Sunday, April 9, 2017


Recently, I've returned to my original interest - Railroad Pocket Watches!

This time, though, I'm sticking with my primary interest - Elgins from post-1935.  By the late 1930s, Elgin had dropped all the 'Named' movement grades, including the Father Time and Veritas high-grade, railroad-quality movements.  They continued to use the B.W. Raymond, once again as the highest grade of 16 sized Elgin pocket watch movements.

By 1942, the B.W. Raymond name applied to only two grades, the 21j 478, which had been in production since 1922 - quite a long time for Elgin!  In 1937, Elgin introduced the last of their 23j pocket watch movements, the 540, which they called the Timemaster.

Here's the Transportation watches page from the 1942 catalog.  

Here's the extracted part, about the Timemaster.

I've had my eye out for a 540 for some time, and recently, I finally snagged one!  There were only 3 pictures in the listing, and they weren't very good.  I took a chance, and ended up getting it for considerably less than I was willing to pay!  

Here it is!  And in the cool, 3053 case!

I took pictures of the movement of my collection of Elgin's last 4 16s B.W. Raymond commercial grades, with the balance stopped, so you can note the differences.

Let's start with the 478.  This particular one is from ~1943, and has the 'Gold-Flashed' or gilt finish.  Apparently during WWII, Nickel was in short supply, and Elgin produced a number of movements in gild finish.  Most of these were made for the military - the 580, a 7j 8/0 sized wristwatch movement; the 582, a 16s Elgin Timer movement (see And Now For Something Completely Different), and the 581, a 22j, 16s version of the 478 with hacking and center seconds.

The movement has screwed-down gold jewel settings and gold center wheel (which clash slightly with the gilt of the plates, honestly!).  The hairspring is white alloy, presumably Elginium Y, a change from the blued steel of pre-1942 478s, but the balance itself is still a cut, bimetallic compensating type with the cut in the usual place next to the balance arms.

Next, the 540 'Timemaster'.  Same screwed-down gold jewel settings and gold center wheel, but note also the jewel in the center of the ratchet wheel.  This is Elgin's jeweled Motor Barrel.  I'll discuss this more when I do the teardown, in a future post, but suffice to say that the Motor Barrel was considered a higher grade feature.

The hairspring, like the one in the 478, is white alloy, Elginium Y.  The balance is bimetallic, but instead of steel on the inside and brass on the outside like the 478, it's made of Invar alloy and brass.  Invar has a different coefficient of expansion, which allows for the cuts in the balance to be more in the middle of the arms, about 2/3 of the way around.

Next, the 590.  The 590 shares almost all parts with the 478, except the balance and hairspring.  Hamilton had introduced the Elinvar hairspring in 1931.  This alloy did not change elasticity within the normal range of temperature, so there was no need for a bimetallic compensating balance.  Elgin had introduced a similar alloy, Elginium, in 1938, and quickly adopted its use in all their movements, except the 16s pocket watch grades. By 1945, Hamilton had introduced two new Railroad grades, the 992B and 950B, both much more modern than the 478.  Apparently, Elgin felt the need to introduce a railroad grade to compete, so they fitted an Elginium hairspring and monometallic balance in the 478, and rechristened it the 590.  This was produced for 2 years, 1945 and 1946.

In 1946, Elgin rolled out a completely reengineered line of 16s movements, the 570 series.  This is the highest grade of these, the 571, the last of the B.W.Raymond pocket watch grades.  These used friction-set jewels instead of the screwed-down, bezel-set ones used in BW Raymonds since 1867.  Cap jewel settings also used friction-set jewels, and screwed down from underneath, so that instead of polished screw heads, they had to polish the tips.  White alloy 'Elginite' hairspring, monometallic balance.  Very different keyless works, so that the stem was now part of the movement, not the case (see Elgin's Postwar 16 Size Pocket Watches)

Top row: 23j 540 Timemaster in 3053 case; 21j 478 in 3051 case
Bottom row: 21j 590 with Canadian RR dial in 3051 case; 21j 571 in  3055 case