The groundwork of becoming a collector was fostered in my years as a pre-med student at Columbia (1955-1959) when I made the decision to take a dual major in both Pre-Medical Sciences and Fine Arts. That choice continues to serve me well some five decades later.
In 1966, as a Captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, I was invited to the home of a long time collector in Seattle, Washington. When I went down into this gentleman’s basement I was met with the ticking and syncopated rhythm of two hundred clocks. I was hooked immediately and remain so.
Horological items are intricate systems housed in aesthetic designs, a blend ... of form with function.
I spent the first 10 years making mistakes and struggling to find what truly interested me. I finally learned that I needed the challenge of finding rare, hard to find pieces. My concentration became American clocks with brass movements made during the years when inexpensive (at the time) wooden works clocks were being sold by Yankee peddlers all along the east coast of America (C. 1800-1840). I did not ignore machine made American clocks entirely, but sought out the earlier prototypical examples.
As a collector, I am a traditionalist in that I prefer the classical forms of clocks and watches, rather than the ‘one of a kind’ or quirky examples. I prefer the quality of the hand made as opposed to the machine made. I prefer examples with great line, form and proportion and certainly original or old surface. When it comes to watches I prefer the antique and vintage styles while remaining fully appreciative of the newer models that are astoundingly accurate despite having multiple ‘complications’ (perpetual calendars, repeating, chiming, musical versions etc.).
For clocks the first thing I do is to look at the form, line and proportion of the case. The same level of importance is then given to the surface, very much in the same manner one evaluates a piece of furniture. Are the dial, movement and case of the same period? A marriage of parts destroys value more than almost any other factor in today’s market.
When valuing there are several questions I have to first answer such as: Is it a signed clock? I note the significance of the clock maker. Is it genuine and original throughout? Has there been any repainting or strengthening of the dial? Has the fret, the feet, the door of the case been altered or replaced? Have painted glasses been replaced or are they original to the clock? When it comes to clock valuations the aesthetic properties of the case affect pricing.
Watches are evaluated quite differently. In this field, one that is expanding exponentially, new examples appear almost on a daily basis. The first item of note is the name of the watchmaker. Next is the quality of the metal used (steel, platinum, silver, gold etc.). I then list all of the notations on the case and the movement. Do the case, dial and movement belong together or is this another form of ‘marriage’? Such a marriage devalues the watch.