Elgin Pocket Watch Cases Explained

Any good pocket watch will come with a case. However it is important to note that with Elgin Pocket Watches, it may not necessarily be the original case. Back in the day, when watches were being made, the watch makers only made the actual movements.

For these makers it was all about creating a high quality and very accurate movement. The appearance of the case was never a consideration for an original watch maker. They got their satisfaction from creating an accurate timepiece.

Now that said, some were made with a case, but today these are really hard to find. In addition to that there are really no records available that can be called upon to show that a particular movement, matched a particular case.

The Movement & The Case

When pocket watches first came into being, the reality was that very few people could actually afford them. Therefore anyone who did own one would have been a man of considerable wealth. In essence what they did was go to a watch maker and have them make the movement.

Once that was completed, they would then take this movement to a jeweller and have them make a case to fit around the movement.

In many cases, the more expensive metal used in the case, along with the more intricate of designs or inlay, was a true outward sign of their wealth. As you can imagine, some exquisite cases were made, predominantly from gold and in some very interesting designs. These cases could of course be replaced over the years or perhaps changed when a son inherited the watch.


It was much later when the manufacturers started to mass produce pocket watches that they started to make cases to go along with the movements in a factory production. That meant they could then sell these watches in a completed state. As they were then mass producing those, it also meant that watches became affordable for almost anyone.

Wrist watches didn’t really become popular and fashionable until the end of the First World War. So from around the 16th Century until around 1920, pocket watches dominated the market place.

Quite literally millions of these watches were produced by companies like Elgin and Waltham. They were attached to waistcoats and jackets by means of a chain. Fobs were also used but in the main these were the choice of ladies.

The Main Source of Confusion

There was also a company known as the Illinois Watch Case Company, who were a big manufacturer in the actaul City of Elgin. Its main purpose was to manufacture pocket watch cases. They made these for many companies and had cases that were in fact called:

    • Elgin Commander
      Elgin Pride
      Elgin Giant

These however had nothing whatsoever to do with the Elgin National Watch Company. I think it is pretty obvious that when you see a case with an Elgin name on it, most people would assume that it also contained an Elgin movement, but that is simply not true.

As you will have already read in this article, most watches were sold as movement only, and the case was bought separately. So even though the cases made by the Illinois Watch Case Company (I.W.C.Co) carried an Elgin brand name. They have those markings, and were based in the same city, these cases had nothing to do with the main Elgin Watch Company who mass produced pocket watches for many years.

Various Types of Pocket Watch Cases

Snap Cases

These are cases as the name would suggest that simply snap on to the movement using a bezel. The bezel is simply a metal ring that holds the glass. There are no hinges on this type of case and almost always you will find a raised lip. This is the area that can be lifted up to help remove the case from the movement.

A quick word of warning is that if you can’t find a raised lip, then this is not a snap back case, so never try to prise it open as you will cause considerable damage.

I would also avoid using something like a knife to open these and jewellers will use what is called a DULL tool, which is a special shaped tool for removing this type of case.

Screw Back Cases

As the name would suggest these are cases that are screwed on. So the bezel that holds the glass simply screws off. Again check your Elgin watch carefully. If there are no hinges and no raised lip, then it is highly likely that the glass front will screw off. These are very common in pocket watches.

Hinge Back and Bezel Cases

This is also a common form of pocket watch case. You should notice two small hinges and the watch will open at the opposite end to the hinges. In most of the cases, the hinges will be located at the bottom of the watch, at the 6 o’ clock position.

You should then find a raised lip at the opposite end to the hinges which can be raised to open the watch. Jewellers use a case knife to open these, but you can, if you are very careful use a pocket knife as well.

Here is a very good video where you can see the different cases being opened, which you will find very helpful.

The Hunter Case

These cases are similar to the hinge back and bezel. The main difference though is that they have hinged covers on both the back and the front of the case. One protects the dial and the other protects the rear and the watch movement. The front cover can be opened by pushing down on the crown of the watch and it should flip open.

The back once again should have a raised lip which you can pry open.

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5 thoughts on “Elgin Pocket Watch Cases Explained

  1. Your info is very helpful. But, how do you identify the case? Our movement is #1902971 with case #636784. Thanks Mary

  2. Excellent articles!!
    I would like to know how to determine if my hunters case was made at the same time as the watch itself
    serial number 1287550
    Case number M4718
    My watch reads on the face Elgin National Watch Company
    Grade 7 Seven jewel gilt movement.
    Many thanks

  3. Elgin movement serial number 26373508
    Case square septer gold filled 14 Karat

    What year and value ???

  4. Hello
    Thank you for the info. I have a pocket watch from Elgin which has a serail number 14541710 and a case number 15207. It was made by ELGIN ATL. WATCH Co. U.S.A., 15 jewels, safety pinion. It has a 14k hunter case multicolor gold with a star of 8 edges on one side a diamond inside the star.
    Do you have any info that could help me.
    Thank you

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