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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!

Hamilton 4992B

 Here's a Hamilton 4992B, with a sweep seconds hand, in excellent condition.

Made about 1943.

An E. Howard Pocketwatch

Here is an E. Howard Watch Co. (Keystone), 10 size, 17 jewels pocketwatch.  The Howard company sold rights to the name to the Keystone case company in 1902.

This example was made about 1921.  It has an open-face 14k while gold case.


Imported Elgins

In the late '50s and '60s, as the company was in decline, Elgin reduced production in the US and sold several imported grades of Swiss wristwatch movements.  Here are the Elgin grade numbers and the compatible base caliber.

627, AS1447 or BM-SS1396
628, UNIT 543
629, FONT 28
630, Swiss made
632, FONT 62
634, AS 1477 or AS 1563
643, AS 1423 or BM-AS 1361
644, AS 1421 or BM-AS 1323
645, AS 1422 or BM-AS 1320
653, BM-AS 1323
657, LIP R40
659, FONT 73
663, AS 1580
664, AS 1580
677, Buren 690
678, AS 1361
679, AS 1430
694, AS 1124
695, AS 1124
696, FONT 60
697, FONT 60
698, Seiko 6x8
699, Seiko DSS
720, JEAM 23D
723, JEAM PS32
746, AS 1525
747, AS 1156
748, FEF 37IN
749, FONT 60
756, PUW 1260
790, PUW 57
791, AS 1526
794, AS 1156
795, AS 1673
796, AS 1673
799, FONT 69
810, FHF 552
811, FHF 552
812, AUR 4200
816, FHF 72
817, FHF 72
818, VENUS 188
819, Felsa 1560
873, AS 1604B
889, FONT 72
938, FOR 189
950, AS 1673/74
951, AS 1673
957, PUW 361
958, PUW 1360
959, PUW 1361
961, AS 1803
1421, AS 1323
1422, AS 1320
1423, AS 1361
647, Movement made by Helvetica and sold for use on the Mexican railway system.
658, Movement made by Helvetica and sold for use on the Mexican railway system.
846, Movement made by Buren and sold for use on the Mexican railway system.
846, This is a 21 jewel version of the Elgin grade 658, made by Helvetica.
645, This is a variation of grade 644
653, This is a variation of grade 644
678, This is a variation of grade 627
752, This is a variation of grade 750
821, This is a variation of grade 820

Are there others?

Elgin Grade 119

This grade 119 has an unusual over-size gold case, in great condition.





The grade 119 is a 6 size, 11 jewel watch.  This example was made about 1893.



Elgin Grade 345

Here's another grade 345.  This one made about 1926.


This is a 12 size, 17 jewel movement.  It was a popular model.  Elgin made over 730,000 of these movements.

Vintage Pocketwatch Parts

Over the past few months I have been receiving a significantly increasing number of emails from people looking to buy a certain watch part or other.  Some of these are from hobbyists, or just watch owners, looking for something for their own watch.  But some are from watchmakers who are I'm sure already familiar with, and have apparently exhausted, the usual sources.

I don't deal in watch parts at all.  There's several reasons for this, but the main point I take away from the email I have been getting is that spare parts are drying up - fast.  It would seem that over the next few years it is going to become vastly more difficult to repair even relatively common vintage makes.

Elgin Grade 110

The Elgin grade 110 is a 0 size, 11 jewel movement.  This one has a spectacular gold holder case.

It was made about 1894.




Lever Issues

This is the dial side of an older model, 18 size, Elgin pocketwatch. This watch is lever-set, meaning that it is switched to setting mode by pulling out a lever from the edge of the dial.  It is not set by pulling the crown outward.  This photo shows the lever mechanism that operates under the dial at the front of the watch.  The lever is retracted here, so the watch is is winding mode. There is a gear under the rounded steel part in the upper right that is currently engaged to turn the mainspring arbor and wind the watch.



This next photo shows the lever pulled out.  A set of gears has now rotated and moved to disengage from the mainspring arbor and instead engage with the gear that sits in the middle.  This part in the middle is the cannon pinion.
This detail offers a better look at the cannon pinion and the intermediary wheel that will now turn it when the crown is turned, thus setting the hands.

The thing to note here is that pulling the lever out pushes the assembly toward the cannon pinion. These are really then just two gears whose teeth must engage in order to work. It is possible for the gears to happen to come together in a position such that they do not line up and engage.

If this happens, which is really just a matter of chance, a slight turn of the crown will move the wheels a little so the mechanism can engage.

If on the other hand, the lever is instead forced further out, the gears will press together with the teeth mis-aligned.

This next photo gives a better view of the other side of the cannon pinion. There is a tooth missing, and at least two others are badly bend over to one side. This is a result of the gears being pushed together with force when they are not aligned.

The gears will actually mis-align near to half the time when the lever is pulled out. Giving the crown a slight turn though, will drop them in place. Forcing the lever out on the other hand will crush the teeth of one or both parts involved.

Even under good conditions, the way these wheels come together makes the teeth on these brass gears subject to wear causing an uneven and rough feel to setting.

This is an old Elgin design (the model is similar to the first watch Elgin ever made in fact). But it represents the highest state of the art for this technology and manufacturing for its day. It's over 100 years old. The design is not like a modern watch would be, and it is far from perfect. Even just slightly later watches have a completely different clutch design, improved to better avoid such problems.

Parts for these watches are becoming more and more scarce.  In the not so distant future it will become vastly more difficult to repair a problem like this.

Let's be careful with these old machines.

Trusted?

