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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.

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!

Waltham Military Timer

This is a Waltham 16 size, 22 jewel, military timer.  It features a black 24 hour dial, sweep seconds, and an open face base metal case.

This is a "hacking" movement, meaning that the watch completely stops in setting mode so as to allow setting to the second.  In this image, the movement is in setting mode and a little spring of steel is touching the balance wheel.  It at the upper right visible near the balance cock.  This stops the balance wheel, and thus the watch.   In winding mode, that spring is moved out of the way and the balance starts.
The black gear on the back is sitting on the 4th wheel.  The 4th wheel is the one that turns one revolution per minute, and this is where, on the other side, the seconds hand would be on a typical pocketwatch (the location of that sub-dial for seconds is not a matter of style, but of mechanics).  This watch has a sweep seconds hand, mounted in the middle.  The black gear drives a pinion on a shaft that passes inside the center wheel arbor, through the watch,, to carry the sweep seconds hand over on the dial side.


Elgin Grade 760

Elgin's grade 760 is a 15/0 size, 21 jewel, Lord Elgin wristwatch movement. This great example was made about 1950.





Elgin Grade 59

Here's a great example of Elgin's grade 59. It's an unusual 17 size movement, 7 jewels, this one made about 1875


The movement is key-wind and key-set, both from the back, and features a solid silver balance wheel.




Waltham Vangard

Here's a Waltham 16 size, 23 jewels 1899 Vanguard model, in an open face case, 14k gold-filled, hinged front and back.




The Clock of The Long Now

A huge clock, built inside a mountain, to keep accurate time for 10,000 years?



For more information, I highly recommend Stewart Brand's The Clock Of The Long Now: Time and Responsibility.



Follow Stewart Brand on Google+, here!

Elgin Grade 574

Elgin's grade 574 is a later 16 size, 17 jewel, design. This example was made about 1948

This watch had a broken balance staff. The pivots of the balance staff are very brittle hardened steel. If a watch is dropped, or otherwise receives a hard, sharp blow or impact. It will just about always break one or both balance pivots.

The new staff is shown here being riveted on to the balance wheel using the staking set.
Here the double roller table is installed on the new balance staff.


Earlier American pendent-set pocketwatches have the mechanism that snaps in and out as part of the case. In the neck of such a case there is a "sleeve" with spring fingers that grip the winding arbor. A shoulder on the arbor snaps to one side or the other of the fingers when you pull it out or push it in.

Later watches have an improved design where the snap is part of the movement instead. The winding arbor is free in the neck of the case, but held in the movement by something called a "detent" which acts as a lever, changing from winding to setting.

This is how the vast majority of mechanical watches work to this day.

This pocket watch has a detent.  Interestingly, I found the broken remains of a sleeve threaded into the neck of the case.  This case may be older than the movement, or perhaps it was designed to work either way.  But it does seem that at some point an older style movement was in this pocketwatch case.

I included in this photo a normal (not broken) sleeve for an example.


The serial number marked on this movement is J393975, which is a prefixed shorthand for 45393975.

Later Elgin movements are sometimes marked with a serial number starting with a letter. The letter is a code for various number of millions. For complete information about these codes, look here.


Elgin Grade 288

There seem to be quite a few of these around. They come in regularly. This is an example of Elgin's grade 288 movement. It's 18 size, 7 jewels, made about 1905






Elgin Grade 450

Many grade 450 Elgin movements are marked Lord Elgin, as this one is. It is a 12 size watch, 21 jewels, made about 1920






Elgin Grade 100, Convertible

This is an Elgin grade 100, convertible movement, 18 size, 15 jewels, made about 1887

Elgin convertible models were designed to be assembled in either hunter case, or open face design. It was hoped to save money by allowing the company to produce only one set of parts, instead of two versions of each watch. But this innovation proved too complex to make and service, and was deemed not cost effective.


Here in this image the bottom plate, dial side, of the Elgin grade 100 convertible. The difference between the hunter and open face configurations is that the stem is 180 degrees from the seconds dial (the forth wheel) in an open face watch, but 90 degrees from the seconds in a hunter case movement.


This plate allows the winding arbor to be in either of two positions, 90 degrees different from each other.

In this image we can see a linkage of two similar parts connecting both stem positions to the "snap" mechanism for the crown to snap in and out.  Among the many unique features of this movement, the "snap" is here in the movement, rather than provided by a sleeve spring in the neck of the case.


The "snap" is provided by the business in the upper left.  The hunter position for the winding arbor is directly pointing left.  The open face position is facing down in this image.  The jewel for the lower forth wheel, which is the seconds hand, is at the upper most in the image.

The upper side of the main plate shows the two cut-outs for the winding arbor positions, at the right and at the bottom, of the image.

This movement has its ratchet in between, inside, a two part barrel bridge.  The trick to converting from hunter to open face is that a main wheel, which turns the ratchet wheel, which winds the mainspring, can be positioned at one side of the other inside the bridge - a 90 degree difference.

This watch is being assembled in open face mode.  The stem is facing down in these images.  The unused void for the hunter configuration is to the right.




Adding to its uniqueness, the winding mechanism is on the top, or back side, of the movement, opposite the dial.

When in setting mode, a pin pushes up from the other side and lefts an arm, causing a main wheel to move up, off of the ratchet wheel, and engage a wheel in the center.

The cannon pinion on the other side rides directly on the arbor of this exposed center setting wheel, thus turning the hands.




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