Three Ways to Kill a Pocket Watch


Hamilton pocket watch

As a new pocket watch collector, I’m wandering around at the bottom of the learning curve, looking up at a high mountain. My journey so far includes writing sales copy for Jeff at The Pocket Watch Guy and working with Brendan at Frett Clockworks to restore my watches to their former glory. And reading history. And screwing up, big time. Here are three ways you can kill a pocket watch . . .

1. Leave your pocket watch next to your smartwatch charger

Magnetism. You probably don’t give it a second thought. Why would you? Modern wristwatches aren’t buggered by electromagnetic fields. Even watches that aren’t a Rolex Milgauss or any current OMEGA can sail through a TSA scanner without losing a second. Or stopping.

electromagnetic fields

American railroad pocket watches – my thing – are made of porcelain and metal. Mainly metal. They do NOT like electromagnetic fields.

I’m not talking about an MRI machine, although definitely that, or the aforementioned scanner. I’m talking about my Braun electric shaver, my kid’s hair dryer, Mr. Dyson’s vacuum cleaner, the microwave oven, the computers upon which this article was written, the iPhone that took most of these pictures and especially my Apple Watch charger.

Apple Watch kill a pocket watch

My beloved Apple Watch Series 5 is attached to the charger by a magnet. Strong magnetic field bad! Very bad!

When I placed a pocket watch by my bedside less than a foot from the charger I magnetized my watch. Make that watches, plural. Yup. Every. Single one. They all stopped spinning after no more than ten hours.

Hamilton degauss

Degauss! I bought a degausser and . . . nope. Turns out each part of the watch had to be demagnetized. There are lots of parts and I’m not the guy to take my pocket watch to pieces (and reassemble them). So I sent my babies to Dr. Frett.

At this moment, this avid pocket watch collector has a single fully functional pocket watch – which needs servicing. My Apple Watch charger is in isolation in the bathroom. It’s been warned. You’ve been warned.

2. Drop your pocket watch

There’s a reason why people wore pocket watches on a chain, and it isn’t about style. Drop a pocket watch from even a foot onto a hard surface and things break.

Pocket watch balance wheel and pivot

The teeny tiny pointy balance staff – on the end of the balance wheel’s center shaft – is particularly prone to damage.

Pocket watch pinion

If that little bastard breaks, your pocket watch won’t work.

I say “you” because I’ve yet to drop a pocket watch. But a friend did. The crystal flew off and the minuscule seconds hand went flying. Miraculously, I found it. That was a very expensive mistake.

Hamilton in bed

To change the time on a lever set pocket watch you have to remove the front glass. That’s not a problem for a stem set pocket watch. But in both cases it’s best to rest a pocket watch on a bed [and kneel in supplication] when doing anything with the watch when it’s not attached to your person via a chain.

By the same token, think VERY carefully before handing someone a watch to examine. The little buggers are slippery and people aren’t used to holding them. To be safe, keep it chained or have them hold your pocket watch over a soft surface. They have been warned.

3. Buy your pocket watch from eBay

Buy an antique pocket watch from eBay and you’ll save yourself the time and effort required to kill it. Chances are it’ll already be dead. Don’t be fooled by pocket watches listed as “running” or “serviced.”

Pocket watches need regular maintenance. If nothing else, they need their oil and grease refreshed and parts checked for wear. It’s only a matter of time – a few years at most – before they gunk-up, slow down or stop.

Hamilton Railway Special

That’s without considering failure: worn-out springs and/or poorly repaired pocket watches. Or swapped-out parts. Or hidden damage. Or a lack of anything resembling accuracy. A pocket watch can be running like a top and not keep time.

Of course there are reputable dealers on eBay who wouldn’t dream of selling you a pocket watch that ran fast or slow by many minutes a day. And you can tell which sellers deserve your money by their reviews. Right? Right? Bueller?

Pocket watch guy pocket watches

If you buy a pocket watch on eBay, send it to someone like Dr. Frett to check, repair and service. Figure another $100. Maybe more.

Call first to see if they’re confident with your model, and you’re confident with their abilities. Ask about their warranty. No warranty? No deal.

Alternatively, buy a timepiece from The Pocket Watch guy or other non-eBay dealer whose website doesn’t look like garbage.

Pocket watch caseback

Modern wrist watches require very little care and attention. But the majority don’t have half the charm of a properly sorted and cherished pocket watch.

As with anything else, it pays to know what you’re getting, buy the best and treat it with the respect it deserves. As any Zen master will tell you, that which you own, owns you.


  1. I got 3 Elgin’s size 16 and 18 they run fast and slow and half of the lever to set it on the 18 is gone I don’t know anybody around were I live anymore in asheville n c that works on them. Do you know a good watch man or good watch women?

      • I am awaiting the return of a familial heirloom pocket watch myself. The exact provenance is a mystery, but it’s key wound so presumably pre-1900. You never mentioned that the chains for these things are usually pricier than the watch itself! There seems to be short, charmed, one that I doubt was used with that watch. It’s a T-bar, so I’d need more waistcoats.
        A more recent, and much less valuable Westclox circa 1950’s is also from the family. I’m not sure those are even serviceable, as they are essentially pin-lever dollar watches, right?

  2. Robert,

    I have the Hamilton in the first picture. It runs but needs a good clean. Big heavy watch. 1915 I think.


  3. Many more I have they do work and all original. And some where found in trash Faraway many decades ago my great grandaddy was a US. Mail carrier lots of clocks found we have the original pentagon clock when it was built out of wood it burned down. This clock was saved out the fire then they built the newer building of today. Not only a pentagon clock we have a great golden pocket watch among many more. I’m real I’m not fake and do have the historical many things that might be forgotten until I prove them and show I’m not garbage of website or human life I’m real not fake or lie I never had a website and yes black lives matter is troubling and destruction of all that once was. But not the Lord who suffers the worse all lives matter that’s Amen

  4. Always wanted a pocket watch and picked up a running 1921 Hamilton this weekend. Have no clue what I’m doing. I plan to treat it well.

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