The History of Pocket Watches

The earliest account of the pocket watch was in a letter dated November 1462 from the Italian clockmaker Bartholomew Manfredi to the Marchese di Mantova Federico Gonzaga where he is offering him a ‘pocket clock” that belonged to the Duke of Moderna. By the end of the 15th century many European clock smaithes were manufacturing pocket watches but it wasn’t until the late 1830 that this crave was introduced to the United States.

Until the second half of the 18th century watches were very expensive and considered a luxury and were highly valued. But by the end of the 18th century watches even though still made by hand were becoming more common place and were made for sale to even the most modest of gentleman. As the rise of railroading began to spread so did the pocket watch the pocket watch is most associated with the conductor and for good reason. After a massive train wreck in 1891 from the result in a stopped watch the rail road officials commissioned a chief inspector of time which led to stringent standards for pocket watches and railroading. After 1908 all railroad service pocket watches were required to be open faced.

There are two main styles of pocket watches; open face and hunter case. An open face watch is one that the face is open or lacking in a cover to protect the crystal with the winding stem located at 12 o’clock. This made the watch fast and easy to read. The hunter case watch has a spring hinged cover that closes over the watch crystal protecting it from damage or debris but making it a bit more time consuming to read there by being passed over for consideration by the rail road officials.

The decline of the pocket watch began after WWI and the invention of the wrist watch, although the wristwatch was considered more feminine its popularity among men grew after officers in WWI began to use them in the fields considering a watch on the wrist much more useful than one in the pocket. However, pocket watches continued to be widely used in railroading even as their popularity declined elsewhere.

As we entered the 20th century the resurrection of the pocket watch has begun fashion has taken over in resurrecting this nostalgic item due in part to steampunk, a cultural movement embracing the arts and fashions of the Victorian era. The three piece suit also played a great part in the rise of the pocket watch to its once luxury status since without the vest men had no place for the pocket watch. The pocket watch has also been on the rise among groomsman gifts giving a sense of fashion and luxury as a thank you to them on this special day. Although there is fear that this beautiful time piece may be lost forever with the more recent invention of the mobile phone which now may even win out to the wrist watch, due to the diminished appeal of carrying more items then needed.