Retro Time Tech: [Fran] And Pocket Watches

[Fran] on setting and regulating pocket watches

Whether you own a pocket watch, want to own one, or just plain think they’re cool, [Fran’s] video on setting and regulating pocket watches provides a comprehensive overview on these beautiful works of mechanical art. After addressing the advantages and disadvantages between stem, lever, and key set watches, [Fran] cracks open her 1928 Illinois to reveal the internals and to demonstrate how to adjust the regulator.

Though she doesn’t dive into a full teardown, there’s plenty of identification and explanation of parts along the way. To slow her watch down a tad, [Fran] needed to turn a very tiny set screw about a quarter of a turn counterclockwise, slowing down the period: an adjustment that requires a fine jewelers screwdriver, a delicate touch, and a lot of patience. Results aren’t immediately discernible, either. It takes a day or two to observe whether the watch now keeps accurate time.

Stick around for the video after the jump, which also includes an in-depth look at a 1904 Elgin watch, its regulator and other key components.

16 thoughts on “Retro Time Tech: [Fran] And Pocket Watches

  1. Perhaps an oscilloscope could be used to ascertain if it is keeping the correct time. Maybe you could build a chamber and test it under various environmental stresses, such as temperature and slight vibration extra.

    1. Watches like this don’t need to be atomic clock precise, which is good because they can’t be. The best way to test is to synchronize it with a known-good-enough timepiece, leave it for a while, then check and see how far they’ve drifted from eachother.

      1. While this is a sensible truth, I couldn’t read this and not think along the same lines for an ‘instant’ feedback solution – mine was simply to record the sound of the watch ticking on the PC and look at the period in the sampling software.

        1. Sure, these days you can tune your SDR to NIST or your gov’ts atomic clock, or even a GPS satellite but when mechanical clocks were the way to tell time “known-good-enough” was Big Ben or other maintained chronometer. Railroads and navigation was all done on chronometers that lost a few seconds per week.

      2. I like Fran’s articles.

        Watchmakers have an electronic device (“timing machine”) that measures the number of beats (escapement ticks, I think) so they can set the watch precisely. They run it in various positions over a few days and adjust accordingly. Depends how anal you are, I guess.

        My $50 Seiko 7S26 runs a minute or two fast per week.

        Here’s one for only $400 at Amazon:

  2. to me, clock- (and specifically watch-) works represent the pinnacle of analog mech tech… absolutely fascinating, and something in which I’ll likely indulge in if there’s such a thing as retirement left by the time I get there.

    I recently completed reading Dava Sobel’s fascinating book about inventor John Harrison “Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time” ( … it’s a fantastic book about an inventor whom I’d known had to have existed but about whom I’d never known anything. If you’re at all interested in watches, clocks, mechanisms, horology, etc… you absolutely owe it to yourself to read this book!

    1. Great book. There’s an illustrated version as well.
      If you ever go to Greenwich, you can see H1, H2, and H3 at the Observatory. The story of the guy who restored them is just as good as Harrison’s story:

      // yes, I just posted two Amazon links here and no, I’m not a shill for Amazon…

  3. I’m a watch nut. The best book on mechanical timekeeping is George Daniels’ Watchmaking. It’s an astoundingly clear text on a very complex, subtle and difficult technology. His methodology is faultless.

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