Need advice on servicing old Elgin pocket watch

Thread: Need advice on servicing old Elgin pocket watch

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  1. #1
    Member mjbernier's Avatar
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    Need advice on servicing old Elgin pocket watch

    I've been trolling and posting over in the other forums for a while, and finally got to this one...

    I discovered an old Elgin open-face pocket watch in my attic a few years back (yeah, I know...but I really did). According to the Elgin Watches site, the serial number on the movement identifies is as part of a production run of 12s watches made from around 1917 or so. It has an interesting-looking dial and what I think is a RGP case, and would probably clean up really nicely (I'll see if I can take a picture of it to post). It "sorta runs"; that is, if you wind it and give it a couple of taps it will start to run, and if you hold it upright (as if it were sitting in a vest pocket) it will continue to run for anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, and then stop...but if you give it another tap or two it starts up again. If you lay it down flat on a surface (face up or face down), it will run for only a few seconds and stop. When it does run it seems to keep very good time, usually staying within a minute or so of my quartz watches.

    My local jeweler (who is also a watchmaker) took a look at it and rattled off a laundry list of parts to replace and other things that needed to be done to put it in proper order, and while I do like the work this guy's done for my family on other jewelry, he gave me an estimate for this watch that was absolutely insulting (let's just say I could buy a very nice new watch for the same amount of his quote).

    Is there any way for a non-expert like myself to figure out what's really needed to service this watch, or (better still) to be able to determine what is really needed and what is "fluff" when I'm talking to a jeweler or watchmaker? Also, what would be a reasonable price to expect to pay for servicing a watch like this? And finally, is there anyone out there that works on these who you've had good results from that I can contact?

    If it's not worth the effort, I'll just leave it as-is; but, there's just something about having a watch that old still working that just fascinates me...

    Mike

    The Collection: Too many to list
    The Wish List: Still too many to list
    The Grail: Bremont ALT1-P (blue dial)

  2. #2
    Member Eeeb's Avatar
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    Re: Need advice on servicing old Elgin pocket watch

    Quote Originally Posted by mjbernier View Post
    ...
    Is there any way for a non-expert like myself to figure out what's really needed to service this watch, or (better still) to be able to determine what is really needed and what is "fluff" when I'm talking to a jeweler or watchmaker? Also, what would be a reasonable price to expect to pay for servicing a watch like this? ...
    You run into the same thing with cars... Since I know a lot about cars, I can argue/discuss repairs with mechanics. Often they want to do work which I consider un necessary...

    Unless you have considerable experience with watchmaking, you really can't argue with a watchmaker and second guess his estimate.

    This is how I handle it. I will take a watch that works sort of (like yours) to the jeweler and say I think this needs cleaned and lubricated (COA)... it works intermittently. He looks at the watch and says - yes it does (almost always!). If he notices more, he tells me. If he finds something while the watch is being cleaned, he tells me. But I never ask for anything other than a clean/lube/regulation of a watch that works or works intermittently... too much chance for the bill to be run up!

    Watches that don't work, well, that's another matter. (They are sometimes not worth repairing... too many nice ones available for a lot less than new ones cost.)

    Right now I am paying $75/automatic $70/winder for a COA. Your mileage may vary. The more intermediates between you and the real watchmaker, the higher the cost...

    Real repair work will start at this price (you have to do a COA to do most any repair) and work up. Some watches are easy to work on. Some aren't. Elgins generally have a good reputation. I am sure there are many folks who will do the work.

  3. #3
    Member JohnF's Avatar
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    Re: Need advice on servicing old Elgin pocket watch

    Hi -

    This is a tough call, as we don't have access to your watch...

    Seriously, as in any business, there are people out there who take advantage of those who don't know what they're doing.

    Have you been happy with your watchmakers' work to date? Has he been straight with you and told you costs up-front? Eeeb's comparison to an auto mechanic isn't a bad one at all: you gotta trust these folks.

    From what you've written, there are several issues: first of all, it sounds like the watch desperately needs a cleaning and lubrication. Normally there are things that you simply also replace, such as the mainspring (my watchmaker always puts a new mainspring in when doing any serious work on the watch, they don't cost much and having a new mainspring helps to identify where a watch movement needs some work...).

    The real problems arise when some of the pivots are worn or damaged. This is why jewels are in the watch at all: they provide, for the money, the lowest possible friction and the longest intervals between servicing. If the watch gets dirty- and it sounds like it has - then dust gets mixed in with the oil and turns that oil into an abrasive, which is the last thing you want to see in a watch's bearing surfaces.

    Now, given what you've mentioned, it sounds like your watchmaker isn't simply giving the watch a cleaning and servicing, but is also going to inspect the spindles of the various parts for wear and tear, which he probably is going to find (oh, and DON'T run the watch: you make things worse, rather than better...). If, for instance, the balance wheel spindle is badly worn, he will have to either make a new one (unlikely) or find a replacement (not that hard for the Elgins); if it is only moderately worn, then he will probably simply polish it down.

