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"Astor" Pocket Watch - Restoration Job/Need Help Identifying

Craig Ester

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Hello everyone, this is my first post on the NAWCC forum!

I purchased this small, silver pocket watch at a local vintage clothing store a few months ago. It was in a miserable state and I affectionately called it a rust nugget. Recently, something possessed me to restore the movement to see if I can get any life whatsoever out of it.

20220114_145801.jpg 20220114_145729.jpg

After some work I actually got this pocket watch cleaned up and running, albeit with a few things still missing (maybe more than a few...)

20220125_175552.jpg 20220125_180156.jpg 20220125_180215.jpg 20220125_181656.jpg

I cannot find anything about this watch online, all searches involving the name "ASTOR" on the watch face brings up stories of some Titanic pocket watch. Does anyone know about an Astor watch company or recall anything about the movement? There were no maker's marks on any of the parts, although every brass plate was stamped with "77" which I assume to be a serial number or part of a serial number (The serial on the movement is 146...177). Other than that, all I know about the movement is that it has 6 jewels and a cylinder escapement. Also, it's key-wound.

I've included a picture of the proof stamps on the silver case as that might reveal more (I've dated a watch before using proof marks); the case serial number is 262013.

Part of the reason I'd like to identify this movement is that the center wheel has broken where the cannon pinion attaches. Ideally I'd be able to find a new gear but it might be necessary to do some more in-depth repair - identification might let me take the easy way out. Plus, I'd like to get the correct hands for this pocket watch. Also, if anything is noticeably out-of-place (other than the missing hands and crystal) then please point it out, I'm actually rather new to watch repair and chose to work on this rusty nugget of a pocket watch as a way to learn more.
 

Dr. Jon

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There is some information Pritchard's book Swiss Timepiece Makers 1775 1975. Astor was a trade name of a company Petit Pierre . They were active in the 1917-1920 period selling fairly low end watches such as yours. Schwob who became of Tavannes who are still in business.

The bears are a real Hallmark I believe for silver.

Getting that thing cleaned up and running is real accomplishment.

You will need hands and a key to complete this as a running watch. Key came in about 10 sizes but you can buy a set on-line for small money. You can find these from some on-line specialty and general sellers

Hands are widely available but to buy a set that fits is more difficult. Getting the right size holes is the hard part but undersize holes are easily spread with the right tools. These usuall yc come from watch parts dealers and you may do well on that infamous on-line auction site.
 

Craig Ester

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There is some information Pritchard's book Swiss Timepiece Makers 1775 1975. Astor was a trade name of a company Petit Pierre . They were active in the 1917-1920 period selling fairly low end watches such as yours. Schwob who became of Tavannes who are still in business.

The bears are a real Hallmark I believe for silver.

Getting that thing cleaned up and running is real accomplishment.

You will need hands and a key to complete this as a running watch. Key came in about 10 sizes but you can buy a set on-line for small money. You can find these from some on-line specialty and general sellers

Hands are widely available but to buy a set that fits is more difficult. Getting the right size holes is the hard part but undersize holes are easily spread with the right tools. These usually come from watch parts dealers and you may do well on that infamous on-line auction site.
Thank you for the info on the maker! I don't have an exact measurement of the size of the movement but my guess is 12s. My belief is that this is a women's pocket watch but I may be wrong. I have a key that's a little too big for the movement but it works with a shim, I might make a key out of brazed brass as it tends to be faster than ordering one and I like the excuse to make something!

I'm very surprised by the 1917-1920 dating because of how old-fashioned the movement looks. I'm not the most experienced person and I haven't seen another pocket watch from the period, but I have watches that are both only slightly newer and decades older that have a more refined design. Then again, it's very small and on the cheaper side.

On a side note, if it is actually a women's watch, how would a lady have worn this? I know that men's pocket watches were often on watch chains and I even have a few in my collection. Would women have also used a chain that attached to a button hole or was there some other method of protecting the watch from falls?
 

Dr. Jon

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Dating these is confusing. The ad in Pritchard shows a cylinder escapement movements were were well into retirement by this era. They seem to have been one of the last hold outs.

