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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!

Elgin Grade 540

This watch is another very good Elgin model. It also has a motor barrel, but with a slightly different arrangement. There is a snap on cap on this type, although the arbor is fixed to the ratchet wheel.
The movement is a grade 540, 16 size, 23 jewels, made about 1938. It is a B.W. Raymond model.
This is a setting cam. It has a post that extends through the plate where a spring pushes it. This one is broken. A replacement is on the right.
The screw bound the setting cam. There is a slight variation in the replacement part. A little washer will correct the issue.

This washer is a remainder from replacing a riveted balance staff.
 This is the new setting cam in place.
This watch has a two piece double roller. These take more care to deal with.
Also, here is a photo showing the broken lower pivot on the balance, having the roller and hairspring already removed.
A replacement staff needs to have the right pivot size. It should fit in the balance jewel such that it stands at an angle. This looks about right for proper side-shake




Elgin Grade 240

This is a B.W. Raymond model, grade 240, Elgin, 18 size, 19 jewels, made about 1904

The ratchet wheel for this watch's motor barrel is a unique feature. It turns the inner part or the barrel, independent of the arbor, which is jeweled.
Here is the ratchet wheel in place.


These are great, railroad grade watches. It's always a pleasure to see them in good condition.

Jacob Bachtold - Grand Central Terminal Clockmaster

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

Jacob Bachtold - Grand Central Terminal Clockmaster

The real works behind the 1,000 clocks at Grand Central Terminal, where time is an immutable law dispatching trains on the precise second and shutting gates in the path of sprinting commuters, is Jake - Jacob Bachtold-Clockmaster of the Terminal for the past 42 years.

As the minion of the law of time, Jake makes a daily tour of inspection, Mondays through Saturdays, to all the principal seventy-five clocks of the Terminal which lay down the law to would-be train-catchers. The tour also takes him behind the scenes into the offices of the railroad operating departments where clocks govern the dispatching of trains and crews. Jake makes this tour with his own prized pocket watch in hand, covering the almost three miles in an hour, including short stops for minor adjustments to erring timepieces.

Jake is a mild-mannered man with a shaggy mane of sparse white hair and blue eyes peering through thick lensed glasses, a casualty of his profession. At 68, his right hand shakes just a slight bit now and is the reason that he has given up repairing watches at home in spare hours.

He has approximately 1,000 clocks under his care located in the Terminal and its office building and in stations and signal stations and offices as far as the limits of the New York Central's Electric Division - at Harmon on the Main Line and at White Plains on the Harlem Division. He often catches a train out to these points to fix important clocks that cannot be removed for any length of time; but others are sent into his workshop in the Terminal with a simple note: "Jake, this darn thing keeps losing a minute a day." The most important clocks under Jake's care are the Chief Dispatcher's Master Clock, the great clock over Park Avenue on the facade of the Terminal and, the golden four-faced clock atop the Information Booth on the Upper Level of the Terminal.

Jake checks the Master Clock several times a day, for this clock above all others must be always on the second. Once an hour it automatically sets every other electric clock in the Terminal and is set itself by a wire from Western Union twice a day. It is this clock which all train schedules must obey.
The Park Avenue clock gets Jake's careful attention twice a week. He reaches this clock by climbing several ladders to a platform where he keeps tools and oil for this special job. which consists in cleaning and oiling the great mechanism and leaning out windows in the clock to tighten screws and clean the stained glass face.

The golden four-faced clock Jake keeps especially accurate because it is the arbiter of many a possible argument between a late commuter and a gateman who has just slammed shut a train gate. When a frustrated commuter begins to wind up about shutting the gate early, the gateman merely has to point to the golden clock. Its graceful form framed in highly-polished brass, this famous clock carries a prestige and authority which is never questioned.

Jake was born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and got his first job as a helper in a local watchmaker's shop at the age of 12. When he was 16 he became an apprentice and at the age of 23 he left Switzerland for the land of opportunity. Within a day on landing at New York City he had a job with the Wittnauer Watch Company on Maiden Lane. Three years later he entered the service of the New York Central at Grand Central Terminal, where he has been ever since, seeing the number of clocks under his care grow in number from 200 to 1,000. They take up his full time now, but in the early days he worked during spare time installing electric wiring in the Terminal, which was then under construction. 

Jake is married and lives in Brooklyn. He arrives at work sharp at 8:15 a. m. and begins his day immediately he steps from the subway by glancing critically at the clock above the stairs from the East Side IRT. 



