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Time Will Tell
Getting Started Collecting Watches

by Susanne Fletcher


Part of what makes Michael Bowers’ job as a watch and clock repairman so exciting is the element of surprise. You just never know what’s going to walk in the front door.

“My postman one time gave me three old watches. One of them was a beautiful eighteen caret gold Baume & Mercier, a fine old Swiss company. It looked like a dog when I got it, but I knew when he gave it to me it was going to be a find. We cleaned it up and polished it. I showed it to him when he came back in and asked how he liked it, not telling him it was the same one he had dropped off.

“Wow! That’s a handsome watch!,” he said.

I asked him if he would like the watch back. “It’s yours,” I said. He didn’t want it back. They found it in a box and really had no interest in it, said Bowers.

If you want to get started as a watch collector in Atlanta, start combing garage sales and flea markets, once you have finished with your attic and cellar and those of your parents’. What is one man’s trash is truly another man’s treasure. There are even people on the Internet who deal in watches.

“Every Monday morning people call and say, ‘I got this watch this weekend at an estate sale. What do you think of it?’ We have had people go to a garage sale and spend two dollars on a watch, and it turns out to be a $200 or even a $2,000 fine timepiece,” said Bowers.

Grandpa’s pocketwatch was the original collectable watch. True railroad pocketwatches are those that conductors used to keep the train on time. They’re plain, with no frills, but a high grade watch. It would take a worker two years to pay off his watch,” said Bowers. “Even at the turn of the century they cost around $50-100. So they’ve always been worth a great deal in monetary terms.”

But there are plenty of other collectible timepieces. Cuckoo clocks are becoming rare because they were made of organic material, namely wood. During World War I, people used the wood for other purposes and so destroyed many clocks, increasing the scarcity.

Bowers names Sherry Ehrhardt, known as The Watch Lady, as a local source for collectors to go to if they’re seeking a specific item. She has written many books on the subject of watch collecting, including Fine Watches Price Guide (published by Heart of America Press, Kansas City, Mo.) And she attends all the shows. “She can find a watch based on my description,” added Bowers.

In the world of collecting, most collectors don’t want you to know how much they paid for a watch and become secretive of their finds. Bowers described the type: “They’re going to find every fault in a watch before they buy it, so they can knock down the price. Most collectors are savvy. They’re not going to be taken. They know what to look for, and they don’t want you to know how little they paid.”

Just how do you become a savvy collector? “You learn as you go,” advised Bowers. But beware: Everyone thinks that just because a watch has a certain name on the back, it is worth a certain amount. Bowers tears up the myth. “That’s not true. Everyone makes good and bad stuff. People aren’t willing to accept that. Also, people think that just because the watch was Grandpa’s, it’s valuable, and that’s not always the case.”

Timepieces are truly timeless. If you don’t want to search out an antique watch, the traditional styles are coming back into today’s market. “All the big houses, the traditional watchmakers, are going back and making old-fashioned wind-ups—Cartier, Omega, Rolex, etc. What comes around, goes around” said Bowers.

Originally published in the Art and Collecting Section of an in-flight magazine.


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