Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather’s Pocket Watch Restoration

A couple of months ago, I was given a box containing a treasure like no other. Inside were the remains of two pocket watches; both were in terrible shape, and both were obviously old. Since they came from my uncle’s widow, I knew that they were somehow related to my family, but there was no further information.

One of these pocket watches would yield a most amazing discovery, the other is still a mystery.

Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration

When I opened the box I was given, this large Waltham pocket watch was the first thing I saw. It was in pitiful shape, having no hands, missing various gears, the face wasn’t attached, it was missing its crystal, and every nook and cranny of the watch’s interior and exterior was coated in decades of tarnish and grime. It didn’t matter; I was holding history, and it was very humbling.

I suspected that this watch might have belonged to my grandfather, Cecil Meador, but upon further examination I realized something even more amazing: this watch had the names of at least two of my great-uncles as well as my great-grandfather carved in its case. My great-grandfather’s name had 1888 carved under it, but I would later learn that this was a 1903 watch. That makes me wonder if maybe the case used to hold a different watch, or if my great-grandfather was trying to make note of a special occasion.

Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration

Terry had to do extensive repairs to this watch, as detailed in the final report I received:

1903 Waltham, 18 size, coin silver case, stem set – stem wind.
Case no. P6356, Movement no. 12314898 – hunters case.

Overhaul “O.B.” American pocket watch
Installed period correct glass crystal
Replaced three style correct hands (sent w/o hands)
Replaced broken 4th wheel
Replaced broken mainspring
Replaced broken balance staff
Installed 5 missing setting parts

I asked Terry to clean the Waltham, but do it gently so that none of the interior etchings would be lost. What I received back was perfect – the watch looks lovingly maintained, but not brand new. Considering that it is well over 100 years old, I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration

Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration

The second watch was also in terrible shape, but it at least still had two of its hands. It was covered in grime, but because of its gold-filled luster, it didn’t appear as tarnished. This Elgin pocket watch was a bit more of a mystery to me, as it had the initials HWD engraved inside.

Were they the initials of the owner? I can’t find any names in our genealogy that fit. Could they have been the initials of a sweetheart? Probably not. Could the watch have been won in a poker game at some point? Possibly! In any case, I went ahead and had it repaired as well.

Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration

1907 Elgin, 12 size, 10k yellow gold filled, stem set – stem wind.
Case no. 3177321, Movement no. 13306869 – hunters case.

Overhaul “O.B” American pocket watch
Installed period correct glass crystal
Replaced 2nd hand
Replaced spoiled center wheel
Shellacked loose pallet jewels (2)

Because of its gleaming gold fill, this watch looks absolutely gorgeous and much newer than the Waltham – even though it is also over 100 years old.

Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration

Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration

There is a story locked inside this watch, and my hope is that one day I will figure out whose it was.

Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration  Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather's Pocket Watch Restoration

Both pocket watches are now fully restored and working perfectly, thanks to the artistry of Terry Nelson, a Portland watchmaker that I’d discovered a few years ago when I inherited my grandmother’s Avalon pocket watch. If you would like to see more examples of Terry’s pocket watch restoration work, be sure to check out his gallery of customers’ watches.

Watch Repair: Antique Watch Repair Services

About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-confessed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area ... or not.
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  • breley

    Marvelous! I have a deep soft spot for pocket watches and old clocks. When I was a kid we had a family friend who used to open and close his pocket watch one-handed, I thought that was so cool. I’ve got a couple of pocket watches, a couple of antique mantle clocks, an old regulator clock and a grandfather clock. Drives everyone bonkers when they all chime. 🙂

  • Jeff Frantz

    Great story. I have an Elgin that was my grandfather’s pocket watch. He passed away about 10 years ago, just shy of his 100th birthday. We’re not sure of the exact date on the watch, but I had it cleaned and repaired, and now it’s on a display stand in my study. Considering that the watches were likely something your relatives carried on a daily basis, they’re a great tie to your family history.

  • Shoe Watch Repair

    Restoring Family Treasures: My Great-Grandfather’s Pocket Watch …: That makes me wonder if maybe the case .. http://bit.ly/pP5z7

  • doogald

    Wow, I have a watch like this as well, my grandfather’s, also a Waltham Watch (learned after my father had it appraised – it says “Lambert Bros.” but was made at the Waltham Watch factory.) My grandfather also crudely scrawled his name inside the back – I wonder if that was common practice back the? I think that the watch is just a bit newer, from around 1913 or something, when he was in his late thirties. It still works very well, though I rarely wind it.

  • Drew Guttadore

    Brilliant Judie! I love stories about older watches.. Waltham and Elgin were the predominant pocket watch makers of the time and love to see their work. Unfortunately, pocket watches are not the implement they once were and finding new ones to start the same history with is quite difficult.. Thanks for the story! 🙂

  • Ormaz

    Hello Judie,  your comments remind me of my earlier days when I was terribly intrigued with watches of all shapes sizes and colors.  Later my mother encouraged me to join a watch repair institute; just so that I could fix the watches which I had managed to stop from working because of my interference.  Well the rest is history.  I went on to be come a successful part time watch repairer a hobby which I actively pursued till my job change where it became more distant from the spare shops and also more time consuming due to the travel time involved.  In my heart, I am still a watch restorer !