Pocket watches are relics from the past for many, and a convenient way of checking time for a few. The cellphone has replaced the pocket watch as a timepiece for most, but horology, the study of time and timepieces, continues to fascinate collectors. Horologists repair and restore, make, conserve and appreciate watches and clocks of all sizes and styles, reports The British Horology Institute. Old pocket watches carry secrets as well as the time.
Look at the entire pocket watch before establishing a date. The case may not be the original, and replacement parts are common. For example, it was not common for a pocket watch to have a second hand until after 1800, according to Cooksey Shugart, author of “Complete Price Guide to Watches.” If the watch has a case that identifies it as a Waltham and the inside bears another watchmaker name, the entire watch may have been placed in a different case. Another indication of replacement parts is subtle differences in the color of the metal.
Check the name of the manufacturer on the watch face. Write the information out as you work so it will be available for researching the date.
Open the watchcase carefully from the back to look inside. Some pocket watches have a hinged back, with a tiny indentation for lifting the back; others have threads that screw the back onto the bezel.
Look for a serial number with a loupe or magnifying glass. This should be on the flat part of the watch when the case is open. There may also be a number on the inside of the case, and maybe the name of the maker.
Check for hallmarks on a sterling silver or gold case. There are three or four logos used on silver to identify the country of origin and date. Gold marks are often in logo form as well; the crown and sometimes the rose are the indicators of English gold. Gold watches may have the gold karat content within the logo, or they may have a number like .585 for 14-karat gold. Gold-filled or gold-plated pocket watchcases were common. Read the information carefully to determine the metal content of the case, as this will aid in dating the watch. This information will require a loupe or magnifying glass to see.
Research the hallmarks on a website of silver marks or gold marks to date the watchcase. “Complete Price Guide to Watches” is a book that contains this information. Silver hallmarks may be researched on the 925-1000 website (see Resources below), and gold hallmarks are detailed at The British Horological Institute website.
Check the manufacturer and the serial number to date the pocket watch. Use the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) website (see References) or a book on watches to find this information.
Compare the dates of the watch and the case. Similar dates for the watchcase and the watch movement should indicate that the timepiece is in its original case, and will provide an estimated date for the pocket watch.
- Loupe or magnifying glass
- Paper and pen
Some pocket watches show the dates of repairs inside the case. This is also an indicator of age.