Sell Antique Watches

When you find an old watch in a safe or a drawer somewhere, or if you inherit one, you may wonder if it is an antique with some value. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s an antique, and just because it’s an antique, it doesn’t mean it’s valuable. A watch may be considered an antique if it is 100 years old or more. On the other hand, if it is at least 25 years old or refers to a particular era when it was popular, it may be considered a vintage. An old Swatch, which became popular in the 1980s, is vintage, and may have some value for collectors. A pocket watch from the Victorian era, however, may be both a vintage and an antique. It you are planning to sell antique watches, you should know a little bit more about them.

Assessing antique watches

Many types of antique watches may catch the fancy of watch collectors. These could be pocket watches, wristwatches, and other small timepieces. Experts will know the value of certain timepieces from its quality, and/or the brand. If you assess a vintage timepiece, the first thing you have to check is for signs of wear and damage on the outer surfaces, including the winding stems, faceplates, bands, chains, and clasps.

One of the most collectible antique watches is pocket watches from the railroad company. There was a time when the law required railroad companies to equip their conductors and engineers with a pocket watch to make sure the trains ran on schedule. As a result, these timepieces are quite accurate and sturdy.

Watch buyers also check the number of jewels. These are actual gems, although industrial-grade, and they are used in the bearings in the mechanism of the watch to reduce wear and friction. Typically, antique watches have a minimum of seven jewels. The higher the quality of the watch, the more jewels it will have. Some watches can have as many as 25. The more jewels a vintage watch has, the higher its value.

Condition

The selling price of any timepiece, even antique ones, can be significantly affected by its condition. While watch buyers expect some signs of use in antique watches, one that is in good condition will fetch a higher price than one that is a little worse for wear. If you own an antique watch, it will be in your best interest to take good care of it. You should use it regularly to help it keep time better. If that is not possible, wind it every day, if it is not an automatic.

The first self-winding or automatic watches came out in 1928, so if you have one of those early “bumper” wristwatches using the Harwood system, it is practically an antique (although technically vintage), and bound to be quite valuable. The company that made these watches closed down during the Great Depression, and although it turned out 30,000 watches in that time, it is unlikely than very many pieces are still around today. For those, you only have to make sure it gets a good shake once a day.

You should also have it professionally cleaned and oiled at least once a year, preferably every six months to keep the mechanism in good shape.  Make sure you get an expert to do this, or it could ruin the watch. Cleaning and oiling a classic antique is not for amateurs as the mechanisms are very delicate and require special skills and knowledge to do correctly.  This is because the watch repairer will have to open up and remove the movement to get at all the dirt and grime with a soap solution first, then cyanide, and finally, alcohol. The expert will then have to assemble and adjust the watch.

Metal value

Antique watches are made from mostly metal, although you may find some with plastic elements. Watchmakers used plastic “jewels” in the 1940s to replace glass, which broke easily.  Tissot made the first plastic watch in 1952, called the Astrolon. Many watches with plastic elements may be considered antiques, depending on when it was produced.

In most cases, however, you would be more concerned with the metal parts of the watch if you want to know its intrinsic value. Many antique watches are made of precious metals, mostly gold and silver alloys, sometimes mixed in with other metals such as stainless steel. Watch buyers may simply be interested in the purity or fineness of the existing gold or silver, and if the watch was produced after 1985, platinum. You may see a stamp of 925 on a silver watch, for example, which means sterling silver at 925 parts per thousand of silver.

If you have a gold watch, you may find stamps ranging from10K to 24K. Pure gold is 24 karats, or 24K, so a gold watch with a stamp of 10K means it has 10 parts gold and 14 parts of another metal. A 24K gold watch will obviously have more gold value than a 10K watch, Most American watches are made with 14K gold while those from Europe typically use 18K or 24K gold. Watch experts can check if a “gold” watch is actually solid gold rather than plated by using a magnet on the band (well away from the watch’s mechanism to avoid damaging it). If it sticks, it’s not gold, as gold is not magnetic.

However, it does not mean the 10K watch will be less valuable. You will have to consider other factors as well, such as its condition, brand, and history. In fact, in some instances, antique watches with no precious metal at all may be more valuable than one in solid gold, silver, or platinum.

Brands

As mentioned earlier, the brand will have a significant effect on the price. Some watch brands are simply more in demand than others are, and these include high-end brands such as Rolex, Omega, Bulova, and Hamilton. Some brands have become even more valuable because the company closed down some time ago, such as Elgin. Check online for the price ranges for the brand of your antique watch. Some models and years are particularly more valuable.

Conclusion

Before selling your antique watch, make sure you take very good care of it, and find out how much it is actually worth. Have it appraised so you know you get the best deal when you sell it.