If I had not seen the information I would have dated the watch about 50+ years earlier.

If you want a challenge you might try making a key by broaching. I made one that way but only because I needed a non standard size.
 

gmorse

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Hi Craig, and welcome to the forum,

The bear hallmarks in the case were used by the Swiss between 1880 and 1933, but with the two large and one small marks being specifically for items destined for the UK market during the period 1888-1914. The Swiss standards for silver purity were 0.800 or 0.875, both of which were below the UK sterling standard of 0.925, thus Swiss silver cases could not legally be sold as such in the UK, so the Swiss authorities decided in 1888 that the marks in UK-bound cases would be 0.935, (to account for the +/-5% tolerance allowed in their system which wasn't allowed in the UK), and this situation continued until 1914. There's much more information on David Boettcher's website here.

All this means that your watch was made sometime between 1888 and 1914.
I'm very surprised by the 1917-1920 dating because of how old-fashioned the movement looks. I'm not the most experienced person and I haven't seen another pocket watch from the period, but I have watches that are both only slightly newer and decades older that have a more refined design. Then again, it's very small and on the cheaper side.

On a side note, if it is actually a women's watch, how would a lady have worn this? I know that men's pocket watches were often on watch chains and I even have a few in my collection. Would women have also used a chain that attached to a button hole or was there some other method of protecting the watch from falls?
The Swiss did continue to make cylinders until well into the 20th century; I've seen wristwatches with this escapement from the 1920s. It's a testament to the longevity of an escapement which was developed in its final form by George Graham in the mid 1720s!

This is a woman's watch and would probably have been worn on a chain around the neck, on a chain similar to the mens' fashion or on a brooch pinned to the dress.
Part of the reason I'd like to identify this movement is that the center wheel has broken where the cannon pinion attaches. Ideally I'd be able to find a new gear but it might be necessary to do some more in-depth repair - identification might let me take the easy way out.
The centre arbor is hollow on these watches, with a pin passing through it which is a tight fit in the cannon pinion, so what exactly is broken on yours? Can you post pictures of the part, please?

Regards,

Graham
 
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VinSer

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Actually Petitpierre & Cie registered the Astor trademark in June 1899.

Ciao

astor.jpg
 

VinSer

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Sorry for the double message
 

John Matthews

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but with the two large and one small marks being specifically for items destined for the UK market during the period 1888-1914.
Graham - Initially the three bears stamps were not used solely on silver items destined to the UK. When the three bears replaced the earlier single bear in 1888, a number of countries, including America, objected to the change. As a result for non-UK exports the single bear was re-instated, I believe this happened in October 1890.

John
 

Craig Ester

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Hi Craig, and welcome to the forum,

The bear hallmarks in the case were used by the Swiss between 1880 and 1933, but with the two large and one small marks being specifically for items destined for the UK market during the period 1888-1914. The Swiss standards for silver purity were 0.800 or 0.875, both of which were below the UK sterling standard of 0.925, thus Swiss silver cases could not legally be sold as such in the UK, so the Swiss authorities decided in 1888 that the marks in UK-bound cases would be 0.935, (to account for the +/-5% tolerance allowed in their system which wasn't allowed in the UK), and this situation continued until 1914. There's much more information on David Boettcher's website here.

All this means that your watch was made sometime between 1888 and 1914.


The Swiss did continue to make cylinders until well into the 20th century; I've seen wristwatches with this escapement from the 1920s. It's a testament to the longevity of an escapement which was developed in its final form by George Graham in the mid 1720s!

This is a woman's watch and would probably have been worn on a chain around the neck, on a chain similar to the mens' fashion or on a brooch pinned to the dress.


The centre arbor is hollow on these watches, with a pin passing through it which is a tight fit in the cannon pinion, so what exactly is broken on yours? Can you post pictures of the part, please?

Regards,

Graham
Thanks Graham for the great info!