1,500 Year-Old Ring

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

1,500 Year-Old Ring

Alergic, the fierce Visigoth who sacked Rome in 410, ruled with an iron hand, but he conveyed all his power through a personal seal ring he wore on his little finger.

The ring, a blue sapphire, 45 carat and as large as half of a man's thumb, is inscribed with Aleric's image and his title.

Aleric could not write. When it came to signing state papers, he made his royal impression with the ring. Sometimes this ring settled matters of life and death. Its seal was an undisputed authority.

This symbol of power is valued at $2,000, and is one of many antique jewels from all over the world in the famous Sabine collection. Marshall Field & Co., Chicago recently had it on display.

Sabine (a woman) toured 35 countries to get gems for her collection. She inherited the collector's instinct and some of the rare jewels from her father. Included in her collection is a Russian enamel watch, with rock crystal front and back, about 250 years old; an 18th century diamond spray, which shivers because it is set on springs; poison rings of the Borgias; Persian slave bracelets; and early American heirloom pieces. All pieces are wearable and individually are valued at from $35 to $5,400.



Elgin Grade 336

This is a nice Elgin grade 336, 18 size pocketwatch, 17 jewels, made about 1914
It features a Swiss style perpendicular pallet, a micro regulator and recessed gold jewel bezels.





Nuremberg: Town of Inventions

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

Nuremberg: Town of Inventions


The quaint town of Nuremberg in Bavaria has been selected by the War Crimes' Commission as the scene of the war criminals' trials. It was in Nuremberg that the first watch was invented during the early 16th century. It was a large, bulky, eggshaped time-piece. The only way it possibly could be worn was by fastening it to a strap or girdle. Although it had only an hour hand, it proved to be the most useful invention at that time. The. minute hand wasn't perfected until late in the 17th century.
Nuremberg was a "first" in many contrivances, such as the clarinet, gun locks, air guns, toys, and it was there that the first optician's shop was opened the late 15th century.


The townspeople have always been industrious as well as ingenious. Many public gadgets were constructed in Nuremberg for the pleasures and benefits of its people. Take, for instance, the clock in one of their churches. This clock signaled the noon-hour by causing toy figures of seven electors, attended by trumpeters, to march three times around a figure representing Charles IV. Incidentally, according to the best sources available, Henry de Wyck, a German, invented the first clock which was erected in Paris for Charles V.

Messrs. Goering, Hess, Von Ribbentrop, Ley, Rosenberg, etc., won't be accorded rousing ovations when they visit Nuremberg; nor will they hear the tolling of church-bells. They will see a town shattered by the relentless B-29 bombings. And as quickly as seconds turn to minutes, justice eventually catches up with Time, ironically enough, where Time-recording first saw the light of day!


* * *

When the pitch of night is darkest, 
And I'm lying in my bed;
While I'm dozing there's a rumbling, 
But the source is not my head!
Up I raise my weary body 
To investigate the knock;
Soon enough my ears unravel 
Tiny gremlins in my clock!
Presently the gremlins vanish 
And the clock once more is sane;
Just as I go back to dreaming 
All those pests come back again!
Turning on their raucous pounding
Now my head feels like a rock;

Oh, for just a night of slumber 
Minus Gremlins in my clock!
-- Malcolm Hyatt



Elgin Grade 303

This is an Elgin grade 303, 12 size, 7 jewels, made about 1909.

Here is a good look at the complete train.

This case is not an unusual design. It has a hinged back and a snap on bezel. It does have an interesting look though. The bezel edge is unusually narrow. And the bow is a squared off shape.


Is The Jeweler's Job A Strain On The Eye?

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

Is The Jeweler's Job A Strain On The Eye?
GOOD ILLUMINATION AND EYE TROUBLES OF JEWELERS AND WATCHMAKERS

A large number of jewelers and watchmakers, according to extensive statistical figures, are found to be nearsighted after many years of work. Or some other kind of eye trouble has developed. There is an old prejudice that this development is occupational and cannot be avoided. That is not so-and there are several ways to prevent unpleasant eye troubles of jewelers and watchmakers.

There is no doubt that continuous use of good illumination is of primary importance in this connection -to the single jeweler as well as to the efficiency of a whole store or plant. The advantages to industry of good illumination are, according to the Illuminating Engineering Society: (l) Greater accuracy of workmanship, resulting in the improved quality of the product with less spoilage and less re-work; (2) Increased production and decreased costs; (3) The better utilization of floor space;
(4) Greater ease of seeing especially among older employees, thus making the more efficient; (5) Less eyestrain among the employees; (6) Improved morale among the employees resulting in a decreased labor turnover; (7) More easily maintained cleanliness and neatness in the whole plant, and (8) Greater safety.

