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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!

Elgin Employees Visit Fair

From Horology magazine, July, 1939

Elgin Employees Visit Fair

To reward its employees for long and faithful service, the Elgin National Watch Company recently again extended to its workers a vacation service bonus in connection with which they were offered a trip to see the beauties of the East and particularly of the New York World's Fair.

More than 300 employees took advantage of the planned tour offer which gave them a six-day trip to New York City for a nominal price. Sponsored by the employees' advisory council of the company, the trip included numerous educational features, prominent among them being a visit to the Elgin building at the New York Fair. With its completely equipped observatory, this exhibit shows how time, correct to the hundredth part of a second, is taken right from the stars.

The gay party of Elgin vacationers left Chicago June 25 to return June 30.  On their trip they traveled by train to Albany, New York, then by boat down the Hudson River. There they saw such picturesque spots as Break Neck, Storm King, Old Crow's Nest and Anthony's Nose. Also, West Point Military Academy, Sing Sing, and the Palisades. Besides providing two full days at the New York Fair, the trip included grand tours of New York City and vicinity.


Titus Advertising, 1955


Where Do They All Live?

I created an interactive map showing the home towns of the watches I have worked on over the past few years, the years I have good information on anyway.

Check it out!

Jaeger-LeCoultre Advertising, 1948


Enicar Advertising, 1948

Another very modern look in advertising...


Sovriante Advertising, 1948


Elgin Grade 320

Here is an Elgin grade 320 in a wristwatch case.  This is a nice piece because seems to be a men's watch, and men did not by and large wear wristwatches until later decades.  Wristwatches were considered a bit feminine.  The use of wristwatches by soldiers in WWI began to change this idea.

The grade 320 is a 0 size, 7 jewel movement, this example made about 1913.

It is worth mentioning again that in this era watch companies typically did not sell movements and cases pre-assembled together.  So this watch is something the original buyer individually wanted.

Early wristwatches are tricky because the mechanisms were not settled.  We see different arrangements, and mostly, scaled down pocketwatch stem and sleeve designs.  There is not a lot of room for the sleeve spring in the edge of the watch case between the movement and the bottom of the crown.  So these parts are prone to breaking and malfunction.


Elgin Grade 485

The Elgin grade 485 is a 4/0 size, 7 jewel wristwatch movement (typically).

This one was made about 1934.  As we can see it had some issues...  The pallet fork was broken and the hairspring is pulled and kinked.  The hairspring was fixed, but the pallet fork was replaced.


Elgin Grade 173

The terrific example of the grade 173 Elgin was made in about 1897.

It features a fancy dial and a gold hunter case.  Near mint.

This is a 0 size, 7 jewel movement.


Flora Advertising, 1948


Pocketwatch Over-wound?

For the record, there is no such thing as "over-wound".

A watch is designed to be wound fully.  A watch is fully wound when its mainspring is wound around its arbor to the end of the spring, and there is no more spring to wind.  At that point, the crown (or key) will not turn any further.

Saying a watch will not run because it is over-wound is like saying a car won't start because the fuel tank is over-filled.  The tank is either full or it's not.  You can not add more if its full.  A watch is either fully wound or it's not.  You can not wind it more if it is fully wound.

If a car won't start, there's a reason.  If a watch won't run, there's a reason.  But there's no such thing as "over-wound".

I used to think that this idea of over winding a watch was a modern misunderstanding.  But just the other day I ran into a reference to this persistent myth in an article written in the 1920s.  So it seems to have been with us for awhile...

At any rate, there is no such thing as "over-wound".

Elgin Grade 144

The grade 144 is another big and heavy18 size movement with 15 and 17 jewel variations.  This one, with an open-face gold-filled case, was made about 1899.

Elgin Grade 571

Elgin's grade 571 is a later 16 size, 21 jewels, lever-set, railroad movement.

This example, made about 1951, is a B.W. Raymond model.

Timor Advertising, 1948

There's a slightly Picaso-esque look to this one. Very Modern Art...


Langendorf Advertising, 1948


Timing and Positional Rates of Watches

Watches run at a rate of course, but there is a difference between a watches accuracy over time, and the rate of the watch at any given moment.  In modern times, most people would think of "accuracy" as a reference to the rate, that is as how closely the passage of seconds on a watch matches the passage of seconds on a reference source.

However, this is not how watchmakers of old would think of accuracy in a timepiece.  In the days before quartz movements, which have an extremely consistent rate, accuracy in a watch was about how much it would drift away from a reference over a long period of time.  A "long period" being the intervening time between opportunities to set the watch to a reference source.  This could be a day, a few weeks, or even longer.  Accuracy would describe how far off a watch reads after a day, or a week, or a month.  It was important to build watches with this in mind because access to a good reference time source, a century ago, could be quite infrequent.

