I have been collecting pocket watches for a long time and buying & selling them on Ebay. I also service and fix pocket watches. Knowlage is your best weapon in the fight to avoid a bad purchace. I would like to share some of my buying tips with you and what to avoid and why.Pocket watches were made in the USA from about the 1880's until the 1960's. In the last 5-10 years parts for them are getting hard to get, or non existent. That shouldnt be a big suprise seeing that the last pocket watches were made over 50 years ago. When the watches stopped being made, the parts for them stopped being made.We all want a good deal when buying a watch. But there are money traps that can separate you from your cash or can add $200-$300 to the cost of a "bargain", after you have paid for the watch.
An Example of what could you could be looking at.
Watch and Shipping $40
New Crystal $20
Broken jewel $30
Broken piviot $45
That is "if" the parts are available and "if" there is someone in your area that knows how to work on these watches. I cant tell you the number of times people have told me horror stories about the jeweler who said he could fix an antique watch, and then made it worse. Most jewelers today have no idea how to fix these antiques, and send them out for servicing. Even the places they send them to may not be knowledgeable about them and may do more harm than good.
Here are a few things to look out for.
1. No mention of a watches service history. - Did you know that all mechanical watches require service? That all antique watches in the past required routine maintenance every 3 years on average?
99% of all pocket watches sold on eBay are unserviced or the date of its last service is unknown. Most good sellers if they have not had a watch serviced will "recommend" you get a watch cleaned, another word for servicing. That's like a seller telling a person who is looking to buy a used car to make sure to have the engine taken apart and looked at.
Why don't they have the watch serviced before selling you may ask? Well its a matter of cost. A qualified watchmaker may charge $75-$100 to clean a watch, and during cleaning may find things that need to be fixed, adding to the cost. The sellers usually dont want to pay that and so they try to pass the costs on to the buyer.
Unless a seller says a watch has been serviced consider it unserviced until you message the seller to make sure its been serviced. Serviced watches do cost more. But then so does a certified used car as compared to a car sold by its owner. One has been gone over for problems, and those problems fixed, the other we know will at lease have maintenance that needs done and may have hidden isssues.
2. "It runs" "It ticks" – While its a good thing that the watch runs or ticks it could be self destructing with each second it is running unless it has been serviced.
Lets take a look at the typical watch sold on ebay.
It has sat in a drawer or jewelry box for a long time. Perhaps 30-50 years until the person who it was handed down to decides to sell it or it is bought at an estate sale. What has happened to the oil used when it was last serviced? It has dried up and become gummy at best, or non existent at worst. Also dirt has gotten into the movement because these antique watches were not sealed. That dirt acts like sandpaper on all the moving parts.
So is that running or ticking watch a good deal? Maybe if you are planning to have it serviced. This is the least costly of the problems because you are going to or should have a watch serviced if it hasn't been serviced lately. Expect to pay $75-$100 to have it serviced by a watchmaker.
3. "The watch is over wound" - This is an indication that something is wrong with the watch. It is never a situation that the watch spring is somehow just to tight. It can a broken jewel, a broken pivot on a gear, a broken balance, etc. Expect to pay $100-300 or more to have this one fixed.
4. A dirty dial/movement and a sparkling case – Anyone can buff out a watch case, and many sellers will take a few minutes to improve how a watch looks. By doing so a seller can hide years of neglect. But if the watch's dial is dirty, the hands are rusty, splotches on a guilt movement, or the movement shows signs of fingerprints and dirt, pass it by. The sparkly case is eye candy meant to distract you from the real problem of poor maintenance. Also if the watch is Gold Filled a shiny case may hide wear through. Gold and brass are close in color. A good buffing may hide a badly worn case, look at pictures carefully.
5. The plates are different colors or patterns. - There are dishonest sellers who put together watches from parts, not caring that they are a mix match. You also should be aware that most parts in a watch have the serial number stamped on them. When you buy one of these "frankenwatches" you are in for nothing but problems and the real value will be low. No collector wants mix matched serial numbers. Don't even bid on these unless you are not a collector.
6. Broken Main Spring – this can be an inexpensive fix, or it can be a nightmare. If its just the spring it can be replaced during a cleaning for an extra $20 on average. But it could also be a broken spring arbor, any of a number of broken winding gears, a broken winding staff, etc.
7. Yellow Crystals – A good crystal is mineral or lead glass. Cheap crystals were made of plastic. The early plastic crystals turned yellow. When they started to turn yellow they released acids caused by breakdown of the plastic. Those acids eat the watch starting with the hands. The hands are attached to the main gear by a metal shaft. This shaft and all the winding parts may be ruined. To replace them expect to pay a lot.
8. Cracked Crystals - A cracked or chipped crystal is a sign that the watch has been dropped. This is a disaster because there is almost always hidden damage. Jewels crack, balances break, pivots bend. All these things require parts, most of which are impossible if not hard to find.
9. Dented Cases - As above a sure sign that a watch has been dropped. The smaller the watch the bigger the problem. Granted all these watches were used, and minor wear is to be expected. But if you see a dent, and the watch isn't running, its a bad sign.
10. Rust – RUN AWAY. A rusty watch is a nightmare. It shows that the watch was seriously neglected. Even a little surface rust is bad because it indicates hidden rust may be present. Unless you really know what you are doing and are prepared to loose what you paid, don't even bid on rusty watches.
I know its been said before , but look at the sellers feedback. Do they have a lot of bad feedback or even neutral? It takes a lot for people to give bad feedback. Look at the detailed seller ratings. 4.5 in any of them should make you take a good long look at what is going to happen if there is a problem.
What to look for, a feedback that says there was a minor issue and the seller fixed it fast! That's worth 100 "described well, came fast" feedbacks. Things happen, we are all human. But a seller who makes things right when something goes wrong is a rare gem!
These are just a few things to look out for. I hope I have helped someone save a little money and avoid problems with this short guide.
Guide created: 12/05/12 (updated 08/11/13)