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!

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The Mechanics of Canon Pinion Friction

From Horology magazine, June 1938

The Mechanics of Canon Pinion Friction

In making repairs the horologist is by far more concerned in the perfection of the so-called "most important items" such as the mainspring, poise of the balance or the adjustment of the escapement, than in the trifling matter of hand friction. In fact, if there is something wrong with the cannon pinion, it is seldom discovered before the watch is ready for casing. At that stage, one is apt to assume that the job is actually complete and, because the annoying action of the cannon pinion was not anticipated in the first place, feel that he is not justified in spending too much additional time.

In some instances, the carrying of the hand is left altogether to luck. If the dial train is free in every respect, even the slightest amount of friction on the pinion will be enough to make it turn the minute and hour wheels. Occasionally it fails, but will resume its duties after the customer has, in the process of setting, turned the pinion to a more favorable position with a better friction. Thus, we so often come across a beautiful repair job but worthless from the standpoint of the customer, because the watch although ticking without stopping, still fails to indicate the correct time.

Repair jobs in which the hands have been left without friction are due only to negligence. Mutilated cannon pinions on the other hand, are due to nothing else than lack of understanding of the mechanical principles involved. One might even intimate that some manufacturers would do well to brush up on this subject. For instance, there is nothing more vexing than to observe the finest of workmanship in a marine chronometer and to look at the same time at the cannon pinion, whose friction consists of a filed crescent with a punch mark in the center. Similarly, one often finds a beautiful watch which contains a cannon pinion, improperly designed for satisfactory service.

The cannon pinion should receive attention before the watch is taken apart for cleaning. In many instances it is the center post which is at fault and no matter how near perfect the cannon pinion  may be, if it is forced over the sharp end of the post, the depression inside the pinion will be either shaved off or pressed outward. It is for this reason that one finds so many pinions squeezed around the neck, almost to the point of separation. but still too free to carry the hands. If this fault is observed before the watch is assembled, the sharp edge of the center post may be taken off in the lathe, but there is hardly any remedy if it is detected after the watch is finished.

What takes place inside of the small cannon pinion can perhaps be better explained through the sketches in Fig. 1. On the posts are three bushings, each of which has been provided with a spring finger whose action is similar to a cannon pinion. We find that at A the bushing remains away from the shoulder and one can see at a glance that every time it will be pressed back, it will return to its original position. At B, on the other hand, the bushing remains firmly seated against the shoulder and will snap down quickly should it be slightly raised. As shown at C, the bushing is without any friction and can be moved slightly up or down, although it would require some force to pull it off the post.

With these examples in mind, one may readily see why the cannon pinion shown in Fig. 2 will rise up after a few turns.  The spring pressure of the pinion is at such a point that it is bound to be forced up the incline of the arbor. In Fig. 3, on the other hand, the pressure is at a point which must force the pinion toward the shoulder of the center arbor, a condition which is sought after in cannon pinion adjustment.

Just as at C in Fig. 1, the combination illustrated in Fig. 4 cannot possibly give good results, for the point of pressure in the pinion just coincides with the center of the cone of the arbor and does not come in contact with the arbor itself. There is no other remedy but to change the point of contact to a position higher on the center staff.

Although the combination in Fig. 3 is shown correctly matched, it can not be called ideal, for after all, it is a spring pressure that is required for the pinion friction. But how can there be much spring in the short stubby section of the neck of the pinion in Fig. 3. In addition, if the cone of the staff should happen to be slightly out of round, and it is not at all unusual, the friction then might be irregular if not altogether absent in spots.
In order to have a smooth friction the neck of the pinion should be more slender, like that illustrated in Fig. 5. It is to be noted that not only is the neck thinner, but it is also longer.

For the purpose of altering the groove in a cannon pinion it is necessary to have a thin flat graver. The one shown in Fig. 6 is made from a so-called "escapement" file. Nearly every horologist will find around his bench a worn out file which he can easily grind to shape. The actual turning is done on a small hardened and tempered arbor, on which the pinion is forced. Of course, one must be careful not to cut the pinion in two during this operation. It is a good plan to measure the arbor and then the neck of the pinion with a Grossman millimeter gage. One can then tell easily the amout of stock which may be safely removed.

What is the right tool for tightening a cannon pinion? Gadgets for this purpose have been and are being continually placed on the market. Some of these may probably be altered and used, others are totally worthless and their construction shows plainly that their makers failed to understand their use. Cannon pinion tightening, from a mechanical standpoint, consists of squeezing the neck of the pinion at a particular point, until a notch is pressed into the wall of the pinion.

One can produce such a notch with a punch and stump in the taking tool or with other devices. However, the easiest tool to manipulate is a cutting pliers. An optician's pliers is probably best suited for this purpose. Its jaws are thin and it has a screw stop which prevents it from cutting and object in two. By removing the extremely sharp edges with an oil stone slip, it can be converted into the most perfect cannon pinion tightener.

