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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Information Please!

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

WMck - Will dipping watch parts in cyanide leave any bad effects?

Answer - If the parts are guilded and left in cyanide solution too long, the solution will dissolve the gilding, leaving the plates dull and dark. When dipping watch parts in cyanide solution, the parts should first be cleaned in naphtha, the naphtha washed off in soapy water and then rinsed in clear water. Give a quick dip in cyanide. You must bear in mind that cyanide only removes tarnish and if the tarnished surfaces are not perfectly clean, void of oil Or grease, the cyanide will not attack the tarnish. After the cyanide dip, parts should once more be thoroly rinsed in warm soapy water or warm water to remove the cyanide. Cyanide solution itself is slimy and cold water will not give a thoro rinse. After the parts are thoroly rinsed, they may then be dipped in alcohol and dried in warm sawdust. This may sound like a long procedure, however. to get good results, the above care should be taken when using cyanide. Cyanide is poisonous and the user should be cautious not to allow cyanide to come in contact with any cuts or sores. He should also be cautious not to inhale cyanide fumes.

AEW: When was the minute and second hand first used?

Answer: The minute hand (concentric with the hour hand (was first applied by Knibb and Quare and other English clock makers about 1670. No definite information is at hand when the first second hand was applied, however a clock built by Tompion of England employed a second hand constructed by him in 1676 A.D.

BW: How do you test a watch for isochronism?

Answer: The isochronal test for the watch is made by winding a watch fully, setting it on the second and then checking the time each hour throughout the 24 hours. This will show how the rate varies as the watch runs down. If the watch shows a constant gain or loss, each hour throughout the 24 hours, we can then say that the watch is adjusted for isochronism. Checking the watch or making alterations to cause isochronal rates can some times be accomplished through the regulator pins, by opening or closing, then again by reforming the overcoil, changing the elasticity at the bends of the overcoil. It may be necessary to fit a new hairspring. which may be a trifle longer or shorter. The object is to create the resistance of the hairspring to equal the force of the balance, so the balance will be returned to the zero point the same duration of time whether the arc be short or long.

MElNc'D: How can I improve the tone or sound of the gong in a mantle clock? When the clock was new it had a clear tone, but now the tone is very dull.

Answer: May I suggest you examine the leather buttons in the hammer. The leather ages with time, sometimes becoming quite hard and occasionally seem to deteriorate, becoming soft and falling apart. When the leather hardens, you will have a harsh tone or metallic sound. If the leather has softened or becomes spongy, you are likely to have a very soft tone. If the leather lining in the hammers are all right check the support that holds the gong. See that the gong is well secured to the support and that the support is rigidly secured to the base board. See that the base board is held firmly. Sometimes the base boards dry out so they become loose or possibly the base board or soundingboard may be cracked.

ABP: I am about to purchase a watchmakers lathe, motor and staking tool. Will you kindly advise which is the best lathe. 

Answer: The writer is not in a position to mention makers names or comment on their quality. I would advise you to rely on the judgment of an experienced watchmaker who might accompany you on your shopping tour and from his experience of handling tools will recommend what is best to purchase.

TNB: I am thinking seriously of going to school to learn the art of watch repairing. When my course is completed, does the watchmaker have to supply his own tools and material, or does the employer supply them.

Answer: A journeyman watchmaker is expected to have his own kit of tools such as small hand tools, a well equipped lathe with an electric motor, staking tool, etc. However, he is not expected to supply repair parts or any materials necessary to carryon the work. The employer usually is equipped with a cleaning machine, and furnishes the cleaning fluids. He also has a demagnetizer, friction jeweling outfit and crystal grinding machine. A machine for fitting non-breakable crystals, a timing machine and a buffing machine should be supplied by the employer. This applies where a watchmaker is working on a straight salary or commission.

RGO: I have a mantle clock whose case is made of cast iron and finished black. What can I do to restore the black polish that has become dull from years of handling?

