Sunday, 19 June 2016

Selling a pocket watch (on eBay).

I frequently get asked for advice on how to sell pocket watches and after two such requests in one day I decided to do a blog post to save repetition.

It also gives me the chance to have a minor, or even a major, rant over some of the descriptions I see on eBay. But I will keep that part separate!

For the majority of watches with a realistic selling price of below a few hundred pounds, and probably up to five or six hundred, eBay is the best place because traditional and specialist auction houses:
  • Do not have the number of potential bidders that you would get on eBay.
  • Charge c 25% commission, way higher than eBay.
  • Unlike eBay they also charge the buyer c 25% buyers premium and more if you bid on line (a total of 29% for at least one auction house), so bids will be lower.

The Description.

Of course an incorrectly or vaguely described watch will sometime gull people into paying far more than a watch is worth, especially if you get two inexperienced buyers competing late at night after spending the evening at the pub (often leading too none payment and you return to GO without collecting your £200) but, I suspect, it will as often lead to a perfectly good watch selling for less than it is worth.

I do, in the following, bang on a bit about knowledgeable buyers, but I buy a lot of watches on eBay and bid for far more, and I am reasonably knowledgeable - so do not discount the impact of dealers on the selling price, if nothing else we push up the price before the risk of not making a profit on the deal seems too great. And collectors can be extremely knowledgeable and those that do their own restoration can always outbid a dealer, again pushing the price up.

It may seem that I am "cutting my own throat" here, perhaps I am, but although I sometimes find a gem because it was badly described or photographed, I am far more comfortable bidding up a well described watch than taking a high risk punt on a badly described one, although I frequently do!

Things to do:
The watch shown below after


  • Have lots of them and make sure they are in focus or people will assume they are out of focus for a reason.
  • Include at least one of the movement, how else will people know this is a Waltham Riverside Maximus worth perhaps £1K after restoration rather than a basic Waltham Traveler? Or more likely a decent quality 15 jewel Swiss lever movement vs a cheap and nasty watch with a pin lever escarpment and  stamped plates? I for one will assume the worst. If you do not know how to open a watch to take the picture, do some research, my web page on "Using your Watch" and my FAQs might be a good place to start.
  • Include a picture of the hallmarks if there are any, and if your camera or lighting is not good enough to show them accurately, describe them as well.
  • I know it can be difficult but include a picture of the back of the case or buyers will assume it is rubbish, at least I do!
  • This watch went for well below its true value, partly because there was no picture of the back, which as you can see is in poor condition. As it happens being silver and undecorated this is restorable. Also the hallmarks would have shown, as I knew from experience, that this is a quality watch by Rotherham.

 The Description:

  • If it works, say so, preferably in the title line as well as in the text - I look at the summary of every watch posted on and that takes time, anything that encourages me, or others, to look more closely has to be good. But if the watch only runs for a few seconds or minutes eBay will probably uphold a claim for an incorrect description and you could loose money and credibility.
  • If the watch keeps reasonable time over a day, say so and say what reasonable means. Personally I assume that if someone cannot be bothered to let  (or admit to letting) a watch run for 24 hours before advertising it, they probably have something to hide and I bid accordingly.
  • If the watch has a filled or rolled gold case and there is no plate loss, say so, otherwise knowledgeable buyers will assume there is plate loss.
  • If the bow has plate loss but the case doesn't, say so, knowledgeable buyers will look at the bow first (and the rim of the case opposite the pendant second so it is good to have a picture of that part of the case to show it is good).
  • If the front cover of a hunter type watch pops open when the crown is pressed, say so, replacing a fly spring can be difficult and is sometimes impossible even with a with a good stock of spares.
  • If it is an American watch give the serial number of the movement (NOT the case!), that will normally allow knowledgeable buyers and buyers who can use google, to verify what the movement is and often when it was made.
  • Make sure you use terms correctly, a quick Google can save embarrassment, one common error is to describe an open faced watch as a half or demi  hunter, making that type of error may undermine other statements you make.
  • Another common error is to describe a "normal" pocket watch as a "fob watch". A fob watch is a small pocket watch, traditionally less than a size 8  (usually in a case c 1.5"in diameter or less excluding the pendant etc.) and will be of less interest than larger watches.

