Tuesday, July 31, 2012

8/0 Lord Elgins

I've finally completed my collection of the 8/0 Lord Elgin movements.  The Lord Elgin name was applied to some pocket watch movements in the 1920s, the 450 and 451.  These were 21j and 19j watches respectively, and went into solid gold, and maybe some gold filled cases in Elgin's 'Streamline' series.  Sadly, one sees a number of these movements on Ebay these days, stripped out of their solid gold cases.

Elgin introduced their Lord Elgin line of wrist watches in 1937.  These were 21j watches, in solid gold and gold filled cases, and even platinum.  The had the streamline, Art Deco style of the times, like this one, my latest acquisition.

The first Lord Elgin wristwatch movement was the 8/0 sized 531.  Unlike the later tonneau-shaped 15/0 Lord Elgins, the 21 jewels in the 531 were placed the same as in a 21j pocket watch - jewelled through the center wheel (17), then the pallet and escape wheel cap-jeweled. The plates were damaskeened, unlike the rest of the 8/0 movements, which had brushed or satin finish.

The 531 was produced in 1937-1939.  In 1940, it was superceded by the 556, such as drives this watch.

While the 531 had a split balance and blue steel hairspring, the 556 had a solid balance and white alloy 'Elginium' hairspring - presumably similar to Hamilton's 'Elinvar', and the plates and bridges were beveled.  Elgin still damaskeened the plates of the 556.

This one dates to around 1941-42.  By this time, Elgin had adopted the letter prefix for their serial numbers, and had begun stamping the grade on the movement as well.  The 556 was produced right up till 1951, when it was replaced by the 680.

This watch is a Lord Elgin 'Cranbrook', from 1954.  It's running a 680.

Early 680s still had the lovely damaskeening seen on the 531 and 556, but later this was dropped in favor of the satin finish seen here.  This was the same finish used on almost all the 15/0 Lord Elgins.

Late in the 680's life, around 1955, the 688 was introduced, not to supercede the 680, but as a complement.

The 688 was essentially identical to the 680, but instead of the fixed balance wheel cap jewels, it had Incabloc shock protection.  Elgin had introduced shock protection in their 641 series in 1950, but it was not until 1954 that they made a shock protected Lord Elgin.

Note the absence of a serial number.  This marks the watch as post 1954, or put another way,  over 56,000,000.  After the 'I' prefix seen above on the 680, Elgin stopped putting serial numbers on their movements.

This was also the last of the 8/0 movements, which had been introduced 20 years before with the 519.  Millions of 8/0s were produced, many of them for the military in WWII.  But I don't collect military watches, so someone else will have to blog about those!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My First Elgin - Lord Elgin Kentwood

I had made the decision to collect vintage American wrist watches, but I was realizing my first thought - collecting Hamiltons - was a well-trodden path.  And there were lots of other collectors, going after every nice piece.  So, I took a peek at Elgins.  I remembered that my family had Elgins.  My Great-grandfather's pocket watch, which he passed on to his son and which now resides with my father, was an Elgin.  I remember an Elgin that Dad used to have, and Mom had given me a pair of her Elgin ladies' watches.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained!  So I bid on and won a nice little rectangular Lord Elgin.
The dial was a little grubby, and it had an excessively thick crystal.  BUT it had a sweet little 670 movement, in good working order!

Searching the internet, I found the old Elgin Database, and dated it to 1951.  I searched through ads, and found that it was a 'Kentwood'.
Wow - $71.50 in 1951!  Adjusting for inflation, that's about $600, but I got it for $30.  Running!  I was hooked - a piece of history, a watch made 60 years ago, that kept good time, and looked good, for $30.

A few months later, I saw a NOS dial on Ebay, and got it for $6. Then, I learned an important lesson - don't try to do any watch work when you're tired, hungry, and excited.  I broke the 4th wheel post, prying the second hand off.  I sent the watch off to my 'Watch Guy', who not only replaced the 4th wheel, but also cleaned the movement and replaced that thick crystal with the right one.  I put it on a new strap, and now it's one of my favorites.

