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Why do I collect antique watches?

Last updated on July 3, 2024

I received my first watch, a Timex hand-wound analogue, at the age of eight. I remember that I had to prove that I could tell the time before I received it on my birthday. That wasn’t easy, for my seven-year-old self. In the months leading up to my birthday, I struggled with the hours and minute hands, but eventually, I cracked it. I was presented with the gift-wrapped watch by my parents at 08:10 pm, the time of my birth, eight years earlier. I wore that watch proudly for years, but unfortunately don’t know where it is now.

The quartz days

In the years that followed I received a few other watches as gifts, most memorably a quartz Lorus dive watch. It wasn’t until 1997 that I decided to buy my first serious Swiss watch, a Tag Heuer 1500 series dive watch. Ok, it wasn’t that serious as it was quartz, although now that particular timepiece is known as the Obama watch, as President Barack Obama of the United States owned one. I still have the watch, in pristine condition, after over 20 years.

Pocket watches

I then didn’t think about watches until I got married in 2017. I thought it would be a nice, and classy touch, to buy pocket watches for my best man and groomsman. The watch I chose was a modern mechanical skeleton, double-hunter pocket watch. I had requested the watches be engraved with “Make every second count”. It’s a choice I now regret, a simple hunter would have been a much classier option. I had requested the watches be engraved with “Make every second count”. The regret didn’t stop there. At first, the delivery was late. I live in London, but I am an Australian and I was getting married in Sydney.

Sir John Bennett pocket watch and Albert chain.
Sir John Bennett pocket watch.

I called the company a few days before boarding the plane. “Where are my watches”, I asked. “In the warehouse”, they said. The next day I called again, this time they were “in transit” and due to arrive the following day. They didn’t arrive and I had one day left until my flight. I soon had the owner of the company on the phone, he was apologising profusely and promising delivery on the day I was due to fly. They didn’t arrive. He then promised to have them delivered in Sydney, hopefully on the day of the wedding. Again, they didn’t arrive. More emails followed, and finally, the watches arrived at my mother’s house. They looked fantastic, but something was wrong. When I looked at the engraving, they were all etched with “Make very second cound.”. Yes, they spelt count as cound. More emails and apologies followed until eventually, I received the watches, with the correct engraving. I didn’t receive an upgrade and I had to return the watches with the misspelt engraving (at their expense).

Mechanical watches

The skeleton pocket watch introduced a sudden interest in mechanical watches and all things to do with horological history. For the next couple of years, I purchased a number of Swiss automatic watches, each of which I was proud of, and I wore them on rotation. Then one day I was at work, wearing my Oris 65 Divers watch when I overheard another member of staff proudly exclaiming their new acquisition of an Oris Divers watch. I wondered what I could do to ensure that I was wearing something unique. At that point, I decided to turn my focus to antique timepieces.

JW Benson pocket watch and box.
JW Benson box.

Antique watches

I’m looking for watches that are genuine antiques, that is they are hallmarked to be at least 100 years old. This encompasses antique pocket watches and World War 1 trench watches. I want the timepiece to be presentable, but I certainly don’t require mint condition. I appreciate the patina and the slight signs of use; it gives the timepiece character. I also need the watch to keep reasonable time, because I do wear them and they need to be reliable timekeepers. Accuracy within two to three minutes a day is perfectly acceptable. If really need pinpoint accuracy I have my smartphone in my pocket. I do like the sound of the watches; they tick much louder than modern mechanical watches. It might be sad to say, but I quite often wind one up just to hear it tick for a few seconds.

Fonetainemelon silver trench watch, 1914.
Fonetainemelon silver trench watch, 1914.

I have started my collection and I am always looking for something new. As well as the criteria listed above, I am trying to vary my collection with different makers and movement types. As I learn more I am focussing my attention away from watches with lower jewel counts. It’s an interesting hobby and not particularly expensive. You can pick up a working antique pocket watch for £50 – £100 on eBay, I prefer to pay a little more and buy from a trusted dealer. Antique pocket watches were made in the millions so there are still plenty around today.

Related content

A beginner’s guide to antique pocket watches.

A list of additional posts regarding antique watches can be found on the Guides page.

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