Searching for an antique vintage pocket watch built with incredible precision, offering amazing value and representing one of the most iconic American watch brands of all time. The Elgin pocket watch is where to begin.
The Iconic Elgin Brand Name
Very few people know that a Hall of Fame basketball player and an entire town was named after a brand of pocket watches. That’s right, Elgin Baylor, who played 14 seasons in the National Basketball Association, was named after the Elgin pocket watch.
The pocket watch brand also inspired a group of settlers to name their city, Elgin, North Dakota, after the company. One of the citizens of the small town possessed their very own Elgin, possibly the only pocket watch of its kind for hundreds of miles. The watch was so popular they decided to name the town after the watch. In 1910, the city of Elgin was established.
Enormous Aspirations From the Very Beginning
In 1864, the National Watch Company was incorporated in Chicago, Illinois, by a group of men with various interests but one common goal. To build the best pocket watch company in the United States. An article in Harper’s magazine was quoted as stating, “It was the genuine, audacious, self-reliant Western spirit.” Just a few months later, the company name would change to the Elgin National Watch Company.
This eclectic mix of founders were from many different walks of life, but they all were proven successes in their fields. Philo Carpenter was regarded as the first pharmacist in the state of Illinois. Another Elgin founder, George Montague Wheeler, was a famous mapmaker and explorer.
Having star power and name recognition within the original group of co-founders was a great tactic, but now, they needed watch-making expertise. The Chicago founders visited the American Waltham Watch Co. in Massachusetts for an all-out recruiting blitz. During the trip, the pitch was made to seven watchmakers from Waltham to join the newly formed Elgin group.
Elgin Pocket Watch Expertise
These seven expert watchmakers were known as the “Seven Stars,” who would bring their knowledge to the Illinois start-up. With the newly acquired watchmaking talent from an established east-coast competitor, Elgin was ready to grow into one of the great American watch companies.
One of the Elgin Watch Company founders was B.W. Raymond, the former Mayor of Chicago. After his time in politics, Benjamin W. Raymond has a successful business career. He started the first woolen factory in Elgin, Illinois. Next, Raymond was president of the Fox River Railroad. Shortly after that, he was convinced by J.C. Adams, who was working at the Waltham Watch Company at the time, to invest in a new watch company.
Since the city of Elgin donated 35 acres to the group of watch entrepreneurs for their new headquarters, they decided to name the company after the city. The very first Elgin movements the company produced were labeled the “B.W. Raymond.”
The Elgin Pocket Watch Dominance
The company began selling pocket watches as the American Civil War was coming to an end around 1867. New Elgin watches sold for around $120 brand new. The company would end up producing over 60 million watches over the next 100 years. These production numbers make the company the largest American watch manufacture by volume.
Just a few short years after its formation, Elgin employed over 2,000 workers and turned out more than 7,000 watches per week. To become the largest American watch manufacturer, Elgin would need to mass-produce watch parts on-site.
The factory covering 170,000 square feet would allow the company to focus on machined, interchangeable parts. Not only was mass-production important for new watches, but also critical for servicing existing watches with replacement pieces and spare parts. If the company were to grow, it needed to service watch owners with replacement parts quickly and efficiently.
Elgin Expansion and Innovation
By 1910, huge sales of the Elgin pocketwatch enabled the company to construct their own Observatory to keep precise times for all Elgin watches. The Elgin pocket watch was known for keeping “Railroad Accuracy” and one of the most well-known railroad pocket watches.
Not long after that, the first wrist watches were released. The Lord Elgin and the Lady Elgin would become a few of the first American-made wristwatches.
World War I erupted and Elgin was granted a government contract with the U.S. Army to train 350 employees to make watch repairs on the battlefield. Later, when World War II would break out, Elgin produced military watches, chronometers, and other defense industry components.
After 100 years of watchmaking, Elgin would produce as many watches as all other American watchmakers combined.
Elgin Pocket Watch Value
Vintage Elgin pocket watch values continue to rise over recent years. Watch collectors snap up Elgin vintage pocket watches sold at auctions from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars. Depending on the year and material used for production, the vintage Elgin pocket watch can be an extremely nice addition to anyone’s watch collection.
Purchasing vintage watches can be an expensive endeavor, but many high-grade Elgin watches can still be found in excellent condition for relatively reasonable prices. The vintage watch market features every brand name in existence, but if you’re looking for a historic American watch, the Elgin is where to start.
There are many great resources for looking up the serial number of Elgin pocket watches. If you’re hunting for a great Elgin pocket watch or a historical antique pocket watch, I would highly recommend checking out ElginNumbers.
The website includes a complete database of every Elgin watch ever produced, searchable by serial number. Here you can track down any beautiful antique Elgin pocket watch on the market. From the first Elgin watch to the most obscure wristwatch the company produced.
Vintage and Antique Elgin Watches
Re-sale values for one-hundred-year-old Elgin watches vary greatly, depending on the condition. But there’s no denying the incredible value found with Elgin watches compared to the vintage and antique Swiss luxury brands. For just a few thousand dollars, you can find vintage Elgin watches in excellent condition and still ticking perfectly.
The antique Elgin pocket watch above was recently sold on eBay for $6,400. It’s from 1897 with a boxed hinged multicolor, 14 karat solid gold case. The antique watch features a grade number 169 with a rose dial and gold accents. The previous owner describes the watch as “running strong and keeping excellent time.” Pretty astounding considering the watch is over 120 years old. Vintage and antique watch collectors can’t ignore the value presented in Elgin pieces such as these.
The rare vintage Elgin watch shown above just sold for $2,995. The grade number 348, model 18S watch, was one of just 3,698 produced over one hundred years ago. The gold Elgin pocket watch was considered a Railroad Grade and included 12-hour Arabic numbers fancy enameled dial. Also including a 14 karat gold box hinged double hunter case.
The End of an Era
In 1966, the huge Elgin watch factory was demolished. Father time would catch up with the iconic brand. Sales had slowed significantly, and the decision to halt production was reached. The final watches from the Elgin National Watch Co. were assembled with leftover parts lying around the factory.
By the late 1960s, equipment and the remaining material were sold, and all sales partnerships were terminated. The one-hundred-year run as the top producer of American-made watches was officially over.
Elgin will go down in history as a great American watch company. An American watch brand dedicated to producing good quality watches, providing accurate and dependable timekeeping for people across the United States and around the world.