The Swiss Elgin Watch Saga

From the start and up to the late 1950s Elgin made their own watch movements. However from the late 1950s and through the 1960s until they closed, they had started to import their movements from Switzerland. Essentially the company realised that continuing to produce movements, when the competition was so very fierce, and watches so readily available at cheap prices, was simply not going to be cost effective.

How Swiss Elgin Watches Came About?

They did however still continue to label these movements as the Elgin brand and in fact continued to assemble and produce the end product in a newer Elgin factory. That is what earned them the name of Swiss Elgins. Their main factory had always been in Elgin City in Illinois, but in the early 1960s, they opened a newer one in Blaney, a small town in North Carolina.

Elgin National Watch Co. plant LCCN2007660826

Elgin National Watch Co Plant

The reason for that was that the large factory was no longer sustainable and in Carolina at this time land was very cheap. As this area bordered on Colombia, the powers that be knew there would be no shortage of cheap and available labour. It is always fascinating at how big businesses always look for two things, cheap rates and land and cheap labour to help them survive. For Elgin, this was in complete contradiction to what had made them a world leader in mass watch production.

Such was the determination of the people of Blaney to bring any type of work to their area they even agreed to change the name of their small town to Elgin. Blaney had been originally names after a New York banker who had helped to fund the railroad through the small remote area. Blaney as a town was incorporated as far back as 1908 and the name change to Elgin took place in 1963.

That change took place and 200 people got employment as a result of this hungry drive for jobs and businesses in the area. Despite all of these efforts, it was all totally futile. Other companies in other countries with even cheaper labour simply could produce watches cheaper.

That is when Elgin abandoned any type of home production and opted to import cheaply made Swiss movements. That was their opt out stage from the entire watch business. A once great and prolific company was now simply fading into obscurity. This all happened in September 1967.

How Do You Recognise A Swiss Made Elgin?

We know that all American made Elgins had a very distinct serial number on them which is located on the inner movement. On the Swiss version a manufacturer’s code does exist, though it can be really difficult to see. Any that I have seen, and that is only two, the code was beneath the actual dial itself.

It is assumed that the reason for no serial number was that Elgin would not have been able to convince these manufacturers to stamp serial numbers as they were quite literally producing thousands of these for a whole range of other companies. In addition to that Elgin as a company had also stopped using serial numbers and had moved to a grade marking instead. The grading structure that they did introduce was in all honesty haphazard. Even for many experts the grading system is still very confusing.

The Elgin grades for these were some of the Elgin 6** series, the 7** series along with the Elgin 889, 1421, 1422 and 1423. In all honesty these watches have no real value. They are still considered modern and they were simply the result of a huge production at the time. If you own one of these it is still a nice watch to own, but it is one to hold on to, and hopefully over the years they will become more rare, and possibly increase in value.

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