HEADACHE AND GLASSES

Not only the eyes are suffering from poor vision and continuous strain on the eyes. A jeweler suffered for many months from headache in the late afternoon which bothered him remarkably and rec-::uced his efficiency. He made all sorts of trouble responsible for those unpleasant headaches such as a previous sinus trouble, insufficient sleep, fatigue and exhaustion. No treatment was of any avail. Finally an eye doctor found out that the jeweler had developed a medium degree of nearsightedness. Correct glasses were prescribed for him and the headaches ceased immediately and forever. Nearsightedness may produce headache as well as dizziness, nausea, the feeling of pressure in the head.

Well fitted concave glasses make disappear all the troubles which originate from nearsightedness. A nearsighted jeweler whose glasses are too weak is working with the upper part of his body bent forward. He looks through the rims of his glasses in order to see more clearly-instead through the center as he is supposed to do. The degree of nearsightedness and of other troubles of vision is determined by the optic strength of the lenses which are needed to correct it. The degree of concavity or convexity to which the lenses are ground is expressed in Diopters. The lenses scatter or gather the rays of light which fall upon the eyes so that the correct spot on the retina is reached by them and a sharp image of the object is projected upon it.

OLD SIGHT.

Usually between the ages 40 to 45 years old sight (presbyopia) begins to appear. This change is actually a normal development due chiefly to the loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye. A jeweler of some 42 or 45 years of age who had always had an excellent eyesight may note one day that now he must push his work (or his head) farther and farther away in order to gain exact vision. Much can be done to give relief and assistance to those aging eyes. Different glasses may be needed for working at close range and reading-and for seeing in distance. In such cases either two different pairs of glasses are used; or the jeweler uses glasses the upper part of which is ground for distance while the lower part is ground for objects at close range.

If the condition be uncorrected, the presbyopic jeweler may suffer from pain in the eyes, fatigue, lacrymation (shedding tears), dimness of vision, recurrent headaches. Many of these valuable and highly skilled older workers can continue to perform efficiently if he has the proper glasses - or if the simple means of assisting the eyes with good illumination is adopted.

ILLUMINATION FOR JEWELRY AND WATCH MANUFACTURING 

Workers with old sight prefer involuntarily the kind of illumination which is particularly strong. They do this instinctively because bright light produces a contraction of the pupils, and this improves the vision temporarily. But proper illumination is of highest value for every working person.

The Illuminating Engineering Society has recommended certain minimum standards of illumination for industrial interiors. The figures of their table refer to the general lighting or lighting throughout the total area involved as measured on a horizontal plane 30 inches above the floor.

The recommended figures in this table are for jewelry and watch manufacturing: Illumination levels above 100 foot candles. To provide illumination of this order, a combination of at least 20 foot candles of general lighting plus specialized supplementary lighting is necessary. The design and installation of the combination systems must not only provide a sufficient amount of light but also must provide the proper direction of light, diffusion, eye protection, and insofar as possible must eliminate direct and reflected glare as well as objectionable shadows.

Proper lighting and strong illumination are factors which help greatly to avoid eyestrain, and that is important to prevent additional eye troubles to those already existing especially with jewelers and watchmakers who have to discriminate extreme fine details for long periods of time. Improper lighting shortens the duration of all normal seeing. The same holds true· for flickering light which is disturbing to eyes which are fixed on fine details. In every bright light tinted or dark glasses are desirable. Sunlight and artificial light glaring into the eyes or reflected from such bright surfaces as glossy paper and table tops and walls are harmful to the eyes.

Glare interferes with clear vision, and tends to injure the eye.

OTHER EYE TROUBLES 

The contrast of nearsightedness is farsightedness. Farsighted eyes cannot see the objects near at hand without giving considerable extra work to the muscles of accommodation in the eye. This often results In eyestrain and headache, but the condition can also be corrected by properly fitted glasses.
Another common disorder of vision that can be corrected in practically the same way as near-or farsightedness, is astigmatism. A jeweler or watchmaker with astigmatic eyes is well able to work provided he has the proper glasses. Astigmatism is produced by an abnormal rotation of the axis of the eye to the side. Vision in such cases is blurred at close range as well as at distance. Other complaints of the astigmatic worker are headache and eyestrain. Lenses which are ground correspondingly, are of value in such cases too.

