"The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of
thinking... the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind.
If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."

- Albert Einstein

Antique Pocketwatch
Restoration, Repair, Cleaning and Service

Specializing in Elgin National, American Waltham, Hamilton, Hampden and other early American makes

I learned watchmaking from my Grandfather, and have been proud to carry on this work he cared deeply about. Every timepiece is unique, and every one should be in the best condition it can be. If you have an antique watch you would like repaired or serviced, please look over the information here, and contact me at jsexton@elgintime.com and tell me about your watch.

There also much more about antique watches at the Elgintime.com home page!

What is Watch Cleaning?

Mechanical watch service is traditionally referred to as "watch cleaning". Watch cleaning includes:

  • Complete disassembly and individual cleaning of all parts.
  • Inspection for damaged parts including worn or broken pivots, cracked jewels and bent or missing teeth.
  • Replacement of any and all parts found worn, damaged or otherwise unusable, including proper rebuilding of balance assemblies, other staffs, springs, wheels and jewels.
  • Cleaning, adjusting and re-seating of jewels as needed.
  • Removal, cleaning and rewinding, or replacement, of the mainspring.
  • Other procedures such as hairspring adjustment, setting to beat, pivot polishing, etc. as needed.
  • Reassembly and proper lubrication.
  • Rudimentary timing.

Unfortunately, there seem to be services available that "clean" a watch by simply removing the entire movement from the case, running it as-is through an ultra-sonic cleaning machine, and replacing it in the case. In doing this, dirt will tend to just settle back into the watch, usually in a much worse place. This method is also unlikely to completely remove old oil. Proper watch cleaning always involves complete disassembly.

I use proper and period techniques and materials throughout the work. All the tools, procedures and materials I use in the restoration of watches are consistent with the original recommendations of the Elgin National Watch Co. I have taken care to learn and apply professional, but frequently old-fashioned, methods - no shortcuts, no substandard materials.

I learned to do this work from my Grandfather, Everett Sexton, who attended the Elgin watchmakers college in the early 1930s. He had a long career as a watchmaker of some reputation. He never lost his fondness for Elgin products. At school, Everett Sexton was recognized for unusual skills and was personally instructed by William Samelius. I am very fortunate for this. And although I've read a lot of books on watchmaking, and I can say that much of what I learned from my Grandfather, you won't find in a book.

If you have more questions that are not addressed on this page, I have a repair FAQ, here with more information.

A typical 16 size, 7 jewel Elgin, grade 290, made in 1918

Elgin Movement Serial Numbers

Want to find out more about your Elgin watch? You can learn quite a bit from the serial number of the watch works, or movement, inside. Check here for information on how to open a pocketwatch case, to access the movement number. Look here for an online database of Elgin watch production history.

Be sure to use the number of the watch movement. Numbers on any part of the watch case, such as a serial number on the inside of the back cover, is a number that goes with the watch case only, and reveals nothing about the watch movement. Elgin did not make pocketwatch cases. The watches were sold as bare movements only. Customers selected their watch cases separately at the retail shop, so the important number is inside on the mechanical part of the watch.

Enter an Elgin watch serial number here

* More About Elgin Watches
The history of the Elgin National Watch Company and other information

Post-1960s Watches

I receive a fair number of inquiries regarding the repair of newer Elgin watches, including quartz movements. Sadly, the Elgin National Watch Co. went out of business in 1968, and in fact never made quartz watches. It's the antique Elgin products, and other early American brands, that I work with. Watches are produced to this day under the Elgin name. These watches, many of quite good quality, have been made over the years by a variety of Asian and European brands, but are not products of the original Elgin company, and so are not watches I can help with.

If you would like to locate a good watchmaker in your area, visit the the website of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute. On the AWCI home page, you'll see a link for finding a watchmaker near you.


I typically do not do more than a surface cleaning of cases, to remove dirt and dust that could damage the movement. It is my personal preference to retain the character of old pocketwatch cases where possible. Of course I do replace bows, crowns, stems as needed, and crystals where I happen to have a one suitable. However the movement itself (including the dial and hands) is what interests me the most.

Dial Refinishing

I do not do dial refinishing. However, in the case of white enamel dials, as most antiques have, a certain degree of repair is practical and I do these from time to time. Every instance is different. In most cases, the dial is best left as part of the character of the piece, flaws and all.

A typical 16 size, 15 jewel Elgin, grade 313, made in 1926

A Word About Antique Mechanical Watches and Pocketwatches in General

Antique pocketwatches are objects of great beauty and significance. They occupy a special place in the history of human technology, the understanding of time, mechanics and of industrial development, particularly in America.

Luckily, many antique pocketwatches are relatively common and affordable, which makes collecting pocketwatches an accessible and rewarding hobby.

Even today, many antique watches, properly cared for, can provide decades of faithful service. However if you are interested in buying an antique watch, and you are not already a collector, there are a few things to keep in mind. An antique pocketwatch is not at all like a modern quartz movement.

  • Antique watches are fully mechanical devices. They are very easily damaged by physical shocks.
  • Antique watches are not remotely water resistant, and are subject to damage due to temperature, salt air, even tiny amounts of dust, moisture and other environmental factors.
  • An antique pocketwatch in daily use requires regular maintenance, by a skilled watchmaker, to function correctly overtime. While these watches were once used everyday, but they typically received a complete overhaul every year.
  • Antique pocketwatches are not accurate by today's standards. A very good watch, cleaned and adjusted with care, can achieve an accuracy of +/- a minute or so per 24 hours. More accuracy than this will usually require significant efforts.
  • Always store an antique timepiece in a dry and dust-free environment. Plastic bags are not recommended as they trap moisture and condensation.
  • To learn more about watchmaking, visit the website of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute

Want more details about getting your watch repaired? I have a repair FAQ, here.

The working components of a typical Elgin watch

* A virtual Watch Museum
* Jeff's Watch Blog
* More About Elgin Watches
The history of the Elgin National Watch Company and other information
* Elgin watch mini-FAQ
Frequently asked questions
* Pocketwatches For Sale!
Check the Elgin Time online marketplace for various items. Feel free to contact me, jsexton@elgintime.com, for information on other watches that may be available, if you are looking for something specific, or just have questions about vintage watches.

Questions and comments to Jeff Sexton, jsexton@elgintime.com