Elgin Technical Advantage

Discussion in 'American Pocket Watches' started by johnbscott, Jul 3, 2014.

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  1. johnbscott

    johnbscott Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Feb 25, 2007
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    An Elgin RR Time Book from before 1920 contains the pages in the image. Two technical advantages of Elgin RR watches are detailed.

    I am reminded of the enlarged balance wheels of Ball-Walthan watches and, of course, the lengthened main springs of Illinois and Hamilton RR watches.

    What do people think of the technical merits of the Elgin claims to superiority?

    Elgin Time Book 1R.jpg
    Berry Greene likes this.
  2. Kent

    Kent Registered User
    Gibbs Literary Award NAWCC Fellow NAWCC Silver Member

    Aug 26, 2000
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    I can't speak about the weight of the balance, but the Veritas model (which was made in a number of names/grades) had been promoted as a long-running watch from (almost) the very beginning (see below). Also, I think that it was the first model of watch for which a 42-hour running time (while still maintaining its rate) was claimed. Shortly thereafter (and possibly prior to Elgin's claim - Waltham's model '92 comes to mind as a possibility), other railroad watch designs had this capability.

  3. Harvey Mintz

    Harvey Mintz Registered User
    NAWCC Life Member NAWCC Member

    Jun 7, 2002
    Software Engineer, retired
    South East Florida
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    The long running mainspring was also Illinois' "claim to fame" for the 60 hour railroad watches. There are charts (I've seen them, but don't know the links) showing the improved time keeping of a watch when the spring is capable of running the watch longer, but the watch is wound every 24 hours.

    The heavy balance wheel certainly makes sense in that a heavy wheel will be less perturbed by things hitting the watch case. Of course, this assumes that the watch is struck when the balance is actually in motion; the fact is that it comes to a stop and reverses direction 18000 times per hour, and would have no better immunity from something hitting the case than a lighter balance at that moment.

    Of course, hitting the watch against something at the precise instant when the balance is stopped while reversing direction can only be described as extremely bad luck since the reversal takes such a short period of time.

    In general, I'd say the claims are reasonable, but were probably matched in practice by the other manufacturers, and thus amount to not much other than advertising nonsense typical of any organization trying to sell something.
    Berry Greene likes this.
  4. Larry Treiman

    Larry Treiman Registered User

    Jan 18, 2009
    Tired and retired!
    So. Calif.
    It would seem that a heavier balance wheel would require heavier, more robust pivots, which might be considered a detriment to good timekeeping! With just the same pivot sizes, all those bumps and jars to which a railroad watch is subjected constantly would result in more mushroomed, bent and broken pivots with the heavier balance.

    It looks like a wash to me! Six of one....well, maybe three of one, a quarter dozen ( replacement staffs??) of the other! <];>P

  5. Jerry Treiman

    Jerry Treiman Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Aug 25, 2000
    Geologist - California Geological Survey
    Los Angeles, CA
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    I do not believe that a heavy balance wheel would be an advantage at all for a watch worn in the pocket. The inertia of a heavy balance wheel would tend to overpower the force of the hairspring (the regulating force that substitutes for the gravitational pull on a pendulum) when the watch is rotated or jarred, basically allowing the movement to move without taking the wheel entirely with it. Another problematic aspect would be the forces placed on the pivots from a heavy wheel. I refer not only to the simple stresses mentioned by Larry, but to lateral forces imposed on the pivots whenever the watch changes position from the wearer bending or turning. Think about a spinning gyroscope and the twisting forces you feel when you try to change its position ... the same would apply, albeit at a smaller scale, when the orientation of a heavy spinning balance wheel is changed. Those extra forces would increase the friction on the pivots.

    A heavy balance might be more justifiable for a chronometer that is relatively stationary.

