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Thread: A Watch Mystery

  1. #1
    Old but Crafty RayMac's Avatar
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    A Watch Mystery



    We often see posts on the forum about "a lifetime watch" or "one I can pass on to my son." It's a popular concept, and if we are fortunate we do have one or more of these pieces in our collection.
    This one isn't as lucky - it's lost its provenance. And for a watch that has lasted nearly two lifetimes, that is a sad thing to see.
    It's original owner is lost in time, and any value it has as an heirloom will be from my brief custodianship. I hope my grandson will treasure it someday.
    But no matter. Let's play watch detective and see if we can make some educated guesses about the type of person who may have owned it in the first place.

    What we know for certain:
    • It's an 18S 17 jewel Elgin from 1905 in a gold filled case. Not a railroad grade piece but pretty nice for the time.
    • The Roman dial has a bit of an Art Nouveau look - not the standard Elgin block font.


    What we might reasonably infer:
    • The owner liked watches. The standard entry level Elgin in those days was a 7 jewel piece and "fully jeweled" usually meant 15. This is a bit better than that.
    • The owner was not a railroad man. It's not a railroad dial and most RR grade watches would have 21 jewels by 1905 if purchased new. The case is a little too fancy for a railroad man's liking.
    • The owner was relatively conservative. This size of watch (18S) was rapidly giving way to smaller sizes like 16S and even 12S. Someone buying a big 18S in 1905 would be seen as a bit old fashioned.
    • The owner was not a young man, since you needed a bit more cash to get a better quality watch and the younger guys would probably go for a smaller 7 jewel in a fancier case.
    • The owner was not a fashionista since this is an open face watch in an open face case. A man trying to make an impression with his watch would likely have chosen a hunter case.


    So I get the picture of a solid if conservative, rather unassuming guy who knew what he liked and didn't want to make a big deal of it. Maybe a banker, or a small businessman, or a senior clerk in an office.
    And he did like his watch. The case is quite heavily brassed, indicating it was used a lot. If the owner was in his mid 30s when he bought it, he probably used it for 30 years until he retired in 1935. Maybe his company gave him a nice Elgin wristwatch at that time.
    Somehow this watch ended up in a drawer and it was there quite a while I think. 70 years later I bought it on eBay. For its age it was in decent condition - at least the photos showed it to be.
    But it wasn't judged to be in great shape when I brought it to my watchmaker. Obviously it was cruddy and needed cleaning and lubrication. It knocked badly (overbanking.) The watchmaker had to replace the balance staff and jewels. Then it ran too fast and required adjustment. He added some inertial screws to the balance wheel. He spent a lot more time than he charged me for, but as he said: "This is a nice watch at heart, and I need a challenge once in a while to keep me interested."
    I've had it for 10 years now and I guess it's got a new provenance. It runs very well and will be one of "Grandpas watches" someday.


    Few things are more delightful than grandchildren fighting over your lap. ~Doug Larson

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  3. #2
    Zenith & Vintage Mod Dan R's Avatar
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    I love that case. I have a nickle one with no brass and I purchased an optical piece of glass from a company no longer in business.

    But guessing what happens to these "dinosaurs" is always an interesting game. Here is my 4992B, made in '43 if not mistaken. It is no longer in its wooden shock preserver case. Did it see action? Most likely little if any based on its condition. Then again, the survival rate at the end of the war was pretty high.

    Dan
    Oh yes, it's a bad pic, but we are talking could have beens and not picture taking.

  4. #3

    A Watch Mystery

    This one has lost its provenance. It's a 16-size, 15-jewel Elgin Grade 152 in a nickel Crescent Swing-Ring case, dating from 1898. Again, a hunter in an open-face case, but one known for better than usual dust protection. Not a Railroad watch, of course.



    It was well used--the winding crown was worn smooth, and there is a lot of wear on screw heads indicating many services. My watchmaker filed grooves in the crown--he couldn't tolerate the notion of it not being easily usable. My watchmaker is in his late 80's, and still runs the jewelry store he opened in the middle 60's. This was the first watch I bought from him.





    Though not a railroad watch, it did have Elgin's patented micrometric regulator, which is a bit of an exception on this unadjusted watch.



    This would have been a watch for someone with some means--it would have cost about $20 in this case. But it was a working watch, not a showy watch, owned by someone who valued function over fancy. I would guess a shop foreman or maybe an engineer. Clearly, it was owned by someone who used it for years, and kept it in good working order. At some point, the mainspring broke and it was probably thrown in a drawer to end up in a descendant's estate. The broken mainspring was its only functional flaw.

    Rick "lots of guessing" Denney
    Last edited by Rdenney; Nov 18, 2014 at 03:33 AM.
    More than 500 characters worth of watches.

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  6. #4
    Zenith & Vintage Mod Dan R's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rdenney View Post
    This one has lost its provenance. It's a 16-size, 15-jewel Elgin Grade 152 in a nickel Crescent Swing-Ring case, dating from 1898. Again, a hunter in an open-face case, but one known for better than usual dust protection. Not a Railroad watch, of course.

    It was well used--the winding crown was worn smooth, and there is a lot of wear on screw heads indicating many services. My watchmaker filed grooves in the crown--he couldn't tolerate the notion of it not being easily usable. My watchmaker is in his late 80's, and still runs the jewelry store he opened in the middle 60's. This was the first watch I bought from him.

    Though not a railroad watch, it did have Elgin's patented micrometric regulator, which is a bit of an exception on this unadjusted watch.

    This would have been a watch for someone with some means--it would have cost about $20 in this case. But it was a working watch, not a showy watch, owned by someone who valued function over fancy. I would guess a shop foreman or maybe an engineer. Clearly, it was owned by someone who used it for years, and kept it in good working order. At some point, the mainspring broke and it was probably thrown in a drawer to end up in a descendant's estate. The broken mainspring was it's only functional flaw.

    Rick "lots of guessing" Denney
    You are correct in that it is higher end than first envisioned. If my eye sight does not deceive me, that looks like a gold train, at least for the center gear as opposed to a standard brass gear. The spokes are rounded, not flat. Below is an 18S Waltham 21j PW and you can see how the gear train is stamped from brass:

    WalthamV_C.jpg

    That is one of the things I enjoy about American PWs, the diversity!

    Dan

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