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!

Two New Arrivals

In for service... The smaller of these in one I serviced several years ago.

New Arrival

Just in...

This hunter case is missing a crystal. Aren't they all... I wish I could convince people of how fragile hunter cases are. The world is quickly running out of crystals.

New Arrival

New arrival... This is a Hampden Wm. McKinley model - nice, looking forward to getting this one running.

New Arrival

New arrival...

Job Number 160295

First, here are some "before" images of this watch project, an 18/0 size Elgin wristwatch. This watch actually does run. These photos show why an old watch needs to be cleaned, regardless.

Here's the mainspring winder I use for small ones. It's part of a set.

View the whole album for this project here:

Have questions about antique watches, or have one to show off? Try the Vintage Watches Community, right here:

I replaced the upper 4th wheel jewel, later, after going ahead with the initial assembly. Here's the chipped one and the replacement, with the screws.

Here are some images of the watchmakers marks on the inside of the back. One is unusually long and in a nice lettering that looks like handwriting. More about watchmakers marks here:

This watch is an Elgin grade 483, 18/0 size, 17 jewels, made about 1934

Mullen's X3-100

Mullen's X3-100
The Rust Control With A Skin

Moseley Screwdriver Sharpener

Instructions for Moseley screwdriver sharpener...

New Watches

Two "new" watches in for service...

Advance To The Future!

Advance (to the future!) Relays

Elgin National Watch Company
Burbank, California

Hampden number 2293600, 0 size, 13 jewels, Diadem model, made about 1908.

This is a Hampden, 0 size, 13 jewels, Diadem model, made about 1908. 
Here are the train bridges. Note that the fingered bridges for the 4th and escape wheels are really one part, much like Elgin's bridge grades.

This was a "touchy" watch. Although the movement ran well, I had ongoing trouble with it while running it for several days to test the rate. Finally I narrowed it down to the case screws. Sometimes, the case screws can pull the plates, or some other part a little and cause a problem. They don't even have to be all that tight. I ended up filing just a hair away from the inside lip on the case in a specific spot. Problem solved.

For the most part, American watch companies did not make watch cases. The cases were purchased separately by the original buyer at retail. So, although the degree of standardization is remarkable, the cases are not always perfect fits to the watch movement.

Job Number 170002

This is one of those watches that the timing machine won't read correctly because of sounds the hairspring makes. The escapement is good, no extra clanking there (which would be bad), but the hairspring rings, which is usually good if anything, so long as it's not doing it because it's touching something. I went ahead and put the hands on and cased it for time tests over several days. I think it's just a little fast, but should be within the reach of the regulator to correct. We'll see.

View the whole album for this project here:

Also find more horological Collections here:

Elgin Grade 431

This is the mainspring barrel from this small movement, used as an early wristwatch.
This movement is an Elgin grade 431, 6/0 size, 7 jewels, made about 1922.

This movement has two idler gears connecting the clutch to the minute wheel for setting. The trouble with designs like this is that those gears still turn as the watch runs, when in winding mode. Friction...

The jewel screws are even smaller than the hairspring stud screw. 
It's nice to see a nice strong motion on this one now that everything is together. That's a good sign. Over the years I have come to the opinion that early, small Elgin movements frequently used as wristwatches are under-powered. The should have bigger mainsprings. Everything in these has to be near perfect to get really good motion, and near perfect isn't going to happen most of the time with well-used antiques.
The older painted dials have not held up well over the years, and they really can't be cleaned in any meaningful way without damaging the markings. I found a pretty good replacement for this watch. Not pristine by any means, but a significant improvement.

Job Number 170002

This watch is a grade 180, 18 size, 17 jewels, made about 1904 

 Although this watch is in pretty good condition, there were a couple red flags. One was a piece of folded up tissue paper under the balance cock, placed to raise the balance cock up and increase the end-shake of the balance. This is something similar to the usual making of divots in the place under the piece, using a graver, but less permanent obviously.

The second red flag was a drop of glue on the top and side of the balance cock. It was not holding anything, just sitting there on the top edge and part of the side. It must have been left there accidentally from doing something else (which I did not find).

When I was cutting the hub off in the lathe, to remove the old staff, there occurred a thankfully rare mini-disaster. I guess I pressed the cutter at a bad angle and the staff in the chuck side broke. Bad. That meant I had to reverse the balance and chuck up the side I had been working on, then cut away the rivet instead. This takes a lot longer as it has to be done with extreme precision to avoid damaging the arms of the balance wheel. Turned out OK though, and the new staff is a great fit...
It's pretty common to see small marks made in the edge of the balance wheel. These are made by watchmakers. They did this to mark the position of the hairspring stud prior to removing the hairspring for any reason (such as replacing the staff). Then the hairspring can be put back in place so as to get the correct beat. I don't use these marks, or make new ones. I find I almost always want to tighten up the beat some after the watch is running anyway. I don't think eyeballing marks like this gets close enough.
View the whole album for this project here:

Also find more horological Collections here:

New Arrivals

More watches in for service... This South Bend looks interesting.

New Arrival

They called these metal dials "peacock dials".

New arrival for pocketwatch service and repair...

