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 391

The 391 is a nice watch. It comes in both a Father Time and a B. W. Raymond model.This one is the B. W. Raymond.

It is a 16 size movement, 21 jewels, with a motor barrel, fancy damaskeen, and other features.

This example was made about 1911.

This detail shows the lever for setting mode extended.
The case this watch is in is unusual.  This is the only time I have seen something like this.  The back is threaded as is common, but inside is an undecorated snap cover.  Unfortunately the inner cover has been very badly scratched.  It's odd because the rest is in quite good condition (be very careful with pocket watch cases, if you are unsure how one opens, get some assistance).

The motor barrel had a problem with this watch.  The side of the inner part is shown here broken out where the mainspring tabs should be secured.  This is unfixable (for me at least).  A replacement part took a few months to locate.

Here's some details of the balance - just a nice piece of of work, this watch.

Elgin Grade 82

This Elgin 18 size grade was made in 13 and 15 jewel variations.  This example, made about 1885 is the 15 jewel version.  It includes a micro regulator, in gold.

Excellent hunter case on this G. M. Wheeler model...

This is a very heavy watch.

Elgin Grade 761

I've written some about the Elgin grades 760 and 761 in the past, such as here.

Here's a few photos of a grade 761 Elgin wristwatch, the 27 jewel version. These don't have serial numbers but they were made between 1958, and sometime in the very early '60s.

These Elgin watches are relatively rare, and parts for them are very hard to find.  It took my quite a long time to get some simple parts for this one, to replace a couple things that had rusted beyond use, when moisture got in through the stem.

The grade 761 is a self-winding, or "automatic" movement, meaning that it winds it's mainspring through the movement of the watch while it is being worn.  Movement causes a weight to oscillate (turn, around the center), and slowly wind the watch.

This Elgin design is the only automatic movement ever built in the United States, before the American watch industry essentially disappeared.

I've taken photos here with this part in several positions to show how it moves.

A clutch mechanism allows the mainspring to be wound when the weight moves in either direction.  When the watch is not being worn, it runs normally, on "reserve" until the mainspring winds down.

Automatic movements are enjoying a resurgence in popularity these days.  It's nice to not worry about getting batteries changed.

Elgin Grade 419

The grade 419 is a small, ladies watch, 3/0 size, with15 jewels.

 This one, made about 1916, is in a hunter case, but the front cover has been broken off at some point.  The inside is engraved so the watch was no doubt important to someone.  They fit the front with a think crystal, as would be found on an open  face watch case, so that the watch could continue to be used.  I have only seen this sort of fix one other time.

Hunter case crystals are extremely thin and fragile - like egg shells.  It is a common misconception that hunter cases are more durable than open face cases.  This is very much not so.

I took a couple of "before" photos of these one. The movement had been slathered in some sort of common machine oil, or household oil. It was just all over... This sort of thing will never, ever, help a watch.

Elgin Grade 226

The grade 226 is an 18 size movement, lever-set, with 17 jewels.

 Here'a a detail of the front bezel removed, and the lever extended, for setting mode.

Made about 1900...

Elgin Grade 303

The 303 is one we see a lot of.   It is a 12 size, 7 jewel movement.  Elgin sold a great many of these.

Here we see a before and after, of re-doing the black lettering of the serial number, Elgin name and the gradients for the regulator.

The metal dial shows corrosion that is typical of this type.  They have, in general, not held up well.

This grade 303 example was made about 1928.

Adrien Philippe

From Horology magazine, June 1938

Adrien Philippe, 1815 - 1894
By Major Paul M. Chamberlain

In the little French town of Bazoche-Gouet, some fifty miles southwest of Paris, was born in 1815, the subject of this sketch, the son of a watchmaker who constructed at odd moments several complicated timepieces involving calendars, repeaters, phases of the moon and so forth. The son imbibed a love for fine work and at the age of eighteen set forth to add to what skill his father had taught him. At Havre, he was with a chronometer maker, where he had opportunity for progress and by 1836 had made some fine timepieces. He removed to London where he gained not only better skill and standards but was able to lay aside some money. With a young man he had become acquainted with in London he removed to Paris to set up a shop, having the high aim of bringing back to that city standards which save for a few great masters had degenerated. With considerable initiative they were successful in getting governmental assistance and made movements complete and worked up to an output of about one hundred and fifty a year.

Philippe became interested in the problem of making a satisfactory watch which would not require a key. It was not a new idea as it had been acted on by Caron Beaumarchais, Breguet, Prest of the John R. Arnold shop in London and doubtless many others. But Philippe devised a mechanism which, with a few changes through the years, has been used to the present day bv the firm perpetuating his name. In 1842 he had perfected a model but did not get much encouragement from those to whom he showed it in Paris.  However, he exhibited it at the Exposition of 1844 and received a medal which gave him great enthusiasm and encouragement.

