Antique marriage watches

Last updated on January 7, 2021

I am constantly browsing and looking for antique watches to add to my collection. One of the terms I had seen frequently on my searches was that of “marriage watch”. I didn’t pay all that much attention, they were nearly always wristwatches and they rarely showed an associated date. In my mind, I assumed that these were simply watches presented as a wedding gift, perhaps from a wife to her husband. As there was never a date listed on the link, I just assumed that these were vintage watches and not genuine antiques. Therefore I paid little attention to them. However, this week, curiosity got the better of me and I finally clicked on a link to a marriage watch. My assumptions were clearly wrong and this post is all about what I discovered about marriage watches.

What is a marriage watch?

It actually has nothing to do with weddings. However, a marriage watch might make a nice wedding gift. A marriage watch is a term used to refer to the union (or marriage) of a modern case with an antique watch movement. Typically, this involves antique pocket watch movements. Essentially, it is a pocket watch converted into a wristwatch. This combines an antique movement with other non-original components. 

Although some collectors might frown upon them as not being original watches, they can still be aesthetically pleasing and keep good time. They are typically not branded and are professionally made by watchmakers with a creative artistic flair. Often, antique pocket watches have been scrapped for their gold or silver content in the case. However, this leaves the movement without a home or purpose. This is a great shame because some of these movements are of extremely high grade and of significance to collectors.    

Some might insist that the marriage watch is not about destroying an antique pocket watch. Instead, it is about giving new life to a timepiece that is impractical in modern times. After all, who still wears pocket watches? Apart from me, not very many people. Therefore, by converting an antique pocket watches into a marriage watch, the timepiece is being recycled and being turned into something new and practical.

Authenticity

Not all collectors agree with this, many are only interested in collecting original watches. They don’t see these watches as antique timepieces, but as modified and even disfigured. This is why they are also called Frankenstein watches. I find myself falling into this category. I prefer my antique watches to be authentic and not an amalgamation of several different timepieces. However, ultimately it is a personal choice and you should collect watches that you will enjoy wearing.

The fact that serious collectors tend to show little interest in marriage watches means that they will hold little in resale value. This also means that they are generally reasonably priced. If resale value is not of concern and the marriage watch holds appeal, it may be worth considering for purchase. After all, style is a personal choice. Marriage watches tend to come in three different types, outlined below.

Original movement & dial

Sometimes a marriage watch has been created by simply taking an existing antique pocket watch and transferring the components (movement, dial and hands) to a new wristwatch case. Often, these cases are made with a crystal or exhibition case-back, which allows the user to admire the movement. The movement and the dial may come from different watches. Dials can often be damaged and lined with hairline cracks. In this case, a donor watch might be used for a more cosmetically pleasing dial. The seller should advise if a donor watch has been used because many collectors are looking for originality as a selling point. The overall objective is to take an impractical antique pocket watch and to convert it into a wristwatch with a modern case.

Original movement & custom dial

Sometimes all that is salvageable from an antique pocket watch is the movement. In this case, a replacement dial is required. This could be sourced from a donor watch or could be created as a custom dial. Finding a donor watch can sometimes be difficult and expensive. As a result, many marriage watches have custom dials. This allows a considerable element of creative flair and the dial can be created according to the owner’s taste.

Original movement & counterfeit dial

There is the temptation for the makers of marriage watches to create a dial with a brand name matching the movement. This could be done quite innocently or it may be done in order to increase the value of the watch. Either way, this would be illegal, effectively creating a counterfeit watch. Producing, owning or even just wearing one could get you into legal trouble.  Needless to say, these are shunned by collectors and are forbidden by all legitimate marketplaces.

Omega marriage watch

This marriage watch consists of an antique Omega pocket watch movement, which has been re-cased to make this very striking wristwatch. The movement is running strongly, within 2 – 3 minutes of accuracy a day. The movement is signed with the Omega name and the serial number, 5,065,550, which dates it back to around 1917.

Omega marriage watch. © The Vintage Wrist Watch Company

The wristwatch is large at 48mm in diameter excluding the very handsome articulated lugs. However, given that it uses a pocket watch movement, this is not unexpected. Unusually, the winding crown sits between the top lugs. However, this does make it suitable for either a left or right-handed wearer. The modern stainless-steel case has been manufactured to a high standard and it has a substantial weight.

The crystal lenses on the front and back of the watch are in lovely condition. The dial is in lovely condition with blued steel Breguet style hands, a subsidiary seconds-dial and an outer 24-hour track. Bluing steel is a process that tempers the steel and creates a protective coating that helps to prevent watch hands from corroding. First, the steel hands are cleaned and polished. Next, the hands are heated, over a bed of brass filings, to a high temperature. The layer of brass filings is used to maintain a stable temperature exchange. The steel changes colour from gold to brown and then purple before it settles to blue.

Omega marriage watch, case back. © The Vintage Wrist Watch Company

This particular marriage watch is presentable, reliable and the movement is a genuine antique. However, I am a purist and would prefer to focus my collection on genuine, original and complete antique watches. Although, I do hope that someone finds enjoyment from this interesting timepiece.

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