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Shopping for a Pocketwatch - Part 2, Cases

The following is a continuation on a topic I am frequently asked about, buying your first vintage pocketwatch. You can find part one here:

Watch Cases

The first two categories of watch cases to be familiar with are hunter, or hunting, cases and open face cases.

Hunter style pocket watch cases have a lid that covers the dial. The lid is released by pressing down on the crown. And by the way, if you have a hunter style case it is important to always press the stem down when closing the watch lid as well, rather than "clicking" it closed. The catch on a hunter case wears out very quickly otherwise. If the catch wears down, the watch case will no longer stay closed.

Hunter cases seem to be what everyone wants today, however you should be aware that there are some significant drawbacks. Hunter cases are very much more fragile due to the extra moving parts. The hinge for the cover is easily bent, or broken. And the glass on the front, the crystal, has to be paper thin to allow room inside.

A pocketwatch that does not have a lid over the face is called an open face watch. Simple enough... For men's watches, open face cases were more common at the time they were made. The style was considered more professional, and less jewelry. Railroad watches were always required to be open face.

If you are looking for a watch that can stand up to frequent use, open face is the way to go.

Case Materials

The most common material for antique watch cases are either one of several nickle alloys, or gold filled, or the similar rolled gold. Solid gold and solid silver are also around, but of course tend to be more expensive. For watches at lower prices, to be used occasionally, the nickle alloy, or gold filled are both good choices.

The material of a case is often marked inside the back cover. The nickle alloy cases will say silveroid, silverode or something similar.

Gold filled, or rolled gold, cases may, inside the back, say guaranteed or warranted for a number of years, such as 10, 20 or 25. This number of years is a reflection of the thickness of the gold, and therefor the expected number of year of wear before the base material shows though.

Gold filled and rolled cases are made using a sandwich of base metal, often brass, with gold on the outside. This sandwich is rolled or otherwise squeezed to the desired thickness, and the case is made from the resulting sheets.

Vintage watch cases are not gold plated. The amount of of gold in the outer layer on a gold filled case is much greater. Gold plating would likely wouldn't last even one year before being worn through.


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