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!

Too Much Weight!

This balance wheel came out of a watch that happens to take one of two similar hairsprings, of differing strengths.  The movements in this particular family of Elgins are outwardly nearly identical.  Someone used the wrong spring on this one.

To slow down the resulting run-away watch, a very large amount of weight has been added.  Where eight or less timing screws, to each arm, would be typical, this one has a whopping eleven  on both sides!

They're almost all huge screws as well. This thing probably weighs twice what it should.

Elgin Grade 317

 The grade 317 is an 18 size movement, 15 jewels with a micro-regulator.

This one, with a heavy silver, open face case, with hinges, was made in about 1906.

Elgin Grade 152

Here's a nice grade 152, featuring a micro-regulator and gold bezels, all in a gold hunting case.

This is a 16 size, 15 jewel movement, made about 1900.

Elgin Grade 287

This is a great example of the grade 287, an 18 size, 7 jewel, lever-set movement.

This one, a hunting movement in an open-face case, was made about 1909.

Elgin Grade 301

The grade 301 is a 12 size, 7 jewel movement.

This one was made about 1918 and features a less common dial style having roman numerals arranged in a radial orientation.

Elgin Grade 387

Here a popular model, 16 size, Elgin pocketwatch.  The grade 387 is a 17 jewel model.

This example was made about 1914 and has an almost flawless dial.

A Watch For A Giantess

From Horology magazine, September, 1938

A Watch For A Giantess

Imagine a dainty wrist watch weighing 3 ~ pounds! Just such a timepiece, a much enlarged replica of a diamond set Elgin, will be on view in the Elgin exhibit at the National Credit Jewelers Convention.

If the "gems" of this mammoth chronometer were real, each would weigh 500 karats. The "grande dame" who would wear it would tip the freight scales at little more than a ton. Her altitude would be a mere 96 feet. Her elegant little evening sandals would be ' in the fashionable size 90. And her petite hands would be garaged (probably with the aid of a traveling crane) in a neat size 117 glove.

Madame's waist would measure a perfect 40~, but you would have to measure in feet. Her pert little head, with its mop of curly baling wire-we mean "hair"-would look too divine in a tiny chapeau, size 444, no less and no more. Hose length would be something a little less than 13 yards.

And think of the charming scene when the fair owner of this mighty Elgin extended her arms some 95 feet, and wrapped them around the "boy friend," as he presented her with an engagement ring, size 99!

Hairspring Expert Uses Seven Vibrators

From Horology magazine, September, 1938

Hairspring Expert Uses Seven Vibrators 

Miss I. A. Burki, Los Angeles hairspring specialist, states that the continually diminishing size of wrist watches has somewhat complicated the fitting of hairsprings. No longer is there just one standard of 18,000 vibrations per hour, but in order to accommodate the great range of beats now being used she uses seven different standard vibrators.

Born in Switzerland, the center of the watch manufacturing industry, Miss Burki early showed mechanical inclinations and studied hairspring work at a horological institute. Then after working for a year in her father's watch factory, she decided to come to America.

She thereupon came to New York and for six years was employed by the Bulova Watch Company where her brother is manager of the watch department. Later she went to Chicago, staying there for about two years, but seeking a change of climate left for Los Angeles where she has now been for about three years. 

During all this time Miss Burki applied herself assiduously to hairspring work and today is highly respected for her skill in manipulating the tiniest of springs, performing many operations which fine horologists would consider difficult. She takes quite an interest, in horological developments and is an active member of the Horological Association of California. The accompanying photo shows her at her bench in the act of fitting a spring.

An Interesting Old Tool

From Horology magazine, September, 1938

An Interesting Old Tool

Very few modern horologists will recognize the tool illustrated here. Some of the old timers may perhaps remember having seen a fusee cutting tool.

Near the center of the bed may be seen the tool carrier and the earn which serves to regulate the diameter being turned. The tool is moved longitudinally by a lever system connected to the hand driven lead screw on the spindle. The wing nut on the projecting bar at the lower right serves as a fulcrum for the lever which moves the tool. By raising or lowering it the pitch of the fusee is altered.

