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!

One Thing About Hairsprings

This watch came back to me for running very, very fast.  A watch running very fast (like minutes per hour) usually indicates a hair spring problem.  If the hairspring touches anything in any part of it's travel, including the coils touched each other, then it is effectively shorter.  The spring and the balance wheel form a pendulum, so a shorter spring has a faster period - the watch runs faster.

The regulator on a watch, if you look closely functions by moving a pair of pins through which the spring passes, along the outer coil.  That makes the hairspring effectively longer or shorter, but only by enough to give it a swing of a +/- a few minutes per 24 hours.

A hairspring can get oil on it, become magnetized, or be out of shape or position to cause this.  And you can usually the issue by watching the spring closely.  It should expand and contract evenly with each beat, and not "snap" or expand out of round.

On this watch the spring's outer coil had crept upward somehow and was touching, just barely, the bottom of the regulator pins (this is an over-coiled spring, as opposed to flat so the spring does pass directly under the regulator pins).  Adjusting the stud down a hair (probably less actually), and re-flattening the spring solved the problem completely.

Why this problem didn't manifest itself before I sent it back to the owner I don't know.  The stud was secure, and so is the collet.  It seems like no matter long I run watches for before returning them, the occasional mystery still occurs.

Watches can seem frustrating, but they are not mysterious nor magical.  They are completely mechanical, governed by very basic principles of geometry and physics.  There's always an explanation for a problem.

An Elgin Grade 148, with a Winding and Setting Problem

I spent a lot of time today working on the Elgin serial number database website, so I went to this watch because I thought I could get through it relatively quickly.  It didn't seem to have any problems.

No so fast...

The setting lever spring rubs on the main wheel, causing rough winding and setting.  It would probably eventually lead to a broken tooth on the gear too.  I spent some time checking that these parts were correct for this grade.  There are other Elgin grades with the same mechanism, but it's possible that the parts are not exactly the same.  These seem to be right.  What to do? 
I put a tiny, very thin, washer under the spring to raise it up just a few thousands of an inch.  Problem solved!

The Elgin Pocketwatch Database - Now Faster and More Data Too!

The Elgin serial number look up site now not only has watch features and production history, but also a pretty significant parts facility.  First look up a serial number, then look for the "parts information" link on the main serial number information page. 

This information isn't complete, but it will grow as time goes on.  There's more to come.  I expect the data isn't 100%, but the listing for mainsprings, hairsprings and balance staffs should be pretty good!


Waltham Crescent St. 1870

This key wind, key set movement is marked "American Watch Co.", which is the original name of the Waltham company.  This is an early watch too, it's the Crescent St. 1870 model

Elgin Grade 97 Details

This watch has a handmade replacement collet on the hairspring.  It's very nice work too!

This is an Elgin grade 97, 18 size, 7 jewel, movement, made about 1891.

It has the earlier tangential  lever escapement, also called an English lever.  This was superseded by the more stable Swiss style, or perpendicular, lever design.

Elgin Grade 2, Animated!

The Elgin grade 2 Elgin is a lever-set 16 size movement that was made in 13 and 15 jewel variations.

This example was made about 1895.  It's a 15 jewel version, having jewelled bearings on the pallet.

Elgin Grade 2, and a Crude Click Replacement

In a pocketwatch, the click is a little part that is pressed against the ratchet wheel by a click spring.  The click's job is to make sure that the mainspring arbor only turns one way so that the watch can be wound.

The click in this watch is a crudely made replacement part.

The click post has also been replaced, clearly.  This is the back side.

This watch is an Elgin grade 2, 16 size, made about 1895.

Elgin Grade 2, and a Barrel Problem

This mainspring barrel cap appears to have been "tightened" be a few taps with the round, flat punch along the edge at several points.
This is from a grade 2 16 size Elgin movement made about 1895.

Elgin Grade 10, and An Interesting Dial

Elgin's grade 10 pocketwatch movement is a large, 18 size, 11 jewel model.

This one was made about 1887.

This particular watch would probably rightly be called a side-winder because it is a hunter case movement, placed in an open face case.

Hunter movements have the seconds dial at 90 degrees from the stem.  Open face movements have the seconds dial at 180 degrees (opposite) the stem.  This watch has had a dial installed with the number rotated 90 degrees from usual.  As a result, 12 o'clock is at the stem, where it would normally be in an open face case.  The seconds dial then locates at 3 o'clock.

It's important to keep in mind that dials and cases are rather mix and match on vintage American watches.  Customers got what they wanted, or what was available, at the time of the purchase, at the retail location.  The Elgin company actually didn't make pocketwatch cases, generally speaking.

