The charm of a pocket watch is unmistakable, and these timepieces are highly sought-after collectibles. As demand for quality antique timepieces increases and the supply decreases, prices rise. How do you determine if your great grandfather’s pocket watch has a higher sentimental or monetary value? How do you tell if a watch is worth enough to have it cleaned and repaired? Finding the value of your antique timepiece requires research and sometimes expert help. Through the research process, you gain further knowledge of a timeless treasure, and may discover you own a valuable antique.
Know about your watch. Several factors influence the value of a pocket watch: condition, age, maker, and the metals from which it is made. Look at your watch for clues. Is it in running order? Does the watch have a maker’s signature on it? Are there markings that indicate the types of metals used? Do you have a good estimate as to the age of the watch? Look for serial numbers, which are often found inside the watch. Use these and an identification guide to help date the timepiece. Knowing this information helps you accurately research your timepiece and get an estimate of its worth.
Look through price guides. Go to a library or bookstore to find books on collecting and valuing pocket watches. There are guides devoted only to pocket watches, and general watch-collecting price guides include information on pocket watches. Some examples of titles include “Complete Price Guide to Watches 2011” by Tom Engle, Richard E. Gilbert and Cooksey Shugart; “Collector’s Encyclopedia of Pendant and Pocket Watches 1500-1950” by Jeanenne Bell; and “100 Years of Vintage Watches: A Collector's Identification & Price Guide” by Dean Judy.
Find marketplace values. A pocket watch is worth only what a collector is willing to pay. Check the market to see the prices realized by watches similar to yours. A good place to start is the completed auctions on eBay. Another resource is the website WorthPoint. This subscription site lets members find realized prices at auction houses and from Internet antiques and collectibles stores.
Consult an expert. Take your watch to an antiques store or a jewelry store that specializes in antique and estate jewelry. Ask the owner for an informal estimate. If you need a more professional valuation for insurance purposes, contact an appraiser. Some professional appraisal associations can put you in touch with experts in your area.
Understand that an appraisal price given for insurance purposes tends to be higher than secondary market prices, or what you find in price guides. This is because you want to insure a watch for what it costs to replace on the retail market.