Waltham pocket watches are among the most historic American timepieces money can buy today. Their precision engineering and craftsmanship put them on the map, competing directly with high-grade pocket watches from Europe that were, at the time, dominating the market. Not only did they revolutionize the way watches were built in the mid-1800s, but they were among the first “railroad grade” pocket watches to ever exist.
If you are looking to invest in a timepiece that is both historic and reliable, Waltham pocket watches might be a good option. Without further ado, here are 10 facts about Waltham pocket watches you need to know.
- How Can You Identify A Waltham Pocket Watch?
- What Is A Railroad Grade Pocket Watch?
- Are Waltham Pocket Watches Rare?
- How Much Is A Waltham Pocket Watch Worth?
- How Are Waltham Pocket Watches Valued?
- Which Was The First Ever Waltham Pocket Watch?
- Did Abraham Lincoln Own A Waltham Pocket Watch?
- Do Waltham Pocket Watches Still Work?
- Why Was The Waltham Factory Important?
- Can You Still Buy Waltham Pocket Watches?
How Can You Identify A Waltham Pocket Watch?
There are a few ways that you can identify the authenticity of a Waltham pocket watch.
First, you will need to open the back cover of the watch and look for "A.W.W.Co." and "Waltham, Mass.” in the inner workings of the watch. A loupe or magnifying glass might be necessary for this one. This will also indicate the watch’s grade. For example, a Riverside grade watch will show "A.W.W.Co. Riverside Waltham, Mass."
Another way to identify a Waltham pocket watch is with its serial number. Every Waltham pocket watch created after 1852 has a unique serial number engraved. These numbers can be used to date the watch. You don’t need an expert horologist for this one. You can simply go to sites like pocketwatchdatabase.com and search for corresponding years and serial numbers. If you see that the serial number falls between two dates, the pocket watch was made in an earlier date.
Finally, if the pocket watch has a cover, look for "AWco" written on the inside. This will indicate that the cover was also made by Waltham. If there is a "K" with a number, it means that the case is made of gold, with the number indicating how many carats it is. For example, "K18" means the case is made out of 18-carat gold.
What Is A Railroad Grade Pocket Watch?
Following America’s great train disaster in 1891 which was caused due to a faulty timepiece, Waltham, along with Elgin and Hamilton (two other famous watch producers of the time,) started produced watches to a new set of standards known as the “railroad standard.” To qualify as railroad standard, the watches needed to meet certain criteria:
- They had to be 16S or 18S in size
- They had to have 17 or more jewels
- The needed to be lever set
- They needed to have an open face case, with the stem at 12 o’clock
- They needed to be adjustable to 5 or more positions
- They had to have bold legible Arabic numerals on the dial
- They had to have a variable maximum of 30 seconds per weekly check
Are Waltham Pocket Watches Rare?
Because the Waltham pocket watch was the first pocket watch to be mass-produced you would think that there are still many circulating in the market. However, investment-grade Waltham pocket watches are quite scarce.
How Much Is A Waltham Pocket Watch Worth?
An antique Waltham pocket watch can be anywhere between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. It highly depends on the condition of the watch. Antique items such as these need great care to maintain and keep in tip-top shape. As such, there are plenty of Waltham pocket watches out there that are worth so little, they are essentially just used for scraps, but there are times when a true investment grade pocket watch comes up at an auction and ends up selling as a top lot.
How Are Waltham Pocket Watches Valued?
There are numerous ways Waltham pocket watches are valued.
- Age, grade, and size are first taken into consideration
- The number of jewels present. First, we need to distinguish what jewels are. These aren’t the decorative gems you are used to seeing. Instead, they refer to industrial gram gemstones used as bearings in the watch’s mechanism. These are meant to prevent friction and wear. The higher the watch’s grade, the more jewels it will have. Typically, if the pocket watch has 15 jewels or less, it is considered to be of a lower grade. Another clarification that needs to be made here is that the jewels themselves are not the ones that indicate value. It’s the performance of the watch achieved by the higher number of jewels that increases the watch’s worth.
- The watch’s condition. Does it have any dents, scratches, or damaged dials?
- Materials used to make the watch also play a significant role in its overall value. The higher the grade of materials present (such as silver and gold) the higher the price.
- Is it operational? It goes without saying that a watch that is still working will be valued higher than one no longer ticking.
Which Was The First Ever Waltham Pocket Watch?
The first Waltham pocket watch ever made was the Waltham Model 1857. As its name implies, it was produced in 1857 and was the first watch to be mass-produced and be made with standard parts. Prior to 1857, pocket watch parts varied from piece to piece making production and repairing very difficult and expensive. Most watches during that time were also made in either England or France, making the Waltham pocket watch a testament to America’s manufacturing and quality.
The majority of Model 57 pocket watches were made with coin silver, which is 90% pure.
Did Abraham Lincoln Own A Waltham Pocket Watch?
Yes, Abraham Lincoln did in fact own a Waltham pocket watch. Upon the Gettysburg Address, the 16th President was presented with a Waltham pocket watch model 1857, serial numbered 67613. The watch is currently on display in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Do Waltham Pocket Watches Still Work?
As with most antique items, preservation is key. A well-kept Waltham pocket watch will most definitely still be operational even today.
Why Was The Waltham Factory Important?
The Waltham factory was important because it revolutionized the way pocket watches were made in America. In 1849 Aaron Lufkin Dennison, Edward Howard, and David Davis joined forces to create a company capable of mass producing watch movement parts. Prior to this all watches produced in America were handmade. This made building and repairing them time consuming and expensive.
Waltham’s vision of having watches with interchangeable, standardized, parts would cut down on time, production, and repair costs significantly.
The company opened its doors in 1852 and remained in operation until 1957. During that time, over 40 million fine watches, pocket watches, clocks, and other precision instruments were produced. It was without a doubt one of the most prolific American watch companies and by the early-1870s Waltham watches were winning prizes all over the world.
Can You Still Buy Waltham Pocket Watches?
Yes, you can still buy Waltham pocket watches today. Low and mid-grade watches can be easily found online or in antique shops; however investment-grade Waltham pocket watches are usually found at public or private auction houses.
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