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 Numbers - Grade, Model and Class

Over its 100 year history, the Elgin National Watch Co. used a number of different, confusing and sometimes conflicting designations of products.  You'll see grade mostly, as this is the most useful and most specific designation for an Elgin watch movement.  But there are also class and model.


In each watch size, there are several model numbers.  The model numbers refer to the basic design, such as the type of plates, open-face or hunter case movement, etc.  Model numbers are unrelated across watch sizes (two watches of different sizes that are both model 8 have no connection to each other).  The same model numbers are re-used across movement grades and classes.


The class groups grades by general quality, materials and finishes.  There would be several grades with class  91 for example,  which would each be made with a similar finish, use of gold or brass, blued screws or not, and other details.

To my knowledge, Elgin stopped using the model and class designations in 1914.


The watch grade is more widely documented, and best defines the watch.  The grade is most useful in looking up the specific replacement parts.

All of these numbers, model, class and grade, have no general organizing principle.  They were assigned by Elgin sequentially over time, as the products were created.  There is nothing to say that one is "better" than another because the number is higher or lower.

You can look up Elgin pocketwatch grades, models and classes using the movement serial number, here:


Elgin Grade 312

The grade 312 is one of the more common Elgin models.  This one has an interesting dial that is less common though.

It's a 16 size watch, 15 jewels, made about 1915.


How Much Is My Elgin Watch Worth?

What is the value of an antique pocketwatch?  I am asked this a lot.  I don't do appraisals myself, but to get a general idea, this book is the place to look; The Complete Price Guide to Watches, by Gilbert, Engle and Shugart. This is a very widely used price guide that also contains a great deal of general information on vintage watches, watch terminology, the history of watch companies and more.

It's also loaded with illustrations! I recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about vintage pocketwatches. A revised edition comes out each year, so you can browse Amazon and pick up a copy from a prior year at a lower price.

Elgin Grade 105

The grade 105 is a 16 size movement with 11 jewels.

This example was made about 1893.

My Watch Web Content

I've received a few questions and comments about where I post different types of things online, and what each type of site is.  Here's the run-down...


At the moment this is really just one page in a Google Apps domain.  It's short, simple, and it has pointers to everything else.  Over time, I'd like to add more contents under this domain since it's low cost (free) and reliable hosting.  Whatever you're looking for in my antique watch material, this is a good place to start.


The Agora server is where I've had web content for a very, very long time - some time in the early '90s I think.  There's various items there, much of which is almost as antique as the watches.  But this is where the static pages are.  There's information about watch history, the Elgin company, a vintage pocketwatch FAQ, technical information for watchmakers and more.

at https://plus.google.com/104405056094644812060/posts

This is the latest addition.  It's a big ugly URL, but you don't have to remember it.  I have added links to the page on the various other pages.

I like to use Google+ for quick photos of current work, and for links to watch related internet content that I find interesting and want to share.  The photos are quick, low resolution, pictures I take with my phone.  The Google+ software makes it quick and easy to post these photos online without much effort on my part, and without any serious interruption to what I'm doing.

I include job numbers with these images.  Folks that have sent me their watch know their number, so by checking the Google+ page, they can get some idea of where their project is in line.

I also post links on Google+ to most new ElginTime blog posts.

A few people have commented to me that the Google+ site wants them to create an account.  While it's true that Google would like everyone to create an account, and there is a giant red button at the top of the page to do so, it is not necessary to create an account to see the content.  Just scroll down.

If you don't have a Google account though, I'd encourage you to give Google+ a try.  It's a nice system.


This only valid URL in this domain, so far is the Elgin serial number look up page here:


Use this page to look up a movement number and find out various bits of information about the watch.  As the URL implies, this service is in my home.

The ElginTime Blog
at http://elgintime.blogspot.com/

This blog goes back awhile now, so be sure to check out the archive links on the right-hand side.  On this blog there are mostly scaled down versions of the higher quality images I have taken of watches I have worked on, after they are completed.  There are also occasional longer posts and pointers on vintage watch topics, watchmaking, history, the Elgin National Watch Company, and more.

The big difference between this blog and the Google+ page is that the photos on the blog are the high quality images I take for watch owners after the work is complete.  I scale down the resolution for the blog posts, but they're still pretty good.  To get a closer look, you can click on any of these images and get a larger view.

Again, the best place to start is always http://www.elgintime.com.  That page has links to everything else.

Another Grade 382

The grade 382 is another example of the popular 3-fingered bridge model.  This one was made about 1910.

The case here is a plain nickel economy piece, and definitely newer than the movement, but the double-sunk dial is a nice extra.


More About The Grade 55

These photos show some internal details of the grade 55, especially the lever-set mechanism under the dial.

The lever mechanism on this model has a circular wheel, with teeth on the inside, around the cannon pinion.  This makes the teeth engage more smoothly, but the system lacks the natural torque to push the teeth against the cannon pinion when the wheel turns.  These types often do not engage well to setting mode.  

This example was made about 1868, in the first production run of the Elgin company.


The Elgin Pocketwatch Serial Numbers Lookup Page

Reports of the page's demise are greatly exaggerated.