It was the first of a collection that's grown to over 60 Elgins.  More on those later.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

About Your Host....

I was inspired to create this blog by another watch enthusiast, 'HandyDan', who has been putting together a blog of his experiences collecting Hamilton watches.  I hope to do something similar, chronicling my experiences as a collector of Elgin watches.

I started collecting watches in the late 1980s, after impulsively buying a crappy old dollar pocket watch at antique clothing show.  I started delving into all the information I could find on watches, back in that 'Pre-Internet' era.  I was especially drawn to American watches, particularly Railroad watches. As a Pennsylvanian, I was drawn to Hamiltons.  I had never known that America was, for a time, the foremost producer of high quality, yet mass-produced, watches in the world.  And I was fascinated by the beauty and ingenuity that goes into them.

This was my first, and best railroad watch, a Hamilton 950B.  Made after WWII, with all the technological advancements available at the time - the pinnacle of American watchmaking.

Years passed, and my interest in pocket watches faded.  I sold off most of my collection, including that one, and an even more beautiful specimen...
....a Hamilton 922MP Masterpiece, Hamilton's entry in the Prestige Watch market of the 1920s.  23 jewels, 14kt gold jewel settings and train, jeweled motor barrel, sapphire pallet stones, and the plates and bridges plated in white gold.

There's a reason wrist watches rapidly displaced pocket watches.  Pocket watches are  inconvenient.  It takes an effort to check the time.  You can't leave them in the same pocket with your keys and change or they'll get scratched, so you need pants with watch pockets.  Chains often catch on doorknobs and such.  So I found myself wearing a succession of crappy quartz watches.  I longed for a mechanical one, though.  For a while, I thought I'd buy a new Hamilton, even if it were really just a Swiss watch called Hamilton.

By this time (2005) though, the internet had blossomed, and with it Ebay!  One day I was looking at Hamilton wristwatches there, and there was one that caught my eye.  It was simple, round, and not very expensive.  Best of all, it was packing a 22 jewel 770 movement.  I bought it.

It became my daily wearer for a couple years.   Then, in 2009, I picked up three more vintage Hamiltons.  I found Watch Talk Forums, which at the time was home to some of the most knowledgeable Hamilton collectors out there.  I thought, 'I'll collect Hamilton wrist watches, too!'  I started learning more, and following them on Ebay.  They always seemed to go for over $50, and often over $100, and every piece I was interested in got lots of bids.  This was not going to be easy, or cheap.

One day, on a whim, I checked out Elgins on Ebay.  Elgin was another American watch company, older than Hamilton. I noted that Elgins were a lot cheaper on Ebay than Hamiltons, even for watches of similar specs.  I bid on, and won, a Lord Elgin from 1951.

I liked it.  It had a 1950s style, and it ran well.  I liked how it looked on my wrist.  And it was MUCH cheaper than any of the Hamiltons I saw.  In good working order, with a 21j movement, it cost less than the Hamilton Nielsen I'd bought that had needed $150 of service to run accurately.

I started researching Elgins, and soon realized that they were good watches, well thought of at the time, but that for a variety of reasons, they never acquired the prestige of Hamiltons.  I also discovered that there was FAR less information about them available.  No catalogs, no production figures, no wealth of information on the internet.  No book by Rene Rondeau!  As a result, the field of Elgin collecting was largely unplowed ground!

I made the decision to become a collector of Elgin wrist watches.  I started out just collecting watches from the 1950s, but since then I've expanded.  Now I define my collection as Elgin American made wrist (and pocket) watches from the introduction of the 8/0 series in 1935, through the end of production at the Elgin factory in 1964.

Since then, I've amassed a pretty good collection, and made some interesting discoveries about Elgin's stylistic and technological advances, which I hope to share with whoever visits.  I hope you enjoy this blog!