The rate at any given moment was less important, as a practical matter.  Railroad standards for example, refer to accuracy over time periods, but are silent on the question of rate.  And in fact during the course of a given day, the rate of a vintage watch varies by a surprising amount, even as over time, the accuracy may be quite good.

The rate at which a vintage watch runs varies for several reasons.  The most significant is that something is wrong, such as worn balance pivots, broken teeth, cracked jewels, unbalanced balance, distorted hairsprings, and so on...  Such problems in a watch typically cause large accuracy issues; errors observable within only one hour's time.  In my experience, once basic faults are corrected though, most mid-grade vintage watches are capable of accuracy of +/- one minute or less per 24 hours with little timing effort.

This discussion is about the discrepancies that remain after basic watch service.

Temperature

Temperature causes metal to expend or contract.  We see this impact watch timing because the balance wheel will literally get smaller of larger, thus moving its weight inward or outward and changing its period.  Compensating bi-metallic and split balance wheels were invented to help compensate for temperature changes.

Power

The rate of a mechanical watch varies over the course of running down from a full wind, to fully stopped.  The mainsprings of watches apply slightly more power when first wound, over when almost unwound.  Motor barrels and alloy springs were invented that reduce this effect, but it is not eliminated.

Gravity

All vintage watches will have a discrepancy in the rate in positions, especially between horizontal and vertical orientation in particular, due to gravity.

The root reasons for rate shift due to power and to gravity are changes in the center of gravity of the hairspring during its motion (here's the word of the day; isochronism, which is basically what the rest of this discussion is about).

Some watches have a flat hairspring.  But in some watches the outside end of the hairspring is bent up and across the spring in what's called an overcoil.  The overcoil helps make the motion of the spring more consistent, so watches with a flat hairspring will have greater rate errors, in general.  But the effects we're speaking of here are not eliminated by the overcoil, just reduced.  And the overcoil tends to make the watch more susceptible to rate error due to the watch moving around.

So, back to a watch that is otherwise functioning correctly, and focusing on positional rate error, it must be noted there is no simple way to adjust the rate for vertical and horizontal orientations independently.  There are things that have been done to deliberately change the vertical rate, but these are considered bad practices, for example deliberately inducing extra friction on the balance pivots in the horizontal by flattening the pivot ends to slow the watch when dial up or dial down.

Adjustment to Position

A watch adjusted to positions means that the watch has been run in various orientations for 24 hour periods (or more) and that the start and end times are recorded.  The errors after the test period in each position can thus be noted.  Watches may be tested in some number of positions.  These would be dial up, dial down, pendant up, pendant down, pendant left, pendant right and more.  Higher grade watches are typically tested in more positions.  More basic grades, just two or three, or perhaps none.

When a person wears a watch, it will spend some certain time in different positions. So, once serious problems are corrected, "adjustment to positions" means setting the rate over all slightly faster or slightly slower, so that on average, at the end of a period of time, the watch will read fairly accurately, even though during the course of that period of time, it has run at slightly different rates moment to moment.

The challenge is that the amount of time a watch spends in different orientations can vary from person to person.

A couple of times lately I have fielded questions from people noticing that the rate of a vintage watch seemed off under certain conditions.  But even noticing this is a result of modern exposure to quartz watches that have a rock-solid, constant rate.  The best vintage watches have rates that vary.  Adjusting was always a process of setting it so the errors cancel out more or less over a period of time.

As complex as modern electronics are, a quartz movement, supplied with the correct power, is essentially on or off.  In some ways, the mechanical designs are more complicated.  There are many, many factors that affect the rate of a watch.  I have left a lot out.  Whole books have been written about hairsprings alone.  Not to mention the special issues of vintage pieces that have been altered by watchmakers over and over.  It's a never ending learning process...


Orfina Advertising, 1948


Nicolet Advertising, 1948


Mulco Advertising, 1948


Elgin Grade 462

The grade 462, is a 3/0 size, movement; wristwatch.

It's a 7 jewel model often seen in military pieces like this one, made about 1921.  Notable are the extra heavy hands, black dial and the large luminous digits.

Elgin Grade 73

Elgin's grade 73 is another 18 size movement, with 7 jewels.


This example, made about 1897, has an unusual open-face case.  The front and back edges are broader than typical, making the seam on the front and back more exposed to the front and back respectively.  It makes the case a little harder to open since there is less turning surface on the side.  But it changes the look just slightly.