In Geneva there was a watch merchandising partnership of two Polish gentlemen, a Mr. Czapek and Mr. A. N. de Patek, who catered to a high class clientele and employed good movements and artistic cases. Mr. de Patek met Philippe at the Exposition and became so interested in his work that he proposed a partnership with him as soon as his contract with Czapek should expire.

The business was started in 1845 as Patek & Philippe and prospered from the start. Mr. Patek died in 1877. In 1901 the firm name was changed to Patek Philippe & Co. and among the officials of the company will be remembered A. Cingra, A. Genassy, Emil Philippe, A. Conty, J. M. Rouge and the following generation Francois Conty, Hubert Rouge, Adrien Philippe, Jules Perrier, Ed. Gaillard, A. Chambez, E. Benassy, J. D. LeCoultre and the American partner, the late Albert G. Stein, who was known to every watch store handling the product in this country.  Within the past few years many of the old stock holders have retired and there has come in the Stern family, known for their unsurpassed dials.

Mr. Philippe, in devising tools for increased production was at the beginning his own machinist, later to be assisted by Ch. Schehaye and Ferd Adler. Before the flyback chronograph superseded it, the independent train sweep seconds was the popular timer and in 1847 Mr. Philippe applied his stem wind to it, winding both barrels at the same time. To overcome the difficulty caused by one spring being used more than the other he arranged one to slip from the barrel fastening, but at best it was a makeshift, and ten years later he devised what he called the free mainspring. In 1878 he described, in the Journal Suisse d'Horlogerie, a form of compensation balance devised by him. In 1863 he published "Montres san clef" giving a history of attempts at stem winding. He was a champion of flat hairsprings for many uses and gave out the results of experiments made with them. He was a member of the horological jury at the Paris Exposition of 1875 and of that of Zurich in 1883 and of Antwerp in 1885. In 1890 he was decorated by the French Government with the Cross of the Legion of Honor. One of the most thoughtful and understanding discussions of horological education I have ever read was from his pen and I presume in one of his jury reports but at the moment I am unable to cite the reference. For many of the facts embodied herewith I am under obligations to an obituary notice in the "Journal Suisse D'Horologerie" of February, 1894. 

Antique Watches - My Hobby

From Horology magazine, September 1937

Antique Watches 
My Hobby
By OSCAR T. LANG, Architect
(Courtesy Northwestern Architect)

COLLECTING ANTIQUE WATCHES is a fascinating hobby. There are three aspects to consider, anyone of which may attract a collector. There is their history, their mechanism, and their decoration, which is chiefly applied to the case.  Many of the early watch movements however, were lavishly engraved with beautiful and intricate designs. The collector and lover of watches has much to consider. The variety is very great, and it is this variety which gives the watch its peculiar interest.

The serious student of watches has many books to choose from, as the literature on time and timekeepers is large.  The opportunity to see actual specimens may present some difficulties, as good antique watches are scarce. Private collectors are not numerous, but some of the larger museums have nice collections.  The weight-driven clock was the first piece of automatic machinery, and made its appearance some three hundred years before the portable timepiece, or what we call a watch. This portable timekeeper was made possible by the invention of the mainspring as the motive power. Peter Henlein, a locksmith of Nuremburg, is given credit for inventing this shortly after the year 1500.

The first portable timepieces were really table clocks; and it was not until the latter half of the sixteenth century that they were small enough to be worn on the person, and then only as ornaments.  They were very costly, so only royalty or the very wealthy could afford to own them. The cases were then made in many shapes, such as the Nuremburg egg, the octagonal, the cruciform, the skull watch, and the pear shape; and they were very ornate. The movements were still crude and exceedingly poor timekeepers. It is doubtful if they kept time within two to three hours a day. For this reason sundials and sand-glasses were still In common use.

The watch began to approach accurate timekeeping with the introduction of the balance or hairspring. This was invented by Robert Hooke, an Englishman, about 1660. The first watches had only one hand-the hour hand. The minute hand was added about 1680, and the seconds hand came much later.

Watch glasses did not come into use until well after the year 1600, and jewels were not introduced until about 1705; and for a long time, only the balance pivots were jeweled.

The most vital part of any timekeeper is the escapement, and it is here that most of the improvements have been made. A vast amount of time has been spent by the most eminent watchmakers in history in devising new forms of escapements and improving those already in use. The verge escapement was the first and remained the only one in watches until about 1700. Then came the cylinder, the rack lever, the duplex, the virgule, the lever, and the chronometer escapements. These might be called historical escapements, as they were all used extensively. Many variations of the above and many new types were tried, but the designs were faulty, and they were soon discarded.

