Prices for pocket watches sold at auction have soared in recent years, partly because they are becoming more rare and therefore increasingly valuable. The production of pocket watches was surpassed by the production of wristwatches sometime around the 1930s, and few brands are still making pocket watches. (Note to collectors: the few pocket watches that are being made today – some of them with super movements, like the Panerai Tourbillon GMT Ceramica – are the collector’s pieces of the future).
Also at play is a growing awareness among collectors of the elaborate decorative finish and often often quirky movements in pocket watches. A larger watch means a larger canvas for both the watchmaker’s and engraver’s arts. In particular, enameled watches made for far eastern and middle eastern markets have become prized by collectors. Those made specifically for the Chinese market in the 1800s are especially prized. This particular example that sold at a recent Antiquorum auction for $768,000, is essentially the pinnacle of examples. It’s a three-hammer, three-gong minute repeater (with a movement attributed to Decombaz). The case is elaborately enameled, with a central miniature painting of a Venus & Cupid Allegory of Love and a border set with seed pearls.
“The value comes from the quality of the enamel,” says Antiquorum watch expert Nate Borgelt. “The quality of the movement and the exceptional condition of this piece were also big factors. Not only is the artistic aspect amazing, but also the technical aspect of the movement.”
Borgelt says enamel pieces in general are doing very well, regardless of the age. For example, a Vacheron Constantin enamel in beautiful untouched condition, circa 1945, recently more than tripled it’s high estimate, at $118,000.
Both these pieces are comparable to the elaborate renaissance in watchmaking’s metiers that is happening right now, an era that is producing tomorrow’s top auction lots.