Answer: If you have one of the early American made clocks, these cases were usually coated with aspheltum varnish and baked at about 300 degrees F. A very satisfactory job can be had by rubbing the surface with rotton stone and olive oil, using a felt pad, when all scratches have been removed a lusterous polish can be had by vigorous rubbing using a flannel cloth.

JFH: I have noticed, after fitting a balance staff that a watch takes on a new rate, either fast or slow. I am very careful about trueing the balance and also for poise.

Answer: Replacing a balance staff is a major repair that has to do with the heart of the watch. Even when you say the balance is in good poise and true, other conditions may not be the same as before the staff was fitted. For instance, the balance may be a trifle larger or smaller, the larger pivot would show a fast rate, the smaller pivot slow rates. The pivot ends may be of a different shape than the original staff. Flat end pivots will cause fast rates, round end pivots will cause slow rates. When replacing the hairspring, it may take on a slightly different position such as the reg sweep in the regulator pins. Your hairspring may not be perfectly centered nor develop properly. This all has to do with timekeeping. Your tweezers or screwdrivers may be more or less magnetized. transferring the magnetism to the hairspring or balance. The end shake of the balance pivots might be more or less than the original. There are many reasons why the new balance staff you are placing in the watch may not perform exactly as the one removed. However, the change in rates will not be so great but what slight regulation will bring the watch to time.

AFH: I have trouble with the gummed paper clock dials holding fast. They seem to hold for a few days but peel off. What can I do?

Answer: The ready made gummed clock dials have been prepared with a special glue and will hold if proper precautions are made. This may be done by scrubbing the surface of the dial plate with emery or sand paper until the surface' is bright and clean. Moisten the gummed dial, place it in position and place the dial under pressure with some convenient weight for a period of 15 or 20 minutes until the gum is set. This will prevent the dial from warping away from the metal.

AFH: I have noticed that paper clock dials I get from jobbers seem to have a soft surface and are subject to finger prints and dirt. It there any thing I can do to them to aid keeping them clean and washable.

Answer: Make a thin solution of grain alcohol and white shellac, apply two or three coats until the paper surface is glossy. Allow each shellac coating to thoroughly dry before applying the next coat.

HFG: Can I reform a flat hairspring to an overcoil pattern and will it keep the same time as when it was flat?

Answer: To over coil a flat hairspring is permissible if space permits. To do a good job, the hairspring stud should be moved towards the center as well as regulator pins. The radius for stud and reg pin should be 2/3rds radius of hairspring from center. Then you can shape the flat spring to conform to the position of reg pins and stud. Usually, a flat hairspring that has been reformed will show a gaining rate but not so much but what it can easily be taken care of by the addition of a very light timing washer or by moving the regulator. 

Front and back views of unusual and fine repeater watch owned by Ira Leonard of California. Photos by J. E. Coleman, Nashville, Tennessee. 

Skin Troubles From Wearing Jewelry

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

Skin Troubles From Wearing Jewelry

For a long time we have known that the use of jewelry has some hazards for the skin of the wearer though the percentage of those hazards is not high. Recently Dr. Louis Schwartz, one of the foremost experts in industrial skin troubles, and Dr. S. M. Peck, have published a study on dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) from wearing apparel and this study contains also a survey Oll the use of jewelry.


The authors stress that the incidence of dermatitis due to wearing jewelry-and by the way, handling jewelry-is small compared to the millions of users. Dermatitis has been reported from metal and metal alloys used in jewelry and in eyeglass frames, wrist watches and straps. In most cases reported. the skin trouble was due to metallic jewelry, but Dermatitis can occur from some of the modern jewelry made from various plastics and other materials. Cases of dermatitis from earrings, necklaces. lockets, watches and spectacle frames have been reported.
Most of the reported cases of dermatitis from metallic jewelry have been attributed to nickel, according to Schwartz and Peck. Such cases of nickel sensitivity have been found among the wearers of watches and spectacle frames made of nickel alloys, among which is the socalled white gold. Schwartz and Tulipan, in an earlier report have mentioned the case of a worker handling platinic oxide who became sensitive to the material. But there are no instances of dermatitis in the medical literature which would be connected with the wearing of platinum jewelry.


