Developed in the 16th century and remaining popular through to the Great War, pocket watches were designed, as the name suggests, to be carried in the pocket and would often be secured to the owner through the use of a chain. Attachments such as vesta cases (to hold matches), cigar cutters, revolving fobs and seals may also be found adorning the chain depending on the owners’ habits, preference and status.
Pocket watches feature regularly at our auctions in both Colwyn Bay and Cardiff. A quick search on our website using the phrase “pocket watch” showcases over 600 examples offered for sale during the past 6 years.
There is a significant variety in type of devices and in the movement and the materials used;
Types include the open-faced pocket watch which has no protective cover hiding the crystal and therefore the dial and time are visible at all times.
Another example is the full-hunter which has the addition of a spring-hinged cover which completely hides the dial thus protecting the watch from potential damage and scratches.
Possibly providing the best of both worlds is the half-hunter pocket watch which incorporates a central glass panel in the protective spring-cover allowing the owner to view part of the dial and hands without the need to open it. They often benefit from an enamel inlaid chapter ring being marked on the outside to ensure the right time is easily assessed.
Pair-cased watches also appear with us at auction, although less frequently. Normally dating from the early to mid-18th century they are made up of an inner case to house the movement and a separate protective outer-case shell. Key-holes found on the inner case to wind the movement are vulnerable to dust and dirt which is the reason behind this additional outer case.
There are also different types of movements. Pocket watches can often appear fairly plain items from the exterior. It is not until the movement has been exposed that we are enlightened by the craftmanship, quality and original condition that is revealed. Pair-cased pocket watches often benefit from having a verge fusee movement often ornately decorated with pierced and chased gold work and engraved with details of the maker, location and date.
Great care must be exercised when revealing pocket watch movements particularly when attempting to wind and set. If unsure of how to do this do not attempt to as it is very easy to damage the movement of the watch and consequently the value and collectability.
Other types are the key-wind, key-set movements and the stem-wind, stem-set movements. Key-wind movements came first, appearing in the 16th century followed by the stem-wind which were invented by Adrien Phillippe in the mid-19th century.
Other variations of movement have evolved with many slight nuances such as the stem-wind, lever-set movement. These were preferred for all railroad watches at the beginning of the 20th century - mainly in the United States and Canada. These type of movements ensured accidental time changes were impossible.
Pocket watch cases were produced in various metal form from steel and silver plate through to more precious silver and gold. The addition of enamel, engraving and precious stones are also found in different examples and can elevate appeal and value. The combination of high carat gold, finely detailed engraving, an expertly made movement and a high end manufacturer such as Rolex or Tiffany, inevitably lead to auction fireworks.
As always the type of pocket watch chosen will be a personal choice and with popularity increasing in these time pieces, the auction model offers an excellent pathway to ownership.
Pocket watches frequently appear in our Vintage & Antiques auctions and fine examples will occasionally appear in our three times per year Selections & Collections auctions.
Below are pocket watches that we have sold in recent years with prices noted.
Watches and watch collections can be valued free of charge without obligation. Please contact:
North Wales - Stephen Roberts firstname.lastname@example.org
South Wales - Philip Keith email@example.com
West Wales - Charles Hampshire firstname.lastname@example.org