How Much is My Watch Worth?

That is a difficult question to answer, but I will try.  First of all, if the watch you are trying to appraise is a family heirloom, then it is one-of-a kind and should be worth more than a few dollars to you.  I suggest you keep it and pass it on as a remembrance of your loved ones.  Are you looking to insure the watch, or are you just curious?  Did you pick up a neat pocket watch or wrist watch at a yard sale or flea market and figure you might be able to turn it into next week's groceries or a new TV!  There is nothing wrong with making a few dollars, but note that most rich watch dealers I know were rich before they became watch dealers.  Watches always seem to stop running just when you decide to sell, or your potential customer drops it and then runs!  Then to clean or repair the watch costs more than you can sell it for.  Anyway, back to the subject.  Suppose you decide to figure out how much the watch is worth yourself.  You could sell it at auction, but that has its dangers.  What about an appraisal?  Actually, an appraisal may not really be worth too much.  I have gone to many auctions where the auctioneer would read an appraisal saying that this watch or piece of jewelry is worth several thousand dollars.  When the gavel hit the podium, it went for only a few hundred dollars, a factor of ten less!!  When someone really is making an offer to buy, then that is a "real" appraisal.  But suppose you do not want to sell your watch to find out what it is worth.  You say, well, I can go to the web and find out how much my car is worth, why can't I find out how much my watch is worth.  Well, it is much harder, but you can search the web for similar items and see what they are selling for.  eBay is a fairly good market, but often common watches go dirt cheap these days at auction.  That is why dealers buy a lot of watches at auction!!  Or, you can buy a price guide like the one put out by Shugart every year and try to find your watch in the guide.  Most people have watched the Antiques Road Show and have seen people bring in watches that the expert appraisers said were worth thousands of dollars.  Wow, you may say, I have an old watch in my drawer that I got from Uncle Charlie, so I may be able to retire early!!  The problem is that everyone saved their watches.  How many pocket or wrist watches have you found in the trash pile. NONE, ZILTCH!  So, there are millions of watches that have been saved.  Unless your uncle Charlie was a Vanderbilt or Rockerfeller, his watch is likely pretty common.  The expensive watches were the fancy Swiss watches that chime the hour, quarter hour, minute, etc, were 18 Karat solid gold, were made by Patek Phillippe or another prestige maker and likely cost thousands and thousands of dollars when new back in the 1920's before the bottom fell out.  (Did you notice how many expensive watches there were being made in Switzerland during the late 1990's - well, it was just a repeat of the 1920's all over again.) Believe it or not, most watches cost much more when made 50 or 100 or so years ago than they are worth today.  That is because the initial price of watches was relatively high compared with wages.  A nice Hamilton wrist watch likely cost $75 or more back in the 50's.  The same watch today may still be worth $75.00 (if running and not beat up), but the $75 in the fifties was several weeks wages to most people and $75 today will barely buy you a dinner meal at a reasonably good restaurant!!!!  So, watches are not usually a good investment, but then as we know the stock market is not always a good investment either.  Watch collectors generally look for specific watches and the watches they are looking for depend on the times.  Maybe the collector wants a watch like he got for graduation, that got lost 20 years ago.  Or maybe the collector likes unusual mechanisms and only buys strange escapements, or whatever.  Selling a watch and getting a good price is difficult as to get the "top" price you must find the person who really wants your watch.

Suppose you don't feel like investing the time to appraise your watch yourself!!!  If you have a very desirable watch, an appraisal from someone who handles a lot of similar merchandise may be needed.  Very desirable watches are high grade railroad watches, deck watches, chronometers, prestige watches by famous makers, very early American watches, repeaters that chime the hours and minutes, etc.  You know your watch is beautiful to look at, has a highly-finished highly-jeweled movement, has complications like a moon phase or calendar, or is karat gold.  Then it is a sure bet that it is worth more than $50, which is sort of what the average vintage watch that is working seems to sell for on eBay.  The best method of appraising a watch is to have it examined first hand.  Pictures and descriptions are not good enough for an accurate appraisal.  If you are thinking of selling your watch or watches, you can send me your watches for a free "to buy" appraisal.  If you are not satisfied with my offer, I will return your watches at my expense.  However, always email me before shipping to make sure I am interested in purchasing!! Other dealers and the large auction houses have similar modes of operation.