To recognize a harmful material which irritates the skin, a skin or patch test is being made. It is of increasing importance for recognition of this kind of skin disturbances. It allows to find out whether people who are working with certain materials, are particularly sensitive (allergic) to certain substances they have to work with-or whether people are sensitive to materials they are wearing on the skin.

The first test with jewelry is made with the suspected material itself. Articles are rarely if ever made of the pure metal, and even the so-called pure gold and platinum jewelry contains other metals. It is necessary, Schwartz and Peck point out, to determine the other metals which make up the alloy and patch test with each metal. In this regard they wish to call attention to the fact that in testing for nickel sensitivity the five cent piece is not a proper material, since it is made of 75 per cent copper and only 25 per cent nickel. To test for nickel sensitivity a 5 per cent solution of nickel sulphate should be used. Similarly a one cent piece is not proper metal for testing for a possible copper sensitivity, since a penny in addition to copper contains 5 per cent tin and zinc. All of the sjlver coins contain 10 per cent copper.

To carry out the patch test, a piece of cotton or gauze is dipped in a watery solution or an alcoholic extract of the suspected material-or a small portion of the suspected material may be used for the test-and this is applied to a clear spot on the arm or back. The sample is removed at the end of 48 hours-or sooner, if an inflammation of the skin has resulted.

A positive test is indicated by redness or vesiculation at the site of the contact of the skin and the suspected material. Nothing happens if the test is negative. Sometimes it takes considerable time and patience to find out the real cause of such unpleasant skin troubles.


A physician described his own cases of severe dermatitis which he suffered from wearing a watch bracelet of a new synthetic, flexible substance. After the first signs had appeared, the· watch was removed and placed on the other wrist for four hours. The same trouble was repeated on the other wrist. The strange feature of this watch bracelet dermatitis was that the wearer became sensitive after the bracelet had been worn continuously for two months-without harm. The skin trouble developed at a time when the physician spent some hours in conference in an excessively hot room and perspired rather freely.

It would not have been justified if this man had returned the wrist watch bracelet to the jeweler where he had bought it. The great majority of customers had not the slightest trouble from wearing those straps whether they were made from leather, metal, or any other material.' Some years ago in England a customer sued his jeweler because an eczema (skin eruption) had developed on his wrist after the use of a new wrist watch. The eczema gradually proceeded to arm and shoulder, the man was even compelled to a temporary cessation of work (he was a surveyor). The watch was supposed to be a nickel-watch. Chemical tests showed that the case of the watch consisted of an alloy, composed of 55 per cent copper, 13 per cent nickel, 31 per cent zinc, and traces of lead and tin. The court found the watchmaker not guilty-and neither was the manufacturer of the wrist watch found guilty of negligence.

There were also observations in other countries that an eczema occurred after wearing a chromiumplated or nickel-plated wrist watch.


In one case ,an eczema occurred whenever the man wore a chromiumplated nickel wrist watch-while this did,not occur when he wore a cheap non-chromium-plated wrist watch. But no large-scale appearance of such skin troubles has occurred anywhere. 

Chromium plating is done by means of a hot solution of chromic acid at about 30 per cent concentration. The solution is very caustic and poisonous and easily causes eczemas and ulcers.
This hazard, however, does not apply to the finished product.

Observations have shown that contact dermatitis may occur by wearing chemically manufactured wrist watch straps or which elastiglass is an example. The Office of Dermatitis Investigation of the U. S. Public Health Service found that the acid gum ester of the resin was the irritant responsible for the skin reactions described. Dr. Greenfiel recently reported a series of cases of elastiglass dermatitis.
Some people wearing elastiglass wrist bands continuously for varying periods of ten days to eight weeks, developed an area of itching beneath the contact area, followed by blisters, reddening and swelling. Heat and moisture were' important factors in the production of skin reactions.

