This month we’re fascinated by pocket watches – they are one of our most popular items, having gone from something our Great Great Grandparents might wear, to a stylish addition to a gentleman’s three piece suit. So we thought we’d delve deeper into their origins and give these historical little timepieces some time in the lime light.
A Brief History
The pocket watch is an iconic timepiece that is kept in the pocket rather than worn on the wrist. These marvels of mechanical engineering were invented by master locksmith Peter Henlein in 1510 and were the most common means of timekeeping before the wristwatch was created. Being able to carry the time with you was revolutionary, although the first pocket watches were rather ungainly and worn around the neck. They were also reserved for the wealthy, being handmade and an expensive luxury only the privileged could afford.
World War I was the catalyst for the mass adoption of wristwatches. A more practical solution was required where time would always be available without the need for retrieval. Because of wristwatches, the pocket watch became less and less common.
How to wear
A pocket watch is usually worn at the end of a chain to connect it to clothing and prevent it from falling out of the pocket. It is usually attached either to a waistcoat, lapel or belt loop. The chain or ornaments on a pocket watch are known as a 'fob', and the T-bar at the end of the chain can be attached through a button hole to secure it in place.
The different styles
Pocket watches often have a hinged metal cover to protect the face of the watch. There are a few different types if pocket watch as detailed below:
An ‘Open Face’ is a pocket watch without a hinged lid and a permanently visible face.
A ‘Half Hunter’ pocket watch has a lid with a small round glazed window, allowing the time to be seen when the lid is closed.
A ‘Full Hunter’ has a protective case lid that can be opened to reveal the watch face. When closed, the watch face cannot be seen, and these are our most popular design as they allow engraving on the outer case.
A ‘Double Hunter’ has two lids covering both the back and front of the pocket watch. The movement can be seen in this design.
A ‘Half Double Hunter’ has two lids covering the back and front of the pocket watch, but the front face has a small round glazed window. The time can be seen when the lid is closed and the movement can be seen in this design.
Are pocket watches back in style?
Pocket watches are still much less common than wristwatches but have risen in popularity in the 2010s. They aren't trendy as such, more viewed as a unique statement piece for style enthusiasts. They can complement an outfit as much as fancy cufflinks and, although identical in purpose to wristwatches, they emanate a very different vibe.
With time all around us – in the car, on your phone, on your computer screen - watches are no longer an everyday essential. Kids and teenagers generally don’t wear watches anymore, other than the occasional Apple Watch or Fitbit. But there’s been a recent, exploding trend of nostalgic heritage pieces, and pocket watches are amongst these. What could scratch that throwback itch more than a fine mechanical pocket watch? They are truly the classic cars of horology.