* Watch Identification & Appraisal *

ID & Appraisal

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Usually, years of practical experience are needed to quickly & correctly determine the age of a watch so it's impossible to teach someone that skill on a few internet pages. Often though, watches can be identified through a quick visual inspection, research & a bit of perseverance. If watch back can be opened usually the name, country of manufacture, calibre, quality of the movement and amount of workmanship can be observed. One should keep in mind that up to 85% of the total cost of a high grade watch is in labour . There are few basic aspects of watch identification that should be remembered. Following is a very general guide intended for new watch collecting enthusiasts (E&O expected :-)

Identifying the watch

Style, shape and size: In-progress

Watches which are over 150 years might not have any obvious identifying marks on the outside however establishing their age is still possible because of particular period features such as: style of the watch case, the dial, hands, balance cock, bridge, movement, style & kind of jewels, type of material used. However, in situations where only one or two components are identified one must not relay on forming a definite opinion as to the age of the watch; the watch as a whole must be considered. A watch case could be made today but the movement might not be cased in it for a number of years. In this example if the manufacture date of the timepiece was solely determined by the age of the case the whole assumption as to age of the watch would be wrong. Below are some examples of different decade styles and how they can be recognized.

1920's Swiss 18K 17J single push chrono by Lemania, mid size (34mm) porcelain dial. Just shows not all watches made in that time were small or lacked in complications.
1920 Watch
1930's In-progress
Rolex 9K 1940's (late 40's) small & often fancy cases made from solid gold or silver, embellished movements, porcelain dials, fancy crowns often studded with cabochon jewels, pronounced hands.
Omega Seamaster SS mid size Auto 1950's (57) round cases with plexi right up to the edge, smaller and less pronounced lugs, wider hands and simple looking dials.
Omega Seamaster cal 751 Chrono Auto 1960's (68) Similar to 50's but little bigger, round cases & dials .
Omega Constellation 14K Chrono 1970's bold gaudy designs, large sizes thick & heavy cases.
Swiss unbranded Valjoux cal. 7733 date late 1970's often psychedelic designs, large & heavy cases, full of 'bells & whistles.
1980's Tissot PR526 GL Auto Date Day (1980) Apart from some new innovations similar looks to the 60's. Round & simple looking dials, shorter, more pronounced & stubbier hands, uncomplicated hour markers..
1990's Nomos 1998 17J 6 pos & temp. adj. In Progress
2000's Tutima FX UTC (2003) renaissance of large dials, cases made from titanium or 316L steel, water resistance to 100bar, see through backs,

Dial: The easiest way to identify watch origin is to look on the dial for the name of manufacturer and country it was made. Majority of known companies inscribe their name, logo or other information on the watch face though the same can not be said about a lot of time pieces made 50 or 100 years ago. There are, as always, some exceptions to identifying who made the piece from reading what's on the dial. The ones that come to mind are: some watches were made to order so they would have had the name of the retailer and not the manufacturer signed on the dial (e.g. Tiffany & Co. which, but for a few years, had Patek, Audemars Piquet & IWC make watches for them) The other common occurrence was that quite a lot of old, solid gold watches had the gold cases made abroad in countries such as the UK. If the manufacturer can be determined by simply looking at the dial or the watch back then perhaps by comparing the watch against a good watch guide or simply searching the internet the collector can find out information such as the age and estimated price of their time piece. There are few good internet sites that run forums for watch brands such as: Rolex, Omega, Longines, Breitling, etc. After registering the members can post question to other members and ask for a help with identification of their watch.

Watch back: Could be a great source of information not only about the place/country of manufacture but the type of metal the case and/or back is made from, gold plating type & thickness, type of crystal, type of movement, serial number and water resistance.

Movement: Watches are usually signed either on dial, between lugs, on the back but sometimes in the absence of any outside markings it's necessary to open the watch back to see if the are any markings on the movement itself. Having said that information obtained from the movement will not necessarily help you with trying to determine the manufacturer of the time piece because few companies, especially nowadays, manufacture in-house watch movements. Most would simply buy blank ebauche (read about ETA ebauches HERE) from a factory specialising in production of movements such as ETA, Le Coultre or Lemania. They might order the movements with their name and/or logo engraved on them or perhaps improve & embellish the ebauche in-house to their own specifications. Even if movement can not be readily identified it's still possible to establish the true manufacturer by carefully inpecting it's construction noting the size, nb. of jewels, shape, location of parts, plate layout, shape of balance cock & regulator and compering it with a good watch guide. If you're abolutely stuck trying to identify who made your watch movemnt the following TABLE might help you with that task. Some Swiss made watches manufactured up until around 1930 might have an additional 3 letter code stamped on the balance cock. These letters indicate trademark or brand name registered by the respective manufacturer.

Bracelet, watch band, crown: These may contain mark or logo of the watch manufacturer but unless you are an expert I would not advise to identify & apprise a watch based simply on information included on such items. Often items such as those are replaced so that they can be sold individually for parts.

Serial Number: Once a watch has been identified and a serial number found the easiest way to establish the age is to consult watchmaker's records. It must be remembered though that it might not be possible to establish the exact manufacture date because in the years gone by a lot of watch companies have ceased to exists, their records destroyed during the war or simply disposed of to save space.

Valuation - How much is the watch I want to buy really worth?

Believe it or not but it doesn't really matter. Why? Because the watch is really only worth as much as someone (you) is willing to pay for it (pricing history & demand should be considered though when deciding on a purchase)

Supply & Demand - Why are some watches more in demand the others?

It could be for a number (and combination) of reasons. Remember the 'supply & demand' rule - here is one reason. Other reasons include: type of metal and style of case, number of jewels, complications, number of adjustments, quality of workmanship (is it an early hand made watch) attractiveness, condition, rarity (e.g. low serial number) age, ease of identification (does it come with box & papers) escapement type, historical value.

Conclusion: I have seen a lot of very informative, watch related web pages which attempt to cover all aspects of watch collecting. Personally I think that: a watch is only worth as much as someone is prepared to pay for it!

See our watch collection HERE

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