Timepieces: Pocket watches

There are many objects that I appraise at my public events worldwide: paintings, sculptures, pottery, prints, beaded purses, Native American leatherware, toys, glassware, gold jewelry, silver, swords, guns, historic documents, sports collectibles, movie memorabilia, autographs – the list goes on.

One of the most common items that I appraise – vintage or antique – are timepieces, specifically pocket watches.

Many pocket watch owners don’t know the basics about these little pieces of history.

If you have a pocket watch or are interested in collecting them, here are some tips you should know.

Pocket watches were introduced prior to the introduction of the wrist watch.

The wrist watch was a World War I-era invention (circa 1914) used to aid soldiers on the front lines.

Pocket watches were widespread in the 1800s and continue to be of interest today.

Tips for your pocket watch

If a pocket watch does not open easily, don’t force it open. Use a piece of dental floss to pry it open or ask a professional jeweler to open the watch for you. Never use a pocket knife or other sharp instrument to open a pocket watch.

Pocket watches should be cleaned regularly. The internal mechanism of a pocket watch, which is made up of various gears, require regular maintenance by a professional.

If the gears get gummy or dirty, then the watch will not tell time accurately.

Don’t overwind a pocket watch. Be gentle.

The number of jewels refers to the accuracy of the mechanism and the more accurate the watch, the more valuable it is. The greater the number of jewels in a watch (the number of jewels is typically marked on the watch), the more accurate it is.

Much of the information about a pocket watch is found on the inside case. Look for maker’s marks, number of jewels, date stamps, precious metal markings, etc.

Pocket watch cases may be made in a different part of the world from where the watch works were actually made. Don’t assume that the case and the watch are both made by the same manufacturer, as that is not always the case.

And, a pocket watch’s case may be made of a precious metal, like sterling or solid gold. Some watch cases are more inexpensive and made of silver plate or gold filled.

Pocket watches are fun and popular collectibles on the antiques market, and there are many different styles and makers to choose from when amassing a collection.

An easy way to tell the time period of a pocket watch is to look at the design of the case and the dial, the style of the font or numbers on the face of the dial, and the decorative face whether painted on porcelain or embossed in metal.

Some of the most popular names in pocket watches are Hamilton, Elgin, Waltham and American Watch Co.

Learn some of the basics to make sure you assemble a collection of pocket watches that will stand the test of time.

Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents appraisal events to audiences worldwide.

Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on Discovery channel’s “Auction Kings.” Visit, or call 888-431-1010.