Your description of the center arbor assembly is completely accurate, there's a pin that was inserted into the arbor which has sheared, leaving a section of the pin in the cannon pinion. I had a number of ideas regarding how to fix this break but I'd like to know what the "proper" manner to do so is before I do anything. The break was too flush with the top of the arbor to grab the pin and attempt to pull it out yet it was too rough to attempt drilling it out. I passed the pin and arbor over a block of granite to clean the surface a little.
20220126_153711_HDR.jpg
Sadly it looks like I got a little bit of the arbor itself. Is that ring on the top of the arbor a mark of some form of depressed metal fitment (similar to how metal is rolled over some jewels, the correct term doesn't come to mind)? If the pin was just set in the arbor and the edge deformed around it then I can most likely fix this without too much trouble.

On a side note, this image shows the main reason I wanted to repair this watch (aside from the challenge itself). The watch face (in my opinion) is quite beautiful with what appear to be silver and gold decorations in the porcelain. Despite what appeared to be horrific corrosion and case damage (which isn't shown well in the pictures) the face has no cracks or blemishes.

Also, the case is stamped 0.935 just as you said it would be! By the way, I chose not to disassemble the movement because I'm seeing how long it'll run and right as I was typing this it stopped. I got around 20 hours out of one wind but some jiggling started it back up again, I think I have more cleaning to do somewhere. How long would one full find normally last a small watch like this?
 

Craig Ester

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Actually Petitpierre & Cie registered the Astor trademark in June 1899.

Ciao

View attachment 692234
Would that be how the name would appear on the watch face or is the type used just specific to the document you've shared? The name as it appears on the watch face is typographically more simple and doesn't match the trademark here. I'm new to comparing 19th century trademarks so I don't know if this is actually valuable info or just pedantry.
20220126_162015.jpg
 

gmorse

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Hi Craig,
I got around 20 hours out of one wind but some jiggling started it back up again, I think I have more cleaning to do somewhere. How long would one full find normally last a small watch like this?
It should run for about 30 hours on a full wind, but the mainspring may well be tired or 'set'. Did you take the spring out of the barrel when you did the cleaning?

Sadly it looks like I got a little bit of the arbor itself. Is that ring on the top of the arbor a mark of some form of depressed metal fitment (similar to how metal is rolled over some jewels, the correct term doesn't come to mind)? If the pin was just set in the arbor and the edge deformed around it then I can most likely fix this without too much trouble.
That ring is the arbor itself, (see pictures below), the pin is what's in the centre and you're going to have to punch it out from the dial side with a punch a shade narrower, over a stake with a hole that clears the end of the pin but supports the surrounding plate, and do the same for the portion in the cannon pinion, then find or make a new pin. Assortments of these come up on eBay from time to time, but it has to be a precise fit in both the centre arbor and the cannon pinion, able to rotate in the former and tighter in the latter. Do you have a lathe and/or a staking set?

This is what the centre arbor, pin and cannon pinion look like when dismantled. The washer sits under the squared end of the pin on top of the top plate, as in the first picture.

IMG_0906.JPG IMG_0912.JPG IMG_0910.JPG

These dials are enamelled on a copper plate; it's basically a powdered glass which is fired onto the metal, (on both sides to balance the stresses), and is nothing to do with porcelain. It does look intact, and is quite typical of these small ladies' watches; a lot of enamelled dials suffer from hairline cracks.

Regards,

Graham
 

Craig Ester

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Hi Craig,


It should run for about 30 hours on a full wind, but the mainspring may well be tired or 'set'. Did you take the spring out of the barrel when you did the cleaning?



That ring is the arbor itself, (see pictures below), the pin is what's in the centre and you're going to have to punch it out from the dial side with a punch a shade narrower, over a stake with a hole that clears the end of the pin but supports the surrounding plate, and do the same for the portion in the cannon pinion, then find or make a new pin. Assortments of these come up on eBay from time to time, but it has to be a precise fit in both the centre arbor and the cannon pinion, able to rotate in the former and tighter in the latter. Do you have a lathe and/or a staking set?

This is what the centre arbor, pin and cannon pinion look like when dismantled. The washer sits under the squared end of the pin on top of the top plate, as in the first picture.