It takes a certain level of confidence for folks to send me their watches.  Often, almost always, these items are family heirlooms of great value to their owners.  Yet they pack them up, and ship them off, across the country and even across the world, to someone they have only exchanged a few emails with.  Remarkable, really...

Now and then a prospective customer wants to call me on the phone before taking such a leap.  That's understandable and for that reason I include my complete contact information in my initial email contact with watch owners.  But what does this really prove?  Not a lot.  Sometimes they have specific questions, but they almost always say something like "well, I just wanted to hear a voice at the other end."

I hadn't really given it much thought until once when someone said something like that, then added "I guess that really doesn't mean much though."

No, it really doesn't, come to think of it.

I have extensive websites, including blogs that show watches that I have handled, going back years.  If it's conceivable that I have created this internet presence as a trap to get that next watch and flee the country, then what does hearing my voice prove?

As I say, I include my complete contact information in initial emails for customers.  They're quite welcome to call me on the phone if that helps.  They can also look up my address on Google Street View.  With this information, they have my name, address, phone number, and there are photos of me online too.  If I'm stealing watches, I'm doing a pretty poor job of hiding from authorities.

I wonder do folks have suspicions about brick and mortar businesses?  I have heard quite a few stories of bad experiences with watchmakers that customers have dealt with in person.  For example, one customer told me that a shop had totally replaced his movement without consulting him.  In another case, the extra rare type of hands on a watch had been replaced with a more common style and the victim had been unable to get the hands back.  These are just a couple of stories I've been told in the past few weeks, about physical shops - I've heard many stories like this.  I have no doubt that the vast, overwhelming majority of shops operate with a high degree of professionalism.  But does a physical shop, locally, lead to complete confidence?   Should it?

And yet, not too long ago, a prospective customer, after several exchanges, questions and answers, wrote in an email a final, simple, question, "how can I trust you?"

I don't really know what to say to this.  So I pointed out all these things.  I responded that he was welcome to speak to me on the phone, as others do.  But this does not prove I can be trusted.  I can also put a customer in contact with past customers.  But that could all be faked as well.  I do not have a store front that a customer can walk into, but having one doesn't actually prove anything either.  I don't see anything I can do.

If you send me a watch, and I disappear with it, you can phone the local police.  You'll have my name, address, phone number, and what I look like.  They'll have no trouble finding me.

But the advice I'd really like to put out there is this; if something like sending your watch off to be repaired is going to keep you awake at night then by all means do not do it.  Seriously, it's not worth it, and frankly I'm not going to try to convince anyone otherwise.

Elgin Grade 306

The grade 306 is a 16 size, 15 jewel, movement made with (even at the time) what was considered a "retro" look.

This is known as a three-fingered bridge movement.  Although all three screws on the "three" bridges are real, the bridge is actually all one piece.


 Made about 1905...

Elgin Grade 69

The Elgin grade 69 is an old design.


It is an 18 size, 15 jewel movement, this one made about 1871.  The dial on this example reads "National Watch Co", the original name of the Elgin company.

Elgin Grade 203

The Elgin grade 203 is a 0 size, 15 jewel movement.


This one was made about 1900 and features a very nice, fancy sterling case.

Elgin Grade 313


This was a very popular Elgin model.  The grade 313 is a 16 size, 15 jewel movement.

This one was made about 1927 and features an especially nice dial with minute numerals.

Elgin Grade 463

The grade 463 is a 3/0 size, 7 jewel movement.

This one was made about 1918.  It placed in a military-style wrist watch case, with the protective grill at the front.

Wrist watches, being considered feminine, were not commonly worn by men at this time.  The early use of watches in the military is what began to change this.

As an aside, new military tactics emerged in this era as well - tactics involving coordinated, timed, actions by ordinary troops.

National Watch Inspection Week

From The American Horologist magazine, March, 1940

National Watch Inspection Week
March 23rd to and Including March 31, 1940

To those participating in National Watch Inspection 'Week, do not overlook the idea of additional sales as well as repairs.

It is recommended that you sell your clientele on the idea of having their watch inspected, both inside and outside - in other words, "rejuvenate" your watch by making it both smart and accurate.
Don't overlook the replacement of wornout cases and antiquated watch bands.

Avail yourself of the free newspaper advertising mats, tieing in with the National Watch Inspection Week, as supplied by the Jacques Kreisler Manufacturing Corporation.

Elgin Looks Way Beyond 1923

Elgin Looks Way Beyond 1923
The Watchmakers' College does that


Elgin service through the jeweler has been celebrated for years.  In scope and care it ranks first and Elgin users have been getting the benefit of it right in there own home town for a long time.  But today the Elgin vision goes still further.
From Elgin National Watch Co


Elgin Grade 141

The Elgin grade 141 is and 18 size, 15 jewel movement.  It is lever-set and stem-wind.


This one was made about 1899.  It has an open-face, swing-out case.





These photos show some detail of the lever-set mechanism.  ...Great watch!




Elgin Serial Number Beginning with a Letter

Why do some Elgin movement numbers start with a letter?

In its later years Elgin began using a letter code as a prefix to movement serial numbers.  The letter stands for a number of millions, as follows:

X38 and 39
C, E, T and Y42
L43
U44
J45
V46
H47
N48
F49
S50
R51
P52
K53
I54

For example, a movement marked with a serial number L35467 would be serial number 43035467. Elgin serial numbers are always either a number, all digits and no letters, or a single letter followed by numbers. Anything else is either not the movement number, or the watch is not a vintage Elgin product.  The only exception is some imported (Swiss) grades Elgin that sold in the late 1960s, which do not have a serial number marked on the movement.

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

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