About Gold Railroad Watch Cases

With the price of gold hovering between $1600 ans $1700, the question comes to mind:

"Just how much does the price of gold effect the value of a gold railroad watch case?"

As it turns out - that depends on a number of things - but primarily the "type" of gold case the watch has will determine if the gold in the case adds much to its value.

Circa 1900s Watch cases
fancy gold watchesThe primary design feature of the Victorian period is an excess of ornamentation. This trend was certainly true in jewelry, and it carried over into watch cases too.
Men's pocket watches at the turn of the twentieth century were often ornately engraved with images of animals, locomotives, fraternal symbols, flowers, or farm scenes.

Railroad watches were often another story. They were work watches, not necessarily dress watches. Meaning that the conductors, engineers, porters and station managers that bought them were concerned with the quality of the movement and not the flash of the case. Therefore railroad watches tend to be less ornamental and more functional.

gold choochoo watch caseThis was not always so. It was a common watch shop practice in that era for customers to select a case and a movement separately. Much like many people today select a diamond, then a setting to mount it in. So a small percentage of high quality railroad watches found their way into expensive cases. Maybe more for gentlemen of means that wanted the very best in both watch and case. A few of the top watch manufacturers did produced some premium railroad watches with very decorative cases for this market, but the point here is - ornamental railroad watches were the exception, not the norm.

However, both dress and railroad watches very often shared one thing in common - GOLD.

Solid Gold Cases
14k gold watch markThe solid gold railroad watch case is really a thing of beauty. They are also rare. Solid gold cases are usually clearly marked "10K", "14K", "18K" and so forth. Most people are familiar with gold marks. And these marks indicate that the cases are made of gold all the way through. Sometimes, gold cases are also marked "WARRANTED U.S. ASSAY" which is also a reliable solid gold mark. Some caution does need to be exercised though, since nineteenth century counterfeit and misleading case marks do occasionally show up.

Gold-Filled Cases
For railroad watches gold-filled cases are far more common than solid gold cases. The procedure was first patented in 1859, and was the most used process for making watch cases in the heyday of railroad watches. Two sheets of solid gold are soldered to a base metal, usually brass, then all three layers were pressed through rolling mills until the desired thickness was achieved. From the resulting sheet, discs were punched out and die pressed into watch cases. Gold-filled cases are about 5% or less pure gold.

gold watch markGold filled cases are usually marked 10K GF, or 14K GF. However, a large number of older railroad watches were only marked guaranteed (or warranted) 5 years, or 10 years, or 25 years, etc. The number of years indicated how long the case was warranted to hold up before wearing through to the base metal. The higher the number of years, the more gold was used in making the case. Generally, a 25 year case would cost more than a 10 year case, because the gold layer would be thicker.

In 1924, the U.S. government prohibited the use of "guarantee" designations for the cases of railroad watches. After that time manufacturers marked their cases with the "gold-filled" or "GF" indications. Knowing this one can easily date any watch marked with a "number of years guarantee" as being made prior to 1924 - or over 85 years old.

Gold Plated Cases

Italian chemist, Luigi Brugnatelli first discovered electroplating in 1805, but it was forty years later before John Wright developed a commercially viable process of electroplating by immersion in a tank of solution, through which an electric current was passed. By the late 1860s electroplating was a common practice in the jewelry and watch making industries. Using this procedure one ounce of pure gold was enough to heavily "plate" up to 600 watch cases. Which of course appealed to watch case makers, as well as consumers in the form of lower prices.

gold pocket watch marks

Normal electroplating puts a layer of between 1 to 20 microns of gold on the base metal of the watch case. Depending how thick the plating is, will determine how long a piece will retain its shine. Watch cases with a 20 year wear guarantee usually have a 20 micron electroplate layer. Most gold plated railroad watches are marked GP after the karat of gold used, e.g. 18K GP, or may include the thickness of the plating, e.g. 18K GP 10 Microns

Find the Value
So with that background we can now return to our original question. Just how much does the price of gold effect the value of a gold railroad watch case?

As it turns out, if the case is gold plated or gold filled, the answer is "Very little." However, if you are lucky enough to have a solid gold case, the price of gold will seriously effect the current value of your watch. To know just how much you can do the following.

Remove the movement, the crystal and other non-gold parts. Weigh the case using a laboratory grade scientific balance or scale. Convert the results into pennyweight (one pennyweight = 1.5552 grams). Now get TODAYS price per pennyweight of gold from your local newspaper. Cross reference the chart to the karat of your case. Multiply TODAYS price per pennyweight, by the weight of your case and you get its gold value.

Most solid gold cases on railroad watches from the Victorian era were 14K and weighed 30 to 40 pennyweight. If, for example, your railroad watch case weighs 32 pennyweight, with gold at $1650 an ounce that would convert to over $800. And that's just "gold value", without regards to antique or collectible considerations.

According to Experts, prices on Railroad Watches are expected to rise even more. Perhaps you should Invest in some yourself. You'll be glad you did!
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