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Can we Stop the Scrapping?

Niall

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Mar 16, 2019
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Hello all

Firstly, apologies if this is in the wrong place or a discussion that is not allowed, but I really wanted to talk about the continued scrapping of pocket watches.

I am in my mid-30s and actually make a living from buying and selling watch parts. I love every minute of it and am learning more each and every day and have a huge fascination with the history involved in horology.

A lot I recently bought from an auction contained a number of Fusee pocket watch movements. I began some research online only to discover that all of these movements had come from solid gold pocket watch cases (as most movements do!) - but all were sold between 2008 and 2011 at reputable auction houses.

One can only surmise that unfortunately someone has passed away and this collection of beautiful gold (and working) watches has been taken to a jeweler for scrap and the movements then sold on.

It was fascinating reading about "The massacre of the watches" in Robert Kemp's book The Englishman's Watch. A part of history that resulted in the vast quantities of uncased movements that are now seen today. However, the practice (on a lesser scale) still continues.

How can it be stopped?

My guess is that it can't be. I wouldn't personally deal with scrapping unless it were completely damaged beyond use, but to take a perfectly fine usable case and turn it into some modern commercial jewellery is a practice that clearly shows a lack of care.

Not only that, an empty, usable gold pocket watch case is worth more as an empty case than it is as scrap.

As each hour passes the number of pocket watches in existence is decreasing...

I am but one person, I am not even a member of any horological societies or clubs, but I care enough to want to take some form of action.

Any suggestions are welcome.
 
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John Matthews

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Sep 22, 2015
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Scrapping will only stop ...
  • if the bottom falls out of the market for uncased movements;
  • and cased watches are never offered for sale, or purchased, at a price below the value of the precious metal content.
The first is entirely in the hands of the buyers. The second, well I'm sure the sellers would be happy, but it might require a cosmic shift in the attitude of buyers!

John
 
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Niall

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Mar 16, 2019
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Scrapping will only stop ...
  • if the bottom falls out of the market for uncased movements;
  • and cased watches are never offered for sale, or purchased, at a price below the value of the precious metal content.
The first is entirely in the hands of the buyers. The second, well I'm sure the sellers would be happy, but it might require a cosmic shift in the attitude of buyers!

John
Hi John

The fact I bought all these movements in one big lot suggests that they were simply entered for sale at a (reputable) auction house by a jeweler who was clearing out the movements from the scrapped cases. As I buy large lots of parts frequently, I can safely say that this is regular practice as I often acquire lots of 30, 50, 100, even 300+ movements that are all in VGC and usually come with a coincidental lot of winders, stems and crystals...

In this instance, whoever inherited these watches and subsequently had them scrapped, must not have known what was paid for them. If they had, would they have had them scrapped or taken them to sell at an auction house...
I don't want to be morbid, but if I had a collection of wonderful watches I would definitely leave instructions with my family or a solicitor of what to do with them should something happen to me.

Here is an example: Bonhams : Manoah Rhodes & Sons. A late 19th century 18ct gold half hunter pocket watch together with a gold fetter link chain, winding tool and propelling pencilMovement & Case No.34997, London Hallmark for 1899

This sold for £1560 in 2009, so 12 years ago. I have this very movement from this watch. I very much doubt there was £1560 of scrap value in that 18ct gold case... But if someone knew what I had paid for it and were instructed to take it to an auction house to sell, it would have avoided being scrapped.
If this watch was put into auction today, what would it have fetched...

I guess that prevention is better than cure. If people inherit watches and are presented with clear instructions of what to do/not to do, it would prevent them from being taken to the scrappers in the first place.

My experience is that the market for uncased movements comes from people looking for a movement for parts to repair their watch, or a collector of a piece of horological history at a much affordable price without its precious metal case.

Sorry for going on...! I would rather prevent this from happening and sell parts/movements that were scrapped 100 years ago and not last week.

Niall
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Jan 8, 2006
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Niall, I am sure most frequent posters to this forum share your antipathy to scrapping. There have been endless postings here lamenting it. The sad truth is that few solid gold pocket watches sell for more than a slight premium over the net scrap value of their cases. Scrapping such watches often makes economic sense for those who want to maximize their proceeds. Although I am not one of them, I don't fault them for doing that when the case is ordinary, the movement is a common one , or the case or movement is in poor condition.
 

richiec

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Niall, they are at every mart running around trying to negotiate with you to get gold filled cases as well for below scrap value. I was lucky the last mart I was at that I did not see any of the usual people and was happy. They will tell you how crummy your movement is as well. I have finally decided that if they try to negotiate and I recognize them, I tell them the price is as marked, take it or leave it. There really is no legal way to stop them except to not sell to them if you can even figure it out who they are.
 