The lever escapement, invented by Thos. Mudge, London, about 1755, has supplanted all other types and is about the only escapement now used. The collection contains well over twenty-five different watch escapements, some of which are very rare.

As in any art, the art of watchmaking has its "Old Masters." I have been fortunate in securing splendid examples by many of the eminent old makers, and shall mention a few of the most famous names represented in the collection. Baltazar Martinot, Paris, circa 1675, Clockmaker to Louis XIV. Thomas Tompion, "Father of English watchmaking," London, 1638-1713. Daniel Quare, London, 1649-1724, inventor of the repeating watch. George Graham, who perfected the cylinder escapement. Thomas Mudge, inventor of the lever escapement.  John Arnold, an inventor of the chronometer escapement. A. L. Brequet, the most famous of French Masters. Fromanteel, John Ellicott, Julien LeRoy, Cabrier, McCabe, Isaac Rogers, Vulliamy, Barrauds, Barwise, Chas. Frodsham, Jules Jurgensen, Berthoud, Lepine, and Samuel Ruel are. also represented.

The early watchmakers introduced many innovations in their work and examples of the following may be found in the collection; striking watches, alarm watches, repeaters, calendar watches, musical watches, chronographs, decimal dials, day-and-night dials, revolving dials, Turkish dial, jumping hour hand, flyback calendar hands, pedometer wind, Tourbillon, flirting hour numerals, and watches with automata figures on dial which apparently strike the hours and quarter hours on small gold bells. The outside cases are also treated in various ways, such as pierced work on repeaters, enamel paintings, green leather pique work, tortoise shell covering, and many types of engraving and repousse work.

The Watches Illustrated

No. 1. Very early and rare round watch in Canister or drum shaped bronze case, 1 1/2 in. in diameter. The lid is pierced to show the position of the original steel hour hand without opening the lid. There are knobs at each hour to feel the time at night. Probably of German make, circa 1575. Has Catgut movement.

No.2. "Nuremberg Egg" bronze watch case, circa 1600-1625. 1 1/2 x 1 7/8" oval. Front and black covers have excellent engravings, and the sides are handsomely pierced. French type of design.

No.3. Octagonal shaped bronze watch case. German type of about 1620. 1 7/8" across. Back and sides have beautiful engraving and pierced ornament. The face has a beveled crystal.

No.4. Large alarm watch in silver case. 2 1/2" diameter and about 1 1/2" thick. French type of dial with enamel plaques for numerals. The hour hand is attached to a revolving disc, and the small hand is for setting the alarm. The movement is in good running order. The watch is signed "Lazare Lacovier" and was made about 1680.

No.5. Watch with four cases, outer case 2 5/8" diameter and of silver with Niello ornament. This watch was made by Ralph Gout, London, about 1800, for the Turkish market, and the dial has Turkish numerals. The second case is covered with tortoise shell pique work.

No.6. Silver pair case (two cases).  Watch made about 1760 by John Wilter, London. The outer case is fine repousse work by the celebrated silversmith "D. Cochin." 

No.7. Fine calendar watch by "Lepine," a celebrated French maker, about 1770. The silver case is 2 1/2" in diameter, but quite thin. There is a sweep seconds hand. The upper half of the dial has the days of the month with the rare type fly-back calendar hand.

No.8. English pair case calendar watch by E. Harrison, circa 1770. Outer case of tortoise shell, and the inner case, silver. The enamel dial has two circles, one for the hour hand only, and the other for the calendar hand. The minute hand is at the center as usual.

No.9. Swiss automata quarter hour repeating watch with gold figures on dial. These figures appear to strike on small gold bells, but in reality the hours and quarter hours are struck on concealed gongs. Made about 1810.

No. 10. A "jumping-hour" hand watch made by Gregson, Paris, about 1790. The upper half of the dial has the twelve numerals, and the lower half, a pretty painting. The hour hand requires twelve hours to move half-way around dial and .iumps to I after reaching XII. This was done so no numerals would interfere with the enamel painting. 

No. 11 French or Swiss pendulum watch in silver case. The dial is also of small numeral circle below center of dial. The upper half is pierced to show the "pendulum" balance.

No. 12. A stem wind "tourbillon" in 2" diameter case. The "tourbillon" is an arrangement whereby the whole escapement revolves, and was invented to overcome position errors. The lower half of dial is open to permit the escapement to be seen.

No. 13. Large gilt metal watch signed "F. L. Loremier." Has two rows of stones both on dial side and back, with excellent enamel painting of a lady on the back.

No. 14. Back view of a watch signed "Ls. Duchene, Geneva," and made about 1790. The back is in black enamel with gold stars and ornament in silver and green stones.

