American PW case movement dial Heavy restoration/repair and collectable value: What makes a watch valuable?

Discussion in 'Watch Repair' started by Gregory Smith, Oct 12, 2019.

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  1. Gregory Smith

    Gregory Smith Registered User

    Jun 14, 2018
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    As I worked to thoroughly clean and evaluate my next project, it struck me how much inside a movement is considered replaceable.

    No one would bat an eye at a new mainspring or hairspring; balance staffs, jewels, case crystals, all replaceable. I'd even wager that a new wheel or two if done right would be considered fine work.

    Then came the question of "how far is too far?"

    The movement is a Waltham Riverside model 1888 and has all matching serial numbers (6984926), even the dial. It has it's original case as well. The Pocket Watch Database states the movement was produced between 1898-99, with a run of 1000 and a total production of almost 56,000.

    The watch had been stored improperly, with damage to the case which let the humidity dissolve most of the case and plate screws that weren't brass or tightly covered by something else. The mainspring came out in 4 pieces and the hairspring was covered in rust.

    There was damage to the winding gears and the main wheel staff, several cracked and chipped jewels and broken stem.

    The dial is severely damaged with cracks and chips (although the chips were in the case so at least they're all there).

    All these things are fixable and the most important parts will be original, but where does the collector draw the line or when does the watch become something different than it was to begin with?

    Is it important to retain the original dial, gear train, balance cock etc? More a philosophical inquiry as the watch is an heirloom so monetary value of no importantance in this case but when do repairs begin to negatively affect the watch?
     
  2. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    Most serious pocket watch collectors want the watches they collect to be as close to what they believe was original as possible, except for mainsprings or parts that are identical to the original ones they replace (e.g., a correct new dial). Some collectors have the know-how to assess originality or authenticity before they buy watches, and some normally won't buy a watch without verifying originality or authenticity. Most collectors normally have to rely mainly on sellers' condition reports, which rarely are thorough and often are ill-informed.

    Because serious collectors prize originality or authenticity, a watch that a collector knows has undergone significant restoration will be less valuable than it would have been if it was in similar condition but never had had or needed more than routine service, i.e., was original or authentic. The more significant the restoration, the more it is likely to detract from value if the extent of the restoration is known and other better examples are reasonably available. If better examples are hard to find or unavailable and the watch is highly collectible, collectors must take what they can find.

    Therefore, the answer to your question as whether it is important to retain the original dial, gear train, balance cock if your aim is to maximize resale value is most emphatically yes if you can. If you cannot because the parts are in poor or worse condition, then the best way to maximize resale value would be to replace parts with correct parts so that the watch's authenticity is not degraded.

    Your post raises another point, which is whether major restorations ever makes economic sense. They almost never do if you must hire professionals to do the work or you value your time. I know from ample first hand experience that one almost never recovers servicing and restoration expenses when reselling a pocket watch.

    If a watch is an heirloom, its owner might be willing to throw money or time to the wind to restore the watch but your watch sounds so thoroughly damaged that restoration might reduce it to a replica of an heirloom. If you are determined to "restore" your watch, you probably should search out an authentic '88 Riverside replacement movement that is in good running condition and swap in the movement. You probably should do the same as to the dial. If the case is trashed, you probably should find a good replacement (which is likely to be authentic if I correctly recall that '88 Riversides required special cases). But if you do all three, what would be left of your heirloom? The hands? Perhaps those need replacing too.

    Restoration of an heirloom raises another issue, erasing family history baked into the watch. For example, if an ancestor damaged the case or had an incorrect dial installed, should you undo what your ancestor did in the course of restoring a watch? I'd think twice before I did that.
     
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  3. darrahg

    darrahg Moderator
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    Dec 22, 2006
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    If you restore that watch with parts of equivalent construction and identical metals, who is going to know? You, of course will but the next owner will not if you do not reveal what had been done to it. Of course, proper documentation is encouraged here but, tell me, did all repair shops let a customer know what was replaced in a watch? I don't think so. I think most of it is a mind game.
     
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  4. Gregory Smith

    Gregory Smith Registered User

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    Thank you, Ethan and Darrahg for your responses. I came to a similar conclusion as both of you in terms of identical part replacement.

    My background in historical research pulls me toward keeping the "bumps and bruises" as it adds to the story of the piece and identifies its place in time. Character, I think, outweighs returning everything to original condition.

    I was able to locate a donor movement and thankfully the gold main wheel and balance cleaned up perfectly, so in the end, this old watch will keep time again. I also plan to fully document the before and after to add even more to this 120 year story!
     
  5. Rob P.

    Rob P. Registered User

    Dec 19, 2011
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    I believe it comes down to a discussion of "originality" vs "condition".

    For 2 identical watches, if one watch is "original", ie with all original parts and functioning properly, then it's "original". As such it has a collector value.

    On the other hand, an original and functioning watch which has been tenderly treated for it's entire history has a better "condition" because it's never needed repairs or parts replaced. It's collector value is higher and it's more sought after.

