Columbus Watch Co No 4246 - Swiss watch made for American market
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  1. #1
    Member pmwas's Avatar
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    Aug 2010

    Columbus Watch Co No 4246 - Swiss watch made for American market

    Today I show an early Columbus Watch Co. 14 size watch.
    Made between 1880 and 1885, it's a Swiss made movement finished in America.
    I've recased it in a Waltham 14 size silver case of the era.

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    As you can see, the movement was terribly rusty and actually I was amazed it was ticking after just a brief wash and oiling.
    I bought it for a few dollars just to see.

    Anyway - Columbus watch Co was set up by Dietrich Gruen in late 1870s for his American operations.
    At first it finished Swiss made movements, but soon it started making it's own complete watches.
    This one, numbered 4246, comes from earliest, Swiss production.

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    Lots of rust and I think some new has grown back during the last two years.
    Like someone said - it's like cancer. leave some and it will grow back in no time.
    Rust is in fact autocatalytic, so on prone steel it will grow very quickly indeed...

    I used a technique that involved both ammonia bath (Gronal) and mechanical scraping with a piece of wood.
    Interestingly, ammonia will dissolve some stains fully and weaken the other, so that the superficial layer can be easily removed mechanically. Then you repeat the process, until you get to pure metal or to nice black stains that tend to be harmless.
    In fact it's easy to tell which part is actually corroded and which is just stained with corrosion from another place - the surface under a stain is nice and smooth, while corroded metal will have pitting and residual black stains unless you try to file down and repolish it.

    Of course, there is no way to fully remove rust from a hairspring that bad, I think...
    I used full strength ammonia and a small brush, getting some results.
    The hairspring looks better and for now it stays, as I don't have a better one, I prefer keeping original parts and such hairsprings can last for a suprisingly long time in dry environment. I don't expect good performance, though...

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    After cleaning, I discovered this Gruen made Columbus is a very good movement, BTW.
    It has compensation balance with Breguet hairspring, 15 jewels, gold plated escape wheel, gold plated cap jewel setting, chamfered steelwork incl. this lovely pallet fork above, polished winding gears, bevelled gear edges, damaskeened plates, super :)
    The markings could have been engraved better, though.
    Not like it's totally spectacular, but knowing an average Swiss movement of 1885 era, this is something.

    Assembling the train, I found the 4th wheel bent like that:

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    It has to be bent to reach the escape wheel pinion, and I think maybe someone replaced 4th pinion once?
    It does not look right...

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    The top side has a 'sandwich' design, with top plate (with all the winding parts) covered by another, damaskeened and engraved, and then come just three long screws to hold it all together.
    The winding arbor hole in the cover is a bit off. It's not a bearing, so it can, but does not look so good.

    Turning the movement around, you'll get to assemble the Swiss style three piece cannon pinion.
    I say Swiss style as it's seldom used in American watches and very often in Swiss watches of the time.
    It's three piece and it's the center arbor that rotates in the hollow center gear arbor, while the cannon pinion is pressed on tight (that's OK, don't loosen it...).

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    This type of cannon pinion comes initially from watches key-wound from the back.
    It's not needed in pendant set watches, but stayed for a while. I think it was easier and cheaper to use technology already posessed.
    Because it's tight, a staking set might come handy...

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    The small bridge that holds the minute wheel and clutch lever is silly. Just one screw and no pins, so it's difficult to find the screw hole while asembling, and it rotates like crazy when you try to screw it down. Not nice...
    I put the movement in case before mounting the dial, because it's a bit tight.
    Looks like Columbus' 14s was a bit more than Waltham's 14s, and you have to put some pressure on it (even despite I've polished the opening a bit to fit better), which could damage the dial.
    The dial screws are on the top side, so it can be done this way.

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    And done. In fact the hairspring is not so bad, only it's somewhat slow, as rusty hairsprings tend to slow down a watch. Maybe within range of the meantime screws, but I'm affraid they might be jammed...

    The amplitude is not too steady and I think a better mainspring could be of use.
    There surely is something wrong there, provided it opened the barrel after previous cleaning, but I dno't have one at hand, so for now I'd say it's fine. I'll have to check it for more rust in some time, maybe I'll attend to the mainspring then.

    All in all it's no longer a good timekeeper, but a very interesting, early Swiss-American watch.
    Very good quality for a Swiss watch of the time... Most Swiss watches we see here are way worse than this...

    Have a nice day :) !
    Have a great day!!!

  2. #2
    Member James A's Avatar
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    Jan 2014

    Re: Columbus Watch Co No 4246 - Swiss watch made for American market

    Great photo's and full explanation of the process.
    Many thanks for an enjoyable read.


  3. #3
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    Aug 2010
    Maine, USA

    Re: Columbus Watch Co No 4246 - Swiss watch made for American market always: interesting and neat watch & commentary! I am especially intrigued by your success with the looks almost new! I did a Google search for "Gronal", and it looks to be a 1:9 Concentrate for watch you use it because it gives better results than other solutions? And: do you use it full-strength, or diluted?

    When it comes to mean-time screws...well, they can be Amazingly tight! Yours look ( in one image...) to be not gold, so, that makes moving them even more challenging. I always use a screwdriver with a blade especially ground for the screw encountered: make certain it fits the slot as it should, extending properly down into the head, and grasp the arm very firmly...go slowly...even high(er?) grade screws will break, if treated improperly!

    Thanks for another nice Post. Michael. ps: the more I think on it, the timing screws 'should' be gold, yes?

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  5. #4
    Member pmwas's Avatar
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    Aug 2010

    Re: Columbus Watch Co No 4246 - Swiss watch made for American market

    Who knows? Most 19th Century watches in Usa had brass screws, even quality ones...
    Have a great day!!!

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Maine, USA

    Re: Columbus Watch Co No 4246 - Swiss watch made for American market

    pmwas...well: in my experience, quite a few USA watches--of all sizes--did use gold balance screws! Actually, I've long been surprised / impressed with just how well-made USA movements were. I'll bet your Columbus has--at least--gold mean-time screws. I'd poise the balance, do my best to loosen the screws, and expect that this old fellow will ( almost ! ) come to time! Michael.

  7. #6
    Member JackW's Avatar
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    May 2011
    Denver area

    Re: Columbus Watch Co No 4246 - Swiss watch made for American market

    Very nice write up with the pictures. You are not the only one out there that has an interest in these early Columbus/Gruen watches. A nice record for others wishing to follow in your footsteps.
    All that I know is based on the hard work and writing of others. I can only aspire to augment this body of knowledge. If I am wrong it is because of my own failings. To quote Newton, "If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

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