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What Is My Watch Worth?

People frequently want to know how much their antique or vintage watch is worth. Unfortunately, determining your watch's value is a hard question to answer. These web pages covers many of the general ways to try and find an answer to this question.

Table of Contents

There Is No Single Dollar Value
The Most Accurate Method
The Quickest Method
The Price Guide Method
The Online Elgin Database Method
The eBay Completed Auctions Method
The Appraisal Method
The Evaluation Method     (General Overview)
The Evaluation Method     (Detailed)
The Email the Webmaster Method

The Evaluation Method     (General Overview)

To properly evaluate a watch, you need to have the watch in your hands, you need to be knowledgeable in the field of watch collecting and you must have a good understanding of the current markets.

If you don't know much about watches in general, then the What is a Watch? web page is a good place to start. It is a copy of a booklet published by in the 1950's and it is designed to give watch buyers enough information to make an informed decision on what watch to buy. This is the same information that you need to know today.

This section is just a summary of what you need to consider when evaluating a watch. It would take a whole book to describe everything you need to know to do the job properly, and still you wouldn't know everything. In fact, helping collectors evaluate watches is why most watch books were written and a typical watch collector has quite a few books.

If you can't actually handle the watch, you need all the information listed as being required to sell on eBay in the Most Accurate Method section. The less information that is provided, the less accurate the evaluation. There are many "unusual" things that an experienced collector will immediately notice by handling a watch that can't be seen in a picture and won't noticed by most people.

There are four general aspects of a watch that effects its value:

  1. The quality, both in terms of function and finish, but also in the raw materials that were used. A chronograph with a chronometer escapement, finely finished with a solid gold case will be worth more than a simple pin lever watch in a base metal case.

  2. How attractive or beautiful the watch is. Watches have always had a artistic aspect to them and they are often the only kind of jewelry that men will wear. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what one person will really like another will find to be too gaudy, too plain or simply ugly.

  3. The condition of the watch. How close is the watch to being like it was when it was shipped from the factory? Is the watch old enough to be a true antique? Was it used as a railroad loaner watch?

  4. The demand for a watch. Many people mistakenly think in terms of rarity, or at least supply vs demand, but all watches are different in some way and it is easy to come up with something that makes it "rare" or even "unique". The question isn't "is it rare?" but "does anybody care?".

There are also three general parts of the watch that people consider when evaluating a watch:
  1. The movement (the actual time keeping machine). For pocket watches, this is usually the most important thing to collectors, but it is less important to wrist watch collectors.

  2. The case and, for wrist watches, the watch band. Sometimes the case is made from precious metals such as gold or silver, or may be decorated with inlaid enamel or jewels.

  3. The dial and hands. While these are physically attached to the movement, they are designed to be easily interchanged and the same movement was often shipped from the factory with different combinations of dials and hands, or exchanged by the jeweler when the watch was sold.

One of the reasons people separate out a watch into these parts is because up until the 1920's, the vast majority of American pocket watches were not cased at the factory. Watch movements and watch cases were built to standard sizes. When someone bought a watch, they would go to a jeweler and would pick out a movement and then, with the money left over, they would pick out a case. Or, if they were more concerned with the looks than the time keeping ability of the watch, they would pick out a case and use the left over money for the movement. The customer would often also have the choice of selecting a different dial and hands than the ones supplied on the movement by the watch factory. See the Watch Serial Number Information web page for details.

Another reason is that watch cases tended to wear out much quicker than the watch movements. It would not be uncommon for an original owner of a watch to go through two or even three watch cases during their lifetime. Dials too would sometimes be replaced if they became damaged, and hands would be replaced if they fell off and were lost.

The ability to easily exchange cases, dials and hands means that watch dealers and watch collectors today can quickly destroy the originality of a watch by swapping parts around. A totally original watch is often highly valued by collectors.

PRO:   Can be very accuracy
CON:   Requires extensive knowledge of watches and the current watch market. Requires a great deal of time.

The following is a list of some of the details that should be considered when evaluating a watch. More information can be found on some of these items by selecting the hyperlink.

