Pocket Watches and Fashion

The early pocket watch was more of a fashion statement
than it was a time keeping device.

personal timepieceEarly watches were more suited to wearing around the neck than trying to squeeze into one's pocket. It is believed that Henry VIII probably wore a watch on a chain around his neck. Then in 1524, German locksmith Peter Henlein created the first pocket watch and everything changed. It didn't take long for pocket watches to spread throughout Europe and England among the elite as fashion pieces, not time pieces.

In the Beginning
early pocket watchPocket watches were
just not that accurate yet, they didn't have minute hands till much later. Nor were they very dependable, often in need of repair. But they sure could be decorative - and we know how much European aristocracy of that era loved flashy and ornamental jewelry. Elaborate cases and dials where produced by a variety of craftsmen, such as watchmakers, case makers, enamelers, jewelers, and engravers. As you would expect, the French lead the way in fashion, as their watches became quite decorative and expensive.

fancy pocket watchThe trend toward excess embellishment remained until the mid 1800s when mass production methods were introduced to the watch making industry. As pocket watches became affordable by "commoners", their focus shifted to accuracy and reliability and away from the extravagant styles of their cases. The well to do, however, still fancied their highly decorated watch cases right up till the end of the Victorian era; but that would soon change.

The decline of the Pocket Watch
officers wrist watchThe force behind the demise was World War I. It seems that pocket watches and gold chains just didn't cut it in the mud soaked trenches of Europe. Something more practical was needed, and the "wrist" watch was the answer. The U.S. Army even went so far as to purchase and issue them to officers and senior enlisted men, because of the importance of coordinating troop movements on the battlefront. Returning soldiers soon found they preferred the wrist watch over the pocket watch in civilian life too. They were much more suited to the everyday work clothes of the growing blue collar work force.

pocket watch in vestBy the mid 1920s, in men's fashion the wrist watch was king. This in turn contributed to the demise of the vest. The vest's design function was for storing mens pocket watches. Fashion follows functionality, and since there was no longer a function for vests, they became obsolete and the two-piece suit became the norm. The three piece suit did become fashionable again, briefly in the late 1970s, and with it, pocket watches saw a small resurgence in sales as some men bought them to put in their vest pockets. But the trend didn't live.

Pocket Watches Today
For fashion purposes men's pocket watches are now dead. Few watch manufactures make them, and those that do, sell very few. Gold pocket watches are occasionally given to retiring employees for long service, but even these are seldom worn, being more for display than time keeping.

collectible antique pocket watchToday there is an emerging market for antique pocket watches, not as fashion pieces, but as collectibles. The prestige of owning one of these precision instruments of the past is being recognized by a growing number collectors everyday. Their craftsmanship, coupled with increasing scarcity has contributed to accelerating prices.

Perhaps it is the allure of the rails, but leading the way in collectible vintage pocket watches is the railroad watch. Brand names like Elgin, Hamilton, Waltham, Hampden, Illinois, and Ball are commanding prices in the thousands of dollars for some of the rarer models. They may not be a fancy fashion statement, but they have become very desirable none the less.

According to Experts, prices on Railroad Watches are expected to rise even more. Perhaps you should Invest in some yourself. You'll be glad you did!

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