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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This morning I was doing my usual cruiser through the new Elgin listings on The Swamp, when I saw one that made me scratch my head.

230704738052

Those of you who have watched my collection grow over the last year or so may think it looks kinda familiar. It is. The case is a dead ringer for this one:



That's a Bulova 'Senator', a model they sold from 1940 till 1949. It came with at least 4 different dials, in yellow and rose RGP and yellow 14k solid. It carried a variety of movements, both US and Swiss made.

But never an Elgin movement!

I note that the caseback is cut to fit one of Elgin's 18/0 movements - those funky little rectangular jobs that preceded the 15/0s. The serial number on the movement dates it to 1929, 11 years before the introduction of the 'Senator'.

Here's what I think happened. I think it was actually originally a Bulova, and somewhere along the line, somebody did a Cross-brand Franken. They milled out the back from one that carried a smaller Bulova movement, adapted or printed an Elgin dial, and put the whole thing together. The dial, looked at closely, is not an exact fit to the opening in the bezel, and AFAIK Elgin didn't start selling RGP cases until the 50s.

It's an interesting little watch, but I think clearly a Franken.
 

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Doug, coincidental that another 'franken' was exposed over on the Hamilton forum that is eerily similar. The same logic seemed to apply in the marriage of these two dissimilar brands as did with that Hamilton, (loosely quoted from a comment there), "a gilt dial makes almost anything look good"!

Even though not at all historical, the whimsy of this union is on the other end of the spectrum from most 'frankens', imho. Always makes me wonder if these come out of the work of a watchmaker/jeweler many years ago or, a more recent compilation for sales purposes? :blink:

The real problem here, is that an unsuspecting 'newby' can get burned before they know enough about their brand to spot the problem.:sad:
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I've bought watches from that seller before (my Clubman and my 'Driver'), and mostly I think he doesn't do much if anything to the watches. For $35, I don't think he's the one who milled out that case.
 

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Someone asked a question about the case & seller replied in the listing. Not sure the answer makes sense tho' - keep it simple & say contract case.


Q: Is the case signed by ELGIN or another company? Thanks Nov-20-11
A: good question, the case is made by Anchor watch case co. and is unsigned by Elgin, regardless I believe this to be a factory case.
This may seem out of step but keep in mind this was made in the great depression where most watch manufactures were finding ways
to save small amounts of money so they can compete for what little market there was. A good, well documented example of this is the
Illinois watch companys "generic" watches where many of their wrist watches were sold in unmarked cases, the difference being this
Elgin is a factory job and Illinois was selling movements in bulk to particular distributors who cased these to suit their assumed market.
 

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Well, he certainly can twirl his way around the dance floor, can't he?

The problem with brands from pre-1960 that don't exist anymore is having the records to prove what is and isn't original unless it's totally obvious like this one. Another issue is the relative ease of interchangeability and/or adaptability of many parts whether they're from the same manufacturers or not. The seller is correct that many US case makers were contracted by multiple brands. He never was asked if the case was made to house that dial & movement so he hasn't lied.
 

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That the movement lists US on it suggests to me that it was an export piece, so lord only knows what happened to it. The style of the case matches the era of the watch; would want to look closely at the edges of the inner caseback to see if its been reshaped, but honestly, there's nothing here that suggests this is a franken. Certainly wouldn't be worth the effort to modify it. The shape of the movement is odd enough that if it fits snugly in the caseback, it's probably original to it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
As far as I can tell, all of Elgin's 18/0 movements were stamped 'USA', so there's nothing different about this one.

Also, look at the first two pictures. Notice that the dial is off center - the hour chapter runs to the edge on the left, but there's a big gap on the right. I doubt it left the Elgin factory like that.

This, plus the apparent anachronism (Bulova introduced its identical-looking 'Senator' in 1940 and the movement dates to 1929), plus the fact that it's stamped 'Anchor' and NOT 'Cased and Timed by Elgin', makes me think it was a later replacement.

So, not original, but NOT a Franken, but a later recasing, possibly in a case pre-cut at the Anchor factory to fit the Elgin 18.0 movement.
 

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Doug has it right. These were contract cases made to fit common movements. Remember the difficulty that many people had in procuring a decent watch through the depression and then into the war. There were many case makers, notably ID, Anchor and Rex who would provide the case and dial in a current style to be married to a serviceable older movement, one whose (probably gold) original case was likely scrapped, or worn out.

I have one of these with a generic Swiss movement, in addition to a handful of the Bulova versions.

Rose gold was particularly popular in the 1940-41 season, and I would bet that's when this one was put together.
 

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Would the aftermarket cases be made with different manufacturers names imprinted on dials that went along with them to accommodate the brand of movement?

I have seen and purchased a couple of watches that were marked as having 'Hamilton Movement' on the dial to signify that the case and dial weren't original issue.

I am guessing there wasn't really a standard for the replacement practices of the day. Unless the movement manufacturer wanted to make sure their brand wasn't polluted by cases that might be added to their movements after they left the factory.

There always seems to be something else to scratch your head about when looking at vintage time pieces. :huh:
 
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