Recommend a first pocket watch
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  1. #1
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    Recommend a first pocket watch

    Having bought a Unitas 6497 based wristwatch I'm now bitten by the pocket watch bug.

    I'm not interested in anything I can't wear so before I lay down big cash on something nice and exotic (or fragile and expensive!) I'd like to try wearing a pocket watch for a while and see if I can get used to it.

    I'm really looking for a cheap, probably vintage small sized pocket watch (must fit in a jeans or suit trouser watch pocket).

    There's so many different models and grades I don't know where to start....

    Please can you recommend me a watch? Ideally one with easily available parts so that once I've completed the Timezone watch courses I could in theory service it myself......

    Oh, and did I say fairly cheap?

    Thanks in advance! :thanks

  2. #2
    Member Erik_H's Avatar
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    A 12 size 17j Elgin, Waltham, Illinois or Hamilton from the first half of the twentieth century should fit the bill nicely.
    Erik_H
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    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    I agree; I've picked up a number of decent 12s for ~$30 a piece. They slide nicely into modern jean watch pockets.

    Waltham Colonial's are another good candidate, although the keyless works can be highly annoying to work with if you're cleaning them yourself.
    My growing collection of "affordable" vintages: http://www.abslomrob.com

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    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    Even the cheapest vintage pocket watches can cost a fair bit of money.

    I suggest starting with a modern pocket watch. Perhaps a good-quality mechanical one, or a decent quartz-powered pocket watch. Most modern pocket watches are quite small, so getting them to fit into your jeans pocket will be no problem.

    Once you've decided that you like wearing a pocket watch, THEN start looking at quality vintage pieces. There's no point in spending $300 on a vintage watch if you don't like it.
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

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    'The Yellow Face'.

  6. #5
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    Quote Originally Posted by Shangas View Post
    Even the cheapest vintage pocket watches can cost a fair bit of money.

    I suggest starting with a modern pocket watch. Perhaps a good-quality mechanical one, or a decent quartz-powered pocket watch.
    It's gotta be mechanical.

    Can you recommend something?

    $300 isn't outrageous as if it doesn't wok out I can always sell it on.

    What should I use as my ebay search description? I saw a lovely one at a local antiques dealer but at nearly $1000 seemed a it steep.

    Here's some pictures of the watch.




  7. #6
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    Hi Navitimer,

    I quite understand your desire for a mechanical pocket watch. Perhaps I should make my opinions and positions a bit clearer.

    You say that this will be your first pocket watch, and that you want something small to fit into the watch-pocket of your jeans and trousers. Most modern quartz pocket watches are quite small, which is why I recommended them first. Of course, there is also a wide variety of modern mechanical pocket watches of varying quality. This is not to say that there aren't some very nice and good quality ones out there, but simply to be mindful of what to look for in a modern mechanical pocket watch, if you decide to go down that path.

    But...shoving all that off the table and starting new...

    If you want a vintage/antique pocket watch from a good maker which you can practice open heart surgery on, you'll probably want a bigger watch, with larger parts. But if your desire for a pocket watch is simply to have a vintage mechanic which tells time, then most smaller sized watches should be fine.

    Traditionally, pocket watches came in various sizes, ranging from 0 up to...24, I think was the largest. Men's watch sizes started at 12, going up to 14, 16, 18, 20, etc. Women's watch sizes started at 12 and went down to 0.

    A nice 12 or 14 size pocket watch is probably your best choice in terms of it fitting into your watch-pocket. I have a 14-size Waltham that fits into most of my pockets very comfortably.

    As Erik and Rob have already said, having decided on the TYPE of watch (vintage, modern, mechanical, quartz) and the size (12 or 14), it's then time to consider the BRAND of the watch.

    Companies such as Elgin, Hamilton and Waltham are often recommended because these companies made millions of watches of several sizes and the chances of you finding a nice, 12 size man's watch are pretty good. Most people prefer larger pocket watches, so a smaller 12-size might be cheaper to buy.

    Having decided on the type (mechanical) size (12) and the brand (I'll let you decide, but it should be a big, well-known brand, for ease of servicing and sourcing parts), it's time to think about what to look for in a watch.

    I'm only a pocket watch enthusiast, not an expert, so don't take everything I say next, as being absolutely gospel truth. A decent pocket watch should have at least seven jewels. Higher quality watches had jewel counts going from 15, 17, 19, 21 and 23 jewels. Most people would agree that starting at 15 & 17 is where really decent timekeeping begins.

    Watch cases are made of a variety of metals: Gold, silver and nickel. Which one you pick is up to you, but keep a few things in mind...

    1. Solid gold watch cases are becoming increasingly rare, due to people who melt down the gold case for scrap. As a result, a watch with a good quality gold case will probably cost a fair bit of money.

    2. Gold-filled provides the appearance of gold without the extra cost. If you like the idea of a gold cased watch, go for this option. Many watches had gold-filled cases in varying levels of quality, so finding one should not be too hard.

    I can't comment on silver or nickel cases, so I'll let the others do that.

    Don't expect your watch to keep amazing time. Be amazed by the time that it keeps.

    A vintage watch is anywhere from 50 to 100 years old. They're not modern quartz watches. With this in mind, don't expect your watch to keep great great great time. The railroad standard of timekeeping was +/-30sec a week, or better, using the highest quality watches available. That said, a decent 15 or 17 jewel watch should be able to keep very good time. My humble 7-jewel 14 size Waltham keeps time to +/- 1min a week.