View attachment 692352 View attachment 692347 View attachment 692348

These dials are enamelled on a copper plate; it's basically a powdered glass which is fired onto the metal, (on both sides to balance the stresses), and is nothing to do with porcelain. It does look intact, and is quite typical of these small ladies' watches; a lot of enamelled dials suffer from hairline cracks.

Regards,

Graham
Thank you for the explanation of how the pin works, I didn't realize it went through the whole arbor. Deeper inspection reveals that the pin is visible on the backside, although there isn't a squared end. The backside of the arbor looks exactly the same as the front, interestingly there isn't the characteristic rough surface indicating a break but the design clearly allows for adjustment from the backside and I don't see how one would set the watch without such an end, sans manipulating the hands.

In addition to this, the spring is slipping so I will need to remove it and see if it's broken. I was unimpressed with the manner that the mainspring was affixed inside the barrel, the spring itself might be broken but it's just as likely that the barrel needs some attention. I now wish that I inspected it further before reassembly.

I have neither a lathe or staking set as I'm still very new to this and generally only clean/oil dirty yet otherwise fine movements. I do, however, have brazing/soldering tools as I will make brass artwork from time to time. I will probably manufacture my own pin, the hardened steel of fine sewing needles is still easily abraded by the polishing stones I have and I can adjust the fit acceptably precisely. I would then solder a squared end to the pin, luckily I have a drill bit incredibly close in size to the original pin. I'd go just a bit oversize to fit the squared end and polish the pin down to size after soldering. What are your thoughts on my improvised plan?

Getting the pin out will be hard, but I might manufacture a diy staking apparatus for this job. I do plan to purchase a proper set, do you have any recommendations?


Warm regards,
Craig
 

Chris Radek

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It sounds like you sure might be able to do it! But I don't think the soldering will work. Drill the square and drive the tapered pin through it tightly. Then stone the free end so it's nice and flat and it'll look great and be just as strong as if it's made in one piece.
 

gmorse

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Hi Craig,
Getting the pin out will be hard, but I might manufacture a diy staking apparatus for this job. I do plan to purchase a proper set, do you have any recommendations?
I don't know what steel you have available or what quality it is, but I think a stout sewing needle just narrower than the pin could provide a good starting point for a punch. Stone the end square, then if you remove the centre wheel and set it over a small hole in a scrap piece of metal, (brass will do very well), you should be able to tap the pin out and do the same with the cannon pinion. If it's reluctant to move, it may be rusted in place, which will need a different approach.

Regarding staking sets there should be a good selection by K&D, (a good US maker), and also Swiss makes, available online second hand, but you do have to look closely to check both the condition of the punches and stakes and whether any empty holes in the box suggest that the set is incomplete.

I'm sure you could make a replacement pin as you describe, with the addition that Chris mentions of a hole drilled clear through the square portion which will make for a much firmer fixing. You could hard solder it to be really sure. If the pin is sized correctly, it will offer enough friction in the hollow arbor to drive the hands while still allowing them to be set smoothly and easily.

I'm curious as to how you cleaned the rust off the balance spring.

Regards,

Graham
 

Dr. Jon

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The pin is called a "Setting arbor". Saunier doscusses it in his books which are available as free down loads. Making a pin with a square end in one piece is difficult and job for a screw machine, a specialist lathe but not too hard to if you do it from two parts of highly tempered steel . Part i is the square which is not too hard to do with a file. Then drill a hole and, ideally tap it. Tap a rod a bit too big to fit the hole. The if you have a lathe file the rod while turning it until it fits easily in teh center wheel hole and snug into the canon pinion.

Next, screw the rod into the square and use locktite.

Now comes the neat trick.Take the rod and put it on a piece of very hard wood and roll it with a fine file. This will raise a knurl which will provide the friction to carry canon pinion. Saunier recommends raising the burr until it it is very tight and then repeat the process on the hard wood with a burnisher, a smoothly polished piece of hard steel, to get the right "feel". This is great if you can do it. It provides a good friction and surface hardens the working knurl.

