Victorian pocket watches, with their ornately enamelled faces and cases, are much sought after today.
Watches provide a very rewarding area for the collector. Those dating from the Victorian period are quite widely available and can be found at reasonable prices. The many different kinds of fob watch can form a beautiful collection.
Peter Henlein of Nuremberg is credited with the invention of the first practical watch in about 1510. Early watches were often beautiful but they were cumbersome and
inaccurate and it was not until the 18th century that the mechanisms were perfected.
The heyday of the pocket watch began in the late 17th century and continued through the 18th century, with a multitude of new designs appearing, and new patents being registered. The year 1674 saw the introduction of the balance coiled spring, and in 1695 the cylinder escapement mechanism was invented. This remained popular on the Continent, but was eventually superseded in England by the lever escapement which first appeared in the 1750s and remains the principal mechanism of today's clockwork watches.
The lever escapement was too difficult for most 18th century watchmakers to master, and it was left to those of the 19th century to develop it, which led to corresponding improvements in the time-keeping of their watches. In 1862, the true chronograph was introduced, capable of being stopped, reset and restarted, while its ordinary time-keeping hands continued to move.
Watches with machine-made parts first appeared in about 1840, although traditionalists in Britain did not care for them. It was the Swiss who developed this cheaper end of the market, with the result that the British watchmaking industry was ultimately eclipsed.
The Swiss machine-made watches came within the price range of many ordinary working people. Previously, time-pieces such as these had been the preserve of the rich. But British manufacturers most unwisely ignored the popular end of the trade, and continued almost exclusively to produce their luxurious and expensive hand-made watches. One of the results of this is that many cheaper British watches of the 19th and early 20th centuries contain Swiss movements in a British case.
A fine pocket watch is a joy to own, particularly if, from time to time, you sport a waistcoat and can wear the watch and use it as intended.
POCKET WATCHES COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Although pocket watches in gold and set with precious stones may command four-figure prices, plain Victorian gentlemen's watches are still relatively cheap. Late 19th-century watches represent a good starting point for the collector, who can initially buy without worrying whether they have all their original works, chains and cases. Progress can then be made to more expensive 'whole' examples - that is, where all the parts are of original manufacture and were intended to go together.
POCKET WATCHES TO LOOK FOR
Pictorial enamelled watches are keenly sought after, as are musical quarter repeaters. The 19th century watches with scenes on their cases are very interesting. Here, the subject of the scene is important in determining value, with pastoral scenes being relatively inexpensive, but those depicting ballooning, locomotives and maritime subjects are in heavy demand. Swiss watches with automata are always appealing. Again, the subject
matter can be quite important. Some were made with erotic scenes which can enhance the value considerably.
Apart from the case and dial, the movement of the watch can be valuable in itself, particularly if it shows an interesting feature. This area tends to become quite technical, and knowledge of the mechanisms of watches, beyond the difference between cylinder and lever escapements, is needed to appreciate the finer points.
It is most important to avoid do-it-yourself watch repairs. Never lever open the back of a watch with a knife tb have a look inside. Any repairs are for experts to carry out. Repairing a watch is a skilled job and the cost of this work may be high, so bear this in mind when presented with a bargain that may be faulty. Replacement parts can be hard to come by.
Do examine a watch carefully before making a purchase. Enamel dials that are chipped cannot be repaired, nor can dents in the case. Check that the hinges are not split and that the opening buttons on hunters and half-hunters are in working order. When cleaning the case of a pocket watch, do not use abrasive metal polishes. The cleaning and repair of the internal workings of a watch are jobs for a qualified watchmaker and may be quite expensive.