Irreplaceable antique pocket watch: Wear it or lock it up?
March 13, 2016 2:27 PM   Subscribe

My grandmother recently gave me a beautiful and valuable antique pocket watch. My question is ultimately: Should I get a safe deposit box and keep it locked away, or should I wear it? More inside.

The pocket watch belonged to my great-great-grandmother and is engraved with her name. It's in peak condition, and still keeps perfect time. It was recently appraised at over $1,000. If it were lost or damaged, it would be irreplaceable.

I know the safest thing to do in terms of preserving it would be to get a safe deposit box and lock it away. On the other hand, there's something really sad to me about just locking this beautiful thing away and not enjoying it.
I'm not thinking about wearing it every day. Just once in a while on special occasions. I also just love looking at it.

In short, I'm too dazzled by its shiny-ness and the delightful tick-tick-tick sound it makes. I need an adult to tell me what to do.
posted by firemonkey to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Beautiful things are meant to be enjoyed. You can't enjoy it if it's in a safe deposit box.

You can get a little felt or velvet drawstring pouch to protect it if you want to carry it around in your pocket. You could wear it on a chain (around your neck, or in your pocket with the chain attached to a belt loop.) Or you could get one of those display boxes like they use to display autographed baseballs, and put it on your dresser or someplace where you will see it every day.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:33 PM on March 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

You know that little pocket in jeans? The one you might put change in? It fits a pocket watch perfectly. I know this because I have a neat Harley Davidson pocket watch that I occasionally carry. Wear it and attach the chain to a belt loop. Take reasonable care and enjoy your watch.
posted by Splunge at 2:37 PM on March 13, 2016

Best answer: Wear it, items are meant to be enjoyed not hidden away.
posted by bigbadbehr at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree, wear it with pleasure! One thing: most antique watches will last longer if they are wound regularly; you may want to look into that.
posted by Specklet at 2:40 PM on March 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

A watch like this needs to be wound and run from time to time to stay in top shape, difficult to do if it's locked away.

But put it on your house insurance.
posted by zadcat at 2:41 PM on March 13, 2016

Best answer: In my mind there are two kinds of entropy that strike useful and appealing things, especially ones that contain mechanisms: That of use and that of disuse. Yes, things that get used are subject to wear. Things that work and don't get used are still subject to all the incidental hazards of time, and often with moving parts and so on there's no better way to ensure they won't work x years from now than to let them sit inert somewhere.

If it were me, I'd wear it in situations where I wasn't likely to ruin it, and perhaps know of a good watch shop where they can give it occasional checkups.
posted by brennen at 2:42 PM on March 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: By all means, wear it. Get a fob for pocket carrying, a chain if you want to wear it like a locket, and a special box to display it (if only for your eyes) when it's not in use. Then wind it regularly, take it to an expert annually for cleaning and maintenance, and enjoy it.

IMHO, any possession you feel compelled to "preserve" by keeping it locked away, out of reach and out of sight, might as well be converted to cash. A thing of beauty and sentiment only has true value when it is seen, used and appreciated.
posted by peakcomm at 3:12 PM on March 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have my mother's wedding china. I can count on one hand how many times she used it in her 52 year marriage. I will never use it because I am a klutz and if I break a piece...that would haunt me. My current plan is to sell it to Replacements. This infuriates my mother.

If she'd take it back, I'd give it to her in a heartbeat. I was only supposed to store it while they were overseas, I never wanted it.

So wear your pretty item. Get it insured (you'll need a separate rider). Enjoy being a thread in history.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:14 PM on March 13, 2016

I would wear it every damn day if I were you! This is not traditional, but instead of using an actual watch chain, I might put it on a closed loop of chain and hitch the loop around one of my belt loops before putting the watch in my pocket. Less likely to break.

P.S. As pointed out above, the mini pocket-in-a-pocket on some jeans is in fact originally intended for this, and it may make you feel safer to use it because it protects the watch from colliding with any other stuff you might have in your pockets.
posted by ostro at 3:19 PM on March 13, 2016

Best answer: the watch is already broken, so it's ok to wear it on special occasions
posted by aniola at 3:58 PM on March 13, 2016 [17 favorites]

Use it on special occasions, and keep it on display so that you remember to wind it and you can enjoy looking at it.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:04 PM on March 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do not know where you live, but I would start looking now for someone who repairs and services antique watches today, because they are not run of the mill things to service. If you are in Massachusetts, even in Waltham, aka "Watch City" there are very few people who are capable of servicing antique watches.

