Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, once said, "A gentleman's choice of timepiece says as much about him as does his Saville Row suit."
Watches have long been a fashion statement for men and women for centuries, and many of us still hold onto those collectible watches despite our tendency to now use our cellphones to check the time.
But we might not always want to keep the antique watches, such as pocket watches, we have around the house and instead trade them in for some much-needed cash.
How can you tell if you have a valuable timepiece? Let's break it down for you, with the help of Muzeum's expertise.
First, a crucial lesson when you know the age of your watch is: "Just because it's old doesn't mean it's valuable," says Max Smirnov, the manager of Muzeum. He notes that if you go back decades ago "everyone had pocket watches so having one today doesn't automatically make it a collectible."
Look for serial numbers that could help you determine the age of the watch. Then head to a reference chart like one we found here that can match serial numbers from various manufacturers to the date the watch was made.
For many watches, especially Swiss or European watches, it can be difficult to determine the age of the piece because there are no serial numbers. Most Swiss pocket watches might not offer a unique serial number which can be used to date the watch, and for those products the age must be estimated by the style of the movement and the way the watch is constructed.
Next, a watch's jewel count can help you recognize its value. Smirnov says a high jewel count, coupled with gold-plating or any gold layers, can boost the value of your pocket watch. But these aren't the typical jewels adoring a coveted item; they serve a functional purpose and are found within the watch itself. They are used as the bearings for the wheel trains and in high wear parts such as the escape lever.
Rubies were most commonly used as the functional jewels in most antique watches, but note they may not be visible to the naked eye since they may be embedded deep within the watch's mechanics.
Why jewels? They are hard and therefore wear very slowly, and they also can be worked to a very smooth finish. These characteristics relate directly to their function in watchmaking – reducing friction.
So if you can determine the jewel count of your watch, you'll have a clearer idea of what it may be worth.
Also, is your old watch working? If so, it'll be more valuable than a non-working pocket watch.
But even if the watch is in working condition, we recommend holding it up to your ear to listen carefully to what you hear. Is the ticking of the watch clean and smooth, with a faint metallic ring (more like a ting-ting-ting than a tick-tock-tick) or does it sound a bit rough, like something is loose or dragging? The watch may be close to breaking.
Also carefully watch the motion of the balance wheel. Does it look straight and true, or is there a wobble in its motion? Any wobble could be a sign of a bent or broken balance pivot, an "out of true" balance, or damage to the balance jewels.
What may hurt your watch's value is an engraving, Smirnov says. Many people were gifted pocket watches with personal engravings, and such an intimate message won't help boost the watch's value. Well, unless you have the timepiece from a famous figure, but you'll need paperwork to confirm the authenticity of the collectible.
And of course, your watch should be in pristine condition to maximize its value. Look for any dings, scratches or markings that could bruise its resale price. Be careful about doing any polishing yourself, in case you do more harm than good.
Finally, what does a valuable pocket watch look like? We thought we'd go for an extreme example here, to inspire all you timepiece owners: the Breguet number 160, manufactured in 1827, was made for Marie Antoinette and features a full perpetual calendar, a jumping hour hand, 23 complications and 823 parts. This beaut is encased in 18-karat gold and sapphires adorn every working surface.
Its value is estimated at $36 million.
Of course, you might not have this treasure lying around your home but you may have another pocket watch you'd like assessed by our watch experts. Feel free to email us anytime to book an appointment with Muzeum staff.