First pocket watch for son's graduation
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  1. #1
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    First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Friends, my son's interest in pocket watches brings me into your world.
    He is graduating from high school in a few weeks. When we asked him what he might like to commemorate the event he said, much to our amazement, that he would like a pocket watch. Not a new one, mind you, but a vintage one, because, as he told his mother, "old is always better." Bless his heart.
    I have no experience in such things and would appreciate any guidance. The appropriate watch need not be gold, jewel encrusted, or from the shop of a lone, celibate Swiss watch-maker living in the shadow of the Matterhorn. But it should have integrity and subtle artistry. It should have some historical context (perhaps a trainman's piece) and keep a modicum of good time. And it should make my boy smile every time he takes it out to see when he in world he is.
    I am obliged in advance.
    David

  2. #2
    Vintage & NAWCC Forum moderator Ben_hutcherson's Avatar
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    I'll offer my standard suggestion and say that you can't go wrong with a Hamilton 992B.

    These were made from 1940-1970, and are the pinnacle of American watch design and production. In good condition, they can keep time as well as anything(mechanical) coming out of Switzerland today. Replacement parts are readily available, and they are simple to repair.

    There are a large variety of different styled cases and dials available for these to suit your son's taste. Prices range from about $200 for one in a stainless steel case in well used but serviceable condition. to around $1000 for a near-unused boxed example.
    Member National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors
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    Serious collector of American pocket watches-Waltham(and the predecessor companies) is my specialty.

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    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Quote Originally Posted by Deliberate1 View Post
    Friends, my son's interest in pocket watches brings me into your world.
    He is graduating from high school in a few weeks. When we asked him what he might like to commemorate the event he said, much to our amazement, that he would like a pocket watch. Not a new one, mind you, but a vintage one, because, as he told his mother, "old is always better." Bless his heart.
    I have no experience in such things and would appreciate any guidance. The appropriate watch need not be gold, jewel encrusted, or from the shop of a lone, celibate Swiss watch-maker living in the shadow of the Matterhorn. But it should have integrity and subtle artistry. It should have some historical context (perhaps a trainman's piece) and keep a modicum of good time. And it should make my boy smile every time he takes it out to see when he in world he is.
    I am obliged in advance.
    David
    Greetings, David. Your son speaks with a wisdom beyond his years. Call me biased, but I do believe that older is indeed, better.

    How much do you expect/want to pay for this commemorative vintage/antique pocketwatch?

    There are various things you need to take into consideration here. I apologise in advance if all this overwhelms you.

    1. The watch MUST have a chain to go with it. You can easily buy these things separately. The chain is not just for looking pretty. It's to prevent expensive trips to the watchmaker (or a cheap trip to the nearest trash-can) if the watch falls out of your waistcoat/coat/trouser pocket and ending up as a pretty little collage of watch-parts on the floor.

    2. Think of good brands. Typically, for older watches, American brands were the best. Look for names such as Rockford, Illinois, Waltham, Hamilton, Ball, Elgin, etc. Ball, in particular, sold especially good watches. But that's because Ball sold railroad-chronometers, and people's lives depended on their quality and accuracy (inaccurate time on the railroads caused big train-wrecks).

    3. Know something of watch-quality. Typically this involves reading up on such things as positioning, regulating and jewelling. How many positions is the watch adjusted to? How many jewels does it have? etc. For reliable timekeeping, a watch should have at least 15 jewels. The highest a watch's jewelling typically goes is up to about 23-26 jewels (there are ones which go higher, but those are for special watches with extra features, and they cost two arms, a leg and your right butt-cheek). My Ball railroad pocketwatch keeps time to minus 2 minutes a month (roughly 30sec. a week), which was the railroad standard of accuracy back in the early 1900s. Not all watches are capable of this kind of accuracy (and that is pretty much as accurate as they will ever get), but your chances of that level of accuracy improve with higher jewelling and better quality of manufacture.

    4. SOLID GOLD watches are prohibitively expensive. If your son begs you for a gold watch (probably to be expected, they are cool as hell), then I suggest you look for a GOLD FILLED watch. They were more common, they cost a fraction of solid gold, and they look just as good and to the casual observer, will look just like the "real thing". Gold-filled watches had cases of BRASS with gold sheeting WELDED over the top in varying thicknesses, depending on the quality. The best quality gold-filled cases were generally marked to last for 20 or 25 years. That said, I do have a 5-year marked gold-filled pocketwatch that's over 110 years old. And it looks brand-new. So you can get lucky sometimes.

