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!

New Arrivals

New arrivals in for service... There are a couple interesting things here (there just about always is, every watch is different!).

Stay tuned!

Grade 252

The Father Time movement is one of Elgin finest products. This one looks like it's been in a rock tumbler...

This movement is Elgin's railroad grade 252. It is a large watch, 18 size, lever-set, with 21 jewels. This example was made about 1903
The pallet fork on these is the Swiss style, perpendicular, type. This one is finely finished with beveled and polished edges. Very nice!
The threads for the screw for the balance cock were totally stripped in the top plate (brass is a soft metal, please do not torque down watch screws). The balance cock could not be held securely.

At first it looked like someone had attempted to solder on the balance cock, but I don't think the material that was on there was solder. It turned out to be very soft and it came off pretty easily - almost like a silver latex paint, but slightly firmer. Anyway, that is what was holding it together.

My Grandfather always said, you never know what you'll find when you get into a watch.

As for the screw, on other Elgin models they used a larger screw for this part. In this instance the hole in the balance cock allowed the larger screw, barely, so I was able to just re-tap the threads in the top plate to a larger size. A larger Elgin factory screw now works, and looks correct.

Next, the troubles with the balance and hairspring. As we can see here, the hairspring has a fair amount of damage.

This was after a first pass at reshaping the hairspring, and a replaced roller jewel, the balance then worked fairly well, but still required a few final touch ups.
I'm not sure a watch with these issues can ever be the same. But it is running, and is preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The Replacements

A watchmaker would never replace a movement in a watch unless you requested it. The movement is the watch. If you asked for your watch serviced, the watch should be serviced. Wouldn't it be surprising if you took your car to a repair shop and came back later to find they had a different car ready for you?

Washington Liberty Bell

This is a Washington Watch Company, 6 size, 15 jewels, Liberty Bell model, made about 1905. Washington was a house brand made for Montgomery Ward's by the Illinois Watch Co.
The plate screws on this movement are interesting. They have been blued, then the heads polished. This leaves the body of the screw, and the inside of the slot dark, while the rest is shiny.

The finish and mechanical quality on this watch is quite good.

It's in a hunter case, 25 year gold filled.

Gold filled cases are commonly found marked 10 year, 15 year, 20 year or 25 year. This roughly refers to the thickness of the gold layer in the material and the number of year of use that can be expected before it wears through and the inner material shows.

Gold filled cased are very different from anything gold plated. Gold plated is much thinner, and would probably wear through in a matter of months.

Seth Thomas Model 14

This is the mainspring in the barrel of one of these watches that does not appear to have been opened up in several decades, and in these cases it takes some extra work to get the parts clean. Old organic watch oil, made from sea animals, turns green and almost solid. There is certain stale, vaguely metallic, smell to it also. Modern synthetic watch oils do not break down in this way.

All clean now!
Here we can see the lever mechanism, dial side, and the serial number.

This watch is a Seth Thomas model 14. It is 6 size, 7 jewels, lever-set, made about 1893.

New Arrival

New arrival...

Hand Collisions and Elgin's Director of Sales Research

Hand Collision!

After running for a couple of days, the hour hand and the second hand touched and stopped this watch. I had to take the movement out again to adjust the hands, and start the testing cycle all over.

Hand collisions are a frustration. It seems that no matter how closely this is check before casing a watch, a few days go by and suddenly something has changed and hands touch.

If you look closely at the seconds hand in the picture here, you can see the trouble.

The watch is Elgin's grade 730-A, a railroad grade wristwatch labeled B.W. Raymond. It is an exceptionally well made movement with a number of innovative features. But this particularly one is not in the original case. The case it's in barely works for it, and it is tricky to get the movement in and out, adding to my disappointment at seeing it stop in  this way.

Job number 160022...

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, February, 1946

Automatic-feed Soldering Iron Being Introduced

Elgin. Ill. - Alan Magary has resumed his position as director of sales research for the Elgin National Watch Company following four years in service with the War Production Board and U. S. Marine Corps, it was announced by Howard D. Schaeffer, Vice-President in Charge of Sales. Prior to joining the Marine Corps, Magary supervised development of jewel bearing production for the War Production Board. His first year in the Marine Corps was spent as intelligence officer with Supreme Headquarters of the AEF in Europe. For his work at SHAEF Forward he was awarded the Bronze Star. From May until October of last year, he served as technical intelligence officer with the U. S. Naval Air Attache in London. 

Automatic-feed Soldering Iron Being Introduced

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, February, 1946

Automatic-feed Soldering Iron Being Introduced

A patented, automatic-feed, electric soldering iron, the EJECT-O-MATIC is being introduced by the Multi-Products Tool Company, 123 Sussex Ave. Newark, N. J. This radically new iron is trigger operated and ejects a measured amount of solder from a reel concealed in the handle. A special retracting feature prevents the melting of excess solder on the heating tip. The actual amount of solder deposited each time the trigger is pulled is regulated by a micrometer adjusting wheel mounted in the handle of the iron easily accessible to the operator's thumb. If, during the course of a job, more, or less solder is required, a touch of the wheel changes the amount ejected.

The EJECT-O-MATIC is of balanced construction and compactly built. The pistol-grip handle is made of molded bakelite. The tool weighs one pound and a quarter loaded, and is so perfectly balanced that it can be used for hours without fatigue. The Eject-O-Matic facilitates uniform soldered connections. 

Complete Price Guide to Watches for 2016

The 2016 edition of this widely used guide to vintage watches is available for pre-order! This handy book includes more than just a price guide, it also has extensive introductory information on the care of antique timepieces, how things work, terminology, collecting, the history of watchmaking and more!

This book isn't expensive, and it answers a lot of questions. Check it out!

Also, older editions, from prior years, remain available at a reduced price. These are a great deal if you don't need the very latest updates to the valuations. For now at least, untill they're gone, Amazon lists them back to 2011.

Elgin Grade 82

This watch is a George M. Wheeler model, grade 82, 18 size. It was made in 13 and 15 jewel versions, this on, made about 1884, has 15.  

Here's the setup getting ready to separate the old staff, with a broken pivot, from the balance wheel.  This is done by cutting away the hub of the staff (the lower part) in the lathe down to almost, but not quite, nothing. Then the remains of the hub are popped off in the staking set.
This is the new staff riveted in place, and what's left of the old staff including the little washer that is all that's left of the hub.

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