Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Welcome to the Family

Embarking on something new often comes with trepedation, anxiety, nervousness and fear. Well, for me, finding and collecting a new watch maker feels nothing like that - I'm just downright excited.

Welcome to the family of watch makers I collect - the Illinois Watch Company.

The Illinois Watch Company plant, 1911

Originally incorporated as the Springfield Watch Company in 1869, the Illinois Watch Company produced pocket and strap (wrist) watches until 1927 when the Hamilton Watch Company purchased the company. A casualty of the great depression, production of the Illinois brand ceased in 1932.

1870s Ad for a "Bunn" special pocket watch;
 named after one of the original company founders.

Like many watch manufacturers of the day, Illinois built its own observatory in order to test its timepieces accuracy. The observatory became a symbol of the company, used often in its marketing materials.

Illinois Watch Co. observatory

I was introduced to the Illinois brand via a vintage watch forum website that I've mentioned in previous blogs. The case and dial stylings are what drew me to this manufacturer. Further research led me to Fredric J. Friedberg and his book and website "The Illinois Watch - the life and times of a great American watch company". Fred is currently working on a four-volume "sequal" to this book.

1928 Illinois ad

My first Illinois watch comes from Fredric Friedberg - the Marquis featured in the ad above. The watch does not feature its original hands and I've had to use a temporary stem and crown to wind and set the watch.

1928 Illinois Marquis

1928 Illinois Marquis

Of course a new collection is not a collection with only one. Joining the "Marquis" in my collection are a "Beau Royale" and "Whippet"; both of these from Fred as well. The Whippet is waiting on my bench for restoration.

1928 Illinois Beau Royale

The Whippet below features its original hands and crown. I understand these types of crowns, shaped and referred to as a pumpkin, are very hard to find.  Crowns typically get worn out and replaced during a watches life. My Marquis and Beau Royale are missing their original crowns.

1929 Illinois Whippet

Inside the Whippet - it could stand a good cleaning.

While I admit no trepedation, anxiety, nervousness or fear about branching out on my collection, a new manufacturer does come with its own challenges with accessing spare parts and learning how they go together. But at the end of the day, I welcome Illinois to my watch family with open arms and after much time with looking and reading, its about time these watches joined my collection.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

A Piece of Time

I thought I'd share with you a few of my watches that have personal engravings. I don't often have the story behind the retro/vintage watches I find so the ones that come with an engraving help tell a story and are a piece of time.

A retirement, a special occasion, a gift from someone?

I love the one above - an interesting event in time. Perhaps an annual ball? The particular style of engraving is quite nice.

July 11, 1952 - perhaps a birthday watch? This particular Bulova watch was $71.50 in 1952.

Perhaps a retirement watch for Mr. Cartwright? As a collector of watches, do you think I'll receive a watch when I retire? Will it be a new one or a retro/vintage one?

Caseback on my East-West Shrine Game Watch

The three shots above are a watch I found that commorate the 1933 East-West Shrine Football game. An annual college all-star football game; in 2018 it will be the 93rd playing! I can't find information on whether this was simply a commeorative watch available to the public or whether they were provided to the team players and/or coaches. My example was for the eastern team.

From the Shrine website:

Created by the Shriners in 1925, the East-West Shrine Game was the nation’s first college all-star football game. The game is driven by the desire to support Shriners Hospitals for Children in its mission to help children in need of expert medical care. More than 1 million children have benefited from Shriners Hospitals’ unique way of providing hope and healing, regardless of the families’ ability to pay for services.

1933 East-West Shrine Game Roster

1933 East-West Shrine Game Program

Love the leather helmet on the player silhouette above. Program images courtesy of the Shriners East-West Shrine Game website.

A Simple Engraving of the Owners Name

I really don't know the significance of the engraving on my Hamilton "Linwood" below. Personal ID numbers for F.W.K.? Address? Telephone number?

Rudimentary engraving, but cool nonetheless

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Second Time Around

This Hamilton has a new lease on life.

A service, refinished dial, new crystal and a new lease on life for a second time around.

1968 Hamilton Sea Rover III
Dial Before
Dial After

I was impressed with the refinishing of this dial from International Dial located in the U.S. Despite the $US exchange rate, shipping, taxes, etc., the cost was cheaper than a source here in Canada. 

Catalog Page Courtesy of

All this watch needs is an original watch bracelet as seen in the catalog page above.

