Friday, March 23, 2012

Silver pocket watch

Hi Nick

You distribute some very interesting emails, thanks. I bought the Lanco watch you advertised in December and am looking forward to restoring it after I finish the Seiko. I also recently inherited a pocket watch which has been in the family for some years. I wound it up and it went, so then I opened it up to inspect the mechanism. However the mechanism is enclosed in an inner case which I have not attempted to open. I am enclosing a photo. Can you give me any information on the type of mechanism please.

Paul L.

Hi Paul -

Good to hear from you. Hope you are having fun with that Seiko :-)

Congratulations on a pocket watch! What a lovely piece. It looks like a typical 1880s English silver cased hunter with straight lever escapement. Key wound and key set.

While the mechanism is 'machine made', the individual parts are hand finished, hand engraved and decorated. In most cases, the exposed balance wheel cock is just a teaser so please do go ahead and remove that cover to see what's hiding under.

To remove the cover, slide the 'half moon' shaped latch in the direction as shown on the picture. Note how the latch is slotted into two protruding steel pins. Once 'unslotted' the cover can be lifted up. Easy! Be careful of course not to touch any components, especially not the balance wheel. Repairs on this type of movement are now expensive - most watchmakers who used to repair pocket watches are now retired or rest in well deserved peace.

While most pocket watches from that era no longer keep time (you are lucky that your piece still ticks!) they are great projects for historical horological research.

Thanks to typical British pedancity and a bunch of hallmarks stamped inside the case back, we can find out a fair bit about the origin of the watch case - date of manufacture, where it was produced and in most cases who was the maker.

Look for symbols similar to ones listed here:

In the above example, this set of marks tells us that this piece was made of Sterling, in the city of London, in the year 1789 during the reign of King George III by silversmith Thomas Wallis.

This is a typical set of antique British silver marks showing (1) Standard mark, (2) City mark, (3) Date letter, (4) Duty mark and (5) Maker's mark.

The most important letter is city mark. The reason is simple: each city had it's own date code table so for example for the year 1880 assigned date letter is 'E' for London made cases. Or if the case was produced in Exeter, it would be hallmarked with "D".

I am not going to spoil your enjoyment by revealing any more details. There are number of good websites which will help you identify the British silver hallmarks. Or if you prefer paper, look for booklet titled English Silver Hallmarks by Judith Banister ($5).

Just keep in mind that you must start by correctly identifying the CITY mark and the rest should fall in place.

After you remove the movement cover, look for the watchmaker's signature. Unfortunately this is where your online research may hit a dead end - so you may need to consult reference books like Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World (Vol I and II) by G. H. Baillie. This authoritative book is a priceless aid for any serious student of horology.

Let us know how you go! Good luck and have fun.

No comments: