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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 354

This one started out with some rust in specific spots were moisture has gotten in. The watch has definitely been without a crystal for awhile. On antiques, crystals are far from complete protection from water, but they help a lot.

The rust cleaned up well in this case.



This movement is Elgin's grade 354, 0 size, 15 jewels, made about 1910.




'Needle In Haystack' Watch Recovered

From The American Horologist magazine, July, 1944

'Needle In Haystack' Watch Recovered

It could only happen once in a lifetime, might be a good title to this story, for it's a needle in the haystack tale that seldom, if ever, occurs.

Truman French is an amateur watchmaker of fair standing. Employed at a sawmill near Laconia, N. H., he lost a customer's watch in a pile of sawdust, which was later deposited in a thousand-odd bags of sawdust ticking and shipped all over the country for any number of diversified uses.

Discouraged, but alert of mind, he picked a shipping point at random. It happened to be Somerville, Mass. He sent a wire to the plant purchasing the sawdust. Charles R. Ryan, inspector at the Somerville firm, went through literally tons of the sawdust without success. Then he picked one of the remaining bags haphazardly and dumped it on the floor.

There was the watch - none the worse for its sawdust bath and Immersion!

-Ray Freedman


Why So Many Crowns Are Lost

From The American Horologist magazine, July, 1944

Why So Many Crowns Are Lost

Every watchmaker has had the disagreeable experience of finding out that the winding-crown of a watch unscrews very easily, and can therefore be lost, even in the case of new watches. The watchmaker who cares about giving satisfaction to his customers is then obliged to replace the crowns lost in this way. After having studied the different causes and the ways of avoiding this accident, I have come to the following conclusions: 


The first and most important defect that I have note very often, even on new watches, is the fact that the surface of the crown, once the thread of the screw has been cut, is much too thin. We know only too well that a wrist watch is subject to hard wear and that the crown, extending beyond the watch, often receives hard knocks. As a result, the crown is gradually unscrewed. Make the following test:

Fix a crown with a thin surface or side to a winding-stem and fasten the stem either to a watch or to a mandril. Then strike a few time, even very lightly with a small brush, for instance, and you will see for yourself how easy it is to free the crown. After that, it will become completely unscrewed in a very short time. It is evident that a thin surface will bend at the slightest shock, and it is just at this time that the thread of the screw of the crown will not adhere closely to the screw of the stem.


A second defect which has often been noticed, is that of an insufficiently long screw thread in the crown. Often the tube of the crown is long enough, but it has not been cut deeply enough. In some others, the tube is too short and therefore has not sufficient grip. A crown of this kind is illustrated in fig. 1. A third error consists in filing the end of the winding-stem to a point, as indicated in fig. 2 under (a) and (b). It is easy to understand that it is not possible to screw a crown on a stem prepared in this way. Fig. 3 shows a crown fixed to one of these stems, while fig. 4, on the other hand, shows how the winding-stem should be filed. In fig. 2 No. (c) it can be clearly seen that the end should be flat.

It is natural, on the other hand, that the screw-thread of the winding stem should be similar to that of the crown, for it is impossible to fix a crown to a winding-stem if the screw-thread be too thin.


Sometimes, a watchmaker will come across soldered crowns, which is inadmissable.

I have often been able to ascertain that the apparently simple work of fixing the crown to the winding stem often presents important stumbling blocks.

It is an error to maintain the winding stem in a mandril when fixing the crown. In proceeding in this way, it is impossible not to break the winding-stem, for, as shown clearly in illustration 5, the pressure of the tongs of the mandril is exercised only on the most delicate part of the winding-stem, that is the notch for the setting-lever. It is certainly aggravating, at the last minute, to break a stem which has just been finished with much care and attention. But even if the stem should not break, it is a mistake to use the mandril, for it often leaves rough ridges, which once the stem is in place, act as reamers on the plate. Shortly after, the stem begins to "dance," the setting lever is not supported as it should, and when the hands are set, the stem falls out. If this happens with watches of well-known trade marks it is all the more disagreeable because of the fact that it will never be possible to use a winding-stem to fix the crown properly again.

