the low double digits, over long periods.  For whatever reason, these and few more are viewed in the double digits everyday.

5. What Type of Wristwatch Does Barack Obama Wear

4. Lookup Elgin Serial Numbers

3. Elgin Serial Number Beginning with a Letter

2. Elgin Serial Numbers Lookup

And the most popular...

1. How To Open A Pocketwatch Case

Identification of Balance Staffs

One for the watchmakers...

A common problem with antique parts is that whatever identification they had has been lost over time.  A box of random parts has little value if they can not be identified. 

There were some momentary interruptions in the availability of the Elgin production data website as I updated it with a new feature.  There is now a tool for looking up and identifying unknown balance staffs by their dimensions.

[UPDATE: I corrected this URL, sorry...]


There are a handful of makes I have yet to include, but will soon.  The data will also improve otherwise, over time.  The database includes about a thousand balance staff measurements.  

Elgin Grade 210

The grade 210 is a medium 16 size, 7 jewel movement.

This one was made in about 1904.  It's in a well worn, decorative gold filled hunting case.

Another Grade 303, Masonic Dial

The grade 303 is a 12 size, 7 jewel watch.  It's a reliable workhorse.

This one was made about 1928 and has had a new Masonic dial added, and the hands touched up with something blue (paint?).  Original blue hands, screws, and other blue steel parts, are blued by a heating process.

Elgin Grade 303, and Creative Repair

The grade 303 is a 12 size, 7 jewel watch, that Elgin sold an awful lot of.

This one was made about 1925, and helps make an important point.

People often write to me about an old watch that "runs fine" except for...  Something.  It's missing a hand, it doesn't set, whatever...  But it "runs fine."  Watches are also listed on eBay, described as "running."  This would seem to mean that the watch winds up, ticks, and possibly keeps time within a few minutes a day.

But an old watch has likely not been cleaned in decades.  Perhaps even a century.  Such a watch will have stale oil that is doing nothing - in fact doing harm.  And it will have particles of dirt inside, sticking in the gummy oil and forming an abrasive.  An old watch, not serviced, may run fine now, but running it is just like running a car without oil.  The dirt will quickly wear down baring parts and create a real problem by ruining something.

I see evidence of this all the time.  I also see, sometimes, cases where this damage has been "repaired," as in this watch.

The center pivot, the hole in the main plate where the center wheel turns, at some point was ground out of round by running this watch without servicing it.

What to do?  The main plate is all but ruined.  But someone, likely long ago, re-shaped the pivot using a punch to deform the plate around the edge of the hole.

Notice the pits left around the center on the dial side of the lower plate.

For a watch in daily use, this would not be an acceptable repair.  The material is left thinner and weaker by the punch.  It's also a bit sloppy, and it's not really round and even.  But this is obviously a lot easier that drilling out the hole larger and fitting a bushing.

I left this fix as-is.  As an antique, this watch, now cleaned and lubricated with modern oil, now runs fine, for occasional use.

Retailers' Tie-In Campaigns Hitting New Highs, Elgin Finds

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

Retailers' Tie-In Campaigns Hitting New Highs, Elgin Finds 

"A survey of retailers' Pre-Christmas merchandising efforts has revealed that jewelers are throwing unusual support behind their tie-in campaigns," said Frank Brodsky, Advertising Manager of Frank Brodsky The Elgin National Watch Company, in an interview last week. "We feel that this is particularly significant for the evidence it gives that jewelers are taking advantage cf the intensive national advertising now being run for them." 

"The advertising program of The Elgin National Watch Company, for example, is one of the most comprehensive we have ever conducted. And it is gratifying to note that jewelers are making exceptionally strong efforts to cash in on it to the full"

"In this connection, one retailer - Sallans of Detroit - has instituted a program of dominant color advertising in newspapers. The ads in this effective campaign tie in closely with our own nattional program. They are of 5 column by 18 inches in size, and gain their distinction not only by their brilliant use of color but by their excellent makeup as well. Appearing as they do, right at the time the Elgin National Advertising program is gathering momentum, these advertisements cannot help but register a noteworthy sales boom for Sallans." Mr. Brodsky also pointed out that "even these retailers who are not featuring such spectacular tie-in advertisements as Sallans, are doing a far more intensive job of advertising than is customary. Requests for free mats of ready-to-run newspaper advertisements have hit new highs this year," he said.