There was an interruption in domain name resolution overnight for my Elgin movement number lookup page (it didn't take long for folks to notice either).  The name resolution is via dyndns.com, and for some reason the host was dropped.  I set it again, but I also added a "home" host to my real domain at elgintime.com.  Now this URL work also:


This nicer looking URL is not at the mercy of dyndns.com, but it remains at the mercy of the ISP.  If the IP address changes, I have to update the DNS configuration.

Elgin Grade 55

Here's another Elgin grade 55, an older key-wind, key-set model.  This one was made about 1871.

It's an 18 size, 7 jewel watch with a simple and early design.  Note the square hub in the middle of the hands for directly setting the time with the key.  The same watch key is used for widning, the hubs are the same size.

Take a look here for more on the Elgin grade 55.


An Interesting Dial on an Elgin Grade 290

I was sent these photos from a watch owner in the U.K.  There is a lot going on with this watch.  This is a grade 290 Elgin, 16 size, 7 jewels, made about 1920.  It says "Elgin USA" in a block font.  This is not typical on an early watch in my experience.

Second, it is in a hunter case...  Keep in mind that Elgin never made pocketwatch cases.   The common practice was that a customer would pick out a movement and a case separately at the shop and the watchmaker or jeweler would assemble them together at the shop.

The type of movement is determined by the location of the seconds dial relative to the stem.  It's either 180 degrees or 90 degrees.  This movement is an open-faced movement made with the intention of having the stem at 12:00 and the seconds at 6:00.  A hunter movement is made so that the stem is at 3:00 and the seconds is at 6:00.

The difference is whether it is intended to be read with the stem up (open-face), or the stem to the right (hunter).  When a hunter movement is installed in an open-face case, it's often called a "side-winder".

The dial though can be made independently of all this.  You see dials made for placing hunter movement in open-face cases with the stem at 12:00 and the seconds at 3:00, for example.

This watch is the reverse.  It's a dial made to accommodate putting an open-face movement in a hunter case.  The dial places the 12:00 up when the watch is held normally, in the left hand, the stem at 3:00 and the seconds at 9:00.  Hunter movements in open-face cases are pretty common, with or without a special dial, but not the reverse.

I also like the radial roman numerals.  I have seen marks like this before, but it is a less common style.

Elgin Grade 57

The grade 57 is an early 18 size design, key-wind and key-set, having 11-13 jewels depending on the exact production run.

These early Elgins have a "tangential" lever escapement, or "English style" lever, rather than the improved Swiss style used by Elgin later, and in watches to this day.

On this watch the lever pivots at a tangent to the escape wheel, rather than pointing directly away from the escape wheel at 90 degrees from the tangent.

This example, with an especially low serial number, was made about 1871.


Gold does not rust.  So when this watch arrived, outwardly, it appeared to be in good condition.  Even the dial and hands looked good.  But looking inside, this watch had significant rust issues.

This is a grade 495, 12 size, 17 jewel Elgin pocketwatch, made about 1937, that obviously got some water inside at some point.

It is important to realize, as carrying vintage watches has become more and more popular of late, that these old designs do not include any sort of water resistance features.  And an old watch does not actually have to be submerged for rust to get started.  Even condensation can do it, from humidity.

There are three things that finish a watch off, beyond the realm of ordinary repair; rust, fire and running a watch without proper lubrication.

But rust is often not as bad as it looks.  The gold, brass and nickel plated parts are stained by rust, but not actually damaged.  Nickel plated steel parts will need replacing, if the rust is bad enough, but the staining can be cleaned off.

Steel springs you can be sure rust will ruin.  But that said, this pocketwatch pulled through to tick another day.

Elgin Grade 387

This is a 17 jewel, 16 size movement featuring a micro regulator.

This one has a gold-tone dial in unusually good condition.  These dials have not held up well over the decades and typically have a lot of corrosion pock marks.

Made about 1916...

Elgin Grade 4

The grade 4 is a 16 size, 15 jewel, stem-wind, lever-set movement.

This one is in a decorative Leader coin silver hunter case with hallmarks.  The movement was made about 1887.


Elgin Grade 2

The Elgin grade 2 is an 16 size watch.
It is lever-set and the jewel configuration varies depending on the production run.  This one was made about 1883.
The last photo, below, shows the bezel removed, it unscrews, and the lever extended thus putting the watch in setting mode.

I think this example is interesting because it is in a case of a type and style more commonly found with 18 size American watches from this time.


It's really nice to get positive feedback from a happy customer.

Jeff - 
I have received my pocket watch right on time. It is exquisite, evenmore than I remember. Thanks again for accepting my repair. You are so busy and it is a privilege to have you and the knowledge of your grandfather repair my watch. I'm certain that it adds to its life, and to its value when it is time to pass it on. Thanks for the CD also. Yes it took a long time, but I read on another website an old story about watchmakers and the pressure they are put under by the customers and their bosses. That's why I never bothered you. It takes what it takes. The watches decide not the customer. 
So another happy customer and the another Rejuvenated Elgin. Be well myfriend. 
J. O.

Elgin Grade 6

The Elgin grade 6 is an old design.

It is 18 size, 7 jewels, stem-wind, lever-set.

This one was made about 1884.  It's in a heavy coin silver hunter case.

There is a washer on one of its case screws made from an old ratchet wheel.

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

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