A pocket watch (or pocketwatch) is a watch that is made to be carried in a pocket, as opposed to a wristwatch, which is strapped to the wrist. They were the most common type of watch from their development in the 16th century until wristwatches became popular after World War I. Pocket watches generally have an attached chain to allow them to be secured to a waistcoat, lapel, or belt loop, and to prevent them from being dropped. The chain or ornaments on it is known as a fob. They often have a hinged metal cover to protect the face of the watch; pocketwatches with a fob and cover are often called "fob watches". Also common are fasteners designed to be put through a buttonhole and worn in a jacket or waistcoat, this sort being frequently associated with and named after train conductors.
An early reference to the pocket watch is in a letter in November 1462 from the Italian clockmaker Bartholomew Manfredi to the Marchese di Manta, where he offers him a 'pocket clock' better than that belonging to the Duke of Modena. By the end of the 15th Century, spring-driven clocks appeared in Italy, and in Germany. Peter Henlein, a master locksmith of Nuremberg, was regularly manufacturing pocket watches in England by 1524. Thereafter, pocket watch manufacture spread throughout the rest of Europe as the 16th century progressed. Another early example of a pocket watch measured in minutes was created by the Ottoman watchmaker Meshur Sheyh Dede in 1702. The first American pocket watches with machine made parts was manufactured by Henry Pitkin with his brother in the later 1830s.
Early pocket watches
The watch was first created in the 16th century, initially in spherical (Pomander) or cylindrical cases, when the spring driven clock was invented. These watches were at first quite big and boxy and were worn around the neck. It was not for another century that it became common to wear a watch in a pocket.
Use in railroading in the United States.
The rise of railroading during the last half of the 19th century led to the widespread use of pocket watches. Because of the likelihood of train wrecks and other accidents if all railroad workers did not accurately know the current time, pocket watches became required equipment for all railroad workers.
The first steps toward codified standards for railroad-grade watches were taken in 1887 when the American Railway Association held a meeting to define basic standards for watches. However, it took a disaster to bring about widespread acceptance of stringent standards. A famous train wreck on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway in Kipton, Ohio on April 19, 1891 occurred because one of the engineers' watches had stopped for 4 minutes. The railroad officials commissioned Webb C. Ball as their Chief Time Inspector, in order to establish precision standards and a reliable timepiece inspection system for Railroad chronometers. This led to the adoption in 1893 of stringent standards for pocket watches used in railroading. These railroad-grade pocket watches, as they became colloquially known, had to meet the General Railroad Timepiece Standards adopted in 1893 by almost all railroads. These standards read, in part:
- "...open faced, size 16 or 18, have a minimum of 17 jewels, adjusted to at least five positions, keep time accurately to within 30 seconds a week, adjusted to temps of 34 °F (1 °C) to 100 °F (38 °C), have a double roller, steel escape wheel, lever set, regulator, winding stem at 12 o'clock, and have bold black Arabic numerals on a white dial, with black hands."
Railroad employees to this day are required to keep their watches on time, and are subject to spot checks by their superiors at any time. Failure to keep their watches on time can lead to disciplinary action, due to the gravely serious safety issues involved.
Additional requirements were adopted in later years in response to additional needs; for example, the adoption of the diesel-electric locomotive led to new standards from the 1940s on specifying that timekeeping accuracy could not be affected by electromagnetic fields.
Types of pocket watches.
There are two main styles of pocket watch, the hunter-case pocket watch, and the open-face pocket watch.
An open-face pocket watch is one with the winding-stem at the top of the dial, above the '12' and with the seconds sub-dial at the 6 o'clock position. As the name suggests, these watches have cases which are without a cover to protect the watch-crystal from damage. All railroad chronometers had to be of the open-face kind.
A hunter-case pocket watch is the kind with a spring-hinged circular metal lid or cover, that closes over the watch-dial and crystal, protecting them from dust, scratches and other damage or debris. The majority of antique and vintage hunter-case watches have the lid-hinges at the 9 o'clock position and the stem, crown and bow of the watch at the 3 o'clock position. Modern hunter-case pocket watches usually have the hinges for the lid at the 6 o'clock position and the stem, crown and bow at the 12 o'clock position, as with open-face watches. In both styles of watch-cases, the sub-seconds dial was always at the 6 o'clock position. A hunter-case pocket watch with a spring-ring chain is pictured at the top of this page.
Types of watch movements.
Key-wind, key-set movements.
The very first pocket watches, since their creation in the 16th century, up until the third quarter of the 19th century, had key-wind and key-set movements. A watch-key was necessary to wind the watch and to set the time. This was usually done by opening the caseback and putting the key over the winding-arbor (which was set over the watch's winding-wheel, to wind the mainspring) or by putting the key onto the setting-arbor, which was connected with the minute-wheel and turned the hands. Some watches of this period had the setting-arbor at the front of the watch, so that removing the crystal and bezel was necessary to set the time. Watch keys are the origin of the class key, common paraphernalia for American high-school and university graduation.
Crown-wind, crown-set movements.
Created by Patek-Philippe in the 1850s, the crown-wind, crown-set movement did away with the watch-key which was a necessity for the operation of any pocket watch up to that point. The first crown-wind and crown-set pocket watches were sold during the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and the first owners of these new kinds of watches were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Crown-wind, crown-set movements are the most common type of watch-movement found in both vintage and modern pocket watches.
Crown-wind, lever-set movements.
Mandatory for all railroad watches, this kind of pocket watch was set by opening the crystal and pulling out the setting-lever, which was found at either the 10 or 2 o'clock positions. Once the lever was pulled out, the crown could be turned to set the time. The lever was pushed back in and the crystal and bezel were closed over the dial again. This was a secure way of setting the time and there wasn't any chance of an erroneous time because there was not crown that could be left out or forced into its 'up' setting-position to set the watch to an incorrect time.
Crown-wind, pin-set movements
Much like the lever-set movements, these pocket watches had a small pin or knob next to the watch-stem that had to be depressed before turning the crown to set the time and releasing the pin when the correct time had been set.
- For more information, see Mechanical watch
Pocket watches made by the better watchmakers, such as Ball, Patek-Philippe, Waltham, Hamilton, Elgin, Illinois, Tissot and Rolex, to name a few, are often judged by how many jewels they have. Jewels are small gemstones (usually rubies, but also diamonds and sapphires), which are inserted into areas of a watch-movement which receive high-levels of motion, in order to prevent wear of parts and to help the watch run more smoothly. A lack of jewels would mean that metal parts (such as cogwheels), would be rubbing directly against other metal fittings (such as arbors), which would cause significant wear-and-tear over time. The purpose of jewels, together with proper lubrication-oils is to minimise just this kind of damage, which a movement can do to itself. 7 jewels is generally considered the lowest decent level of jewelling that a movement can receive. These seven jewels would be found in the watch's escapement, the mechanism which measures out the seconds and produces the watch's characteristic ticking sound. Other levels of jewelling include 11, 15, 17, 21, 23 and 25 jewels. 17 and 21 jewels are generally considered the standard on all modern, well-made mechanical pocket watches. A high-quality pocket watch should have the movement's jewel-count engraved on the movement's top-plate.
Pocket watch movements are occasionally engraved with the word "Adjusted", or "Adjusted to n positions". This means that the watch has been tuned to keep time under various positions and conditions. There are eight possible adjustments:
- Dial up.
- Dial down.
- Crown up.
- Crown down.
- Crown left.
- Crown right.
- Temperature (From 34-100 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Isochronism (The ability of the watch to keep time, regardless of the mainspring's level of tension).
Adjusting a pocket watch is a long, tedious process which takes a lot of time, patience and above all, money. Adjusting a pocket watch's movement to all those eight positions is extremely expensive and most people will buy a watch with only two or three positions adjusted. Railroad chronometers had to be adjusted to five positions or more. As with jewelled movements, only the best movements were adjusted, due to the time and expense.
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A pocket watch is rarely seen, and is never worn without its accompanying watch-chain, due to safety reasons. The purpose of a watch-chain is to prevent the watch from being broken if accidentally dropped from the user's pocket or hand. While there are endless designs of chains which can be made in any number of metals, there are four main styles of watch-chain available today:
The first of these chains is the Double Albert, characterised by having a T-bar in the middle of two chains of equal length. Named for Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, the original purpose of the Double Albert was to hold a pocket watch and its accompanying watch-key (Crown-winding watches, which did not come about until the mid-19th century, would make the watch-key redundant, so other things were created to be clipped to a Double Albert chain, including, but not limited to - pocket-knives, compasses, matchboxes and fountain pens). A Double Albert chain is generally worn with one chain in each of a waistcoat's two pockets. In a four-pocket waistcoat, the same rule applies, but the chains should be placed in pockets of the same level, to maintain symmetry. Some Double Albert chains have a third, shorter length of chain below the T-bar and between the two longer chains. These smaller lengths were used to hold decorative watch-fobs.
The second style of chain is the Single or Half Albert. Like the Double Albert, it has a T-bar for attaching the chain to the wearer's clothing. All T-bar chains are meant to be worn with the T-bar threaded through a buttonhole, usually of a waistcoat. Unlike the Double Albert, however, this chain has only one length trailing from the T-bar. This style of chain came into being with the invention of crown-wind pocket watches which, as noted above, made the second chain of a Double Albert, used for holding a watch-key, redundant. Single Alberts may also have a short length of chain which, like on the Double, is used for holding a decorative fob.
The third main type of watch-chain is the spring-ring chain. Spring-ring chains are usually longer than Double and Single Alberts. The reason for this being that unlike the T-bar chain, which is fastened to a buttonhole, the spring-ring chain is fastened to the belt-loop of the wearer's trousers, and therefore need to be of a greater length. The watch, in this case, would sit in the trouser's watch-pocket, if it has one. The watch-pocket is the smaller, fifth pocket inside the front right pocket. While these days this pocket is used for storing anything from keys to cellphones to coins, storing a pocket watch was its original purpose.
The last style of watch-chain is the belt-hook chain. Like the spring-ring chain above, the belt-hook chain is used when one's pocket watch is to be stored in the watch-pocket of one's trousers. This is the most common style of chain seen with cheap quartz and mechanical pocket watches of modern manufacture. The belt-hook chain is cheap to produce and lends itself to modern clothing where waistcoat T-bar chains are less practical to a pocket watch user. The belt-hook chain is fastened to one's belt with the watch going in the fifth pocket.
A rule of thumb with watch-chains is that the metal of the chain should match the metal of the watch-case. So a gold chain goes with a gold watch, a silver chain with a silver watch, and so-on. A decent length for a Single Albert chain should be about ten to twelve inches. A decent length for a spring-ring or belt-hook chain should be between twelve and fifteen inches. A Double Albert's length is double that of a Single Albert's and would measure up at about twenty inches to two feet long.
Decline in popularity
Pocket watches are not common in modern times, having been superseded by wristwatches. Up until about the turn of the 20th century, though, the pocket watch was predominant and the wristwatch was considered feminine and unmanly. In men's fashions, pocket watches began to be superseded by wristwatches around the time of World War I, when officers in the field began to appreciate that a watch worn on the wrist was more easily accessed than one kept in a pocket. However, pocket watches continued to be widely used in railroading even as their popularity declined elsewhere.
For a few years in the late 1970s and 1980s three-piece suits for men returned to fashion, and this led to small resurgence in pocketwatches, as some men actually began using the vest pocket for its original purpose. Since then, a few watch companies make pocketwatches, and they have their firm adherents. However, in the U.S.A. for most men, most of the time, a pocket watch must be carried in a hip pocket, and the more recent advent of mobile phones and other gadgets that must be worn on the waist has made the prospect of carrying an additional item in that area less appealing, especially as mobile phones and other electronic gadgets that a user may place in a pocket or holster usually have timekeeping functionality as well.
In some countries a gift of a gold-cased pocket watch is traditionally awarded to an employee upon his or her retirement. In that capacity, a "gold watch" has become a cultural symbol alluding to retirement, obsolescence, and old age.
- Pocket watches generally are very popular in the Steampunk genre.
- In For Richer or Poorer, Tim Allen's character, Brad Sexton, carries a "turn of the century Swiss repeater" which he trades for a horse and some corn with Jay O. Sanders' character, Samuel Yoder, warning him not to open the back.
- In the book and TV Series of Bernard's Watch, where Bernard can press a button at the top of the watch and time magically pauses.
- A pocket watch, and a chain for it, play a crucial role in the classic O. Henry short story "The Gift of the Magi."
- Frequently, pocket watches in fiction are used to indicate time ticking away, or to disguise far more advanced machinery. Many of these function in a time travel context, sometimes as a time machine (rather than a machine that measures time):
- In the TV series Doctor Who, the Doctor has been seen with a pocket watch. In the episode "Silver Nemesis" his pocket watch (which contains electronic components) has an alarm indicating a planetary disaster; however, the Doctor travels in time using a TARDIS. In the latest series, the Doctor used a pocket watch to hide his Time Lord self when he turned himself into a human to escape a group of aliens known as the Family of Blood ("Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood"). In the Christmas Episode of 2008, the Doctor meets a man without memory. He suspects him to be his future self who has used a timepiece to do the same trick. It is not so, but the fob watch still plays a vital role in revealing his identity to himself. One of his enemies from the old series, the Master, also apparently used a similar watch, leading into his re-emergence to the show ("Utopia").
- In the American science fiction TV series Voyagers!, the time travel device known as an Omni looks like a pocket watch to disguise it.
- In the manga Fullmetal Alchemist, certified state alchemists are given a pocket watch with a military symbol on it. Real-life equivalents of this (modeled after the watch worn by the character Edward Elric with the inscription "Don't Forget, 3. Oct. 11" engraved on the inside of the cover) are available from various retailers (some of these have the date as "3 Oct. 10" instead, due to being modeled after the anime).
- A pocket watch with a musical tone is an essential plot device in the film Life.
- In Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice follows the White Rabbit after seeing it take a pocket watch out of its waistcoat pocket.
- In Robert Bloch's short story "That Hell-Bound Train", a pocketwatch is an important symbol and plot point.
- In most fiction involving hypnosis, a trance is induced by having the victim follow a pocket watch swinging back and forth in front of their eyes. Sometimes a wristwatch is substituted, which the "hypnotist" has to "swing" by swivelling the wrist; this is presumably done for ironic or humorous effect.
- In the Japanese tokusatsu program Kamen Rider Den-O, a pocket watch plays an important role in the story. It is engraved with the words "The past should give us hope."
- In Gankutsuou, the retro-futuristic anime adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, Albert de Morcef is given a pocket watch by the Count which is inscribed with the saying "Death is certain, its hour uncertain" in Latin.
- In the Clint Eastwood film For a Few Dollars More, the villain, "El Indio", played by Gian Maria Volonté, used the chimes in a pocketwatch he had stolen from one of his victims in duels. He would play the musical chimes in the watch and kill his opponent when the music stopped, until the very end of the film when one of his opponents, the brother of the victim he stole the watch from, recognized the music. The song is in the key of D minor, but the sixth degree of the musical scale is noticeably absent, rendering it ambiguous as to natural minor versus Dorian mode. The watch has a "hunter-style" case, with the wind-up at the 3 o'clock position, perhaps appropriate given that the victim's brother, who also had one, was a bounty hunter. (excerpts showing pocketwatch)
- In the early installments of the Harry Potter series, Professor Albus Dumbledore is often referred to when carrying around his mysterious twelve-handed pocket watch.
- In the manga Chrono Crusade, a pocket watch is an item the character Rosette Christopher wears to symbolize her contract with her partner, Chrono.
- In the Don Bluth animated film All Dogs Go to Heaven, the murdered protogonist Charlie enters Heaven and finds that every dog has a "life watch" which designates their state of being alive or dead; if the "life watch" should stop ticking, the associated life will end. Upon this discovery, Charlie steals his 'life watch', a pocket watch, by swindling the heavenly gatekeeper. Charlie then winds the pocket watch and returns to life, unable to die unless his watch stops ticking.
- In New Amsterdam the main character, John Armsterdam, is constantly seen checking the time on his pocket watch.
- In the TV series Earth: Final Conflict the character Agent Ronald Sandoval uses a pocket watch.
- A pocket watch that is able to stop time appears in The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything.
- In the modern revival of the TV series The Outer Limits in an episode called "Tribunal" a pocket watch with a hunter case conceals a time travel device.
- In James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, a pocket watch is one of the items on the table aside from money during the poker game. Incidentally, two tickets to board the Titanic have also been bet.
- In Sergio Leone's 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America, a pocket watch becomes an important item, symbolising time and the passage of time, one of the film's main themes.
- The most recent appearance on a television drama was on CSI: Miami in the sixth season ("Permanent Vacation"). A pocket watch was owned by a teenage murder victim.
- The soap series One Life to Live a pocket watch was used by the character Fina.
- In the game Castlevania Judgment the character Aeon has a pocket watch with 13 hours on its face. His main weapon is a giant open face pocket watch that can transform its hands into sword blades. It also has 13 hours on its face.
Watch Manufacturers and Manufactures.
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- ^ Horton, Paul (1977), "Topkapi’s Turkish Timepieces", Saudi Aramco World, July-August 1977: 10–13, http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/197704/topkapi.s.turkish.timepieces.htm, retrieved on 2008-07-12