The modern horologist, in spite of his superior equipment and knowledge, must recognize the ingenuity and skill exhibited in this old tool. We are indebted to J es Hansen of Denver, Colorado for the opportunity to photograph it. 

Pinning Hairsprings

From Horology magazine, September, 1938

Pinning Hairsprings

Dear Sir:
Will you kindly publish an article on pinning a hairspring to the stud or collet in your next issue of Horology?

Answer: Pinning up a hairspring is an operation which is more a matter of skill than equipment. The first step in pinning a spring to a collet is to place the collet either on a broach or an arbor having a fin to prevent the collet from turning. Place the collet up side down so that in the event a slight scratch or other mark is made it will not show later. If the arbor is held in a horizontal position the spring will be nearly level when pinned.

Next insert the inner end of the spring in the hole of the collet and with a tweezer put in a hairspring pin as far as it will go. Pins used for regulators are . best for they have a more gradual taper and will hold better. Now check the spring to see if it is level before fastening the pin permanently.

If satisfied with its appearance grasp the small end of the pin with a fine flat pliers and pull it until it is forced tightly in the hole. Then by giving the pin one or two sharp twists with the plier break it off. If done right the pin will break off cleanly at the edge of the hole in the collet. The large end is then broken off in the same manner. So much for the collet.

The stud may be held in a pinvise, horizontally for convenience. The spring is inserted in the hole and the pin pulled tight with a flat pliers, just as described above. However, the pin is not broken off but is clipped with a fine cutting pliers so that there is a small excess on either side. The spring may be clipped off with the pin at the same time.

The tool shown in Fig. 2 is very convenient for holding collets while pinning springs. A broach is held in the center of a white disc by means of a set-screw.

The handle is hollow and contains a compartment for extra broaches of various sizes. It is manufactured by L. F. Acker, Springfield, Ill.

Back Up

The Elgin production data web application is back up, and with a faster connection (or so they tell me).

Update: The next day, the address had changed, again, so I updated the DNS, again...


Elgin Serial Number Application

The Elgin serial number application is temporarily down.  The internet connection is being upgraded. It will be back later today.

All In Good Time

George Daniels, who passed away in October 2011, was without a doubt one of the greatest watchmakers that has ever lived.   And now new additions of his autobiography are finally rolling out.  Amazon sold out pretty quickly, but fortunately I pre-ordered it two years ago and I should get my copy this week!

Also, check out this forthcoming book from Michael Clerizo on Daniels life and work.

Michael Clerizo is the author of this amazing book on the thoughts and work of independent watchmakers.

Serial Numbers Application Updated

I did a quick bounce of the Elgin watch production data application today, to fix a couple small problems, and also to all links to a model reference on earlier Elgins.  The model reference allows models to be correlated with grades.  This only allies to earlier watches because Elgin stopped publishing model and class information in 1915.

Private Label Elgin Grade 290

This is a 16 size, 7 jewel movement, in a nice hunting case.  It's also a "private label" watch.

A private label is a watch with a movement or dial, or both, custom marked with some name other than, or in addition to the make, the make being Elgin in this case.  This example was made about 1904.

This watch is marked "Goe. W. Welsh's Son, New York" on the dial.

Elgin did this quite a lot, on watches from the factory, around the turn of the century.  These "vanity watches" seem to have been made for large retailers.  

The labeling echoes a much earlier era of watch making when watches were made by hand, by an individual, who then signed the movements.

Elgin Grade 314

The grade 314 is 12 size, 15 jewel movement.

This one is in a well worn hunting case, personalized with an engraving inside the back.

This example was made about 1912.

Elgin Grade 336

The Elgin 336 grade is an 18 size movement, with 17 jewels and a micro-regulator.

This really nice example was made about 1911.

Hamilton 992

This is a Hamilton 992.

It is a 16 size, 21 jewel movement, lever-set and railroad grade.  This example was made about 1937.

