How to Buy a Used Pocket Watch

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How to Buy a Used Pocket Watch

Buying a used pocket watch is a great way to purchase a quality pocket watch without making a large investment, a vintage item for either a love of vintage, or simply a used watch that can fit into a lifestyle or fashion choice. Vintage pocket watches can range from the very valuable to relatively inexpensive, and can be anywhere from only a few years to literally hundreds of years old.

Choosing a used pocket watch can be confusing, especially if buyers do not know what they are looking for, are looking for something specific, or just do not know where to look for a vintage watch. With a wide variety of ages, price ranges, and qualities, choosing a specific watch can be difficult for most people. Potential buyers should think about what they want, what the watch is going to be used for, their budget, and buying venues including pawn shops and eBay before making a purchase.

Decide What the Watch is Going to be Used For

First, determining the value of any watch should be based on what the watch is going to be used for. Buyers who intend to wear a pocket watch every day and are relying on it for accuracy should look for newer models with comfort and ease of use in mind, such as the ability to use batteries. Ease of use is very important, especially for anyone who intends to use the watch to actually tell time.

On the other hand, collectors or anyone who wants to add an interest piece to a party outfit could choose an older, more valuable watch. These include hand-winding watches that may or may not display the gearbox through the front or the back of the watch, and are most often made of valuable materials. There are many vintage pocket watches made of chrome, copper, tin, gold, sterling silver, and other materials as well, but the material is mostly a personal choice.

Decide the Value of the Used Pocket Watch

The next thing that buyers should consider when looking for a used pocket watch is how much is it worth. While obviously many used watches contain sentimental value to their original owners, on their own, they are worth nothing more than their make, model, material, and condition implies. Identifying the watch is as important as identifying a car for watch collectors. If the seller has not stated or listed the make, model, and year of production, buyers should attempt to identify the watch for what it is worth.

Pocket Watch Age

The age of the watch is one of the most important considerations. For anyone who is simply looking for a second-hand watch, any age might be a good choice, as long as the watch works properly. On the other hand, anyone who is looking for a valuable item, or who wants to ascertain they are paying the value of the item, the age is very important. Many old watch brands used specific serial numbers by year, which can easily be a guideline for determining the age and the value of the watch using a watch guide or by going to a jewellery store. On the other hand, many vintage Swiss and European watches do not have these serial numbers, which means they can be hard to date without an inscription, very knowledgeable professional, or carbon dating. Age rating is usually applied as summarised in the following table.

Watch Age



2000 to Present


1999 to 1984


1983 to 1920


1920 or Later

Some sellers simply use the words vintage or retro to mean 'used', while others research the meaning and label the watch accordingly. Most of the time the exact date is also be specified if known, especially if the shop owner or online seller is making a point of selling an older, valuable watch. Usually antique watches are a great deal more valuable than those in any of the other categories.

Pocket Watch Condition

The condition of the watch greatly affects its value. For example, a 1920s vintage gold pocket watch in mint condition would probably be more valuable than a badly damaged 1850s watch of the same material. The condition of the watch includes any scratches, dents, dings, or cracks as well as whether or not the watch works properly, has the original glass, or has been modified or repaired in any way. Obviously, any adjustments to the original watch casing decrease its value, and the more dents, dings and scratches, the less the watch is worth. Buyers who intend to use a watch should also look out for very dirty watches, as over time grease and dirt can build up inside of poorly maintained watches and cause problems with how they work.

Pocket Watch Quality

The quality for used watches is normally determined in jewels (for quality watches only) and this measurement is normally used with a minimum of seven jewels. Some watch casings come with a rating (such as 18j) on the watch case, while others can only be determined at a jeweller or watch store. The quality of craftsmanship, materials used in the finish, metals used, and settings can all indicate quality as well. Buyers looking for a valuable used pocket watch should look for damasked plates, jewel tone finishes, blued screws, and chiselled teeth. A solid gold casing can add a great deal of value to the watch as well, mostly because of the pure value of the metal.

Pocket Watch Rarity

The rarer a watch is, the more it is worth. For anyone simply looking for a watch to wear around every day, choosing a more common watch brand could be beneficial. For example, a second watch of the same model could be purchased for repairs and spare parts. For collectors, the rarer the watch, the more valuable it is. Unique detailing and features can increase the value of a pocket watch a great deal, but can mean the difference between a plain addition to a collection and one that is unique and beautiful.

Seller and Authentication

While many used watches are virtually worthless to the average collector and only suitable as wear pieces, others are very rare and very valuable. Buyers looking to purchase the former can most likely purchase any watch they like as long as they are happy with the price. For buyers looking for quality pieces, it is important to check the source and the authenticity of the watch.

Many jewellers and pawn shops have their watches valued before selling them. For online purchases, it is a good idea to check the brand mark or hallmark on the watch and to compare it with other similar models. Mostly counterfeit watches are only seen in very old European style watches, and still very rarely. Buyers should ask any questions and look at any photos before making a high-profile purchase anywhere on the Internet.

Most antique watch dealers recommend that buyers pay close attention to the screws around the outside of the casing in order to verify that the watch inside is the original one produced when the watch was made. However, this is not a consideration for anyone who simply wants a fashionable old watch or who is looking for a cheap vintage. In fact, replacing an older watch with a newer more reliable one, but keeping the old casing, might even be beneficial for someone who does not want to constantly wind their watch or clean the gears.

Chains on the Pocket Watch

Many pocket watches are sold without the original chains that came with them. In the case of some vintage watches, these chains can be quite valuable, especially when made of silver or gold metals of different density. Usually purchasing the pocket watch with the original chain can add a great deal of value to the watch. However, with modern trends of hanging pocket watches from wallet chains and pendants, many buyers do not need the watch chain unless they choose to hang their pocket watch traditionally, in a vest pocket.

Buying a Used Pocket Watch on eBay

eBay is an excellent place for buyers to look for used pocket watches of any sort of value, material, or condition. Depending on their needs, buyers can search for rare collector's pieces, or search for simple used pocket watches that might have been produced only a few years ago. eBay generally has a very wide selection of vintage and used pocket watches so no matter what you are looking for, you can find it on eBay.

Try starting your search from the home page and typing in any specifications such as year (1800s, 1900s), specific brand (Waltham, Elgin), and even specific material (gold, silver, gold plated). From there, you can browse through options until you find a watch you like. Make sure you ask the seller any questions you might have about the age, the value, or any additional photos you would like, and then make your purchase using eBay's checkout options.


There are many options available for anyone who wants to purchase a used pocket watch. For the casual watch buyer, the only real considerations are that the watch be in an acceptable quality, good condition, and functional. The watch being priced affordably is also usually important in this case. For collectors, there are a great many other considerations including the value and rarity of the watch, any unique specifications or engravings, the detailing and finishing, and of course, the age of the watch.

Most of the time, a watch can be easily valued and priced based on the above factors. However, it is not always easy to see what the material is when purchasing a used watch online. Buyers should ask any questions they have of the seller before making a purchase of any kind. The most important things to take into consideration before purchasing a used pocket watch are the value of the watch, the finish, the age, whether or not it works, and of course, the material it is made of.

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