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 Grade 303

The grade 303 is a 12 size, 7 jewel, model that was extremely successful for Elgin.  These are some of the most common of American vintage watches, and are reliable workhorses.

This one was made about 1926.

Elgin Grade 307

Here's a lever-set Elgin.  It's a grade 307, 18 size, 17 jewels, made about 1904.

This is a hunter movement mounted in an ope-face case, often called a "side-winder."

Elgin Grade 55

Elgin's grade 55, is an older 18 size, 7 jewels model, key-wind and set.  Note the solid balance wheel.

Grade 55 movements are found marked for Joseph T. Ryerson, Matthew (Mat) Laflin, William H. Ferry.

This example was made 1871.  It is marked W. H. Ferry.
The dial reads "National Watch Co."

This is the original name of the company, before they added "Elgin" just a few years after the founding.

A Ruined Mainspring

Well this 18 size pocketwatch mainspring is no good...  It's not broken, but it has been improperly installed, without using the right tool, and so is all distorted.  Wound in the barrel this spring would not want to sit flat.  It would rub on the top or bottom as it turned creating uneven power and quite a bit of friction.

Elgin Grade 760, Animation

The Elgin grade 760 is a 15/0 size, 21 jewel, wristwatch movement.  

This Lord Elgin example was made about 1950.

Wrong Crown

This watch case had a crown that, from the style, I'd say was put on in the '50s or '60s at the earliest.  The problem is that this style of crown can not go down past the shoulders of the neck of the case.  Because of that, the winding arbor can not go out into the movement far enough to fully engage winding mode. 

I thought I had it tuned up so it would barely work, but it didn't last.  The owner sent it back with the symptom that it was always in setting mode.  A watch will actually continue to run in setting mode, but the train will be working overly hard to turn all the winding/setting parts all the way out to the crown as it ticks.  This causes poor time keeping and stopping.

The arbor just needs to go in further, but the crown blocks it.

I always try to keep watches "as-found", if they are able to function correctly, but this time I am going to have to replace the crown with one of the correct style, or at least a lot closer. 

Looking at the photo you can see how the tapered base of the replacement crown I selected goes all the way into the neck, past the shoulders.  Now the arbor can be adjusted to snap inward further.

More examples of what I'd call creative repairs here...

Hamilton 975, Display Back

This Hamilton 975 is in a "salesmen's case".  There is a crystal on both the front and the back.  The case is an actual Hamilton case, "Hamilton" appearing near the stem on both the front and the back.

 Interestingly, the case is snap front and back.  The front bezel is actually quite difficult to remove.  Since this is a lever-set movement, that means that presumably the salesman would have been unable to demonstrate setting the watch.

More about display back cases here...

Elgin Solid Balance Wheels

I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to pick up these NOS (new, old stock) Elgin solid balance wheels, used on the early models.  *Very* rare!  It's parts like these that are pretty much unheard of these days.  That's 6 watches that some future day will tick again, that otherwise would stand little chance.

Elgin Grade 303, The Winding/Setting Clutch Mechanism

Here are a few shots showing the winding/setting clutch in a typical American pocket watch, an Elgin 12 size in this instance, a grade 303.

The first images show the normal position, at rest.  The mechanism has a spring that has pushed it into winding mode.  Node that the clutch is pushed upward, engaged with the minute wheel just below the center of the movement.  In this mode, turning the stem turns the minute wheel, and thus the hands.  The hands slip on the center shaft when this happens.

The watch case has a square arbor that engages the mechanism. It snaps in and out on a spring inside the neck of the case. The spring holds the arbor pushed in, pushing the arbor into winding mode.
In the last image that shows the movement in the case, look closely at the clutch. The arbor, now pushed in, actuates a lever that pushed the clutch down, off the minute wheel, and engaged with the winding pinion at the lower edge of the movement.

The clutch moves in the opposite direction from that of the arbor in the case.  That is, when the crown is push inward, the clutch lever presses the clutch down against the winding pinion.  When it does this it is working against the spring in the watch that wants to hold the clutch against the minute wheel

Problems develop if the spring in the case neck, called a sleeve, is broken or not strong enough to hold the arbor inward against the spring in the movement, or if the arbor in the case does not go into the movement far enough, or too far, for the clutch to fully engage in both modes.

Elgin Grade 324, Animation

This Google auto-awesome image turned out quite well.  The motion of the hairspring contracting and expanding can be seen.

This is a grade 324 Elgin movement.  It's a small, 0 size, 7 jewel design, this example made about 1905.

