Thursday, 25 August 2016

Watch Case Materials and Hallmarks

Originally on my web site and moved here with other faqs.
English cases, in descending order of value will normally be:
·         Gold, 9 carat and up
·         14 carat “Filled Gold” (25 year)
·         Stirling Silver (0.925)
·         10 carat “Filled Gold” (20 year)
·         10 carat “Rolled Gold” (10 year)
·         Nickel or other base metal

Under British law only solid gold & silver can be described as “gold” and “silver” and each part must be hallmarked by an Assay Office. This rule is sometimes circumvented by using terms like “Yellow" or "White metal”.
All British hallmarks include a date letter so the case, if not the movement, can always be dated but be warned the date letters were different for each office! This web site gives some good detail. The marks shown on the case lid shown to the right (click on it for a larger view) has the following legal marks:

·     Anchor = Birmingham Assay Office
·     Lion = Sterling (0.925) Silver,
·    The shape of the cartouches together with the date letter font and case indicate the Birmingham year letter sequence, in this case 1925/26 through 1949/50.
·    The Date letter K for 1934/35
·     An optional special mark for the Silver Jubilee that year
·     A.L.D., The makers mark of the Dennison Watch Case Company (A.L. Dennison).

Watch Case makers marks can be very confusing (they change all the time) and difficult to track down, the best reference work is “Watch Makers of England, A History and Register of Gold and Silver Watch Case Makers of England: 1720-1920” by Philip Priestly, 1994.

Essentially all English Gold and Silver case will have been assayed in Birmingham, London or Chester. Imported cases can be submitted for assay and will have a different stamp than English silver, almost all came in through London.

Like watch movement making case making was a fragmented industry in England with hundreds of small independent operations, some for instance just making pendants or carrying out a limited number of operations which is why you frequently find a different hallmark on the pendant to the rest of the watch case.

A case by the Lancashire Watch Company but with the
hallmark of the retailer - J.G. Graves.
Some of the bigger watch makers had in-house case making operations, at least for some of their output, but you cannot necessarily tell from the hallmark as the real maker could submit the case for assay on behalf of his customer, so for instance the Lancashire Watch Co could and on occasion did have cases stamped with the Graves “makers” mark which in reality is a sponsors mark which is what it is officially called today.

Similarly many silver cases carry a Waltham hallmark (A.B for Albert Bedford), but Waltham did not make them but bought them in from their contracted supplier A.L. Dennison, one of Waltham’s founders who had left under a cloud and who subsequently set up the eponymous British company, probably with some financial help from Waltham and from Alfred Wigley who’s mark [AW] is on some Dennison made pieces.

Swiss Silver 
Hallmarked Swiss 0.935 Silver.
Watch cases were hallmarked in Switzerland (if not in London), in fact the only silver items that had to be, but they can only be dated as being from before 1882, after 1934 or between those dates. There is no makers mark and the purity standards are different to English, most watch cases are 0.800 or 0.935 although 0.875 is occasionally seen.

US Silver is a mess with no legal definitions until 1906 but most cases stamped “Coin Silver” were between 0.892 and 0.930 as used in US coinage which was frequently melted down for watch cases, as English currency was for English cases.

Rolled gold is usually a plate of gold c 0.036mm thick(Dennison cases) pressure welded to a brass composite core and with the inner surface electroplated. Filled gold has a plate on both sides of the core and it's usually thicker, about double. The warranty period was mainly a marketing ploy to distinguish good quality watch cases from cheap electroplated imports and it was never made clear who was standing behind the warranty! The gold is usually 9, 10 or 14 carat. More detail on filled and rolled gold are in this separate post.
American rolled gold cases are much the same.

Silveroid, Silverine 
A Keystone "Silveroid" case, many of this type are
marked "Guaranteed imitation silver".
and similarly named metals were alloys , frequently of Nickel, made to imitate silver at a fraction of the cost, very popular in America they were less common in Europe, at least under the trade names.

Probably a significant majority of good quality keyless Pocket Watches in this country from after the mid 1890s were originally in rolled or filled gold cases with most of the rest in Sterling Silver or gold. Many Rolled & Filled gold cases will have the plate worn away (often referred to as brassing) and so there will usually be more silver ones on this site and the respective values do not necessarily reflect the intrinsic value of the material.

The majority of good quality full plate, key set watches were in Silver.

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