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!

Elgin Grade 102 - Dirty

Here are a couple of "before" images on a typical Elgin 18 size, lever-set, movement that hasn't been serviced in a very long time. This is why antique watches need to be cleaned, even if, perhaps especially if, they run. All this grit is getting into the pivots and other moving parts and forming an abrasive paste with the old oil. If this watch is run much, parts that are fine now will soon be seriously damaged.

It's just like running a car without changing the oil.

This movement is a grade 102, 18 size, 11 jewels, made about 1893 by the Elgin National Watch Company.

I Heard...

I heard that a watchmaker that does very similar work to myself, mostly antique pocketwatches, tells people to expect an error as much as +/- 10 minutes per 24 hours. I was surprised, that seems like a lot. It doesn't take extreme effort to get to +/- 1 minute on the majority of watches, and the majority do less than +/- 30 seconds. Occasionally there's a good reason for a larger error, such as with an especially primitive or old watch. But even then +/- 2-3 is achievable in all but the most extreme cases, in my experience, without spending a lot of time. There is diminishing returns for ever greater efforts yielding ever smaller improvements.

More about watch accuracy and rates here...


Now you can follow Elgintime on Pininterest!

New arrivals...

Here are the latest additions to the work queue.

There's always plenty to do!

Briefly... Searching for Watches

Here's a tip... If I have worked on your watch in the past, you'll have a job number. The job numbers I use are indexed by Google, and will come up nicely in Google searches. Note that when searching inside Google+, it defaults to "Best of", which may not show all the results for a job. If you change that to "Most recent", you'll see everything.

The Google Photo albums are all named with the make of the watch, and the serial number, or grade of there isn't a serial number. These are likewise indexed, and watch movement serial numbers will also come up in Google search results. These albums are public, but neither these, nor the job numbers are linked to any information about the watch owner.

Elgin Grade 239

These photos show old oil and grease in a watch.  It's pretty bad here, but every old watch has some of this.  This is why getting an old watch serviced is important, even if the watch ticks.  Grit mixed in the old, dry lubricants turns to a very effective abrasive and grinds away at the moving parts.  It does not take long to damage something that was previously fine.
This watch has a broken center wheel staff. This part is essentially extinct as far as I can tell but I managed to find one in some of my own unsorted old material (wow, really lucky).

For some reason the bearing portion of the replacement was a bit thicker at 1.16mm, where as the old one is 1.1mm. I took it down, and polished the pivot to a mirror finish. It will work fine.

These images are the "motor barrel" used in this movement. Elgin's is a very good system, superior in my opinion to motor barrels found in other makes.

Motor barrels fix the arbor to the part that drives the watch such that the two halves of the barrel move separately. In the event of the mainspring breaking, the train is protected. In addition, lower friction allows a stronger spring to be used, and power to the train is less impacted by winding.

This watch needed a balance staff replacement next.
The first thing in changing the balance staff is to remove the hairspring. When I did that though, the old staff just dropped right off the balance, it had never been attached! Well that saves me a step. Luckily I did not have much trouble getting the roller table off.

It also had the wrong staff. In this image the old staff is at the top, the correct replacement is below. The hair spring collet is badly over stretch, open, to fit over the larger staff. I'm amazed that the collet isn't broken. This roller table has a larger opening than the replacement staff needs. I'll have to use a different one.
The replacement staff is riveted to the balance wheel using the staking tool.
Here is the old hairspring (with the stretched collet) and roller table on the right, new on the left. Note the much smaller hole in the roller table on the left.

Repairs done (with the correct parts) and the watch runs fine.
This is by the way, an 18 size Elgin Veritas model. It's one of the best movements the company made.

It is a grade 239, 18 size, 21 jewels, lever-set railroad watch. This fine example was made about 1904

Letting Down A Mainspring

Hi Jeff
I enjoy reading your blog posts and seeing the pictures you post of your excellent restorations of old Elgin pocket watches. I would like to ask you a question if I can as it is driving me crazy. Please can you tell me how you let down the mainspring on Elgin size 6 7 jewel grade 206 movement year 1907 as its not like other pocket watches that have the cogs exposed. Thanks for any help you can give me.


-- E.K.

Hello -
There is a tiny hole in the edge of the lower plate. When something is pressed in, it presses against the click pushing it away from, and releasing, the ratchet wheel.

Elgin Grade 194

This is Elgin's grade 194. It's a slightly rare 12 size, 23 jewel, movement. This fine example was made about 1898.

The masonic dial is not original to this particular watch, however, the dial is vintage and is reasonably believed to have been manufactured by Elgin (there are modern masonic dials made that fit Elgin watches).

Checks Recieved

This list of "checks received" is another document relating to the American Watch Assemblers Association.


Elgin Grade 478

Here's Elgin's grade 478, a 16 size, 21 jewel, model, made about 1933.

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

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