"And it is significant that we are experiencing a great increase in requests for the advertisements which feature our 17, 19 and 21 jeweled models. Not only do retailers apparently expect an increase in the number of units they will sell this year, but also a step-up in the quality of merchandise desired."

Window Displays Enjoying Wide Use

According to the same spokesman for the Elgin Company, dealers are also making full use of the display materials which have been furnished them. Reprints of Elgin full page, full color American Weekly advertising, and Elgin full color Rotogravure advertising, are appearing right now in jewelers' .windows. The full color double spread Elgin "preview" advertisement strikes tile eye again and again from the windows of jewelers on "Main Street," it is said. And retailers who have received the special Lord Elgin-Lady Elgin display that comes with six of these new watches, are featuring it prominently.

"In this window display advertising;" commented Mr. Brodsky, "retailers have again evidenced their understanding of the importance of Elgin's mammoth Pre-Christmas campaign. 58 million Elgin, full color advertising messages will reach Americans before Christmas. Arid one of the most effective means a retailer can use to focus this advertising on his own store is to tie in with it through his windows."

Electric Clock Runs for More Than 40 Years

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

Electric Clock Runs for More Than 40 Years 
Daniel Draubaugh's Product Keeps Regular Time in Jeweler's Office

Lemoyne, Pa. - Swinging a twentyfour pound brass ball for its pendulum, the last of the Daniel Drawbaugh electric clocks, built more than fifty years ago, still is keeping regular time in a corner of a jeweler's office here.

Encased in solid walnut, the clock is one of a half-dozen Drawbaugh built in his Eberly Mills workshop, and the only one of its kind that is known to have turned its wheels for more than forty years of existence.

All six clocks were of the "grandfather cabinet" design and operated on wet batteries, using approximately 5 cents a year of electricity.

The timepiece is virtually the same, if not the identical clock, Drawbaugh exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876 while the patents for which he had applied were still pending.
Said by some persons to have been the "real inventor" of the telephone, Drawbaugh constructed the clocks piece-by-piece, each part molded by hand. 

Polishing Jewel Settings

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

Polishing Jewel Settings 

OFTEN when cleaning watches you have felt the need for a brighter finish to your jewel settings. Some settings come out quite clean but dull, others seem to retain a tarnish that does not seem to come off. In fact, you would be better pleased if the jewel settings could have that factory-like finish bright, sparkling. It makes the sensitive workman feel as though his cleaning job has been neatly done. Settings that are marred, or pitted or show some sign of corrosion, need special treatment besides ordinary cleaning. For jewel settings that are really bad you need only three things, which I believe all are familiar with. Sharp knife, hard pith wood, which is usually used for cleaning pivots and pinions, and very fine sapphirine or diamantine, used for polishing balance pivots, arbors, etc. You merely cut the hard pith wood to a cone, tapered to fit into the smallest jewel setting first. Place a very small amount of polishing compound, thinned with oil, near the point of the sharpened cone and place into the setting, rotate with fingers and thumb. See sketch. While doing this, the cone compresses somewhat and prepares itself for the next larger setting in which it should be rotated again, then the next larger and finally the largest.  You next resharpen another piece of pith and go over the process using no polishing compound. At this time your setting will show a brighter appearance, and you may repeat a third time if necessary. If the used cones are in good condition, save them for the next job. A few trials will convince you that it does the job well and requires less time than it does to explain how. Cleaning jewel settings should at all times be done before the regular cleaning methods are begun, since the adhering polishing compound must be cleaned out of the jewels and settings. Preferably scrubbed out with brush and benzine. If you do not use pith or any of the polishing compounds, you may if you have on hand, use cone shaped felt or paper stomps, although neither work as well. You can also polish with vienna lime, tripoli, and rouge.

Happy Holidays!

Amazon finally shipped me a copy of George Daniels autobiography!

I showed up yesterday just in time.  I ordered it two years ago, but who's counting...

Also, I received for Christmas Horotec 10-0 hairspring tweezers!

Happy Holidays all, and have a great New Year.

Do You Know?

From The American Horologist magazine, December, 1937

Do You Know?
Directed by 
W. H. Samelius, Chairman
Science of Horology and Technical Board

The Tourbillion, one of the many inventions of Breguet, was expected to lessen or do away with position error. It was constructed in such a way that the balance and entire escapement revolved within a cage several times during the hour.

