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.
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It's still a work in progress...
Tool and Material Catalogue, 1906 - 1907
Just a small sample of a few pages...
It was sent to a specialty shop for a bezel. These generally have to be fabricated.
It's important to take extra care with hunting case watches (watches with a front cover, like this one). Hunter cases are much more fragile than their open face counterparts.
This one was made about 1904. It was missing the front bezel, as this first photo shows, It was sent to a specialty shop to take care of that and returned to its owner from there.
From Horology magazine, March, 1938
I would appreciate very much a few suggestions concerning the proper or most approved methods of handling repaired watches. By that I mean, is it best to provide a watch rack to hang on the wall or would a cabinet be more useful?
At the present time we are using regular jewelry trays which we keep in the show-cases and, of course, these trays are transferred to the safe at the close of the day. We are not satisfied with our present way of handling as we have several hundred watches being transported back and forth from the safe with the result that they sometimes get damaged in moving.
Answer: Handling repair jobs is quite a problem. The methods adopted vary with the size of the store and the number of watches. The system described here is in use at the Slavick Jewelry Company, one of the largest jewelry establishments in Los Angeles.
The watches are kept in cabinet drawers which are made with a separated number compartment for each watch. The compartments are made in several different sizes to accommodate ladies' wrist watches, mens' strap watches and pocket watches. The compartments for pocket watches are made to hold the watches in a vertical position.
The compartment number of a watch is marked on the repair ticket and in the repair record book. At night the drawers are placed in the safe and in the day they are kept in a cabinet in the watch repair department.
The Elgin Exhibit in New York will be educational in character and will illustrate by means of working models and photomurals various types of time-pieces beginning with those used in prehistoric times, such as the burning rope, continuing down through the ages to antique and modern watches and ending with a glimpse of the timepiece of tomorrow. Many other interesting exhibits will be shown, among them a large scale model of the watch in actual operation and a microscopic display of various small parts which make up the modern watch.
The exhibition will be housed in a semi-circular exhibition hall which will surround a central circular building. This building will contain an actual astronomical observatory and will show how correct time is determined from the stars.
While time is a subject which vitally concerns everyone, very few people know how correct time is determined and that it is determined from star observations and not from the sun.
On clear nights the dome of the observatory will be opened and actual star observations will be made. During the day and on cloudy nights the demonstrations will be made using an artificial star which will have the appearance and the apparent motion of a real star. The observatory will contain two astronomical clocks, which are among the most accurate in the world. These clocks will be mounted on concrete piers to eliminate vibration and will be hermetically sealed in glass jars to eliminate atmospheric pressure changes. They will be electrically wound every 36 seconds and have a mean variation of daily rate of about eight one-thousandths of a second (0.008 second) per day. The observatory will also contain all necessary auxiliary apparatus which is commonly used in time determination.
The walls of the observatory and the inner walls of the exhibition hall will be of glass and between these two sections will be a circular cascade of water. At the end of the cascade will be a water clock, illustrating one of the most ancient of timepieces. Here will stand a statue of a slave holding a large club in his hands and watching a bowl which rests upon the water. In this bowl is a small hole through which the water slowly enters. The bowl sinks into the water and at the instant that it disappears, the slave strikes a gong with his club, thus signalizing the beginning of another hour.
In passing from the exhibition hall to the observatory, the visitor will walk over a glass bridge underneath which is a model of the Elgin National Watch factory, thus obtaining the illusion of a view from an airplane.
The building is so designed that it emphasizes the meridian, or north and south line, in a striking manner. The meridian itself will be marked by a pier apart from the building with an arrow pointing to the true north.
Yesterday evening I realized that the ISP changed my IP address on me, so the watch serial number look up page has been inaccessible, probably for more than 48 hours. I went and changed all the DNS entries. It's there again now, and busy again too.
A number of so called "mystery watches" have also been made. These watches have a small movement concealed in the case near the pendant. The minute hand is fastened to a glass disc which has teeth in its circumference and is turned by the movement. The case is made with a crystal on both sides so that seemingly there is no mechanism to account for the turning of the hands.
