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!

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U.S. Radium Applies Wartime Experience To Improve Radium Dials

From The American Horologist magazine, January, 1946

U.S. Radium Applies Wartime Experience To Improve Radium Dials

As America's first producer of radium luminous watch and clock dials, the U. S. Radium Corporation has pioneered in introducing new standards of visibility by night and styling by day.

During World War II, radium luminous materials became a 'must' in the illumination of aircraft flight instrument dials, fire control apparatus, communications equipment and many other vital military devices.

The tremendous expansion in the demand for these materials brought with it attendant problems-among them, controlled brightness levels, response of materials to ultra-violet activation, special color ranges, adaptability for outdoor use and weathering, long life and high accuracy control.

To solve these problems, the research facilities of U. S. Radium Corporation were greatly expanded, and as a result new techniques, new and better materials are available for use at lower cost than ever before.

Today, all these advances contribute to the possibilities for wider use of radium luminous dials on clocks and watches. Radium dials are available with greatly increased useful life. New color possibilities, achieved with materials such as the Vivid Green recently introduced by U. S. Radium, make it possible to have a luminous watch dial with all the style-appeal by day that other materials afford.

U. S. Radium Corporation's service often begins with the design of the dial itself. Efficient use of radium luminous materials require that dial finish and design be considered as a co-ordinate part of the job if proper styling, low costs and long-lived readability are to be achieved. Specialists of this company will not only advise on the selection of materials, lettering and other factors important in procuring the best possible luminous dial for the type and price range of the time-piece on which it is to be used, but to supply such dials complete ready for assembly.

E. Howard

Here are some of the principle winding/setting parts for an E. Howard, Keystone era pocketwatch, made about 1915.

The "keyless works" as they're called are a little complicated on one of these. There's more moving parts than usual. But it is also a more advanced design, moving the "snapping" in/out action of the stem from the case to the movement. This type of system is called "positive setting."
The E. Howard Watch Company began in 1858 in Boston. All its trademarks, but no patents, were sold to the Keystone Case Company in 1902. Keystone continued on then producing E. Howard branded watches, although the later products are completely different. Watches from the earlier incarnation of the Howard company are significantly more rare than the later examples.
The fingered bridge is actually one single part. This is pretty common in American watches.

The balance cock has the serial number stamped in, and the words "friction staff" as a reminder that you don't have to cut this one when replacing the balance staff.

E. Howard watches have a tricky dial design. The dial have no feet. Rather there is a very thin metal rim around the outer edge that clicks over the edge of the base plate.

This works fine, but it has to be removed and installed very carefully, very even and straight. When putting the dial back on, the holes have to be lined up by eye. There are no guides or anything.

These watches are not as common as Elgin's or Walthams of their day, but they are nice looking, and well made.

Find more about E. Howard watches here.

Elgin Grade 81, Wrong Regulator

Here are a few "before" images of this next movement. I was told this watch was repaired several years ago. Whoever did it added an incorrect regulator. Note that the style of regulator arm now on the watch extends backward over the balance cock, but there is no index there. The index is a separate part out on the top plate.

This is functionally OK, but it's wrong. The original Elgin part for this watch would look much nicer.

Also, the screw holding the balance cock is a way too long case screw. It doesn't match. Sometimes I see a replacement screw on the balance cock because the threads in the plate have been striped by over-tightening (it's soft brass). But in this case, the threads seem fine. Who knows what happened to the original screw. I'll put a correct on in there is I possibly can.
Find more "creative repairs" here...

This is the underside of the balance cock. There's something fishy about the jewel that's been used. It looks like it's been crammed in there and the brass pushed around it. It safe to assume that this isn't an Elgin part, and was not altered to fit properly. The jewel itself looks OK though. It's not cracked or anything, and it seems to be the correct general type and hole size.

The timing screws on the balance wheel have been treated really badly. They have been lightened by filing off material, so much material that the slot is literally gone on some of them.