No. 15. Gold pair case repeating watch made about 1770 by Geo. Lindsay, "Servant to ye Prince of Wales," and watchmaker to George III of England.  Both cases are exquisitely pierced and engraved. This watch has a pulse piece to count the beats of the quarter repeater, so that one may "feel" the time, as well as see and hear it.

No. 16. Fine example of French work, circa of 1720. Alarm watch signed "D. Pillon, a Paris." The design and execution of the silversmith work on the two cases is notable. Both cases are pierced to emit the sound from the alarm. The watch is in good working order.

No. 17 and No. 18. These illustrations are given to show the large amount of ornamentation bestowed on the early watch movements. No. 17 is by the famous "Baltazar Martinot, a Paris," and made about 1680. No. 18 is signed "J. Batiste Prevost," and shows French work, circa 1720.

A Needed Step

From Horology magazine, October 1937

A Needed Step

Considering the small number of horological schools in the country one cannot help but wonder how students of horology receive their training. A very few or the schools are properly equipped and require a definite minimum of education as a prerequisite to admission. Of the rest, most of them are not so much interested in turning out graduates who will be a credit to the craft and will be able to do satisfactory work as they are in the financial returns. It is these schools which promise to turn out a watchmaker in 60 or 90 days and accept anyone as a student as long as he is able to pay the tuition.

There is yet another group of individuals who teach horology after a fashion. In some states provisions are made to teach a trade to disabled men, some of whom naturally choose watchmaking. It has been the policy of state educational departments to allow these men to be taught by individuals who in turn are paid the tuition fees. A hundred years ago this miKht have been satisfactory. But today it is unfortunately, or fortunately, true that the individual who is able to teach horology is almost invariably engaged in business and has neither the time nor the facilities for teaching. The horologist who seeks to obtain students for training in most cases is unfit for teaching. The state thus pays for training which the student does not receive. In addition there have been instances of outright dishonesty in the placement of such students.

It is a known fact that most students placed by the state with individuals or inferior schools are usually unable to hold a position after their training period has expired and are forced to go into business to the detriment of themselves as well as their fellow craftsmen.

It seems to HOROLOGY that the horological schools in the United States would do themselves and the trade as a whole a good turn by setting up standards of training for students. The benefits of such cooperation in raising standards among schools are obvious. Rising standards among horologists demand rising standards among schools and vice-versa. Possibly through the Horological Institute of America a start can be made along these lines. 

The Most Complicated Watch Ever Made

From Horology magazine, September 1937

The Most Complicated Watch Ever Made

The firm of Patek Philippe & Co. has for years been known as the maker of some of the world's finest watches. It is therefore not surprising to learn that one of the recent creations of this firm is the most complicated watch ever made. This masterpiece is both a repeater and self striking, the hours, quarters and minutes being automatically struck on a four gong chime. In addition it incorporates an alarm mechanism, a split second chronograph and minute and hour register.  Two winding indicators are provided for the two motor mainsprings and a perpetual calendar shows the day of the month, the day of the week, leap year and the phases of the moon.

On the reverse side of the watch are hour, minute and second hands showing 
sidereal time. A small dial contains an indicator for the equation between true time and sidereal time. Two other dials and hands indicate the time of sunrise and sunset while in the center is a celestial chart showing the visible constellations at every hour.

The watch contains some 110 wheels, 50 bridges, +30 screws, 90 springs, 120 miscellaneous parts of mechanism, 70 jewels, 2 dials, 19 hands and 2 discs for the moon and stars. In the construction of this marvelous pi.ece five years were necessary, not counting the preliminary time required for the solution of technical, mathematical and astronomical questions.

We are indebted to Patek Philippe & Co. for the photos and data regarding this unique watch. 

Notes Of The Trade

From Horology magazine, September1937

Notes Of The Trade

Equipment in Demand

George T. Algie, manager for the E. W. Reynolds Co. in San Francisco says that since he has been connected with the tool and material business he has not seen such a demand for modern equipment from horologists. He points in particular to the large sale of watch cleaning machines and friction jeweling tools. In addition to fine tools the up-to-date watchmaker is now buying material more systematically. Instead of purchasing various items and dumping them together in a box, even the repairer who operates on the smallest scale now uses the regular watch factory cabinets.

Colored Crystals

Unbreakable crystals in colors are items featured exclusively by the Trojan Unbreakable Watch Crystal Co. This company reports that its merchandise is being marketed not only in the United States but also in many foreign countries, and claims the distinction of originating color in commercial watch crystals.

Elgin Grade 313

The grade 313 is a 16 size model with 15 jewels.

This particular one is interesting because it's in a swing-out, nickel, case of a type and stype that's much more commonly found with 18 size watches.  I am so used to seeing 18 size cases like this that it makes this one look like it's been scaled down somehow.

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

Blog Archive