The "big four" American pocket watch manufacturers are:
It is hard to go wrong with pocket watches made by Waltham, Illinois, or Hamilton.
Elgin is a bit of a different story. Many Elgin watches are medium or even low grade.
The remarkable exception is the B.W. Raymond model.
"Railroad Watches" by any of the big four companies are a good choice.
See the article
What is a Railroad Watch by Kent Singer.
The American made "Railroad" watches were mass produced with the aim of being affordable for
a railroad worker. Yet they were also made to be durable, and easily repairable.
They also needed to keep time to +- 30 seconds per week.
Pocket watches went out of style around 1930 and US manufacture ceased in 1969.
Some good choices in size 16 (size 18 watches are not as mainstream/serviceable):
See this thread, which discusses differences
between the 992 and the 992B. It also mentions the 992E (which has the elivnar spring, which is immune to magnetization).
- Illinois Bunn Special (superb)
- Hamilton 992 (excellent, my first pocketwatch is/was a 992)
- Hamilton 992B (the 992 dial is prettier!)
- Hamilton 992B (Elinvar aka 992E)
- various Elgin B. W. Raymonds
- Waltham Vanguard
- Brandt (Omega) from Canada
Not RR watches, but great watches nontheless:
- Waltham 1892
- Hamilton 940 (size 18, circa 1900)
- Hamilton 941
A great choice is a Waltham "Riverside Maximus", which will cost $600-800 in a gold filled case
(maybe $1500-2000 in solid gold). Even better is the Premier Maximus.
Look for pre-1920 watches.
The "American Watch Company" grade of watch made by Waltham are top notch.
The beautiful engine turned Damaskeen pattern seen on some of the "Railroad" watch movements is
no guarantee of quality (it is duplicated on some mediocre watches). This point is subject to
some debate, but it is a reasonable argument to say that it is a fine touch added by a proud
craftsman, and I tend to agree.
This is a company I don't hear much about.
You can read a good article at
Renaissance Watch Repair.
Aparently Burlington purchased movements from other companies, but added their own dials with their
name, and sold the watches by mail order. Most of their watches were made by the Illinois watch
company. So a Burlington can be an excellent watch with a less fancy name and are worth looking at.
A small number of Burlingtons are Sangamo grade movements made by the Illinois watch company.
A fairly common Burlington watch is the 16-size, 21-jewel Burlington "Bull Dog".
It is in a heavy case made by NAWCO and marked "Burlington Bull Dog" on the dial.
There are no special markings on the movement, and the movement seems identical to other 21-jewel
Burlington markings (i.e. the unique features are the case and dial markings).
Much like Burlington, Ball is another company (in Cleveland, Ohio) that bought watches made by
the big companies and put their name on them.
Have any comments? Questions?
Drop me a line!
Tom's notes / firstname.lastname@example.org