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!

Balance Tools

Some tools for truing balance wheels to flat and round...

Charles Stark

This is an obscure 18 size movement marked "Charles Stark", who was a major dealer out of Toronto around 1899.  

The 7 jewel, lever-set movement would seem to have been made by the short lived Aurora Watch Co., in the US.  As an aside, I'm not sure these qualify as a private label because it seems that Aurora only made movements for exclusive dealers in given regions.

However, this particular movement's design does not exactly match any known Aurora products.  The serial number also makes no sense in a context of Aurora products.  What is is this watch?

It is very, very similar to 18 size Walthams of this era. The dial side is different, particularly the ratchet, but just the same, it's obvious what the designers were looking at when them made these.

We see an English style tangential pallet, and other features typical of American products of the mid to late 1800s.

But the real mystery of this watch is the train.  Take a look here for more...

A Small Waltham

This is a nice 3/0 size American Waltham.  It's a 15 jewel 1907 model, in a fine gold hunting case.

Elgin Grade 95

Elgin's grade 95 is a 6 size, 7 jewel movement, lever-set.

This one, in a gold hunting case, was made about 1891.

Elgin Grade 73

The grade 73 Elgin is 7 jewel, 18 size movement.  This one was made about 1895.   It has a typical open face nickle case, threaded front and back.

Dial Repair

It's not possible to repair a chipped enamel dial, strictly speaking.  But chips and large cracks can be filled with a material designed for that purpose.

The material flows when heated.  It can be applied with a heated (I used an alcohol lamp) tool, and shaped to fill in the missing bit.

It isn't perfect, but it hides the problems somewhat, and helps protect the dial from the problem getting worse around the damaged area.

Elgin Grade 372, Lower Plate Details

This is a nice 16 size Elgin.  It's a 19 jewel B.W. Raymond model, with a lot of fancy details.  These photos show the dial side of the bottom plate.  The high lighted bearing in the first image is for the bottom of the mainspring arbor.  In a higher jeweled model, this bearing would be jeweled.  Here it is a plain brass bearing, but in the form of a plated bushing with jewel bezel screws.  It's clear that Elgin used the same lower plate on higher grade, 21 jewel models that had a jewel there.

Elgin Grade 10

Grade 10 is an 18 size Elgin, with 11 jewels, lever-set.

This one was made about 1886.  The hands don't match, but that's just the way it is sometimes.

Elgin Grade 315

This is one of the more common Elgin grades.  They sold an awful lot of these.  The 315 is a 12 size, 15 jewel movement.  Rock solid...
These metal dials, popular and modern at the time, are often pitted and corroded today.  This one looks good though.

Miniature lathe

From American Horologist magazine, April, 1936

Miniature lathe

Great patience required by our distinguished member in Dayton, Ohio, to create this tiny lathe which he holds in his hand, being one-fifth the size of our regular lathes.

This miniature lathe is perfect in every detail and an actual working model. Those attending the Convention will have the pleasure of viewing this masterpiece. 

Elgin Grade 495

The is a 12 size, 17 jewel model.

This one has a whole lot of character!  I really enjoy seeing watches like this one ticking again.

Made about 1933...

Elgin Grade 12

This is an older Elgin product.  The grade 12 is an 18 size movement made in 7 and 11 jewel configurations.  It is key-wind and key-set.

This one is an M. D. Ogden named movement, in a heavy silver hunting case.  It was made about 1872.

Elgin Grade 92, With an Arbor Adaptor

This Elgin grade 92 has a unique feature.

Older Elgin movements have a male winding arbor built into the movement.  It sticks out in the form of a square shaft that goes into a square hole in the arbor in the case (the stems for this type of case are pretty hard to come by, by the way).

Later American movements typically have a square hole in the winding arbor in the movement, and the square shaft is part of the stem in the neck of the case.  This is much more common.

This watch is interesting because it's the later movement type.  The female part is in the movement.  But the case is the other kind.  Its arbor is also female.  So some watchmaker long ago made a little adapter, shown in this first photo.  It's a small square shaft that goes into the square holes in both the case and the movement.  It's likely a cut off stem.  I've never seen this before...