Kidney-piece. A cam shaped like a kidney used in clocks to denote the difference between true and mean solar time.

Isochronism may be attained by reforming overcoil of hairspring, by increasing or decreasing the angle of draw on the pallets, by using a shorter or longer hairspring, by closing the regulator pins, by changing the mainspring.

A watch cannot show good rates when pivets are poorly polished, out of round, ends not flat or when pivots are not of equal size. When the balance hole jewels are of poor quality, too thick or too thin. Holes not concentric, jewels out of flat or cap jewels pitted. When the hairspring is poorly circled, out of center, out of flat or has uneven development.

When the regulating pins are too far apart. If the balance is magnetized, poorly fitted roller jewel or a rough fork slot, even if the escapement and train is in perfect order.

Many workmen, in replacing a balance staff. drive out the old staff from the balance wheel. Some turn off the staking before removing the staff, a still better plan is to turn down the hub of the staff so as to remove the staff from the lower side of the wheel. This method will save much time in trueing and poising the balance.

In order to adjust an escapement intelligently theory alone will not make a good workman. Practice without theory may do after a fashion. A thorough knowledge of the nature of its functions is essential and with theory and practice, the two united will go to make a rapid and skillful workman.

An 18-size mainspring, when wound, will lift about a one pound weight when suspended from a cord wound on a barrel and at the end of 24 hours a good mainspring should lift about 3/4 pound.

.00010 inch added to or deducted from the thickness of an 18-S hairspring makes a difference of approximately 6 minutes in time for 24 hours.

The Duplex escapement acquired its name from the fact that in original form it had two escape wheels, hence the application of the Latin word "Duplex." This escapement was invented by Dutertre, a French watchmaker, about 1750.

An adjusted watch is a watch that is in perfect order. Literally this is true for this is what "adjusted" means what it attempts to secure.

The word "adjusted" is derived from Latin "ad justus," meaning just right.

When a watch is "just right" it is what we call a naturally adjusted watch and needs no adjustments by the adjuster.

The balance hole jewel and the cap jewel should be from .01 mm. to .02 mm. apart. When the upper side of the hole jewel is convex, capillary attraction will hold the oil around the pivot until the last atom of oil is exhausted. 

Unusual Electric Clock Showing International Time

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

Unusual Electric Clock Showing International Time

Many clocks of similar construction have been made showing international time, this clock, however, shows the hours, minutes as well as seconds for each country.

The dial is ten inches in diameter and in order to get the drive for the second hands on each of the small dials as well as the large dials, the clock movement was specially constructed.

In all, there are fifty-five wheels in the train and the clock is driven by a synchronous electric motor. In setting the hands to time, they are all controlled simultaneously from one setting post. The clock was designed and constructed by Norman Utz and Eldon Zeaske, students of the Elgin Watchmakers' College. 

Hampden Diadem

Here's a wonderful 6/0 size, 13 jewel Hampden Diadem model.  

It's lever-set, in a gold hunting case, made about 1900.

Elgin Grade 95

 The grade 95 is a 6 size, 7 jewel movement, lever-set.

This one is in a new to mint gold hunter case, made about 1891.

The logo on the dial is a bit unusual, although I have seen it before.  These dials were hand-painted, so I sometimes wonder if certain workers got to do the logo in certain ways.
 Great watch!

Elgin Grade 216

The Elgin grade 216 is a small 6 size, 15 jewel movement.

It's often found in a decorative hunting case like this one, made about 1904. 

With hunter cases, it is critical to press the crown in when closing it rather than "snapping" it shut.  Otherwise, the latch part quickly wears and the front will no longer stay closed.  In most instances this is unrepairable.  Hardly a week goes by that I am not asked about this trouble. 

An Horologist

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

An Horologist 

In lexicology the derivation of horology is shown to be from the Greek word hora, an hour, and from ology, a colloquial term for any branch of science, and this compound word means, "the art of constructing machines for measuring and indicating time." And, further, the definition of a horologist is, "one adept in horology." How many may claim the right to be addressed by this name?

The definition of watchmaker is, "one whose occupation is to make or repair watches." Many may, without compunction, claim this distinction.

