Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Pricing old pocket watches

Hi All,

I have a customer looking to sell some family pocket watches. Elgin,
Illinois, Tavannes. Nice, 14k hunter style and other. Anyone out in
Orchid land know anything about antique watches? These date from the
late 1800’s. Any help will be greatly appreciated. I have pix.

Lisa (I don’t have normal sunflowers, I have sequoias with sunflowers at
the tops of them. Yikes!) Topanga, CA USA

We work on all types of watches and I may consider them as-is or
please give me details of each watch. Are they in working order, if
you don’t know, that’s OK.

Stephen Wyrick, CMBJ, Gemmologist

Lisa-- Few people use pocket watches anymore, so the main market is
for collectors. As a general rule, these watches sell for pretty low
prices unless they happen to be a really rare model, and of course
for the collector market, condition is everything. 14k pocket watches
from these makers often sell for just the value of the gold.

The Shugart & Gilbert price guide is a pretty reliable source of
about these critters. Get it on Amazon $20


The main type of pocketwatches that interest collectors is a variety
known as ‘railroad grade’. Railroad grade needed to be of certain
quality standards, as well as case styling. Anyone who worked for
the railroads, lineman, engineers, even the waiters serving food must
have a railroad approved model, or risk ‘writeup’ or dismissal.
These standards were still on the books up thru aprox 1980’s but had
not been enforced much since Bulova came out with the Accutron
approved wristwatch in the late 60’s. I sold my last ‘new’ RR
approved watch in the late 80’s The owner was also required to have
in his possession, on demand, paperwork proving the watches service
records according to regulations. After aprox 1914-16, a railroaders
watch must meet the railroad companies agreed-on standards. Minimum
of 23 jeweled bearings, 5-6 position balance wheel, compensated
balance wheel for temperature, double roller jewel escapement, open
faced case( absolutely no lid) with Arabic style numerals(no roman
numerals allowed, on an enameled dial with a red seconds track on
outer edge. Hands were required to be stick or spade style in black
or gun metal color(no exceptions). There were no non-American made
’railroad grade’ watches made that were allowed by the railroad cos.
Through the late 1800’s thru the early 1900’s the American pocket
watch industry was the envy of the world-

even the Swiss were green eyed. So much that the Swiss were
notorious for copyright infringement printing American brand names on
the dials of Swiss junk, and sneeking it into the USA. Generally
speaking, Elgin, Waltham, Hampden(all USA) are of no significant
values(exceptions do occur). As they were medium quality at best, and
were considered ’ the commom mans watch. Also these brands were
manufactured in large quantities, and large numbers still exist,
which means they are not rare(really hurts value). Considered as
trading fodder amongst collectors- or ‘bait’ for novice collectors.
Average values $25- 200. The RR grade pieces are usually Hamilton,
Ball, Standard, a few others. Average conditions range $300-600. Very
good to mint range $800-$2000 (especially with orig box and service
paperwork). Shugart & Gilbert price guide is a necessity for any
serious collector as well as amateurs.