This post was updated on August 2021
Even though most people now use their phones to tell time, watches remain a fashion statement for men and women. We may not use our old watches for their original function anymore, but we hold on to them for sentimental and aesthetic value. What you may not realize, however, is that your old watch could be worth a substantial amount of money.
Antique watches like pocket watches may not be practical anymore, but in addition to being neat to look at, they can also be traded for cash. If you’re looking to declutter your home of your old watches, this is something to consider — you may have old watches worth money and not even know it.
If you are wondering, “what’s the worth of my old watch,” Muzeum’s experts can get you some answers. As gold and silver buyers, we are experienced with buying and selling vintage watches in Canada and are happy to appraise your vintage watches in Toronto.
The good news is that there are some ways you can start to gage the value of your old watches before you come in:
First things first — what type of watch are you dealing with? Is it a vintage watch or an antique watch?
A vintage watch is typically classified as any watch that is at least two decades old. You can typically tell if a watch is vintage by any markings of dates on its back. You can also find the model number on the watch’s movement.
Vintage watches aren't only defined by their age but also what makes them unique. Both vintage men's watches and vintage women's watches boast technologies, histories, and designs different from those that we see on new, modern pieces. This is why many are valuable and highly collectible.
The difference between vintage and antique watches is that antique watches refer to pieces at least 100 years old. Watches classified as vintage, however, refer to pieces around 20 years old.
Those under 20 years old are deemed "old"; they are not yet vintage, but they are no longer "modern." That said, the term vintage can be used loosely as the value of watches increases so dramatically over such a short period that even models made in the last five years may be dubbed "vintage."
Like most things, the value of a vintage watch vs an antique watch depends on a handful of factors. Afterall, there is no set rule that older watches will be more valuable than a watch made a few years or decades before its inception.
Some vintage men's watches and vintage women's watches will have higher value due to their history, features, material, or condition. Alternatively, some generic, more antique watches may not hold the same value. Essential factors that will determine the value of old watches include:
Some vintage watches fetch jaw-dropping sums at the auction houses because they’re highly sought after by collectors who covet their prestige, history, or unique qualities. For example, the 1925 Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication pocket watch fetched a whopping $24 million USD at a Sotheby’s auction in 2014.
On the flip side, other vintage timepieces are not considered “exceptional” by market standards and are not worth nearly as much. Ultimately, your watch is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.
According to the manager of Muzeum, Max Smirnov, when it comes to your old watches, "Just because it's old doesn't mean it's valuable." That said, paired with other factors, your watch’s age can make all the difference.
If you want to identify the age of your old watches, look for their serial numbers – this number is typically on the back of the watch. The serial number on a watch will help you match it to the date it was made, as well as its manufacturer. This is another essential factor that will help you determine the value of your watch. You can use a reference chart to match your serial number to this information.
That said, some Swiss or European old watches don't have any serial numbers — this can make it difficult to identify their age. Fortunately, there are other ways to find this information. For example, you can estimate the age of a switch pocket watch based on its movement style and its construction.
You can also determine the value of old watches based on the materials they are made of. This can include jewel count, plating, or any layers of valuable metals. After all, a lot of old watches were made with precious metals that have only gone up in value over time.
The type and purity of material used impacts wrist watches and antique pocket watches value. For example, some antique pocket watches have gold plating or gold layers, while others have a high jewel count.
To be clear, a jewel count does not reference the type of jewels you are thinking of. Instead, a watch's jewel count indicates the number of functional jewels found within the watch. These are used in watches as the bearings for wheel trains and high wear parts such as the escape lever. The higher the jewel count of your old watch, the higher its value. A 17-jewel watch is considered to be fully jewelled.
Historically, rubies were most used as the functional jewels in antique watches because they are hard and wear down slowly. This reduces friction and streamlines the process of watchmaking.
Jewel bearings were made of natural jewels from when they were invented in 1704 up until the 20th century when Auguste Verneuil discovered a more cost-effective method – using synthetic corundum. This made pieces less valuable but cheaper to make.