The irritation was slow in subsiding, generally requiring a period from two weeks to one month before the rash would fade completely. The same lesions would be reproduced within 24 hours when the offending wrist band was placed on a nonirritated part of the skin of the sensitive person. 

All in all we may say that injuries from jewelry, wrist watches, straps, etc. are not frequent. Where they occur, sensitivity of an individual is the most common cause. 

Barber and Clocks

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

Barber and Clocks

Andy Levandusky, North Chicago barber, has 54 CLOCKS on the walls of his barber shop. Collecting old CLOCKS is his hobby. At one TIME his collection numbered 119, but at present because of recent wartime sales, it totals only 80. 

It all began when Levandusky traded his shop-CLOCK to a peddler for what appeared to be a worthless old-fashioned CLOCK. However, when several layers of paint were removed, Levandusky found himself the owner of a beautiful antique mahogany TIME piece.

The older CLOCKS are operated by weights. The use of springs did not begin until after the turn of the 18th century, he said. The oldest CLOCK in his collection is a W a terbury shelf CLOCK, made in 1818.

He also has a calendar CLOCK. Manufactured in 1865, this CLOCK tells not only the HOUR of the DAY, but the DAY of the MONTH, and the MONTH of the YEAR. It is weight driven and must be wound every eight DAYS. Its pendulum is a magnifying glass.

The collection prize is a musical CLOCK of a steeple design, about nine inches. in height, which was made in Germany. Another CLOCK he bought from a Louisville, Kentucky blacksmith who said it had been left with him by Jesse James, the famous outlaw. Officers at the nearby Great Lakes naval training station, Levandusky said, have been heavy purchasers of his CLOCKS during the last two years. 

Slick Jewelry Store Burglar Nabbed

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

Slick Jewelry Store Burglar Nabbed
By Stephen J. Schmiedl

Jewelers in southern cities gave a sigh of relief this week with the arrest of Arthur Linwood Brown, exconvict and professional jewelry store burglar who is wanted for jewelry store burglaries in Knoxville, Tenn.; Alabama, Florida, Georgia and other southern states. Arrested in Chicago, Brown's burglary technique consisted of operating hundreds of miles away from his residence. He would drive into a city, pick out a jewelry store, then break into it at night. He selected his loot carefully, then returned to his base of operations. He was held in bond of $10,000 for hearing May 21. 

Elgin Grade 50

This is an Elgin convertible grade. It can be assembled in two ways, with the stem 90 degrees different. In these photos you can see two places for the winding arbor, one below and one to the right.

The secondary serial number stamps are prefixed with a sort of square-missing-the-left-side symbol.

Not all of the plate screws on this grade are the same length. To avoid interference care has to be taken to get them in the correct locations.

Find out more about Elgin convertible grades here.

Like a handful of other American watches, these movements have a male stem in the movement. It's more commonly the opposite. Cases for these are pretty rare. This particular movement is "bare", it has no case. Over the decades every time the price of gold spikes we see a corresponding spike in irreplaceable vintage gold watch cases being melted down for scrape, all for the price of a couple months' cable bill.

Ever Decreasing in Number

Over the past month or so I have seen a dramatic increase in people contacting me about watch repair, and saying that the person previously working on their watch had either passed away, or was seriously ill and no longer working.

New Mat

I got a new green bench mat. This is what it looks like.

New arrivals

More watches newly in for service...

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to keep up with the demand for work for much longer.

Hamilton 914

This is nice example of Hamilton's 12 size, 17 jewel, grade 914, made about 1920.

Waltham 1899 Model

Here are the barrel parts from an American Waltham 1899 model, grade 620, 16 size, 15 jewels.

The Waltham motor barrel is different from Elgin's. I'm not sure it qualifies as a true motor barrel since the outside teeth and and arbor are fixed together.
These parts form the winding arbor and clutch.

The classic "shipper" Walthams have... This mechanism works well, but it a bit complicated.

This watch has a private label (custom) dial marked R.C. Brown.

