Coins and watches might seem like two completely separate hobbies, and two hobbies that would not likely intersect with one another. For the most part, that’s true, but there is at least one place where the two hobbies do meet – the coin watch.
First produced by Swiss watchmaker Corum in 1965, the coin watch is a rather unique piece of horology.
The watchmaker developed a patented process in 1964 for slicing a $20 U.S. gold coin in half. The resulting watch was made with an ultra-thin automatic mechanical movement.
The reverse of the coin became the face of the watch, with the obverse being visible on the back side of the watch case. As an added touch, the edge of the watch case was given a reeded edge in order to further simulate the appearance of a coin.
The 34 mm size of that particular coin made it well suited to being used for a watch, though an American law in place at the time made it illegal to “deface” U.S. currency. Nevertheless, the watch was issued, and Corum continues to make them to this day, though most current issues use more modern currency (including denominations from other countries.)
Current examples of the watch use quartz movements, which are far easier to build to the requirements of the watch, as the coin itself adds quite a bit of thickness to the watch. By using a quartz movement, rather than a mechanical one, Corum is able to prevent the watch from becoming either overly thick or overly heavy, though it’s pretty heavy anyway, due to the presence of nearly an ounce of gold.
I’m not sure how much the watches sold for in 1965, but original examples are frequently seen for sale in the $10,000-$15,000 range. It’s also worth noting that Corum used this format for a pocket watch, as well, though the coin pocket watches are quite rare.
Corum isn’t the only company to make a coin watch, though they appear to have been the first. Shinola, a company based in Detroit, Michigan, has also started to make them, as well. These mainly use a U.S. 25¢ piece that is inset in a square case. The watches are built in the United States using Swiss-made parts, and are far more affordable than the Corum models, as they do not have an ounce of gold in them. The Shinola models are priced at roughly $1200, though prices vary slightly by model.
Coin collectors likely (and rightly, I might add) frown on defacing gold coins to use them as watches, and that’s easy to understand, since most American gold coins were melted down in the mid-1930s as the United States had gone off of the gold standard and had revoked the legal tender status of gold coins by that time. Citizens were required to turn over their gold coins for other forms of currency, though collectors were allowed to keep them.
Since millions of gold coins were melted down, nice examples are rare and expensive today and those that have been turned into wristwatches have only contributed to their rarity. Still, a $20 gold coin does make for an interesting watch.