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Are Pocket Watch Prices Increasing?

Ethan Lipsig

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Jan 8, 2006
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Hammer prices at the recent Skinner and Jones-Horan auctions struck me as being significantly stronger than we've seen in recent years, at least among watches in which I was interested. I bid on quite a few items, but didn't win any. I'd appreciate your views on whether values are rising, or any other observations you may have about these recent sales.

To illustrate, here is a list of the items I bid on, or considered bidding on, in today's Jones-Horan auction, together with the prices they fetched.

Lot 51: 14k Model 1891 Riv. Max. It sold for $750 against an estimate of $600-800. The Jones-Horan estimates generally looked realistic to me, but nearly all of the items in which I was interested sold for more than their high estimates.

Lot 99: 18k Patek Philippe minute repeater with box and papers. It sold for $33,000 against an estimate of $12-16,000.

Lot 100: 18k Jules Jurgensen rattrapante with diablotine. It sold for $21,000 against an estimate of $10-15,000.

Lot 102: 18k V&C minute repeater. It sold for $9,200 against an estimate of $5,000-8,400.

Lost 103: 18k Scarab form watch. It sold for $7,400 against an estimate of $5,000-8,000.

Lot 104: 18k Cooke & Kelvey minute repeater. It sold for $4,800 against an estimate of $4,800-6,800.

Lot 105: 18k Audemars Piguet minute repeater. It sold for $7,400 against an estimate of $4,000-6,600.

Lot 109: 18k "adjusted"-grade C.H. Meylan minute repeater, with mismatched hands. It sold for $7,200 against an estimate of $3-4,600. By way of comparison, in 2007, I bought a lovely 18k higher grade "superior adjustment" Meylan minute repeater for $2,700. In 2020, I bought a lovely "superior adjustment" C.H. Meylan minute repeater/rattrapante for $6,900.

Lot 112: 18k Poitevin minute repeater: It sold for $4,200 against an estimate of $3,000-4,000.

Lot 113: 18k Patek Philippe Chrono. Gondolo. It sold for $4,400 against an estimate of $3,400-4,200.

Lot 114: 18k E. Vielle second morte diablotine. It sold for &3,800 against an estimate of $3,400-4,200.

Lot 118: 18k Patek Philippe. It sold for $4,200 against an estimate of $2,600-$4,000.

Lot 121: 18k Edward Howard. It sold for $13,500 against an estimate of $8-$10,000.

Lot 124: 18k (recased) Fasoldt. It sold for $11,000 against an estimate of $4-5,000.

Lot 125: 18k AWCO Model 1872 in pretty, unusual demi-hunter case with fancy but unoriginal dial. It sold for $11,00 against an estimate of $4,40-$6,600.

Lot 128: 18k Waltham rattrapante. It sold for $22,000 against an estimate of $3,000-6,000.

Lot 332: Platinum Audemars Piguet ultra-thin. It sold for $2,400 against an estimate of $1,600-2,600.

Lot 341: Platinum Cresarrow, with sapphire rim, refinished dial. It sold for $3,200 against an estimate of $1,400-2,000.

Lot 380: 18k V&C. It sold for $3,300 against an estimate of $2,00-2,600.
 
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John Matthews

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Sep 22, 2015
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Ethan - I can confirm that the prices of all pocket watches are on the increase. This on the basis of prices across the range up to £3000

John
 

John Pavlik

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Ethan, Your list is comprised mainly of 18k and these, which are generally higher grade movements, are
the watches that are increasing the most.. Could have something to do with the Gold vs inflation correlation..
 

Ethan Lipsig

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John, rising gold prices may account for the value of solid gold pocket watches increasing perhaps a few hundred to a thousand dollars or so, depending on case weight, over recent years, but it wouldn't account for the significantly greater increases that recent auctions suggest are happening with respect to special, highly collectible pocket watches.

During the four years ending yesterday, gold averaged $1,469.16 an ounce. It traded as low as $1,180.40 an ounce. Yesterday it traded at $1,803.50, but back on August 19, 2020, it traded for $2,008.75 an ounce, which I believe was its high during this period. Although gold prices generally trended upward over this period, rising gold values would only explain relatively modest increases in pocket watch values. Consider an ordinary 14k Elgin pocket watch that weighs 60 grams gross, with a 25 gram case net of all non-gold parts. According to one refiner's website, the net scrap value of that case currently is $742.93. If gold were selling for half its current price, the net scrap value of the case would be $371.46. Rising gold value only would have added that amount to the watch's value.

Pocket watches are still being scrapped because collectors often are unwilling to pay a premium over net scrap value for ordinary solid gold pocket watches. That still seems to be the case, as evidenced by eBay selling prices since October 26, 2021 of ordinary, time-only, 14k and 18k solid gold pocket watches:
  • 18k M.J. Tobias, $795
  • 14k Waltham Sapphire 6/0 $300
  • 14k Elgin Grade 94 multi-color $1,055
  • 18k Longines ladies watch, $471.84
  • 18k Perret & Miller, $824.95
  • 14k Gruen 0-size, $1,295
  • 18k English 117 gram, $1,804
  • 14k Hamilton 922, $865
  • 18k 66 gram watch, $979.24
  • 14k Elgin 6-size, $770
  • 18k Longines, $760
  • 14k Waltham 3/0, $395
  • 18k English fusee, $910.85
  • 18k English watch, $899
 

Dr. Jon

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Another one at Jones was a Hammy 994 that went for $4000 estimated at $1000 to $1300 in a gold filled case. Rare American watches are back and rising.

New England duplexes got hundreds.

I think a large part of this is what is happening in contemporary high end wrist watches. According to charts I get the AVERAGE for a Rolex is about $13K for an Audemars Piquet about $35,000 and $65,000 for a Patek. It does not take a lot of people to decide trehy get a lot more for thgeor money in a fine old pocket watch, American or Swiss or French or German.

What surprised me more was a grade 1A Lange that went for $3400. Ten years ago it would have gotten 6-7K.

I attend a local wrist watch "meet up"and am finding people there getting more and more interested in pocket watches. I do not bring many and usually not any but someone usually does and they seem to like my explaining it to them and now they are asking me to show them some of my pocket stuff.

Bear in mind that ther is a "Shortage" of new Rolexes. I believe this because I have visited a few dealers and their cases are empty. Rolex makes about 1 million watches a year. That is LOT of collectors and it only takes two with that kind of money to make an auction pop.
 

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