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Keystone Watch Case Company and Elgin Exports

Starting around 1896, the Keystone Watch Case Company became the exclusive export selling agent for the Elgin National Watch Company. Decades earlier, Elgin had attempted to market their movements in Europe without much success. This arrangement with the Keystone Watch Case Company was a strategic way to boost sales in a new market, benefiting both companies.

The Keystone Watch Case Company operated two European offices – one in London, England and the other in Hamburg, Germany.

According to John F. Eisley, manager of the export department for the Keystone Watch Case Company, all Elgin exports after November 1901 were shipped by the Keystone Watch Case Company directly to one of the two European offices for distribution. For this reason, all Elgin export watches manufactured after 1901 were originally fitted in Keystone cases, exclusively.

This example, manufactured around 1922, is a prime example of the result of the Elgin-Keystone partnership. The movement, manufactured by the Elgin National Watch Company, is classified as a Grade 475 (16s, Model 7, Pendant-Set, 17 Jewels, Adjusted to 3 Positions). The production of this grade was extremely limited, constrained to a single run of 300 movements.

The dial is very characteristic of the European style at the time. While Roman Numerals continued to be trendy in England, Arabic Numerals had gained popularity in the American watch market. For this reason, many export watches during this era can be identified by the Roman Numeral dial with a ring track.

The movement is housed in a 20-Year gold-filled case manufactured by the Keystone Watch Case Company. The hinged design was common for European watches at the time.

Complying with trade laws at the time, the movement and case are both signed “U.S.A.”, while the dial is signed “Made in U.S.A.” It common to find “U.S.A.” marked on movements produced by Elgin during this time, even movements made for the American market. However, the origin country markings on the case and dial is unique to the export trade.

Elgin Dial (with “Made in U.S.A.” marking)
Elgin Grade 475 Movement (16-Size, Model 7, Pendant-Set, 17 Jewels, Adjusted to 3 Positions)
Keystone Watch Case 20-Year Gold Filled “U.S.A”

In the late 1920s, the Keystone Watch Case Company ran advertisements in The Guardian newspaper, marketing the Elgin export watches. Below is an example of the campaign that lasted around six months.

Keystone/Elgin Advertisement, The Guardian, June 7, 1927


  1. Hi, I have an Elgin pocket watch with serial number date of 1917. The watch face has beautifully painted peacocks on enamel. Can you please tell me anything about this watch.

  2. I have 2 Elgin wrist watches, 1 has the serial number 4010214 / 32350330 and the other is 5360419 / 19768611. Would these be of interest to a collector?
    Photos available if of interest.

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