As items of both luxury and popularity, many watches are high value items. The reputation attached to watches as retirement gifts and as objects of high society has made them into symbols of wealth and elegance that appeal to many collectors and the wider public. But watches are not that straightforward, they are ubiquitous, and their quality varies greatly: some watches have aged better than others and there is always the challenge of finding the classics of the future.
Valuing Pocket Watches
Pocket watches lack the wearability of wristwatches for most modern occasions and so are likely to be of most interest to collectors or perhaps as items for display. Because of this, rarity and condition will likely be the most important factors in the value of a pocket watch. Pocket watches became more widely used over the 18th and 19th centuries and as a result examples from before 1700 are rarest, identifiable by engraved metal decoration, single cases and champlevé enamelwork. High quality enamelled pocket watches are often valuable regardless of their age; the form of pocket watches is usually very formulaic and so decoration can be crucial, as can any special features. Chronographs, repeating mechanisms, calendarwork and moonphases are all found on pocket watches towards the end of the 19th century and watches with these features are very collectible, especially as many were Swiss made and of very high quality. Earlier British pocket watches by the likes of Daniel Quare, George Graham and Thomas Tompion as well as later French makers are usually valuable.
Valuing Antique Watches
In the first half of the 20th century wristwatches went from experimental to ubiquitous and the market for watches from this period reflects this. Watches that pre-date the Second World War, particularly those from the 1920s and ‘30s have their own collecting niche. This was a time in which Art Deco was dominating design and abstract styles such as cubism and surrealism had forever changed the world of fine art; watch designs that reflect this period in their shape, dials, colour or decoration are highly sought after. Exaggerated, often elongated dials and funky shapes are typical, as well as set jewels (genuine or synthetic). Dating watches to this period is important and to this end marks such as import marks can often be used to confirm appearances. There is also some appeal in watches of historical significance, and examples of military watches from both world wars are not uncommon. While ‘trench watches’ and early ‘wristlets’ may seem interesting historically, this usually does not translate into any great value.
Valuing Modern Watches
The world wars of the 20th century had a great impact on watch design, perhaps most notably in their demand for practical features now desirable in general watch design. Big names and models such as Patek Phillipe Nautilus, Rolex Daytona, Jaeger le Coultre and Cartier and features such as calendars, moonphases and chronographs are usually the best indicators of value of watches from the past 60 years, assuming good condition. Unlike on earlier watches, it is almost always easy to identify the maker and model of a watch, even if sometimes an expert opinion might be required to prove it is genuine. The invention of the quartz watch in 1967 has since made the movement of a watch important to its value; most high value watches will instead be mechanical, with the unnecessary inconvenience of winding making ‘automatic’ by far the more popular.