Since many new watches have the plugged end cannon pinions it has probably occurred to many just how to tighten them. That was my worry a few months ago. Here is my solution.
Grasp the cannon pinion in a pair of cutting pliers with the pinion well over to one side of the jaws. Place a tapered broach next to the pinion, toward the inside of the jaws but not beyond the center. Give the broach as much freedom as you would were it through the center of the pinion and clamp the pliers. Try on center pinion, if not tight repeat operation. I have also found it necessary, in cleaning a watch by machine, to put a very little oil on the center pinion or the cannon pinion is apt to freeze.
At various times I have read articles on position adjusting but I am still at a loss to understand what to do if a watch does not run right in positions. Some writers claim that if a watch is in good mechanical condition, freshly cleaned and oiled, it is bound to perform well in positions. A great portion of my work consists of railroad watches. I use a watch cleaning machine for cleaning and _____ oil for lubrication. Until recent months I used _____ oil. The reason I changed to the present brand is because I had a number of watches which ran well for a little while but started to act up shortly after being put in service. My greatest difficulties are in getting the flat positions to run alike, and no small amount of grief do I experience with the pendant up position, which, as if for spite, always runs slow. Sometimes I question whether the factories do anything to adjusted watches outside of stamping them "Adjusted." The reason for my suspicion is that I have as many difficulties with supposedly new watches as I do with those I repair.
An example of my grief is the case of a trainman, whose old watch I have condemned and recommended the purchase of a new _____ watch. I have been trying to regulate it now for the last three months, and just when I think that I moved the regulator the right amount it comes back the next week with a much greater variation.
Answer: In order to fully cover all of the difficulties pointed out in this letter it would consume the pages of a good size book. Indeed one could go on indefinitely just explaining why a watch may vary in the flat positions only. In the limited space of the Question Box we can touch only briefly on the subjects in question.
The brand of oil you have been using, as well as that which you are using now, is considered to be of good quality. It has already been pointed out in the article "Oiling a Watch" (See August issue of HOROLOGY) that there is just as much in the manner of oiling a watch as there is in the brand of oil.
The statement that "a watch which is in good mechanical condition will have a good position rate" is very true. The difficulty is to be able to recognize when the watch is in such a condition. Just as there is a definite mechanical reason why an automobile engine stops, knocks, or consumes too much gas, so is there a particular cause for every peculiar position rate of a watch. Some of the most common faults which cause variation in the flat positions are as follows: A pitted or out of flat endstone, the end of one pivot may be flat while the other is rounded; one pivot may be freely projecting through the jewel while the other chokes on the cone. A slight burr on one pivot will sometimes also cause a variation in the flat positions, especially if the balance has too much end shake and the pivot hangs up on the burr and prevents the opposite pivot from reaching the endstone. Unequal sizes of hole jewels in the balance or even in the fork will cause a variation in the flat positions, to say nothing about excessive endshake in any escapement member, level of the hairspring and a host of other reasons too numerous to mention here.
Among the common causes for slow pendant positions are open regulator pin. No eye loupe is too powerful for examining regulator pins. All upright positions may be accelerated or retarded by the slightest touch of the regulator pins. Other important points to observe are good poise of the balance and perfection in pivots. When a balance does not seem to come to poise there must be something wrong with its pivots. A balloon chuck for examining and touching up pivots is good enough. The best, however, is the old-fashioned contrivance illustrated in Figure 2. In this tool the pivot rotates on its own cone and by putting the heavy number 8 Dumont tweezer against the parallel section one can easily tell whether it is bent or perfect.
For those who are fortunate enough to own a regular microscope the device illustrated on page 11 of the January 1937 issue of HOROLOGY, is recommended.
The correct pinning point of the inner terminal of the hairspring plays no small part in the good rate of a watch. However, manufacturers of modern railroad watches are fully aware of this fact and the average horologist will do well not to tamper with it, outside of observing whether the hairspring runs true in the flat and the round.
A watch which runs within five or six seconds between the dial up and dial down positions and does not vary over fifteen seconds in all five positions may be considered an excellent commercial timekeeper.