Eska Advertising, 1948


Leonidas Advertising, 1948


Elgin Grade 413

Elgin's grade 413 is a 3/0 size, 7 jewel, movement, and usually a ladies watch.

This example was made about 1915.
The hunter case is missing the bezel (and crystal of course).  These generally have to be custom made to replace.

Elgin Grade 288

Elgin's grade 288 is another 18 size watch, with 7 jewels.

Nice blued screws all around on this example made about 1926

Organizer Blocks Legislation

From Horology magazine, July, 1939

Organizer Blocks Legislation

California's recent experience in the attempt to pass a licensing law for horologists is one which should be carefully studied by all horological and jewelry organizations engaged in such activities. Two factors were responsible for the killing of the California bill in committee, the opposition of a small San Francisco union representing approximately one hundred members and the failure of the members of the committee to perform their duties through fear of offending some of their constituents.

Two hearings were scheduled before the Assembly committee. At the first hearing, the proponents of the bill were allotted two and a half minutes to present their case and notified of the time of hearing on such short notice that only President W. H. Morrison of the Horological Association of California was able to be present.

The only opponents present were George Allen, business agent of the union and his aides. After listening to Allen, who is not now and never has been a horologist, the committee voted to table the bill.

Immediately there began a fight to reopen the matter and hold another hearing at which the advocates of the bill could be properly represented. After several weeks a new hearing was finally granted. In the meantime, representatives of the horologists met with Allen to find out what his objections to the bill were and to see if they could be ironed out. Allen made it quite clear that he was opposing the bill in order to force horologists throughout the state to join his union. Furthermore, he is seeking as dues paying members not only the relatively small percentage of employee horologists, but all the small jewelry store owners, in spite of the fact that the union's by-laws bar all but wage earners from membership.

The opposition of Allen became of such influence, not because of the number of members which his organization represents for they are few, but because of the indirect affiliation with the American Federation of Labor and the assistance of their lobbyists. Secretary Vandeleur of the California Federation of Labor, when asked the reason for his opposition to the horology bill, admitted that he was unfamiliar with its provisions and was against it only because he had been informed that it was an "anti-labor" bill.

When the second hearing was to be held, the members of the committee, although present in the corridors of the capitol building, refused to remain in the committee room and consequently it was impossible to get a quorum. This violation of the rights of citizens to be heard can be explained only on the ground that legislators were unwilling to be placed in the position of offending a number of their constituents.

Against their wish, the several thousand jewelers and horologists of a state have been temporarily thwarted in their attempt to solve the problems of their industry by one man whose interest is not in doing something for the few employed horologists he controls, but to see how many dues paying members he can get.

The best defense against such tactics is a better organized industry. In some states the drive for licensing legislation may be a long drawn out affair but progress will not be stopped. Success is inevitable. 

Alpina Advertising, 1948


Hamilton Fights Added Trade-Mark Infringement

From Horology magazine, June, 1939

Hamilton Fights Added Trade-Mark Infringement

Moving for further strong action to eliminate the harmful practice of trademark infringement, the Hamilton Watch Company has petitioned the U. S. Patent Office to cancel the registered trade name "Hampden" now used by Spear & Susskind, Providence, R. 1., manufacturers of watch chains and bracelets, wrist watch straps, finger rings, and other articles of jewelry.

Hamilton alleges that the designation "Hampden" is deceptively similar in sound and spelling to the trade names "Hamilton" and "Howard." This is bound to confuse the consumer mind and allow exploitation of Hamilton's public good will and reputation established by careful promotion through many years.

The trade mark "Hamilton" has been used since 1893, and Hamilton and its predecessors have used the trade names "E. Howard & Co.", "E. Howard Watch Company" and "Howard" since 1857.

In a similar controversy involving Spear & Susskind several months ago, Hamilton was successful in obtaining cancellation of the "Hamilton" trade-mark registrations of that firm. 


Election Advertising, 1948


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Paul Buhre Advertisng, 1948


The Nonmagnetic Watch Company

There is some mystery surrounding the  Nonmagnetic Watch Company as to exactly when, where and by whom they were made.

This is a nice example though.  It is a 15 jewel, lever-set movement, in a swing-out case.


ES006

Jewels

I am surprised I have never seen this video before!  This short war-era film, made by The Elgin Watch Company, describes the manufacture of jeweled bearings for watches.

 

Invicta Advertising, 1948


American Waltham

Here's a big 18 size American Waltham, stem-set and wind.

The crystal is a bit scratchy, but it's a solid watch anyway.


ES005

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

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