Lightening the balance wheel would make the watch run faster - in this case a lot faster. That was probably because of other problems that watch had that were not correctly addressed.

Here are the ratchet parts. These are in very good condition, luckily.

The rate on this movement is too far off for the timing machine to give me a basic ballpark. I had to put a minute hand on and watch it for an hour. As I expected, because of all the weight filed off the balance wheel, the movement is way too fast now.

This previous "fix" breaks a couple of watchmaking principles. 1) Never alter existing parts to adapt to a replacement (the incorrect regulator in this case), and 2) never do anything that can not be undone.

The correct regulator and balance cock screw...

Musical Clocks

From The American Horologist magazine, January, 1946

Musical Clocks

Frederick Smith, an auditor at the Empire Life and Accident Co., Indianapolis, Ind., has a unique collection of clocks - all with a musical background. He has about 30 of them scattered throughout his home, collected over a period of years. In his living room he has a big grandfather's clock with a pipe organ attachment. Dating back to 1870, this clock plays a tune on the hour.

One of his most beautiful possessions is an antique Swiss-type clock with a huge dome towering above it. On one side of the clock is a tower, on the other a windmill. On the baseboard below the clock a small boat rides on what is supposed to be the ocean. This clock also plays a pretty tune.

Smith haunts ll the antique shops in Indianapolis, hoping to find suitable clocks to add to his collection. He is not above taking time off to travel miles outside the state in order to acquire one. Being mechanically-minded, Smith will buy a musical clock that is on the blink and fix it himself. 

Elgin Truing Calipers

I came across these calipers unexpectedly while going through some of my Grandfather's watch tools. They're from the Elgin National Watch Company factory.

Elgin Grade 345 and a Case of Ten Sides

This pocketwatch is Elgin's grade 345, 12 size, 17 jewels, made about 1924.  

We see a lot of 8 sided cases from this era, but I think this is the only watch I've handled with a 10 sided case.

Clock-Winder Sought By Quincy Mayor

From The American Horologist magazine, January, 1946

Clock-Winder Sought By Quincy Mayor

Quincy, Mass. - Anybody want a clock-winding job at $100 per year? Quincy's Mayor Charles A. Ross was up a church tower today in an effort to find a clock-winder for the generation's old First Parish church clock, by which residents have told time in the square for hundreds of years.

It seems that Vance Bukor, local jeweler, who's had the job for 20 years is through, so he told the mayor, and the four sides of the time-piece now show different hours.

"Humph," Bukor said, "they don't need a jeweler. It takes a man with a strong pair of legs and a good set of lungs."

Elgin Grade 75, With Before Images

Here are a few "before" photos I took while disassembling this next watch. This isn't the worst I've seen, but I would say it is well in need of cleaning.

Here we see the Swiss style, perpendicular, pallet. This escapement design is style by far the most common in mechanical watches today.
The upper plate has a very wide opening for the barrel. Installing it is no trouble at all.
The secondary serial number stamps are prefixed with an 'E' like symbol.

This watch case had a problem that makes for a chance to show how a typical stem-setting case works.

Most American watches use a "negative setting" system. The default position is for setting mode, but a sleeve-like spring in the neck of the case allows the stem to "snap" inward and be held in winding mode. The snapping is entirely a function of the case.

On this one, the sleeve was too weak and worn and it was possible, without taking care, to pull the stem all the way out of the neck. None of the parts are broken, just too worn. The sleeve and stem can be tricky to replace. One advantage of the negative setting system is that cases are more or less interchangeable. These interface parts are often custom made or altered to fit a given case/movement combination. Luckily, I found a sleeve that is the same part, but much less worn. This will work a lot better. It's lucky because this sleeve is unusually large. It's an odd type.

By the way, "positive setting" mechanisms are usually found on Swiss, and modern, watches. On these the snapping mechanism, and the stem, are part of the watch movement and the case just has a plain tube out the the crown. The default mode on a positive setting keyless works is winding.

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