Horologist is, undoubtedly, a more intriguing word than watchmaker, and, while the latter title may be more understandable to the English speaking public, both are misnomers when applied to the average workman engaged in the repair of watches.

In order to conscientiously apply either of these names to ourselves we should be able to construct a watch in its entirety and be equipped to make any part thereof for replacement purposes. Many workmen, given the proper tools, could do this but it is neither expected nor required of us in this modern age.

What then is the present requirement in order that we may call ourselves Horologists? The minimum requirement is that we must be able to fit and adjust any of the replacement parts that may be needed in repairing a watch to return it to its original condition and usefulness, and, further, we should be able to make certain parts such as staffs, springs, stems, and screws equal in appearance and utility to the original ones being replaced. This may sound simple in its statement but in practical work it is far from simple as it requires knowledge and ability equal to that of the designer and maker of the watch if it is to be returned to its original condition and if we have pride in our work this should be our aim.

How is such knowledge and ability to be attained? There are two ways and they are: attendance at a recognized Horological School, where the instructors are Certified watchmakers and men of broad knowledge of the art, and for a sufficient length of time to thoroughly learn the work; and, by serving an apprenticeship of not less than three years under the instruction of a recognized Master watchmaker who has the ability and equipment to impart his knowledge to the student. Either of these alternatives must be supplemented with a wide study of all branches of the art.

The novice, whether in school or shop, should first be given a course in applied mechanics, starting with a consideration of the mechanical powers which are: the lever; the wheel and axle; the pulley; the inclined plane; the wedge; and the screw. These are the elementary contrivances of which all machines are composed. A condensed course in Horological drafting covering theory of design should follow in order to give the student a further insight into the mechanical planning and some of the mathematical aspects of the design of watches and clocks. A well planned course of practical work in turning, milling, grinding and polishing, and watch tool making, going through the actual process of making a clock with dead beat escapement, should then be given. All this, of course, for the purpose of building a firm foundation upon which the name of Horologist is to later soundly rest.

With such a foundation laid the student, if his marks are satisfactory in this work, is well started on the long road to receiving his diploma, Horologist, which will be regarded with confidence by the public and which will be a constant source of pride to him.  Only after such groundwork has been given is the student really prepared to begin the study of horology. With this firm foundation in mechanics the novice will progress rapidly in the art as he will have had impressed on his mind the why and wherefore of the mechanical movements and construction of the clock and it remains only that he be taught the construction of the watch and the modern methods of repair and adjustment. This in conjunction with a sufficient length of time spent in applying the knowledge he has gained so as to attain proficiency in the work should give him sufficient instruction to entitle him to receive the coveted appellation, Horologist.

What has been said above may seem to be unnecessary to some but many of the older watchmakers who did not have this sort of training will readily admit that their progress and proficiency would have been enhanced immeasurably had they received such training.

While the present-day watchmaker, generally, is not called upon to manufacture watches he should have a complete knowledge of all the details entering into their construction and it will be seen from the above that there is a wide field of study to be engaged in in order for one to be. able, rightfully, to earn the title of Horologist and it is such knowledge that places one in the professional class, which implies a measure of learning above the average.

There is much being written today on the value of a high-school and college education and there is no doubt that both of these are highly desirable but it is a comfort to the novice with less than a high-school education to know that intelligence is congenital. Some of the greatest inventors of our age have been watchmakers and men of little education who have given us the most valuable of our machines and conveniences. Edison is an outstanding example of a self-educated man and his name will doubtless be remembered when those of his contemporary college presidents have been forgotten. Edison was a student all his life and his success was due to not being satisfied with knowing just enough about anything but by learning all there was to know about the things he put his mind and hand to. Let the young apprentice, whether he has much or little education, take his cue from Edison and in connection with the training he is receiving make an exploration or research into all departments of the art of horology.

The United Horological Association of America has a growing library of practical books on Horology which it will loan to members, the only requirement being the payment of postage both ways.  Some State Associations of Watchmakers, who are affiliated with the United Horological Association, have junior, or apprentice memberships and such members may obtain these books through some senior member. The National Association has, also, a large selection of works on Horology, by well known writers, which are for sale. See the Book Page of THE AMERICAN HOROLOGIST.  If the book you want is not listed there it can be obtained for you.

Watchmaking cannot, of course, be learned from books but there is much horological lore that can be obtained in no other way. 


