Collectible Old and Antique Watches - A Historical Guide & Watch Collector's Reference.


Old & Antique Collectible Watches


Antique Watch Appraisal - What's it Worth !

Getting to Know Your Watch - Parts & Terminology

Collectible Watches

Watch Grading Guide

A True Story - Abraham Lincoln's Watch


This 1900 automation watch depicts a butcher chopping a pig's head with each tick. Antique watches such as this are highly desired and collectible.

Check for authenticity!  Antique watch movements and antique watch cases were often made by separate companies, but make sure the case is original to the watch.

Beautiful antique hand-painted pocket watch with pearl bezel.

The age of American collectible watches are more easily identified since American watches usually are issued with 
serial numbers indicating an approximate time of production.

Above is a complicated watch, with multipurpose mechanism, two stopwatch hands, and chiming time, by Waltham, c1880

Longines hunting repeater watch owned by Longines Museum



Collectible Watches! Whether for hobby, antique business, or mere entertainment the passion for old, antique and collectible watches inspires a multitude of collectors to search antique shops, yard sales, flea markets, and auction houses for these rare timepiece treasures waiting to be found. The intrigue, the history, the fun, the excitement, and tales of fabulous finds are inspiring even to a non-collector. But, lack of sufficient knowledge in the arena of antique watch collecting can cause much difficulty and disappointment. Antique Central is here to make the collecting adventure easier for you by providing well researched and 
knowledgeable information. 

Prior to 1875, when the internal winding mechanism was introduced, antique watches were wound and set by key. The value of keyed 
watches is determined mainly by their cases with those of exceptional quality attracting exceptional prices. The next decade was a transitional period in which many watch makers used both methods, referred to as transitional, and
antique watches from this period are highly sought after.

European antique watches generally bring a much higher price than American watches due to their history of quality and precision. American watch dealers may sell a hundred year old watch for a hundred times less than a highly desired French Breguet that has set the standard for many years by which fine watch making is made. Abraham Louis Breguet of Paris is considered the finest of all watchmakers, making timepieces that were of supreme accuracy and horological quality with complex movements and of exquisite design. Few Breguet antique watches are available to the collector, most are in large or private collections, and if found, may be priced in the hundreds of thousands. The range of value in antique watches is usually quite varied and wide. 

Where the maker of the watch is the most important in determing value, second of importance in selection of antique watches depends on the age of the timepiece. An antique watch that is not currently working, but is repairable can be found MUCH cheaper; there will, of course, be costs associated with repairing it, often fifty percent of the watch value. 

Late 1800 and Early 1900 antique American watches, especially highly accurate American railroad watches, are very collectible and easily accessible to the collector. The first American pocket watch maker was English born Thomas Harland of Norwich, Connecticut who was also a silversmith. A 1796 ad in the Connecticut Gazette describes his wares as "Warranted Watches, of most of the various kinds in use, and of the newest fashion." Some of the better early producers of American watches were Elgin, Waltham, Rockford, Hamilton, Hampden, and Howard. Jewelers such as Cartier and Tiffany & Co. also produced watches, mostly desired for the beauty and quality of workmanship of the cases.

Thomas Harland 1773 - 1796
Hamilton Watch Company 1892 - 1964
American Waltham Watch Co. 1825 - 1921
Rockford Watch Company 1874 - 1915
Elgin National Watch Company 1864 - 1964
Howard Watch & Clock Co. 1861 - 1863
Seth Thomas Watch Co. 1884 - 1914

Most valuable and highly sought after are snap-cover hunting case watches, especially those of solid gold, multicolored gold or enamel surfaces with decorations set of precious gems or pearls, and the number of gems adorning it are further indication of its value and durability. Still as popular, but not as valuable, are the silver antique watches, as well as gold filled and nickel. 

It wasn't until World War I that men began using wristwatches. The modern wristwatch, as we know it, evolved from the a small pocket watch worn on the wrist of artillery officers for the purpose of timing the flight of a shell, called a montre militaire. Previously wristwatches were considered too feminine, but soon gained popularity among soldiers and pilots who found pocket watches too cumbersome to access while, at which time popularity and production soared for men's wrist watches and production practically ceased for pocket watches. Cartier was the producer of the first tank watch, originating in 1917, with a style that resembled the heavy tracks of the named military vehicles. Another popular collectible watch is the Rolex Prince, produced between 1928 and 1952, and always accompanied with a Chronometer Rating Certificate.

Chronometer watches were of the highest accuracy and became the standard by which all watches were compared. The Swiss became proficient at designing watches that consistently met these standards, making antique Swiss watches of this era highly coveted. But, as the precision timing of quartz movements were introduced the need for meeting these certification standards were no longer necessary, and the popularity of antique Swiss watches declined while popularity among American and other European watches increased.

In addition, children's watch varieties began to emerge around 1930 with whimsical colors and figures, notably the most famous children's watch, the Mickey Mouse watch, paving the way for other novelty watches. Even today, an antique Mickey Mouse watch in pristine condition will bring a substantial sum, perhaps more than a one hundred year old watch.

Swiss watches gained in popularity in the United States after WWII due to a reduction in tariffs, which greatly diminished the production, and in many cases quality of American personal timepieces.

It is important to be an informed collector. We believe this site will provide you with the information necessary to make informed decisions in regard to purchasing and collecting antiques, familiarize you with the variety of watches available, and we encourage you to read books and seek knowledgeable dealers in order to understand quality and value comparisons among collectible watches.


Elgin Art Deco Watch

The range of value in antique watches is quite wide and varied.  Before investing in collectible watches it is best to first determine an area of collecting, either by brand, type, or by time period, then gain much knowledge in that specific area of watch collecting.

Collectible gold and black skeleton watch



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