There are several ways to get an idea of when your watch was made.
I am slowly adding serial number tables to this site. With the exception of BULOVA, the numbers on the inside and outside of the CASE ITSELF are ONLY for identification purposes - they mean nothing.
On the block and taking bids is this Antique Elgin Pocket watch, serial number 4173698, which gives us a dating of 1891, in a Fahys Monarch #1 premium 14k gold filled case , Serial #352396, the serial number on the case does not mean much in dating as the records for case numbers were not kept, but the Monarch was first issued by Fahy's in 1878 , which agrees with the dating on the watch.
The case was Gold-Filled, guaranteed for 21-Years Past 1887, and 20-Years After February 1897. An ad for the Fahys case with the Locomotive design first appeared in catalogs in 1883 and Elgin produced 1000 of the pocket watches in 1891.
This will give a good idea of the manufacture date.
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So, it is possible that a watch could have been completed some years after the serial number date.
Only a small percentage of American watches (or Swiss watches for the North American market) were cased at the factories prior to the mid-1920's (even then, uncased movements were furnished to the trade at least until the 1960's).
Some companies (as with the Gruen Watch Company), even lost rocords to fire or other natural disaster. I am sure they had no idea that their timepieces would someday be collected.Smaller mail-order retailers would case the watches, typically in a 20-year gold filled case and offer it only that way, with the buyer not having a choice of cases.Information about case manufactures can be found in a link listed in the References section, below.HISTORY OF ELGIN: In the spring of 1864 half a dozen ambitious Chicago businessmen decided that if Massachusetts could build a factory that built watches – Illinois could, too.Harper’s magazine summed their sentiment perfectly: “It was the genuine, audacious, self-reliant Western spirit.” By August of that year this consortium, including then-Chicago mayor Benjamin W.