The double-sunk dial and micro-regulator are notable features.

Beryl-X Balances

From Horology magazine, December, 1938

Beryl-X Balances

Further tests in Horology's laboratory confirm the claims that the Elgin's Beryl-X balances have the hardness of steel. Thus the statement in last month's issue of Horology regarding the softness of all solid balances needs qualification.

It is apparent that the success of the grooved staff used with this new balance is due not only to its design but to the hardness of the balance arm as well.

From the name, appearance and properties it would seem that Beryl-X is a beryllium copper alloy, although the exact composition has not yet been published. Beryllium copper alloys can be hardened by heat treatment and are nonmagnetic and resistant to corrosion. They also make excellent springs and have a fatigue strength equal to spring steel. 

More Down TIme

The Elgin watch serial number database application was down again, for the last couple of hours.  Nothing serious...  There was a power blip and it took me awhile to realize that it wasn't working!

Question Box

From Horology magazine, November, 1938

Question Box

Mainsprings Break

Dear Sir:
Would you please tell me the cause of a watch mainspring breaking shortly after cleaning the watch? In one watch I cleaned, the spring broke about two hours after assembly.  I usually don't clean the spring, just put in fresh oil. This doesn't happen in very many watches and I thought perhaps the watch had been laid away wound tightly for some time before cleaning, causing it to break when put in use again.

Will you please give your opinion on this?
F. R. C.

Answer: The exact cause of mainspring breakage is not definitely known.  According to one theory it is due to minute imperfections in the steel itself which are introduced during manufacture. We do not believe that the process of cleaning had anything to do with the breaking of the spring. As a matter of fact, mainsprings often break in the packages before they are ever placed in watches.

If you do not clean mainsprings when you take watches apart you are making a grave mistake for it is as essential to clean the barrel and mainspring of a watch as it is the other parts. By handling the springs with reasonable care there should be no undue amount of breakage.

Idler Wheel

Editor Horology,
Dear Sir:
May I submit a question to the Question Box? It concerns the mechanism of a sweep second wrist watch, the type which has a wheel placed above the train bridge, pressed onto a pivot of the third wheel and engages a pinion running through the center wheel staff. The question is, "By what procedure is this wheel removed when taking the watch apart for cleaning?"

Answer: In a factory, where just one type of movement is handled by an individual a special fixture would be used for this' purpose, but the repairer must be able to handle all makes of watches. A safe and simple method of removing the extra third wheel is to first take off the bridge and wheel. By holding the wheel with one hand and the regular third wheel with the other hand the two can be separated by gently twisting and pulling them apart.

Poising Editor 

Dear Sir:
When poising a balance should weight ever be removed from a timing screw? In a 992 Hamilton should the overcoil of the hairspring be below the center wheel? If it is in line with the center wheel will it strike when the mainspring is fully wound?

Answer: Timing screws should never be filed, turned or otherwise reduced in weight when poising a balance. They are intended only for bringing a watch to time by turning them in or out. If any alterations in weight are necessary to poise a balance, only the other screws should be touched.

The 992 Hamilton movement is designed so that the level of the hairspring is below the center wheel. In fact, unless a watch has been somehow mutilated it does not seem possible that anyone could alter this relation.

Contact Mechanism for Clock 

Editor Horology 
Dear Sir:
I have an old Brown street clock with two dials, the movement of which is worn out. I also have a Seth Thomas No. 70 regulator in my store on which I would like to put a cam and contact mechanism to operate minute impulse secondary clocks behind each dial on the street clock.

Would this affect the timekeeping of my regulator? And how much extra weight would I have to add to the present clock weight to pull the extra load operating the contact cam?

Any advice you have to offer will be appreciated.
Very truly yours,
]. N. B.

Answer: If the contact mechanism is made fairly sensitive it will have very little effect on the rate of your clock. The extra drag will be so little that no addition to the driving force should be necessary. Inasmuch as the contact finger will have to be very light. it will not be able to safely carry sufficient current to operate two large clocks so that it will be advisable to interpose a relay. The cam should be placed on the escape wheel arbor of your regulator and need not be any greater than a half inch in diameter.

