How To Open An Elgin Pocket Watch Back Cover

Knowing how to open an Elgin pocket watch back cover is necessary to learn the serial number or make repairs. While it is best that a watchmaker do the job, you can open the cover yourself with special care and attention. Careless removal of the back cover can damage the watch movement.

Most Elgin pocket watches are antiques. The National Watch Factory in Elgin, Illinois, produced millions of them between 1867 and 1956. The lack of scarcity makes Elgin watches less appealing to collectors than other brands. But, since they are easy to repair and have interchangeable parts, they are desirable to collectors who repair their own watches.

A professional watchmaker is the ideal person to open the back cover of an Elgin pocket watch. But if you’re set on doing it yourself, gather the necessary supplies and follow these instructions.


  • Felt square or other soft cloth
  • Rounded edge case knife
  • Flat wooden craft stick


  1. Inspect the Elgin watch case. Lay the pocket watch on a flat surface. Cover the surface with a felt square or soft cloth to protect the watch from scratches. Carefully inspect the timepiece to determine the case type. Look for hinges, raised edges and notches.
  2. Open an Elgin snap back case. If the pocket watch has a snap back case, the back and bezel will simply snap into place like a plastic food container and lid. Use a case knife with a rounded edge to open the back cover. Another blunt object, such as a flat craft stick, also works. A raised lip will indicate where to pry. To reposition the cover, use the watch’s locating pin and corresponding hole for guidance.
  3. Open an Elgin screw back and bezel case. Most pocket watches have a screw back and bezel case. The bezel, or glass side of the watch, and the back cover are threaded in place. This makes opening the watch relatively easy. Unscrew the back cover the way you would open a jar of pickles, in a counter-clockwise turn.
  4. Open an Elgin hinge back and bezel case. Hinge back and bezel cases are also very popular on pocket watches. Two small hinges are usually located at the six o'clock position, one for the bezel and one for the back. Use a case knife to open the cover. A raised lip will indicate where to pry. To close the watch, simply snap the covers back together.
  5. Open an Elgin swing-out case. A swing-out case allows access to the movement through the bezel. A fine line separates the bezel from the body. Remove the bezel by prying it, if a raised lip shows where to pry. Otherwise, unscrew the bezel. Look for a hinge at the twelve o'clock position and a groove at the six o’clock position. Pull out the crown, or winding part, and use a fingernail at the six o’clock position to lift and swing the movement out.
  6. Open an Elgin dust cover. If the pocket watch has another cover beneath the back cover, remove it. The dust cover protects the movement from dust and dirt, so it should stay closed when possible. But, it pops open for easy removal when necessary.
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