Things NOT to do: 

  • Sell a watch and chain together unless there is a very good reason for doing so, such as a matching inscription on a fob medal to one on the watch e.g. a presentation watch for 25 years service may have a chain with a medal for additional years for the same person.
  • Set an unrealistically high starting price, you might get a bid from an inexperienced or expert buyer but it will put many people off, you need two or more people to bid for it - a good high bidder is no good without a good high under bidder to push the price up. A reserve is better than a too high starting price but that does cost extra. Note that the minimum reserve on eBay of £50 so there is not point is setting a £50 reserve, set a £50 starting price instead.
  • Sell two watches in one lot except perhaps for "spares and repairs".
  • It may be a personal foible but I become wary if the seller of a watch makes the auction "private" so you can't see the de-personalised details of bidders, how many there are etc..

And here is the "rant"!

Now dear reader, I know you would not consider doing any of the following, but many do:
  • Don't say a non-working watch is "AN EASY FIX", if it is easy why did you not do it! Most of the time only an idiot is going to believe you and you have just discredited the rest of the description.
Here is an example taken from an actual listing on eBay:


Firstly it is very bad internet etiquette to use capitals - it is the equivalent of shouting.

Secondly "only works most of the time - what does that mean? possibly more problems than...

"stops when laid on its back" which is most likely due to; a broken or damaged balance staff top pivot and / or damaged balance cock jewels or just possibly the hairspring has been messed with and is hitting the balance cock. Not normally easy or cheap fixes!

He/she goes on to say "MAY NEED A SERVICE"!!, no it needs repair, a point I take up below.

Just a few listing on the same seller says, still shouting, of a different watch: "THE WATCH IS VERY CLEAN AND IN GOOD CONDITION,IT ONLY WORKS FOR A SHORT WHILE THEN STOPS,IT MAY NEED A SERVICE,IF YOU HOLD THE WINDER TO ONE SIDE IT KEEPS GOING,THE MOVEMENT SHOWS NO DAMAGE,AN EASY FIX.". Well clearly it needs fixing AND a service, and it may indeed be a fixed by a full service and a new mainspring and they had got a bid - but not from me.
  • Compound saying "it is an easy fix" by also saying "I don't know anything about watches" or "I am no expert", that just makes you look an idiot, and I see this, or something similar, quite frequently on eBay.
  • Don't say it is rare unless you know it is, frequently I see a Waltham Traveler or similar described as rare or even very rare when a simple search will show dozens of them for sale and hundreds sold in recent times.
  • Don't use evasive language, most serious bidders will assume the worst. A favourite at the moment appears to be "Worn to its age", what does that mean? For a hundred year old watch with a 10 year guarantee on the rolled gold case, "worn to its age" could very well mean that there is no gold left. "Good for its age" it better but still not that helpful.
  • Don't say it is untested, everyone will assume it does not work. The only possible excuse I can think of is with a key wound watch with no key, but even that is pretty lame as there are other was of winding it and a full set of keys only costs a few pounds.
  • Don't say it has been serviced or even fully serviced, when it has just been sprayed with WD40 or had a drop of oil on the top pivots, someone less laid back than I am is likely to give negative feed back and get their money back and you will then have problems trying to sell it a second time, especially if you do not sell on eBay that often and therefore end up with a very low percentage good feedback. I have been know to object, and did so just last week, but as I normally discount any claim for a watch being serviced I am not normally that disappointed and if I think I can restore the watch I just let it go, not everyone takes that view!
  • A watch that is fully wound but not working is not "Overwound" and "just needing the spring releasing", it is broken or gummed up and / or has a set mainspring and needs fixing.....
  • A watch that is not working probably does not "just require a service", if your car is not working you would need to pay for it to be fixed, not just for a service, its generally the same with a watch. Knowledgeable bidders know this and most others will suspect it.
  • Don't withdraw a watch shortly before the end of the auction because it has not reached  your desired price, set a reserve instead, because:
    • Most bids for anything half way decent, come in the last few minutes, often helped by "sniping" software.
    • Knowledgeable / frequent buyers who may have been planning to bid late will notice when you relist, as will those "following" the auction, and will alter their bidding strategy or not bid on the relisted item.
  • Don't try "shilling", it is illegal and though not often prosecuted the penalties can be quite severe, including prison. At the least if discovered you will be thrown off of eBay - I have identified and reported  3 people doing this but have probably missed many more. One reason why I rarely take up "second chance" offers.


  1. Thank you for your very helpful advice. As a first time eBay user and wanting to sell my late father's collection of pocket watches, you've given me confidence to give it a go.

  2. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here... best place to sell watches online

  3. Very Helpful information especially the mention of "shilling" and "sniping".