Railroad pocket watches

Hamilton Railway Special 992B Railroad Pocket Watch

Hamilton Railway Special 992B Railroad Pocket Watch

There is a fateful tale that lead to the development and use of railroad-grade pocket watches. Read tips on how to collect America’s most-loved pocket watch.

What is round, has black numbers set against a white dial, and has black hands? The answer is a railway or railroad pocket watch. Sometimes, it is also called a train conductor pocket watch.

Railroad pocket watches can not be any less than the descriptions mentioned above. For a pocket watch to have railroad grade it should pass the General Railroad Timepiece Standards. So what is a railroad pocket watch according to how the GRTS defines them?

A railway pocket watch should have:

  • a size 16 or 18 open faced pocket watch
  • has a winding stem positioned at 12 o’clock
  • has visible black Arabic numerals against a white dial, and black watch hands 
  • contains at least 17 jewels inside the watch movement
  • must be adjusted or its movement should be accurate in no less than five positions
  • keeps precise time in an environment of 34 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • should correctly record time at least 30 seconds in one week
  • has a double roller
  • has a steel escape wheel, regulator, and lever set

Railroad pocket watch history

The role of pocket watches in American history was galvanized when the timepiece was used in the railway system across North America during early 1890s.

By some tragic turn of events, the universally-adopted standards of a railroad pocket watch was born.

On April 19, 1891 in Kipton, Ohio, two trains (one going west, the other via east) collided on the track. Each speeding train had a specific time to use the trail.

Since they were no means of instant communication, train engineers were trained to keep time. Unfortunately, the west-bound train engineer’s watch stopped for four minutes. That short time lapse had a disastrous result.

To prevent further accidents like it to happen, a commission was formed to regulate timekeeping devices used in the railway. The General Railroad Timepiece Standards was later on adapted by railways all over the world.Since then, it became a must for train engineers and conductors to keep a railroad pocket watch.

Railroad grade pocket watch value

If you want to start collecting pocket watches, you might be mildly surprised that railroad grades are bit costly compared to ordinary pocket watches with a fancier make. The more accurate a timepiece is, the more intricate its movement is. Hence, you are actually paying for the fine craftsmanship of the pocket watch rather than its aesthetic qualities.

Railway pocket watches, since they contain at least 17 movement jewels, are one of the highest grade watches. Though these are industrial jewels and not the ones used in jewelry, they are used to lessen the friction of the metal gears in the mechanism.

Another factor to consider in assessing a pocket watch’s value is its rarity. The last known American-made railroad-grade watch was produced in 1969. This was the Hamilton model 992B. Railroad timepieces are more than just savvy investment pieces. Today, top pocket watchmakers make railroad grade but some of their features slightly differ from the original design.

Relive the glory days of the American steam engines with this Jules Jurgensen pocket watch. Railwayana collectors just love this pocket watch classic look.

Where to buy antique railroad pocket watches

Antique railroad pocket watches are sold in websites that sell pocket watches. Buying pocket watches, either through an online store or in a pocket watch dealer’s shop, has some risks. Remember railway pocket watches are among the most expensive timepieces.

Be sure to know what to look for in a watch before you make the purchase.
You can also score antique railroad grade timepieces at the jeweler’s or in a horologist’s shop. Their vintage watches are sure to be in perfect working condition. However, expect that you will be paying a high premium or dealer’s mark up rate.

The elegant Victorinox railroad pocket watch is for sale online has Swiss quartz movement. It is a modern remake of the classic railroad pocket watch. The timeless appeal of railway pocket watches lives on, making them one of the most-coveted collectibles.

Has a passion for and specializes in collecting antique clocks. An enthusiast who values and seeks out timepieces from the past, which range from centuries-old tallcase clocks to more recent mid-20th-century mechanical clocks. I help ensure that these valuable artifacts continue to be appreciated and passed down through generations.