Signs of a Valuable Antique Pocket Watch

Did you inherit an antique pocket watch or perhaps found one while decluttering your home? Lucky you because it might be worth a fortune! If you’re interested in determining the value of an antique pocket watch, you’ve come to the right place.

Your knowledge and understanding of pocket watch features and materials play a crucial role in getting the highest bid possible. Therefore, before you consider going to a regular pawnshop for an antique pocket watch valuation (you have better options), you need to grasp the basic terms related to pocket watches — from parts and features to the most coveted brands.

Let’s begin by learning how to differentiate an antique pocket watch from modern and replicated varieties.

How to Identify an Antique Pocket Watch

Antique pocket watch identification involves knowing the type of watch you have and who made it. There are several other factors to consider before placing a monetary value on a watch. Allow us to discuss each of them below.

1. Finding the serial number

US-made pocket watches usually include a serial number or an identification mark on the watch case and another one on the movement or the inner workings of the pocket watch. Keep in mind that the identification marks may not be the same, as each part was likely made by a different company. This requires some skill, but if you can, carefully open the back cover of your pocket watch to locate the serial number inscribed into the movement. Then, you can search the Pocket Watch Database or check PM Time Service to learn more about your timepiece.

If you’re not comfortable with the idea of opening the back cover of your watch, you can always seek professional help. 

2. Learning the common types of antique pocket watches

The watch dial (face) and case (crystal or glass container protecting the watch movement) help identify the type of pocket watch you have.

  • Hunter case. Hunter-case pocket watches have a round metal cover attached to a spring hinge that shuts to safeguard the crystal on the dial. You will find the crown and stem, or winding mechanism, at the 3 o’clock position of the watch.
  • Demi-hunter case. The cover of this watch has a small window, allowing you to tell time without needing to open it. Demi-hunter cases are more common in European watches.
  • Military pocket watches. During the 1800s and early 1900s, it was a standard issue for soldiers in some regions to use pocket watches.
  • Open-face. An open-face pocket watch does not include a protective cover to shield the glass or crystal from potential damage. The winding and setting stem and crown are at the 12 o’clock position of the watch.
  • Pair-cased. Introduced in the mid-18th Century, a pair-cased pocket watch is essentially an open-face timepiece set inside a hunter case. You can remove the inner case to wind the pocket watch, then place it in the outer case for protection.
  • Railroad pocket watch. These pocket watches were made for and used by, as the name suggests, people working on the railroad. Most railroad pocket watches made following 1908 are open-faced.
  • Stainless steel watches. These pocket watches come with a case made from stainless steel.
  • Wristwatch conversion. These pocket watches were originally wristwatches.

3. Identifying the watch movements

The word “movement” refers to the collective mechanism responsible for a functioning pocket watch. There are many movements on pocket watches, each winding and setting the timepieces in different ways.

  • Key-wind, key-set. You will require a special key to wind and set the pocket watch. This movement was the standard from the 1600s throughout the mid-1800s.
  • Stem-wind, stem-set. Commercialized during the 1850s, this movement eliminates the need for keys. Instead, it uses a stem to wind and set the pocket watch.
  • Stem-wind, lever-set. You set this watch by opening the dial cover, giving you access to the setting lever. This was the norm for railroad watches in the 1900s.
  • Stem-wind, pin-set. One of the more modern innovations, with this movement, you press the pin and then turn it to set the time. Release the pin once you’re done.
  • Jeweled. High-end pocket watches (and timepieces in general) throughout history used this movement. However, keep in mind that the jewels are often fake. Their main purpose is to reduce friction within the watch.

Best Antique Pocket Watch Brands

Some of the most popular antique watch brands are Ebel, Elgin, Longines, Waltham, and Patek Philippe.

Even though each collector has different tastes and preferences, most of them have a couple of pieces from these in-demand labels. High-end brands include their name and/or logo on all of their watches.

Tips for Finding Out the Value of a Pocket Watch

Is your antique pocket watch worth something? To get a good idea of the value of your pocket watch, you need to consider these factors:

  • Brand name. Like most antiques, if the manufacturer is well-known and praised for their quality products, then the demand for a particular piece will be higher. Swiss-made and branded watches, for instance, are among the most popular and valuable worldwide.
  • Condition. A pocket watch that works properly is usually worth more than one that broke down many years ago, even if a watchmaker can repair the piece. 
  • Rarity. How many of your specific watch model were made? Is the piece difficult to find? The rarer a pocket watch is, the more valuable it can be.
  • Movement materials. Some of the highest-quality pocket watches in the world feature fine details, such as embellished plates, diamond end-stones, and jewel settings, among others.
  • Watch case material. The overall value of stainless steel is low since it is a common and affordable metal. Solid gold cases have a significantly higher price point since gold is a valuable precious metal.
  • Jewel count. The jewels in most pocket watch mechanisms are small, man-made rubies that have no actual value, but help minimize friction. The more jewels present, the more valuable your watch can be.

In addition, other signs of a valuable pocket watch include:

  • Elaborate case. Enameled cases, painted cases, and ones set with precious gemstones or made of gold are usually more expensive than plain cases.
  • Heavyweight. How much a pocket watch weighs can help determine whether the piece has a sophisticated movement or a case made of gold. Therefore, a heavy pocket watch is always worth examining further.

If you notice any of these indicators, consider consulting the Phoenix, AZ watch experts here at Biltmore Loan and Jewelry. Unlike traditional pawn shops, our years of experience in evaluating luxury items can unravel the true value of your timepiece. Furthermore, if you are looking for a watch buyer in Scottsdale and Chandler, we can offer you a price that no other pawnbroker can match. Request a free market appraisal today.