Why are pocket watch cases refered to as "4oz, 6oz, 8oz" and so on?

KipW

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These terms are confusing, yet common "currency" when discussing pocket watch cases. The "ounce" rating seems disconnected from any actual weight or even dimension. Is it supposed to be a reference to precious metal content/percentage - "ounces" of what - silver, gold, lead, tin, unobtainium?

Can anyone explain these seemingly archaic reference terms - so that they make sense? Sure would be helpful...THANKS!
 

musicguy

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I would assume that a 4 oz coin case should weigh
aprox 4 OZ without the movement and glass. That is
how I understand it. Edited 8/3/2021 added cross out


Rob
 

Clint Geller

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So, is it a Troy ounce or not?
A Troy ounce is 31.103 grams or 20 pennyweights (dwt). An avoirdupois ounce is 28.35 grams. I am accustomed to thinking of the weights of gold cases in dwt, but their weights are seldom marked. Per Post #8, Ben reports that marked silver case weights usually quote avoirdupois ounces. I did not know this. [This post was edited on 8/4/21]
 
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KipW

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It's as simple as that?

So, an "8oz" case would weigh double that of a 4oz and a 6oz, 1 1/2 times as much?

Is weight the only way to determine all this, or is there a reasonable "visual' clue as well? Just how precise is the measurement? (I suspect there are a lot of cases out there that do not weigh in at an exact "oz'", or gram, figure.)

Also - is there a major preference for one type over another? Is this true of Silveroid, Coin, Sterling gold...ya-da ya-da...as well? Seems a gold case would be heavier, but smaller in all cases (pardon the pun).
 
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musicguy

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I have seen some Nickle cases marked with their weight
but mostly pre 1900 coin silver cases that I see.



Rob
 

Clint Geller

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It's as simple as that?

So, an "8oz" case would weigh double that of a 40z and a 6oz, 1 1/2 times as much?

Is weight the only way to determine all this, or is there a reasonable "visual' clue as well? Just how precise is the measurement? (I suspect there are a lot of cases out there that do not weigh in at an exact "oz'", or gram, figure.)

Also - is there a major preference for one type over another? Is this true of Silveroid, Coin, Sterling gold...ya-da ya-da...as well? Seems a gold case would be heavier, but smaller in all cases (pardon the pun).
Kip, I think that when a "4 ounce" case was advertised, that weight included the weight of the crystal, and if it was a hunting case, also the springs. Spring weights can vary quite a bit, but when I am estimating the precious metal content of a hunting case and the only datum I have to go by is the total weight a seller gives of the complete watch, I first convert that weight into pennyweights (DWT), then I subtract the weight of the movement plus another 8 DWT for the springs and crystal, then I multiply by the fractional gold purity. If I am trying to estimate melt value of a gold case, I then multiply my previous result by 0.94 to account for the smelter's fee. I then divide by 20 again to get back to effective ounces of pure gold, and finally, I multiply by the spot price of gold per ounce. The Ehrhardt "gold book" has a handy list of movement weights for most common American watch movements.

I know of no collector who prefers silveroid cases, though they do have functional advantages over both silver and gold. Early Howard watch collectors may accept a correct silver case, but they greatly prefer solid gold cases, and preferably 18 karat gold for keywind Howard watches. The same is true of high grade Waltham watch collectors. Gold filled cases can also be original for such watches in many instances, but are not preferred. In the railroad watch market, I believe gold filled cases are the standard, or perhaps silver for the earliest railroad watches, as gold filled cases were scarce before about 1875. (I have seen very few solid gold open face cases with the threaded front bezel and rear lid usually preferred by railroad watch collectors.) Among English pocket chronometers, I believe more original cases are Sterling silver than gold as well, as these tended to be serious working watches. Most American silver cases are coin silver (90% pure, balance copper), but Sterling silver American cases (92.5% pure) also exist. Better quality American silver keywind cases not infrequently have gold joints. Early Swiss import silver cases could be as low as 80% pure, with silver plated brass cuvettes. Gold cases may be somewhat lighter, on average, than silver cases, but I have seen some pretty massive gold cases too. Platinum came in during the Art Deco era in the early 20th Century.

Among Civil War provenance watches, all but one of the watches I have seen that were presented to enlisted men are silver, whereas all of the watches that were presented to commissioned officers are solid gold. Nickel-copper-zinc alloy, then called "albata," cases also existed during the Civil War, but these were not used fo presentation purposes. The cheapest foreign watches of the Civil War period came in brass cases.
 