  1. Quality
    1. Compared to Contemporaries vs Absolute
    2. Movement
      1. Adjustment
      2. Design
        1. Escapement
        2. Compensated Balance vs Solid Balance
        3. Free-Sprung
        4. Micrometric Regulator
        5. Safety Pinion and Safety Barrel
        6. Shock Protection
      3. Interchangeable Parts/Manufacturing Tolerances
      4. Materials
        1. Jewels
        2. Wheels (Brass, Steel, Gold)
        3. Plates (Brass, Nickel, Gold)
        4. Non-magnetic hairspring
        5. Invar and Elinvar
        6. Gold Parts (balance screws, Jewel Settings)
      5. Finish
        1. Gilded
        2. Damaskeening
        3. Two-Tone/Gold Trimmed
        4. Flat/Matte
      6. Complications
        1. Sweep Seconds
        2. Wind Indicator
        3. Chronograph
        4. Repeater
        5. Automaton
        6. Calendar
        7. Moon Phase
        8. Automatic Winding
        9. Fusee
        10. Tourbillon
        11. Remontoire
      7. Standards
        1. Railroad Grade
        2. Swiss Chronometer
        3. Kew Certificate
        4. Marine Chronometer
      8. Style
        1. Plates (Bridge, Full Plate, 3/4 Plate)
        2. Exposed Winding Wheels
        3. Pierced Balance Cock
    3. Case
      1. Style
        1. Open Face
        2. Hunter Case
        3. Demi-Hunter
        4. Pair Case
        5. Display
        6. Muckle/Reverso
      2. Material
        1. Solid Gold/Platinum
        2. Gold Filled/Rolled Gold Plate
        3. Silver
        4. Silveroid
        5. Brass
        6. Base Metal
      3. Material Thickness
        1. Heavy
        2. Normal
        3. Light
      4. Finish
        1. Plain
        2. Engraved
        3. Engine Turned
      5. Fancy Additions
        1. Jewels
        2. Enamel
        3. Multi-Color
        4. Gold Inlaid Pictures
      6. Shape
        1. Octagonal
        2. Barrel Shaped
        3. Rectangular
        4. Wire Lug
        5. Tank
        6. Asymmetric (Wrist Watch)
      7. Size
        1. Must match movement size
        2. Oversized cases to make movements look larger
        3. "Opera" watches
      8. Crystal Style
        1. Thick Beveled
        2. Thin Beveled
        3. Bulls Eye
      9. Crystal Material
        1. Glass
        2. Plastic
        3. "Scratch Proof" Sapphire
      10. Bow/Pendant
        1. Short Stem vs Long Stem
        2. Bar Over Crown
        3. Stirrup Bow
    4. Dial
      1. Material
        1. Enamel
        2. Fancy
        3. Metal
        4. Paper
      2. Style
        1. Flat (Unsunk)
        2. Single Sunk
        3. Double Sunk
        4. False Double Sunk (Ground Center)
        5. Seconds At 3:00
      3. Numbers
        1. Roman
        2. Arabic
        3. Ferguson (with correct hands)
        4. Montgomery
        5. Canadian
        6. Luminous
        7. Applied Gold Numbers/Markers
      4. Hands
        1. Blued
        2. Gold
        3. Styles (Spade, Whip, Moon, Louis Xiv, Etc.)
        4. Dual Hour (Timezone)
        5. Luminous
  2. Beauty
  3. Condition
    1. Grading ("Mint", "Average")
    2. Originality
      1. Case Swapping
      2. Wrong Dial or Hands
      3. Mismatched Hands
      4. Wrong Hands (Too Long/Short)
      5. Sidewinder
      6. Crystal
      7. Replaced Bows
      8. Repaired Enamel dials and "Redialed" metal dials
    3. Movement
      1. Running Poorly
      2. Scratches
      3. Dulled Damaskeening/Two-Tone
      4. Wrong Screws
      5. Wrong Replacement Parts (No longer has gold wheels, Regulator Springs not chamfered)
      6. Broken Jewels
    4. Case
      1. Brassing/Wear-through
      2. Dents
      3. Scratched Crystal
      4. Yellowed Crystal
      5. Tight Hinges
      6. Tight Snap
      7. Tight Bow
      8. Worn Winding Crown
      9. Modifications
        1. Key Wind Holes
        2. Lever Cuts
        3. Cut Hunter Cases
      10. Engraving
    5. Dial
      1. Hairlines
      2. Edge Chips
      3. Repairs
      4. Tarnish
      5. Logos
    6. Private Label
    7. Railroad Loaner Watches
    8. Age ("True Antique")
    9. Watch History/Famous Owner
    10. Interesting Additions
      1. Original Box
      2. Papers (Timing Certificates, Guarantees, Sales Receipts, Etc.)
      3. Photos of the Original Owner, etc.
      4. Photos Applied to the Dial or Case.
      5. Abbott' Stem Wind Upgrades for Keywind Watches
      6. Teske's Micrometric Regulator Upgrades
  4. Demand vs Rarity
    1. Every Watch Is "Unique"
    2. The "Star" Rating
    3. "The Question Isn't `Is It Rare?' But `Does Anyone Care?'"
    4. "A Watch May Be Rare, But The Buyers May Be Even Rarer."
    5. Serial Numbers
      1. First Run/Low Serial Number
      2. Consecutive Serial Numbers
      3. Interesting Numbers
    6. Famous Maker
    7. Price Trends

Table of Contents

There Is No Single Dollar Value
The Most Accurate Method
The Quickest Method
The Price Guide Method
The Online Elgin Database Method
The eBay Completed Auctions Method
The Appraisal Method
The Evaluation Method     (General Overview)
The Evaluation Method     (Detailed)
The Email the Webmaster Method

While I'm not an expert, I believe the information on this page is correct. Please send suggestions and corrections to the webmaster.
This web site runs on 100% Open Source Software. This web page was last changed on 09/02/2002 at 22:11:05.