I would recommend the use of the Seitz pliers, which can be obtained from Messrs. Bergeon of Le LocIe. I have made three pliers, adapted to a point similar to that illustrated in fig. 6. The reader will easily see that this point allows the fixing of the superior part of the winding-stem, avoiding all risks of a breakage. A second advantage is the fact that this tool avoids all risks of causing marks of any kind on the stem, as indicated above. I have these pliers in Nos. 8, 10, 12, which is largely sufficient for nearly all the work to be done on wrist watches.

I have been able to note that errors of this kind are made not only by small watch repairers, but also in large factories, where careful attention is paid to the execution of their products, but where insufficient care is taken in mounting the crown.


Swing-Out

This new arrival is an 18 size Elgin pocketwatch is a classic "swing-out", open-face case.

The movement is held in a ring which is hinged to the one-piece back. The front bezel is threaded. At one time, swing-out cases were required by railroads since they have that one-piece back to provide better dust protection.

Way back, before the meaning of the phrase changed, these watch cases were also called "basket cases".

Elgin Grade 208

This is a typical type of Elgin's popular 18 size watches. It's a grade 208, 18 size, 7 jewels, made about 1903.


Find more here!




New Arrival

Here's an excellent example of a later Elgin, from the 1920s, in for repair.

New Arrival

New arrival photos are of watches that have come to me for repair and service. These are "before" photos. For some reason, they tend to get more attention than photos of the inner workings of watches.

No, these watches are not for sale, and I am surprised how often they are assumed to be. It seems odd.

Another Elgin In

This new arrival is another three-fingered bridge model.

Jungle Work Shop

From The American Horologist magazine, July, 1944

Jungle Work Shop

From the Southwest Pacific jungles We received information from Sgt. Howard C. Maxwell regarding his jungle work shop. Sgt. Maxwell was not a watchmaker when entering the service but his mechanical tendencies and the love for the art and science of HOROLOGY, and his determination to become a watchmaker upon his return to the States regardless of the cost of same, without a doubt will prove him to be a man worthy of the calling.


Through Mr. R. J. Gunder of the Hamilton Watch Company, the Sgt. has received tools, books and ideas. The lathe described herein was made by hand from battlefield junk with only crude hand tools. He has also made a staking tool, tweezers, and loupe; the loupe was made from the lens taken out of a jap gunsight during the battle of Munda airport. Screwdrivers, oilers, pliers, etc. have been made. He also made a clock from Munda battle junk completely by hand and with no help, former experience, or having ever seen a book on watchmaking. Not till it was finished and sent to his wife for a Christmas gift, did the first book on the subject arrive.

You will note on his watch bench, a loupe and tweezers donated by Mr. Gunder and also double loupe. The balance truing plier's were sent by Mr. Beehler.

The Sergeant states that he has tried to learn watch work out there and so far has successfully returned to service 680 watches belonging to'service men of all branches of service from private to general.

We think that the Sergeant is doing a wonderful job and look forward to his safe return to the States So as to enter our Professian. 


Elgin Watchmakers College Class Photo

I took this photo of a photo with Google Photos new photo scan app. It took two tries to get the image right, but the results are usable for online purposes. It was fast and easy. I have a scanner and will continue to use it for quality images, but the new app isn't bad at all, as far as it goes.

This image is of students at the Elgin Watchmakers College. The year is unknown. But they didn't do these photos every year. The one I have like this that has my Grandfather in it is from 1937, if memory serves. This would appear to be near that year, a year or two later perhaps.

New Yesterday

New arrival...

This one is interesting because it is not listed, according to its serial number, as a three-finger bridge model, which it is, in the database.

This will require some research but it's a nice opportunity to make a correction to the data. Even after all the years, errors and exceptions are still discovered in the factory records.

Either this watch is not really the grade we think it is, or the grade is a bridged design not correctly identified as such.

Is the Jeweler's and Watchmaker's Job a Strain on the Eyes?

From The American Horologist magazine, July, 1944

Is the Jeweler's and Watchmaker's Job a Strain on the Eyes?
An Old Prejudice-Bad Conditions Must Be Avoided

It is still a frequently heard belief that jewelers and watchmakers may easily become nearsighted and inclined to other kinds of eye trouble. This is considered partly due to the strain of the job.

Scientific investigation has proved, however, that this supposition is incorrect. While, for instance, 30 to 40 per cent of typesetters and lithographers are found to be nearsighted after many years of work, there is only about ten to fifteen per cent of nearsightedness among jewelers and watchmakers.

Short Sight and Headaches

Not only the eyes suffer from poor vision and continuous strain on the eyes. A jeweler suffered for many months from severe headache in the late afternoon which bothered him greatly and reduced his efficiency. He and his doctors made all sorts of trouble responsible for these unpleasant headaches; a previous sinus trouble, insufficient sleep, fatigue and exhaustion. Finally an eye doctor found out that he was nearsighted. He ordered the correct glasses for him, and the headache ceased immediately. Nearsightedness may produce headache as well as dizziness, nausea, feeling of pressure in the head.

Moderate nearsightedness (myopia) does not prevent a jeweler or watchmaker from working. In nearsightedness the eyeball is too long from front to back, and light rays entering the eye focus the image in front of the retina instead of exactly upon it. Nearsighted people can see objects close at hand, but distant objects appear blurred. Normal nearsightedness usually improves with the course of years. Doing very close work is a great strain for nearsighted eyes especially during the period of growth. 

Glasses Important

Well fitted concave glasses may eliminate all troubles originating from nearsightedness. A nearsighted watchmaker whose glasses are too weak is working with the upper part of his body bent forward. He looks through the rims of his glass in order to see more clearly.

The degree of nearsightedness and of other optic disturbances is determined by the strength of the lenses which are required 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 and a sharp image of the object is projected upon it. Other disorders of vision can be corrected in practically the same way.

Astigmatism is concerned with a rotation of the eye to the side. There is a difference in degree of refraction in different meredians. Vision is then blurred at close range as well as at distance. Lenses which are ground correspondingly are of value - in such cases too. There are some methods of treatment which try to exercise the eye muscles and strengthen the eyes in this way. However, this may work out, it is sure that a person with nearsightedness, astigmatism and similar troubles has to wear glasses if he wants to do his work in, the most efficient way.

Farsightedness

In farsightedness (hyperopia) the eyeball is too short from front to back, and light rays entering the eye focus the image back of the retina.

Such eyes cannot see objects near at hand without giving considerable extra work to the muscles of accommodation. This often results in eyestrain, but the condition can be corrected by glasses. Usually between the ages 40 to 50 -

Old Sight (presbyopia)

begins. It is a normal change due chiefly to loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye. A jeweler of 42 or 35 who has always had a good eyesight may note that he must push his work (or his head) farther away in order to see dearly. He prefers strong illumination. This, by contraction of the pupil, improves the vision temporarily.

Different glasses are needed in this condition, for working, reading, writing at close range, and for seeing in distance. In such cases either two pairs of glasses are used; or glasses are used the upperpart of which is ground for distance the lower part for objects at close range. Otherwise the presbyopic may suffer from pain, fatigue, headache and lacrymation, all of these symptoms being more marked with poor light or at night with artificial illumination.

Proper Lighting 

and strong illumination help greatly to avoid eye-strain, and that is important to prevent additional eye troubles. Improper lighting shortens the duration of normal seeing. The same holds true for flickering light. In bright light tinted Or dark glasses are desirable. Sunlight and lamplight glaring into the eyes or reflected from such surfaces as glossy paper and tabletops and walls are harmful. Proper care can prevent unnecessary strain on the eyes and prevent very unpleasant disturbances in an easy way. 