That said, pieces with the jewels you may be thinking about are also valuable in their own right – but you may not find them on your old watches.
If you can determine the jewel count of a watch, it can give you a better idea of what your old watches may be worth. At one point, manufacturers printed a watch's jewel count on its face – a long-defunct practice.
When the jewel count isn't explicitly indicated, determining a watch's jewel count can be tricky to the average eye. In these situations, it's a good idea to consult an appraiser like Muzeum. Not only will we help you identify your piece's jewel count, but we will explain to you in detail the role it plays in determining the value of old watches.
Even though many collectors want old watches not to wear but to hold on to, they are unlikely to buy one that is not in working condition. If they do, it will likely be at a lower price tag.
To determine the value of your old watches, test them out first to make sure they are working — you can do this by holding your watch up to your ear. If the ticking of your watch is clean and smooth with a faint metallic ring, it is likely still operating. If it sounds like something is dragging, however, your old watch may be close to its breaking point.
Another indicator of the working condition of a watch is the motion of its 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.
Of course, old watches should be in pristine condition to maximize their value. Look for any dings, scratches, or markings that could bruise a watch’s resale price. Be careful about polishing yourself incase you do more harm than good. You will also want documentation indicating service history.
What you may not realize is that, according to Smirnov, engravings can decrease the value of old watches. An antique watch with a personal message engraved makes a great gift, but it doesn’t necessarily help its resale value. That is, unless the timepiece was a gift from or owned by a famous figure — but you'll need paperwork to confirm the authenticity of the collectible in that case.
According to GQ, hand engravings “100% affect” the resale value of an old watch. These engravings run very deep, and while you can change the back of a new watch to cover an engraving, the same can’t be said for old watches.
Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, once said that "A gentleman's choice of timepiece says as much about him as does his Savile Row suit.”
From wristwatches to antique pocket watches, timepieces continue to fascinate people across the world. But how did they come to be, and what impacts antique pocket watches value?
Pocket watches became a hot trend in the early 1500s when German inventor Peter Henlein created watches that didn't require falling weights as the source of their power. This innovation gave rise to the first wave of small portable watches, which were first worn as a pendant on a chain around the neck.
Early models of mainspring-powered watches were round (resembling an egg) and often bulky, but the introduction of screws in the 1550s let them attain that modern flatten shape we know today. Another standout feature of those early designs was the lack of glass – the only protection from the outside influences was a brass lid.
In 1675 a new fashion style emerged – pocket clocks that were small enough to be worn in pockets. Charles II of England popularized this new way of carrying watches across entire Europe and North America.
Antique pocket watches gave way to the burgeoning trend of wearing wristwatches that women initially adopted before trench warfare demonstrated their convenience to men.
Mechanical watchmaking was all the craze for decades, and its features were fine-tuned, such as time precision and waterproofing. As a result, Switzerland soon became the hot spot for classic and valuable timepieces.
By the 1970s, quartz had made wristwatches popular, cheap, and reliable. Soon, many watchmaking firms wanted to bring watches into the computer age. In 1977 multifunctional wristwatches, such as the Pulsar Pulse Time Computer, inspired by microprocessor calculators, came to market. In 1982, Seiko introduced the TV watch. Let's just say the world wasn't ready to watch TV on their wrists then.
By the end of the 1980s, several different watches also worked as pagers. In 1993 Casio marketed the Zapping, a wristwatch that was also a TV remote control.
We often miss what we don't have, which could explain the resurgence of vintage pocket watches and increase in antique pocket watches' value. Now, vintage and antique pocket watches are sometimes refashioned as large wrist watches. Hermes, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin are known for crafting exceptional pocket watches, but Breguet is often regarded as the master maker.
