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Judith Miller

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Pocket Watches

  • Judith Miller
  • 17 Sep 2010

18th century watchDespite being superseded by the wristwatch after World War II, pocket watches are regarded as highly desirable and collectible. The value of a watch is primarily determined by who the maker is, giving a good indication of the quality and complexity of the movement. In 1999, the totally unique and exquisitely crafted “Henry Graves Supercomplication” Pocket watch made by the renowned Swiss maker Patek Philippe in 1933 broke records by selling for £6 million.

17th century watchEarly pocket watches date back to at least the mid-16th century and are extremely rare. For example, a finely chased and engraved German Tambour watchcase and dial from the mid-16th century could be worth around £15,000-25,000. Accuracy increased at the end of the 17th century as technology advanced, and by this time Britain was producing some of the most impressive timepieces in the world.

19th century watchIt was mainly the wealthy who possessed pocket watches until around the time of the Industrial Revolution, when production methods improved, distribution increased and prices went down, making watches more accessible. The rise of the middle-classes in the late 19thC also meant that more people could afford their own pocket watch. The progress in time-keeping was essential to the growth of the rail-roads, particularly in America, where drivers needed accurate watches to plan their journeys and avoid collision with other railroad users.

Pocket watch with subsidiary dialsAdvances in technology by the end of the 19th century meant that watch-owners could benefit from a range of features such as repeaters that chimed, moon phases, Chronograph (stopwatch) mechanisms, and snap-closing hunter cases. These features may make a watch more collectible. A high quality gold hunting-cased Swiss watch from the 19th century with a moon phase, Repeater, calenderwork and chronograph could be worth up to £6,000.

<a href='/a-to-z/cartier/'>Cartier</a> watchHowever, due to the large number of pocket watches that were made during this era, they are unlikely to demand high premiums today unless they are particularly rare, made with fine materials or by a renowned maker. A 1868 hallmarked and signed diamond-decorated pocket watch by the well-known maker Charles Frodsham could be purchased for under £200, meanwhile a very collectible 1920s Cartier 18ct gold example with an enameled Egyptian Huntsman scene (pictured right) could realise £5,000-10,000.