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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FAQ - Will Part XYZ Work in My Watch?

Sometimes I get email from someone that has a watch with an obvious problem, and they ask if they can take a replacement part from another given watch, and will it be right? This is particularly common with a complete balance assembly since a broken balance staff is a very common issue, and it's not hard to tell that problem exists in a given broken watch. There's a few things to say about this...

First, you can look up what the old factory records say about part numbers for Elgin watches. But it is by the serial number of the exact movement, not the grade. The reason for this is that there are many instances where the part was changed during Elgin's production run of a grade, and some ranges of the serial numbers assigned to that grade use some different part.

You can look up a movement serial number here.

In the "Links" section there is an entry for parts. The resulting look up will give you much of the key part numbers for this watch.

If you do not know a serial number, you can look up an Elgin grade number here. On this page there are usually, but not always, links for specific serial numbers of known watches of that grade, and from there you can get to the parts section. Look in the "watches serviced by Jeff Sexton" or the "Notes" section for known private label watches. If there's no links available, you can still get to a representative movement. Click on any year in the "Production History" list. The next page has the specific serial number ranges, and these are clickable. It will take you to a page for the first number in that range.

This will get you to a representative movement, but again, keep in mind that the parts can vary by specific serial number.

But there are other issues. For example, if you find another grade that seems to take the same balance complete, it does not mean that you can be sure that a given balance complete will work in your watch. For one thing balance staffs from Elgin typically come in three pivot sizes. That has to match the holes sizes in the balance jewels you have. And there are often other "Q/A" issues. Elgin's replacement part system was extremely advanced, and they did a great job. But these are far from "drop in" parts just the same. Replacement parts often have to "fit" even if they are the "correct" original factory part - particularly balance staffs. I probably adjust a staff maybe one out of four times I replace one.

I have also seen many watches were other things have been altered to use a balance other than what the specs say it is supposed to have. They can even have come out of the factory that way. This can get really messy.

Thirdly, and especially regarding a broken balance staff, the broken part of the pivot is likely still inside there someplace. That tiny bit of hard steel is more than enough to cause other problems, stop the watch and even damage something else. The movement must be completely disassembled and cleaned to get it out.

Lastly, regardless of what trouble a movement has, a watch that has not been serviced in decades should be. Running a watch without cleaning is just like running a car without changing the oil. It may well "run fine", until it stops and damage is already done.

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