The last quarter of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th century were a golden age period for keyless wind pocket watches. These watches are wound from the crown and without the use of a winding key. The majority were made in either Switzerland or the USA and often to very high standards. Sadly the English competition was nominal and a little too late.
I thought it useful to explain a few terms which are often used and abused by sellers on Ebay.
1. CASE- these can be made of base metal, nickel, silver plated. solid silver and solid gold. If the case is solid gold or silver there will be clear marks to the inside cover of the case. The area to take care is the so called "gold filled" cases. At their best these can be substantial and high quality with two thick layers of gold sandwiching a base metal inner. Look out for the 20 or 25 year grades, they show practically no wear after 70-100 years and look and feel like solid gold, so do take care. The lower grades are 10 and 5 year and now often show significant wear, often termed "brassing" and can look very unattractive indeed. Take care when reading a watch description, if not unsure, then ask the seller a question before the auction ends.
2. DIAL - normally made of white vitreous enamel with black Roman or Arabic hour numerals and a subsidary seconds dial. The better quality watches have double sunk dials, or letters replacing numbers or even high colored or decorated. Try to avoid watches with damaged dials, whilst they can be repaired by professionals, this is a costly and expensive business.
3. MOVEMENT - these come in all shapes and sizes from fob (ladies size watch) through to 18 size (about 55-58 mm diameter). The higher quality movements often have a damasced or highly engraved and decorated surface finish, this is very common with many of the American factories. Do look out for watches with 15 jewels at least, which means that most of the movement is jewelled and of good quality, higher grades were often made to Rail-road specifications and can still be excellent time-keepers today and great presents. The majority of better grade watches will have a lever escapement and therefore capable of a very good performance and time-keeping.
4. MAKERS- Recommended companies amongst the Swiss watch makers are : IWC, Le Coultre, Longines, Moser, Omega, and Rolex. Whilst from the USA there is such a large element of choice that I will list a few of the more common brands and these include, Elgin, Hamilton, Illinois, and Waltham, there are many more and I would recommend buying the Complete Price Guide to Pocket Watches, latest edition, by Shugart which gives ample details at 1200 pages long.
5. CHECKING YOUR WATCH- For many people I appreciate that the watch bought may be just as a gift or anniversary or birthday present. But please do take care with your purchase and make sure that the watch you have bought is as it was stated on the EBay auction. Do check for case wear, glass is clear, dial as stated and the watch winds and the hands set easily.
In the end the watch has to tell the time and time-pieces from this period 1870-1930 are capable of excellent time keeping and ideal as every-day watches, and are beautifully made time-capsules from another era.