This grade is a 16 size movement with 11 jewels.  This example was made about 1895.

It's worth mention here perhaps that early American watch companies did not typically make cases.  The case and movement were purchased separately by the original customer, and fit together by a watchmaker at the time. 

Closing Train Holes

From American Horologist magazine, April, 1936

Closing Train Holes
By C. Wilkerson
Past President M. W. A. of Colorado

WHEN we repair a watch, one of our objects is to restore the watch as near as possible to its original condition. Proper closing of the train holes, if an unjewelled watch, is an important part of the operation and is a matter not to be passed over lightly.

Some years ago the writer set about experimenting to determine in my own mind what I thought was the most practical and satisfactory method of closing train holes.

One of the objects of the experiment was to determine a method that would preserve insofar as possible, the original thickness of the metal at the holes, and as a result, I adopted and used for this work, a flat faced punch with small hole.

My method of procedure is as follows:
First, before taking movement apart, oil the pivots with a liberal amount of oil. (There is nothing better than oil to loosen old oil.) Take hold of the center wheel and move the train forward and backward a few times. This will loosen the dry and gummed oil on the pivots and in the holes. Then rinse or brush movement in benzine.

You can now ascertain whether or not any of the holes need closing, which should be done before actual cleaning.

The object in using the flat faced punch is that it draws the metal from the sides of the countersink of the plates toward the center and leaves the metal thicker at the hole than would the ball faced punch, which has a tendency to drive the metal away from the hole and leaves the metal thinnest at the hole, the very point where it is needed.

The hole in the punch clears the hole in the plate.

By the use of the flat faced punch I experienced less difficulty in closing the holes evenly and keeping the train wheels upright, whereas, in my opinion, the ball faced punch, unless very carefully used, and even then sometimes will close the hole unevenly.

For best results, the size of the punch must be taken into consideration.

The upper plates or bridges, which have larger countersinks than the lower plate, naturally would require a larger sized punch than would be used on the lower plate with smaller countersinks.

I have three punches which I made especially for this work.

The smallest is 0 MM in diameter.

The largest about 1 MM in diameter.

Larger than this size, I use regular staking punches.

The punches are made on the order of the larger punches, except that they are turned to a smaller point and a small hole drilled.

The smaller punches are very necessary for small work, such as baguettes and other small watches and pallet bridges.

These punches are also very useful for various other purposes, such as closing the hole in a Waltham friction hub, closing jewel screw holes, etc.

As small a punch as practical should be used on a pallet bridge, as a large punch may spread the bridge or throw it out of shape.

For lower center and barrel arbor holes, I use a concave punch.

The holes should be reamed from both top and bottom, producing somewhat the effect of the olive hole jewel.

This I believe eliminates a certain amount of friction and will wear longer than if the hole is reamed from the top only.

When the hole is reamed to the desired size, it should be very slightly countersunk on the underside with a pivot drill, just enough to remove the sharp edge of the hole which will exist after closing and reaming.

This will eliminate to a great extent the probability of creating a burr in the hole when assembling train. It is very convenient to keep at hand for this purpose, a small pivot drill mounted in a piece of peg wood or metal.

Examine each wheel separately as work proceeds and see that each wheel is free and that the endshake is correct, especially the fourth wheel, if watch has a second hand.

Excessive endshake of the fourth wheel will permit the second hand to catch on the other hands.

After cleaning and assembling, take hold of the center wheel and move train forward and backward and examine pivots of entire train with a strong glass and see that all the pivots are free in their respective holes. This can be determined by noting the pivots move a little from side to side as train is reversed.

Avoid closing holes too tight. The train must be free and should back-lash.

A seven jewelled watch of quality, properly repaired is capable of keeping remarkable time. 

How a Mechanical Watch Works

This short video is as clear and concise overview of a mechanical watch as I have ever seen.


Address Change

Sometime around 6:40 AM this morning my ISP changed my IP address.  They do this without warning, and for no apparent reason.  There is nothing I can do since the pocketwatch serial number data site does not generate enough revenue to pay for a fixed IP address.

