You’ve probably seen photographs of men from the 1800s and early 1900s with a pocket watch strung from their waistcoat. Pocket watches may be an old invention but there are millions of collectors of all kinds of watches worldwide.
The most desirable pocket watches are known as “complicated”. These watches do more than just tell the time. They can show everything from moon phase, the date, day, month or all four. There are also watches known as repeaters which can ring at the hours, the quarter hour or even on a minute. The more things watches do the better it is to a collector.
Most watches justly simply tell the time. Most of the simple collectibles watches were made from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
Of those, the most collectible are railroad watches which are usually very accurate. Some makers of railroad watches were the Elgin Watch Company, The American Waltham Watch Company, Hampden Watch Company and Howard Watch & Clock Company.
Even women wore pocket watches. They are rarer and highly sought after.
It was during World War I that wristwatches became popular. Soldiers found them much easier to read in the trenches.
Most pocket watch makers along with Cartier and Tiffany & company started making wristwatches with fancy cases in the 1920s. In fact, wristwatches became so popular several companies’ ceased operation of pocket watches.
When it comes to wristwatches, the novelty children watches made in the 1930s are some of the most collectible. Many, such as Mickey Mouse watches, were cheaply made so finding one in good condition is very rare. In my early years of collecting, I found several Mickey Mouse watches from the 1960s which sold for several hundred dollars apiece. Newer ones are more common and not very valuable.
Antique watches made prior to 1875 were key wound and set. For several years following, some watches were still wound with a key. But after 1875, most were produced with a built in winding system. Of course the key wound watches are more valuable today in general, but there are other ways to tell an age and quality of a watch.
True watch collectors, open the backs. There are many revealing signs one can find upon the back.
If you can, unscrew or snap off the back. You should look to see if there are engraved decorations such as engine turning and wavy patterns. These may be a serial number, a movement name or inscription stating the number of jewels. When it says jewels it means rubies or sapphires. These jewels were used as resistant bearings. Standard American watches had 15, 17, 21, 23 or more. Some had up to 33. The more jewels the higher the value. The complicated numbers usually have more jewels.
On most American watches you will find serial numbers which represent the date of production. If a watch is marked between 100,000 to 200,000, it would mean it was made between 1870 and 1874. You will need to see a reference book for a list of what other numbers mean.
Accessories to watches can also be valuable and very collectible. Some watch fobs have a sculptured design, some have emblems or symbols. Some were made for advertising products and had such things as plows, machines and lanterns. The Industrial manufacturer fobs are the most treasured. Railroad fobs are very common and many are reproductions.
Keep an eye out for the colors and designs on watch faces. Some were made with pink, yellow or flowered colors. Some even have scenes with themes. The fancier, the better.
You may also find watches some with unusual shaped tops and special designs and materials on top such as enamel. Anything unusual is desirable,
It doesn’t matter if you are a novice or long time collector, somewhere out there is an interesting watch waiting to be looked at and enjoyed.
Source: Encyclopedia of Collecting