Pocket Watch Grades -- what do they mean and how can I determine mine?
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Thread: Pocket Watch Grades -- what do they mean and how can I determine mine?

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  1. #1
    Member MTHall720's Avatar
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    May 2014
    Frederick Maryland

    Pocket Watch Grades -- what do they mean and how can I determine mine?

    I really don't know how to tell what grade my watch is. Do I take off the back cover and look for it inside? What does the grade really mean? Is the higher the number better quality?

    Thanks very much.
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  2. #2
    Member odd_and_vintage_fan's Avatar
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    Dec 2014
    PA, USA

    Re: Pocket Watch Grades -- what do they mean and how can I determine mine?

    It's not my strong suit, but considering 7 hours and 100 views with no answer, here's the best I've got.

    Had a family friend ask me to look at a grandfather's pocketwatch. It said American Watch Co on the dial (later Waltham), so that was easy enough. Then I wrote down every single bit of text and number I could read on the movement and started googling.

    I found a few pages similar to this:
    Barry S. Goldberg's Pocket Watch Collection - Helpful Information - Waltham Grades

    I'd never even heard of Crescent Street, but a few minutes searching "Crescent Street Waltham" and I discovered it was top of the line in 1889.

    If you're really stumped, get the best photos of the movement you can and write out all of the text you can read on it and post everything here.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2013

    Re: Pocket Watch Grades -- what do they mean and how can I determine mine?

    You open the back of your pocket watch and find the serial number

    Then type the serial number into this data base and select the watch maker


    It will then give you loads of info such as the Grade and year(+/- about 3 years) of the watch

    Sometimes the grade number will be on the movement.
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  5. #4
    Sponsor thoth's Avatar
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    Aug 2009

    Re: Pocket Watch Grades -- what do they mean and how can I determine mine?

    Ok....kind of general. It all goes by company, where, and when the watch was made. European standards were different. You will find 16 and 18 jewel watches more in European than you will American. American jewel counts were typically 7, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21. After 21 it can go to 25 on a time only. But a jewel count does not give the mark of quality watch. The model 1892 Waltham was marketed as the most technologically advanced and highest quality of its day. That was for the 17, 19, and 21 jewel versions. So Waltham used names to identify grades in a structure. Elgin kind of did with watches like the BW Raymond and Father Time. Illinois did with their Sangamo and Bunn models. But even then you have grades within those names. Don't ever go by a rule of "Higher the number the better the grade" because companies like Hamilton will prove you wrong.

    The 950 was a higher grade than the 992. Both were excellent watches but one went above the other in quality and price. If you are looking at trying to determine the quality of a watch you can go by a few things.

    1) Overall Finish - Look at a Waltham 17j Model 1892 Crescent Street. The over all look makes one say....wow. So detailed and precise. Like anything made that is quality...you can see it.
    2) Jewel count - Anything 15 and above would be a mid or higher quality. In the older days (1860's-1880's) 15 jewel was a standard for a "Fully Jeweled Watch".
    3) Balance Wheel - A split bimetallic or solid alloy with timing screws will always be better than a basic metal balance with no adjustments.
    4) Adjustments - The more adjustments the better. You can go up to 8 but good start at 3 and go up. I say 3 because there are some good quality 3 adjustment watches.
    5) Regulator - Fine regulation can be found on most higher quality watches. Something that lets you fine tune to a small fraction.
    6) Dial - A double sunk dial will trump a single sunk. The doubles were put on higher quality watches. But dials can be switches do not always a sign of quality.

    A grade is just a way of trying to know if a model is better than another one within a company but can be limited to only that company. Time plays a role too. Some would argue that the early 950 was far more beautiful and looked higher quality than the 950B. But in technology the B was more superior. Some say that the art of watchmaking was reduced and replaced by engineering. Both are amazing but to the eye of some the 950 is better quality in a aesthetics way. Like a early Hamilton 992 with the beautiful patterns giving way to just lines later. Either way....still a quality watch.

    You could also consider "Railroad Grade" and "Railroad Approved" watches. The first is one that meets Railroad standards but may not have been used by railroads. The second is ones accepted and used by the railroads. For the American watch industry a railroad watch was of the highest standards and needed to meet strict guidelines for timing. Much like how a watch that is Chronometer rated in Europe is seen as a superior watch for meeting strict timing standards, the same goes for American pocket watches. If you get more familiar with what watches were railroad watches, you will start to see what the difference in quality is between one grade and another.

    Yes I know there are exceptions but this is just a general basic guideline. As always....research research research.

  6. #5
    Member MTHall720's Avatar
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    May 2014
    Frederick Maryland

    Re: Pocket Watch Grades -- what do they mean and how can I determine mine?

    Thank you so very much everyone. I truly appreciate the great answers and the time it took for such complete coverage. I am really finding it fascinating reading and researching.
    As a side note, since mechanical aptitude is not my strong suit, I think just taking the back off the case of a watch is as far as I'll go. Wish I knew how to clean and polish/dust/ or lubricate them but am concerned it will not go well if I try that.
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