I created an automated script that checked the address every night and sent me an email if it changed, but the web site I used to tell me the address went off line.

I just updated the DNS services, so the Elgin data should be available again real soon.

How Watch Manufacturers Might Help the Watchmaker and the Customer

From American Horologist magazine, April, 1936

How Watch Manufacturers Might Help the Watchmaker and the Customer

IF THE makers of watches realized what an annoyance pulled out stems are to the watchmakers, and what an irritation to the customer, they would do something about it. The cause of this trouble is often just a badly designed detent screw. The shoulder of this screw must be long enough to go well through the plate, so that the detent, when screwed tight, will not rub on the plate and become loose.

In the matter of pendants, crowns and bows of pocket watches, the case designers sometimes sacrifice all the practical requirements of these parts for style. These features are sometimes so freakish that it is almost impossible either to wind the watch fully, or to set it.

The crowns on wrist watches are also often entirely out of proportion to the work required of them. This little gadget is the only part of the entire machine that the consumer knows anything about or has any contact with. It should, therefore, perform its function easily and safely and stay put.
Pardon the watchmaker, Mr. Manufacturer, when he suggests that, whenever you put a pair of hands on your product, something besides appearance is bound to be expected of it.

And now about wrist watch cases.  There the watchmaker surely needs help.

He has put in many hours because of bad casing. The opening for the stem is often large enough to admit two stems, leaving a space around the stem that is a veritable dust trap. An accumulation of lint and dirt, through this opening, often stops a small watch a short time after it has been overhauled. That means another job for the watchmaker, and without pay, and a bawling out from the customer besides. When this occurs perhaps two or three times, it is the movement manufacturer, as well as the jeweler, who gets the criticism. The consumer does not know that the case maker is really to blame. He knows the movement maker's name and, of course, holds him responsible. A little better case fitting inspection would help a lot, Mr. Manufacturer.

Another thing that provokes watchmaker profanity is that in wrist watches the movement is often forced so tightly into the case, that it is almost impossible to get it out. One wonders if it was put in with a power press or a pile driver.

To lift it out by the stem, in the regular way, is pretty sure to break the stem. So there is nothing to do but pry it out, and that is really cruelty to the movement.

Not only are the edges of the plate and bridges badly marred, but there is a constant danger of slipping and mutilating the dial or breaking the staff or other parts. Just a little more accuracy in measurements and care in fitting will help this situation immensely.

In the matter of cord attachments, there is room for improvement. They should be easily and amply adjustable, and be made of non-corrosive metal.

The safety of watches with silk or leather cord bracelets depend on secure fastenings and a good snap. The attachments should be made large enough to accommodate wire, or other wrappings, on the cord ends to prevent unraveling and loosening.

Many so-called "easily adjustable," "cam operated" and "snap shut" cord fastenings are easily adjustable, but can hardly be called fastenings after a few months of service. There are satisfactory attachments made, and are well worth the slight difference in cost by the safety and satisfaction they insure.

And now, Mr. Watch Manufacturer, it is hoped that you will accept the spirit of co-operation intended in these few suggestions. For after all, we are striving for the same goal, customer satisfaction. 

Cannon Pinion Tool

A tool for tightening cannon pinions...  It can also be used on some second hands and for similar tasks.

Mainspring Winder

This mainspring winder is good tool down to about 6 size.  It does smaller, but this type of winder doesn't work as well on the smaller barrels, I find.

Mainspring Pliers

These pliers are for dealing with mainsprings...  They grip with a curved surface of a selected radius.

Questions and Answers for the Certified Horologist

From American Horologist magazine, April, 1936

Questions and Answers for the Certified Horologist

Question No. 1 - Define the terms-acceleration, absolute unit of force, moment of force, center of oscillation, coefficient of expansion, harmonic motion.

Answer - Acceleration is the rate of change of velocity of a moving body, i.e., if the motion of a body is increasing, "acceleration"-the velocity gained per second.

Absolute Unit of Force - That force which, acting on a mass of 1-lb. for one second, gives to that mass a velocity of one-foot-per-second.

