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The History of the Pocket Watch

As a little girl I was fascinated by my grandad’s pocket watch, I thought it was AMAZING! There was a whole mesmerizing world of working cogs and wheels which I would sit and study. Of course, I had to mimic my granddad wearing his pocket watch, taking it out of my waistcoat to check the time (although I had to use a 2p coin as I wasn’t allowed to use his – it wasn’t a toy). But when you think of the craftsmanship that goes into making a timepiece you can understand my enthusiasm; the pocket watch is truly amazing!


The Birth of the Early Pocket Watch


One of the earliest mentions of the pocket watch dates back to 1462- in a letter written by an Italian clock-maker mentioning that his pocket watch was superior to that of the Duke of Modena.


If you were to look at the image (left) you’ll see that it doesn’t really resemble a pocket watch, however this is a very early design. It is in fact the oldest clock watch from a Museum in Nuremberg, crafted by Peter Henlein. It dates back to 1510. The simple age of the piece is enough to amaze, however there has been some doubt about its authenticity. This type of watch types is also known as a ‘Nuremberg egg’ due to its shape and height. There were three types of these clock watches made: high cylindrical drum watches used on tables or carried in purses, flat cylindrical watches, and spherical drum watches which were worn on chain around the neck (popular from 1580s).


Sprung driven clocks appeared at the end of the 15th century in Germany and Italy. This was thanks to the German watch maker Peter Henlein, who in the 1520s took his sprung loaded watch design to Britain. Due to this, by the 16th century the rest of Europe started manufacturing pocket watches. The minute hand was then tentatively used along with an increased number of wheels, introduced thanks to Henlein’s inner sprung design.

At this time jewels were used (usually rubies) as bearings within the watch as they helped make the time pieces run more with smoothly. This was when pocket watches were fashioned from precious metals such as gold.


The pocket watch is designed to be carried around in a pocket, usually attached to a watch chain . The chain was secured onto a waistcoat, lapel or belt loop which prevented the watches from being dropped. Watch chains were often decorated with a pendant which held a coat of arms, along with items such as a winding key, cigar cutter and vesta case. If a watch chain was seen to be too cumbersome the pocket watch was often mounted to a leather strap or fob. It was just the hour hand that was featured on these early watches; the minute hand wasn’t regularly seen on watches until the late 17th century. Used by the upper classes and the working classes, pocket watches were an essential tool for all. Blacksmiths in particular were fashioning designs for the pocket watch. These earlier models were mainly made from steel rather than precious metals.


Pocket watches were the most common watch type in the 16th century until wrist watches took over after World War I. The development of which occurred as pocket watches were impractical for combat, hence the trench watch was born. Who was the first to do this is unknown however; the first series of watches that were produced were for the German navy in 1880. Brand names we know today such as Omega and Longines produced wrist watches for the military. Until the 1930s they were called ‘wristlet’, which was then replaced with the ‘wrist watch’.


trench watch


The Revival of the Pocket Watch and Gift Ideas


In recent years, there has been an increase in people dressing in an older and more traditional style and there could be nothing more fitting with this style than the pocket watch and waist coat.


gold pocket watch

Pocket watches aren’t just for the stylish gentleman on the scene but for the stylish woman too. Take our Antique Victorian Yellow Gold savonnette style Ladies pocket watch:


An authentic antique solid gold half hunter pocket watch. It is embellished with impressive bright cut engraved decoration depicting ivy leaves to the anterior cover, and flower and leaf designs around a scallop-edged central trellis pattern. Sure to turn heads at any time of the day or night.


Or what about accentuating your current pocket watch with the addition of an Albert watch chain? Each of the rounded curb links that compose this Albert watch chain are individually hallmarked with the 9 ct gold fineness mark. The chain is ornamented to the other end with an ornate chased decorated watch fob, modelled in the form of the ‘Queens’s Westminster Rifles’ cap badge. What else do you need? Make sure you have the waistcoat and tweed jacket for the full look!


albert watch chain

Or what about a stylish antique vesta case if you already have the above. As you may have already read on ‘How to spend it’, vesta cases are making a comeback. So don’t miss out on this up and coming trend! Here’s just a few of what we have to offer you (you’ll be spoilt for choice):


victorian vesta case

antique vesta case

gold vesta case

sterling silver vesta case

These time pieces are making a return on the fashion scene, along with vesta cases and the watch chain. The well-dressed gent (or lady) is making a comeback! Tweed coats, pocket watches and all the old world items that seemed to vanish are now returning, don’t be left out!


Louise Snowdon

Louise SnowdonWebsite Content Contributor / Sales Professional

Louise joined AC Silver with a passion for the world of antiquities and jewellery. Louise also assists the marketing team by representing the business on many social media outlets.

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Andrew Campbell started trading in Antique Silver in the 1970's. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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