    To me the difference isn't a difference at all, especially with early watches that were cased by the seller rather than the factory. In fact, if you consider it in another light, watches which were hard used and kept running by repairing them and replacing parts/cases as necessary should have more "value" than some jewelry box queen that never saw a rough days work in it's entire life.

    But that's not what "serious collectors" want. They want pristine, not character. And what they want is sometimes silly. "This watch was owned by Admiral Ahab as he chased the white whale. Of course it stayed in Boston the entire time of Ahab's journey's but Admiral Ahab owned it!!!" Meanwhile the watch with the dented and battered and scratched case and undeniable provenance that was worn by John Henry as he beat the steam engine gets short shrift because it's ugly looking.

    It's just silly sometimes.
     
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  6. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    I agree with Rob P. What is "museum grade" anyway? I prefer watches that tell a story; especially a story about its use. Personally, I prefer cases that show their history over "pristine" cases. Plus, it is like buying a used car so you are not the one to put the first scratch on it.

    Then, I have some very early Hamilton 16s which were purchased as movements only. All early 16 size Hamiltons used a positive pendant set system. Many of these were not even 16s, they were 17s. I have put these in contemporary cases and made the proper stems for them. The main purpose is to protect the movement from being discarded. But the case might as well be as right as possible. We will only know how the world values these recased watches after I die.

    While we are here, I prefer a very well used contemporary case to a watch cased in a "mint" but out of character case.

    As for restoration, if the replacement parts (custom made or factory original) are of the correct fit and finish, by defintion they cannot be identified as other than original. I have described elsewhere where I have had watches in which the balances were completely destroyed a la Fried. In cases where the watch was deemed "important" for one reason or another, a donor was found and the balance spring and balance screws form the donor transferred to the vandalized original balance. Same screws and balance spring that were in the inventory when the originals were installed. Except now the "important" watch has all the matching numbers in the right places AND it performs as originally intended.

    Which is better: an early production watch with rusted parts that were "originally" installed; or a watch of the same period that performs as intended with replacement parts that are factory original?

    It is"original performance" that is most important to me. A pretty watch that does not perform as the precision measurement instrument it was created as, is really just eye candy. To have a 120 year old watch that maintains a rate within 5 seconds across 5 positions is a joy. Yet, many collectors focus on the aesthetics while excusing the performance as "well it IS 75 years old".

    This discussion not only involves "originality" and "condition", it gets into conservation vs. restoration. And which pieces should be conserved vs restored. In the end, it is all very subjective.
     
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  7. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    Rob, while some serious collectors may limit their collecting to pristine pocket watches -- new old stock (NOS) if at all possible -- I don't. Nor do most serious collectors, I think. I and most collectors are comfortable with reasonable wear or other evidence of use. Unless we only collect watches produced in vast numbers, like Hamilton 992Bs or dollar watches, we have to accept reasonable wear or other evidence of use. Pristine or NOS examples of all but common mass-produced pocket watches are nearly impossible to find.

    Collectors' tolerances vary, of course. Some -- I am in this camp -- like artful inscriptions on their watches because they add character and provenance. Others don't. Some tolerate a significant amount of dial "patina" or appreciate 100 years of tarnish on silver cases. I don't.

    But relatively few serious collectors treasure watches that are unauthentic or in poor condition even though that shows how the watch was used, treated, or regarded. Every watch's present condition shows how it was used, treated, or regarded. I and most serious collectors are not interested in watches whose poor condition accurately reflects a history of abuse or ham-handed repairs when better examples are available. Better examples' history of use is just as significant or irrelevant as that of their battered counterparts.

    Apart from what one can infer from a pocket watch's present condition, its history usually is unknown. If known, it usually is quotidian. A watch's history rarely enhances its value to serious collectors.

    I don't question your conclusion that most serious collectors would prefer Admiral Ahab's pristine watch over John Henry's otherwise identical battered one because I don't think many serious watch collectors would be motivated by the memento value of owning a famous person's watch or would trust the claimed attribution. Most such claims are unverifiable. It's all to easy to have To Elvis from Colonel Tom engraved on a watch that Elvis never owned. So, if I had the choose between owning excellent or poor examples of a watch, I'd take the excellent example almost any day. Unless I were a collector of John Henry memorabilia and believed that he really owned the battered watch, why would I prefer it to a much better example?
     
  8. Gregory Smith

    Gregory Smith Registered User

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    This is an interesting point as well. The idea of conservation versus full restoration means preserving the history while still returning functionality (indeed conservation would involve some degree of restoration). Thanks to all posters so far. This is a very enlightening conversation!
     
  9. GeneJockey

    GeneJockey Registered User
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    I ran into this, dealing with my Grandfather's Reliant pocket watch. It's a 16s, 7j watch, in a coin silver hunter case, which Pap probably got as a teenager. He'd scratched his name and address into the inside caseback, but the case is otherwise in great shape. The movement was shot. The pivot holes had been ovalized, and closed with a punch, possibly several times, and were oval again. The center wheel arbor was worn to a 'nailhead'.

