Thursday, August 2, 2012

15/0 Lord Elgins

Following the introduction of the round 8/0 series of movements in 1935, Elgin introduced the 15/0 series of tonneau-shaped movements.  These were used in the thin, narrow watches popular in that era.  They look similar to Hamilton's 980/982, and Bulova's 7AP, and others.

Like the 8/0 series, the 15/0 included a 21 jewel Lord Elgin movement, the 538.  These were introduced in 1939.

This is one I got in a lot of uncased movements.  It surprised me, because I'd never seen a 538 with this lovely straight line damaskeening.  Others I've seen all have the same flat satin finish that the other 15/0 Lord Elgins share.  It has an uncut, monometallic balance wheel and a white alloy hairspring, in contrast to the split, bimetallic balance and blue steel hairspring on the 531.  Unlike the 531, Elgin did not put the 20th and 21st jewels on the pallet, but rather capped the 3rd and 4th wheel upper pivots. Not exactly cosmetic and non-functional, but certainly not as functional as capping the pallet.

One of the most popular 15/0 Lord Elgin models is the one known as the 'Driver', though I've never seen it referred to that way in any Elgin ads.

This model was made from 1939 through at least 1951, in yellow and rose gold, with black, white, and rose dial.  Often you'll see them with the strap under the loop lugs, but that's not how Elgin intended it.  This one's an early one, with a 538.
The 538 was superceded in 1940 by the 559. This is probably the most prevalent of the 15/0 Lord Elgins.  The case design dates to just before the war - I've seen ads for it from 1941, and even in 1942 - I guess either Elgin had excess inventory, or they still had some civilian production capacity.

Much as the straight-cut edges of the 8/0 531 were beveled in the 556, so the edges were beveled in the 559.

The 559 was produced until 1946, when it was replaced by the 626, at around the same time the Durabalance mainspring was introduced.   This model was introduced in the late 1940s.  The dial is an inaccurate re-print - the sub seconds dial is the giveaway.

The 626 is to all appearances identical to the 559.

EDIT:  Okay, I figured it out.  The jewels on the 626 are UNSET.  Compare the center wheel jewel on the 559 above to that on the 626 below.  The 538 and 559 both have the jewels in settings, either brass or nickle (steel, maybe?), whereas in the 626, the hole jewels are not in settings. 

If you look at the cap jewels, you'll see that some previous worker had marked each of the cap jewel settings and the adjacent plate so that they could be returned to the same place.  This is stupid, because they're completely interchangeable!

In 1951, Elgin replaced the 626 with the 670, and also introduced a number of more 'modern' designs, like this 'Drake'.

The 670 got rid of the cap jewels on the 3rd and 4th wheels, and put them on the pallet.

In 1951, Elgin reached a milestone - 50,000,000 watches!  To celebrate, they made a special edition watch, limited to a run of 1000.  These came in a very distinctive case, in 18kt gold.

 You'll see these every so often on Ebay, where they usually go for over $1200.  No, I don't have one.


But I DID manage to get one of the movements, which had been stripped out of a case that probably went to the melter.  Whoever sold it probably got less from the melter than they'd have gotten from a collector, which makes me glad.

The movements were gold plated, and had a lovely diagonal damaskeening.

This one has a manufacturing mistake - they left off a 0, so the number is in the 5 Millions, not the 50 Millions.

The last of the 15/0 Lord Elgins was the 675.  This was introduced in 1954, and was just a shock protected version of the 670, which continued to be made as well.  This watch, the Townsman, was one of only a few models to carry  the 675.

The shock protection on the 675, and the other 15/0 Shockmaster models, was a Kif Trior, rather than the Incabloc used on the 8/0s.

The 670 continued to be made after 1954 - I have one with no serial number.  But in 1956 they, and the 8/0 680 were replaced by the new 13/0 713.  More on the 13/0s in another post


  1. thanks that was interesting reading.

  2. Thank im purchase driver black rose gold im believe as fake. Before reading your document my watch is real

  3. I have an Elgin 626 14k gold filled womans watch with a Speidel band pat# 2.689.450. It is 21jewels. 4Adj's. Do u have an idea what it might be worth.

    1. It's impossible to suggest any value without seeing it. Different models have have different levels of interest in the market, and the condition of the watch also makes a HUGE difference. I've picked up some watches for $20 that, in pristine condition, sell for upwards of $70. The Speidel bracelet probably adds little or no value at this point.

      You could try posting a picture, or email me one using the 'Contact Me' link on the profile page.

      BTW, if it has a 626 movement, it was originally a man's watch. In 1950, ladies' watches were tiny, nearly unreadable little things!

  4. Excellent post! I have one of the 'Driver' (Swing Lug) models (Cal 559) in 'coral gold' color (case and Dial). I've always wondered what the 'correct' orientation of the band should be on this model. thanks for sharing that. I'll be sure to place the strap correctly.
    Great site for info, much appreciated.
    Bill (Meridian Watch Repair, Idaho)

  5. Thanks for your big knowledge and experience sharing.
    I ve got two Lord Engin (Model 4633 and 4818 on the backcase), and just considering to get the third one which is missing the minute hand. This one I guess the 4622 model.
    Would like to discuss with you on those lovely guys.