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ben_hutcherson

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The cases I've weight tend to be pretty darn close to their marked weight(springs and crystal inc.) in avoirdupois ounces. I don't know if that's a coincidence or not.

A lot of early cases aren't marked as to weight, but if you've handled enough later cases you can often give a good guess as to the weight of the case by handling/feeling it.

IMO, I'd call 5 oz. and larger an oversize case...
 

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KipW

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Clint, appreciate you '"fleshing out" this business a bit.

I must say, most of the catalogs and ads I've seen tend to talk about cases in terms of 10K, 14k, etc. - and I've never seen anything conclusive about the "ounces". "Initially, I thought maybe it was a veiled reference to the quantity of precious metal "alloyed" in the case. You know, like the old saw; "which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?

Then, as I looked into it some more, it became fairly obvious that it had a closer relationship to sheer size. That's where the real confusion arose. Because it seems to me if "ounces" was/is, in fact, "code" for size, it's pretty silly. Why not just give dimensions instead?

So, I guess I'm still looking for an exact, clear explanation, to help myself and other neophytes in the future.
 

Clint Geller

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Clint, appreciate you '"fleshing out" this business a bit.

I must say, most of the catalogs and ads I've seen tend to talk about cases in terms of 10K, 14k, etc. - and I've never seen anything conclusive about the "ounces". "Initially, I thought maybe it was a veiled reference to the quantity of precious metal "alloyed" in the case. You know, like the old saw; "which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?

Then, as I looked into it some more, it became fairly obvious that it had a closer relationship to sheer size. That's where the real confusion arose. Because it seems to me if "ounces" was/is, in fact, "code" for size, it's pretty silly. Why not just give dimensions instead?

So, I guess I'm still looking for an exact, clear explanation, to help myself and other neophytes in the future.
Well, as I said up front in my previous post, the weights cited refer to the total weight of a case, including crystal(s) and springs, if any. Volume and weight are obviously related, but they are not the same. You can make a more voluminous case without increasing the weight by using thinner metal. Per Ben's post, the actual and advertised weights of American watch cases usually track pretty closely. After all, weights were a lot easier for customers to check than gold purity. No special chemicals were required.
 
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Greg Frauenhoff

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To summarize what others have pointed out above:

(1) silver cases marked with numbers such as "3", "4", "5", etc. were originally advertised and marketed as having that weight (if US then avoirdupois, with the weight being total weight of case including crystal, springs, bow, etc.).

(2) some cases have non-precious metal dust caps (often called "albata"), but the weight of such is included in the total.

I agree with Ben, 5 oz. and larger is "big".
 
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Clint Geller

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To summarize what others have pointed out above:

(1) silver cases marked with numbers such as "3", "4", "5", etc. were originally advertised and marketed as having that weight (if US then avoirdupois, with the weight being total weight of case including crystal, springs, bow, etc.).

(2) some cases have non-precious metal dust caps (often called "albata"), but the weight of such is included in the total.

I agree with Ben, 5 oz. and larger is "big".
One should note that some early cases were made entirely of albata, not just the dust caps. The 1864 Robbins & Appleton sales catalog even advertised them, and I have seen cases marked "albata" on the interior of the rear lid. A search on "albata" in the Jones & Horan sales archive turned up five lots. Photo #4 in the second lot listed is instructive. Albata cases are not plentiful, though.
 
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KipW

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Thanks, guys - the light is beginning to dawn. Sounds like most of this info applies to 18s cases, but were 16s and 12s also rated in this fashion? (If so - Wow! - I imagine a 12s 4oz case would be a real whopper!)

Was there a particular time frame when most cases WERE marked "3", "4", "5", etc. (IE: Was it like the 'guaranteed 'X' years' thing, and tapered off or ceased after a certain period?) Were certain case makers more prone to mark thusly than others?

Is an 8-ounce case or heavier a "unicorn", or did they actually exist?

Has anyone got example/comparative photos of the various weights - side by side?
 

Clint Geller

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Thanks, guys - the light is beginning to dawn. Sounds like most of this info applies to 18s cases, but were 16s and 12s also rated in this fashion? (If so - Wow! - I imagine a 12s 4oz case would be a real whopper!)