Elgin Grade 59, Animated!

This is an unusual T. M. Avery model.  This early Elgin design includes several features rare among Elgin pocketwatches.  For one thing, this is a truly full plate design with no upper bridges at all, aside from the balance cock.  The inside is fully covered, including the barrel, and under the balance.  Which dust covers in place, the inside is well closed off.  Yet, like a 3/4 plate design, the balance is inset. 

There's also a unique ratchet, set in a recess under an extra plate, back side.

Then there's the solid silver balance wheel of course...

This watch is key-set from the rear, notice the square post in the center.  A shaft passes though the center wheel staff, which is actually a hollow tube, and the cannon pinion mounts to that shaft on the front.  Friction from the inside of the center tube moves the pinion, and hands, when the watch is running.

The watch is in excellent condition, virtually no tool marks.  Good thing we don't need parts for this.

New Feature!

I added a way to have extra photos in a row along the bottom of the movement information page.  For example:

It'll be a long time before there's very many extra photos set up in the database, but I added a few this afternoon anyway, just to make sure it works.

Elgin Grade 386 and a Creative Fix

I see something like this now and then.  Someone put some pretty deep divots into the underside of this balance cock, near the jewel setting.  Why?  I'd guess that someone stripped the jewel bezel screws on the top side.  By distorting the area a bit, those holes could be closed a little to better hold the screws.

More creative repairs here...

Greasy Roller

The roller jewel, or pin, sticks out vertically down from the roller table on the middle of the balance wheel.  My photo here of that is pretty hard to see unfortunately.

Anyhow, this watch had an odd irregular beat problem, and I finally realized that the roller jewel was loose.

The jewel is held in place with shellac.  The part is heated with an alcohol lamp, while held in a certain tool, the shellac melts, and when it cools, it hardens and holds the jewel.  Getting the temperature right is a matter of experience.  Too hot and the shellac scorches.  The roller jewel, which has a 'D' shaped profile, also must be perfectly straight and square to the balance staff.  One gets very little time to move it before the shellac cools and firms up.

This shellac looked OK, so I tried, several time, just heating and re-seating the jewel.  It just stayed loose.

Finally I realized that someone previously had used what actually seemed to be some sort of wax (?!) on the roller jewel, which is why it was loose, and why new shellac would not stick to the resulting oily surface of the jewel.  I had to disassemble the thing again and hand clean the jewel and the roller table with acetone.  That did the trick, the jewel is now secure.  On to the next issue...

My Grandfather always said you never know what you're going to find when you open up a watch. 

Elgin Grade 288

The grade 288 is an 18 size, 7 jewel, Elgin that is a typical and common mid-range watch of the era. 

This one, made about 1928, is in an open-face nickel case, threaded front and back, that is very typical for American watches of this time.

Dial Foot Pins

Making and installing a new dial foot pin...
Early Elgin watches have a pin friction fit through a hole in the dial foot, on the inside of the plate.  This holds the dial on and secure.

The pin is a simple brass tapper that just takes a few minutes to turn out.

Tighening a Key-Wind Pocketwatch Cannon Pinion

Can I adjust a key-wind cannon pinion as I would one on a pendant set watch?
No.  The key-set cannon pinions (or every one I have seen), are much thicker and can't be tightened the same way as others.  You'd only end up breaking something, maybe the tool.
This is a problem with no good solution.  What you can do may depend on the circumstances.  Notching the base with a three-cornered punch is not recommended as the notches won't last if the watch is set much, and may grind the center staff.  On the other hand, for an antique watch that is just displayed and occasionally wound, this may actually be OK.  It will make the hands work.

Some folks put some sort of material inside the cannon pinion, such as a fine grit, a tiny bit of fabric or even a hair!  This seems a bad choice to me as anything like that can also grind the center staff, or get out and into the mechanism or at least the center wheel baring, which seems bad.

A few times, I have seen the side of a cannon pinion filed down so that the usual method would then work.  This seems like excessive modification to the part though, and it is is not really carefully done the part would be ruined.

When I've had this problem, I have replaced the cannon pinion or the center staff.  That's the only "correct" answer.  It's usually the center staff that's the worn part.  But these parts are getting very hard to find.  The last couple of times I had to alter a replacement part slightly to work.  This won't always be an option as parts disappear from the world.  The center staff could be made, but making a cannon pinion is quite a procedure, requiring rigs I certainly don't have.  This is one of the repairs that's likely to render some watches non-fixable in the near future, at least not easily.

Here's a few blog posts on the subject:


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