    I take it from your first post, that you do actually intend to wear your watch as your daily timepiece. Very few people still wear pocket watches for daily use. I'm probably one of the very few people who still do. Here's a few bits of advice, from my own personal experience...

    1. ALWAYS wear your watch with a watch-chain. Not having a watch chain is inviting disaster. Your pocket watch becomes a hyperactive puppy with a deathwish who will jump out of your pocket and go skydiving at the soonest possible moment, if you don't have a watch-chain leash around the watch-bow to stop it falling.

    2. Apart from preventing any possible disasters with dropped watches, watch-chains also help retrieve watches if they're hiding in inaccessible places such as trouser-pockets, where bent legs and torso might prevent access to a watch-pocket with fingers.

    3. Don't try and force your watch into your pocket. I used to see if my watch fit my watch-pockets by stuffing my fingers in there, first. If I could get four fingers, side by side, into my pocket and out again, then I could fit in a watch up to and including my 16-size railroad watch.

    4. Vintage pocket watches are scared of dust, heights and water. Don't expose them to any of these. They don't have waterproofing and only later models made after (what year, guys? I forget) have shock-protection, but even then, you shouldn't go tossing them around.

    5. This is my personal opinion, but, to be practical, a watch-chain should be around a foot long to be useful. My regular chain is 11 inches and it works fine.

    6. Wind your watch once a day, preferrably in the morning or at night. Not both. I typically wind my watches up first thing in the morning, before I put it on.

    7. If you're buying a watch from eBay or a flea-market, unless you KNOW for CERTAIN that the watch has been PROFESSIONALLY SERVICED...tack a couple of hundred bucks onto the price of any pocket watch, to act as the service-cost, since you'll need to get the watch serviced before you use it.

    8. If you don't know where to find pocket watches, check places such as...

    - eBay.
    - Flea-markets (but with these two, tack on a service-price. You may need it).
    - Jewellery shops (perhaps not so much these days, but you might get lucky).
    - Antiques shops (tack on service-price, unless watch was serviced before being put up for sale).
    - Watchmaker's shops. Not watch-shops, watchmaker's shops. Watchmakers sometimes buy old pocket watches from their customers. They service them and pop them in their windows for sale. If you can find a watchmaker in town like that, go there and examine their offerings. I was fortunate enough to find two watchmakers in town who do that!!

    I hope this helps somewhat, and I apologise in advance to any of the watch gurus if any information I gave out was incorrect or misleading.
    argh226 likes this.
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  8. #7
    Member Erik_H's Avatar
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    Normally we don't do valuations here but I need to warn you that Illinois is not worth anything near $1000. It is a 12s 21j grade 274 from 1923, it was made in 58.100 units so a quite common watch. And it has a switched, not original case.
    Erik_H
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  9. #8
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    I'd add thrift stores (like the salvation army) to the list of places to look. You probably want to stay away from "dollar watches" though; most of these are labeled "Westclox" or "Ingarahm" or similar. They're not very reliable and very difficult to fix or even service. I know a few people who collect them (and they make an interesting and relatively cheap collection), but I gather from your "TimeZoneWatchSchool" reference that you're aiming to get more into the mechanics, and dollar watches aren't a good target for that.
    My growing collection of "affordable" vintages: http://www.abslomrob.com

  10. #9
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    Oh, something else I should mention, which Rob kinda jogged my memory about...

    ...watch chains.

    A watch-chain should match the colour of the watch. Yellow metal chain with yellow watch-case (gold with gold or gold with polished brass. Silver and silver or nickel and nickel, nickel & silver, etc. Not Gold & silver or nickel and brass, etc). That's rather obvious stylistic stuff, but I'll mention it anyway.

    Finding watch-CHAINS can be a bit trickier than finding the watch itself. Watch chains were not sold specific to any watch and you often bought your chain seperately from your watch, when you went out to buy a pocket watch. Typically, a jeweller would have a display of prospective chains, like how these days they have arrays of watch-straps.

    Chains might be found at the following locations:

    - eBay.
    - Flea-markets.
    - Antiques shops.
    - SOME jewellery shops.
    - Watchmakers' shops.
    - Thrift/junkshops.

    A warning: Some women's necklaces and chains can look very close to watch-chains...be sure to examine the item CAREFULLY before buying it. I believe this whole thing started in the 1910s when men went to war. Wives started wearing Double Albert and ring-clip chains around their necks (they were the only chains long-enough) to act as necklaces, in a period when they couldn't buy extra jewellery (because of the war), so instead used their husbands' watch-chains, when they were out fighting and dying in the trenches.

    Chains vary considerably in price. A decent modern watch-chain can be bought for a fairly low price. A vintage chain could be sold for a pittance or a king's ransom. I was lucky to buy a very very solid, hefty, dependable brass T-bar Albert-chain at my local flea-market (incidently, where I also bought my pocket watches), for the tiny sum of $20...so bargins can be found out there, if you look hard.
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  11. #10
    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: Recommend a first pocket watch

    I was at an auction a few weeks ago, and there were about 5 watch chains, mostly gold filled or gold plate. Every one of them sold for $150+. I was stunned. I've taken to low-bidding on ebay watches that include the chain even if the watch and case are bad.
    My growing collection of "affordable" vintages: http://www.abslomrob.com

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