Was there a particular time frame when most cases WERE marked "3", "4", "5", etc. (IE: Was it like the 'guaranteed 'X' years' thing, and tapered off or ceased after a certain period?) Were certain case makers more prone to mark thusly than others?

Is an 8-ounce case or heavier a "unicorn", or did they actually exist?

Has anyone got example/comparative photos of the various weights - side by side?
Kip, In my experience, the weight of most cases is not indicated on the case, though it is on many. I believe the practice of marking case weights was most prevalent before gold filled cases supplanted silver cases in the market. As has been mentioned in other threads, in the Old West some miners used enormous gold watch cases as a relatively convenient means of carrying some of their wealth with them. I'm sure the bling appealed to them also. My April 1995 NAWCC Bulletin article on Howard watch cases shows a picture of a seven ounce 18K gold case for a Howard N Size movement that was made either by or for Joslin & Park, a major Denver CO jewelry retailer of the 1880s period. As I recall, I show a Washington quarter in the same picture for scale. John Cote reports having seen much heavier gold cases than that!
 
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Ethan Lipsig

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When I am estimating the precious metal content of a hunting case and the only datum I have to go by is the total weight a seller gives of the complete watch, I first convert that weight into pennyweights (DWT), then I subtract the weight of the movement plus another 8 DWT for the springs and crystal, then I multiply by the fractional gold purity. If I am trying to estimate melt value of a gold case, I then multiply my previous result by 0.94 to account for the smelter's fee. I then divide by 20 again to get back to effective ounces of pure gold, and finally, I multiply by the spot price of gold per ounce
Whew, Clint! All I do is estimate the case weight, net of the movement, crystal, and springs, and then use this online calculator, Gold Karat Calculator, Gold Prices | Karat Kalculator, to determine net scrap value.
 

Clint Geller

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Whew, Clint! All I do is estimate the case weight, net of the movement, crystal, and springs, and then use this online calculator, Gold Karat Calculator, Gold Prices | Karat Kalculator, to determine net scrap value.
Well, Ethan, if you are looking at a listing on ebay and all you are given is the gold purity and the total weight of a hunting case watch, then you need to know how much a particular kind of movement weighs and estimate the weight of the crystal and springs before you can use an on-line calculator. At that point, its not that much extra work to do the rest yourself. I could do it in my sleep. Besides, I like to choose the smelter's percentage myself.
 

Fred Hansen

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The cases I've weight tend to be pretty darn close to their marked weight(springs and crystal inc.) in avoirdupois ounces. I don't know if that's a coincidence or not.

A lot of early cases aren't marked as to weight, but if you've handled enough later cases you can often give a good guess as to the weight of the case by handling/feeling it.

IMO, I'd call 5 oz. and larger an oversize case...
I’d agree with Ben - American case weight markings typically reflect case weight complete in avoirdupois ounces, not troy ounces.
 

Ethan Lipsig

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Well, Ethan, if you are looking at a listing on ebay and all you are given is the gold purity and the total weight of a hunting case watch, then you need to know how much a particular kind of movement weighs and estimate the weight of the crystal and springs before you can use an on-line calculator. At that point, its not that much extra work to do the rest yourself. I could do it in my sleep. Besides, I like to choose the smelter's percentage myself.
As a physicist, no doubt you could do all those calculations in your sleep, but not all of us are so adept. In your earlier posting, you said " The Ehrhardt 'gold book' has a handy list of movement weights for most common American watch movements." On what page is that list? I couldn't find it in my copy of what I think is the "gold book" -- American Pocket Watches , Beginning to End ... 1830-1980 (First Printing 1987).
 

Clint Geller

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I’d agree with Ben - American case weight markings typically reflect case weight complete in avoirdupois ounces, not troy ounces.
Fred, I don't recall seeing any gold cases with the weights marked. So are we talking about silver cases pretty much?
 

musicguy

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An avoirdupois ounce weighs 28.3 grams, a troy ounce weighs 31.1 grams.
 
