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Modern Repair of a Vintage Watch

by Jordan Ficklin

Vintage Elgin Pocket Watch
The problem with this 18 size Elgin pocket watch was that you could set the hands backwards but not forwards. The cause was that when you pulled out the stem the rocking cam would move enough to allow the setting wheel to engage the minute wheel, but not enough for the winding wheel to disengage from the ratchet wheel. This meant that if the watch was fully wound you could not turn the crown in the winding direction to set the time.

Why didn’t it disengage? A hundred years of wear meant there wasn’t enough metal to push the cam far enough to disengage. The traditional repair would probably involve remaking one of the parts so that they interacted correctly. The modern repair involves using the laser welder to add some steel where the steel had worn down over time. The end result is a working watch.

Do you think this is a “good” repair or not? I’d like to know.

P.S. the difference in cost between the two repairs is probably several hundred dollars. It’s not inexpensive to manufacture a new part.

P.P.S. If you know what to call these parts let me know. My knowledge of nomenclature for American pocket watches is limited.

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  1. kevin warner
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I guess you could call it a setting cam. As for the repair I think a remanufacture would be the ecnomical way. A lazer would be nice, but most watchmakers wouldn’t invest in that kind of money for a simple problem.
    It is just as easy to buy another off of e-bay. They are a dime a dozen. I work in the service center at the NAWCC school of horology, and have seen numerous vintage PW. As I said I think there is easier alternatives and much faster for this fix.
    Thanks for your time, and keep up the blog! Love the posts

  2. J.Peter
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Kevin, I could find another one on eBay or from another watchmaker, but who is to say it isn’t worn as well? Anyway, most jewelry stores have a laser welder these days. They pay for themselves really fast in the jewelry repair world. If you have access to a laser welder ok, if you don’t well then I guess you either have to re-manufacture or find another setting cam. As for the time invested in the repair, probably 10 minutes.

  3. Posted October 14, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    I think that that is a super repair.

    I’ve got to tell you though, I’ve serviced hundreds of old pocketwatches and have honestly never seen that type of damage or wear. I’ve had plenty where they were recased, and I had to adjust the stem sleeve assembly in the pendent to get the setting system to operate properly.

    A jeweler I work with has a laser welder, and it is one fantastic and impressive tool.

    I know some purists wouldn’t like the alteration to the part, but it is certainly a practical and functional way to fix a part like that one.

  4. Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Not too shabby. Did you do the laser work yourself?

    The pivot of the intermediate wheel and the hole that it operates in in the wig-wag/rocker looks quite worn as well.

    William O. Smith, who helped create the Esembl-O-Graf chronograph repair series years ago, authored a handy book entitled Making Flat Parts, outlining a number of techniques that would have helped to make quick, precise work of recreating the rocker from scratch.

    When I use the laser, I typically try to “hide” the added portion by reapplying the original finish to the part. It’s not always possible, though.

  5. Posted October 15, 2010 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    That would a Setting Cam. The part it pushes is the vibrating Arm.
    I would have just replaced the part, personally. I have lots of them. I also agree though that this is an unusual problem. It, or the Vibrating Arm, may not have been sitting in there quite right.

  6. Posted October 16, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink


    That is a good repair! The only thing that I can comment on is that You could have had built on slightly more material. The excess can easily be removed and the surface of the cam can easily be refinished to make repair virtually invisible.

    As for the purists, this being a vintage PW, it is always better to do repair and keep the original part instead of replacing.

    In case of vintage watches it is almost always a case of mutilating one watch for getting parts to repair another.

    IMO that is a good and functional repair. After some practice with laser micro-welder You shall be able to do it in a way that it will be invisible. Particularly so if the welder has as much control as do the dental ones.



  7. kevin west
    Posted December 18, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    You fixed it with the minimum of expense.Idf this were a watch of historical value then perhaps it would warrant fabrication of the worn part.But i say nice job and for a common watch like this, good aproach to fix it.

  8. J. Mitterando
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I’d say it’s a great fix! Without a doubt! While I’d have to replace / re-manufacture the setting cam (no laser welder in my little one room home shop) It seems most economical. Ask yourself a few questions. 1. Is the customer happy? 2. Will the repair be serviceable in the future? 3. Will I see this watch again in a few months? If you can answer Yes, Yes, NO. Then It’s a good repair.

    I’ve seen this kind of wear before, on this model. It may very well have been a RR conductors watch, which would have been set twice a day to ensure synchronicity with the standard clock in the register room.

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