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!

An 18 Size Hampden, 1888

This Hampden pocketwatch is an 18 size, 11 jewels, lever-set movement, made about 1888 in a spectacular 14k hunter case.
Note the interesting shape of the tangential lever in the escapement. This movement is certainly all about the detail.


Gruen Veri-Thin...



Hamilton 992B

This is a lever-set, railroad grade, movement. The bar across the top is there as a reminder not to tug out the crown.



Elgin Grade 303

The grade 303 is one of Elgin's most successful pocketwatch movements.  It was just the right balance of quality and reliability, and price. It is a 12 size watch, 7 jewels, this one made about 1921

A New Field of Clock Repairing

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, October, 1938

A New Field of Clock Repairing


A brand new field of clock repairing is opening with the increasing use of the "automatic stool pigeon" by truck owners and industries whose business makes it necessary to operate large fleets of trucks.

This invention is a clock, faced with sensitized paper on which a needle marks a straight, steady line when the vehicle is standing still, and makes a shaky graph line while the truck, or automobile, is in motion.

The clock is synchronized with the time of the dash-board clock. Hidden in the body of the car, unknown to the driver, it is installed in the morning and removed at night, after the day's hauls are over. In this manner the whole story of the truck's movement is visible on the removable face. If the line is steady and straight for any unseemly length of time, the driver has a lot of explaining to do. It is also possible to tell to the minute how long it took a driver to make any certain stop.

One Los Angeles company has saved a great deal of expense in its trucking department. It seems that the clocks, when first installed, showed that from about three to five, every afternoon, not a truck moved. The boys would drive to some nice, shady spot and kill two hours before coming in for the night. The result was the elimination of two trucks-and much better service from those kept on duty. The drivers do not yet know that they were betrayed by mechanics. They just think that the truck boss suddenly became psychic.

The needle operates on the sensitized paper much as does a seismograph needle for recording earth movements. It is the vibration of the moving vehicle that makes the needle jump, or zig-zag. Because of this constant vibration the inside works become loose and the clocks need frequent servicing by an efficient clock repair man.

At least two Los Angeles repair shops have found their services so much in demand by truck companies that they are making a specialty of it.

Time Down in Rhode Island

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, October, 1938

Time Down in Rhode Island

This picture shows the steeple and heavy clock which adorned the Congregational Church in Pawtucket, R. 1., which fell during the storm that swept over New England recently. 



To Repair Clock Escape Wheel

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, October, 1938

To Repair Clock Escape Wheel

By W. H. Samelius

When repairing clocks we often find the escape wheel out of round and the escapement cannot be adjusted to function properly under such conditions. To repair the escape wheel is not a complicated job and can be done quite easily.

You mount one end of the arbor in the lathe, supporting the other pivot by means of a female center in the spindle of the tail stock. Then by raising the T - rest as high as it will go you use it as a means to support a very fine file or oilstone. Then when the lathe is in motion you take a very light cut off the top of the teeth until the wheel teeth are all the same length.

After this operation it may be necessary to cut the thickness of the tip of the teeth. To do this, use a fine cut file and cutting the front of tooth only until desired thickness is obtained. N ever attempt to file both sides of an escape tooth as the results may be disappointing.

You are apt to find the spacing from tooth to tooth vary. In other words, the circular pitch of the teeth will be irregular, making it impossible to set the pallets and getting good results. Figure No.
1 shows mode of procedure.

Clock pivots should be well polished to make a free running train. The work is easy and very simple.

Make a hardwood support with V-groove as shown in Figure No.2. It must be a close fit that there is no danger of slipping after once locked in place. Fasten wheel arbor in lathe chuck seeing that the V-groove is high enough to support the pivot to be burnished on center. Run the lathe at fair speed and use a burnish back file that has been cross-lined with a No. 2 emery buff stick. Take a few strokes with file applying a fairly good pressure and the results will be a highly burnished pivot.

See that edge of file is also cross-lined with a No. 2 emery buff stick. You will then have a nicely finished square shoulder. Any further detail is hardly necessary as cut is self-explanatory. (Figure 2. ) 

Elgin Grade 2

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

This movement came in 13 and 15 jewel variations.

Elgin Grade 386

Elgin's grade 386 pocketwatch, a 16 size, 17 jewel, movement, made about1914

This watch got a minor dial repair for a chip near the 4:00, in addition to the usual overhaul and service.

Dial repairs are not perfect, not this one is all but invisible since the bezel ends up covering part of the dial edge.



Why Get an Old Watch Serviced When It Runs Fine?

This is a nice example of why watches need service and cleaning, especially old watches that are said to "run fine", but have not been serviced in decades. Dirt sticks in old oil and turns gritty, and in a watch, which has parts that turn, a lot, this grit wears. A watch that runs fine, may in fact have not problems, at the moment, but running a watch without getting it serviced is just like running a car without changing the oil.

Here the upper pivot of a center wheel has a grove cut so deeply into the side that the wheel no long fully engages with its partners in the train. It has to be replaced.

Belgian Wonder Clock

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, October, 1938

Belgian Wonder Clock

Controlled by a single master movement, the 93 dials of this 16-foot high clock, now on view at the New York Museum of Science and Industry in Rockefeller Center, continuously record a remarkable series of detailed chronological and astronomical calculations.

Among them are the time divisions of the world, tidal movements at principal ports, movements at all times of the earth, sun, moon, planets and stars, and numerous others. The indicator of the slowest dial will not make a complete revolution for 26,000 years, while the fastest indicator revolves around its dial in 1/100 of a second. The former records calculations dealing with the transformation of the polar star while the latter has to do with the horizontal equatorial parallax. 

