Antique Pocket Watches: The Art of Functionality

As useful as they are beautiful, antique pocket watches have stood the test of time.  Whether you love them for their ornately decorated cases, or for the intricate mechanics inside, it’s hard not to appreciate them as works of art.  Click on the photos to learn more about the pieces you see here, and read on to learn more about antique pocket watches.


Adornment and Function

One of the most remarkable things about antique pocket watches is the quality of the mechanics.  American watchmakers took great care in the design and craftsmanship of each internal mechanism to ensure the functionality of the piece.  Equal care was taken in the ornamentation and overall look of the watch case, as well.  As competition heated up among American watchmakers, designs and motifs became more and more elaborate.  A technique called Damaskeening was used to apply ornate designs on to watch movements, either by etching or inlaying gold.  This added almost as much beauty to the inside of the pocket watch as there was on the outside.


Great care was also taken in the creation of the watch dials.  In antique pocket watches, these dials are copper plates that were coated with enamel, and then hand painted with numbers and lines.  At a time when mass-production was becoming the norm, there was still room for the personal artistry of watchmaking.


Types of Pocket Watches

Hunter’s or hunting cases have a cover over the face of the watch that opens by pressing the stem of the watch.  The cover served the dual purpose of being stylish while also protecting the watch face.  This style of pocket watch was carried by men of status, and, true to it’s name, often features animal or pastoral motifs.

Open face pocket watches have the watch face on full display, with no hinged cover.  This style is often seen on larger watches, where the addition of a cover would add too much weight to the overall piece.

Ladies pocket watches are generally distinguished by their smaller size (although men’s styles began to shrink greatly around the turn of the century and into the 1920’s).  These pieces were often worn as a pendant around the neck.


Measuring Pocket Watches

There are two metrics you will often see when shopping for antique pocket watches: movement size and number of jewels.  Movement size refers to the diameter of the watch face.  There are a number of gauges used to determine this metric, however most antique American made pocket watches used the Lancashire Gauge.  Lower numbers (including fractions) indicate a smaller size.

Another metric you will come across is jewel count.  Jewels were added to movements to equalize and reduce friction, helping to ensure accurate and long-lasting timekeeping.  Garnets and rubies were used most often, while higher grade movements used diamonds and sapphires.  Most pocket watches have either 7, 9, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, or 23 jewels.  Movements with higher jewel counts are considered higher in quality, although this is only one factor in determining the overall pocket watch value.


How To Care For Your Antique Pocket Watch

Wind your watch every 24 hours to keep the timekeeping accurate and the mechanisms evenly lubricated.  If you use your watch regularly, it’s a good idea to have it professionally cleaned at least once every two years.  Market Square Jewelers is proud to offer repair and cleaning services on antique pocket watches.  Stop into any of our locations or click here to learn more about the services we offer.





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