Vintage Watch Spotlight: The Elgin 3-Register chronograph watch and 1960s “Muscle Watches”

For vintage watch enthusiasts, a new old stock example of a late 1960’s or early 1970’s Elgin 3-Register chronograph watch provides a nearly analogous fashion statement and identical functionality of Swiss brand watches commanding three times the price. When put head to head with a Heuer Camaro, as well as a Breitling Top-Time, this Elgin takes home the checkered flag.

The late 1960s saw a new trend in the US motor industry reflected in the watch industry. New “muscle cars,” put powerful high-displacement engines in light midsize cars and were very well perceived by young buyers. Ford Motor Company’s smaller Pony Car, the Mustang—first launched in 1964—proved enormously successful and Chevrolet reacted quickly, developing the Camaro for this new segment.

From 1967 to 1969 the Chevrolet Camaro was elected the Indianapolis 500 pace car. This generated a lot of press coverage and attracted the attention of Jack W. Heuer of the Swiss Heuer Watch Company.

Elgin's "muscle car" watch of the 1970s.
Elgin’s “muscle car” watch of the 1970s.

Heuer was very keen to grow his business in America and was looking for synergies to communicate Heuer’s core competencies in the production of stopwatches, fine chronographs as well as timing devices for such race events as the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Heuer took the name Camaro for the new Heuer racing chronograph launched in 1968, an oversized watch that became Heuer’s third racing model after the Autavia and Carrera.

Breitling responded shortly after with the trendy Top-Time series, a popular new line of racing chronograph watches. These were soon followed by a slew of Swiss and American timepieces in the same style.

The Elgin 3-Register is a fine example of this style, providing a nearly analogous fashion statement and identical functionality of Swiss brand watches.

All three watches—the Heuer Camaro, Breitling Top-Time, and Elgin 3-Register—feature an oversized square 42mm gold plated middle body and stainless steel screw down case back. Each has a sporty black dial with sunken white sub-dials and bold, bright enameled numbers. Most importantly, perhaps, all three feature the same, ever popular and famously accurate Valjoux 7736 manual winding 17 jewel Swiss chronograph movement.

But while the Heuer and Breitling watches are today typically found offered in the price range of $3,000 and higher, the Elgin can be found at a fraction of the cost.