How to value an antique pocket watch

Generally, determining the value of a possession can sometimes be challenging. This is more of the case when you do not have an idea of its cost or how it came about especially in the case where it was inherited.


The pocket watch is one of the objects for which knowing the value in terms of importance poses some difficulties.

Right from the early era of its invention, pocket watches have been an important part of modern civilization and developments in the watch world. Ever since the 16th century, they have been an integral part of male fashion. These small round timepieces represented portable clocks and were a status symbol until mass production became easy.


At the time, in the fifteenth century, it was not as valuable until the later part of the sixteenth century when Charles II of England inspired the wearing of a pocket watch inside a waistcoat. Before then, however, pocket watches were worn around the neck, but it was Charles IIs love of waistcoats that sparked the change in watch fashion.


Although the pocket watch became near obsolete with the introduction of the wrist watch in the years leading up to World War I, today this classic, compact time-telling device is an interesting and curious collectible.


So since we already established that people find it difficult determining the value of a pocket watch. The guide I will give below will in no small way help people who face the difficulties of knowing the value of a pocket watch to do so without much stress. I will try as much as possible to guide you with the questions you need to ask and answer as well in order to know the real value of a pocket watch peradventure you want to know yours or get one for yourself.


Below are the questions:

1. Is it a working pocket watch?

2. What is its actual condition?

3. What brand is it?

4. What material is it made of?

5. How old could it be?

6. Rarity?

7. Is it of a complex form?


Having asked the questions above, you need answers to all of them because answering them is as good as making your mind settled about them.

Find below the answers that may help you.



Is it a working pocket watch?

The first thing to know about a pocket watch is if it is working because that is the most important thing about all timepieces.

Here is what you need to do to find out its working state: If it is a top winding pocket watch, then simply wind it a few times, also gently shake the watch to see if the Seconds hand will move, as in, if you can hear its ticking sound. If it ticks, then it is great, but if it does not then don't lose hope yet as you will get to know what to do next as we progress.


Again, if the pocket watch is key winding, then you should gradually open the back and wind it; to see if it works, if it works, then it is great.

And so that settles if the pocket watch is working.



What is its actual condition?

This is an all important aspect of determining the value of a pocket watch. Its condition here refers to the real state at the moment. That is if it is poor, average, good, or excellent. How do I know this? you may ask. I will tell you.


Poor — To know a pocket watch in a poor condition, check to see if there is a heavy wear, cracked dial, dents to the case, missing hands, missing glass, does not open or close correctly, etc. Also, you should evaluate if it can still have value if made from precious metals, or rare calibre movements.


Average — The average condition a pocket watch can be is having a small amount of wear, small shallow dent, scratched glass, small hairline cracks to dial. Also, it could be repaired by a watchmaker, or again might be made from precious metals, or have an unusual movement.


Good — For a pocket watch to be judged as being in a good condition, it must not be less than these: light wear, the case details are still obvious, it possesses no dents, just normal usage signs, and it must be easy to repair.


Excellent — Excellent condition of a pocket watch means that there is hardly any wear, no dents, and it is clean inside and outside. If it is made from gold or silver, or have a good brand name, then you could have a very valuable watch.


Now, if the pocket watch does not work, don't just reject it because the make, and quality movement, plus what it is made of can still mean you have a valuable timepiece. Sometimes it is worth the expense of repairing. If it is so, there are many amateur watchmakers/repairers online who love to repair pocket watches and see them working again, instead of being scrapped.



What brand is it?

The brand of the watch is of utmost importance. Basically, people are moved by brands and love to associate themselves with top-selling brands than those that are yet to make a name. For example, a pocket watch made by Rolex will naturally attract greater attention than that made by an unnamed or not well-known brand.


You may have a rare early LeCoultre, Longines, Waltham, or Omega military pocket watch, which are much sought after by collectors and fetch a high price if it is in a good condition. In some rare cases, a famous brand in excellent original condition can fetch a premium price, and you just would not know until you research your watch.

It is so easy today to research online to find out the brand of any pocket watch. Yes, you have no excuses as regards that. If you cannot for any reason research on the brand, then get someone who knows to do so around you.



