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 387, Is That a Bushing?

You never know what you're doing to find when you get into a watch...  Here's what I found on removing the dial from this one.  At some point in the past a really large piece was cut out of the bottom plate, where the lower balance jewel mounts.  I round piece of brass has been fit there like a sort of giant bushing.  I'm not sure what problem would prompt this...  

Here's the view from the top, after removing the balance wheel.

This movement is a grade 387, 16 size, 17 jewel Elgin, made about 1914

Elgin Grade 150

Elgin's grade 150 is sometimes marked "150", and sometimes "Father Time". This particular one, made about 1896, is not marked with a name at all.

This is a high end movement, 18 size, with 15 jewels.


Elgin Grade 318

The Elgin grade 318 is a 0 size, 15 jewel movement.  This example, in a stunning gold hinter case, was made about 1905.


An Unusual Elgin Grade 58, More

Here are a few more images of this watch.


An Unusual Elgin Grade 58

This Elgin is a "private label" watch, made at the factory with custom branding.  This was done for larger retailers or those otherwise with deep enough pockets for special orders.

This private label is extremely unusual having a skeletonized balance cock that, from the engraving work, was almost definitely made at the Elgin factory.

The watch is a grade 58.  It's an 18 size movement, 15 jewels, made about 1873.
The dial and the movement are both marked "Howland & Hayden".

 Learn more about your Elgin watch, look up Elgin serial numbers here.
 There's much more at the ElginTime home site!

Information Please!

From The American Horologist magazine, May 1945

Information Please!
Directed by 
W. H. Samelius, Chairman
Science of Horology and Technical Board

GJS: What is the condition that causes a knocking sound in the action of a watch. In many cases this knock is quite distinct when the balance swings in one direction but little or perhaps no knock when the balance swings back. I have noticed this in some of the smallest watches. Please explain cause and remedy?

Answer: Analysing your question, I would suggest you check the corner freedom between the roller jewel and corner of your fork slot. It is possible that the roller jewel is not set square and upright. If the roller jewel is set out of square, the knocking action you mention coming from one direction only might be that the corner of the roller jewel strikes above the corner of the fork slot. By squaring up the roller jewel, the knocking sound will disappear. Then again, the banking screws may be open, giving too much angular motion to the lever so when jewel pin is about to enter, it strikes the curved part of the horn just beyond the corner of the fork. This can be remedied by closing the banks. I am assuming that the side shake for balance pivots are close and that the balance wheel is true, so the arm of the balance does not strike some slight projection of the pallet bridge or pallet bridge screw. Balance pivots with excessive side shake could also give the same trouble as the jewel pin will not enter both sides of the fork slot alike. These are suggestions I trust may prove helpful in locating your trouble.

RWH: If the upper and lower balance pivots are perfectly round and fit the jewel correctly but are of different diameters, will it effect the rating of the watch?

Answer: Pivots of unequal size will result in unequal friction and when the watch is run in dial positions, you will invariably find that the watch will show a faster rate on the larger pivot as compared to the smaller pivot.

ELS: I have several small hard oilstone slips that have become worn, the corners being rounded and the surfaces grooved. How can I restore them to usefulness?

Answer; Procure a sheet of plate glass and with some fine flour emery and water a new surface is quickly acquired. If the stone is badly scored, use a coarses emery powder for quickly rubbing down and then finish with fine powder.

PMI: I have heard about German Silver, what is its composition and is there any silver in it.

Answer; German silver does not contain silver as implied. The proportions commonly given are copper 50 percent, nickel 25 percent and zinc 25 percent. These proportions however, may be varied to suit the various uses for which the German silver is to be used. Varying the proportions will alter the hardness, ductility, mallability, surface polish, elasticity or electrical conductivity.

"So as to be certain when her husband, who works nights, gets in, a woman in Maryland has established the rule that he must punch a CLOCK."

The Importance of Timing

From The American Horologist magazine, May, 1945

The Importance of Timing
By Elgin National Watch Company

Modern naval war is above all a war of timing. Just as the efficient performance of each individual ship and plane in the fleet is absolutely dependent upon accurate timepieces, so is the success of every large-scale operation, where huge sea and air forces must be coordinated for split second action.

A vast undertaking like one of our major amphibious operations in the Pacific, involving hundreds of fighting ships, escort 'vessels, landing craft, transports, supply vessels and auxiliaries, hundreds of carrier-based and land-based aircraft, and many thousands of combined personnel of the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, would be impossible without the close integration made possible by reliable time-keeping instruments.

The very fact that such a tremendous assault on enemy territory can be staged with the utmost precision is in itself a splendid tribute to the man and woman engaged in producing- time-pieces for the armed forces.

So important is the element of timing in an invasion, in fact, that every member of the Navy's amphibious forces is now provided with a water-proof, radium-dialed wristwatch, so that each man can carry out his combat task at the exact second.

On a warship, the chronometer and stopwatch are as vital as guns, for without these timepieces safe and unerring navigation would be out of the question. The chronometer; used in connection with celestial navigation, is essential in determining- the ship's position at any specified moment. The stopwatch, one of the most important of the navigation officer's instruments, is indispensable not only in taking sights, but also in identifying lights by timing the intervals between flashes. It is likewise valuable for checking chronometers and ship's watches against radio time signals.

When it is realized that a slight error in timing might prevent an important rendezvous and thus foredoom a naval engagement, it can be easily understood why the men of the fleet attach so much significance to the accuracy of their timepieces.

To insure maximum efficiency of our naval guns, it is necessary that the time-clocks on various types of fire-control equipment be constantly checked by stopwatch. This instrument also times the rapidity of fire, and the flight of projectiles, among its other vital functions in naval gunnery.