The smaller the size of the cam, the less power will be lost in friction. With good workmanship there is even the possibility of securing enough pressure on the contact finger to transmit sufficient current to operate the secondary clocks without a relay. Circuit breakers have been successful applied to watch movements and it is comparatively easy to install one in a large clock.

To prevent sparking and the consequent burning of the contacts a condenser and resistance should be connected to them. 

Elgin Inaugurates Xmas Campaign in National Magazines

From Horology magazine, November, 1938

Elgin Inaugurates Xmas Campaign in National Magazines

With November, the advertising campaign of The Elgin National Watch Company shifts into high in a concentrated effort to build Christmas watch sales all over the country. Advertising authorities describe the drive as "three campaigns in one," because general magazines, women's magazines, and the nation's finest quality medium-the "Atlantic Monthly"-will be used. They point out that Elgin advertising is primarily local in effect, since magazines have been chosen with an eye to their known effectiveness in creating buying action right in the home. And they expect the campaign to have a highly beneficial effect on sales of jewelers everywhere. 

All the Elgin advertisements, with the exception of those in the "Atlantic Monthly," are full-page in full-color.

The general theme centers around the unusual values which Elgin is offering this Christmas-said to be the best in 74 years of fine watchmaking. In the popular weeklies and women's magazines, personalities will be used. These comprise three attractive young ladies, of interesting social position and pursuits, whose families have been Elgin owners for generations. The first advertisement of this type, illustrated on this page, appears in "Collier's," November 4.

In the "Atlantic Monthly," the dramatic story of Elgin's technical achievements will be continued. 

New Resinoid Watch Crystals Now Available

From Horology magazine, November, 1938

New Resinoid Watch Crystals Now Available

Culminating two and a half years of experimentation and research the Glastex Corporation of New Jersey announces the introduction to the trade of resinoid watch crystals. Glastex crystals are made of Lucite, a resinoid product perfected by Du Pont, which combines the transparency of glass with the resistance to breakage, shrinkage and discoloration.

In its original state Lucite is a powder, from which the crystals are molded under tremendous pressure in precision dies.

The result of the molding operation is a transparent crystal ready to be inserted in the watch. Laboratory tests show that Lucite, while not as hard as glass, is nevertheless harder than celluloid and is resistant to hydrochloric and sulphuric acids. It can be readily ground or filed.

Glastex crystals are being made in the attractive flat top style which is now so popular. They are available in 520 different shapes to fit the most popular models of watches and may be obtained in one or two gross assortments. The numbering system is designed to enable one to use them with any crystal cabinet.

Service Bulletin Released

From Horology magazine, November, 1938

Service Bulletin Released

In order to inform horologists of the characteristics of the new 15/0 size Elgin movements, the Elgin National Watch Company has published a service bulletin which has been distributed to the trade. Since these new movements contain a number of new features, horologists should lose no time in becoming familiar with them.

Of prime significance is the new solid balance and self-compensating hairspring.

The Beryl-X balance, as it is called, is made from a heat treated alloy, which has the required characteristics of resistance to distortion, stiffness and wear. Both Beryl-X and Elginium, the alloy from which the hairsprings are made, are nonrusting and non-magnetic. Either the balance or hairspring of this combination may be replaced without altering the temperature adjustment.

A new type of balance staff with a grooved hub greatly simplifies the replacement of a broken or damaged staff. The barrel assembly has a new design and the mainspring is provided with a new brace. The unit will drive the watch for 40 hours with one winding, thus providing a more uniform balance motion.

The jeweling has also been improved and it is now possible to clean the watch without removing the balance hole jewels from the plate and bridge. Another feature is the coarser screw threads, to prevent overturning.

The bulletin is well illustrated and shows the proper methods of replacing a balance staff and jewels as well as tightening jewel settings and replacing hands.

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

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