Your Guide to Buying an Antique Pocket Watch

Views 1 Like Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful
Your Guide to Buying an Antique Pocket Watch

While pocket watches are not as popular as they were before the invention of the wristwatch, antique pocket watches are highly coveted by collectors as well as individuals who prefer to have a quality made timepiece that is not worn around the wrist. Many antique pocket watches are true works of art as well as fine examples of watch craftsmanship. In addition, many of the antique pocket watches still in existence today are crafted from solid gold, silver, or brass.

When shopping for antique pocket watches, buyers can find a wide selection of watches, many of which are available online. Shoppers first need to determine if they would like to purchase a specific brand of antique pocket watch or a watch crafted from a specific metal. Once a prospective buyer has determined his or her preferences, he or she can begin the search for an antique pocket watch that meets his or her requirements.

Brief History of the Pocket Watch

The first clocks used a system of falling weights to tell the time. Not only were these clocks quite heavy, but they also had to be kept upright to keep time. These two factors made it impossible to carry these early clocks around. This problem was solved in the early 1500s when German locksmith Peter Henlein incorporated a mainspring into his clock design. Since the mainspring eliminated the weight system, these newer clocks could be carried around without any interference in the tracking of time.

These early watches were lighter than the clocks of the time but were still significantly heavier than the watches of today. The first watches were designed to be worn around the neck or attached to a belt via a chain. While these early watches represented a huge step in portable time telling, they only had an hour hand, so they were largely inaccurate.

Invention of the Pocket Watch

In the late 16th century, watchmakers began making watches from brass rather than iron. Replacing the weights with a mainspring and switching from iron to brass as the main metal component of the watch allowed watchmakers to create lighter, more portable watches. These watches, known as pocket watches, were very popular well into the 19th century. They featured a chain that attached the watch to a vest or jacket so that the individual wearing the watch did not drop or lose it. Early pocket watches were individually handcrafted by skilled watchmakers and were considered quite expensive. As a result, early pocket watches were considered a luxury that could only be afforded by society’s upper crust.

It was not until the late 17th century that watchmakers developed minute hands for their pocket watches. This addition improved the accuracy of the pocket watch though the watches were still considered a luxury item until the mid-19th century when Aaron Lufkin Dennison developed a way to use mass-manufactured interchangeable parts. Along with his partner Edward Howard, Dennison opened their first watch making factory in the 1850s. Mass-produced pocket watches were significantly less expensive than their predecessors, which made pocket watches affordable for a wider range of people for the first time in history.

Wristwatches Replace Pocket Watches

Pocket watches enjoyed several centuries of popularity, especially among men who could attach the pocket watch chain to a vest buttonhole, button, or belt loop. Since most women’s garments lacked pockets, women were the first to make the switch to wearing wristwatches to tell time. Most men continued to use pocket watches until World War I when soldiers began wearing them, and others quickly adopted the trend. Today, wristwatches are still more popular than pocket watches; however, many people enjoy collecting antique pocket watches and individuals who own high quality antique pocket watches often pass them down to future generations as heirlooms.

Types of Antique Pocket Watches

The most iconic pocket watch is the hunter pocket watch. These watches have a hinged metal or enamel cover that protects the face of the watch when the pocket watch is not in use. In addition to this style, there are several other styles, some of which were more popular when pocket watches first came into fashion. When looking for antique pocket watches to collect or use, prospective buyers should determine which style they like best and shop for that specific style.

Type of Pocket Watch


Open-Face Pocket Watch

Exposed face; no protective cover

Full-Hunter Pocket Watch

Hinged cover over watch face for protection

Half-Hunter Pocket Watch

Cover has opening so user can see time without opening

Double Hunter Pocket Watch

Protective covers on back and front of watch

Double Half-Hunter Pocket Watch

Full cover on back; half-hunter cover over watch face


When determining which style of antique pocket watch to shop for, individuals should keep the advantages and disadvantages of each style in mind, especially if they plan to actually use the pocket watch. For example, open-face watches are more prone to scratching and damage because of their exposed face. Double hunter pocket watches can be used both as a pocket watch and a clock by flipping the back cover open and setting the watch on a flat surface. Half-hunter style pocket watches provide the best of both worlds: The protection of a hinged cover and the ease of reading of an open-face pocket watch.