One of the little known but highly essential uses of a stopwatch aboard our fighting ships is to determine how quickly battle stations can be manned when the alarm sounds over the battle-announcing system.

On our submarines, in addition to the navigational aid rendered by various kinds of timers, stopwatches are often used to check on their torpedo fire. By timing the run of a torpedo until it explodes, it is possible to discover which "tin fish" hit which target, even when operating conditions prevent such determination by visual means. The stopwatch is also employed in timing submarine dives, as well as in keeping tabs on the length of time the sea valve is open when firing a torpedo, in order that no excess water enter to upset the delicate "trim" of the craft.

Additionally, the stopwatch is an invaluable aid to our anti-submarine vessels in tracking down Axis undersea raiders, since it helps them figure the rate of speed of the enemy craft they are pursuing.

Timing devices are equally indispensable to our fighting planes. With the flight of all aircraft strictly limited to fuel capacity, it is imperative that the planes be provided with accurate instruments to register elapsed time. Therefore the elapsed time clock is standard equipment on our planes to determine the elapsed time on long missions, such as long range bombings, while an aviation stopwatch is used in much the same manner for shorter operations.

Home Watch Company

This is an 18 size Home Watch Company movement.  "Home" was a brand name Waltham used on a series of lower end products.  The serial numbers fall in line with Waltham number so one can research them using Waltham data.  

This is the Home version of an 1857 model.  

Notice that only the upper pivots are jeweled, so as to give the appearance of more jeweling than the watch actually has.
The hairspring has a clamp that screws to the plate.  The spring is not attached at all to the balance cock.  The regulator arm also sits friction fir in the plate, and not on the cock.  
This is all quite a bit different from all the Elgins I post. 

Elgin Grade 184

Here's a few images of a grade 184 Elgin movement, 18 size, 17 jewels, made about 1898.

This is a B.W. Raymond edition of this grade.  Mr. Raymond was the first president of the National Watch Company.  For more more information about Elgin's named movements click here.

A Creative Mainspring Repair

Here's something you don't see everyday.  First of all, this watch has a mainspring that has been distorted into a cone shape by installation with fingers rather than with a mainspring winder.  Actually, that's pretty common.  I see it a lot.

But what is unusual here is that some creative repair person has spot wended together two pieces of the spring in order to, I'm guessing, repair a break in the part.  This will definitely need to be replaced.  Still,  at least it's a neat looking bit of work.

My Grandfather always said that you never know what you will find when you get into a watch. 
For more creative repairs, click here!

Elgin Grade 114 and An Interesting Case Adaptor

The way most American pocketwatches, and Elgins in particular, fit into a watch case, there is a female arbor in the movement, and a square male stem in the watch case.  The snapping in and out of the crown is a function of the case entirely.

Some earlier lever-set watches are the opposite. There would be a square arbor, male, sticking out of the edge of the movement.  The stem part of the case would have a square hole in the end.  On such cases the stem does not snap in and out.

You can't really mix and match these two types.  But now and then I see something like this watch.  This movement has the female part.  But it's been fitted into the older type of case.  Some watchmaker made a square "adapter" that fits in each hole and joins the movement with the stem.
It's worth pointing out as an aside that for the most part, American watch companies never made pocket watch cases.  A customer would select the movement and the case separately at the time of retail sale.  The shop fit the two together.  In some instances, there may not have been a lot to choose from.

This movement is an Elgin grade 114.  It's lever-set and so does not need a case with a crown that snaps out.

It's a 16 size, 7 jewel, movement, made about 1895

Elgin Grade 114 and Watchmakers' Marks

In this photo, near the screw at the right, to the fore, you can see some faintly engraved characters.  These are "watchmaker's marks".  They were made by someone that serviced, or possibly sold, this movement.

Such marks are common and I am frequently asked what they mean. Unfortunately there is no way to know.  They had meaning only in a context of the individual watchmaker's records. The marks are today an important part of the character and history of the piece just the same.

Watchmakers' marks are not usually on the visible part of the movement.  They'd typically be under the dial, or most commonly, inside the back of the case.

This watch movement is an Elgin grade 114.  It is a 16 size, 7 jewel movement, made about 1895

Improving a Loose Crown

This watch case has an interesting issue.  There is a lot of play up and down in the crown.  It's a lever-set movement, so it does not impact the watch functionally, and I don't do much case repair, but I'm going to try to improve this one.

This case is an older style, having a screw on cap over the neck of the case.  The sleeve and stem just sit loose in there, held in by the cap.  In this instance, the cap does not screw down all the way on to the top face of the neck.  When the cap is on all the way, it leaves some space.  You can see this in the photo by comparing the height of the cap with the length of the threaded portion of the neck on the case.  The sleeve and stem assembly can move up and down inside the space left inside the cap.

Everything else works and fits.  If a new, shorter cap could be found, then the stem would have to be shortened because the crown would stick out too much.  As a general rule, we never alter existing parts to match a replacement.  So what I think will help to to add a spacer inside the cap to fill the excess space.

It's hard to say why this case has this situation.  I suppose it's most likely that the cap part is not original to the case and perhaps a shorter one was. However, this cap is definitely an old part and is typical of cases like this one.
The first order of business here is to drill out a hole in a brass rod.  The rod is the same diameter as the sleeve.

The hole drilled, this brass rod is now a tube.  It gets cut off, a bit too long so it can be fit carefully.

Here's how the new part will go.  It's a quick job to return it to the lathe to cut is down a bit and round over the top edge so as to conform neatly inside the cap.

Here is the finished and cleaned up spacer and the cap, separate and in place.

The case finally assembled, the cap snug against the top of the neck as before, but now with no free space inside and no up/down play.

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