Pocket watches – time to grab a bargain

Thirty or 40 years ago to be a ‘watch collector’ was to collect antique pocket watches. Today it is the vintage branded mechanical wristwatch that has become the ultimate male accessory.

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Asprey's Rolex Observatory Quality 18 carat gold and silver open face pocket watch – estimated at £500-700 at Bishop & Miller on December 10.

Pocket watches sit in a tricky space in horological collecting. The history of these portable watches spans more four centuries and a timeframe that includes moments of great horological innovation and remarkable workmanship. However, in contrast to the red-hot trade in vintage and modern wristwatches, the market for antique pocket watches appears very low key. Time to grab a bargain?

If you are considering purchasing a heirloom or a quirky gift, the timing is definitely right. Most antique and vintage gold and silver pocket watches – whether a full or half hunter or an open face watch – have a comparatively low financial value. Many are priced very sensibly at auction, typically close to their bullion value.

It is only the smaller percentage of pocket watches that have something that sets them apart which appeal to the more serious and dedicated collecting audience. This means watches that are elevated above the norm by date, maker, case decoration, the sophistication of the movement, provenance, condition or likely a combination of these factors.

Complications, any feature of a mechanical timepiece beyond the display of hours, minutes and seconds, are key. With some pocket watches you are looking at the genesis of horological complications now seen in high value wristwatches today and this is slowly being more recognised. Add a chronograph, an automaton, a moon phase, an alarm or a repeater and the watch begins to stand out – and tells a better story.

The following selection of watches explores a range of styles, period and makers coming up for sale at a broad range of price points.

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George IV silver pair cased pocket watch hallmarked Chester 1828 – estimated at £80-150 at Lockdales on December 9.

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Zenith 9ct-gold-cased open-face keyless pocket watch – estimated at £300-400 at Eldreds on December 7.

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Jaeger Le Coultre nickel-plated open face pocket watch made for the British military – estimated at £120-160 at Hansons.

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A gold half hunter pocket watch by JW Benson, London, with 9ct rose gold link watch chain, in the original case – estimated at £700-900 at Stamford Auction Rooms on December 10.

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Victorian silver open face pocket watch by Gustav Mayer, hallmarked Birmingham, 1884 – estimated at £30-50 at Cato Crane (bidding ends December 12)

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