Affordable watches that require work especially ones that may not have a particularly high resale value can present a problem, you may find yourself in the situation of not being sure if your cash is better spent on a new watch. I have been in this situation recently with three watches, one was an Rotary quartz watch given to me in 1998, another was the best bargain eBay find I have had so far – a Citizen quartz watch for £1.20 – and the third was a pocket watch my father asked me to enquire about.
All of these watches required work of varying degrees (some found to be far worse than previously thought) and all presented different associated costs and decisions about the value of any repairs. I thought I would write a short blog post about these decisions and the reasons behind my choices and why cost is not always the primary deciding factor.
All of the work quoted for and any work done was completed by an independent repairer called Vintage Time Repairs, this is a one-man band based in Maidstone in Kent. A perfectly competent, affable and knowledgable watchmaker whom I can heartily recommend.
This was a bargain eBay find that ran well and looked good (albeit after some cleaning, clean your straps people!). The only downside was an extensively scratched mineral crystal. I was quoted £15 for a replacement including fitting. This was a no-brainer. I had paid £1.20 for the watch, making a grand total of £16.20, not bad for any watch with a new crystal in it! This is a good example of a simple decision on affordable watch repairs (if only all of them could be this easy), the next one is slightly more complex and more costly than expected.
First some background, I have talked about this before but for a brief recap. I only relatively recently came to watch collecting and though having owned watches in the past I was not as careful or appreciative of them as I am now. This leads me to the Rotary, a watch that was given to me for my 18th birthday and was my first expensive (in comparison at the time) watch. During my youth this watch was abused and neglected, it had the crystal changed once and when I broke it again it was left languishing in its box. Now travel forward to six months ago and I wanted to resurrect this watch. Rotary had quoted me an eye watering £120 to change the crystal and as a result I had decided not to proceed. It was a shame as I had been quite keen to bring that watch back to life but felt that was excessive for a mineral crystal.
About three months ago I found the aforementioned independent watchmaker, so in the Rotary went for a quote, oh dear. Not only did it need new glass but in my irresponsible youth I had not considered what the effect of leaving a battery sitting inside it for all those years was likely to do. It turned out it need a whole new movement as acid from a leaking battery had put pay to the old one. It had also stained a small section of the watch face, this was something I could live with and I thought it would add character and a reminder of youthful neglect. So what was the cost and was it worth proceeding with? I was quoted £60 to change the crystal and fit a new movement, in all honestly that was probably more than the watch was worth and certainly I would be able to get a similar watch for less. But here is the kicker, the watch was engraved and given to me by my grandmother who unfortunately is no longer with us, in that respect the sentimental value outstrips the financial. So I chose to get the Rotary repaired, if you were being purely logical you would have classified the watch as uneconomical to replace, but what price is a memory?
Two down and one to go, grand total of £75 at this point.
I do not own any pocket watches, not that I am adverse to them, I just have not felt the need at this point to collect them. My father however does own a few, he is not an avid collector, he has just picked a couple of vintage ones up on his travels. He primarily enjoys their aesthetic value and is not overly fussed if they run, he obviously would prefer them to be usable but is still happy to own them if they are not.
Knowing I was sending two watches in for repairs he asked if they could have a look at one of his pocket watches. It was a Robert John Pike (RJP) Silver pocket watch from around 1880, with some damage to the watch face. Little else was known about it other than it did not run at all. It turns out that unfortunately there was damage to the escapement and with the age of the watch any replacement parts would have to be hand made, it was no problem, the work could be done but it was going to cost at a minimum of £100 and realistically that figure would be likely to increase. This like the Rotary presented a problem. A quick scan of similar RJP watches online indicated that for around £100 you could get a running watch without a damaged face (one that may need a service but functionally working). So what to do? After a short discussion with my father a decision was made that if a watch could be purchased in better condition and working for a similar amount of money, that would be a better use of the funds. Had that watch been an heirloom or had a known history attached to it, it is quite possible that there would be a watchmaker on a lathe in Maidstone constructing parts as I write. Our personal experiences definitely add value to items and our own personal provenance is very powerful.
Two Repaired One Down But Not Out
Three affordable watches, two repaired and one left to adorn a display cabinet, to be polished from time to time. You can look at all watch repairs as an investment calculation, if I repair this watch it will be worth x or I won’t repair this watch as the cost of y is more than z. For the most part this is probably the best way to go, but for a lot (I hope the majority) of collectors a watch can be more than the sum of its parts, it can tell a story. And if that story is strong enough then maybe the value of the story is where the real cost comparison should be made.