Elgin Grade 288

The Elgin grade 288 is an 18 size, 7 jewel movement.

This one, made about 1921, in an open case nickel case is quite typical.

There's a fair amount of cracking in the dial, but it just adds to the character and history of the watch, in my opinion.

How to Measure For and Make a Barrel Cover

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

How to Measure For and Make a Barrel Cover

ALTHOUGH this job is not an everyday occurrence, the man at the bench will, however, find it necessary from time to time to make a barrel cover. How often does he, after having supposedly made all necessary repairs and cleaned a watch, find upon reassembling same, that the cover on the barrel will not hold tight? True enough a barrel contractor often does the trick.  In many instances though, results are obtained that are not satisfactory and the only alternative is a new cover.

Before work on this cover is started, inspect the recess in the barrel to make sure it is in good condition. Most likely you will find it rough or worn, which, of course, must be corrected first. This can be done by cementing the barrel with the recess for the cover out, on a cement chuck. Care must be exercised to get same to run true in the round end flat.  Good results can be obtained for this operation by holding a pointed peg wood in the hole for the arbor and on the tee rest, and with the lathe running at a fairly good rate of speed. With a graver then it is an easy matter to recut the old recess, slightly on a taper inward to insure a snap fit. The cover then is made to fit this new recess.

In measuring for this cover as is shown in the drawing, the first dimension that is needed is the total outside thickness of the barrel or the A measurement. Now we must have the thickness of the lower boss and the barrel arbor, or B plus C respectively. A then minus B plus C will give us D, or the upper bearing. The depth of the recess is then measured for the E dimension, and this subtracted from D will give us F, or the height of the boss. To give the barrel arbor endshake, deduct about .03 millimeter from the height of the boss.

Now that these calculations have been made, we can proceed with the work.  Rough out a brass disk large enough for the cover and slightly thicker than is the cover plus the boss. This is then cemented on a cement chuck and faced off flat. The stock is then cut back the F measurement, leaving the boss slightly smaller than is the diameter of the arbor. 

If care is not taken and this diameter is left larger than the diameter of the arbor, the cover will not stay on when the main spring is wound up. The cover is then cut to size to fit the recess. As a snap fit is desired, the edge should be on a slight taper (about one and one half degrees. This will leave a rather sharp edge and it is a good policy to round off same as is shown in the drawing. A slot must now be cut on the edge of the cover for the main spring end, also a notch so that same may be easily removed. The cover is then ready to be faced off to its thickness. This is done with the barrel cemented on a cement chuck. Make sure as before in the cementing up of the barrel and the recutting of the recess, that it runs true in the round end flat. The cover is then snapped on, with the slot for the main spring end directly opposite the one in the barrel, and turned down flush with the barrel. With a graver then sink a center and drill a hole slightly smaller than is the diameter of the arbor; with a boring tool now bore hole to fit same. As a precaution, if it is a Swiss watch and the main spring end does not project through the cover, it is a good practice to mark cover and barrel so that it can be taken off and replaced in the same position, eliminating any possibility for it to run out of true. 

Although this seems like a long way around to do this job, with a little care good results can be obtained and the barrel complete will be as good as new.

Depression Story Gives New Idea

Here is perhaps one of the last of the depression stories.

A merchant is reported to have told his clerk: 
"Tom, because of your good work, I am going to make you a partner, giving you a share of the profits." "Thanks, sir, but I really believe I am too young for such responsibility and besides I have a family to support. I believe I would rather keep my present job and salary." "No back talk, young man," replied the merchant. "Business is business and we've got to cut expenses."

A Chat With H. E. Anderson

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

A Chat With H. E. Anderson

Much has been said in the jewelry business in regards organization. In fact, the business is very inactively over organized today. By this I mean we have within our business many organizations that function or rather exist with a benefit for only a few.  These do not have a general appeal to the trade. May I cite a few.

We have within our trade the Retail Jewelers' Association and a number of Trade unions. Each of these organizations have an individual aim the essence of which is protection against any encroachment by one another. There has until recently appeared no organization that was dedicated to the welfare of the entire trade.

Under the leadership of men trained in the commercial as well as the scientific end of the business the United Horological Association of America was formed in May of '34, in Washington, D. C.
The purpose of this group was to enhance the value of those engaged in the practice of Horology, which is in itself the cornerstone of a successful business.  Gathered from all corners of the land, these men planned an Association that would inspire in our business a confidence such as is enjoyed by other businesses.

It was apparent to all present that the Horological end of the jewelry business could go further to re-establish this than any other branch of the business.  Therefore, with this in mind, these men set about to lay tentative plans that could be placed before a convention or congress of watchmakers at a later date for their consideration. This was held in St. Louis in April, 1935. There, before hundreds of representatives of this business, men who own their own stores, men who work for others and men who conduct trade shops, these plans were laid. They were subjected to the severest scrutiny and revised to the requirements necessary to fulfill the motive of the organizers.

The United Horological Association of America affords a common ground upon which the thoroughly trained man and those whom are less enlightened, may review the requirements of a real Horologist. Its prime function is to better educate the man and train him to serve his public with greater efficiency.  To eliminate incompetency in this work will go a long way toward restoring the confidence of the customer. Honesty in reporting estimates to the customer and taking time enough to properly explain the work necessary also, begets confidence. Explain the intricacies of the modern watch and the unusual skill necessary to the proper care of the tiny pivots and the hairspring. Call attention to the fact that on account of these it is quite a different problem from the ordinary hammer and tong mechanic.

However, it is not only a necessity to gain the confidence of your customer through proper explanation but after the repair is left the responsibility rests with you to see that that confidence remains inviolate. Execute your end of the contract. Do the work you stated was necessary and if you are not capable of properly fulfilling your end of the deal, don't pass it by, but send it to a tradeshop that can complete the job.

The U. H. A. A. is establishing through its member associations a course of illustrated lectures that if attended and given· the proper attention will in themselves be virtually a course of instruction to the man who desires to really know.

These instructions and lectures are being planned by such men as Mr. Samelius of the Elgin School of Horology, who together with the others of the technical staff of the U. H. A. A. are devoting a great deal of time to this work.  It is the hope of these men that every watchmaker in America avail himself of the opportunities this affords and become more skilled and competent, to the end that the public that are our severest critics may be better served.

To this end it is suggested that every watchmaker join with his fellow craftsman in his community and together they band themselves into local guilds, with the object of availing themselves of these wonderful lectures. For further information in this respect, you may address National Executive Secretary. 

Elgin Grade 27

The grade 27 is another big 18 size movement, made in 15 and 17 jewel variations.  It's a lever-set movement, with quite a lot of decorative finish work.

This example, in a gold hunting case, was made about 1890.

An Elgin Grade 345, with a Catholic Dial

Lately, I have been seeing watches on eBay with newly made dials featuring various types of symbols, particularly Masonic. These are not old. But there were people that did customize their watches. I have seen a number of examples, and the hand painted Catholic decorations on this watch are typical.

The paint is pretty worn as it is not "baked in" like the dial's usual markings. This is typical also, especially if the watch has spent any time at all with its crystal missing.

The grade 345 is a 12 size, 17 jewel movement, this watch was made about 1916.


From Horology magazine, December, 1937


Fellow Watchmaker: By this time it is obvious to both watchmaker and employer that our organization has opened a new era in the outlook of our craft; nor do we need look to the future for tangible signs of improvement. Those who joined our guilds have watched with satisfaction the great change from lowly, discouraged watchmakers to hopeful, more proficient, more ethical, more deserving and better paid craftsmen.

What were the conditions prevailing prior to our organization?

You will remember that after apprenticeship most of us saw few innovations, either in tools or methods. For years we did not deviate from the beaten path of our work. If we DID think of improvements in relation to our work, we kept it to ourselves. The other fellow did the same. There existed a jealousy that only served to keep us apart. It is interesting to note that for years our tool catalogs showed no change whatever, except the calendar. 1920 and 1930 were about the same. This alone signifies that we stood still. As there is no such thing as standing still, we must have gone back.

Another symptom of the disease was our attitude toward the consumer. Few of us regarded the consumer with much respect. The consumer was, to us, the man or woman who constantly returned with "come-backs," and in turn the customer did not trust the watchmaker, or at least looked upon the watchmaker with suspicion. During that period the legendary charge of "jewel-stealing" was in vogue. There is no need of painting the picture in more somber colors. The scene was dark enough.

