A Beginner’s Guide to Pocket Watches
Beauty, Fashion & Jewellery

A Beginner’s Guide to Pocket Watches

Perhaps you’ve found a family heirloom languishing at the back of a drawer. Or you’ve decided to invest in pocket watch collectables. Whatever your reason for interest, starting out in the world of antique collectable pocket watches can be a pretty daunting affair. Dakota Murphey has put together a little guide giving a brief overview of some of the more popular collectables, and the types of movements you may come across.

Vintage and antique pocket watches make great collectables but they require regular specialist maintenance to keep their delicate casings and intricate movements in perfect condition. While you may be tempted as a beginner to tinker with the inner workings of your prized pocket watch, we would always recommend you seek out a professional watchmaker for any pocket watch repair.

Benson pocket watches

Benson pocket watches are amongst the oldest made by a British watchmaker. The reputable Benson pocket watch evolved from a family of watchmakers. Brothers Samuel Suckley Benson and James William Benson founded the famed Benson watchmakers in London in 1847. In 1855 the partnership was dissolved and James William continued the business under the name J.W. Benson. The company continued in the same family until 1973 when it was sold to the Royal jewellers, Garrards.

Benson pocket watches are truly magnificent timepieces and J.W. Benson has an impressive past. He was the official watchmaker to the Admiralty and the War Department and he also held a number of royal warrants as watchmaker to Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, the Tsar of Russia and several other royal families.

Waltham pocket watches

The Waltham Watch Company, also known as the American Waltham Watch Co., contributed greatly to the precision engineering of watch making machines. In operation from 1852-1957 many fine specimens of pocket watches came out of the Waltham factory. The vision of the company’s founders was to produce watches with machinery using interchangeable parts. By the early 1870s Waltham watches were winning prizes all over the world.

Through production, Waltham found that even though they were using interchangeable parts, each watch was still unique and required its own corrections.

A Beginner’s Guide to Pocket Watches

Hunter pocket watches

It is likely that the name Hunter stems from the fact that this style of pocket watch was developed for fox hunters to protect the watch face against shocks, but the sophisticated Hunter style soon became a favourite for everyone from upper-class gentleman to soldiers and industrial workers. The clever clam-shell design has inadvertently been the saviour of many pocket watches, which has protected against the natural wear and tear of the glass face, not afforded to many other open-faced pocket watch styles.

There are a number of Hunter pocket watch styles including full hunter, half hunter, double hunter or double half-opening hunter. Full Hunters feature outer casings, which are often flamboyantly engraved. The half Hunter cleverly features covers with crystals or holes, so the owner was able to see the hands of the watch without opening it. Double Hunters feature a double case, enabling the owner to view the mechanical movements at the back.

Swiss pocket watches

Swiss pocket watches are defined as such by the Swiss government as having a Swiss movement when the production is at least 60 per cent manufactured in Switzerland. The watch industry imposes a stricter parameter, with an 80 per cent minimum Swiss production cost required before labelling a pocket watch of Swiss origin. Those that are manufactured completely in Switzerland can be termed ‘Swiss made’ and are timepieces of optimum quality and mechanical excellence.

While the age of many antique pocket watches can be valued by a serial number, most antique Swiss pocket watches were not given a serial number. The age of most antique Swiss pocket watches is determined by the style of the movement and the way the pocket watch is constructed.

Military pocket watches

Antique military pocket watches are heirlooms that deserve to be kept in pristine condition. While wrist watches were being introduced into the military during the trench battles of WWI, pocket watches were still utilised and considered to be more robust in extreme conditions. Even during WWII the humble pocket watch was still seen as a useful and reliable timepiece.

Today military pocket watches are very collectable pieces and some are very rare.

Railroad pocket watches

A large number of pocket watch collectors focus on railroad watches because they are such high grade timepieces. Railroad pocket watches are specialised timepieces that were fundamental to the timely running of rail services for many years. The great train disaster in America in 1891 was due to a faulty timepiece. Since then, all American railroads adopted higher standard timepieces, which is why they are highly collectable today.

A railroad watch is defined as one used on the railroads that met the general time service requirements that were in effect at the time it was built. It became known as “railroad standard.”

Pocket watch movements

The fusee movement is spring powered. It incorporates a cone-shaped pulley with a helical groove around it, wound with a cord or chain which is attached to the mainspring barrel. The fusee movement dramatically improved time keeping in pocket watches from the 15th century to the early 20th century.

Repeaters are wonderful pocket watches with a beautiful sounding repeating mechanism. Repeater pocket watches showcase the feat of fine watchmaking, chiming minutes or hours at the press of a button. There are many types of repeater including minute, half-quarter or a decimal type.

The verge is highly respected and the earliest known type of mechanical escapement, that controls its rate by allowing a gear train to advance at regular intervals or ‘ticks.’

*This is a collaborative post.

This article has 17 comments

  1. tara pittman

    Pocket watches are so elegant. They would look so good on my husband for a night out.

  2. Heather Johnson

    Pocket watches are so quaint and adorable! I would rather carry a pocket watch than wear one on my wrist anymore.

  3. Brandi with Big Fit Fam

    There is nothing quite so classically chic as nice pocket watch! I really wish they would jump back in style as I would love to ask a nicely dressed man the time if he had one!

  4. Claudia Krusch

    I have always loved the look of pocket watches. My friend was just talking about one she wanted for her birthday.

  5. Joely Smith

    I have always had a thing for pocket watches – and men who carry them! I have never known much about them though so this was a cool read!

  6. Emily Morton

    These watches are absolutely beautiful! There really is an art to watchmaking.

  7. Farrah Less

    This is a cool piece to have, I used to collect watches. This one is perfect looks like a vintage on my personal opinion,

  8. Kate | Highlights Along The Way

    There’s something about pocket watches that is so classy and elegant. I’m so amazed with the history of these watches!

  9. Jennifer Rollins

    My grandpa had a pocket watch when I was little, I used to love to sit around and hold it. It made me feel “fancy.”

  10. Echo

    Pocket watches are so beautiful. My husband has a couple that have been passed down!

  11. Sonyo Estavillo

    There is definitely something stylish when it comes to pocket watches. It reminds me of the modern steam punk movement. I love it and thinking of getting one.

  12. Ana Ojha

    Pocket watches are timeless and look elegant! My grandfather gave me the Swiss pocket watch when I was a kid!

  13. Francis Angelito

    Pocket watches are classic practical accessories. They are pricey in our local market, but I would love to have one someday.

  14. Mommy Rockin In Style

    This reminds me of the movie Alice in Wonderland. I find gold pocket watches the greatest possession one can ever have.

  15. Rebecca Swenor

    This is a great beginners guide by Dakota Murphey for pocket watches. I didn’t not know the differences between the pockets watches except the the Swiss made ones were considered one of the best made. Thanks for sharing the information.

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