Les harland

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Apr 10, 2008
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Some time ago I bought a pair case verge in Lowestoft, Suffolk
The dealer weighed the watch and charged me scrap silver value for whole lot including the movement
He got a little more than he would have done for the case only without trouble of removing the movement
Would scrappers be prepared to do this?
 

gmorse

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Jan 7, 2011
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Hi Les,
Would scrappers be prepared to do this?
I doubt it, because they want to be able to take a pile of metal into the dealer and get the money on the spot for it. I'm afraid that waiting for someone to come and buy individual watches simply isn't part of their business model.

Regards,

Graham
 

John Matthews

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Sep 22, 2015
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While searching this morning for information on an uncased early wristwatch movement with the mark [A.F] that I purchased as part of a job lot in 2017, I followed a link to a movement described here. An uncased movement with evidence of recent 'vandalism'. The contained analysis would appear to confirm that for the scrapper's business model to be successful, there is a dependency on a healthy trade in uncased movements.

When I first started collecting (6 years ago) I frequently purchased uncased movements from the auction site we all love & hate. At the end of 2018, I stopped purchasing uncased movements from ebay. However, I do have to admit that I am still contributing to the business model. I have to own up to still being tempted to purchasing 'rare' uncased movements, but in my defense I do limit my acquisitions to movements that have 'uncased providence' and/or have very rare/unique features.

John
 

Niall

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Mar 16, 2019
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While searching this morning for information on an uncased early wristwatch movement with the mark [A.F] that I purchased as part of a job lot in 2017, I followed a link to a movement described here. An uncased movement with evidence of recent 'vandalism'. The contained analysis would appear to confirm that for the scrapper's business model to be successful, there is a dependency on a healthy trade in uncased movements.

When I first started collecting (6 years ago) I frequently purchased uncased movements from the auction site we all love & hate. At the end of 2018, I stopped purchasing uncased movements from ebay. However, I do have to admit that I am still contributing to the business model. I have to own up to still being tempted to purchasing 'rare' uncased movements, but in my defense I do limit my acquisitions to movements that have 'uncased providence' and/or have very rare/unique features.

John
John,

From my personal experience (having spent in excess of 6-figures on watchmakers collections in 3 years) most of the movements I see were scrapped long ago. Kept in drawers for parts use in the future or simply collected as rarer pieces.
I'd say less than 10% of what I find is recently scrapped - most of this is on Ebay in job lots or at auction houses as lots of movements. You can usually tell the difference as the recent ones are fresher looking, usually accompanied by stems/crowns. Older ones are stored in labelled drawers, tins and cabinets that are sometimes well over 50 years old.
Sellers of recently scrapped pieces also usually sell jewellery, loose gem stones or other items indicating a trade in scrapping.

I try to obtain as much provenance/knowledge about the person who the movements I obtain belonged to, and most of the time they are former watchmakers.

Niall
 

Altdorfer

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May 19, 2020
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Thanks everyone for the interesting discussion. I am fairly new to the hobby and had assumed most movements had lost their cases sometime ago. This appears not to be the case (pardon the pun). I had purchased movements to practice on from "the auction site we love & hate"! I think posts such as these do help educate us who are new to horology.
 

rmarkowitz1_cee4a1

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Nov 26, 2009
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Interesting discussion and rather out of my wheel house.

However, seems like nothing new under the sun.

When I was a new collector, I was chatting with an old timer watch collector. He talked about how he had been able to buy loose sometimes rare and early movements by the box full in Boston's jewelry building ( think I have that right) because it was the cases that were valued for their precious metal content, i.e., gold, silver and platinum. No one really cared about the movements. Especially true when the Bunker brothers tried to corner the silver market.

Gold prices are up. I have no doubt that watches are being split up, with the cases going into the crucible.

And it not just watches.

I have attended many auctions where granny's undistinguished silver flatware and other objets de virtu (vases, platters, tea sets) are being eagerly purchased at "scrap" value. Reflects the market, too. We're not talking about Paul Revere, Myer Myers, Tiffany, etc. Let's face it. Not many people nowadays have the time or patience to polish and display silver. So, far more saleable for it's silver content.

Same is true for a lot of generally undistinguished gold jewelry, e.g., chains, bracelets, etc. You see the prospective buyers weighing it all on portable electronic scales during the preview. Guess where it's going after purchase.

RM
 

etmb61

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Or by hoarding.
 

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