From 1894: Elgin Explains their “Nameless Watches”

Published: February 14, 2014
From the "The Keystone," June, 1894.

From the “The Keystone,” June, 1894. This scanned image used by permission – thanks to NAWCC message board member “Kent.”

Elgin watches sometimes require a great deal of research to service, as it isn’t always readily obvious what movement one is working with. I had always assumed that this was unintentional. Deep in my heart, I knew this problem was simply the price of rapid innovation and older distribution and logistics systems.

Then the bombshell struck. Yesterday I saw what I assume was an “Advertorial” from the June 1894 edition of “Keystone,” a trade magazine servicing the jewelery and watchmaking industries on the NAWCC’s forums (link to thread on the topic, “Unnamed Elgin Watches.” Obviously, I was in error.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the advertorial:

The “Nameless” plan has, therefore, offered protection to the Jewelers, as well as having afforded them large returns for their investment…
…by abolishing all grade numbers, making it impossible for the uneducated to handle our movements, as they have been able to do in the past through the identification which the character of our package affords.

The above emphasis was mine. From the near get-go in its 100 year history, Elgin made their watches hard to identify! This is one reason new watchmakers struggle to work on older Elgins unless they have a mentor to walk them through the system.

Of course, there is also the reality that a 100 year old watch has been in quite a few watchmaker’s shops and thus has a good chance “kerplunkered” by the time someone today sees it. Forget all the different grades of Elgin watches you were dealing with 100 years ago. At least the first watchmaker who saw it didn’t have to deal with mismatched balance jewel hole sizes as we often do today!

In Elgin’s defense, they do seem to have a legitimate interest at stake. Limiting access to information ensured that only their approved dealers could provide proper sales and service to customers. Today, we have access to this formerly confidential information thanks to the efforts of many volunteers who have meticulously compiled and digitized it over the years. I also suspect that the nameless nomenclature was adopted to help Elgin fight the Swiss Counterfeit watches that were pouring into the US through Canada. You just don’t see as many counterfeit Elgin watches as you do counterfeit Waltham Watches, for example. Just last week I had a counterfeit of an 1857 Waltham on my bench. It said “P.J. Bartlett,” though the text was very clearly meant to look like the legitimate “P.S. Bartlett.”

Many watch companies today have gone to systems that are much more difficult to work with than Elgin’s was.

The scan of Elgin’s advertorial was the main point of this post – thanks for also reading my ramblings. Even though Elgin may be gruff to us from beyond its corporate grave, we still love repairing their watches. The challenge of it all is quite satisfying, and we love to serve each customer to the best of our ability.