The Price of Time Went Up

From The American Horologist magazine, July, 1944


The Price of Time Went Up
By I. H. Kohr

The following warning was issued to prospective WATCH buyers, by the OP A on June 19th.
Take your TIME when you buy a WATCH to be sure that you are getting what you pay for and that the price is right.

There is an ugly story of crookery and price gouging in Swiss WATCH sales in this country.
There are two main kinds of chiseling according to the OP A. Sales -at prices above OP A ceiling and deliberate fraud in quality. WATCHES of the cheapest kind have been dressed in special cases and faces to sell at fantastic prices.

Cheats have included not only flyby-night salesmen and little retailers, but also some of the big department stores.

Example: A group of stores opened up in a New York section. They refused to sell their Swiss WATCHES to any but service people, The storekeepers figured that the service people soon would be leaving New York, would be gone before discovering they had been rooked.

In a given city the same kind of WATCH may sell at five different prices, ranging from the right price to five times the right price.

This has been especially true in areas located near army camps.

According to OPA officials Retailers, large and small, generally sell at ceiling prices when they have been able to buy at ceiling prices.

But where a commodity is very scarce, even some of the largest department stores have bought at over ceiling prices and sold at over ceiling.

Until Pearl Harbor, two kinds of WATCHES hit the American market.

Those made in this country, and those with movements made in Switzerland.

After Pearl Harbor, the government banned manufacture of WATCH movements in this country for civilian use. The precision work which had gone into making them was needed for war.

After this ban on American movements, retailers from all over the country deluged importers with demands for Swiss movements. All at once the distribution problem became vastly complicated.

Seeing a juky chance to make money, jobbers buy from importers and sell to retailers. This simplifies the distribution job for the importers but affected the price. Now three groups, importers, jobbers and retailers had to make a profit on the WATCH you bought. Sometimes as many as three groups of jobbers would figure in a sale of a Swiss WATCH. A jobber bought from an importer and sold to another jobber who sold to another jobber who sold to a retailer.

Thus there were five groups making a profit off the WATCH where before there were only two.

This meant prices were knocked around, knocked upward, in the process as retailers scrambled to buy from the jobbers and customers scrambled to buy from the retailers.
The price of TIME went up.


Occupational Deferment Notice

From The American Horologist magazine, July, 1944

Occupational Deferment Notice


Men 26 through 29 must be "necessary to and regularly engaged in" an activity in war production or in support of the National health, safety, or interest. "Watchmakers are actively engaged in support of the national safety and interest". Registrants 30 through 37 need only be regularly engaged in these activities. The case of each registrant must be determined individually. Employers of men 26 through 29 may file form 42-A with the local board, or 42-B for men 30 or over."

This determines settlement of all men allegedly on the critical list justification must be shown and qualification is necessary. In other words, the tin-snip watchmaker will have to show justification. Every Laboratory Technician must do the same to qualify under occupational deferment. . 


Replacing Guard Pins

From The American Horologist magazine, July, 1944

Replacing Guard Pins


Sometimes we find that a guard pin will have to be replaced and the method to Use is very simple. Take a piece of brass wire a little larger than the hole in the fork, place this wire in a pin vise and file to a very slight taper, then burnish. Enter this wire in opening and force to friction tight, then cut off wire leaving it project slightly below fork, then file off the wire edge and with a small hammer tap wire in flush with lower side of fork. In the event it is for a single roller, have wire just long enough to high polish. This also applies to corks and fingers used in holding the parts, everything used in polishing must be absolutely free of oil stone.


For the beautiful damaskeen finish found on the exposed winding wheels of high grade watches special equipment and some experience will be required.

Pitted end stones may be perfectly polished and restored as new by using a fine grade of diamond powder in oil on a tortise-shell lap running at fairly high speed in the lathe. Slight pressure for only a short time will restore them to their original polish.

Ordinary polish may be had on any flat surface after grinding with oil stone powder by finishing with a fine emery buff.



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