Follow the Stories | Reno, Nevada (2005)
All in Good Time
The c. 1905 escapement samples that were brought to the Roadshow in Reno.
The four escapements are displayed in a case engraved with the name C.E. DeLong, the greatest American watchmaker of the 20th century.
DeLong, who also taught at the Southwest School of Horology, may have made the display case to hold his teaching samples.
This oversized escapement shows the inner workings of a watch.
At the Reno, Nevada ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, a woman arrived with a display case that contained four oversized escapements — the prized inner workings or "engine" of a watch. Made in 1905, the escapements were preserved for several years and almost trashed by relatives who recently inherited them. Their timely rescue enabled appraiser Kevin Zavian, to examine them and conclude that they were originally part of a "salesman's sample" used to sell watches. Pressed for time, Kevin had "maybe ten or fifteen minutes" before going on air to consider the pieces and identify the name engraved on the escapements: "C.E. DeLong."
"So that's the person who apparently made these," Kevin, a jeweler with Cluster Jewelry in Manhattan, told the escapements' owner when the cameras were rolling. "Could even be the salesman at the time, we're not sure. ... A little research may be needed there." Just before the taped session Kevin checked in with other watch and clock experts present, but he had little time to research libraries or online resources. Consequently, Kevin announced that the collection was worth $4,000 to $6,000 — a significant underestimation of its value.
A closer look reveals these antique watch parts are true treasures
When appraisers make a mistake on-air, they and ANTIQUES ROADSHOW are often deluged with e-mails and phone calls — the show has an audience of almost 12 million weekly viewers, and a significant number of them are knowledgeable amateurs or professionals in various collecting fields. Kevin received a phone call from Tom McIntyre, a director for the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, which has a museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and local chapters all around the world. The director hadn't seen the episode, but he heard from a score of horologists — makers of clocks and watches — who contacted him after the show aired.
All were abuzz with a clue that Kevin had missed: C.E. DeLong was Charles DeLong, the best watch repairman of his era — and the greatest American watchmaker of the 20th century, according to McIntyre.
Despite his incredible contributions to the advancement of watchmaking, DeLong designed very few watches. Of the 10 watches he designed for the McIntyre Watch Company, only one recently appeared on the market, selling for $50,000 at a Sotheby's auction in October 2004. Clearly, Kevin was unaware of DeLong's reputation when he appraised the four escapements.
In such situations, the first step the show's producers take is to contact the owner. Had she sold her escapements? Fortunately, she had not sold them. But there still remained the challenge of determining the escapements' actual worth. McIntyre notes that DeLong designed escapements for the Hamilton, Illinois, and Ball watch companies that were installed in only about 200 to 300 watches around 1916. The most expensive of these watches has sold for $3,000 to $5,000, nearly 10 times the value of identical models made without the DeLong escapement.
The value of the display case that went with the oversized escapements was more difficult to determine because it was a one-of-a-kind. DeLong taught at the Southwest School of Horology in Dallas, Texas, and McIntyre believes that DeLong made the case to hold his teaching samples.
"Nobody knows what they're worth," says McIntyre, who is a collector of DeLong memorabilia, and may even be related to the founder of the McIntyre Watch Company, Fred McIntyre. "I'd love to have them, but if they're sold fairly, I probably can't afford them." The four escapements, he believes, might sell for $35,000 to $40,000, perhaps more if the history of the escapements can be verified. Kevin now thinks the four escapements, because of their rarity and their maker, might fetch between $75,000 to $100,000.
What has Kevin taken from the experience with the DeLong escapements? Ever since that appraisal he has made it a point to always do research on the computer and crack the books before any taped appraisal — even if he feels he's already an expert on the object.
"My base of knowledge is continually being broadened," he says. "I don't pretend to know everything. The good part about ANTIQUES ROADSHOW is that there's a lot of people to help you learn."
See the Reno, Nevada (2005) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Clocks & Watches category:
What Makes This Clock Tick? (Providence, 2006)
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a contributor to Antiques Roadshow Online since 1998.