Pocket Watch Prices: The Ultimate Pocket Watch Value Guide

Lot 214, Breguet pocket watch, Subastas Galileo (June 28)

Created in 1510 by master locksmith, Peter Henlein, the often exquisitely crafted pocket watch became a manufacturing hit across Europe – reaching the upper echelons of society and being worn by high profile figures such as the Duke of Modena and eventually British monarch Charles II, who teamed his watch dashingly with a waistcoat.

Originally worn as a pendant, special pockets began to emerge on gentlemen’s clothing, created so they could adorn their attire with their personal timepiece. Come 1857, pocket watches became standardized, lowering their price tag, heightening their accuracy and bringing them greater exposure across the world.

Many brands we know today, like Omega and Longines, started in the first half of the 19th century as “comptoirs,” agents responsible for assembly and sales of these watches using parts that came from the cottage industries of the Swiss Jura region.

The American pocket watch industry was born when railroad schedules demanded not only unified time zones, but accurate watches in order to prevent accidents along the mainlines. Around the turn of the 20th century, Patek Philippe and others were making more and more complicated pocket watches, catering to rich industrialists.

During World War I watches needed to be strapped to soldier’s wrists, and modifications to pocket watches were duly made. But the need for accurate pocket watches, and especially timers (chronographs and stopwatches) extended through World War II.

What is the Current Market Value of Pocket Watches?

Pocket watches are nowhere near as popular as wrist watches; however, in recent years, sales have been on the rise. The most expensive pocket watch sold to-date at auction was the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication, which sold for $24 million in 2014.

Age, rarity and brand prestige all play a part in overall pocket watch value. A gold pocket watch in good condition could be worth anything from £1,000 – £10,000, but prices can fluctuate according to tastes and trends. If you’re in possession of a pocket watch and wondering about its value, the best thing to do is to source a free valuation from a reputable watch specialist, or browse sold prices at auction to get a flavor for current sale prices.

Are Pocket Watches Still in Demand Among Buyers today?

With their timeless appeal and air of sophistication, pocket watches – particularly limited-edition designs and those boasting skilled craftsmanship – are still highly sought after. Collectors and the style-savvy have gravitated more and more towards purchases with provenance, buying into the story of a specific piece. The current economic climate has maintained a trend towards vintage, pre-loved purchasing as a preference. Recent auctions at Bonhams saw 60% of pocket watches sell for more than their high estimate.

The Most Recognizable Pocket Watch Styles

From vintage stopwatches with historical and aesthetic value, to high-grade railroad watches and rare, complicated pocket pieces, the variety available for collectors to choose from has never been better.

Below are five of the most recognizable pocket watch styles and price ranges gathered from the Invaluable Price Archive:

Complicated Pocket Watches

Around the turn of the 20th Century, Patek Philippe and others were making more and more complicated pocket watches. For instance, two American industrialists/financiers, James Ward Packard (of Packard automobile fame) and Henry Graves Jr. engaged in an escalating “war” to own the most complicated watch ever produced.

More recently, brands like Vacheron Constantin have joined Patek Philippe at the forefront of making complicated pocket watches. These so-called super complications, like the Patek Philippe Calibre 89 from 1989 (33 complications) and last year’s Vasheron Constantin Reference 57260 (56 complications) are rare today simply because of the challenge of making them coupled with their expense. (Price Range: $50,000 to $23M).

1: Yellow-gold Calibre 89 Patek Philippe

Lot 364, Antiquorum (November 2009)
Realized Price: CHF5,120,000 (approx. $5.3M)

2: 1918 Patek Philippe Gold Openface Dress Watch

Lot 99, Christie’s (2011)
Estimated Price: $200,000-400,000
Realized Price: $986,500

3: 1973 Patek Philippe Watch with Linear Perpetual Calendar & Moon Phases

Lot 84, Christie’s (2014)
Estimated Price: CHF130,000-220,000 (approx. $135,170-228,750)
Realized Price: CHF173,000 (approx. $179,674)

4: 1970 Audemars Piguet Grande Complication Watch

Lot 67, Auctionata AG (December 2014)
Estimated Price: €72,000-90,000 (approx. $81,425-101,781)
Realized Price: €68,090 (approx. $76,662)

Railroad Pocket Watches

These high-grade, easy to read pocket watches count brands like Hamilton, Waltham, Ball, Elgin, Howard, and Illinois among them. Primary characteristics included an open face, maximum variation of 30 seconds per week, adjusted in five positions, and temperature compensation.