A Practical Course in Position Adjusting

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, October, 1938

A Practical Course in Position Adjusting
Member of the Technical Board, U.H.A. of A.

THIS paper treats on position error as related solely to the balance spring and of the effect of gravity which is an ever present force acting upon the innermost coils. The nature of this action is such that a positive position is produced.

A watch may be mechanically perfect, that is, its construction from barrel to balance may be as exact as human skill knows how to make it; and yet, in spite of such perfection there will be a variation of from fifteen to thirty seconds in twenty-four hours between some two vertical positions due to the condition of the balance spring alone. In watches that are less perfect, the error is frequently as high as forty seconds or more.

Action of the Balance Spring and Its Poise Error-The oscillation of the inner portion of the spring corresponds very nearly to that of the collet, that is, when the collet travels three-fourths of a circle the first coil in the center travels nearly an equal distance. Thus it is evident that each of the several coils, as they tend to become more distant from the center, will travel a shorter path until the movement ceases altogether at the regulator pins. If the coils are marked in a straight line from collet to pins, we would readily observe the distance traveled by the several coils and the extent of their path under different arcs of motion.

It is impossible to poise a spiral spring. Therefore it is at once evident that it is the unpoised inner portion of the spring when acted upon by the pull of gravity that causes position error in the vertical positions. The effect is similar to that of a balance which is out of poise. Slightly varied effects under different arcs of motion result, however, due to the fact that the greater mass of the unpoised inner portion of the spring vibrate a shorter path than does the balance proper. 

Experimental Demonstration-A demonstration entirely at the command of every watchmaker is to take several watches and run them, first with the figure one up and following with the figures two, three, four, etc.; continuing the experiment around the dial with all figures up, running the watches in each of the twelve positions for twenty-four hours and taking note of the rate in each position.
Table I shows the result in an experiment at stated above, using four popular makes of American watches. All watches were in excellent condition with the balances perfectly poised, fitted with Breguet balance springs and the grades ranged from fifteen to twenty-one jewels.

The arc of motion of the balance of all watches was about 540 degrees when fully wound and a little more than 450 after twenty-four hours of running.

In watch Number 1 the rate was fastest at the time when the figure eleven was up; in watch Number 2 the rate was fastest at the time when the figure three was up. The watches Number 3 and Number 4 had definite fast positions also, and in all watches the slow position was opposite or nearly opposite that of the fast position.

An examination of the balance spring showed that the fastest rate always occurred at the time when the middle of the first half of the inner most coil happened to be up. This error, due to the oscillation of the center of gravity of the inner portion of the spring, is called the natural error and it is unavoidable, we can, however, make such alterations so as to limit the fullest manifestation of the error in three ways. They are as follows:

(1) Pinning the spring at the collet in such a position that the natural error would be the least detrimental to the uniform rate of the watch.

(2) Reducing the natural error by the application of correct terminal curves both outside and inside.

(3 ) Neutralizing the effect of the natural error by counter-poising the balance.

These corrections will now be considered in the order stated above. 

The Proper Pinning at the Collet - When fitting new balance springs to pocket watches, certain pinning points should be observed if the best position rates are to be expected. The proper pinning at the collet is shown in Figs. 3 and 4. The first half of the innermost coil tends upward as it leaves the collet in the direction of pendant up, producing a fast pendant up rate. It does not matter if the spring tends to the left as shown in Figure 3 or tends to the right as shown in Figure 4 for it can be readily seen that, in either case, the middle of the first half of the innermost coil stands in the direction of pendant up. When the spring is pinned as stated above the pendant right and pendant left positions will have a slower but a nearly equal rate, that is, if the balance spring is properly centered and vibrates concentrically. The greater part of the natural error will show up only in the pendant down position and since a watch in practical usage is seldom if ever subjected to this position it follows naturally that the pendant down error is of little importance. 

Reducing the Natural Error - It was stated in the first part of the paper that finely constructed watches would vary from fifteen to thirty seconds in twentyfour hours between some two vertical positions and watches that are less perfect, the error would be forty seconds or more. If the natural error is shown to be more than thirty seconds in twentyfour hours, the excessive variation is usually due to want of perfection of the inner terminal of the spring. A slight eccentric motion at the inner terminal will cause a greater variation than would I be the case if the spring was perfectly true. Thus it is clear that balance springs .should always be faultlessly trued at the collet and the reader should take particular note of the fact.

The Breguet Balance Spring on Position Error - It is natural that the reader would inquire as the effect of the Breguet spring with correct terminal as compared with the ordinary flat spring on position error. Experiments have demonstrated that the Breguet spring does reduce the variation in the vertical positions, but only to a small degree, proving that the position error is due primarily to the oscillation of the center of gravity of the inner portion of the spring.

Table II shows the results of an experiment using both the fiat and Breguet springs. The watch selected for this example was an eighteen size, fifteen jewel grade fitted with a fiat spring. The first column of the Table shows the rate with the fiat spring and the second column shows the rate with the same spring after it was made over into a Breguet with correct terminal. The watch was running in each position for twenty-four hours.

Counter-poising the Balance - If the most perfect terminal curves do not produce the desired results, counter-poising may be tried. A general rule for the alteration is as follows: Reduce the weight on the lower side of the balance in the position that is slow. It is assumed that the balance has a good motion and that at no time does the arc of motion fall below 450 degrees during the twentyfour hours that the watch is under observation. This is important if success in counter-poising is to be expected. It should further be understood that any alteration of the poise of the balance should be practised only to a limited extent, otherwise a most unsatisfactory and erratic rate will result. Usually just a slight touch of the screw head file will reduce the natural error as much as five to ten seconds in twenty-four hours. 

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

Blog Archive