Fellow watchmaker, look at the scene today. For the past four years we saw an awakening in our entire industry unlike anything since the invention of the lever escapement. Chemists, tool-makers, mathematicians, mechanics-all are now freely imparting information to those who desire it. Guilds meet in every corner of our country for the purpose of improving our craft. There are classes in salesmanship and methods in treatment of the consumer. There now exists a genuine desire to serve the consumer and to learn how to gain the consumer's confidence.  We feel happy in the thought that to a large extent our state, national and local organizations, with the aid of self-sacrificing leaders, have helped to drag our craft out of the mire of hopelessness in the open where now we stand beside our fellow citizens as self-respecting artisans in an honorable craft.

YOU, who have not as yet lined yourselves up with such a worthy cause-do so now! If you are an employer, see that your men are members and are attending our interesting meetings. We have yet to see the man who knows all.  

We are many who can learn from each other.

Deprive yourself no longer of the opportunity to be one of us desirous of further knowledge and better understanding among us. 

Watchmaker for Seventy-Two Years

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

Watchmaker for Seventy-Two Years

SEVENTY-TWO years at the watchmaking bench and still a young man at eighty-seven. In Taylorville, Illinois, Gulbrasen Anderson carries on as he did at forty-seven and thinks nothing of it. He goes to his jewelry store at six o'clock every morning, and takes his place in the front of the store ready for his watch repairing. In rugged health and taking a keen interest in all new developments along his line of work, this sturdy old gentlemen typifies the fine qualities of our pioneer fathers and grandfathers. In partnership with his son, Herman, he does much to increase the business and is ever ready to take on new work. He does not feel that his advanced age is any subject for discussion. When one of the newspapers prints an article in praise of Gulbrasen Anderson's long and useful life, he gently shakes his head in deprecation. "1 know 1 am getting old," he smilingly murmurs, "but 1 don't like to hear about it." 

His attitude toward his years is unlike that of some of the men and the women who are getting on. We have all cringed and shuddered when some of our dear ones have made remarks like this: "1 am living beyond my time. I'll soon be dead and out of the way." How refreshing it is to hear G. Anderson, as they all call him in his home town, hopefully talking about the affairs of current politics and evincing such an interest that we feel that he expects to outlive most of his hearers. He may do so.

How did this old gentleman manage to live so long and happily when he continually spent long hours at the repairing bench? Bodies give out after years of toil and strain.  To begin with, he inherited a good constitution, and he did not endanger it by silly excesses or by foolish fears and worries. Some daily habits and wholesome thinking lend a help, and he took advantage of this aid. He has always had an idea that rich food cause sickness, and he is careful not to eat butter with meat, always taking care that he stops eating before he is entirely satisfied. This is not so easy.  It is wonderful, though, not to have indigestion.

One of the trade magazines was recently trying to find the oldest active watchmaker in the country. There were several who were in their seventies and eighties, but G. Anderson seems to be the only one up to the present time of the contest who is still keeping the pace.  Does he like this contest? He does not.  He abhors the competition, and his son carries it on secretly, because he is himself very proud of his sire and of the long service to the public. When the father fell at his home a few days ago, and had to spend a few days at home because of a minor injury, he hastened to caution his son and his daughter-inlaw: "Now be sure not to let that paper get hold of this."

Gulbrasen Anderson was born in Norway. In 1869, when he was only nineteen, he was apprenticed at his present trade. His father paid two dollars a day for the training the boy was receiving, and money was pretty scarce.

At night the conscientious son worked for long hours to add a little money to the family income. His home was in Bergen, the imposing city of stark, gray hills, with the homes reposing majestically on the great slopes that looked like gigantic amphitheaters  In those days, labor was imported legally from Europe. The only requirement as far as finances were concerned, was a fifty cent piece as evidence of good faith. When Gulbrasen heard of the opportunities in America, he took immediate advantage of it. After the arduous voyage he was handed the half dollar by the Waltham Watch Company, and was put to work in the factory at Waltham, Massachusetts  He saved the most of the three dollars and seventy-five cents that he made daily, always looking toward the future.  

It was not long before he had a better job at Elgin with five dollars a day, ever with his eye on independence and a store of his own. In a few months another promotion came in the form of a managership in the newly organized Illinois Watch Company at Springfield, Illinois.  Skill and determination were gaining recognition.