These watches, along with standardized time zones, were vital to keeping trains on schedule and prevent disastrous, often head-on, collisions on single-track mainlines. Keeping good time on America’s railroads in turn, was vital to the industrial growth of America in the early half of the 20th century. (Price Range: $200-3,000)

5: 1925 Illinois Bunn Special Pocket Watch, Railroad Grade

Lot 1204, Chupps Auctions & Real Estate (March 2016)
Realized Price: $1,150

6: Official Railroad Standard Ball Pocket Watch

Lot 325, Cottone Auctions (May 2016)
Estimated Price: $300-500
Realized Price: $690

7: Hamilton Gold-Filled Jewel Railroad Pocket Watch

Lot 128, North American Auction Company (March 2015)
Estimated Price: $400-800
Realized Price: $575

Military Pocket Watches

Military pocket watches and timers were limited to relatively few companies, Hamilton being chief among American manufacturers, with watches like their 4992B 24-hour watch. Such watches were vital to military missions of all types. These watches weren’t as popular as wristwatches by World War II, but they had their place, especially behind the front lines. (Price Range: $300-500)

8: Military Issue Rolex Pocket Watch

Lot 206, Fellows (January 2011)
Estimated Price: £250-350 (approx. $283-396)
Realized Price: £360 (approx. $407)

9: 1960 Hamilton Military Pocket Watch

Lot 1189, Chupps Auctions & Real Estate (March 2016)
Realized Price: $500

10: Nickel-Cased Rolex Military Issue Pocket Watch

Lot 1282, Gorringes (2010)
Estimated Price: £150-200 (approx. $220-293)
Realized Price: £320 (approx. $468)

American Pocket Watches

Along with railroad grade pocket watches, numerous American companies like Hamilton, Elgin, Waltham, Illinois, and Hampden made more modest pocket watches. According to one source, 124 pocket watch companies existed in America between 1804 and 1968.

Back then, buyers went to their jeweler to choose a movement, which usually came with a signed dial attached, and then chose a case separately. The jeweler’s watchmaker installed the movement in the case, often a nice hunter (clamshell) case, depending on the orientation of the movement’s winding stem. (Price Range: $75-500)

11: Elgin Engraved Gold Pocket Watch

Lot 41A, Cottone Auctions (September 2014)
Estimated Price: $300-500
Realized Price: $475

12: Illinois Yellow-Gold Pocket Watch

Lot 3296, Apple Tree Auction Center (March 2015)
Realized Price: $400

13: Hampden Keyless Railway Grade Pocket Watch

Lot 164, Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (January 2015)
Estimated Price: £250-300 (approx. $366-440)
Realized Price: £250 (approx. $366)

14: Elgin 14K Gold Pocket Watch

Lot 3292, Kaminski Auctions (April 2014)
Estimated Price: $300-500
Realized Price: $325

15: Yellow-Gold Waltham Pocket Watch

Lot 2036, Alex Cooper (June 2015)
Estimated Price: $300-400
Realized Price: $275

16: Illinois Gold-Filled Pocket Watch

Lot 84, Stair Galleries (May 2015)
Estimated Price: $20-50
Realized Price: $250

17: Waltham Gold Vintage Pocket Watch

Lot 2238, Leonard Joel (November 2015)
Estimated Price: AUD100-200 (approx. $75-149)
Realized Price: $134

18: Waltham Pocket Watch & Chain

Lot 2019, Alex Cooper (December 2014)
Estimated Price: $60-100
Realized Price: $50

Vintage Stopwatches

Stopwatches are a special category – partially overlapping with military pocket watches, like the Hamilton Model 23 AN-5742-1 Military Chronograph. These timers were especially useful during bombing missions over Europe and the Pacific where massive, highly synchronized bombing raids helped win the war.

Other stopwatches found service as sports timers, like the Omega Split Seconds Chronograph first used in the 1932 Olympics. Numerous other brands got into the sports timing action, including Longines, Heuer, Hanhart, Breitling, and Minerva. But Omega was most often chosen to time the Olympics, even after the heyday of these unique pocket watches ended in the 1960s. (Price Range: $30-5,000)

19: 1856 Charles Oudin Yellow-Gold Pocket Watch

Lot 321, Freeman’s (May 2013)
Estimated Price: $3,000-5,000
Realized Price: $6,875

20: 1930 Omega Télémètre Pocket Watch

Lot 86, Auctionata AG (March 2015)
Estimated Price: €1,200-1,500 (approx. $1,357-1,697)
Realized Price: €929 (approx. $1,051)

21: Hamilton “Model 23” Chronograph Pocket Watch

Lot 225, R.O Schmitt Fine Arts (October 2013)
Estimated Price: $300-400
Realized Price: $375

Are Pocket Watches a Good Investment?

Anything you’ll put to good use, wear and enjoy as a collectible can be viewed as a good investment, however depending on the style of pocket watch you seek out, the category can also be viewed as a potentially fruitful investment. Given the move towards vintage styles and the high price points pocket watches have recently been achieving at auction, it’s well worth doing your research and narrowing down the styles you’re leaning towards.

Complicated pocket watches tend to be more expensive, given their rarity, however an easier and relatively inexpensive entry point for new collectors could be aiming to buy pieces in excellent condition, by lesser known makers.

Summary

Pocket watches are having a style revival, creating an allure for collectors of all ages, who are keen to own a timepiece that’s impressive through design features and mechanics. The fact many pocket watches were handmade makes them a well-judged investment option, with history and practicality on their side. Keep familiarizing yourself with pocket watch styles – both antique and contemporary – and you could own a unique piece of art to treasure for years to come.

Learn more about Elgin Pocket Watches from In Good Taste

Written by Alexis Culotta View all posts by this author →

Alexis holds a PhD in art history and has enjoyed professional roles across gallery, museum, and academic settings. Thanks to these myriad experiences, Alexis holds a wealth of knowledge across the fields of fine and decorative arts and enjoys every opportunity to share these insights along with the stories of these makers and objects with Invaluable collectors.