Continuing our discussion of pocket-sized finds, are antique pocket watches worth anything? Some are worth less than $200; however, many pocket watches, especially those in pristine condition, can fetch between $1,000 and $5,000. Determining the worth of an antique pocket watch depends largely on your skill in identifying the watch, understanding its unique features, and accurately assessing its materials. Here are a few things you can look for in identifying and evaluating your old pocket watch.
Types of Antique Pocket Watches
Not all pocket watches are created equally, so you must know what you are working with to understand their value. The watch face and the type can help categorize pocket watches. Different varieties include:
- Railroad Pocket Watches: Railroad pocket watches held historical significance and were once crucial tools for trains’ safe and efficient operation. These watches were highly accurate and reliable. Typically, railroad pocket watches made after 1908 were open-face pocket watches. In 2015, this large antique 14K gold Hamilton railroad pocket watch sold for $2,925 on eBay.
- Pair-Case Pocket Watches: During the 18th century, pair-case pocket watches were the most common type. The paired case consisted of an inner case that protected the watch movement and an outer case that covered the inner case and movement and shielded them from dust and debris. Watches with unique and intricate details can call for a higher price, like this late 17th-century Sam Drossade pair-case pocket watch sold for $9,664 at Ewbank’s Auctions in 2018.
- Open-Face Pocket Watches: These watches lack a metal cover over the dial, allowing wearers to easily read the time without opening a cover.
- Swing-Out Case: The swing-out case, also known as the swing-ring and convertible case, is a design feature in which both the outer covering and watch movement are hinged and can be “swung” out of the case. This design simplifies the process of servicing or adjusting the watch. In 2011, this Elgin 14K gold swing-out case pocket watch sold for $388.38.
- Hunter Case “Full Hunter” Pocket Watches: Characterized by a metal cover that protects the watch crystal, the hunter case cover often has a hinge and a decorative outer lid that wearers can flip open to reveal the dial. There are also half-hunter and double-hunter variations. In 2011, this Elgin hunter case ladies’ pocket watch sold for $220.35 at Pot of Gold Estate Auctions.
- Key-Wind Pocket Watches: Early pocket watches were often wound using a key inserted into a hole in the back. These watches are less common today but are sought after by collectors. In 2013, this 18K yellow gold and enamel Henri Voisin pocket watch sold for $15,000 at Freeman’s Auctions.
Popular Antique Pocket Watch Brands
Numerous antique pocket watch brands have left a lasting impact on horological history. Collectors revere many of these brands for their craftsmanship, innovation, and historical significance. Here are a few notable antique pocket watch brands to watch out for:
- Patek Phillippe: Famous for its precision and luxury, Patek Phillippe has produced some of the most sought-after and valuable pocket watches. In 2013, this pocket watch by Patek Phillippe sold for $26,250 at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries.
- Waltham: Waltham, also known as the American Watch Company, is a prominent manufacturer known for its mass-production techniques. In 2015, this Waltham crystal movement 14K gold antique pocket watch sold for $19,567.
- Elgin: Founded in 1864, Elgin is another prominent American watchmaker. Once owned by Andy Warhol, this Elgin pocket watch sold for $7,000 on eBay.
- Longines: Longines, a Swiss company founded in 1832, has a long history in watchmaking and is known for its precision timekeeping. Antique Longines can sell in thousands, and in 2016, this antique Longines yellow gold men’s pocket watch sold for $2,950.
How to Value an Antique Pocket Watch?
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If you are looking for an antique pocket watch, you want to look out for a pocket watch’s serial number. The serial number is not only a mark of authenticity but can also indicate how many of that watch was produced. To find the serial number, you must carefully open the back cover and see the numbers carefully engraved into the movement. You can search the Pocket Watch Database to help you identify your piece. We also recommend you consult an expert to gain more insight on what a piece might be worth.
What Affects the Value of a Pocket Watch?
Several factors can influence the value of a pocket watch. Collectors and appraised consider these factors when determining the worth of an antique timepiece:
- Brand and Maker: Pocket watches from prestigious and well-known brands often command higher prices.
- Condition: The overall condition of the particular watch is a significant factor. Watches in excellent working condition with minimal wear, intact features, and original parts are more valuable.
- Materials: The materials used in the case, crystal, and movement can impact the value. Watches made of precious metals, like gold and platinum, are generally more valuable than base materials.
- Accuracy and Complications: Watch with accurate and reliable movements, as well as additional complications (such as clocks, calendars, or moon phases), may have a higher value. Collectors often prize railroad-grade watches.
- Case Design: The case design, such as open-face or hunter case, and any unique features or engravings can affect the value.
- Restoration and Alterations: The extent of any restoration or alterations can influence its value. Collectors often prefer watches with original components and minimal alterations.
Pocket watches gradually fell in favor to wristwatches that were more practical, convenient, and easier to wear around. However, collectors still appreciate pocket watches for their historic and horological value.
If you are buying to sell, try hunting down Swiss-made watches. They often command higher prices; collectors seek them for their craftsmanship, precision, and rich heritage. Online marketplaces like eBay are excellent for obtaining antique and rare pocket watches, but always check the items you’re buying for authenticity.
Found the perfect pocket watch? Make sure to display it appropriately and with class with an antique pocket watch stand.
Will Seippel is the CEO and founder of WorthPoint, the world’s largest provider of information about art, antiques, and collectibles. Individuals and organizations use WorthPoint, an Inc. 500 Company, to seek credible valuations on everything from cameras to coins. WorthPoint counts the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the IRS among its clients.