The availability of antique and vintage pocket watches remains very difficult with most sources very short of stock. Prices on eBay are very volatile generally driven by inexperienced buyers (judging from their bidding history) pushing some prices to very extravagant levels.
From a quick count I estimate that despite bidding, and paying, significantly more my purchases of watches and chains from on-line auctions in December and January was down over 60% on a year ago with most of that decline in December, January always being a bit down. Hopefully things will improve!
Updated 1st February 2015
Availability of watches on eBay has improved somewhat during the month although prices remain volatile. I have been able to source some nice English watches but strangely they were all by Rotherham, Benson and Guye, normally the scarcer makes, whereas I have none of the normally more common watches by Errington, LWC or Ehrhardt.
The shortage of watches on eBay in the previous 3 or 4 months was reflected in the big quarterly auction held this month. In November I purchased 15 and could probably have had a few more if I had wanted more in solid gold. In this months I only wanted to bid for a dozen and got three and one of those is a non-runner. Prices which had remained "sensible" in November compared to eBay were all over the place but generally high with some watches fetching well over double the high estimate and two of the watches I purchased were over the high estimate.
The enforced shutdown in selling during February and March should allow me at least to improve stock levels of Swiss and American watches as I move onto summer working hours.
Updated 25th February 2015
The upturn in availability in February was short lived, whilst I have been able to source some very nice high end watches including, unusually, a number of silver half hunters there have been very few watches in the mid range and my backlog is getting considerably smaller.
Updated 27th March 2015
The new financial year has seen some improvement in supply, particularly of silver cased watches. For at least two years I have been struggling to get good Swiss and American movements in silver cases with the majority of watches being in gold plate, now the ratio is much more balanced. There has also been a drop in the number of movements being sold for spares. It would appear that the significant and steady drop in silver prices since the high in 2011/12, when it was more than double the current price, has resulted in fewer watches being scrapped for their silver content which has to be a good thing!
Updated 15th April 2015
Whilst some excellent silver watches are about, the supply of good mid range watches from eBay continues to decline and Fellows appear to have discontinued their quarterly specialist pocket watch auction with pocket watches being sold in their general watch auctions.
For the first time I can remember mid range Walthams are becoming hard to get hold of and, perhaps due to the declining scrap value of silver, silver cased watches are generally outnumbering those in good rolled and filled gold.
Due to my enforced shut downs in December, February and March, stock levels are currently good with some nice English watches available and with more silver watches and half hunters than I have had for a long time, but my back log of Swiss and American watches is lower than it has been for several years which does not look good for the winter when I would normally be doing 20% - 30% more watches than during the summer.
Updated 17th May 2015
Supply generally remains very tight with only Swiss watches from the 1920s and 30s being any where near normal availability. Combined with high sales in July stocks are low, particularly of Railroad and English watches.
Updated 19th July 2015
Demand remains high, particularly for English and high end American, unfortunately these are also the ones most difficult to get hold of and with the general shortage of watches available to me I am now down to a record low of 40 [36 as at 5th Aug] watches in stock. I have currently only got two English watches available and have sold out of true railroad watches (although I do have a few railroad grade). I do have some watches, mainly medium quality Swiss, awaiting restoration but it is going to take some time for the stock situation to improve and it may get worse before it gets better.
In UK, Fellows of Birmingham have stopped their quarterly specialist auctions of pocket watches and are now including just a few, mainly solid gold watches, in with their general watch auctions. On eBay volume is down dramatically from a year or so ago and the availability of quality watches is even further down.
I used to import watches from the USA, volume is probably down there as well, but I have had to largely stop imports. This is largely because eBay have encouraged sellers to use a newly introduced facility (from a third party I believe) that collects import duties in the USA so that goods come straight through UK customs.
Unfortunately not only is this frequently slower it is far more expensive. Previously, if charged at all, I would pay Royal Mail £8.50 handling fees and up to about 9% VAT, with the eBay system charges it is more than double.
As an example a watch currently listed in the USA on "buy it now" is listed at $320 plus $15 postage plus a whopping $90.37 "duty" and handling! Someone is making a lot of money out of this, but no longer from me!
Updated 24th July 2015Over the last couple of months and particularly since the end of the school holidays there has been a noticeable increase in the number of watches available - but alas no corresponding reduction in prices! In particular there have been a large number of English watches including chronographs, most have been 7 jewel models but of good to very good quality.
Walthams however remain in short supply, particularly the 15 jewel 1899-620 and 1908-620 both of which have for a long time been a best seller (the majority of the large batch of Walthams finished in September and October were acquired over an extended period and just reflects me clearing out my entire backlog of these watches).
Updated 1st October 2015Unfortunately the better supply of watches noted in my last update petered out in mid October and for the month as a whole I purchased fewer restorable watches than I sold. Eight days into November I have so far sold 3 times as many watches than I have been able to buy, hopefully this year we will see again the rush of watches onto the market that I was seeing 2 or 3 years ago.
Updated 8th November 2015
Unlike the last couple of years the hoped for pre Christmas rush did happen and I acquired a large number of watches although strangely they were mainly Swiss of decent quality but with a number of nice Omega's as well. Mid range Walthams and English watches of any description were very hard to come by. Apart from a few gems, there has been very little coming on to the market since Christmas which is not unusual.
Updated 14th January 2016
During January and February very few watches were available with fewer on eBay than has been seen for many years, in fact since not long after eBay started 20 years ago (I am told). The gradual decline over the few years has suddenly become much more serious - there were after all a finite number made - and if it continues at this rate I see significant price increases happening. To help with availability I have resumed restoration of key set watches which I largely stopped doing 2 or 3 years ago in favour of the more popular keyless.
Updated 26th February 2016
For a couple of weeks in March there were quite a lot of unrestored antique pocket watches for sale, many of them of good quality - at a price! Since then things have quietened down again, although there are about 30% more showing than in January of February there are probably about half the number that were on offer a couple of years ago.
Updated 11th April 2016
During the last 6 months the availability of old watches for restoration has been extremely variable, I have been able to acquire some really nice English keyless watches, a few top quality American and a reasonable number of "standard" Swiss watches but there have generally been few in the mid range, such as 15 and 17 jewel watches by Waltham. Demand for restored watches has also fluctuated wildly, dropping dramatically at the time of Brexit then suddenly booming towards the end of July.
Updated 13th August 2016
Availability of old watches for restoration has gone from variable to very poor. Again last month I bought in fewer watches than I sold and have only had a couple in the last week, so am working on my backlog. The total volume of eBay listings is about half what it was a few years ago and the majority is made up of uncased movements mostly not working and very poor quality stuff. In the past I can remember having 40 - 60 bids on eBay at any one time, at the moment I only have 6 bids in for working watches. I have had no luck at Antiques markets either, although I saw a few decent unrestored watches last week the prices were not far short of what I would charge fully restored and guaranteed! Not Good, hopefully there will be more available in the run up to Christmas.
Updated 3rd October 2016
And the trend continues, although I have managed to get a couple of very nice ones (both of which required a lot of work) good silver half hunters in particular are very hard to get with average auction prices up 50% or so in the last year or two.
Updated 21st October 2016