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The Charm and Hidden Value of Vintage Marcasite Watches

Vintage doesn't mean obsolete. Why marcasite watches are making a comeback.

Have you ever noticed that most gadgets these days don't last beyond 5 years?

When I was a little girl, I remember decorating the Christmas tree each year. I specifically remember these enchanting and life-like decorations of a little Mrs Claus, Santa Claus, reindeers and elves. Every year the same decorations would come out to decorate all over again  .... and over 30 years on the same decorations are still adorning the Christmas tree in my mother's house (which my children help decorate each year)! Unfortunately not the same can be said for the Christmas decorations I've purchased for my tree, with a 1, or sometimes 2 year life span if I'm lucky!

Which brings me to my latest blog on vintage marcasite watches. The yesteryear charm, aesthetic appeal, functionality and individuality of these vintage marcasite watches are like no other on the modern market today. The elaborate design of these vintage watches often reminisce the Art Deco period, starting from 1920's through to mid 20th century and beyond.

Most often the vintage marcasite watches were made in precious metal- usually 925 sterling silver or a higher silver standard, such as 935 Silver, (Germany or Switzerland). Many watches were made with the entire watch (eg case, band and clasp) in precious silver and some, just the case and partial band made in precious silver. Today, the silver often comes with patina (a darkened tarnish), which in my opinion adds to the vintage charm. Being precious silver the patina can be polished out and brought back to new again, but, like I say 'the level of polish is a matter of taste'.

Adding sparkles to these watches are the marcasite gems which were individually hand-set. The dials were sometimes engine-turned with delicate yellow or rose gold hands and baton/numerals. I have also seen many with a lovely hand-engraved ornate pattern along the sides of the case and finished with a milgrain edge  ... the attention to detail is distinct, alike the quality.

Most modern, reproduction marcasite watches are mass-produced and made in metal silver plate, with the marcasite gems glued-in or cast set and they usually have cheap Chinese or Japanese quartz movements. 

Mechanical watch movementMechanical watch movementThe movements in the original marcasite watches were often Swiss mechanical hand-wound. Some of the mechanical movements in the marcasite watches had the 'shock protection' incabloc system to relieve the balance wheel from breaking- a system which was invented in the early 1930's. 

The tiny gems, named marcasite, or pyrite 'fool's gold' used to embellish these watches have been used since the time of the Ancient Greeks. Marcasite was popular in the 18th century and the Victorian era, particularly after Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria entered a period of mourning - dark and sombre jewels were favored. Marcasite gems are faceted as a flat bottom 6-sided pyramid, faceted to imitate diamonds- alike a dutch rose cut. The marcasites have a subtle golden hue, metallic lustre and glistening mirror-like facets.

One of the beautiful things about vintage marcasite watches is that they require interaction with its owner to function. The mechanical self-wind movement is an intricate, (and often jeweled) series of gears and delicate springs that requires a wind of the crown every day or two (or sometimes longer) to kick start the cogs. Vintage marcasite watches do need to be cleaned periodically as they are mechanical and need lubrication, so with a little bit of 'TLC' these vintage watches may last for another 1/2 century and beyond.  

With all the character these watches have to offer, inside and out, I don't think the price reflects their true beauty and workmanship....

View Beryl Lane's collection of Vintage Marcasite Watches