Tell me about this antique pocket watch

My grandfather passed away last month at the age of 92. After the funeral, my uncle pulled me aside and said he had something for me… a pocketwatch that had belonged to my grandfather when he worked on the railroad (Lackawanna) in the 1940s. According to my uncle (and confirmed by other family members), my grandfather had received the watch from his grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, who also worked for the railroad in the early 1900’s. My uncle gave it to me because he knows I am a railroad fan.

The manufacturer is Illinois Watch Co. and the insides bear the following marks:

Bunn Special
Springfield, Ill
Temperature 6 Positions
21 Ruby Jewels
Double Roller

The inside of the back facing is inscribed:
Pilot Warranted 25 Years
along with some other markings I can’t read without magnification.

Also, someone has written on the face of the watch in pencil, in small letters, “Laura.” That is my grandmother’s name, so I am assuming my grandfather added that.

I don’t think the case is gold, although it has some kind of plating that has been rubbed off in some spots around the edges.

The watch still runs if I wind it up, but I can’t adjust the hands to the correct time (I can pull the stem out but turning it does not move the hands).

Thanks to the internet, I’ve determined that based on the serial number this watch was made c. 1907.

My questions:

  • What does “21 Ruby Jewels” mean?
  • Is there anything special about this watch aside from the sentimental value?
  • Can anyone tell me anything more about what these markings indicate?
  • Should I try to get it cleaned and/or fixed?
  • Isn’t this kind of cool?
    ETA: Crap, wrong forum. Could a mod move this to GQ please?

I disagree that this is a pocket watch. It is clearly some kind of a chrono-synclastic infundibulum.

(reported the post for the move to GQ)

Moved from Great Debates to General Questions.

The number of “jewels” in a watch used to be an indication of quality. The pivots for the critical gears were made out of ruby, so they were low friction and essentially non-wearing.

And, yes it’s very cool.

Sounds a lot like this watch, made in 1908, which can be had for $450:


Fear Itself just answered question 4. The current bid is $400 or you can buy it outright for $450.

Take the pocket watch to a jeweler you trust and get an estimate on how much it costs to clean and fix. If it costs less that $400 (your cost basis is 0) then a clean and fix (backed by a warranty on workmanship) would be a good thing.

If it works when wound, but you can’t adjust the hands, couldn’t you just wait until it’s whatever time the hands state and then wind the watch?

The watch may be a lever set watch.

I have an old pocket watch with a lever set mechanism. You have to carefully remove the crystal and bezel (on mine it unscrews, but it might also be hinged) , which reveals a small latch that you pull out. Then you can set the hands with the crown stem.

See here for better instructions than mine and pictures, too.

If the watch is a real “railroad watch”, which I assume it is as both the owners were railroad folks, it is deliberately designed to require the front crystal be opened to set the hands - they can’t be set using the stem winder. This was a safety feature of this type of watch. My Dad had one dating from the twenties.

So I don’t think that the watch is defective in this respect.

commasense! Thank you! I had found the latch but didn’t know what it was for. I pulled it out and then was able to set the watch to the correct time :slight_smile: Now it’s ticking along perfectly.

Thanks all for the info. Fear Itself, that watch you linked to looks just like mine except for the casing - I’m pretty sure mine is brass, not gold. But the rest is exactly the same except for the serial #.

My mother is an antique dealer and spent many years specializing in clocks and watches. I have passed this information along but I don’t know when she’ll be able to get back to me. If she’s not immediately familiar with it then she will ask around and I’m sure she knows someone who is. She would be able to give a pretty good estimate of its current market value, which would be good to know even if you are going to keep it.

If you want to actually use it, you should probably get an estimate of what it would cost to get it cleaned. I do not know what that would cost but I can tell you that I inherited a Rolex and it cost me over $400 to get it cleaned and have the crystal replaced last year.

Your watch is gold plated. Railroad grade watches, 19 jewels and higher, were always gold plated. Solid gold cases were for show.

I think you’ll be surprised just how expensive it is to get your watch cleaned, assuming nothing else is wrong with it. Rule of thumb–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it keeps pretty good time, then go with it.

Illinois and Hamilton were two of the best railroad watches made.

Yes, gold plating makes sense. There are spots where the plating has worn off but brass would probably be showing more tarnish.

It may not need cleaning - it looked remarkable clean and shiny when I opened it up. And it seems to be running well, although I don’t plan to keep it wound or use it regularly.

CookingwithGas - I’d be interested in anything your mother has to add.

Thje basic case IS brass with two plates of gold bonded on the outside. They were usually guaranteed to last from 10-25 years of normal use. Most railroad cases were good for 25+ years.

Since you won’t be using it, don’t even consider fixing it.

We usually sell Bunn Specials for $$300-450 depending of the condition of the case and dial.