Friction Jeweling

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, January, 1946

Friction Jeweling
By E. Seibel

From the beginning of the use of jewels, which was inaugurated by one Facio in London, England, they have either been burnished into settings which in turn were set into the watch plates, or they have been burnished directly into the plates.

When set directly into the plates, it was quite a chore to replace, for you had to accommodate 3 ways. Naturally, you had to supply correct pivot hole, but you also were compelled to find a jewel of correct outside diameter and of the same thickness as the old jewel. If you could not do this you had to accommodate the seat in the plate to the jewel which you could supply of a larger outside diameter in order to get the correct endshake.

With a jewel put into a setting and then set into the plates, you set any jewel having the correct hole size into a setting which was then fitted into the recess already in the plate for the old jewel being replaced.

This enabled the factories to supply replacements and your endshakes were approximately correct. These set jewels were fastened into the watch by either burnishing them in or were held in place by 2 or 3 screws.

Now, a great many jewels are simply pressed into the plates with presses known as friction jeweling tools. 

The holes for the jewels are cut into the plates truly perpendicular with semi-circular reamers ground to 1/100 M.M. smaller than the jewel diameters. The jewels are ground to metric dimensions as to pivot holes and diameters of jewels themselves, and range from .70 to 3 M.M. by steps of 10/100 millimeters.

On examining these jewels we note a decided difference in the shape. The balance and cap jewels are domed as before and the train jewels are flat faced, but on examining the edges, we see they have a straight wall instead of a more or less sharp edge as the conventional design of jewels have had until recently. 

The friction jewel is rapidly replacing the older type and it is well for every first-class repairman to become thoroughly familiar with this mode of jeweling.

As said above, the holes to receive a friction jewel are reamed out 1/100 M.M. smaller than the jewel to be used and the jewel is then crowded down into this hole. First, it must be cautioned that the jewel must be tightly forced into its hole, or it may work loose.

There are a number of tools on the market which are more or less duplication of the tool made by Pierre Seitz, the originator of this method of jeweling watches and they all use the same principle. You have a set of punches, stumps and reamers which complement each other in the operation of replacing a broken jewel.

They all have a micromatic adjustment for the punches and a lever or screw arrangement which gives you an even and steady pressure on the jewel until you come to a stop at the position set by the micrometer screw.

It must be cautioned that punches and stumps must be in the best possible condition for this work, for if the punches are worn uneven or become rough, you can expect broken jewels in the operation.

You will find that in domed jewels such as Balance and Cap Jewels, it is wise to use the punch which has been chamfered out and the edge should rest close to the edge of the jewel.

On Train jewels, always use a flat face punch of a trifle smaller diameter of the jewel. 

If the few simple directions are used, it is possible to replace a broken jewel in a matter of 2 to 5 minutes.

Balance jewels come in diameter of 70 to 120 hundreds of M.M. Train jewels in same sizes for the very small pivot holes, and larger pivot hole jewels will run up to 230 hundreds of M.M., and center jewels will go as high as 260 and 300 hundreds of M.M. Cap jewels will range from 70 to 230 hundreds of M.M.

Balance jewels have holes size of 8-9-10-11 hundreds of M.M. and Train jewels, including center jewels, are made from 8 to 20 and then from there to 32 by jumps of 2 hundreds of a M.M.

A complete friction jeweling outfit as made by Pierre Seitz of Switzerland, who as was said above is the originator of friction jeweling is a considerable array of tools, consisting of the jeweling tool itself with 12 flat punches or pushers and 5 anviIs; a set of 11 concave pushers; a set of 15 reamers with holder; set of 12,pump pushers having pump centers, a face plate with 3 clamps for holding small bridges such as pallet bridges, a holder for holding jewel settings so that jewels can be replaced in them; a set of 12 centering points in stumps which have compression springs behind them.

These are not all necessary to be able to handle the ordinary job of re-jeweling; in fact, a really skillful and clever watchmaker needs only the reamers and possibly the stumps or anvils first mentioned, and the face plate with 3 clamps. The holder for jewel settings will be a welcome addition if he wants to replace jewels in separate settings. 

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