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Clint Geller

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As a physicist, no doubt you could do all those calculations in your sleep, but not all of us are so adept. In your earlier posting, you said " The Ehrhardt 'gold book' has a handy list of movement weights for most common American watch movements." On what page is that list? I couldn't find it in my copy of what I think is the "gold book" -- American Pocket Watches , Beginning to End ... 1830-1980 (First Printing 1987).
Ethan, the list starts on page 42. That table gives movement weights in dwt, whereas ebay listings usually give watch weights in grams. That's what the complication is, but it's really not that complicated. No knowledge of higher mathematics is required. Here are two formulas you can use:

W = total watch weight in grams (which usually is what is quoted in ebay listings)
M = movement weight in dwt (per the table in the gold book)
S = spot price of gold per precious ounce
P = gold purity in %
V = melt value of a case
the estimated smelter's fee is 6%

For a man's hunting case (size 16 and up):
V = 0.047 x S x P x [(0.643 x W) - (M + 8)]

For an open face case:
V = 0.047 x S x P x [(0.643 x W) - (M + 2)]

Obviously, crystal and spring weights vary, so these formulas are only approximate. Springs in smaller hunting cases than 16 Size are likely somewhat lighter.

Note: the factor of 0.643 converts grams into dwts, and the factor of 0.047 converts dwts back into precious ounces and accounts for the estimated 6% smelter's fee.
 
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ben_hutcherson

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Is an 8-ounce case or heavier a "unicorn", or did they actually exist?
I've handled a couple 10 oz. and I vaguely recall a 12 oz. along the way. There's a decent chance Fred Hansen would have seen or maybe shown me the ones I've handled, and his memory is a lot better than mine.

BTW, on my avoirdupois ounce comment-if you weigh a case and find that it falls short of its advertised weight, don't automatically assume you've been "cheated." Heavily worn cases often do weigh measurably less than their marked weight.

Also, a few case makers would use an extra symbol to indicate a half ounce over the marked weight, although I've also owned cases that were marked 2 1/2 or so. I seem to remember that at least on Waltham and Crescent cases, a star was used to mean 1/2 oz.
 

ben_hutcherson

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Has anyone got example/comparative photos of the various weights - side by side?
I don't know if I have photos handy or if I could even easily show them, but it's not always 100% obvious. The big cases typically h ave wide-very wide-case bands while a 2oz or so case can seem to almost "hug" the movement. There's also a certain feel in hand, especially since 2 oz. cases tend to have very thin covers and the super-size cases are very thick. 3 and 4 oz. cases are often similar cover feel in-hand to a typical gold filled case, with 4 oz. maybe tending a bit thicker. 4 oz. cases to my eye look fairly "normal" and not overly large.

Also, bear in mind that this shifts on hunting vs. OF cases since a hunting case has two outside covers.
 

Greg Frauenhoff

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Regarding gold cases, although they aren't my "bag, of the ones that I've seen none were marked with an indication of weight. In the 19th century, factory mass produced gold cases were often advertised with the penny weight of the case mentioned (this would be the complete weight with spring, bows, crystal, etc.). So some makers specifically mentioned that they used the lightest springs possible. Also, keep in mind that, in 19th century America, 14K did not mean 583/585 fine. Quality cases might be 13 3/4K while more suspect cases might be 12K. Also in the 19th century, many gold cases were made to order to a specific penny weight (as requested by the customer).

All FWIW.
 

Clint Geller

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Regarding gold cases, although they aren't my "bag, of the ones that I've seen none were marked with an indication of weight. In the 19th century, factory mass produced gold cases were often advertised with the penny weight of the case mentioned (this would be the complete weight with spring, bows, crystal, etc.). So some makers specifically mentioned that they used the lightest springs possible. Also, keep in mind that, in 19th century America, 14K did not mean 583/585 fine. Quality cases might be 13 3/4K while more suspect cases might be 12K. Also in the 19th century, many gold cases were made to order to a specific penny weight (as requested by the customer).

All FWIW.
Quite a few very early American gold cases weren't marked as to purity at all. The case that my Waltham First Run KW20 is in is an example. It tests north of 14K but not quite 18K. My 19 jewel Model 1859 is in a case that isn't marked as to gold content either, though it is better than 14K. It is probably a 16K or 17K case. Even many early American cases that were marked 18K come up a little short on a test.

I have nothing against silver cases, but the kinds of watches I most like to collect most often were cased in gold. So I have only six silver cases in my collection. Three are early Waltham Model 1857 cases, one is a Model 1859 case, and two are foreign, including the case of a big 60.5 mm eight-day pocket chronometer date marked in London in 1826-27. Three of my four silver Walthams were carried by Civil War combatants, two of whom likely were either killed or mortally wounded with those watches in their pockets. None have weights indicated.
 
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