Elgin Pocket Watch: Everything You Need to Know

by Anne B. Robinson
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Elgin pocket watches are among the most popular watches in the antique and vintage watch market. In fact, rare and authentic Elgin pocket watches are among the most cherished and expensive timepieces in the world. If you want to own an Elgin pocket watch but don’t know much about it, this article tells you everything you need to know about Elgin pocket watches.

Introduction to an Elgin Pocket Watch

As mentioned in the introduction, Elgin pocket watches are among the perennial favorites for watch collectors. This brand of pocket watches was developed in 1864 in Elgin, Illinois, at the time when the American Civil War was ending. However, the first Elgin pocket watch was released in 1867.

The first watch was an 18 sized BW Raymond railroad grade pocket watch that took six months to complete. This timepiece was sold for $117. To put it into context, in the year 1867, pork chips were retailing at three cents a pound. A few years ago, this historic pocket watch was auctioned for $15,000 by the City of Elgin.

At the time, the manufacturer of Elgin pocket watches was called “National Watch Company”, which was later changed to “Elgin National Watch Company”. Reports indicate that the company manufactured about 60 million timepieces for the 100 years it existed. In terms of total production volume, this company is one of the largest American watchmakers.

The company endeavored to mass-produce superior pocket watches by assembling machine-produced interchangeable parts. While this may seem like the most rational thing to do, you need to understand that before 1850, watches were mainly produced by hand. This was a time-consuming and extremely costly process.

actual value of an elgin pocket watch

So, the main goal of the founders of the watch company was to produce high-quality timepieces that could be repaired easily with factory-produced replacement parts. This means that their objective was not to create the finest watches, or the most inexpensive, but rather to control the vast middle-ground of the American watch market. Fortunately, they succeeded in this quest, enjoying a duopoly with Waltham Watch Company, another American watch-making dynamo.

But this doesn’t mean that the Elgin National Watch Company lacked innovation. In fact, it was among the first watch-makers to develop a wristwatch in 1910. Furthermore, the company was committed to producing timepieces that could easily be repaired without requiring specialized skills. Since the company produced so many spare parts, its watches can still be repaired reasonably easily even today.

That’s why Elgin pocket watches still remain the most sought-after watches for collectors. Also, their high volume of production meant that their prices have remained relatively low. Currently, the prices for these collectible pocket watches range from several hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the type and model.

Actual Value of an Elgin Pocket Watch

Most people who want to own an Elgin pocket watch are afraid of its price. But are these watches expensive really? How Much is an Elgin Pocket Watch Worth?

The truth is that an ordinary Railroad Elgin pocket watch can cost between $200 and $5,000. Its cost will also depend on the year it was produced, the material used, and the significance of its model. These pocket timepieces were beautifully designed consistent with railroad industry standards at the time. They were also known to keep the most particular and accurate time.

Why Are Elgin Pocket Watches So Popular?

why are elgin pocket watches so popular

Perhaps by now, you are asking yourself: Why are Elgin pocket watches so popular? The truth is that the value of an Elgin pocket watch is mainly based on the exceptional craftsmanship applied in its production. Although the interchangeable parts that designed these watches were not produced by hand, they were carefully crafted to produce the most superior watches.

Furthermore, the mass production of these high-quality pocket watches using machine-made interchangeable parts meant that people who bought these watches could easily access high-quality spare parts without breaking the bank to repair their watches. when the watches. Also, repairing these watches did not require hand adjusting, which helped customers to save some money.

How to Identify Your Elgin Pocket Watch

Because of their popularity and high demand, Elgin pocket watches have been widely imitated, making it difficult for collectors to find genuine antique Elgin pocket watches. Therefore, if you want to own one of these historic timepieces, you need to know how to identify the genuine ones.

Pinning an individual Elgin down to a specific year of production and model can be an uphill task, especially because there are very limited records of the company’s legacy production as well as its policy not to give its models names.

