Pocket Watch Case Serial Numbers

Posted : admin On 8/26/2021

While we can't make you into an antique watch expert with just a few web pages, we hope we can share a little of our knowledge in order to help you learn more about your vintage or antique watch. We've tried to provide answers to some of the more common questions about the proper care and handling of a vintage watch, in order to help you learn more about this fascinating area of American history.

The serial number must be off the movement of the watch (where the gears are), not off the case. These two serial numbers are unrelated. For more information see the Watch Serial Number web page. You must give the letter prefix of the serial number, if there is one. The case serial number is printed on several parts of the watch case. You can usually tell if you have a complete watch case by seeing if these serial numbers match. Sometimes, the watch case companies would mark the bezels with the last few digits of the case number using Roman numerals. Usually the Roman numerals are scratched in by hand.

Two Parts: Watch Case and Watch Movement

There are two distinct major 'components' to most pocket watches: The watch case and the watch movement. The movement is the inner 'works'.. the actual time-keeping mechanism of the watch. The watch case is the outer protective cover, including the crystal that covers the dial. The case also includes (or accommodates) the winding stem and crown.

Look up Howard Pocket Watch serial numbers - Below is a quick reference guide for E.Howard & Co Pocket Watch Serial numbers. When reading this serial number list, you should first find out the correct size of your watch and then match the serial number. Technique 1 - Serial Numbers that begin with the letter G or L. Jack Wood's article that described how his technique for determining the date a Wadsworth case was made was published in the Sept/Oct 2012 NAWCC journal. Click 'Dating a Gruen Wristwatch from a Wadsworth Case Serial Number' to download a PDF copy of the article. Waltham Pocket Watch Serial Numbers Use this table to look up your Waltham Pocket Watch serial number of and hence the year of manufacture. When looking for the number on your watch you should be looking at the serial number on the movement, not the case.

What's important to know about antique American watches is that cases and movements were usually made by different companies. There were watch manufacturers and there were case manufacturers. American pocket watches used a system of (relatively) standard watch sizes, so it was possible for a customer to select the watch movement they wished to purchase, and then select a case to hold it. Cases could be made of a wide variety of metals: gold, sterling silver, coin silver (made from melted US coinage), nickel, and plated brass.

Left: Watch case with crystal; Right: Watch movement with dial and hands
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Pocket Watch Case Number Lookup

Open Face or Hunter Case?

This is one of the easiest questions to answer! If there is a metal cover over the dial of the watch (it's called the 'dial' not the 'face') then it's a hunter-case watch. If there is no metal cover over the dial, then it's an 'open face' watch. An open-face watch just has a 'crystal' over the dial (usually made of mineral glass). If there is neither a metal cover nor a crystal, then it's likely that something's missing. Sometimes the bezel (the round metal ring that retains the crystal) is lost, which makes it impossible to replace the missing glass (see this article for more information on vintage pocket watch bezels).

Hunter-cased watch has a metal lid over the dial of the watch which closes to protect the crystal, hands and dial.

Left: Open face watch with bezel and crystal installed, Right: Same watch with bezel and crystal removed

Demi-Hunter Case

A minor variation on the hunter case is the demi-hunter style, which has a small 'window' in the front cover through which the hands (or part of the hands) may be viewed. This is sometimes complemented by an enamel inlaid 'dial' in the lid in the case, so that one can easily tell the time without needing to open the watch. Thus the demi-hunter provided the convenience of an open-face watch with the protection of a hunter-cased watch. Demi-hunter cases are much more common on watches of European origin; we don't see very many American watches in demi-hunter cases.

Swiss demi-hunter case with inlaid enamel dial in the case-lid, by Thos. Russell

Hampden Pocket Watch Case Serial Numbers

Side-Winders

Note that in the photos above, the winding stem is at the 3:00 position on the hunter-cased and demi-hunter-cased watches, and in the 12:00 position on the open-face watch. This is by design. Movements were made either for a hunter-case or for an open-face case. The primary difference between a hunter-case movement and an open-face movement is the relative positioning of the winding arbor and the seconds bit, and the positions of the dial-feet.

When a hunter-case movement and dial are mounted in an open-face case, it is called a 'side-winder' because the winding stem will now be at the 3:00 position instead of the 'normal' 12:00 position. While this doesn't present any real operational difficulties, a side-winder is generally not considered to be a 'correct' matching of movement and case. Note that it's only called a side-winder if it is a hunter-case movement in an open-face case. We sometimes hear people calling their hunter-cased watches side-winders because the winding stem is at 3:00.. but they should only be called side-winders if in an open-face case.

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For more information, please see our article on side-winder and side-seconds watches.

Hampden Pocket Watch Case Serial Numbers

Pair-Cased Watches

You're probably not going to run into very many of this case type, unless you have a very old watch that's been handed down to you. In the early to mid-18th century, it was common for watches to be housed in 'pair cases'. A pair-cased watch has an inner case which holds the actual movement of the watch (often a verge fusee), and an outer case which enclosed and protected the inner case. Since the inner case couldn't be made dust-proof because of the key-holes for winding and/or setting, an outer case would provide additional protection from dust and dirt. There were even some triple-cased watches made during the same period! Early pair-cased verge fusee watches were often ornately decorated with pierced and chased gold-work as seen in the photos below.

Pair-cased 18th century verge fusee by Ja. Thomson, London