Origins of the Pocket Watch (Pocketwatch)
While pocket watches (or pocketwatches) did not reach the height of their popularity until the mid to late 19th Century, pocket watches have been around since the mid-1400’s and crafted regularly by master watch makers in Europe in the 1500’s. The early pocket watch was crafted from a variety of metals, including nickel, brass, silver and gold. The high-end vintage pocket watch was often crafted from gold or silver, with gold or stainless steel gears, while more affordable pocket watches were crafted from brass or nickel, with a thin layer of gold or silver on the outer case. The number of jewels on a pocket watch dictated its movement and thus its lifespan and value. The more jewels on a pocket watch, the less grinding of metal-on-metal within its gears, thus also resulting in the pocket watch keeping better time.
Early Use of Pocket Watches
Before wristwatches became popular after World War I, and prior to the development of the trench watch (which was a transitional design for a timepiece used on the battlefield), the pocket watch was the most common method of keeping time. Pocket watches were carried by aristocrats, noblemen, wealthy businessmen, traders, captains, and of course railroad engineers — who needed to carry a well-made pocket watch that would keep almost perfect time, in order to adhere to their rigid train & track schedules. Pocket watches soon saw their popularity decline during WWI, where the first trenchwatch was affixed with a wrist strap, and led the way for development of wristwatches which eventually replaced the common pocket watch. The very first wrist watches were produced by Girard-Perregaux in 1880 for the German Navy and During WWI, several well-known watch makers, including well-known brands such as Omega, Longines (and others) produced wrist watches for the military, which led to a streamlined design and the demise of popularity for the once-coveted pocket watch.
The Collectible Antique Pocket Watch
Like all things that were once a world-standard and have now been replaced by other means, the antique pocket watch has solidified its place in watch making history. Pocket watches were the headmost method of timekeeping prior to the advent of the standard wristwatch, so it’s no surprise that high-end, classic antique and vintage pocket watches are highly-sought after by timepiece collectors worldwide today. Early pocket watches had a “hunting case” design, which allowed the front of the metal case to flip open when you pushed a button, usually at the top of the timepiece. As time wore on in the 1900’s, open-faced pocket watches became more common and later replaced the hunting case design entirely. Today, there are many factors that separate the high-end pocket watch from less collectible models. These factors include (but are not limited to): the number of jewels, precious metals used for the case, its general condition (whether it is complete with chain, grade of patina, etc.) and of course, its movement. Much like classic cars and other restored items of value, one of the final determining factors of a particular collectible antique pocket watch’s value would be whether the pocket watch is entirely made up of its own original parts.
Where to Buy Antique Pocket Watches
Given that there are so many factors that can contribute to the value of a antique pocket watch, it’s vital to work with an industry professional that has the knowledge and eye to appraise and value the vintage timepiece and its components in its entirety. At Watch & Wares, we’ve spent the last quarter-century traveling and delving into antique pocket watches and vintage timepieces (and their respective parts), establishing a relationship with reputable dealers, well-known auction and estate houses as well as employing master watchmakers on our team. We have a rotating inventory of quality vintage pocketwatches for every budget in stock and know what to look for when it comes to making sure their history checks-out. As avid vintage and antique watch & timepiece collectors, we also keep a substantial collection of original, unopened stock from high-end, popular, vintage, antique and contemporary watchmakers. So whether you’re looking for an antique pocketwatch for yourself or that special someone, or you need your pocket watch repaired/restored to its original condition, using OEM certified parts, we hope you’ll stop by Watch & Wares in the Downtown Historical District of Orange, California (Orange County) and meet with our owner, William Houchin, who you can learn more about by clicking here.