    Similarly, solid silver watches are also pretty expensive. Again, you can cut corners here by purchasing a nickel-cased watch. They look sweet as hell and they're a fraction of the price. Just be careful here though, because fakes are nothing new. Nickel was also marketed as "Silveroid" and other fancy, expensive-sounding names. If the case is NOT marked with something like "0925" or "Sterling" or "Coin Silver" or something...then silver it ain't. It's nickel.

    5. The price of the watch will drop with every imperfection that you find. So you can get a pretty cheap gold-filled watch of good quality. I did. I paid $140 for a gold-filled railroad pocketwatch made by Ball, with a 21-jewel movement. But not everyone is that lucky. But you could be, if you keep your eyes open, and your mouth SHUT.

    The question here is...How much imperfection are you willing to accept for a watch?

    Some imperfections are unavoidable. Wear, scratches, dents, dings...If you're willing to put up with that, a lot of watches suddenly become available to you, since most people will want the really really really really obscenely good-quality, good-condition watches (of which there are an increasingly small amount, for obvious reasons, folks ain't makin' them no more).

    For example, my railroad watch...I better show you what it looks like:



    ...looks perfect. But it ain't. On the back there's scratches and a couple of dents. The crown (winding knob at the top) and the bow (the ring which the chain hooks around) are all worn and brassed. There's cracks in the dial (which are hidden when the bezel and crystal are screwed on) and other imperfections. But on the surface, it's perfect. But then, this was a working man's railroad watch. It would've been used every single day for years on end. So that kind of stuff is to be expected.

    Railroad Watches

    You mentioned railroad watches specifically, so I'll try and fill you in on exactly what they are (there are others on this forum FAR more knowledgeable about these than I am, but I'll try!)

    A railroad watch, or a railroad chronometer, or a railroad-standard watch (they go by many names), is a pocketwatch which was used on the railroads.

    You have to understand. In 1900, there's no portable radio. No cellphones. No CCTV. The ONLY way to keep trains safe is to know where EVERY train is at EVERY single second of the day.

    And they can only do this with every train knowing the correct time. And they can only do THAT if they know WHAT that time is. To do that, they needed the most accurate pocketwatches ever.

    To that end, strict guidelines were produced for railroad watches. Originally, they were rather vague, but as time went on, they became tighter, more numerous and more and more specific.

    A railroad watch MUST be...

    - Open-faced. No hunter-case lid to cover the dial.
    - With the crown at 12:00. To prevent accidental orientation.
    - BIG BOLD HANDS AND NUMBERS. It's dark inside a train. You can't read a watch properly, when it's got tiny hands and numbers, and you're shaking around, charging ahead at 90 miles an hour.
    - 16 or 18 size. Watches come in specific sizes. 16 and 18 were men's sizes. (Men's sizes typically went from 12 up to 20 and higher). 16 size watches were more popular, because they met the legal requirements, but they weren't so thick and fat and chunky and heavy.
    - They had to keep time to +/- 30sec a week.
    - They had to have a jewelled movement, 17 jewels or higher (max was typically 23).
    - They had to be LEVER SET. This means that you unscrew the bezel, yank out the lever on the side of the watch, turn the crown at the top to set the time, push the lever back in, and screw the bezel back on. Yes, it's pretty fiddly, but this was to prevent the watch crown from popping out and the watch being set to an incorrect time.
    - The watch must be adjusted to at least FIVE positions.
    - The watch must be adjusted to temperature variance and isochronism (mainspring tension-variance).
    - The watch must have a bimetallic balance (this is part of the temperature variance. Having two metals in the balance stops expansion in heat, and retraction in cold).

    There were a few other regulations, but those are the main ones.

    Servicing the Watch

    A nice watch is like a car. You don't run it without having it serviced. A pocketwatch, if used regularly, should be serviced every 5 or 6 years. A pocketwatch used occasionally (say, once a month when you're going out for dinner and you wanna look swanky), should be serviced every 10 years, give or take.

    You want a RELIABLE watchmaker to do this for you. A pocketwatch is a fiddly machine with dozens of tiny little parts. You don't want some schlubb down at the local strip-mall doing it for you, who also does engraving, changes batteries, repairs watch-straps, polishes crystals and has the gall to call himself a "watchmaker".

