How to value your Waltham pocket watch – words Al Woods
If you love pocket watches you’ll already be aware that certain timepieces have real investment potential. The Waltham Watch Company contributed greatly to the world of antique pocket watches with their precision engineering and fine craftsmanship.
If you are lucky enough to own a Waltham watch you might find it is more valuable than you think, especially if it is in pristine condition. Waltham watches are highly collectible and some specimens are a worthwhile investment. See some expert watch investment tips from a Master Watchmaker here.
In this article I’ll offer some guidance and share some useful resources on how to get some idea of the value of your Waltham pocket watch. Most Waltham pocket watches have some value, even if it’s only for scrap and parts.
Of course, the only way to know the true value is to take your Waltham watch to a professional watch valuer or a Waltham pocket watch expert.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The American Waltham Watch Co. (Waltham)
In 1849 Aaron Lufkin Dennison, Edward Howard and David Davis formed a company with a plan to develop machinery that could mass produce watch movement parts with precision and render them interchangeable. Prior to this, all watches produced in America were handmade.
In operation between 1852 and 1957, over 40 million fine specimens of pocket watches, wrist watches, clocks and other precision instruments were produced by the Waltham factory. It was one of the most prolific American watch companies and by the early 1870s Waltham watches were winning prizes all over the world.
Railroad grade watches
Following the great train disaster in America in 1891 (the tragedy occurred due to a faulty timepiece), Waltham (and a number of other watch brands, such as Elgin and Hamilton) produced watches to a new set of standards. To qualify as railroad standard, watches were required to meet the following criteria:
- Be 16S or 18S (size)
- Have 17 or more jewels
- Be lever set
- Have an open face case, with the stem at 12 o’clock
- Be adjustable to 5 or more positions
- Have bold legible Arabic numerals on the dial
- Have a maximum variation of 30 seconds per weekly check
Be aware if you are purchasing a railroad grade watch that some will be described as railway grade when in fact they aren’t. Read some more on the history of railroad watches here.
Factors to take into account when valuing your Waltham pocket watch
- Gather as much information as possible. In order to establish watch value, you will need to first identify the model, grade, age, size and quality.
- The number of jewels a pocket watch tends to determine quality and the usual rule of thumb is the higher the number of jewels the more valuable the watch. The term ‘jewels’ refers to the industrial grade gemstones used as bearings in the watch mechanism, which prevent friction and wear of the watch mechanism. The higher the quality of the watch mechanism, the more jewels it will have. Some watches have up to 25 jewels. Below 15 jewels is considered a lower-grade watch. It’s not the jewels themselves, incidentally, that are valuable, it’s the performance of the watch achieved with a higher number of jewels.
- Does the watch work? It may seem obvious, but a watch that is on working order will generally be of more value than one that needs repairing.
- The condition of your watch will also have an impact on value. Dents, scratches and damaged dials will all devalue your timepiece. Depending on the extent of damage, it may be worth investing in restoration work, but always refer repair and restoration work to a reputable Master Watchmaker with experience of Waltham pocket watches.
- The materials used will also have an influence on value.
- Waltham watch serial numbers. Waltham watches are highly collectible and are perhaps one of the easiest timepieces to date due to their serial numbers. Every Waltham watch produced since 1852 was engraved with a serial number.
Determining the date of your Waltham pocket watch involves opening the back cover.
Find a fabulous guide to the Waltham watch models here, including a table of Waltham production dates by serial number. As a general rule, the older the watch is the higher the value, though other factors, such as condition will also determine how much your timepiece is worth.
- Packaging can also influence the value to a lesser degree. Packaging or a significant story about the watch can increase its value.