A good book on adjusting is "Rules and Practice for Adjusting Watches" by Walter J. Kleinlein.
Watches Presented to Lord and Lady Elgin
The serial number on this movement is R345687. In later years, Elgin used letters for a number of millions in their serial numbers.
More about that here...
Bent Centers, Demagnetizing and Poising
How can I straighten the shaft the cannon pinion fits on, in 12 size very thin Elgin and Illinois watches? Most everyone that comes in has the center post bent. Watchmakers apparently bend these posts while crowding the hands on.
A Parker wrist watch that is very strongly magnetized has been brought in. I have taken this watch in to Cleveland to four watchmakers. No demagnetizer will take out the electricity. I suppose I will have to take the watch apart and demagnetize each piece separately.
What oil shall I use in winding and setting of pocket and wrist watches? I have been using clock oil, but I have been told that I should use grease as thick as vasoline.
Please tell me how to poise a balance.
I have my balance wheel before me on my agate poising tool, balance, staff and rim with screws. Where do I go from here? Should I have balance, staff and rim with screws, roller collet and roller jewel with hairspring and stud? All watchmakers do differently. I would like to know the right way.
Answer: We suggest that you check your method of removing cannon pinions. Make sure that the pull is straight upward without side pressure. It would appear to us that some of the bent center posts you encounter are probably due to your own method of removing the pinions.
There is no easy method for straightening a bent center. The usual procedure is to hold the post in the lathe chuck and forcing the wheel in the desired direction with the fingers. In some instances it is possible to force the post direct in the watch.
Every horologist should own a demagnetizer and thus save the trouble of sending out a job which can be done in a few seconds. Modern demagnetizers work efficiently and one should not need to take a watch to pieces for mere demagnetization.
We suggest that you follow the oil manufacturers' advice as 'to which oil to use on the winding parts. Practically all makers of oil specify this on the instruction circulars which are supplied with each bottle of oil. They make recommendations as to which one of their grades to use on the train, winding and escapements.
When poising a balance, the unit placed on the jaws of the poising tool should consist only of the balance, staff, rollers and roller jewel. No poising can be done without removing the hairspring.
Your advice is earnestly asked in the following problem.
My present method of restoring rough or damaged balance pivots is to remove the hairspring and roller, mount the balance wheel in the split chuck and go to work on the pivots with oil-stone powder, diamontine, iron and bell metal slips. This method is satisfactory in producing results but is slow, particularly in adjusting, where it is sometimes necessary to grind the cone of the pivot back.
The balloon type of chuck is unsatisfactory except for working on the pivot end. I have concluded that the American type pivot polisher as made for the American lathe would be slower than my above method as used in general repair work.
The Jacot lathe seems to be the answer but while I have studied your articles on this tool which appeared in Horology, also the article in "Practical Benchwork," I still do not understand its use thoroughly. It is clear that no grinding or polishing compounds can be used in connection with this tool as the rests and the lanterns would soon be ruined.
It is stated that pivot files are to be used. But how? Are they drawn to and fro over the rests while the staff is rotated with the bow? It seems to me that this would soon ruin both file and rest. Also I find that watchmakers' files will not cut all staffs. Before burnishing a pivot with steel it has been my belief that it was first necessary to prepare it for burnishing by polishing with diamontine. Assuming that I have the pivot filed to the desired size how am I to proceed to polish it on the Jacot lathe? Am I to understand that a proper polish can be had by burnishing only?
Answer: Most American balance staffs are too hard to be filed in the Jacot lathe. Neither is there any reason why American staffs should require filing.
Any make of balance staff may be burnished on the Jacot lathe with a burnisher to which oil is applied. Dry burnishing should never be practiced. The burnisher will also reduce the pivot in diameter and if a burnisher with a cone file is used, the pivot may thus be lengthened. The degree of cutting which a burnisher will do depends on the grade of emery paper on which it is dressed.