    I was fortunate to be able to find a movement from the same serial number range. I dithered about it, but ended up using it, with the dial and hands from Pap's watch. It was the only way I could figure to make Pap's watch once again a useful timepiece.

    So, I know it's not original, but it IS authentic, and when I look at the dial, it's the same dial and hands and case Pap looked at.
     
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  10. Rob P.

    Rob P. Registered User

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    #10 Rob P., Oct 12, 2019
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019
    Unfortunately, the auction history of "celebrity" property says otherwise. Any collectable that has a verifiable provenance of "celebrity ownership" has much more "value" to a collector than an identical collectable. It is akin to the Civil War thing where authentic civil war collectables are much more valuable than their identical counterparts from immediately before or after the conflict. Provenance of actual civil war use or carry makes them more valuable still.

    Many watches were assigned a serial number in the years between 1861 and 1865 yet how many of them were actually built during that time period? Is it enough to say "this is a Civil War watch" when you don't actually know the exact date of manufacture?

    People want bragging rights. They'll pay for it too while discarding an exact duplicate of the item that isn't as desirable because it's not perfect or within the proper range of manufacture or because it's "not original" as presented.

    And, jewelry box queens are out there. Some of them are even inexpensive. I have a very nice 3/0 Hampden Molly Stark in the original velvet and satin box with a written purchase date on the lining. Solid Gold hunt case with a fancy dial. It's complete with Chatelaine's chain and sits in it's box in my safe. I almost never show it to anyone because it has almost nothing to offer other than the fact that it's in a solid gold case.

    The things we collect are a way to touch the lives of those who came before us. If the person who previously owned it never touched it or used it, much like a Christmas gift that never gets used unless the giver is visiting, it really wasn't a part of their life. As such it has very little to offer in that regard unless one wants to own a "thing" rather than a piece of history.
     
  11. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    Rob, I still think what I said is correct, that serious pocket watch collectors primarily look for excellent examples, not civil war or celebrity mementos. If serious collectors of those things are also serious pocket watch collectors, that normally would be coincidental.
     
  12. Rob P.

    Rob P. Registered User

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    I agree with you to a point. That point is where you said the collectors probably aren't as interested in the collectables from "famous people". There is a huge market for exactly that sort of thing. And it encompasses just about everything a "famous person" could possibly buy or then sell at auction or privately.
     
  13. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    I think "serious collectors" is one of those phrases that sounds like we all know what it means, but in reality do not. Ethan, how do you want us to define your use of this term?
     
  14. Ethan Lipsig

    Ethan Lipsig Registered User
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    This thread has wandered, as they often do, far off the original poster's inquiry of the wisdom of restoring a beat-up Riverside '88, heirloom, but perhaps in a more interesting direction.

    Dewey now has put me in a spot by asking me to identify what I think makes one a "serious collector" of pocket watches.

    Dewey, because the most important characteristic is having an abiding interest in pocket watches, your question shows that my contention that serious collectors generally prefer to collect authentic examples that are in good condition rather than battered inauthentic examples is tautological. Of course they do, because serious collectors' abiding interest is in pocket watches, not in relics whose main value is their reflection of social history.

    Since you have put me on the spot,Dewey, hdre are the factors that I think makes one a serious collector of pocket watches,
    1. An abiding interest in pocket watches.
    2. One or more pocket watch collecting focal points, e.g., a maker, a type, an era, a movement type.
    3. Amassing a meaningful collection, even if it is only a virtual collection, e.g., of serial numbers or photos, and even if the collector no longer has it.
    4. Reading, e.g., books and articles about pocket watches.
    5. Researching the collector's own watches and others' watches.
    6. Becoming part of the pocket watch collecting community by joining groups, participating in message boards or attending pocket watch shows, auctions, or museums
    7. Developing special pocket watch expertise, as you have, Dewey, on, e.g., Hamilton pocket watch mechanics, or as I have on, e.g., C.H. Meylans.
    I probably have left some factors out, and some of the factors I have listed may not be essential.
     
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  15. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    With a sense of humor Ethan, you are right. It did seem circular. I do agree with how you have defined it, and not because I fit within it.
     
  16. DeweyC

    DeweyC Registered User
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    Ethan,

    I thought about this as I was workign this PM. Other characteristics I would add to your list are:

    A criteria for what makes a piece important for themselves; a rationale for what they collect (what saves me from being diagnosed as a compulsive hoarder)

    An understanding of the "responsibilities" that come with collecting (protecting against flood/fire/earthquake; preventing deterioration, etc).

    I once had a fairly important collection of chronometers until I realized how horrible I would feel if they were lost to fire while in my care. They were Dittisheim, Hartnup Balance, etc. I realized I would prefer they were stolen rather than lost forever. So I sent them on their way.

    While I think some of the Hamiltons I collect are "important", they are a production thing and there are many examples. Of course I think my little collection is unique (my little conceit) but if it was lost to fire, I would not feel like I let world down.

    From what I understand of your current collection, I think you get what I am saying.
     
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