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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.

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Jewel Theives

There used to be a common myth, what we would call a meme today, that unscrupulous watchmakers sometimes stole the jewels out of the watches they repaired.

The jewels in watches are synthetic sapphires and rubies, typically, used as bearing parts, this material being extremely hard and resistant to wear. The jewels in watches are completely practical, not ornamental, and they have very little monetary value. And besides that, a watch will not run without them, so the customer would probably notice if they were stolen.

I still occasionally hear this tale. Not long ago I serviced a watch for a customer who planned to surprise the watch's original owner, their grandfather. I was told by the customer that the grandfather swore that a watchmaker had stolen the jewels back in 1960s, when the watch was last serviced. Of course I found this not to be the case.

Recently, I came across this example of a watch which, for some reason, has indeed had a couple jewels rather roughly removed. In the close up we can see two jewel-less bearings, and third one still intact. It should be clear that this watch would not run with those two jewels missing and the corresponding gears thus floating all over freely.


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