What material is it made of?

The material that the pocket watch is made of can determine a minimum value, as there are different watches made from silver, gold brass, etc, so it will have a scrap value.


Whichever, if the pocket watch looks silver, then don't just conclude that it is a silver pocket watch, rather open the back and look inside the cover, if it has hallmarks, a lion passant, makers mark, date letter, and assay office symbol, then you can be sure that it is silver and look at it in that light.


If the pocket watch is gold-colored, then again look inside the back cover, if it has a carat number, that is, 9ct, 14ct, 18ct, 22ct, with assay office, date letter, possibly case makers symbol, then you know it is gold.

Many gold coloured pocket watches will be made from gold plating, this is usually marked on the inside covers. If it is, then do not assume that it is worthless, it can still have value, so it is not to be discarded.


Naturally, the higher the pocket watches gold carat the higher the value.

You must also note that a pocket watch that is not made from gold or silver is not worthless in any way, far from it! Many have nickel, brass, gunmetal, stainless steel cases, but could possibly have rare movements, or used on the railroads so had to be robust, and Government-regulated, it is not just about the material value.



How old could it be?

Some pocket watches do not have the inscription of the date of manufacture on it. As such, determining the age sometimes can be straightforward, and at other times, tricky. Therefore, in order to determine the age of a silver hallmarked pocket watch, for instance, you need to look at the hallmarks by going to the silver maker's mark. Check out the mark for the assay office, then look at the date letter and match the style of a letter to the letters belonging to the assay office. This will give you the age of the case, and also the date of the manufacture of the watch.


Again, gold marks usually are much the same as silver, look up the assay office, and match the style of date letter to the date.

The older the pocket watch then the more important is the condition and all the other aspects of valuing. Also the older the watch then normally the higher the value.


Early pocket watches like in the pre-1890s will start to have varied movements, normally chain-driven or fusee driven movements. The earlier then the larger the parts become, also in quality watches the more lavish the cases, and the plates, balance cocks, and other pocket watch parts became. The early watches were expensive and only the middle class and the rich could afford them.




A pocket watch could look standard but might have an unusual movement, this will impact the value.

A pocket watch's movement is the entire mechanism which makes the pocket watch function. The condition and design of watch movements are important when deciding what the pocket watch might be worth.

The movement needs to be complete as repairing can be costly, sometimes more than the watch is worth, but sometimes the movement is so rare it can be used for spares.

A highly decorated gear system also increases value due to the craftsmanship needed to apply the details.


Also, the higher the number of jewels and adjustments in a movement will increase the value, the more jewels the smoother running, the more adjustments that calibrate the movement, then the more accurate the pocket watch is, this all determines the quality of the movement and its final value.



Is it of a complex form?

Many of the higher value pocket watches have complex movements, for instance, a centre seconds hand, stop-start feature, moon phases, date day dials, etc. The more complexities in a pocket watch then the more valuable especially if it all functions and it is possibly married to an expensive gold or silver case.


By now I hope you should be able to know the value of a pocket watch when given one. The basic thing is to ask yourself the questions above and gradually answer them by following the guide given above.


That is to say that the above is like a guide in helping you get a fair idea of the value of a pocket watch. However, the variations and complexities are vast, especially when you realize that pocket watches have been around since the fifteenth century and that around the sixteenth century, Charles II, made it popular by wearing it in a waistcoat.


By and large, the subject of determining the value of a pocket watch is huge and it is not something that can be exhausted in just one sitting even though I have tried my best to make it quite easy. Hence, this is the much that I can offer now and I hope you take out time to make other findings on the subject matter yourself.


Pocket watches are treasures more especially the ones passed on from generations to generations; by inheritance, as such, I would advise that you trade yours for nothing but continue to treasure it for life, and more so if it is still in a better condition.


The brand could be the reason people are attracted to you when they see it. You never can tell.

Pocket watches are great and are still fashionable. You can get one for yourself if you don't have one already. You can do some research on how you can get good, affordable, and fanciful ones online.