Stem Dies and Crown Taps

From The American Horologist magazine, June, 1945

Stem Dies and Crown Taps
By Ronald L. Ives

Some years before the present war started, crown taps and "Swiss" screw plates became scarce, and (with some exceptions). of poor quality. Since the war began, these items are practicaly unobtainable. Crowns still need tapping, and probably more new stems are being made today than ever before.
Published screw tables indicate that the following stem tap sizes are "standard":

Diameter, Inches     Threads per inch
.091                         60
.077                         72
.061                         80
.048                         110

These sizes, unfortunately, are only approximate, and do not take into account the plague of "bastard" threads used on "gyp" watches.

Search for suitable threading tools that are obtainable shows that there is no good substitute for the .048/110 tap and plate thread.

A standard machinist's tap of 0-80 size has a nominal diameter of .0600 inches, with 80 threads to the inch. An 0-80 bottoming tap can be used in place of a .061 crown tap with about 95 percent success. 

The 0-80 die can be used to thread a stem for this tap, or if a round split die, such as a Greenfield type 382 is used, it can be opened sightly, by use of the adjusting screw, so that threads cut with it will make a fit of any tightness desired in a pretapped crown.

If the thread is started with the front portion of the die, which is relieved, and finished with the rear portion (by reversing the die in the holder) a very clean thread can be cut. 

For the .077/72 crown tap a 1-72 machinist's tap can be used, this tap having a nominal diameter of .0730 inches. This substitution will work 9.bout 80 percent of the time without further work. The 1-72 round split die can be used as suggested for the 0-80.

There is no standard machinist's die having a 60 thread count. Both the 2-56 and the 2-64 tap have a diameter close to .0860 inches, which is .005" smaller than the .091 nominal diameter of the 60 TPI crown tap. Both of these sizes will work satisfactorily in stem and crown assemblies, although the 2-64 size, with its greater root diameter, is probably to be preferred. Both of these sizes, it should. be realized, even though they are standard in machine and instrument practice, are "bastards" so far as the average watchmaker is concerned, and their use, even though mechanically sound and justifiable, should be reserved for emergencies. 

New Arrivals

Two more in for repair...

This first one has a fantastic inlay dial, which is oddly not marked Elgin. Perhaps it is sort sort of custom order?

Cuckoo Clock Bellows

From The American Horologist magazine, June, 1945

Cuckoo Clock Bellows

The air current from the bellows enter thru opening No.1, passing into a small air chamber, the air then emerges thru the narrow slit, No.2 and escapes in puffs between lips Nos. 3 and 4. The puffs are due to the fact that the air currents from No. 1 strikes upon a bevel lip No. 4 and breaks into a flutter, the puffing sound thus produced consists of a confused mixture of many faint sounds. The air column No. 5 of the pipe can resound only to one of these tones, the resonance of the air column, brought about in t~is way, constitutes the tone of the pipe.

The notes of a cuckoo clock are A and F just below middle C and should be sounded clearly and with considerable volume. Occasionally we find the bellows cracked, allowing air to escape. Repairs can be made by glueing on a very thin patch of kid skin or a piece of court plaster. In either case, the patch must be very pliable so as not to interfere with action of the bellows. 

Cracks in the pipe can be sealed with glueing a small patch of ordinary paper over the cracks. Sometimes the orifice becomes clogged with dust, or the edge may become rough. By inserting a very thin file or watch mainspring, the lip may be cleaned or smoothed. If the width of the orifice is enlarged, it will change the tone. The tone can also be changed by altering the position of block No.6. By decreasing the air chamber, a higher pitched note is the result, or by increasing the length of the air chamber, a lower pitched note will be had.

The lead weight, No.7, is to increase the air pressure when the bellows are released. If too much weight is used, the action of the bellows will be too fast, forcing the air out too quickly, causing a whistling sound. The bellows must be lifted to full capacity in order to get clear long notes. 

Elgin Grade 179, Sun Dial

These are "before" images, before complete disassembly and cleaning. There's a couple odd things right off the bat. One is a case screw with what seems like a not completely completed head.

The second is something weird about the post the minute wheel rides on.

This watch is an example of Elgin's "Sun Dial" make. It doesn't say Elgin anyplace on it, although its serial number falls in line with Elgin production records.

Sun Dial is one of a handful of brands Elgin used for lower cost watches. There are parts-interchangeable, mostly, with like Elgin branded watches, but the finish on these is crude.

This watch using serial n umber prefix symbols on secondary stamps that are consistent with Elgin watches.
Sun Dial, and brands like it, are sometimes lumped in with private labels. But it's really not the same thing.
This dial has some pretty bad damage near the 12:00. I patched it up. Mostly, this just helps keep it from getting worse.

This watch has a spring with a tab that sticks out. The tab is meant to be pressed in by the rim of the case when the watch is in the case. That tension makes the mechanism want to slip into setting, so when the crown is popped out, it does so.

But this movement does not fit the case well. The case edge does not press against that tab enough, so it stay in winding mode all the time. At some point in the past, someone tried to "fix" this by banging a large divot into the case body at that point, to stretch the metal inward and press the tab in. It didn't work. The tab falls below where the divot deformed pushed out the case rim.

Near where the dial was all chipped up is where that divot is. Isn't that interesting... The person that did this didn't take the movement out before whacking the case with a punch and a hammer, and severely damaged the dial.

I resolved the issue  the issue by forming a little spring out of wide steel and inserting it so as to press against the setting lever spring, right behind the tab, tucked in where it can't go anywhere.

One of the most basic rules of watchmaking - never do anything to a watch that can not be undone.

This watch really didn't set well. The trouble is that the minute wheel is too damaged. I thought I could keep it, but it's too far gone and I had to replace it (with an Elgin part from the normal line).

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