In order to make an appraisal, the appraiser must have knowledge of the market and of the product.  Many watchmakers know the product - when it was made, who made it, and its history, but are unaware of the market value.  As noted earlier, guide books are helpful, but they are only a "guide."  They are often way too high or way too low as prices change as new information is uncovered or when "fads" arise.  There are several types of appraisals.  There are appraisals for insurance or replacement value - typically high.  Then there is high retail, which is what you would expect to pay at the expensive watch shops in "high rent districts, average retail, and low retail.  Dealers must make a little money to stay in business, so they typically pay low retail.  However, many collectors love to pay even less than dealers!  Auction prices vary all over the spectrum, so auction prices are not always a good indication of the "value" of a watch.  Basically, someone must be willing to part with their money to buy your watch, and you must also be willing to sell it to them at a price they will pay.  New items are much easier to value.  The value of a new item is just the cost of making the item plus enough profit to give a return on investment and stay in business.  The value of a vintage watch depends on several factors:  CONDITION and DEMAND being two very important factors.  Demand depends on supply.  If your watch is common and easy to find, a buyer can pass on your watch and just wait until another one turns up.  For example, if you go to an internet auction and find 10 identical watches for sale consistently, then you may not be in a hurry to buy.  But, if your watch is desirable and rare, then you can literally set the price, or let bidders set the price in an auction (but not at any auction, only an auction with the right bidders).  Now consider condition.  No one would be proud of a watch with a dented worn out case, a chipped dial, and a rusty movement that would not run.  It would only be good for maybe a few parts.  So, a mint (like new) watch may bring $200 while a watch that has been used for years and years and years (and shows it age) may be worth only $10 - $20.00, or less if very common.  Also, a watch needs to be running and KEEPING TIME to bring top price.  It may cost $100 - $200 to repair a watch.  Often the cost to repair a watch is more than the "value" of a common watch.  Demand often changes with time.  What is popular today may not be popular tomorrow.  Even rare items may not be in demand at a given time.  Items made of solid karat gold (not plated gold or gold filled) have value due to the valuable metal.  Early watches and watches that were very expensive when made are often now very desirable and very expensive.  But remember, demand is fickle.  Some Swatch watches that once brought several hundred or even thousands of dollars just a few years ago now can find no buyers at all due to the "bubble" or mania that existed in Swatch watches. (Sort of like internet stocks!!) 

I can appraise most "common" watches for from $9.95 - $29.95.  Just send me the watch(es) plus return shipping for the best appraisal.  (Note, always ask first before shipping a watch).  If you do not want to ship your watch and you think you can describe the watch accurately, send me the description plus digital photos and/or scans (in jpeg format) showing the watch and its movement.  If you do not have a scanner or a digital camera, you can send pictures to me by US mail.  You can pay by PayPal, check, or money order.  I do not necessarily need a scan of the movement for wrist watch appraisals.  However, for pocket watches a picture of the movement is often needed since the maker of the movement did not always sign the dial - sometimes a local jeweler would have his name put on the movement and dial.  Also, for pocket watches, I need the serial number, maker, case size, and all other information you can supply.  I also need the diameter of the dial, or if an American pocket watch, I need the size if you know it.  Note that American pocket watches are usually easier to appraise than foreign watches.  Also, note condition is VERY, VERY important as a mint, or seldom used watch may be worth 10 times or more than  a "well used" watch.  So, I need to know how much wear your case has - if the movement is running, is it keeping time, is the movement rusty, the condition of the dial (big dial chips can ruin the value of a watch), crystal, etc.  The more information you supply, the better the appraisal.  If your watch will require research, I will advise of the appraisal price.  Appraisals will be sent by email as Microsoft word attachments.  Anyway, good luck and if you have read this far you are certainly a watch enthusiast and a little crazy, JUST LIKE ME!!


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