The vintage pocket watch's appeal could centre on its look. A 2013 report stated: "The pocket watch has a certain intrigue and appeal that a smart watch simply cannot match. After all, if you take the back off your vintage pocket watch and look inside, you'll be greeted by the sight of an intricate set of gears all moving in harmony. If you peek inside your brand new iWatch, you'll see nothing but a few microchips and a battery."
We know that vintage pocket watches can be valuable, but what does a valuable vintage pocket watch look like exactly? An extreme example is that of the Breguet number 160, an antique pocket watch manufactured in 1827 for Marie Antoinette. This extravagant timepiece features a full perpetual calendar, a jumping hour hand, 23 complications and 823 parts. Encased in 18-karat gold and sapphires along every surface, its value is estimated at $36 million.
Factors that can help you identify the value of your vintage pocket watch include:
Old wrist watches and antique pocket watches can very well be brand names — they just may not be from the brand names you recognize. Some brands like Longines have been in operation since 1832, and these watches just increase in value over time as they are no longer made and there are fewer in circulation.
Another example is Omega, who has been making watches since 1848. Look at the back of your old antique watches to see if the manufacturers are indicated. If not, you can also use the serial number to identify this information.
When assessing the brands of antique watches, consider the value of brand names that are now defunct but still worth a pretty penny. For example, Hamilton and Elgin are two high-value brands that stopped producing watches in the 60s.
Vintage watch manufacturers to look out for include:
The provenance of a vintage or antique watch refers to its record of ownership. Typically, a watch will include a provenance to prove its authenticity, origin, and any owner history. In many cases, a watch’s provenance can increase its value.
The provenance can help identify and prove a vintage or antique watch’s value by confirming its manufacturer, material, and if it has had any noteworthy pastry owners like a celebrity or historical figures. Eric Clapton, for one, is known to be a collector of Patek Philippe antique watches.
The Story: This unique antique watch is double-dialed, double-opened face, and is widely renowned as one of the world’s most complicated mechanical pocket watches. The time piece is74mm 18 karat gold and boasts impressive features including:
The Story: The Breguet Grande Marie-Antoinette No. 160 was built as a replacement when the original watch got stolen. The replicated watch is self-winding, has 823 unique pieces, and comes with a box made of oak made from the royal oak tree of Versailles, called ‘The Queen. The antique watch’s unique features include:
The Patek Caliber 89 is a collection of four 18 karat watches made from white gold, yellow gold, rose gold and platinum. The watches boast a combined 57 complications, with each weighing in at 1.1 kg. The watches collectively boast 1728 components and 24 hands.
The watches’ features include:
Value: The last sale of a Breguet & Fils, Paris, No.2667 Precision was at an auction in Geneva on May 14th, 2021, where it sold for $4.68 million.
The Story: Breguet & Fils, Paris, No.2667 Precision is an 18 karat watch and a classic vintage timepiece that has transcended time. Now one of the world's most expensive watches, the vintage watch was made from yellow gold by Breguet in 1814 as part of his efforts to confirm a theory.
Breguet had theorized that if two oscillating bodies were in proximity, that they would influence each other, and he was right. The antique watch has been around for over two centuries and its value and historical significance has only increased.
Value: The Patek Phillipe Reference 1527 sold for the high price of $5,708,885, setting the record for the most expensive Patek Philippe watch sold at the time.
The Story: Although Patek Philippe had already created the world’s most complicated watch in 1933 for Mr. Henry Graves, during the second world war, he created the Reference 1527 with 23 jewels and a buckle made from 18 carats of gold.
When Jean and Charles Stern acquired Patek Phillip in 1901 and it became a joint-stock company, Charles commissioned a model of the watch. This model has yet to be sold and is currently housed in Switzerland in the Patek Philippe museum. The second model, however, boasts even more value than this one as it has a chronograph mechanism.
The Story: Louis Moinet has earned the title of one of the world’s most influential watchmakers of all time, and for due reason. Moinet was a master of mechanics and, as the inventor of the chronograph, was a pioneer of chronometry. He created watches for some of the world’s most prolific historical figures not limited to Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, King George IV of England, Tsar Alexander, and Marshal Murat King of Naple.
