Thursday, 25 August 2016

What affects the value of a watch?

Transferred from the web site faqs with some updating. 

A premium grade American railroad
watch movement by Waltham.

I think it would be useful to understand why watches come at different prices, this may help to focus on what is important to you in making the decision and how to get the best value (to you) for your money.

The simple answer is of course supply and demand but perhaps a more useful one for our purpose is “desirability”. Some aspects of what makes a desirable watch are fairly obvious and clear cut and so the more of these “boxes” a watch ticks (pun not intended but left in!) the more expensive it is going to be; but each individual will have their own view on what is desirable in a watch so may wish to select a watch or type of watch that presses their “buttons” but does not have some other attributes that increases price but is of little interest.

Here is an initial list, in no particular order, of things that may significantly affect the value of a watch - I suspect I’ll add more over time:

·       Condition.
·       Rarity.
·       Absolute age and also early or late examples.
·       Quality of design and construction.
·       Type of movement & escapement (see below).
·       American railroad watches will attract a significant premium, association with rail ways generally will also enhance value..
·       Features for accuracy and reliability (see below).
·       Method of winding and setting.
·       Certain Brands and / or makers.
·       Type of case and the material used.
·       A hunter or half hunter will cost more than a comparable open faced watch.
·       And did I mention condition?

This watch ticks many boxes, it is by J.W. Benson a top London maker
much collected, it is one of their higher grade watches, it is rare and in
first class condition. It is also a half hunter. It sold in a few minutes even
though it is one of the most expensive watches I have put on my web site,
even including most solid gold watches.
Of course a very old watch in awful condition is not going to be as valuable as a slightly younger one is excellent condition and it is the balance between these factors which is often so difficult to assess.
Other factors are more subjective such as:

·         Clear vs signed faces.
A bespoke 3 piece dial as on this Waltham will make it a bit more expensive
but it will also sell more quickly.
·         Flamboyant decoration of movements vs elegant simplicity.
·         Ornamentation and dedications on cases (can go either way).

A rare case like this will certainly add value, especially on a high grade
watch such as the 23J Waltham1899 Riverside Maximus in this one.

Types of popular movement:

In ascending order of value, other things being equal:
·         Going Barrel Pin Lever
·         Going Barrel Cylinder
·         Going Barrel English or Swiss Lever
Fusee Lever movements are likely to be old and fragile, a basic one will generally are not as desirable as an equivalent going barrel but good ones can get expensive. Verge fuse movement will be early 19th century or earlier and in good condition can get very expensive. You will not find any pin lever watches on this site and very few cylinder watches, there will be the odd fusee but no Verge Fusee as they are too expensive for me to play with.

English Lever escapements come in two flavours, the true English lever with its “spiked” or “horned” escape wheel and a variation of the Swiss Lever which is laid out as an English lever but has a “Club tooth” Escape and which was normally described as an English Lever even though technically it wasn’t. There is not a lot of difference in value between them although many prefer the true English as being traditional although the Swiss variant is more efficient. True English Lever watches are rarer after about 1900 although companies such as Rotherham and J.W. Benson stuck with them into the 1930s.

Features for accuracy that add value:

·       Generally the more jewels the more expensive with good jewel placement also being a factor – see more detailed notes in this post.
·       Adjustment (see this nawcc wikki on the subject) for temperature, isochronism and / or in multiple positions. 
·       Screw set jewels tend to lead to higher prices than hand or machine set.
·       A cut compensating balance (mentioned in coverall or the Elinvar hairspring) is better than an early screwed balance without an Elinvar hairspring, is better than a solid balance but age and other factors muddy these waters.
·        Breguet sprung balance is generally preferred to a “standard” over-sprung or under-sprung balance.
·        Geneva Stop Gear, if still functional, is a plus point on early going barrel movements.

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