Moment - of a force is the tendency of that force to produce rotation, it equals the force times its "leverage." 

Center of Oscillation - That point in a pendulum where, if all its mass were collected, its time of vibration would be unaltered.

Coefficient of Expansion - A number representing the change per unit in the dimensions of a body submitted to the unit change of temperature; or, more directly, the increase per unit in the length of a body when the temperature is raised one degree.

Harmonic Motion is a periodic to and from motion such as that taken by the prongs of a tuning fork, or the motion of a very long pendulum describing very small arcs; the condition of "pure harmonic motion" being that the time occupied shall be independent of any variation in the extent of the path described, i.e., "isochronous motion." 

Note - If a ball were set rolling at a uniform rate in a plane circle, on saying a horizontal table, and its motion observed from a very long distance with one's eye on the same level, it would appear to move, not in a circle, but in a straight line from left to right and from right to left; its velocity as it approaches the center, where it would be at a maximum, and decreasing as it receded from the center, till it reached the extent of its apparent path, where its apparent motion would be 0. 

The motion that such a body would appear to take would be a "pure harmonic motion."

Question No. 2 - A weight of 100 lbs. 
drives a clock and falls through a distance of 60 feet in 8 days. What is the "force" exerted by the weight? Does it sensibly vary during the fall? To what is its force due? What is the energy stored up in the weight when wound to the top? How many foot-pounds of "work" does it do in one day?

Answer - The force exerted by the weight would be 100 lbs.

No. It would not sensibly vary.

The force is due to the "attraction of gravity." 

Its energy = 100 X 60 = 6,000 footpounds.

Work per day = 6000 / 8 =750 foot lbs.

Mainspring Tools

Here's a couple tools for make holes in the ends of mainsprings.  The holes have to be dressed some afterwards with a file...

Each watch must have a mainspring 200 inches long in it

From American Horologist magazine, March, 1945

Each watch must have a mainspring 200 inches long in it

"Each watch must have a mainspring 200 inches long in it", sounds rather asinine, does it not?

Nevertheless, that statement was to be offered as an amendment by one of the Hon. (?) Representatives in the State Legislature of Tennessee to a watchmakers' licensing bill.

When we heard that such an unreasonable amendment was to be offered (in order to "kill" the bill) we inquired if the Chair was obliged to accept such an obvious impossibility as a "200 inch mainspring in each watch". We were informed that the Chair would (or must) accept it, if offered.

This would seem to characterize the intelligence of the Hon. (?) members of the House of Representatives in Tennessee.

When the licensing bill came up for its third and final reading, it was read and carried over to the following day.  'When it then came up on that day, a motion to consider it lost by a 2 to 1 majority. The bill was then "tabled".

The motion to "consider" the bill was opposed by practically all of the "rural" members. When the motion was presented many of them arose and almost shouted it down.

Let us not entirely blame the members of the House themselves, in this case. It was quite evident that their interest and opposition to this bill had been aroused to such an extent that they were determined to defeat it by whatever means they could command.

Unfortunately the bill remained "in committee" for over four weeks. During this time the small town watchmakers (and some from the larger cities, too) evidently had opportunity to voice their sentiments to their Representatives, as these Representatives seemed all cocked and primed to defeat the bill the instant it came up. Here is what the defeat of the bill can mean:That the State of Tennessee voices itself as welcoming any and all watchmakers regardless of their ability, character or standing. (The material houses may need the additional business, too).  No standard of price or workmanship required.

Hence, to the watchmaker who works by the slogan "Anything goes", Tennessee EXTENDS A WELCOME.

Elgin Grade 314

The grade 314, 12 size Elgin pocketwatch movement is quite popular.  It's a 15 jewels model, this one is typical.  It was made about 1925.


The Swiss made Dorset with an un-jeweled train was made in the early 1960s.
Watches like this are nothing fancy, but they can be remarkably reliable and very durable.

The Dorset name was used by Oris
Watch Company and Benrus Watch Company in the '60d and '70s.  I'm not sure which this one is.

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

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