In 1875, G. Anderson made a humble beginning in a business for himself. His place of activity was the postoffice at Taylorville, Illinois, about thirty miles from Springfield, and his stock was worth five dollars. His furniture consisted of a rough table and a crude bench, but he was happy and was working on and on.  Although he was reserved, his genial personality came to the force when he knew people better, and his friends increased steadily in number. The town grew fast, and prosperity came. The other merchants found sympathetic help in the time of crises, and Mr. Anderson's adopted land had a faithful patriot.

The bench and table, fixtures of the embryo jewelry store in the postoffice of early days, are 62 years old. The son brings them out on anniversaries as silent reminders of the firm resolve of the aged watchmaker. Ten year ago, he received from the Illinois Watch Company the first watch that they had put out in 1870, and which was finished by their first manager, G. Anderson. 

New Roger Smith Videos

Roger Smith has uploaded a new series on engine turning, starting with the rose engine.  It is worth pointing out that there are very few people in the world that can operate the rose engine. 

This is part one of five.

This is the first part of a series of four on the straight line engine.

And one on hand engraving...

Parts Data

Part numbers are starting to be available from the ElginTime serial number site.  Here's an example:


If one clicks through from looking up a movement serial number, to the grade details, there is now a link to the parts page.

This new information includes staff dimension data that is a bit messy in linking up to the better known parts data from the service manuals.  The dimension listing are mostly observed "in the wild" as it were, rather than factory specs.

The part number shown are just balance staffs, so far.  More is coming!

F. Berthoud Escapement

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

F. Berthoud Escapement

DURING the year 1580, Galileo observed a swinging chandelier in the Cathedral of Pisa. By counting his pulse beats and watching the motion of the chandelier, he observed that whether the chandelier swung in a short or long arc, the duration of time was the same. From this he got the conception of the pendulum, being a mathematician, he discovered the laws of the pendulum. Up to this time, the verge escapement, or foliott was used and the arrangement of the escapement was such that it was not suitable for delivering motion to the pendulum.  Among Galileo's earliest statements he said no doubt some genius would invent an escapement that could deliver motion to the pendulum. 

In the year 1657, Huygens, a Dutch astronomer and mathematician cleverly converted the verge escapement in such a way that it would drive a suspended pendulum, which was our first pendulum clock, however, before Huygens had perfected his clock, Galileo had a conception and made drawings of a single impulse escapement that would maintain pendulum motion. He did not live, however, to construct the clock but in later years, his son took up the work and built a clock from the original drawings. A duplicate of that model is now housed in a British museum. When Galileo designed his single impulse escapement, he little dreamed that the basic principles would hold superior through centuries to come.

In 1749, Thomas Earnshaw of England, is credited with inventing a chronometer escapement. Some years later the British government offered a prize of £20,000 for a timepiece which would run so accurate that it would be possible to determine the correct longitude at sea. John Harrison of England was awarded this prize. His timepiece was controlled by a single impulse or chronometer escapement and today our pocket chronometers and marine chronometers are also constructed along the same lines.

In 1750, one of our foremost horologists, F. Berthoud of France, designed and built an escapement for clocks, the escapement being placed at the lower end of a pivoted pendulum. Attached to the extreme lower end of the pendulum rod was a plate having a small recess into which the escape wheel teeth dropped, giving motion to the pendulum.

The diagram shows the pendulum traveling to the left. The freely fitted pawl attached to the plates will pass over the unlocking lever. On the return journey the pawl will drop back in place and engage the unlocking lever, which is pi voted to an arbor and on this arbor a locking lever is attached which engages the escape wheel tooth when the wheel is released, giving impulse to the pendulum.

Attached to the left side of the locking lever is a small weight which causes the locking lever to drop back into its proper position, engaging the next tooth of the escape wheel. The depth of the lock is controlled by a banking screw.

Comparing this escapement with our chronometer escapements of today, we find the impulse roller and the balance staff takes place of the impulse plate at the lower end of the pendulum.

The unlocking jewel in the chronometer is in the form of a lever and the locking jewel in our modern chronometer is in the form of a lever also. Both these clocks of similar construction were made. We can take it for granted however, that a heavy pendulum swinging on pivots would create considerable friction, consequently requiring a great deal of power to maintain motion causing early wear and making the clock short lived.

Comparing these escapements with Galileo's conception, we find the same basic principles employed. A diagram of his work and a short biography will be found in the American Horologist, April, 1936, issue.

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

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