It has already been mentioned that the point of pressure on the pinion must be at a point properly related to the cone of the center staff. It is not always possible to place the pliers at this particular point, for no matter how thin the jaws of the pliers are, they are still a bit too clumsy when applied to the small pinion of a modern baguette watch. The sketches in Figs. 10 and 11 show the possible choice of positions by merely turning the pinion around. The same illustration also explains why an hour wheel suddenly becomes so tight on the cannon pinion that it is necessary to broach it out. The danger of the cutting pliers or other instrument raising a burr on either corner of the groove is always present, and one should hesitate before deciding to broach the hole of the hour wheel instead of removing the burr from the pinion.

Horologists Visit Elgin Factory

From Horology magazine, October1939

Horologists Visit Elgin Factory

Host to members of the Chicago Horological Association on an all-day sightseeing and get-acquainted trip recently was the Elgin National Watch Company.

A group of twenty-seven watchmakers, all members of the Chicago Horological Association, gathered early the morning of August 23, in the Chicago offices of the Elgin Company where they were greeted by Howard D. Schaeffer, vice-president.  In a chartered bus the visitors were taken to Elgin where they spent the day going through various departments of the plant and the Elgin Watchmakers' College.

The group was entertained at lunch at the Elgin Country Club with James G. Shennan, factory superintendent, as host.

H. W. Johnson, Chicago, Ill.; K. Hedin, Chicago, Ill.; J. B. Spaulding, Chicago, Ill.; Erwin H. Camp, Chicago, II.; J. F. Macke, Chicago, Ill.; Paul C. Elder, Chicago, Ill.; J. Thomas Harley, Chicago, Ill.; Fred Attermeyer, Chicago, III.; Julius Adams, Chicago, Ill.; Herman Krel Evanston, Ill.; L. G. Albert, Chicago, Ill.; Steve V. Pappas, Elgin, Ill.; C. J. Bellanger, Chicago, Ill.; Alfred Schierer, Chicago, Ill.; A. H. Willnow, Chicago, Ill.; A. H. Gustafson, Chicago, Ill.; C. E. Bromund, Chicago, Ill.; Frank Jacobs, Chicago, Ill.; Karl Kneisel, Wheaton, Ill.; L. E. Harlan, Chicago, Ill.; Jack H. Lund, Chicago, Ill.; O. L. Walker, Chicago, Ill.; Irving G. Jensen, Chicago, Ill.; James A. Hall, Chicago, Ill.; Carl H. Ander, Chicago, Ill.; Ralph Bersat, Glen Ellyn, Ill.; and Bernard Fanchi. Chicago, Ill. 

Waltham Appleton

Here's a great Waltham Tracy Appleton.  

This model is a 17 jewel, 18 size movement, lever-set.

Elgin Grade 192

The Elgin grade 192 is a 12 size, 17 jewel movement.  The decorative finish, called damascene, on this movement is quite nice.

This watch, in an octagonal case, made about 1898.

Elgin Grade 376, Veritas

This is a grade 376 Elgin, Veritas model.  It is a 16 size 23 jewel movement, featuring an up/down wind indicator and motor barrel.

When you change out an Elgin balance staff, the old one is removed by cutting off very close to the entire hub in the lathe.  The remaining bit is popped off in the staking tool.  This prevents any damage to the arms of the balance wheel, and you get a free tiny washer!

In this picture we see the new staff, upper, and what's left of the old staff.

This fine example was made about 1915.


Balance Vibrations

From The American Horologist magazine, November 1941

Balance Vibrations
By W. H. Samelius

"All pocket watches and most all wrist watches are so constructed that the balance vibrates 18,000 times per hour. This is usually known as a quick train. There are a few extremely small watches made in which the balance vibrates 19,800 per hour and some, 21,600 per hour. In vibrating hairsprings to the balance for the 18,000 beat watch, the count must be 300 vibrations per minute. It is customary when vibrating a balance, to count each alternate vibration, doubling the result for the actual count. The actual count is more easily controlled in this way. In selecting a hairspring, its diameter should be just one half the diameter of the balance rim. A hairspring of such diameter will usually be proper length for isochronism. The following table shows the time lost or gained for each count the balance makes over or under 300 per minute. For instance, if we count the vibrations of the balance and find it vibrates 298 per minute, it indicates that the balance is losing two vibrations, or 2/5th second per minute. 2/5 minute per hour would be 24 seconds and for 24 hours, the watch would lose 576 seconds or 9 minutes, 36 seconds per day.

