Becoming a Wiser, Vintage Watch Collector

top3When passion drives you towards the study of time, it is with the understanding that vintage watches are often under appreciated. I myself, Paul Duling, throughout my studies, have discovered times when I was drawn to a particular brand or style of watch; as I am sure you will too during your studies. My particular favorites are the American Railroad pocket watches. These pocket watches were some of the finest mechanical watches ever crafted. They were required to be accurate within 30-seconds a week.  This was quite a feat considering the movements were 100% hand-made.  As I have featured on, the time-honored tradition of quality watches can be exhibited from Howard, Hamilton, Elgin to Waltham and Illinois just to name a few. Carrying a handcrafted timepiece from the finest watchmakers in the world provides a sense of esteemed distinction. There is something special about carrying one of these fine old watches in your pocket.


Avid collectors, first-time buyers, and professionals alike appreciate each unique feature that goes into a watchmaker’s masterpiece. There are pieces that invoke a real sense of pride and incredible pleasure. When you are knowledgeable as to the quality and craftsmanship that went into the many finely made mechanical watches and you understand the market for them, it is quite possible to acquire timeless vintage beauties at reasonable prices. As with any purchase, there are certain factors you should always consider before purchasing a vintage pocket watch. Below is some of my best advice to becoming a wiser, vintage watch collector.


Buying From Trade Shows, Swap Meets and Flea-Markets

Trade shows, swap meets and flea-markets or “marts” accredited by the NAWCC (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors) are an excellent resource for buying and selling vintage watches. Experienced collectors as well as reputable brokers still utilize “marts” to find potential “hidden treasures.”  These sponsored events allow collectors a great place to talk vintage watches, get industry tips, and sell off some of their expanding collection. If you are looking for something specific or a unique treasure, these events increase your overall chances.

Have a watch to sell? Need direction? Why not ask me in person? Paul Duling will be at the 62nd Annual F.U.N. Convention Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida the 5th to the 8th of January. I look forward to being one of the 1,500 dealers and exhibitors. I will be purchasing and selling select timepieces throughout the event.

screenshot_32Become A Member Of National Association of  the NAWCC

Knowledge is your greatest asset. The NAWCC is a great place to meet other collectors, connect with buyers and sellers, and even be pointed towards reputable local “marts.”  Local NAWCC chapters provide members resources regarding the history of watches, crafters, and venues that feature where watches and clocks are sold, and where one can learn more about collecting watches.

The Jewel Count Is The Greatest Starting Point


While jewel count alone does not always guarantee quality, knowing the jewel count is the greatest starting point. Novice collectors should concentrate on “fully-jeweled” watches of at least 15 or 17 jewels. The higher quality American pocket watches contain 19, 21, and 23 jewels and Paul Duling has found that these tend to be sought after by the more experienced collectors. Watches of lesser quality that contain 7 to 11 jewels should be avoided unless there is something unusual or interesting about the particular piece. Over the course of time, the pivot holes in the plates of the watches containing fewer jewels tend to be worn into ovals by the high-pressure grinding action of the moving wheel. Once that happens, there’s little that can be done (cost-effectively) to make the watch run properly which reduces its long-term value.

Buying From A Reputable Local Vintage Watch Dealer

One of the safest ways to start your watch collection is by visiting the nearest reputable dealer. Research their assurances, such as warranties, as to the internal condition of any watch. It is similar to purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle that has been inspected and serviced to a pristine condition by a skilled mechanic, versus a used car bought sight-unseen from a newspaper. Purchasing a watch already inspected by a reputable local dealer guaranteed to be in proper working condition saves you disappointment and unexpected expense. However, such assurance comes at a price. A serviced watch will undoubtedly be priced slightly higher but secures that the long-term value remains.

Buying From Online Auctions

Sites such as eBay have certainly revolutionized the buying and selling of antiques. Vintage watches are no exception. However, this avenue of purchasing has presented unique challenges. Vintage watches contain such small intricate details that defects are hard to determine by just a few “showcasing” photographs. These beauties are mechanically complex and many problems are not apparent from photo-inspection. Internal problems can be hidden and be almost impossible to detect without a hands-on inspection by an expert.

Paul Duling has found that there are lots of honest and reputable sellers online, but there are also incredibly uneducated and unscrupulous ones as well. It is a shame to hear stories such as “I got what I thought was a great watch at a great price online only to find out 2 hours after it arrived that it stopped working.  One should recognize that online auctions sites come with risk.

It’s True:  Buy The Best You Can Afford

Of course budgets are always a factor, however, it is essential to keep in mind that your collection is a long-term investment. When shopping for a watch, It is necessary to keep in mind that higher quality watches maintain their value. Sometimes stretching a little now for the higher quality watch will increase the return on your investment years down the road.

Becoming a knowledgeable watch collector does not happen overnight. Spotting high-quality watches and avoiding problems comes as you learn and gain experience.  And with a little luck you’ll be well on your way to becoming a wiser, vintage watch collector.