    In any case, he will be spending time on the watch, and as we all know, time is money. A friend of mine has a lovely WW1 vintage pocket watch from Lemania that his grandmother had from her first husband, who was the captain of a German navy destroyer in that conflict: it was in the back corner of a drawer filled with lady's underthings for close to 50 years, and when I opened it there was a thin layer of cotton dust (oil attracts dust like a beautiful woman attracts men). He spent close to $500 having it worked on, as it was an early Lemania chronograph and hence rather complex to work on.

    I've often spent more on having a watch serviced than what it cost me to begin with. That's part of the price you pay for having complex mechanical mechanisms inside of tiny enclosures that aren't hermetically sealed.

    Given that it's not an heirloom piece as such, you're probably better off not having it serviced. If you are intrigued by the idea of owning a working one, then I'd recommend finding a good seller on eBay and getting a recently serviced one, as they aren't that expensive (except for the really rare ones), and offer quite a bit of horological enjoyment for the money.

    JohnF
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  5. #4
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    This is what I think....

    Hi Mike, congrats on finding the watch. But as you've described, the watch has serious issues that's making it run improperly. From your description that the watch would run in vertical position but no flat down, and running slow or fast when it did, to me this sounds like you not only need a complete oil, clean, and adjustment job done but one of the pivots or bushing on the escapement might be worn or bent. Timing accuracy is all dependent on the escapement gears, which consist of escape wheel, lever fork, and balance and when they are not aligned properly you can imagine how they would run when you turn the watch from one position to the next. That's part of the reason your watchmaker quoted such a high repair cost, re-pivoting is no small job. Now, Elgins were the most common watches from the era you said it was made, and from the fact that it has only a RGP case I assume this is not one of the more prestigious Lord Elgin series. In that case the parts might be readily available, even if it means to get an uncased, used movement and pluck parts from it.

    So I think here are your options:
    1.) Let the watchmaker do it, but don't get charged over $150 bucks since the watch is not likely to be worth much anyways (let's see those serial numbers).

    2.) Buy a cheap spare movement of the same grade and make sure it's still running, then hand it to your watchmaker to see if he can piece 2 into 1 with a reduction in repair cost. You don't want to get charged over $100 for this, since he's just going to be mix and matching parts for the watch to work. There is still a risk that a certain crucial part is broken on both watches.

    3.) Since it's not worth much, use it as an experimental watch to learn some watch repair yourself. Now, I don't suggest for you to take the watch apart and in the process destroy the piece, but buy some basic tools you need for this job, read up a bit, and make sure to keep everything together and organized to do the repair (snap pictures at each stage of disassembly).

    good luck with it,
    Ben

  6. #5
    Member mjbernier's Avatar
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    Re: This is what I think....

    I really appreciate all of the comments and suggestions regarding my watch. Ben had asked about the serial number, so I ran it through the elginwatches.org database again and got the following results:

    Serial Number SN Range Quanty Name Year grade size code jewels Adj/reg/etc.
    -------------- -------- ------ ---- ---- ----- ---- ------ ------ ------------
    21403833 21403001 6000 1918 303 12s o3n3p 7j


    grade total runs first yr last yr class size code jewels Adj/name
    ----- ----- ----- -------- ------- ----- ---- ------ ------ ----------
    303 2215000 371 1903 1939 114 12s o3n3p 7j


    Class 114: 12s OF 3/4 pend model 3
    303 2215000 made 7j
    304 13000 made 15j
    311 171000 made 7j gilded
    315 1033900 made 15j
    345 730900 made 17j
    364 16700 made 15j gilded
    384 177900 made 17j Adj
    394 5000 made 7j gilded 1950 MC says "12x16s" dial/hands
    396 4400 made 15j gilded 1950 MC says "12x16s" dial/hands
    997 2000 made 17j A4P Marked TRN. two tone really a G=345
    998 4000 made 17j A4P Marked STR or ELT. really a G=345 "Star burst" damaskeening

    If I'm reading this correctly, my watch was actually made in 1918 and is a model of which they made over 2.2 million pieces during a 30-year run, which I suppose makes it a fairly common watch. I've done some looking around for other examples of this model, but none of them have the same dial design as this one, which sort of intrigues me (the dial is an "aged" white color with black script-type Arabic numerals and a seconds subdial in the 6-o'clock position, but the center of the dial has a flower-like pattern in a metallic-looking finish...I'll see if I can post a photo). The inside of the case is marked "Keystone Watchcase", "JBOSS", "14K Gold Filled", and then a serial number.

    It sounds like my best bet might be to set this watch aside and look for another that is working rather than invest the effort in repairing this one. Although, I might look into replacing the movement if I can find one that works for a reasonable price. Something to think about...

    Mike

    The Collection: Too many to list
    The Wish List: Still too many to list
    The Grail: Bremont ALT1-P (blue dial)

  7. #6
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    Re: This is what I think....

    Hi Mike, 303's are one of the most common pocket watch movements made, I don't think you'll have much trouble finding a good running movement to replace. Just make sure the replacement movement can accommodate your dial pins.

    good luck

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