Louis Moinet’s Meteoris collection of four tourbillon watches is sold as a set and collectively one of the 12 most expensive watches in the world. Together, these four antique watches depict the solar system, with each featuring a rare meteorite:
Value: A Patek Philippe 1939 Platinum World Time vintage watch sold for a whopping $ 4,000,000 in 2002, making it the highest earning vintage wristwatch at an auction at its time.
The Story: Patek’s World Time is a classic vintage watch that is best known for its mechanism that displays all 24 of the world’s time zones at the same time. The mechanism was invented by Louis Cottier and then was later updated in 1999 with a patented mechanism that would allow the user to correct all displays with the press of one button.
This lavish watch invented by Louis-Abraham Breguet boasts a 44.6mm rose gold case with rose gold roman numerals indicating the hours. The watch has a Calibre 2322 comprising 379 components, a 7-day power reserve and intricate aesthetic and mechanical detailing.
The Story: The 2009 Jaeger Lecoultre Hybris Mechanica Grande Sonnerie is so complex and intricate, that it earned the title of “the world’s most complicated watch” for a period of time. This watch has 26 features, known in the watch world as “complications.”
You may notice that If you round up all the features it doesn’t come to 26, but that’s because each “feature” has some sub features. For example, the hour indicator is a jumping indicator, which counts as another complication. Truthfully, Jaeger-LeCoultre has never released the watch’s total list of complications, but we’re pretty sure they are all there.
The case is in 18k white gold, and the antique watch’s movement has over 1300 hand decorated and finished parts. This is a clean, sleek watch that has all the bells and whistles, but is a bit more subtle about it. The standout feature of this watch is that it features a Westminster chime that produces the sound of Big Ben.
Jaeger Lecoultre released this watch as part of the Hybris Mechanica 55 trilogy, a trio of expensive watches that boast 55 complications altogether.
If you have a valuable antique watch on your hands, you want to make sure you take care of it and don’t do anything that could potentially decrease its value. Even the most valuable of watches can become invaluable. If an antique watch is in poor condition or has been modified and doesn’t have its original parts, it will decrease in value.
Congratulations, you’ve identified that your old watch is worth money. Now, you just need to decide how and where should you sell it? There are a few things you’ll want to do before and during the process of selling your vintage men’s and womens watches.
You can claim the age, make or manufacturer of your watch, but chances are, your buyer will want to see proof. Make sure you have supporting documentation to back up the authenticity of your vintage or antique watch.
Don’t sell to just anyone. There are plenty of scammers out there who will try to undervalue you. Do your research and find a buyer known for their transparency, expertise, and professionalism — much like Muzeum!
You may not want to go into your sale with unrealistic expectations of a high pay day — that is, unless you know as a fact that you have a highly valuable collectible. Do your research and be realistic about what you can expect to earn from your sale. This will protect you and your antique watch from being undervalued, and from disappointment.
There is only so much the naked, unexperienced eye will be able to tell you about your old watches. Before selling, be sure to get a professional appraisal to have a more concrete idea of just how much your old watch is worth.
At Muzeum, we value antique and vintage watches in Toronto. We are leading experts in vintage watches in Canada and will help you evaluate your old timepieces and pocket watches to determine their value. If the item proves to be of value, we will happily take it off your hands for a fair price.
We do evaluations for several items besides watches as well, including antiques, collectables, and silver and gold coins. Our prices for gold are based on market values, and we are transparent about the way we evaluate your old coins, bullions, and jewellery. When you visit us, we use professional tools to weigh and test the purity of your gold, and everything is done right in front of you.
If you’re looking to sell gold in Toronto or any other valuable items, then come to Muzeum! Our customers are welcomed guests who are always treated with respect and courtesy. Make us your destination for buying and selling vintage watches in Toronto.
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