The National Elgin Watch Company no longer exists. It did exist from 1864 to 1964 so almost 100 years of producing top quality pocket watches. This company stopped producing watches in 1964. Therefore any watches produced with an Elgin brand name after this period are not from the original National Elgin watch company.
Their history is a long one and dates right back to the days of the railroads. It is this history that enthrals me and also my love for watches generally along with the whole sense of history. There are many great pocket watch makers including Waltham. I have a personal preference for Elgin watches. I just like their designs and styles and most importantly the quality.
National Elgin Watch Company History
The National Elgin Watch Company was set up in the city of Elgin, Illinois in 1864. The state contributed a 35 acre site and $25,000 to be used for stock and materials. Their total capital at that time was around half a million dollars. In those very early days seven people were tempted away from the Waltham Company to go and start up the new National Elgin watch company.
They went on to be nick named the “seven stars.” I can imagine that Waltham called them something else. This would have been a serious blow to the Waltham Watch Company to lose seven of its very best watch makers. The friction caused by this must have been high at the time.
In those early days all Elgin watches were made by hand until technology improved and eventually took over. The strategy back then was for the factory to produce the internal workings or mechanisms. They would sell these to wholesalers, who in turn would become distributors to Retail jewelers.
National Elgin Watch Company – First Movement
The first movement was produced in 1867. Two years later the first ladies movement was produced. The first was what is known as a size 18 and the ladies was a size 10 movement. After that key wind movements were produced and six different grades were also manufactured.
With the introduction of new technology the production then became sadly rather standardised. This was due to the mass manufacturing capability of the factory. From then onwards the National Elgin watch company was best known for producing many pocket watches.
During the second World War the National Elgin Watch Company focussed almost extensively on producing military watches. They also produced many other instruments of war. After that they diversified across a much wider product range which included clocks, radios and rings. Many Elgin watches are made with link bands which are then linked together by small pins.
I know some people who have the ability to use substitute parts to replace faulty links or to extend the length of the band. Personally I take this to a recommended jeweller. The small price I have to pay means that I know the repair has been done professionally and properly.
Despite my many years of experience with Elgin watches I am always reluctant to tamper with them. I don’t mind working on an old watch if it is low in value and I can find the spare parts because I am not impacting on the value if I make a mistake. Generally though I take it to someone who knows what they are doing.
Collecting Elgin pocket watches is something that is on the increase and is in my opinion a sound investment. Like any investment just be sure that you do all your homework first before spending a single dollar.
In my years of collecting these I have come across around 15-20 fakes and some of them were actually quite good. If you are going to invest your money in anything, then best take the advice of an expert, otherwise it could turn out to be a costly mistake. Read the history of the National Elgin watch company as you quickly learn a lot.
I only collect pocket watches and have nothing more than a passing interest in wrist watches. If you are interested in pocket watches then you can start your collection with little expense. Many genuine Elgin pocket watches sell from as little as $10 but can go all the way up to many hundreds of dollars.
That means there is a good starting price point for most people depending on how much you choose to speculate. The good point about this is that if you like old watches and are considering collecting them, then quite easily they can become a very good investment. I have always found the history of the National Elgin Watch Company fascinating and as an avid collector I continue to enjoy their beauty, history and value today.