Gala War Show

From American Horologist magazine, May, 1945

It's going to take 14 billion dollars to make the sensational "benefit" possible for the Mikado and his Sons of Heaven.

If the redoubtable Herr is still around by that time, he's cordially invited to sit in and see the show. (Our artist has given him the benefit of the doubt, and included him in the illustration.) Let's see now, Americans, how much 14 billion dollars worth of War Bonds buys in the way of pyrotechnic talent. 

B-29 Superfortresses are available at $600,000 each, P-47 Thunderbolts at $50,000 each, M-4 Tank Dozers equipped with 76-mm. guns and bulldozer blade at $67,417 each. A dazzling and wondrous array of Half-Tracks, Jeeps, Trucks, Rockets, Mortars, Airborne Radar, P-SO "Shooting Stars", Jet-Propelled Combat Planes are also available at bargain prices.

These are just some of the 1001 acts towards which your dollars will go to make this "reception" one which his Imperial Highness will not soon forget.

Cleaning Solutions

From Horology magazine, February, 1938

Cleaning Solutions
Editor Horology
Dear Sir:

Can you give me formulas for reliable cleaning and rinsing solutions for large clock movements? 

J. I. S.

Answer: As a rule large clock movements have lacquered plates. Sometimes even the wheels are lacquered. It is therefore essential that the cleaning fluid leave the lacquer untouched. We recommend that you use a high test gasoline or petroleum ether for cleaning and rinsing. Unlacquered parts may be cleaned with any of the regular watch cleaning machine solutions.

Question Box was a regular feature of Horology magazine.  For more Question Box news, look here!

Putting A Mainspring in the Barrel

From Horology magazine, February, 1938

Putting A Mainspring in the Barrel
Minneapolis, Minnesota

THE AVERAGE WATCHMAKER has often felt the need for a better means of winding a mainspring into a barrel. Even the best mainspring winder on the market covers only a limited range of barrel sizes, and three or four winders are required to work from baguette to 18s. This article will describe a method whereby any size spring may be wound into a barrel without the use of tools other than the lathe. After the barrel assembly and new mainspring are thoroughly clean, the first step is to place the arbor in the barrel with projecting end held in a chuck of suitable size in the lathe. With the inner coil of the mainspring pressed on the arbor, the forefinger of right hand placed over the open end of the barrel, by turning the lathe spindle either by hand or by applying power to the lathe motor, the mainspring will be smoothly wound into the barrel without danger of kinking.

When all the spring is in the barrel except the brace end, by holding the end an instant, it will be drawn in of its own accord when sufficient coils are wound in towards the center to make room for it. As the spring uncoils in the barrel, it will firmly anchor itself. It would be well to practice this method several times using an old barrel and mainspring until proficiency is attained, when it will be found superior to any mainspring winder as it works equally well on all sizes, and most important of all, the arbor always fits the spring correctly. The writer has been using this method for several years with satisfactory results, and it has reduced mainspring breakage to the minimum. 

Elgin Grade 44, An Unusual Watch Case

Now and then I come across an uncommon case type.  For example, I've only seen 2 or 3 like this one.  The movement is held in a completely separate ring, which snaps into the rest of a case using a spring loaded latch.  Unlike a typical swing-out case, the movement, in the ring, installs from the back.  There is no bezel.  The front of the case is all one part.
This is an Elgin grade 44 pocketwatch movement, 18 size, 17 jewels, made about 1895.

Elgin Grade 293, Animation

The Elgin grade 293 is a 16 size, 7 jewels movement in a gilt finish.  These are basic no-frills models that get the job done.

This example was made about 1920.

Elgin Grade 293, and End-Shake Adjustment

Here's something I see a lot of...

There are divots raised with a graver under the balance cock to make the thing sit higher and increase the end-shake.  Sometimes I see them added, filed off, and added again.  After awhile it's extremely difficult to get the parts to seat correctly.
This is almost always a "fix" done to avoid something slightly harder, or requiring parts or tools that were not available, like changing the balance staff or the jewels.

This movement is a grade 293, Elgin, 16 size, 7 jewels, made about 1920.

Bridges, and An Animated Illinois

"Bridged" movements are popular because, for one thing, they allow better viewing of the moving parts.

Many American makes "fake" the bridges, in other words they are not actually separate parts.  This 16 size Illinois is a good example.

The upper bridges are two actual pieces.

But they are designed to give the appearance of four bridges, plus the balance cock.

This is pretty common on fancier American movements.  There's nothing really wrong with this, it's just a matter of style.
This movement was made about 1919.

Elgin Grade 221, Animated

The grade 221 is a 16 size, 15 jewel movement.

This example was made about 1900.

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