TBT Rarefinds Episode 3 Part 1

How to Spot a Good Pocket Watch on Estate Sales

#TBTRareFinds series will take you on an adventure into the culture and trends of the past including antiques, vintage items, art history, jewelry, clothing, collectibles, and other related topics.

Watch #TBTRareFinds Episode 3 Part 1 and learn how to collect pocket watches as an investment.

Hosted by: George Pizzo

Glenn Anderson, Owner, and Founder of American Pocket Watch Collection. He’s currently residing in Germany and has been collecting pocket watches for the past 30 years.



See the second part of this episode here: Pocket Watches: How to Start if You want To become a Collector

There's a lot of European watches that make it back to the States but what people don't realize is a lot of American pocket watches have made it to Germany. However, a lot of the Germans don't understand what the pocket watches from the States entail. 

With that, Glenn built a homepage to try and inform the people in Germany about pocket watches. The website is in German but it's actually translated into English. It's not too much information, but people who don't have any knowledge of pocket watches will learn the basic things about them. Currently, he’s receiving between 5-15 inquiries a week relating to pocket watches from people who reach out to him via email and Facebook page.

Pocket Watch Database

He introduces a website that he describes as “the game-changer in the pocket watch industry”. It's called the Pocket Watch Database run by Nathan Moore who devoted so much of his time, resources, and effort to getting this homepage up and running.

Pocket watch Serial number lookup

It's free and you can go in and put the serial number into the database, along with the maker of the pocket watch. All pocket watches that are made in the United States will have a serial number on the “movement” (also known as a “caliber”, which is the engine of a watch that acts as the powerhouse to make the watch and its functions operate).

It will give you fairly detailed information about when the watch was made and what grade the watch is (whether your pocket watch is a railroad grade or a lower grade). Railroad grades are usually up above 17 jewels. Pocket Watch Database will give you a lot of information. 

Glenn mentioned that the biggest thing on pocket watches is “you gotta do your homework” and this website takes 85% of that homework out of the situation.

When looking at pocket watches, the casing doesn't really tell you a lot. It will only tell you if the case is solid gold or not. If it's solid gold, it would say US Assay 14K or 18K or something like that. But if it says 14K “guaranteed 25 years” or something to that effect, then it's gold-filled or gold-plated which means there's a piece of metal in the middle. They just threw gold on top and the bottom to make it shiny and gold-looking, it was a money-saving effort.

Back in the day, the movement was always sold separately from the case. Today, it is okay to re-case a pocket watch into another case. But when you do something like that you can see that part of a watch has been replaced and the case screws are in the wrong position.

That indicates that the case was used on another movement, taken out, and another movement was placed in it. 

Pro Tip: The casing and the movement are two separate things.

Glenn expertly demonstrates how he opens up casings to see the movement inside these watches. Some watches need to be unscrewed while he uses a prying tool for some watch rear dust cover to pop it open to expose the movement and all the information he needs to know.

Around 95% of American pocket watches will have the name of the company written on the dial. He then showed a Waltham 23 Jewel Vanguard that he found at the flea market. It has a chip dial, not major but still a very nice railroad grade pocket watch.

Single Sunk Dial vs Double Sunk Dial

“The biggest thing I can suggest to anybody who's really looking at pocket watches is to look at the dial and see if it's a single sunk or a double sunk.”

A single sunk dial means that the main dial is separate from the second hand, and the second hand was put on. There is a hole drilled in the hand and it was soldered onto the dial. A double sunk dial means that there's an interior display or inner display dial and a second dial. And the inner display dial with the name is actually physically attached with solder onto the hour dial. The second dial is then soldered onto that dial or identification dial and it’s very fragile. They're all made of enamel or porcelain and they break and chip extremely easily. 

Waltham Pocket Watch

Glenn shared that he once bought a Waltham, and his son, Aaron, noticed with the hands and the double sunk dial, that it was a relatively high-grade movement. When they opened up the rear of the case, it said Vanguard 23 Jewel. Right then and there, they knew that was a good deal.

If the watch is in pieces, don't waste your time fixing it. It will definitely cost you more than the value of the watch. The value of watches has gone up and down over the last couple of years, and since COVID that it's actually been going up again.

Elgin Pocket Watch

He then showed his collection of rare watches like the 23 Jewel Hamilton, 18 size, and it's called a 946, an Elgin 343, and an 1870 Cornell watch company, John Evans.

He doesn't have access to a proper watchmaker in Germany so he sends his watches back to the States whenever he needs help with a great watchmaker to fix his watches.

Key Takeaway 

Condition is everything. If you get a chance to get a good pocket watch, see it as an investment. 

Just because the case is in a bad condition, or sometimes there’s a missing crown, doesn't necessarily mean that the movement is in a bad condition. Sometimes it's a poker game. And with estate sales sometimes it's a luck thing.

Condition wise, even if the crown might be missing and there are scratches on the crystal or the casing it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth anything. They're not deal-breakers. Just like a car. If you see a car that's full of rust but its motor is 454, you've got something special. It’s the same with pocket watches.


See the third part of this episode here: Why Invest in Pocket Watches?


Recommended Readings: 

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