So, you’ve stumbled across a pocket watch in the attic; or maybe it was in a box of treasures that your late grandfather had set aside to “be yours” one day. No matter how you may have come across this timeless treasure, your curiosity is piqued; just how much can it be worth? And how do you even go about figuring that out?
Unfortunately, there is no quick way to answer that question. Over the years, there were millions of pocket watches manufactured, each unique to the company it was made by and when exactly it was manufactured. All of this will affect the value of your antique pocket watch.
Here are some important things you need to know that will help you get the right price. Deciding on a price without following these steps could cost you anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars in profit.
IDENTIFYING YOUR ANTIQUE POCKET WATCH
The first thing you need to do is identify your watch. There is no way to know the value of something without knowing what it is, now is there? And identifying your watch doesn’t stop at its brand name either; you will need to know as much as possible about the watch. You will need to know name of the company on the face of your watch, as well as the inner watch movement. Also the size, what model it is, how old it is, whether it is working or not, and the overall appearance of the pocket watch.
DETERMINING THE AGE OF YOUR WATCH
Your next step would be to figure out the age of your pocket watch. The best way to do so is to check the serial number on the movement. Do not use the serial number on the watch case to determine the age of your watch! Many watch companies solely produced their own movements and used cases manufactured by separate companies. Unfortunately, for some watches, it will be much harder to determine the age of your watch. This holds especially true for pocket watches that were manufactured in Switzerland and Europe as they typically did not get branded with serial numbers. In order to age these watches, it requires an assessment of the style of the watch and the way that the movement was put together. It is recommended that you have this done by a trusted professional as it is much easier for the age of these watches to be estimated by an expert than an amateur. There are, however, books and other resources available to help you do it yourself, if you prefer.
WHAT KIND OF QUALITY DO YOU HAVE ON YOUR HANDS?
Next let’s evaluate the quality of your pocket watch. It was the goal of many of the old pocket watch companies to coin the most efficient “dollar watch.” Because of this, there were many pocket watches manufactured that were of poor quality since they were expected to be sold at an inexpensive price. A big determining factor of the quality of your pocket watch will be how it was finished. Does it have what was considered a high quality finish at the time, such as damaskeened plates, polished and blue screws, or gold jewel settings? Or do you have a more simple watch that is rugged with barely any finishing? Though these are details to pay attention to, one of the easiest ways to determine the quality of your pocket watch will be the jewel count. The higher number of jewels in your watch, the higher the quality. Jewel counts can sometimes be found on the pocket watch signified by a number followed by the letter “J.” For example, “18J” engraved on your watch would signify that your watch has an 18 jewel count. For a standard movement, the highest jewel count was usually 23 or 24 jewels.
SO WHAT’S IT MADE OF?
Now lets talk about the materials used to manufacture your pocket watch. What element was used to manufacture your case will play a high role in the value of your antique. Is it a solid cold case? Or is it simply gold plated? Some watches weren’t even plated with gold and are encased in nickel; obviously these would not likely compare to a pocket watch cased with solid gold. Also determining what metals may have been used to create the train wheels and jewel casings will help you determine how valuable your watch may be.
DETERMINING AUTHENTICITY AND ORIGINALITY
Authenticity and unique features are also major factors in concluding how valuable your watch is. If your pocket watch has been unaltered since it originally left the factory, it will hold more value than a watch that has been re-cased or has had some parts replaced. Furthermore, the uniqueness of your watch will add to its value. For example, if it is one of the first watches manufactured by its company (as mentioned earlier, this can be determined by a low serial number) or if it has an unusual escapement, these things could potentially make your pocket watch more desirable for a serious collector.
OLD DOESN’T ALWAYS EQUAL RARE
One of the most important things to realize when it comes from that dusty old pocket watch that you have acquired, is that just because it is old, does not automatically give it more than a mere sentimental value. There were watch companies, such as Waltham and Elgin, that produced millions of pocket watches when they were in operation. This means that they won’t be all that hard to come by. In fact, some of these watches, especially if they are not in working condition, will be worth absolutely nothing. So it is important to determine if you have something a collector isn’t likely to come across again.
WHAT KIND OF CONDITION IS YOUR POCKET WATCH IN?
Lastly, we will discuss the condition of your watch. As with anything of potential value, its worth weighs heavily on its condition. As previously stated, a pocket watch that does not work could be worth next to nothing. Naturally this also depends on the other value contributing factors that we have already explored, but many times, it will cost more for a buyer to fix the watch than it would be worth. After working order is determined, we move to the appearance of the watch. Is it scratched and dented? Or did its original owner handle it delicately, keeping it in pristine condition? Dents, dings, scratches and cracks are often indicators of internal wear and tear as well. After all, these are clues that the watch lived a rough life and it is only wise to assume that the inner movement suffered a similar fate.
In order to further investigate, one must open their pocket watch to view the movement. If you are not sure how, please research first or take it to an expert! If you force your pocket watch open, you could cause irreparable damage to your antique. If you manage to open your watch, look closely at the screws to determine if any are stripped, missing or mismatched. Also check for scratches on the plating. These will help determine if the watch was ever repaired and if it was done so carelessly.
Other things to consider when examining the condition of your pocket watch is how the ticking sounds and if there is water damage. If the ticking sounds “off” and as if there are pieces dragging, there could very well be internal damage that your untrained eye didn’t find. And water damage can be fatal to a watch movement as it leads to rusting. If your watch hands are rusted, chances are that is just the beginning of the damage you will find.
These details will hopefully steer you in the right direction towards finding out if you have a valuable collectible on your hands, but there is something else to keep in mind. As with all things in life, how valuable something is depends on what is popular at the time. How valuable your pocket watch is will often rely on what is currently trending amongst collectors. With these tools in hand, you should have enough knowledge to start your pocket watch appraising endeavor.
COMPLETE PRICE GUIDE TO WATCHES
With the above information in hand you can purchase the book Complete Price Guide To Watches Written by Gilbert & Engle and be able to look up your watch and find its price.