The Many Types of Antique Pocket Watches

Antique Pocket WatchesMany individuals are interested in collecting antique pocket watches. This is partially because of their natural beauty due to the expert craftsmanship many exhibit, and partially due to the history held within them. Antique pocket watches were created in the 1400s, though they did not become popular until the 1500s. Collectors can find antique pocket watches with a number of different mechanisms to make them run, as well as in a number of different artistic styles. This is primarily because they were made all over the world. Initially antique pocket watches were primarily made by the English, however the Swiss and the French began making antique pocket watches shortly after, and Americans began making pocket watches in the late 1800s.

Not only Valuable to Horologists

Because antique pocket watches are relevant in other parts of history, certain ones hold value to other collectors than simply watch collector’s and horologists. For instance, during the end of the 19th century antique pocket watches were used for railroad conductors to ensure that their trains ran on time, and also so that they did not crash into other trains when going through railroad track intersections. In fact, there was a huge crash caused by an antique pocket watch falling a mere four minutes behind on time, in 1891. Because of this, General Railroad timepiece standards were set, creating certain requirements for the watches used by railroad conductors. The act required all watches to be size 16 or 18 pieces, and open faced. They also had to have no less than 17 jewels, adjust to at least five positions, and be accurate within thirty seconds per week. Many train collectors will add certain types of antique pocket watches to their railroad collections.

The Rise and Fall of Antique Pocket Watches

Antique Fusee Pocket WatchesPocket watches have not completely died out in current times, however modern watches cannot compare to the antique pocket watches which were made. It is for this reason that antique pocket watches are more collected than modern watches are purchased for use. In the past, antique pocket watches were the standard form of portable ways of knowing the time for roughly four hundred years, starting in the 1500s or 1600s (there is some debate here amongst experts). In the 1700s and 1800s antique pocket watches became more reliable and therefore became more useful. During the early days of antique pocket watches they offered the majority of their value as beautiful jewelry like decorative pieces.

Once the wristwatch was invented antique pocket watches began to wane. At first, pocket watches were seen as men’s time pieces while wristwatches became a woman’s fashion. After soldiers discovered the convenience of the wristwatch during World War II, pocket watches lost that majority of their users of either gender. During the 70s and the 80s, pocket watches made a brief come back, and this was due to the three piece suit being brought back into popular culture. These suits had a pocket built into the vest that was traditionally designed for carrying pocket watches. Many began using the pockets for their original purpose, bringing pocket watches back.

Cases of Antique Pocket Watches

            There were two primary casings of antique pocket watches as well as one significantly less popular blend of the first two. They are:


    • Open-face: These watches are thought be created by Franciszek Czapek in 1876, in Poland. These types of cases accounted for the a good majority of antique pocket watches and were the required type of railroad standard pocket watches in the late 19th century. These watches lack a metal covering, and they usually had a gem or decorative engravings at the top of them. Most open-faced antique pocket watches were sidewinders (with the winding stem at the 3 o’clock hour though some had the winding stem at the 12 o’clock hour.
    • Hunter cased: This type of pocket watch had a metal covering (usually a precious metal such as silver or gold) and the cover was designed to keep the crystal from scratching and to keep dirt and dust from the inner workings of the antique pocket watches. These metal cases were spring hinged either at the 6 o’clock hour (which is most common in antique pocket watches) or at the 9 o’clock hour, which is more current with modern pocket watches.
    • Demi-hunter: This type of casing was significantly less common. The cover on these was clear unlike the hunter-cased antique pocket watches. The cover usually had the hours listed on it, while the hands of the watch remained inside. These watches were not very successful, as the clear casing often scratched. While it did keep the inner portions of the watch clean and scratch free, it was often difficult to see the time due to scratching of the clear cover.

Antique Pocket Watches in Switzerland and America

During the beginning of watch making, the most Established makers of antique pocket watches of the highest quality were the English. They also accounted for the most antique pocket watches created initially. By the 1800s the Swiss were known for making the most watches at the best prices. At the end of the 1800s during the industrial revolution the concept of interchangeable parts was brought into American watch making. The first American watch makers were based out of Waltham, Massachusetts, and in 1857 they began mass producing the Waltham Model 57. Because the parts were made so easily and cheaply, Americans rose as the top makers of cheap antique pocket watches. Concerned about their place in the market, The Swiss began changing their focus of watch making from quantity to quality. This change in focus is attributed to the high quality reputation Swiss watches are still currently associated with.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dale Fennell January 15, 2015 at 9:46 pm


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