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!

Hunter Cased Pocketwatches

Hunter or hunting watch cases have a hinged front cover. A steel latch holds the cover shut, but the cover itself is a soft metal. Because of that, in spite of what we see in movies, it is very important to press the crown in when closing, to pull the patch back, it rather than "snapping" it shut.

Otherwise, the latch part of the cover quickly wears and then the case won't stay closed.  In many instances this is unrepairable.

Waltham Colonial Premier

This is a later watch, Waltham Colonial, 1924 model. These are pretty refined designed made with "modern" machinery. They are noticeably "tighter" in tolerance than earlier watches.
Winding/setting mechanisms on many Walthams have a "shipper". There are two levers, a spring, and a round clamp. This design works well and sees low wear, but it does have a lot more parts than an Elgin (for example) design and takes a bit more time to assemble. Beginning watchmakers are not real fond of these because the spring has to be installed with great care, or it will easily fly to the other side of the room never to be seen again.

The click spring on this type of Waltham watch is another easy to lose part. The key to handling small parts though is really less than half practice. The dressing of the tip and inside faces of the tweezers is critical. Good tweezers are adjusted and resurfaced fairly frequently. In this work learning to do that is just as important as learning how a watch functions.

The Waltham Colonial R model is a no-frills watch, but they have a good reputation for reliability. These were made in then late '30s and into the '40s. This is the 17 jewel type.

Know Your Watch Parts

Here are a few images showing the commonly used names of some parts of mechanical pocketwatches that can be seen from the outside.

This first one shows the back of an 18 size Elgin movement. The balance wheel and regulator are prominent, but everything else is covered up on this style of watch.

This is an open-face watch case. The glass covering the dial and hands is the crystal.
On this style of movement, more parts can be seen from the back.
The balance assembly, or balance complete, is made up of the balance wheel, the staff, the hairspring and (underneath) the roller table, which is on the other side.
This is the train of a watch, from the barrel to the escape wheel. Not all watches have the same train parts, but the majority do, although the exact layout can vary.
The escapement consists of the escape wheel and pallet.

Helpful Hints

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, February, 1942

Helpful Hints


Never, when taking a movement apart, with hollow center pinion drive the post out without supporting the bridge in some manner; it is usually very thin and easily bent, but almost impossible to restore to it's original appearance when a bend has once got into the surface.

Never scratch the number of your watch record on a case where it can be seen without the aid of a glass; some reckless tinker so mars the beauty of the case in this way as to seriously irritate the owner. We once knew a watchmaker who barely escaped a sound thrashing from the owner of a watch, in which he scratched a number is such awkward scrawlings as to be visible at arms length.

Never put in a mainspring without examining carefully whether any teeth or pinion leaves are broken or bent in the. main, center or third wheel. In so doing you will save yourself the trouble of taking the watch down a second time to repair damage done by the recoil of the breaking spring.

Never pour oil from the bottle into the oil cup; it is wasteful, more being lost by drip than is used, besides the danger of taking up the fine dust adhering to the flange of the bottle. The neat, handy economical way is to dip your oil wire to the bottom of the bottle and it will take away two or more drops if raised quickly. Let this fall into the oilcup until you have taken sufficient quantity. 

Total Cost of Ownership

Occasionally, I am told that watch service and repair cast are high compared to what you can buy an old watch for.

According to Consumer Reports the median total cost of ownership of a car, in 2012, is $9,100 per year for the first five years.

That's $45,000, which can buy a pretty nice car. Is it odd that people buy, and then service, cars?

If you buy a "watch that runs" off eBay for $200, and get it serviced once in 5 years for $150 to $200, that's a bargain! Or if you don't get it serviced, maybe it will last 5 years before it stops running - like a car that never gets the oil changed.

Waltham 18 Size P. S. Bartlett

 Left to right; center wheel, 4th wheel, 3rd wheel and escape (not the order the run in in the watch actually, but that is the whole train).

There was quite a bit of rust at the center of the watch, affecting the hands and freezing the cannon pinion to the center wheel shaft, and the minute wheel to the cannon pinion. I managed to get them all apart and cleaned up. Other than the hands, which are pretty bad, and I'm not sure about them yet, the various other parts have cleaned up well and will work fine.