"To determine the number of vibrations the balance makes per hour, multiply the number of teeth by themselves, taking the center wheel, 3rd, 4th, and escape wheel, multiply this result by 2 as each tooth of the escape wheel delivers two impulses; first on the receiving stone and then on the discharge.  Divide the results by the number of leaves multiplied by themselves, contained in the 3rd, 4th and escape pinion, thus:

64 x 75 x 60 x 15 x 2
--------------------------   =  18,000 beats per hour
        8 x 10 x 6

"If the watch or clock carries a second hand, then it would only be necessary to count the teeth in the 4th wheel, multiplying the number of teeth in the 4th wheel by the number of teeth in the escape wheel by two and dividing by the number of leaves in the escape pinion, the results then would be the number of vibrations the balance would make per minute.

Vibrations      Seconds  Seonds    Minutes & Seconds
per minute     per min.  per hour  per day
310                2             120         48
309                1 4/5       108         43.12
308                1 3/5       96           38.24
307                1 2/5       84           33.36
306                1 1/5       72           28.48
305                1             60           24
304                4/5          48           19.12
303                3/5          36           14.24 
302                2/5          24             9.36
301                1/5          12             4.48
300                On time  On time  On time
299                1/5          12             4.48
298                2/5          24             9.36
297                3/5          36           14.24
296                4/5          48           19.12
295                1             60           24
294                1 1/5       72           28.48
293                1 2/5       84           33.36
292                1 3/5       96           38.24
291                1 4/5       108         43.12
290                2             120         48

"When selecting a hairspring, it is essential to select a spring to vibrate correctly.  If a spring is fitted that is too weak to too strong, adding or deducting weight from the balance is necessary and if too much weight is either removed or placed on the balance, it will change the arc of the balance, which would show in the final results.  Care must be taken that a correct count is made, bearing in mind that we are fitting the hairspring to the balance rather than altering the balance to suit the hairspring."

An Elgin Grade 294 and The Vibrating Arm

The grade 294 is an 18 size, 7 jewels movement.   This one, made about 1917, had a broken part in the winding/setting mechanism (the "keyless works").

The replaced part is called a "vibrating arm".

Elgin Grade 290

The grade 290 is a 16 size, 7 jewel movement.  This example in an open-faced nickel was made about 1911.

Elgin Grade 315

There are a lot of these out there.  The Elgin grade 315, 12 size, 15 jewels, 1921, open-faced nickel case...

A classic.

Elgin Grade 386

This grade 386 is 16 size, 17 jewel movement.

Nice engraved hunter case with this one, 1912.

American Waltham for a Change

Here's a nice 0 size, 7 jewel Waltham in a gold hunter case.  The grade is 160.

New York State Student Watchmakers Guild

From Horology magazine, October 1939

New York State Student Watchmakers Guild

This Guild, consisting of horological students at the Morrisville State School, now comprises nine seniors and eight freshmen. This year, the freshmen were selected on a merit basis. Out of some 56 applications ten were selected, on recommendations and personalities, to take the entrance examinations. These included general questions, observation and mechanical aptitude tests. Eight applicants were successful.  

Guild meetings are held every other Tuesday night. At the first meeting of the fall season, activities and plans for the ensuing year were outlined. Work is to be continued on the Graham dead beat clock which was started last year.  Several pinions and smaller parts are already completed and it is planned to have the clock running some time during the year. 

World's Fair Watch

From Horology magazine, October 1939

World's Fair Watch

Benjamin Mellenhoff, chief technician for Marcus & Co., N ew York, has designed and constructed a novel watch symbolizing the New York World's Fair.  
The design finally decided upon was selected after several sets of large scale drawings had been made on a ten to one ratio.

The bridges of the movement are so laid out as to embody the figures 1939.  
Friction jewels are used for the train and separate settings for the balance jewels.  

Since the watch was intended to be an extremely accurate timepiece no regulator was provided. Preliminary tests showed a rate in the five usual positions with an
error not exceeding three seconds in 24 hours.

Mr. Mellenhoff also designed the dial and made the hands. The case is made of sterling silver with enameling in black.  
The watch is dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as president of the United States. 


I use a lot of these things. Does anyone know a cheap source of them, perhaps in quantities?

They can be anything from $7 to $10.  The ones with the smaller containers are less common and more costly.


I don't do restoration as such.  I work to repair and stabilize antiques, so that they are in good shape, will last, and can be enjoyed for what they are, as they are, by their current caretakers, and by generations to come.  When working with a watch that belonged to someone's grandparent, or great grandparent, I like to think that the result is something like what that person would recall, when the timepiece was in use.

Here's a pocketwatch has an awful lot of character.  It looks like someone's old friend.  A watch is a personal item, connected to a life history is to be honored and treated with respect.  We can only imagine the things such a watch has seen.

This is a 12 size, 7 jewel timepiece, made about 1925.

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

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