From 1932, the company used unique model numbers to classify its distinctive case designs. However, it started classifying its models by model names in the 1950s. Today, model numbers are key to identifying genuine spare parts for Elgin pocket watches.

The process of identifying authentic Elgin watches is a bit multifaceted and involves various steps. Here are the main steps you need to follow when identifying an Elgin pocket watch:

  • First, you need to be sure that the watch is actually an Elgin
  • Try to identify the model by matching the case to known examples (or to identification resources)
  • Identify and date the movement to narrow down your search and try again to identify the case

How Do You Know If the Watch Is Actually an Elgin?

In the years before 1960, the company marked all its watches on the dial with the name “Elgin.” But starting from 1960, it reduced the brand mark on some of its models to just an “E” logo on the dial. Before these changes, the company also included the words “Cased and Timed by Elgin National Watch Co.” on the inside of its case back.

Another simple way to authenticate a genuine Elgin pocket watch is to look at the signed crown. However, you need to understand that not all Elgin watches have signed crowns. Another important fact to remember is that watches with dials that are marked “Elgin movement” are not genuine Elgin watches: rather they’ve been created by taking Elgin movements and placing them into third-party cases.

Since the Elgin National Watch Company produced many private label watches under different brand names and with different cases, you need to check if the watch you have is a private label Elgin by browsing the NAWCC’s Private Label Database.

Identifying an Elgin Watch Model

identifying an elgin watch model

To identify the Elgin model, you have to rely on its case. Unfortunately, some people wrongly believe that they can movements can determine the model. However, you can use case designs to know the model. But you have to pay close attention to the details of the case.

You also need to understand that all Elgin watches of a specific model have the same case style. For example, check the shape of the lugs and the lines on the case. Apart from that, check the dial features, especially how the second hand has been placed and the shape of the sub-seconds (if they are available). Another simple way of identifying the model of an Elgin pocket watch is to check the model number stamped inside its case back.

Identification by Date

identification by date

Elgin pocket watches have dial markings that can help you with identification. Although these markings do not offer a lot of details, they can be useful at times. For instance, you can check the dates based on the watch’s dial markings.

Note that the company first included a star on its dial markings in August 1993, and stopped using it in the late 1940s. In 1846, the company started incorporating a DuraPower logo into its watches. It also included other logos including Shockmaster and DuraBalance logos in 1951 and 1958 respectively.

You can also use dating to identify an Elgin pocket watch based on the movement serial number. These serial numbers offer useful information about the date the movement was manufactured. Keep in mind the fact that all Elgin watch movements were numbered sequentially. Just follow the sequence numbers until the end of 1955.

How to Open an Elgin Pocket Watch

When you open an Elgin pocket watch, you will understand why it is considered a work of art. But the important question to ask yourself is: How do you open an Elgin pocket watch? Follow these important steps:

Put the watch on a flat surface and hold the face of the watch between your thumb and forefinger. Then, use a screwdriver to unbolt the face gently from the body of the timepiece.

Find the small hinge at the top of the watch, slightly above the 12, and pull up the know at the top like you are setting the time. The knob will release the pin that holds everything in the watch together.

You can use your fingernail or a flat object to remove the entire face of the watch from the watch. Make sure you pull the face up towards the position of the hinge so that it will slip under the hinge that is holding it down.

How to Tell If Elgin Pocket Watch Is Gold

Elgin pocket watches were made of different materials, including gold and silver. That’s why they are highly treasured up to this day. But how do you know if your Elgin pocket watch is gold? There are several ways to do this.

First, open the rear cover and check if it has these markings: 10K, 14K, or 18K. These markings are easy to see because they are impressed into the inside of the back cover. If you notice any one of these markings, then your Elgin watch is gold.

But if you see something like Guaranteed 10 Years or Guaranteed 20 Years, then the watch is not made of gold, but rather a gold plate. However, if none of these markings is visible on your watch, just take it to a professional jeweler for testing. They will most probably use the gold acid test to check if the watch is gold.