The base plate on this movement features the replace slot and all the screw holes to support the shipper mechanism that most stem-set Walthams have. This watch is lever-set. But this run of plate could easily be used for either stem or lever set models. A retail watchmaker, if they had the parts, could also make the change.

This bottle goes back to the teens or '20s. I happen to know where it came from. There's still plenty left though.
A paste of diamontine and oil, and a shaped stick, with the lathe, provide the best means to reduce a balance staff pivot.

This is the old and broken staff in the lathe to be removed by cutting away the back hub.
When it is nearly all cut away, the balance wheel can be broken free with the staking set.
 Here is the balance wheel, the new staff, the roller table (single roller type) and the hairspring ready to be assembled.
I use an inverting staking tool. This is handy because I can just take the stake just used to finish the rivet, invert it, place the assembly in the other way, and press the roller table in place. The roller table is friction fit, using a special stake with a slot to clear the roller jewel.
To complete the balance assembly by installing the hairspring, the last two stakes used are simply inverted again and the hairspring collet press in place. The hairspring rotation is then given a fine adjustment so the stud falls in the right place, and assembly is then ready to use.
The weight of the balance wheel should be even on all side. This ruby jawed vise is used to check that.
It should sit in any orientation without turning to any particular side downward - indicating a heavier side.

This is a Waltham 1892 model, P.S. Bartlett signed 18 size, 17 jewels, lever-setting

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Elgin Grade 55

There are a few good tricks to getting a very difficult threaded pocketwatch case open. This case was one of the toughest I have encountered. The back was fine, but the front bezel resisted every attempt. I finally went with this method. It is usually the backs that are problems.

It's just what it looks like, a nut super-glued to the crystal. The crystal, luckily, is very tight and secure, it did not itself turn. If it had, I likely would have had to give up on this one.

Once the glue had sat for a day under some mild pressure to hold the nut still, the wrench opened the case. Amazingly, it still wasn't easy!

To do this, it has to be the "super-glue" type of glue. It is strong against lateral force and so will stay put while slowly applying pressure with the wench. Afterwards this type of glue releases and disappears easily in Acetone.

After removing the bezel, there was no clue as to why it was so tight. I expected to see glue or something, it was that tight. However, there were a number of little chips from the damaged dial. I think one of these might have been wedged in the threads.

How about some "before" images of the disassembly? We can see the condition is pretty rough, but it is all there.

Under the dial there are two secondary serial number stamps, all matching.
 All the teeth are broken off of the cannon pinion. It is completely destroyed.

This watch had a broken balance staff. This setup is used to remove the roller table. This is different from the tool I usually use because the solid balance wheel has three arms instead of two.

Also note that in the front facing part of the balance wheel there is a slight carve out along this, the under side. This is to poise the wheel, making its weight even on all sides.
Removing the balance staff proceeds as usual by cutting off the back hub. Extra care not to damage the silver balance wheel is called for.
Here is what's left of the staff after popping it off the wheel.
 The new staff is riveted on as usual.
This tool is used to tighten the collet of the hairspring slightly.

This watch is now running OK, but it is going to be very slow. There's nothing I can do about it. The balance is a bit out of flat and these are just too risky to try to adjust. They can't be replaced.
Here is the replacement cannon pinion. It is not exactly the right part, but we have to make do with what we can find.

The replacement cannon pinion is too tight.

I decided to go ahead and reduce the center arbor to fit a replacement cannon pinion. This is tricky because the friction-fit cannon pinion has to be snug enough that the hands turn as the center shaft does, but loose enough to allow slip when setting the time.  You can't put metal back if you reduce too much.
I gave the center wheel arbor a nice shine while I was at it
 Looks good.

This is one of those older American movements that uses one case screw with a pin on the other side. On this one the pin is intact for a change. It's the one problem this watch didn't have. It's amazing how often these are broken off. I have no idea why.
This watch has one of the heaviest solid gold cases I have ever seen.

Whew, a lot of non-trivial work went into this one. It's far from like new, but it's running.

This is an Elgin grade 55, 18 size, 7 jewels, made about 1871. It is a W. H. Ferry model. Unnamed versions of this grade have a split balance wheel.

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