There are some methods of treatment which try to exercise the e~e muscles and strengthen the eyes III this way. Whatever the success or the supposed success of those methods, there is no doubt that any person afflicted with nearsightedness, astigmatism, old sight and similar troubles of vision has to wear glasses if he wants to do his work in the most efficient manner. But the proper care can prevent unnecessary strain on the eyes and prevent unpleasant eye troubles successfully.



Rockford Transitional Model 2

Here are a few "before" images taken while disassembling this watch.

This watch did wind and tick. These images show why it is critical to get a watch cleaned before running it however. This grim contains grit and dirt that will wear away and moving parts and cause serious damage in short order.


The watch is a Rockford Watch Company Model 2. It is 18 size and 15 jewels, made about 1879.

The movement is lever and stem set, what's called a "transitional" design. These are fairly rare.

This movement feature the older English style escapement with the pallet pivoting on a tangent to the escape wheel, rather than the Swiss style used on later watches.

Again, more like an English design, the outer end of the hairspring is held by an arm screwed to the top plate, rather than a stud held by the balance cock. Thus the balance assembly is put in place first, before the balance cock and the upper pivot. many makes of early American watches did this, at first.


The case stem has a square hole, as does the winding arbor in the movement. To match the two, an adapter has been made that fits into both.




Timex Expedition Series

And now for something completely different!

I own a lot of watches, of all sorts, mostly antiques. I love them, but for everyday use around the house, travel and outdoor activities, I really need something else.

Around about 1992 or 3 I wanted to get a wristwatch that I could use for those outdoor activities and trips that I wouldn't have to worry about damaging. I selected a Timex Expedition model, a fairly no-frills quartz, with an alarm and the Indiglo back-light feature.

This watch proved to an extremely good choice!

I used this watch for years as an occasional daily wear, and hiking, camping, and travel. It got muddy, wet, dusty and banged around in all manner of ways. These things are built like tanks! There is hardly a mark on it. Its solid construction is really remarkable, and better in my opinion than other rugged watches costing significantly more money.

The strap completely wore out about 5 years ago. I managed to buy an original Timex replacement from a source that specializes in factory straps for older watches. And I don't think I have changed the battery more than three times. Also as an aside, at that time during my strap search I encountered this very watch listed on a website as vintage and "retro"! Now I know I'm old...

But anyway, the watch is very easy to use. The rotating bezel, for example, is the control for setting the alarm, and also doubles as a way to set the time. This nice design touch keeps the number of buttons down. And the backlight is just right for dark hotel rooms, and when camping.

When I grabbed the watch for a recent trip though, trouble. It was not working. There are problems with the buttons. I suspect the last time I used it, it may have gotten a little salt water in there (it doesn't take much!), and now the buttons randomly short and the battery was near death. Maybe there's even corrosion on the movement, I have not opened it to see.


What a shame...

Could I fix it? Maybe... But Timex Expedition series watches start on Amazon at about $35. So I picked out would seemed to be a rough equivalent in the current line up, and two days later, here it is!

The new version is also clearly very durable. It is mostly a dense plastic, not metal, but it does seem like it can take a beating.

The bezel is real. It rotates, both directions, which is nice too.

The watch is light, easy to read. I like the pale color of the dial. It also has that Timex Indiglo feature I like. The nylon strap is simple, but comfortable. For $35, this watch will definitely do the job when I don't want to wear a watch I'd worry about getting damp, dropped, run over bashed into something.

My only complaint (and it's a small one, remember, we're talking about $35) is that the watch is harder to use. It has four buttons, and a chronograph in addition to the alarm, so functionality is a bit crowded. But that's OK. I like the alarm, but rarely use a timer.

It won't win any style contests, but it is $35 well spent!

Speaking of everyday watches, the one I mostly use is also a bargain. I am of course, given a choice, a fan of automatics over quartz movements. So for a bit more than the Timex, you can pick up any of several styles of the Seiko 5.

These watches are a fantastic bargain! They feature a good quality automatic movement, most have display backs and Seiko's Hardlex crystals. Yet the Seiko 5 line costs a small fraction of what you'd expect to pay for a watch with those features.

Again, I have a small complaint... The crown on the basic models is a bit small making it tricky to use. But that's OK. Overall these are really good, solid, reliable automatics for the money. I even tuned mine up a bit and the accuracy is pretty respectable. And again, you don't have to worry about bashing it into a doorway or something.

Check out the whole Seiko 5 automatic line. There's something in every style, at a remarkable value price. It's easy to buy more than one, guilt free!




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