How much is a pocket watch worth?

Hamilton silver pocket watchI have some pocket watches made of gold and silver. Some are running good and some seem to be damaged. I have no idea about the value because the previous owner left me the pocket watches and other collectibles to support my foundation. I know that they have a certain value and I hope that you can tell me how much my pocket watches are worth. I would like to sell my pocket watches if I could achieve a good price. My foundation needs new equipment to support our mission and it would be wonderful if the pocket watches would pay that bill. Steve, please help me to find how much my pocket watches are worth and please give me some information about the history of the watches.
Marc from San Francisco, California

Pocket watches are my great passion. In our business you have the golden opportunity to spot really rare pocket watches, sometimes hidden in forgotten cellars or attic drawers over decades. Every day, I have a good chance to spot that great sleeper with that special historical background. Hopefully, I’ll find something special in your collection too. We’ll see.
reDollar expert, Steve Redrich

How much is a pocket watch worth? Asked Marc

18K gold Omega pocket watchMarc: I have some really nice pocket watches. For me it seems that they are made of silver and gold. I tried my best to check if they are running and I also followed your instructions to make a 24 hour running test. You’ll find all information in my email report. I also took a lot of pictures from all sides and also from the movement of the watches. I measured the diameters and also weighed all watches. I think I didn’t forget any detail you told me. Now, I’d like to know how much my pocket watches are worth, how you determine the value and if you could find out any interesting information about the history of the time pieces.

Steve: A pocket watch collection is always very exciting for a watch expert like me. In most cases a collection is well selected because of the collectors’ special taste. Possibilities to find a great piece are high and the work on a collection is very fascinating and exciting. A very skilled expert can often understand the taste and the preference of the original collector. Some collectors collect pocket watches solely from a limited time period, or with special movements. Others solely collect pocket watches made from a special brand or made in a specific country. Other collectors collect watches with a special pattern or decor or they prefer watches with engravings and statements. The possibilities are virtually unlimited. Your collection doesn’t follow a recognizable scheme and is a great example of a mixed-collection. I think the pocket watch collector collected what caught his eye. I really like such collections because they are diverse and chances are high to find a really rare piece.

Marc: That’s very interesting, Steve. Could you find a special or rare piece in my collection?

Steve: To be honest, yes and no. Without a doubt you have a very nice pocket watch collection and I could find a really rare or very unique pocket watch. What I’ve I found is a very nice and definitely valuable, so-called railroad pocket watch.

Marc: Is it probably related to the American railroad era beginning with the 19th century?

Steve: Yes, exactly! What we call railroad era has begun between 1920 and 1930. There were no automobiles in the US at that time. Almost no homes were connected with electricity and transporting mail and merchandise took very long. The young America was ready to discover something new, something groundbreaking – it was time to connect Americans with black giant locomotives. The railroad time has begun.

Pocket watch parts such as movement and dialMarc: I understand that a railroad pocket watch is a watch made at that time but I’m very happy that there is such a watch in my collection.

Steve: Yes, I agree. The term “railroad watch” is tricky. The problem related with this term is that the quality and specification requirements of railroad watches and its parts, like movements from the 19th century for example, are constantly changing. Moreover, hundreds of railroads went through the US and lots of railroad companies had different views about the specification of a railroad watch. Maybe it’s interesting for you to hear that by June 1892, employees of the Illinois Central Railroad were forced to submit their watches for a quarterly examination and weekly comparison. Your railroad pocket watch is from special interest to me because it has double hour time and hands colored in gold and black. Your watch was made from an Illinois brand called “Rockford” and made between 1890 and 1891. I can determine the age so accurate because you also took a picture from the serial number on the movement. I work with professional literature that allows me to search for specific serial numbers. I could compare the engraved serial number with my literature to find out when your pocket watch was manufactured.  You told me the watch is running good what is very important. The value-reducing fact is the condition of your watch. Watch experts distinguish between 10 condition grades. Pocket watches in very best condition are named “pristine mint” while the worst quality of a watch is named “scrap”. I would classify your watch as “average” or “fair” what means a decrease of value between 60 percent and 75 percent from the finest quality has to be calculated. Nevertheless it’s a truly nice piece of American history and Rockford watches are very popular among collectors. I think that a resale price of approximately $1,000 is realistic. Therefore, we would offer you $800 for your pocket watch.

Marc: It’s very fascinating for me to hear these historic fats and I’m surprised about the value. Your estimate of $1,000 sounds good to me and also your offer is quite acceptable. What about the value of my other watches? Are they almost worthless compared with the Rockford pocket watch?

Steve: No, absolutely not. But to be honest, it’s only the gold value that makes another watch of your collection very valuable. I speak about your gold pocket watch weighing approx. 104 grams. This piece is an 18K gold pocket watch. The watch has all relevant gold hallmarks on the inner backside of the case. When we are unsure about the purity we can always make a quick test with our xrf machines. That way we can be 100% sure about the alloy and gold purity. You told me the watch isn’t running anymore, the key is missing and I see some grave damages thus I classified this watch as scrap. But a scrap gold pocket watch like that is even valuable. We have to calculate deductions of the gold weight. Parts like the movement (wheels, screws, barrels, pinions, springs, rollers and so on), the glass, and the crown aren’t made of gold but though heavy parts. Based on your provided total weight and diameter, I’ve compared your watch with some present watches in my laboratory to get an idea about its anticipated gold weight. Normally I’m very close to facts with my weight-evaluations from afar. I estimate that your watch contains approx. 40 grams of 18k gold. Based on that weight, we would pay you $1,040 for the gold, today. No further deductions charged.

Vintage silver pocket watch Marc: Great!! But that’s weird. My broken gold pocket watch is more worth than the railroad watch from the 19th century only because it was made of gold. Crazy!

Steve: It’s hard to believe but that’s a fact. But Marc, consider that the gold price has begun to rise significantly just a couple of years ago. If you would have sold this pocket watch in 2004, you would have probably got about $350. Just to give you an idea about the gold price from the past.

Marc: Wow. What a bull market. Finally, what about the remaining watches?

Steve: Honestly, they are looking nice and some are running good but there is almost no collectors’ demand for such pocket watches. The peoples’ taste and preferences have changed. All together, they weigh about 1200 pennyweights. We have to subtract the weight of the glasses, the clockworks, crowns and other base metal parts. Finally, I think that we speak about a value of $450 to $550 but that’s very questionable because I couldn’t check the watches in person. It’s very tough to estimate the net weight from afar.

Marc: I understand what you mean. Steve, you did a great job. I appreciate that you spend so much time for me and my collection. I’ll make a deal with your company. Let me know how we can bring things forward to cash out.

Steve: I will send you an email with all instructions. Our selling process is smooth and there is almost no time to spend involved. Thank you too, Marc. It was exciting to work with you. We were a good team.

Marc: Yes man. Good bye.

Steve: Good bye!

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