The Elgin National Watch Company began in 1864 by offering seven employees of the Waltham Watch Company an annual salary of $5,000 per year plus bonuses if they would work for their new company. The Elgin Watch Company began production in 1866 in Illinois and introduced the B.W. Raymond pocket watch in 1867. The company would go on to produce many varieties of pocket watches and wristwatches through the 1970s, and Elgin watches are now valuable collector’s items. Due to the number of replicas available in the marketplace, it is important to learn identifying features of authentic Elgin watches.
Look for an inscription on the back of the watch or inside the watch cover that names the particular Elgin style of the watch. For instance, the company produced the “J.T. Ryerson,” “G.M. Wheeler,” “H.H. Taylor” and “Matthew Laflin” as well as the “B.W. Raymond” pocket watches. Find a complete list of Elgin watch names and abbreviations that were commonly inscribed on the watches at Elgin Watches (See Resources). If the watch does not have a name, abbreviation or even “Elgin” inscribed on the watch, it is likely not authentic.
Examine the watch carefully. Early Elgin watches are 18-size (approximately 1.8 inches in diameter) railroad grade-sized watches, while watches after 1869 are 10-size (a little more than 0.5 inches in diameter). The early models are key wound. If the seller claims the watch is an early Elgin but the watch is not key-wound or 18-size, it is likely not an authentic Elgin watch.
Count the jewel movements on a watch that is said to be a “Lord Elgin,” which was produced through the 1950s and was a high-end wristwatch for the company. The Lord Elgin watch should have a gold backplate and 21-jewel movements.
Open the case back of the watch and write down the serial number inscribed on the gear movement. Find the serial number on a website that lists Elgin serial numbers to verify authenticity, such as Elgin Watches (see Resources). If the serial number on the watch cannot be matched with an Elgin serial number source, the watch may not be authentic.
Meredith Jameson writes early childhood parenting and family health articles for various online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from San Francisco State University.