Don’t let the name fool you. A marriage watch is not a watch you gift your husband or receive as a token of appreciation. Well, you may, if your partner knows about watches, but it has nothing to do with marriage.
The question of a marriage watch keeps on appearing every now and then. Like I once was, a lot of watch lovers appear to be confused about the term. Well, who doesn’t get confused about marriages?
Let’s get to know more about marriage watches and if it’s a good idea to get one.
What is a Marriage Watch?
It’s a watch that marries parts from different watches. Most of the time, we are talking about an older movement, usually from a pocket watch, inserted in a newer wristwatch case to flaunt around. For the rest of this article we’ll assume that a marriage watch always features a new modern case. This will help us distinguish them from “frankenstein” watches.
The opinion on marriage watches seems to be divided. Some vintage watch aficionados appear to be in love with marriage watches, while some have an unexplained hatred towards them.
The concept sounds pretty exciting on paper. You take a vintage watch and give it a modern twist. It’s as simple as converting a pocket watch into a wristwatch but the process requires skills and craftsmanship. If all goes well, you may end up creating a piece that nobody else owns.
Marriage watches have been in existence for a long time but it’s only now that they’re becoming somewhat popular. Indeed, large watches – with case diameters over 45mm – are quite in demand these days. Since most marriage watches are based on pocket watch movements, they boast impressive sizes, often exceeding 46mm.
Flaunting a rare piece is usually enough for an ego boost but is a marriage watch always a good idea?
Categories of Marriage Watches
Before we go any further, let’s list different types of marriage watches that can be encountered. We’ll break them down depending on two components: the movement and the dial.
Original movement & original dial (“Type A”)
Sometimes a marriage watch is simply taking an existing pocket watch and transferring all the elements (movement, dial, hands…) to a new wristwatch case. The objective is simple: instead of a pocket watch that is hardly usable today, you now have a wristwatch in a modern case, with a transparent caseback to admire the movement. Here is an example of a Vacheron Constantin marriage watch (the movement and the dial both appear authentic):
The dial and the movement may come from different watches: parts tend to get broken over time and it’s not easy to find them in good cosmetic condition, so donor watches are used. Nothing wrong with this as long as this information is disclosed by the seller.
In the below example, the watch features an old movement from a Molnija pocket watch (the movement has been restored, with some parts replaced and some parts decorated) and a dial from a newer Molnija pocket watch, set in a modern case:
Original movement & fantasy dial (“Type B”)
If all you have left from your pocket watch is the movement, you may want to get a replacement dial. Finding a donor watch can be quite expensive, so why not make a custom dial? A lot of firms can print a dial according to your requirements. Totally fine as long as the brand name is not mentioned on the dial (this would be a counterfeit product as we’ll see in the next section).
Marriage watch aficionados can get very creative here, especially considering the fact that the case can also be customized according to the owner’s taste. Have a look at this marriage watch, featuring a Hamilton movement, a custom dial and a personalized engraved case:
Original movement & counterfeit dial (“Type C”)
Unfortunately, the temptation is strong to create a dial with a brand name matching the movement. Either to deceive a customer or to show off. These watches are a big no-no and are actually counterfeit products, so selling or even wearing one may get you in legal trouble. Needless to say, these are frowned upon by collectors and are usually forbidden by all marketplaces.
Here’s an example of a watch featuring a Longines movement and a fake dial:
We recommend staying away from Type C marriage watches.
Type A and Type B are generally considered as acceptable as long as there is full disclosure on where different elements come from. In the marriage watches universe, information is key.
Now that we have the classification out of the way, let’s answer some frequently asked questions about marriage watches.
Is Marriage Another Name For a Frankenstein / Franken Watch?
In my opinion, these two concepts are not identical.
As mentioned earlier, a marriage watch is usually a new life for a pocket watch. On the other hand, in a franken watch missing parts are replaced with parts from other watches (or aftermarket parts), and the end result is sold as an original product without disclosing the fact that some parts may be aftermarket.
Should I Opt for a Marriage Watch?
Depends. Vintage watch collectors tend to demand originality and every modification to a watch will necessarily bring its value down. So, in terms of investment getting a marriage watch is rarely a good idea.
On the other hand, a marriage watch with a movement from a well-known brand such as Vacheron Constantin or Patek Philippe will cost you much less than a brand new wristwatch from the same brands.
Marriage watches combine antique and vintage models with a modern look. They can be historically valuable for some while totally useless for others. The interesting bit is that each marriage has a story to tell.
A marriage watch can be a good idea if you have an old pocket watch lying around that still has useful parts.
However, you should be aware that these watches usually lack shock protection, rendering them more or less unsuitable if you have an active lifestyle.
Is It All About Destroying Old Watches?
The concept is designed to give a new lease of life to an older watch. It’s not about destroying what you have, it is about adding value to it.
Pocket watches in their true form are of almost no use in this age. Nobody wears ’em. They are, in fact, often left lying around so why not update the look?
Why Is There a Need for Marriage Watches?
Movements and dials often reach the market without associated cases. This happens mainly due to the demand for gold. Vintage gold watches contain valuable gold, which is scraped off.
Collectors want to put these orphaned movements and dials to good use. Since they cannot find original parts in most cases, the next best option is a marriage watch.
What Parts Need to be Replaced?
This is a bit difficult to answer since the requirements differ from model to model. Your pocket watch may need some replacements even if all the parts are in working condition. That’s because they may not fit the new case.
In some cases, only crowns, crystals, and some movement parts need to change. In other cases, some other parts may also require a replacement.
Your best option is to take your watch to a skilled craftsman to get an idea.
Why Do Some People Hate Marriage Watches?
The opinion on marriage watches appears to be divided and it’s understandable why. They are not original watches. They may contain several unoriginal parts and some vintage lovers may not be okay with it.
And sometimes marriage watches with counterfeit parts are sold as authentic timepieces, which doesn’t improve their reputation.
Are They Easy to Identify?
Usually they are, simply because the design does not exist out there. It’s the result of a designer’s / watchmaker’s work.
While those who do not know much about watches may not be able to identify a marriage watch, a couple of online searches should be enough to realize that the watch is not a standard design. And if the seller claims that it’s original, stay away.
How Much Should I Pay For a Marriage Watch?
The price largely depends on the brand name and the amount of work involved to create the watch.
A simple movement from a cheaper brand set in a standard, non-engraved case, can be found for a few hundred dollars.
If the movement is from a luxury brand and the case has undergone some custom engraving, the price can easily exceed several thousand dollars.
Is It a Good Investment?
We talked about why vintage watches may appreciate over time. The market is clear regarding traditional vintage watches but the same cannot be said about marriage watches. The area appears to be gray.
There obviously is a demand for such watches but the fact remains that not every watch lover would show interest in a marriage watch, no matter how good it looks. Some buyers are against the idea of investing in a marriage watch and may never buy it. Hence, the market size is smaller.
Furthermore, marriage watches are often bought / ordered because of their personal subjective value (it may have been the first owner’s grandfather’s pocket watch for example). They also require a lot of man-hours (adjust the movement, engrave the case, fit the dial, etc.) and this cost is difficult to recover when reselling.
All in all, a marriage watch is a bad investment.
Wrapping it up
I hope I managed to demystify a little the concept of a marriage watch.
Please stay away from counterfeit products and always do your research if you consider buying a vintage watch.
PS What’s your opinion on marriage timepieces? Please share your views in the comments area below!