The High Tech World of the Antique Pocket Watch

Not many antique collectibles offer a piece of technology to the modern day owner. The exception is the antique pocket watch.

Tech of the Time

At first, the need to tell time was not pressing. Early clocks were large, not portable, and had only an hour hand. Early portable clocks were accurate to within about an hour, more or less which was close enough for their owners. The first watch makers were metal smiths for the simple reason that watches were made of metal. As watches became more precise, the person who manufactured them was the locksmith. Once watches reached the tiny size of five inches wide by three inches thick, it was the locksmith’s fine tools that were needed for the work.

Still, the accurate antique timepiece was only needed by ship navigators. It was the spring that made timepieces more accurate. As the watch became accurate to within minutes, minute hands were added. The antique pocket watch didn’t appear until a way to protect the face was developed. Watches went from being kept in pair cases made of metal to translucent glass covers that had to be taken off for the watch to be readable. As with all popular technology, bells and whistles were added. A second hand, chimes, calendars and music were among the extras.

To increase accuracy and sturdiness, jewels were added to the works because they didn’t wear out from the friction of moving parts. The most accurate kind of antique pocket watch is the railroad watch. Trains used to travel in both directions on the same track. Without means of long-distance communication, only the engineer’s ability to stay on schedule kept the system safe. On April 19, 1891, an engineer’s watch lost four minutes and the railroad lost the lives of nine passengers. Exacting standards were set for the railroad watch which had to be inspected and certified regularly. That’s cutting-edge technology.

To find the age of an antique pocket watch today means relying on today’s technology – the internet. The hallmark and serial number of an antique pocket watch can be researched online. American watches have their serial numbers on the inside of the watch. An older antique pocket watch from England will have a hallmark that should be researched. Patents can also be used to date an antique pocket watch. A company name inscribed on the face of a watch may not be that of the manufacturer but of a company that placed a large order for the watches. Even antique technology comes with interesting stories. Take the time to look for information about your antique pocket watch and you won’t be disappointed.


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