The Elgin Watch Company

The Elgin National Watch Company started its commercial life in 1864 when Philo Carpenter, Howard Z. Culver, Benjamin W. Raymond, George M. Wheeler, Thomas S. Dickerson, Edward H. Williams and W. Robbins established the National watch Company of Chicago, Illinois for the princely sum of $100,000. This new company poached a number of highly skilled machinists (the so called Seven Stars) from the newly founded Waltham watch company with what was considered as a considerable salary of $5000 a year plus $5000 bonus and an acre of land. The first watch movements were made in 1867 with each movement taking up to 6 months to build.  The early versions acknowledged their founders with their names, so for example some movements were signed H. Z Culver, etc.  In 1909 Elgin built an observatory so that their timepieces could be timed by the starts. Could this be said of many modern watch manufacturers, I think not!

14ct Lord Elgin wristwatch 1951During World War1 Elgin ceased civilian watch production and focused on the production of military watches, with the US Army having Elgin train more than 350 men to make repairs of precision time keeping instruments in the battlefields of Europe. Between the wars Elgin like many of its direct competitors made numerous beautiful watches including stunning art deco pieces incorporating a range of luxurious components, including white gold cases and jeweled faces. During the Second World War, Elgin dedicated their timepiece production to the development of military watches, chronometers and timed fuses.

After the war the company off course returned to the commercial market again producing a range of lovely watches and by the 1950s Elgin was producing highly fashionable watches, of which  the Lord Elgin watches were considered as the cream of the crop. Take for example the 14ct Gold Lord Elgin in Figure 1. This watch is typical of the quality produced by Elgin in the early 1950s, consisting of a very heavy 14ct gold lozenge shaped case encasing a lovely high grade 556 grade 21 Jeweled Elgin signed movement. What seems strange about this watch is that by modern standards tit seems a very small gentleman’s, watch, it only measures 36mm from lug to lug by 28mm (including the crown). This very much reflected the style of the time, in the 1950s small and sleek was very much the in look and this watch reflects that almost understated but very elegant fashion.

Elgin was a prolific American watch maker, however, the company steadily lost momentum until eventually Elgin made their last watch movement in 1968.

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