This watch is ready for another 50 years; it's second time around. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

A Tale of Two Watches

My latest project - a 1928 (or is it 1929) Bulova "Conqueror".

1928 Bulova Ad courtesy of

As a tale of two watches, I matched a dial and movement from a watch that had a case that was in really bad condition (1929) to a watch case (1928) that was in great shape. The movement model is the same between both years so I call it a match; purists may not think so. In the scheme of things, watch manufacturers did match stock of a model's case with stock of a later year movement.

I was so excited about the new watch that it hasn't been cleaned yet. The above photo shows how dirty a movement can become over time. It has a haze over it and you can see the discolouration from the dried oils used to lubricate it.

While the dial above has significant aging to it, it will remain unrestored. An original dial is only original once so I will for the moment forgoe having it refinished.

The photo above turned out rather unique. The watch sits in front of another recent acquisition - a 1935 Underwood Portable typewriter.

The typewriter works as great as it looks!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Time Out

Ever set yourself to a task only to have to stop and rethink, take a "time out" or otherwise walk away?

Well, I walked away from the disassembly of my 1959 Bulova Sea King project to give myself a time out in case I inadvertenly damaged it because of sheer frustration.

Magazine Ad for my Bulova Sea King Model

It was all about trying to get the back off the watch. It was a friction fit, meaning the back snaps onto the front part of the watch and is held with friction. I could not, for whatever reason get the back off.  I confided with a number of like-minded collectors and followed what they suggested but no luck. After a week of frustration and some scratches (on me and the watch from a tool I used), I set the watch aside in August 2016. That's right, August last year. I doubted myself and then I thought maybe it was all the advice, YouTube videos and manuals that were incorrect.

Move forward to today, some 7+ months later, I sought assistance again from the horology world and again I tried. I was about ready to take another time out today but I finally got one last nerve and I prodded and poked and torqued and leveraged and voila, the back came off. Yahoo! I had given myself a time out for 7 months and that's all it needed.

Proof positive I got it apart!

Before Cleaning

Aftere cleaning, new crystal and new strap

So how much time must pass after having taken a time out? An hour, a day, a week, 7 months? The fact of the matter, whatever time it takes, sometimes walking away and taking a time out to clear your head is the best way forward.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

I had mentioned in an early blog that when I find a watch I try and find an accompanying period correct presentation box. Sometimes a watch I find comes with the original box while other watches have me searching for a period correct box separately. Two of my recent watch finds I feature in this blog came with their original boxes, the other watch box featured I found recently to house a watch I received several years ago.

1932 Bulova Miss America

You might remember my blog about the 1928 Bulova Miss America that I had to find a separte box for.  Well, I found another Miss America, albeit a different year and design - the 1932 Miss America above. This watch however came with its original box, hang and price tags and original filagree watch bracelet. It came from a family in Ontario that had recently found the watch and box sitting in the back of a dresser drawer. It is in amazing condition for being 85 years old.

A  close-up of the 1932 Miss America (sitting on a vintage jewellers velvet display panel)

1932 Bulova "Miss America" tucked nicely in its box.

1930 Ad for Bulova Miss America (top right) courtesy of
This Miss America variant appears to have been produced from 1930 to 1932 with slight variations.

Considering some of the presentation boxes I have are 70-90 years old, its a wonder that the boxes survive. I find the pre-1930s boxes are hard to come by as they tend not to hold up very well because of the material used to make them.

1929 Gruen "Strap" in its original box

The Gruen box that came with my 1929 watch above isn't in the best shape, but then again, it's almost 90 years old! This particular box is made of paper and cardboard lined with printed silk sitting on velvet covered carboard; not great materials to survive 90 years.

The following Hamilton box circa 1930s is a little more robust than the Gruen and was obviously well cared for. It houses my 1933 Hamilton Putnam. Took me a while and a number of bidding wars on eBay to find this one. It's in great shape with only a small nick on the front near the "H". You can read about the watch in my previous blog called "This is where it begins - It's About Time."

1933 Hamilton "Putnam" in its box

There are still a number of presentation boxes that elude me but then again the hunt is half the fun with my watch obsession so I'll keep on looking.  For now, a number of my watches (and my wifes) are tucked nicely in their place and others, they'll just have to wait.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

It Takes a Licking

Another new one for me - a Timex.

This is no ordinary Timex though. It is an electric, run by a battery and from 1965. I am breaking from what I usually collect (fully mechanical watches) so not only is the watch is new to me, the type of movement is new to me.