I restored a watch setting arbor but I could not get a high enough knurl to justify a burnish but the restoration worked well enough for the watch to function. The key trick is the knurl in the arbor.
 

gmorse

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Hi Jon,
Now comes the neat trick.Take the rod and put it on a piece of very hard wood and roll it with a fine file. This will raise a knurl which will provide the friction to carry canon pinion. Saunier recommends raising the burr until it it is very tight and then repeat the process on the hard wood with a burnisher, a smoothly polished piece of hard steel, to get the right "feel". This is great if you can do it. It provides a good friction and surface hardens the working knurl.
I'm afraid I don't have a copy of Saunier; are you knurling the part of the pin that passes through the centre arbor, the part that fits into the cannon pinion, or both? Because the former has to be able to move and the latter doesn't.

Regards,

Graham
 
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VinSer

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Would that be how the name would appear on the watch face or is the type used just specific to the document you've shared? The name as it appears on the watch face is typographically more simple and doesn't match the trademark here. I'm new to comparing 19th century trademarks so I don't know if this is actually valuable info or just pedantry.
This is how the mark was published on the Swiss official gazette.

For what I have understood, the type used in this case is the standard type used in all trademarks when no "special" type is registered.

So the fact that the two types do not correspond in this case is not a reason on its own to say that the trademark on the watch is not from Petitpierre.

Ciao
 

Dr. Jon

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You knurl the part that goes onto the canon pinion. The center wheel hole is larger than the bore on the cannon pinion so knurling there too probably won't matter but it is better not to.

Here is link to the e version of his Hand book


Here is the more comprehensive treatise


The real books have extensive illustrations so it's worth getting hard copies but this job does not need them
 

Craig Ester

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Hi Craig,


I don't know what steel you have available or what quality it is, but I think a stout sewing needle just narrower than the pin could provide a good starting point for a punch. Stone the end square, then if you remove the centre wheel and set it over a small hole in a scrap piece of metal, (brass will do very well), you should be able to tap the pin out and do the same with the cannon pinion. If it's reluctant to move, it may be rusted in place, which will need a different approach.

Regarding staking sets there should be a good selection by K&D, (a good US maker), and also Swiss makes, available online second hand, but you do have to look closely to check both the condition of the punches and stakes and whether any empty holes in the box suggest that the set is incomplete.

I'm sure you could make a replacement pin as you describe, with the addition that Chris mentions of a hole drilled clear through the square portion which will make for a much firmer fixing. You could hard solder it to be really sure. If the pin is sized correctly, it will offer enough friction in the hollow arbor to drive the hands while still allowing them to be set smoothly and easily.

I'm curious as to how you cleaned the rust off the balance spring.

Regards,

Graham
Hello and apologies for the late response.

I replaced the balance spring as the original was completely rusted through and only fragments remained. I cleaned the balance wheel under a microscope and mounted a new spring. I had to fabricate a new pin to hold the spring in the little brass clamp that mounts to the wheel but otherwise I had no issues.

I'm yet to disassemble the watch and remove the old pieces of the setting arbor. The pieces are rusted in place and I decided to make a small vise-like tool from brass which can hold the cannon pinion in place while I press the arbor piece out. I have thought about using heat to assist in this but I haven't gone through with the procedure yet as I'd like to know if there are any issues with heating the cannon pinion with a small torch. If there is another way to get the arbor piece free (short of drilling it out) I would like to attempt that first.

Best regards,
Craig
 

gmorse

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Hi Craig,
I'd like to know if there are any issues with heating the cannon pinion with a small torch. If there is another way to get the arbor piece free (short of drilling it out) I would like to attempt that first.
I think heating it should be a last resort, unless you only warm it gently, because heating to the point at which it's effectively annealed will draw any temper it may have had, and weaken the pinion leaves. If it won't punch out using a stable and robust platform such as a staking set, try soaking it in a releasing fluid, and if that doesn't shift it, I'm afraid it could be a matter of drilling it out. This should only be undertaken with a lathe and the skills to accurately centre the work to ensure that the cannon pinion itself isn't damaged in the process.

Regards,

Graham
 

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