Also, once you get used to the idea of having something like this serviced, you will also feel a lot more comfortable with the idea of wearing this regularly. A watch (including a pocket watch) is meant to be worn, especially an heirloom. It is a tangible piece of family history where you can talk about the watch, your family history, or the fashion statement it makes. Any way you slice it, it is something you should wear with pride.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:24 PM on March 13, 2016

My parents keep a couple of antique pocket watches in display cases like this and they look really nice. You could keep it on your dresser or nightstand so you enjoy it as decoration, but also have it handy for the occasions where you do want to wear it.
posted by cpatterson at 4:49 PM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Put it in a safe deposit box and bring it out for special occasions.
posted by brujita at 4:56 PM on March 13, 2016

I don't know how these would actually turn out but I would try to do something like a photo shoot with the watch from every possible angle so that if you do lose it, you'll still have images that you can share with family. And no idea if this is possible, but maybe you could do a rubbing of the engraved name or something like that? Basically just find other ways to preserve it and then enjoy it.
posted by betsybetsy at 4:56 PM on March 13, 2016

Definitely look into having it insured- jewelry riders are common (like for engagement rings).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:02 PM on March 13, 2016

Why not put it somewhere visible in your house maybe in a bell jar? Then consider buying a nice pocket watch to carry around, and let the pocket watch remind you of your family.
posted by gregr at 5:10 PM on March 13, 2016

It does you no good in a safe deposit box. If you are klutzy or tend to lose things, maybe wear it for special occasions and otherwise keep it in a display case. You only need to insure it if its monetary value is what matters to you. No amount of money will compensate you for its sentimental value. As you've said, it's irreplaceable. So why pay to have it "replaced"?
posted by FencingGal at 5:18 PM on March 13, 2016

You know what? Wear it. I love the quote about the glass already being broken above. My elderly aunt has recently started putting her china in the dishwasher (on a gentle cycle, but still). She uses it all the time now and it makes her happy to use it rather than having it sit in a cupboard and using it once a year. Every time I go over there for dinner I think about how nice it is that she uses her mom's stuff every day and it makes her happy and the hell with everyone else. What good is the watch if no one uses is? Wear it and think about your grandparents every time you do.
posted by charmedimsure at 5:50 PM on March 13, 2016

I second gregr: if you're afraid of losing it, then keep it somewhere in the house where you can look at it.

Optimally, locked away where nobody ever sees it is safest, but then it's like you don't even own it. But I've had enough stuff fall off me and get lost that I'd be scared of "what happens if I lose it" too. So, keep it as a household display item.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:13 PM on March 13, 2016

All things must pass. Decide to wear it until you lose it or break it, it's possible that neither ever happens. If you don't break it or lose it, yay. If it does get lost or broken, its time with you is over, the world keeps turning, and you will have your memories. This works for me.
posted by sageleaf at 7:44 PM on March 13, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies. I feel relieved knowing that my irreplaceable pocket watch is, in fact, already broken.

I just purchased a slide watch chain in order to wear it on special occasions. In addition, I'm going to look into watch repairers in my area with experience servicing antique watches. If anyone knows of such a place in San Francisco, feel free to message me.

I also purchased a much, much cheaper and less sentimental pocket watch that I can wear on 'regular' days, because you know what? Pocket watches are fun.

What I realized is that each day I hold this thing in my hands, wind it up, and listen to its ticking, I'm not only enjoying a beautiful object, I'm sharing an experience with my great-great-grandmother, my great grandmother, and my grandmother. I wouldn't be able to have that if it was locked away.

Thanks again, hive! I will wear it proudly and enjoy it.
posted by firemonkey at 9:23 PM on March 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Just...please keep it someplace weird and not jewelry-y when you do leave it at home. If someone breaks into your house and you have a fancy-looking watch under a bell jar on display, that watch is now gone. If it was just something you bought as a collectible I'd say keep it out and enjoy looking at it, but my grandmother's heirloom pearls were stolen from me a few years ago and I still mourn their loss often and admit I really regret not keeping them in a safe deposit box. It's one thing to break it in the course of regular use and think, well, too bad it doesn't work anymore - it's another thing to have it just be gone and irreplaceable.

I keep my favorite jewelry in an old tampon box at the back of a cupboard in the bathroom now.
posted by town of cats at 10:34 PM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Enjoy it. I inherited my beloved mother-in-law's 2 fancy china sets, 2 separate settings for 32, the kind of elegance I would never in a million years consider buying or owning. My own mother tried to get me to put it away and use it only for company, but instead I use it every day and I remember Grandma Charlotte and her wonderful dinner parties and her hospitality. As my kids moved into their own places, I divided the china up and they use it daily also. Let the legacy live.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:59 PM on March 14, 2016

Yes, I would wear it. I would also take lots of photos of it so that if it did go missing, I would have something to remember it by.
posted by intensitymultiply at 6:07 AM on March 15, 2016

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