    [I was a physics major at one time, however I may have forgotten a few things in the past 45 years ... someone can correct me if I am mistaken].
    Berry Greene likes this.
  6. Brad Maisto

    Brad Maisto Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Oct 1, 2000
    Chemist - Retired
    Grandview, IN
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    May I ask how many pages are in that Elgin RR time booklet? Looks like that is an interesting piece of ephemera!
    I would imagine that was all part of Elgin's marketing plan, since the watch industry was so competitive during that timeframe. Maybe they were also trying to justify why these "railroad" watches had to be thicker than the slimmer 12S dress pocketwatches of the time!
    Just my thoughts, Brad Maisto, Indiana Chapter 18 President
  7. Dr. Jon

    Dr. Jon Moderator
    NAWCC Member

    Dec 14, 2001
    Aerospace Engineer
    New Hampshire
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    I think Elgin believed their claims and a longer mainspring is a real benefit. To make it work the watch has to be made well enough that it has enough balance swing (amplitude) to provide good time keeping which is the real benefit.

    I think that the a heavier balance has little merit in and of itself and is more a detriment than a benefit. The detriment is that the added weight adds sensitivity to posing errors. This is real problem with bimetallic balances because after temperature cycling the two arms do not necessarily recover to the same extent and now the balance is out of poise. It is not much but one second per day is an error of about 15 parts per million.

    The figure of merit for a balance is "Q", the ratio of energy stored in the swinging balance to the loss per cycle. The energy goes and the maximum angular velocity squared (radians per second) times the second moment of inertia. The second moment is approximatly the mass of the rim times the square of its radius. If you can hold the losses due to friction fixed a heavier rim helps.

    During the 1970's the Swiss starting going to lighter balances with more beats per second storing more energy by angular velocity. By about 1950 everyone was using monometallic and thus more rigid and stable balances and these two improvements lead to very much more reliable position adjustment.

    IN defense of Elgin theory was developing at this time as well as technology.

    To my knowledge no maker had a real clear superiority in timekeeping. All of these technical advances are undone by rough handling, dirt or poor workmanship. They were made on an assembly line and if we believe the Illinois 1922 film was typical a very skilled worked spent about a minute and half poising the balance and that was all most watches, including railroad grade, got. There were adjusters but I suspect they only worked on the ones that failed the first timing tests and I doubt they spent more than two hours elapsed time on any watch.

    They produced very good watches this way but but not top performance compared to Swiss competition and first class chronometers. There was too much manufacturing tolerance for any of these to be markedly superior to any of the others.

    These American watches with more careful attention could be competitive with the Swiss and occasionally they tried to do this an did OK. For production watches I don;' believe any of the major makers did significantly better than their competitors and the smart buyer bought the brand best supported at his local dealer.
  8. johnbscott

    johnbscott Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Feb 25, 2007
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    Those are the only two pages showing watch details in a time book, the cover of which is shown in the accompanying image.

    Sorry it has taken me more than five years to see your question and to provide a response.

    Elgin Time Book 2.jpg
    Brad Maisto likes this.
  9. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Feb 5, 2007
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    This fits my understanding of the theory and my empirical observations of the 6 different combinations of balance assembly used in 16s Hamiltons. The balance assemblies with the greatest moment of inertia yield better isochronism, lower amplitude loss between horizontal and vertical. The claim about impact external influences (like jars and shocks) is seen as a direct result of the smaller safety roller of the double roller although I would not claim increased inertia yields no benefit.

    It was heartwarming to find Dr. Jon's reference to "Q". From my limited remembrance of college physics, this is another way I frame my explanations (more highly tuned oscillators are more efficient). however, I never encountered this as an explanation in the horological literature although it was a topic of major discussion in the Syracuse Listserv of "Clocks" back in the 1990s.
    Brad Maisto likes this.
  10. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
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    Aug 24, 2000
    retired SW dev
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    I will try to find an article from Elgin when they went to their new high beat design pretty late in the game. They actually used the physics to show that a lighter balance at a higher frequency was more stable and accurate. As I recall the balance was also very small in diameter relative to current production at the time.

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