If much material is to be removed from a pivot a burnisher dressed 011 coarse paper should be used. Finer polishing is done with a burnisher dressed on fine emery paper. Diamontine or cutting stones should never be used on the Jacot lathe except for touching up a pivot when supported by the lantern spindle. The pivot files, if properly used, will not damage the tool.
Elgin Opens Spring Season with 19 New Watches for Men
In response to growing demand for a moderately priced I5-jewel watch for men, the Elgin National Watch Company has just announced the appearance of seven new IS-jewel Elgin "Lancers," to sell for $29.75. Twelve other important additions to the line, including three new 21-jewel Lord Elgins, are ready for distribution.
The other new models include two new "Crusaders," one of which is flexible lug model, advertised nationally as the Elgin "Flexon." Both of these watches are 8/0 size, contain 17 jewels, and sell for $37.50.
Elgin is also offering new styles in 8 /0, 7-jewel "Cavaliers" and 17-jewel "Streamlines." The new models will be strongly promoted in Elgin's national advertising throughout the spring.
Spring Officially Ushered in at New York Fair
A flash from the Elgin observatory building on the New York Fair grounds at 7:28:30 o'clock E.S.T. on Tuesday, March 21, officially ushered Spring into the great exhibition enclosure and constituted a feature of the dedication ceremonial arranged for the Elgin building at the Fair.
Consistent with the whims of northern Springs, the day was cold and raw and the young ladies who made up the Persephone dancing group, attired in flimsy, flowing bits of fabric, shivered through their interpretative dance before Jimmy Durante as Father Time. Despite freezing winds, however, Prof. Frank D. Urie, director of research for the Elgin Company, set the scene from the timing standpoint and brought into action an enactment of the Greek legend of the return of Persephone from the lower regions.
The spectacle opened with the arrival of Persephone at the new Elgin building, where Ceres awaited her. She came in a chariot, drawn by prancing black horses, and while her arrival was welcomed with affectionate warmth, the temperature did what it could to cool things off.
On hand to greet her, too, was Jimmy Durante in the role of Father Time, but missing was New York's No.1 Greeter, Grover Whalen. For the first time in the memory of the oldest inhabitant Mr.
Whalen did not rise to the occasion to greet a visitor. In fact, Mr. Whalen did not rise until an hour later, and Spring couldn't wait.
Without him, however, cameras clicked, the shivering onlookers applauded and the Elgin building was officially dedicated.
Tuesday night at 10 o'clock, a time signal was given by Professor U rie from the observatory building to start the Coronation Scot, crack train of the London, Midland and Scottish Railroad, from Baltimore on its exhibition tour of this country. The signal was transmitted by wire to Baltimore.
When the exhibition hall surrounding the observatory is complete, a series of exhibits will depict the history of timekeeping. Prominent among them will be a mural painting, 110 feet long, a connected series showing the increasing importance of Time. Other features will include replicas of ancient time-determining devices, beginning with those used in prehistoric times, continuing down through the ages to antique and modern watches, and ending with a glimpse of the "Time Piece of Tomorrow."
Here the visitor may have his watch checked by means of a watch-testing machine which, in 15 seconds, shows the amount of the watch's deviation of 24 hours. Some of the interesting technical phases of watch manufacture will be featured in an exhibit showing scientific achievements of the Elgin factory.
By Glen Knauts
Yes, George Washington had a watch. Personally, I like Richard Nixon's Vulcain Cricket.
Watch movements generally come out through the front, so as you can see the head of the case screw, if it was there, overlaps with the edge of the case, thus keeping the movement from coming out.
To hold the movement in the case here, someone added small piece of steel under a near by plate screw.
All sorts of interesting "fixes" are found in old watches. Somewhat counter intuitively, many type of spare parts are more easily obtained today than in the 19th century. Perhaps a watchmaker that could make a replacement for the lost screw was not available. Or maybe the watch owner came up with this solution on their own.
Some types of fixes like this, I leave in place as part of the history of the piece. This solution wasn't very stable though, so I added a proper case screw.
More creative repairs here.
It's probably made about 1900, but that's a rough guess based on the movement style and finish.
...Good quality work, and a nice little watch!
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