1915 Ingersoll Military Wrist Watch & Box

Value (2016) | $2,500 Auction

It was originally my grandfather's. He got it during World War I, and being first-generation German descent, they wouldn't give him any firearms, and he bought this as a memento piece, since he couldn't keep, like, a firearm or anything. It's my understanding that he bought it at the PX of Fort Dixon in Iowa.

Okay, and when would that have been?

I believe it was 1915. He never talked about it. He put all his stuff in a box, basically, and it pretty much stayed there until the grandkids started rummaging through things, and then we found out that this had a radium face on it and my grandmother wouldn't let us play with it anymore. So I haven't seen it for probably 30 years.

This watch would have been made in 1915. Prior to the First World War, it was very unusual for gentlemen to wear wristwatches. They would always wear pocket watches. And the idea of a man wearing a piece of jewelry was very much frowned upon. It was only really when the war started that they found in the trenches and in combat the practicalities of having a pocket watch... it was very difficult. So the men actually designed a way to strap their pocket watches onto their wrists.

All right.

Now, here we have a very classic example where a manufacturer has basically adapted that idea. This watch is effectively a pocket watch that's been modified to be strapped onto a piece of leather with a protective guard over the dial. Another aspect taken from the First World War was this type of black enamel dial. Most enamel dials were made in white. The black, obviously, anti-reflective and much better for nighttime, and far less chance of being seen from that point of view. It's actually advertised on the box as having radium. The radium has now gone brown. It has a certain half-life that it will die over a period of time. But it was originally a very bright glow that allowed them to glow in the dark. And it really wasn't harmful to individuals. The harmful part was to the poor people that were painting the dials. They were actually painted by hand. And you'd have these young ladies that would use a paintbrush, if you imagine, and lick the end of the paintbrush, dip it into the radium...

I've heard that story before.

Write the numerals and then, at the end of each one, lick again, back into the radium. Very, very dangerous. Now, this particular example remained in very good condition. If you can imagine, most military examples that were made simply were destroyed or brought back, given to the kids. Its main interest is, historically, the fact that it was one of the very first-ever wristwatches. Also, the condition and that it still has the original box with it. Value-wise, if it were to sell at auction today, you'd be looking at a number around a thousand dollars.

Okay. I'm pleasantly surprised, considering that the price on the box is $4.50.

Some increase in the value over the years.

Yes, it was.

Appraisal Details

Update (2016)
$2,500 Auction
Appraised value (2009)
$1,000 Auction
Madison, WI (July 11, 2009)

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