How to Find the Best Pocket Watches

Vintage pocket watch

Pocket watches may have been replaced by analog or digital watches in terms of usefulness, but that doesn’t mean a pocket watch has no value. Knowing how to find the best pocket watches depends on whether you’re looking for a vintage watch or one that is made with modern movements.

There are several design factors that are available with this style of timepiece. There are also maintenance considerations to take into account if you’re looking at a vintage item. Here are the key points you’ll want to think about before finalizing a purchase.


#1. Purchase the best possible quality pocket watch you can afford.

Most of the affordable pocket watches that are available today use a minimum number of hard stones to reduce wear and tear on the internal mechanisms of the watch. Most designs today incorporate synthetic rubies. The number of these hard stones is referred to as “jewels” in terms of quality. Cheap pocket watches generally have an 11-jewel movement.

For a pocket watch to qualify as having a “quality” movement, it must have a minimum of 15 jewels.

Top quality pocket watches which can maintain their value or even increase in value over time will usually have a minimum of 21 jewels. Some may even have 35+ jewels. So if you’re looking for the best pocket watches, find the highest number of jewels you can afford and get that watch.

#2. Know the case.

Pocket watches generally come in two forms: open-faced or with a hunter case. The open-faced pocket watch does not have a cover to shield the crystal, or face, of the watch. Some open-faced designs are called “sidewinders” because they were designed to be a hunter-case watch but ended up being an open-faced design instead.

Hunter-case pocket watches have a cover, usually metal, that closes over the crystal. This gives the pocket watch added protection against potential damage. A demi-hunter pocket watch has this protective casing, but a portion of it will be transparent so the owner can see what time it is without having to open up the watch.

If you want a pocket watch that you can “pop open” to check the time, then you’re looking for a hunter-case pocket watch.

#3. Get to know your pocket watch movements.

Many pocket watches today feature modern quartz movements. This makes them a highly affordable option, even when imported from Japan. Swiss-based movements, automatic movements, and mechanical movements are also available, especially with vintage pocket watches.

The two styles which are generally considered to be part of the best pocket watches are the key-wind, key-set movement, and the stem wind and set movement. Early pocket watches needed a key to wind the timepiece. If you didn’t have the key, you couldn’t use the watch. That’s why some vintage watches have keyholes on the watch face.

Stem winding is similar to what self-winding wristwatches require still today. You must wind the pocket watch periodically in order to keep the watch functioning.

#4. Think about what size is right for you.

Pocket watches can come in numerous sizes. Although the manufacturer of the timepiece has the final say over the size, there are four standard sizing options that are found in the industry for modern and vintage pocket watches. It is important to note that the size is based not on the actual size of the watch, but the measurement of the movement inside of it.

Here are the four common sizes that are offered.

  • 39.78mm.
  • 41.48mm.
  • 43.18mm.
  • 44.86mm.

#5. Is the pocket watch an Adjusted timepiece?

If the timepiece has been listed as being “adjusted,” then this is another sign that you’ve found one of the best pocket watches that is available today. The term refers to the movement of the pocket watch. Adjusted movements have been tuned so that the watch can keep an accurate timer under different conditions or positions.

You’ll want to find a pocket watch that has been adjusted for at least three positions: dial down, dial up, and pendant up.

Since 1908, there have been pocket watches available which are of a “railroad grade.” This was because those in the railroad industry were required to have a reliable timepiece to avoid collisions or other accidents. A railroad-grade pocket watch will be adjusted to a minimum of 5 positions, adding stem-left and stem-right to those noted above.

#6. Refer to a standard pocket watch grading system.

This step applies to those who are looking for a vintage pocket watch. The best pocket watches will all be assigned a grade that is either “New” or “LNIB.” This recognizes that the pocket watch is 100% original and in a flawless condition.

Unlike with other collectibles, “Mint” or “Near Mint” designations are not considered to be flawless. Mint condition pocket watches may have been restored or repaired. Near Mint condition indicates that there are minor handling blemishes on the pocket watch.

For more conditions and descriptions for vintage pocket watches, this helpful grading chart will help you to determine if you’re getting a fair price on the timepiece you’re looking to purchase.

#7. Price isn’t always a reflection of value.

Let’s use a 24-karat gold pocket watch and a modern quartz movement pocket watch as an example here. There’s a good chance that the gold pocket watch is going to retail for at least $600, whether or not the mechanism within the watch is actually working. The quartz movement pocket watch, probably made from stainless steel, might retail for $60, and if it’s brand new, then it will work.

Which one has more value as a timepiece?

Finding the best pocket watches is easy when you know what to look for in exact terms. Some retailers may count on you not knowing how to find the best timepiece as a way to pad their bottom line. Use these tips to avoid overpaying on the pocket watch that is best for you and you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of owning a timeless classic.