    A REAL watchmaker is someone who can literally pull apart an entire watch, name every single piece, clean them, reassemble the watch, lubricate the watch, and put it back together, time it and hand it back in running order. So when you select a watchmaker, check their credentials, their experience and ask detailed questions about what they're gonna do with your watch, and how long it will take them to finish it. If it's anything less than at least 2 or 3 weeks, RUN. Because that means they're rushing the process and not taking it seriously. When I sent my watches to be serviced, on average, it took 4-5 weeks. Fast work would've been considered 3 weeks.
    Tick Talk and double-gauss like this.
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

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  5. #4
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Ben, thanks for the Hamilton suggestion, and particularly to you, Shangas, for that splendid tutorial. You are most generous with your time and expertise. I will be studying your text and then will set off on the search. I am very much looking forward to the treasure hunt. Somewhere out there is my son's watch.
    My son is turning into a very interesting fellow. He developed, quite on his own, an interest in wood turning and wants to be a petro-geologist. Not sure where that comes from. I am a clarinet playing, Leica-toting lawyer.
    Warm regards,
    David

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    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Hello David.

    You're very welcome. I'm happy to answer any other questions you have, if I reckon I can do so with accuracy and confidence. I reckon the stuff I told you there is enough to cover the basics of vintage pocketwatches, but if there's anything else, don't be afraid to shout out
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  7. #6
    Member joeuk's Avatar
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Good luck in your hunt for a Pocket watch for your son, and ask any questions regarding a future buy if not sure. Some members in here will help you. And dont forget to tell him to post pics on here.

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    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Listen to Joe. It is a requirement of this board that we get to see the awesome watch which you purchase for your son. That way we'll know whether our advice and assistance has been worthwhile!

    And we like pictures...lots and lots of pictures...
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  9. #8
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Following Ben's suggestion and Shangas' advice, I have been looking at the Hamilton 992B Railway Special. I like that it is a bit of Americana, has a historical pedigree, can be serviced and just looks cool as hell. The 10k gold filled in workable shape can be had for les than $400. Regarding due diligence, is there anything I should ask a seller before pulling the trigger? I have seen some from the '30's and others from the late 40's on. Is there any preference for younger vs older, in general?
    Thanks again for your kind hospitality. And pics for certain.
    David
    Last edited by Deliberate1; May 20th, 2012 at 03:29.

  10. #9
    Member joeuk's Avatar
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Could ask when it was last service and any receipts to go with it as proof, if not count a service in your cost. Better to give your son a serviced watch after all. Cant give you info on the age difference but sure one of others could help.

  11. #10
    Vintage & NAWCC Forum moderator Ben_hutcherson's Avatar
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    Re: First pocket watch for son's graduation

    Yes, servicing is definitely good.

    As far as age-the 992B was introduced in 1940, and made up until the "official" end of Hamilton's domestic production in 1969(although unofficially some were assembled from left over material on into the first part of the 1970s). Anything from before 1940 will be a 992E or 992. These are equally good watches, although I tend to give the 992B a nod for a carry watch because it's easier to repair and more technically advanced.

    992Bs were made in their own serial sequence with the serial numbers starting with "C"(although some of the clean-ups mentioned above were also made in the "S" and "4C" block). The first serial number was C001, and numbers were assigned roughly sequentially after that to over C500000.

    Collectors in general tend to prefer the earliest examples possible for a variety of reasons. While Hamilton maintained the high level of mechanical quality throughout the production run, the earliest tend to be better finished and be more pleasing to look at. Later movements came fitted from the factory with unbreakable "Dyanvar" alloy mainsprings, but these can easily be fitted to the earlier movements. Most watchmakers will install an NOS "Dyanvar" spring or its equivalent on service or with a broken mainspring.

    Here's an "early" and a "late" 992B movement for comparison.





    Some of the changes seen include a loss of gold jewel settings, loss of the gold center wheel, change from damaskeen to milliskeen, and a switch over to what is(to me) a less attractive sans-serif font on the later 992Bs. In addition, watches made up to about 1948-1950 are fitted with fired porcelain enamel dials. Watches after this have dials made of melamine, which is a type of plastic. The enamel dials can crack and chip if handled improperly, but with care are very durable, don't fade, and can be easily cleaned if dirty. Melamine dials look good when in good shape, but are prone to fade, yellow, and crack. There's also no way to clean them without making them worse. Enamel dials are strongly preferred.
    Member National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors
    Member, NAWCC Chapter 149. Vice President and Secretary NAWCC Chapter 140. Member, NAWCC Convention Committee.
    Serious collector of American pocket watches-Waltham(and the predecessor companies) is my specialty.

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