It seems like a year ago that I visited an Antiques Fair at the Macron Stadium near Bolton, although in fact it was but a couple of months ago. Back then, we watch hunters were free to roam charity shops, antique shops, backstreet pawn shops etc looking for timepieces of interest. Happy days!
One thing I noticed while browsing the 100-ish stands at the antiques fair that Sunday were that pocket watch asking prices had fallen quite dramatically, compared to this time last year. A working sterling silver open case Waltham was on offer at £85, while a stop-start Ingersoll, missing a crystal, was ticketed at £20, spares or repair. Many collectors probably agree that it’s good that a dose of realism is now being applied to the pocket watch market but I’d go further and say that the mini boom of a few years ago is definitely over.
If you keep tabs on ebay then you’ll have seen a considerable drop in prices there too. Frankly, unless it’s a gold watch, or a particularly rare verge watch, you don’t see many people asking outrageous prices – as they used to until about a year ago.
There are many reasons for this decline in prices, but I’m thinking one of the biggest is the sheer fragility of most pocket watches. To be blunt, these old tickers often need very careful handling, or bows break, people try to wind them the wrong way, make the wrong number 7 key fit a number 11 pinion etc. Then there is the tendency that real mineral glass crystals have for falling out after 30-50 years of use. That seemingly simple repair isn’t so easy once you try to locate an exact match for the 494 glass or whatever fits your bezel.
Don’t get me started on fusee chain pocket watches, because the thought of trying to wind a new chain onto the column with the watch in bits is a bit of a nightmare tbh. Originally, such jobs were completed by children in watch workshops of the 1890s, so fiddly and frustrating is the job of hooking the fusee chain in situ.
Like many skills of the past, you won’t find many pro pocket watch repairers left nowadays – fact is, people don’t want to pay a living wage to those who CAN repair such vintage items. Often it can cost over £150 to service a silver pocket watch with a retail value of £100. Brutal maths.
Then there’s the wearing of the watch, for which you need a waistcost. Very snazzy of course, but given that David Brent started to make the Gary Barlow/cruise ship singer outfit look like a saddo costume, the waistcoat has kinda gone out of fashion. You’ll find them all on the Debenhams `We Are Bust’ webpage anytime soon for £10 a pop.
So, much as I love the sound of a nice Waltham, Elgin or Lancashire Pocket Watch, and the heavy, reassuring feel of the silver in my hand, I won’t be buying one anytime soon. And I’m officially an old bloke. If a generation that grew up with Smiths and Ingersoll pocket watches being sold alsongside Timex and Accurist wristwatches is kinda glad to leave them in a drawer somewhere, I think the glory days of getting £250 for a nice, clean sterling silver pocket watch are long gone. Recession Britain will demand we invest more wisely in Swiss watches that might actually hold their asset value.
Do you still love a pocket watch and chain? Post a comment below.