Last updated on November 5, 2022
My antique watch wish list contains a list of makers that I would like to have in my collection. One of those names is the noted Thomas Russell & Son from Liverpool, England. They made quality timepieces for well over a century, earning themselves a Royal Warrant in the process. This particular timepiece, a Thomas Russell repeater hunter pocket watch, caught my eye during my search.
This is a quarter repeater full hunter pocket watch from Thomas Russell & Son. A repeater is a movement that has a striking complication that chimes the hours and the quarters. This allowed the time to be determined in the dark or by the visually impaired. The watch is in a very presentable condition and is running within 2 to 3 minutes of accuracy per day. This is perfectly acceptable for an antique timepiece. It meets my criteria of being a presentable and reliable antique watch, so I thought I would take a closer look at this timepiece.
This particular watch has a really high-quality Swiss movement. If I zoom in on the movement, it looks as though it is fully jewelled, with perhaps 19-jewels including the repeater. Most top-quality antique pocket watches from this era would have had 15-jewels. The repeater is working nicely and you can hear a recording of the chimes at The Vintage Wristwatch Company Facebook page. The movement is protected by an inner hinged dust cover.
The repeater mechanism is activated by pivoting the lever on the side of the case side. The hammer strikes on the gong once for every hour followed by a double strike for every quarter. A time of 10:15 would be signalled by ten single chimes followed by a double chime. A time of 10:30 would be indicated by ten single chimes followed by two double chimes.
The watch itself measures 57mm in diameter excluding the stem and slider. This is larger than normal for a typical pocket watch. However, this is probably due to the addition of the repeater complication. The case is gold plated and was made by the Illinois Watch Case Company. There is some slight rubbing to the plate around the edges of the case, but this is probably just normal wear and tear. It’s certainly acceptable for antique gold plate. The watch comes in a nice vintage Thomas Russell & Son presentation box.
The winding crown pushes in to release the front cover. Inside there is an acrylic crystal that is in good condition. The original crystal would have been mineral glass. Often the original glass crystals were replaced with acrylic if they broke. Acrylic is a cheaper and generally more durable type of crystal. They are less likely to shatter than mineral glass but are much more likely to scratch. The signed dial is in very nice condition for a watch of this age. There is a faint hairline crack running between the centre and number 12, but this is almost invisible to the naked eye. Otherwise, it is in very nice condition.
The blued steel hands are lever set. Bluing steel is a process that tempers the steel and creates a protective oxidised coating that helps to prevent watch hands from rusting. 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.
It’s a really tempting watch, which would certainly tick the Thomas Russell & Son box on my wish list. So why didn’t I buy this watch? Two reasons, one I’m uncertain about the age of the watch and second, I only collect complete Swiss made and English watches. There are no hallmarks on the case to indicate the date, although the serial number suggests it was probably pre-World War 1. That said, dating from the case is a notoriously difficult and unreliable method.
The case itself, as nice as it looks, is an American brand and therefore doesn’t really meet my Swiss and English requirements. I also prefer really simple watches, in both modern and antique pieces. The repeater is an interesting complication, but would be something of a novelty to me, not a necessity. It is a really nice antique pocket watch, which I really enjoyed researching, but I am going to leave this particular piece for another lucky collector.