This is a story of an Elgin watch. An ordinary, nothing special Elgin made in the troubled times when the new order of the World was about to be set up in Versailles. Surely it only just echoed in USA, as American involvement and loses Americans suffered during the first world conflict were rather insignificant compared to to the devastation and life loss that took place here in Europe. With the fall of mighty monarchies, dividing of once powerful states in it's very centre, Europe would never be the same again, and not for the best, as it was soon to turn out.
But I wouldn't bet the happy owner of his new Elgin might be aware of the degree of changes going on. Maybe I underestimate whoever that was, but life in States must have been very normal back then compared to the havoc Europeans were facing.
Apparently, he has ust bought a brand new, beautiful timepiece, made by one of America's leading watchmakers - the Elgin Nat'l Watch Company of Elgin, Illinois.
Nowadays Elgin watches, maybe except the top notch railroad grades, are not thought of too high by watch collectors. Popular, mass made watches, probably found in every antique shop in USA, easy to get and inexpensive. It's more or less what we think of popular Soviet watches here in Poland. Well... just another Elgin, who would care?
I actually believe that this low - so to say - prestige of Elgin brand among watch collectors is partly due to Elgin's success. Simply speaking - Elgins are so common, so easy to get, that noone get's excited untill it's really 'something'. And this one - it's not. It's a 15 jewel, unadjusted mid grade model, with single sunk enamel dial, one of the millions made throughout Elgin's history.
It is a stem set movement with stem mounted in the pendant.
Like all Elgins of the time, it has Swiss lever escapement and split, bi metallic balance with Breuet hairspring. This one also has the well known Elgin's precision regulator.
The movement has a very good look, and must have been impressive when it was brand new and shiny. It has very nice damaskeening, composed of Geneva stripes and quite pretty decorative pattern covering the whole surface of nickel coated plates.
It also has nicely decorated winding gears and screw down jewel settings, with balance cap set in gold. Typically of the lower mid grades, all the gears of the gear train are made of brass, and so are the balance screws.
Two of the balance screws have been filed down a lot, as the rusty hairspring failed to maintain the proper rate. And even after the filing, it's still about -3 minutes a day in the far fast position of the regulator.
Actually it seems that steel corrosion is a significant problem with Elgin watches nowadays, and Elgin's steel seems to be quite prone to it. Obviously, materials were not as perfect back then as they are now, and steel can cause trouble - Rockford's winding gears loosing their teeth with too much ease could be another example of materials department's failures ;)
But back to the subject - if you look closely at the picture above, you'll notice also, that the escapement is made of steel. What can't be seen, this watch has a double roller, which was quite a suprise to me, frankly. Elgin's mid grades might not be thought of too high now,but Elgin watchmakers surely did have much talent for making affordable, yet really well engineered and crafted watches. I like working on Elgins a lot, because they assemble so easily, all parts fit well together and the design makes assembling na Elgin easy and pleasant. Or at least the Elgins i have repaired myself. Perhaps a qualified watchmaker sees it differently, but Elgins seem very rookie-friendly. And the quality, if you look closely at the parts, is very good for a mass made, affordable piece.
The steel, double roller escapement surely is one of the greatest advantages of this watch, as most lower mid grades would still have brass escape wheel at the time. This one has a much better, more reliable steel escape wheel and pallet fork, that, like the balance wheel and hairspring present some surface corrosion. I believe this wacth must have been moisted at least once during it's life, and not dried quickly enough. Or maybe it was kept in some damp attic for some time, who knows...
The movement is housed in a beautiful, gold filled 25 yr Keystone hunting case. As another example of American case makers' maestria, this case is wonderful, with its thick gold layer bearing spectacular decorations, quite shallowly engraved - typically of pladed cases.
I've got to admit I like it a lot - a plated case can hardly get better than that. Also, despite many years of work, it has very little wear-through, and still looks great.
It has been, on the other hand, damaged at some point, resulting in front lid's hinge repair.
Also, the front lid spring is broken off, and this might have been done purposly, as the lid won't close too thight due to significant wear of the edge. Also notice the non original bow :(
As hunting cases were getting out of fashion those days, this seems to be a very nice example of a fairly late American hunting case watch. In fact - I prefer open face watches myself, but this one I like a lot - it's just so beautiful!
I still remember the day I bought it. Actually - I got it (or the money to buy it, to be precise) for my birthday, and rushed to a small antique shop in my hometown, hoping it were still there.
I first saw it there as a very inexperienced watch collector (if I actually could be called collector back then!!!), and I thought I found a Patek. Laugh if you want, I find it a bit funny, too, but this watch looked so great, with it's micrometric regulator, split balance and damaskeened plates with screw down settings, that I thought it really was a top notch movement :) . It actually was the very first time I've ever seen an American watch and... the love for them never faded ever since.
Looks like the magic of American made decorated movements, a mixture of American watchmaking passion with cool market calculations aimed to attract as many customers as possible, still works fine after a whole century has passed. The American watchmaking has been long dead, and still - the decorated beauties they made attract new buyers stunned by their looks.
Obviously, soon after buying it I got to know it's a quite ordinary watch, and in rather average condition, but I never ceased to like it a lot. I believe the first watch in one's collection will probably always cause as much emotions as it did the day he bought it.
After some additional timing I managed to restore a proper rate of +- 30sec a day and I still use this watch on dry, sunny days sometimes. It's loud, steady ticking is so... soothing and the look of it's large balance wheel going back and forth, as it did almost a hundred years ago cheers me up when I'm sad and calms me down when I'm angry. Surely - I can hardly imagine a better birthday present for myself. This one will doubtlessly stay with me forever :)