Questions About Vintage Watch Service and Repair

Do you have a vintage Elgin watch to be serviced?
Maybe I can help. Take a look here for information.
If you're interested in a having an antique watch serviced, I have some basic information here.
For more information, below are a few of the common questions asked about pocketwatch service and repair.
For any other question, fell free to email me at

Q: Can my vintage pocketwatch be repaired?

A: Probably. If you have an antique pocketwatch that you would like to have running again, I may be able to help. I specialize in the early models of watches from American makers such as Elgin, Waltham, Hamilton, and many others. You'll find more information about pocketwatch service here.

Also, take a look at the entry below on "repair" vs "restoration".

If you have questions about your watch, you will find some information right here on this page, and elsewhere on this website. Feel free to email me also,

Q: Can you repair other types of watches?

A: Yes, however limiting my work to vintage American makes, particularly Elgin, allows me to control the volume of parts I have on hand and also keep a limit on the work that comes in. Demand is very high, and I don't like the waiting list getting too long.

Q: Should I get my watch serviced? Are some watches more valuable in "as-found" or original condition?

A: There's a lot to say about this. Yes, some very old or historic watches are more valuable "as-found" rather than altered by repair and parts replacement. Most Elgin products are relatively common though, being (mostly) mass-produced. But a watch that once belonged to a well known historic figure, for example, might be better left alone.

That said, even when a full service is not desired, an overhaul and cleaning is a good idea in many cases. Clearing up old oil and making sure there's no rust or debris in an antique that could cause trouble later asures that the watch is well preserved, even if it does not reliably run.

Many vintage pocketwatches also include hand-made parts created by some long ago craftsman that repaired the watch. I try to leave these in place whenever possible. If the watch can't run real well though, with that early history in place, then it becomes a judgement call for the owner.

Q: What about restoration vs. repair?

A: What I do is not "restoration" as such, to some pristine, ideal condition. What I do is a routine service as much as possible like the service the watch should have seen when it was in use. I feel that the history of an antique is part of its character. Most of the watches I work on are family heirlooms and it's nice to leave them in something like the state their original owner would recognize.

There's also instances where "preservation" and stabilization may be the more appropriate course, as touched on in the question just above, with regard to very old or unique watches.

Q: Can you provide a part for a watch?

A: I do not deal in parts. However, if you are looking for a part I may ne able to provide specific information about the part, and perhaps a few possible sources. I have a few resources listed here on the Elgintime blog.

Q: Can you repair a watch case?

A: In most instances, no, it depends. I definately not a jeweler or goldsmith. But I may be able to offer some advice depending on the nature of the problem.

Q: Can a small ladies pocketwatch be worn on a chain as a necklace?

A: I don't recommend this. Antique watches of 19th century designs are not likely to handle the sort of banging around that they get on a necklace. Even if the watch functioned OK, it would likely be damaged eventually. Early womens' watches were worn as wristwatches, hanging by a short link to a broach, or on a short chain pined to a blouse that included a watch pocket, close to the shoulder. The watches would hang upside down so that they could be right side up turned up to face the wearer.

Q: When shipping a watch, how much should it be insured for?

A: Shipping anything is not without some risk, no matter how small. If you are very worried about it, it's best not to do it. FOr what it's worth, I have never had anything go missing. I have a friend in the jewel business that says "insure it for enough that you hope they lose it."

Q: Do you buy antique watches?

A: Rarely. If you want to sell your watch, I am not your best bet as I don't typically buy them unless they are something very rare and/or the price is low. Also, although I do offer some watches for sale, I am not an antiques dealer and don't put much effort into that sort of thing. I'm not likely to be interested in buying a watch unless I want it for my personal collection for some specific reason.

Q: How much is my Elgin watch worth? Is it worth repairing?

A: Most of the watches I work on are family items and so their value is subjective. Really only you can say if it is worth it. As far as a watch's plain old dollar value, I'm not an appraiser, but I can tell you about my own experiences buying and selling. Firstly, Elgins in general do not have real high values because for the most part they are not all that rare. There are exceptions of course. The value varies a great deal based on many small details. Every watch is different, and you really have to look at them. It could be $50, or it could be $500. There is a widely used price guide (link over at the right for the 2012 edition), but I find it's prices to be a bit on the low side.

One thing you can do is brows on eBay. If you have an eBay account you can search closed auctions and see real world prices people have paid, it's hard to argue with that. It's important to look at the closed auctions because price go up quite a bit in the last seconds on bidding.


Q: I would like to send my watch for repair. What is the process?

A: First, send me an email and tell me something about your watch. A photo sometimes helps, and if you know the movment serial number that might help too. I'll provide more specific information then.

When I receive a watch, I'll examine it and assemble a specific estimate for you. If you approve of the estimate, the watch will be added to the work list.

No advance payment or deposit is needed. Once the work is done, I will send an invoice. At that time payment may be in any of several methods.

Q: How long will my watch take to fix?

A: The backlog varies quite a bit. Sometimes there's a run of relatively quick jobs, and sometimes some watches take much longer.

When I receive a watch, I assign it a number and add it to the queue. I work through the queue more or less in order. I'll give you the job number with the estimate. I post photos of watches currently on the bench getting work or testing to my Google+ stream, by job number. You can check the Google+ page to get some idea of were yours stands inline. The order is not absolute, but it provides some idea. There's some skipping around, for various reasons. Anyway, you can follow these photos, and other watch related items, here.

Once the "hands on" work is done, I run watches for several days in various orientations. Sometimes issues turn up and they have to be adjusted again, or something addressed, and then the testing extends further.

Q: How accurate can a vintage watch be?

A: That's a good question - it depends. Take a look at two Elgin Time blog entries with some information on vintage watch accuracy, one here and also one over here.

Q: Can you suggest any books to learn more about vintages watches and watch repair?

A: Certainly!

These three by by M. Cutmore provide a good deal of information on the history of watches as well as about their care and use.

Some Others:

Practical Watch Repairing by Donald de Carle is a reprint of a classic instructional book on watchmaking.  So of it is dated, some but most techniques are basically the same today.

Also by de Carle is Pratical Watch Adjusting.

For even more technical information, there's this one by master craftsman George Daniels.

Q: Do you have any more information?

A: Yes, take a look at the Elgin watch mini-FAQ.

Do you have a vintage Elgin watch to be serviced?
Maybe I can help. Take a look here for information.

* A virtual Watch Museum
* Elgin watches restored, cleaned and serviced
Regarding the care and cleaning of pocketwatches
* More About Elgin Watches

Comments to