In addition, there is no visible crown to set the time on the hands.

Officially called a Timex Electric back-set. Instead of a spring to generate the power like that in a fully mechanical watch, the power in electric watches come from a battery. Not to be confused with quartz battery powered watches (they came at the end of the 60s/70s), this is no quartz watch.

1965 Timex Electric

While Timex was an American company at the time, the movement was made in West Germany and the case in the UK. Apparently Timex bought the company that made the West German movements as they wanted to enter the market for these types of watches quickly and the company making them was simply purchased by Timex.

I found this particular watch at one of the antique stores in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island that we visit from time to time. They are primarily antique furniture retailers, but yesterday, I found this one sitting in a display case.

The dial outside of it's case - in amazing condition

It is hard to make out with the size of the photos on my blog but there are a series of numbers in the above photo that are just above the 12 o'clock position. These number indicate the year of manufacture and the model number.

Well, I got it apart as you can see from these photos, getting it running was easy (new battery) but putting it back together, not so easy. I was the one taking a licking on this one! The most difficult part was putting back the crown onto the setting post; apparently they have to be precisely lined up in order for the crown to sit flush with the back of the watch. The setting crown is on the back of the watch, adding to the uniqueness of this watch. The crown is usually sticking out of the side of a watch.

The back shows the setting crown and the battery cover

If you look closely to the watch back picture above, you can see the setting crown is the one with the ridged wheel with a screw in the centre. If you remove the screw and then the crown (which you have to to take apart the watch), you'll see a post sticking out of the watch case. It's the post and crown that need to be precisely lined up for the crown to sit flat on the back of the watch. It took me some time with the watch apart to find out there was a specific orientation needed.

Iniside back of watch

I managed to track down a Timex catalog page (see picture below) that shows my watch and particular dial. From the watch page you can see there were three different dial patterns. Mine is the one on the bottom. So, according to the numbers on the dial above the 6 o'clock position and the confirmation of the catalog page below, my watch is from 1965.

I also found a vintage magazine add below with the Timex Electric. While it doesn't have the same dial as mine, it is definately the same watch case and movement inside. This add from 1962 shows the watch going for $39.95; that's over $300 today. I can say I didn't have to pay $300 for it yesterday. As a matter of fact, if this is what I believe to be an add from a US magazine, I basically paid about the same as it was back in the 60s.

While I took a licking putting this Timex back together, it keeps on ticking! An interesting additon to my collection.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Crystal Clear

It's amazing what a new crystal will do for the look of a watch restoration. Most of the watches that come to me need their crystals replaced. You inadvertently rub your watch up against something and it gets scratched or it gets dropped and chipped, a new crystal replacement goes a long way for the look of a watch. Crystals come in plastic (acrylic) and glass. I prefer glass as they are a bit more robust and don't scratch as easy as plastic. 

Some round watches however require plastic crystals so that they can be compressed into the watch and its the compression that holds the crystal in place. Glass gets glued into the watch with ultraviolet glue.

After the crystal is glued in place, it sits under an ultraviolet light to cure

I spent the last couple of days replacing the crystals on a number of my watches and the results are incredible. Take for instance the 1949 Hamilton "Milton" below. You don't even know there is a piece of glass there protecting the hands and dial.

A New Crystal on my Hamilton Milton
The Milton on my wrist
1949 Hamilton Milton
1949 Dealer Catalog (courtesy of Vintage Watch Forums)
I use what are known as new old stock ("NOS") watch parts, including crystals. These are parts and crystals that were made during the era the watch was made. Watch purists like to see NOS parts used in restorations; I'm no exception. You can still find NOS parts and crystals today. I received from my watchmaker friend hundreds of parts and I've purchased several hundred NOS crystals off the net. I probably have 700+ crystals in my stock, but alas, I more often have to purchase a replacement crystal from the internet than find one that fits the watch I'm working on from my own stock.

Part of my collecction of 100s of NOS crystals

Perhaps I should be buying watches to fit my crystal stock, not the other way around. Sure would be an interesting way to collect watches.

More and more crystals
The picture below is a little box that houses a specific crystal; the box and label keep my stock organized. The letters "CMC" repesents the type of crystal shape (Curved square, Military - a curved lower edge, Cylindrical),  and the numbers 2195 and 218 represents the dimensions of the crystal in millimeters (21.95 mm x 21.8 mm). 

It's crystal clear that a new crystal makes the world of difference in a watch restoration.