What to Look for in an Antique Pocket Watch

Before purchasing any antique pocket watches, collectors and other prospective buyers should be sure to inspect each watch as closely as possible to judge the condition of the watch. While visual inspection may not be possible when shopping online, buyers can ask sellers to provide plenty of photos of the front, back, and inside of the watch as well as detail out any flaws. Scratches and other minor damage are to be expected when shopping for antique pocket watches, but any serious damage seriously affects the watch’s value.


There have been quite a few famous watchmakers over the years. Individuals who collect only watches made by a certain person or company should verify that the watch being considered is indeed from that watchmaker. Even those who are not limiting their collections to just one watchmaker or company should be sure to determine who made the watch being considered for purchase because it can help them determine an appropriate value for the watch.

Metal Content

Before deciding on which antique watches to purchase, individuals should determine which type or types of metals were used in making the watch. While solid gold and silver watches are definitely more valuable than watches made of brass and other materials, collectors should not discount a specific watch simply because it is not gold or silver. The metal content does play a major factor in the watch’s price tag though, so individuals should know what kind of watch they are dealing with so they know what an appropriate price range for the piece is.

Overall Watch Condition

In addition to assessing the damage an antique pocket watch has sustained, buyers should also inspect each watch they are considering adding to their collection for rust and major damage to the watch’s housing or inner workings. If any rust is visible on a pocket watch, that is an indicator that there could be more rust in places that cannot be seen or that some of the rust has been removed. Since rust is a sign of water damage, antique pocket watches with rust damage should be avoided. In addition, watches that have sustained major damage are much less valuable than watches that only have minor scratches, so if an individual is considering purchasing a watch with major damage, he or she should be sure that the price of the watch has been adjusted accordingly.

Prior Work

Although determining whether work has been done on a watch is quite difficult, and determining whether the work was done properly is even more difficult, prospective buyers should do their best to find out the repair history of any watch they wish to purchase. Oftentimes, when watchmakers and repair shops do not have the proper parts or the parts they have are not the exact size needed for antique watches, they may make adjustments to the watch’s inner workings to allow the newer parts to be substituted. This not only lowers the value of the watch, but it may cause the watch to not work properly.

Shopping for Antique Pocket Watches

Pocket watch collectors and other shoppers may find a very limited selection of antique pocket watches at local jewellery or pawn shops, as well as at local flea markets; however, these sales are typically final, which means that buyers cannot get their money back if they find that the watch is damaged, does not work properly, or if the metal content is not as described by the seller. For this reason, collectors may want to shop exclusively online through sites like eBay, where buyers are protected and most sellers offer return policies. These policies allow buyers to visually inspect a pocket watch when it is received and even have it checked out by an antique watch specialist to determine its authenticity. If the buyer is not happy with the results of the visual inspection or the appraisal, he or she can usually return the pocket watch to the seller for a full refund.

Buying Antique Pocket Watches on eBay

If you want to take a look at the antique pocket watches available on eBay, go to the site’s homepage and type antique pocket watches into the search box. After the search results load, you can use the filters, such as closure type, material, and features, to narrow down your search results. For example, if you are looking for an antique pocket watch with chain, put in a filter to include a chain. You can also be more specific with your initial keyword search; however, you may eliminate listings for watches that you might like by being too specific.

Before making a purchasing decision, buyers should read each listing carefully and review all of the photos provided by the seller to confirm that they are happy with the watch and its condition. Prospective buyers should also read through the seller’s return policy before purchasing so they know if the watch can be returned if they are not satisfied with it once they see it.


Some individuals collect antique pocket watches so that they can wear them, while others collect them simply to display them in their home. Whatever the reason, collectors and other shoppers who are interested in buying antique pocket watches should take their time when selecting watches to add to their collection and should do their homework before purchasing any watch so they know the appropriate price range for the watch in question as well as how common or rare the watch is, and whether or not they may be able to find the same watch in better condition through a different seller.

Because there is not a huge market for antique pocket watches, buyers should be sure to check out the online selection before purchasing so they are sure they are getting watches in the best possible condition. With a little research and an understanding of the types of antique pocket watches available, buyers should have no problem finding the perfect antique pocket watch to add to their collection on eBay.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides