The Stamp and Coin Place Blog: connecting the past and present of stamp and coin collecting, and looking to the future.

What Happened to Pocket Watches?

Pocket watches used to be the necessary accessories to any gentleman’s waistcoat pocket. They brought charm and practicality to any ensemble.

The first timepieces were worn in the 16th century in Europe, at a size somewhere between clocks and watches, worn around the neck. Early versions had no glass to protect the dial.

Sure, they got heavy, and only had hour hands, but someone had to keep the time.Pocketwatch03

Pocket watches appeared for men in the 17th century, with women still wearing watches as pendants. The watches were luxury items for a while, but became common by the end of the 18th century.

This came with the attempt to standardize time to make public services more precise and aid scientific experiments. In 1891 a train’s engineer’s watch ran four minutes behind and caused an infamous Ohio train wreck, pushing the change.

Later on, a family in Switzerland headed the watchmaking business with streamlining production in an efficient way, leading to a larger watch industry. This included the American Watch Company, which was able to make over 50,000 watches a year.PocketWatch02

After all this, wristwatches took over in the 20th century. Before then many men considered wristwatches too feminine, but the advent of World War I brought the practicality of wristwatches into view, where officers found them more convenient on the wrist than kept in a pocket and liable to fall out.

While pocket watches declined in popularity, they continued to be used at railroads, where as proved by the Ohio accident, precise timekeeping was necessary.

An antique, early 1900s pocket watch, available here.

An antique, early 1900s pocket watch, available here.

Today, the practicality of cell phones usually wins over other timepieces. Pocket watches are used simply as fashion statements instead, some of which don’t even tell time.

If you’re lucky, however, you can find a good, handmade vintage pocket watch that looks stylish and tells time.

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