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Surplus Watches

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, October, 1946

Surplus Watches
By R. W. Hawksley

Government surplus watches and clocks offer an interesting profit possibility to horologists. Surplus goods are being offered to the public on a sealed bid basis by the War Assets Corporation, and various Army and Navy surplus depots in "small lots", that is, from 10 to 20 in a lot. Sometimes larger lots are offered.

While in many cases it is possible to repair navigator's hack watches, stop watches, airplane clocks, turret captain's watches, etc., and resell them at a profit, care should be taken in making a bid that there are enough repairable watches or clocks in a lot to make the gamble worthwhile. For a gamble it is, since the Government makes no guarantee as to quality, and it is up to the bidder to make up his own mind what price he will offer.

Most of the clocks and watches have seen combat duty, and have been "repaired" either at a mobile Army or Navy repair unit, or with a penknife in the hands of their willing but unskilled owners. Many of them, however, are in excellent condition, and are in need of nothing more than cleaning.

At one large Army surplus depot in California, Navigator's A-ll Hack ,watches ( 8/0 wristwatches, waterproof, sweep hand) sold for $6.25 each for one lot, and $5.30 each in another, on competitive bids. Navigator's Pocket Watches (Hamilton 16 s. 22 j. 24 hr. face) sold for $19.30 each for a lot of 10. Ground speed timers (Spec. No. 94-27749 stop watches) sold for $4.08 in three separate lots of 10 each. These prices should have allowed for a reasonable profit after repair, had they all been in fairly good condition, but if they ran no better than average, there was not much profit to the purchasers.

553 watches were examined, and their defects tabulated, in order to form the basis for a lump sum bid for all the watches on hand at a surplus depot a short time ago. Since the results will be of interest to horologists who may be thinking of bidding on such items, they are given below in detail.

The method of inspection was as follows:
a. Observe crystal, hands, dial, springbars, bezel and back.
b. Wind the watch.
c. Set the watch.
d. Remove back, observe balance and general condition.

The first group of watches inspected were Navigator's A-ll Hack 'Watches, Specification 27834, 16 j., AAF Stock No. 6200-479825, Part No. 2114, Elgins.

These watches originally cost the Government $14.50. In a lot of 100, the following defects were observed:

Crystal missing - 93 
Sweep hand missing - 51 
Stem and crown missing - ll 
Balance missing or broken staff - 32 
Mainspring broken - 25 
Bezel missing - 12 
Springbars missing - 93 
Set mechanism broken - 5 
Back missing - 3 
One or both hands missing - 11 
Dial missing - 1 
Absolutely unrepairable - 22 
Would start when wound - 29

The above defects are only those which could be observed by the inspection method which was used, and which was the only practical method for such a large number of watches. 'l'he condition of pivots, train wheels, jewels, rollers and roller jewels, etc., could not be observed without taking each watch down.

Another lot of 20 watches the same as above except that they had a 10 sided back instead of a milled edge back were inspected with the following results:

Crystal missing - 12 
Sweep hand missing - 3 
Balance missing or broken staff - 7 
Mainspring broken - 5 
Springbars missing - 20 
Set mechanism broken - 2 
Absolutely unrepairable - 2 
Would start when wound - 4 

'l'he next lot, of 68 watches was the same specifications as the two lots above, but were Bulovas. They showed the following:

Crystal missing - 53 
Sweep hand missing - 7 
Stem and crown missing - 5 
Balance missing or broken staff - 15 
Mainspring broken - 12 
Springbars missing - 64 
Set mechanism broken - 5 
Absolutely unrepairable - 17 ·
Would start when wound - 17 

A separate lot of 249 Elgins of the same specifications were as follows.

Crystal missing - 1 
Hands missing - 1 
Balance missing or broken staff - 9 
Missing stem or crown - 34 
Mainspring broken - 29 
Springbars missing - 249 
Set mechanism broken - 2 
Absolutely unrepairable - 43 
Would start when wound - 36 

A lot of 60 mixed Hamilton and Elgin 16s Navigator's Pocket watches, 22 j., with 24 hour dial, which cost the Government $27.00 when new, were examined next. 'These showed up as follows:

Crystal missing - 60 
Hands missing - 7 
Balance missing or broken staff - 11
Mainspring broken - 16 
Stem and crown missing - 6 
Bezel missing - 2 
Absolutely unrepairable  - 41 Would start when wound - 3

56 Navigation Ground Speed stop watches showed 37 absolutely unrepairable, and 19 which would start when wound.

Combining all of the figures given for the separate lots, it is seen that 162 out of the 553, or about 30%, were absolutely unrepairable, and 107, or about 19%, would start. And even the 19% might have among them quite a few which had serious defects which would only become apparent when the watch was taken down.

On the other hand, quite possibly a number of those which would not start were merely extremely dirty, and would be capable of being put in good 'working order." If the results which were obtained in this inspection of 553 surplus watches can be assumed to be about the average of what will be found generally in bidding on Government stocks of used watches, it is evident that some caution should be used. It is profitable to buy such watches, if they can be bought cheaply enough; but they should be examined carefully before bidding, and the bid should make allowance for hidden defects and broken parts which cannot be seen without taking down the watch.

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