The Pocket Watch

Ever since its development in 16th century to the World War I in 20th century, pocket watches represented an integral part of male fashion.

The history of pocket watches started in early late 1400s when German inventor Peter Henlein, thanks to the new innovation of the mainspring, was finally able to create watches that did not require falling weights as the source of their power. This invention gave birth to the first kind of small portable watches, which were in the beginning worn as a pendant on a chain around the neck. The first recorded wearable watch maker was Julien Coudray, who worked at the court of Louis XII of France.

Men's watch in copper and crystal. 1650 - 1700. Courtesy of Centraal Museum.

In 1675 a new fashion emerged along with pocket watches that were small enough to be worn in pockets. The first to wear the watch this way was Charles II of England who popularized this fashion across entire Europe and North America. Then glass protection was introduced and pocket watches became luxury items, receiving many attention from fashion designers and innovators.

Enamelled gold watch signed 'Adamson et Millenet A Paris', on a chatelaine with watch key and seal. Paris mark for 1775-76. Enamelled gold. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum. CC BY SA

The only downside of the watches made before 1750s was their lack of accuracy, since they often lost several hours during one day. The introduction of lever escapement and minute handle changed that, enabling watches to lose just a minute or two during one day.
After 1820, levers became standard in manufacturing all clocks mechanics and in 1857 was created the first pocket watch with standardized parts. Powered with the industrial revolution and overflowing the public of Europe and Americas, this innovation enabled everyone to buy cheap, durable and accurate watches.

Gold watch with blue enamel and diamonds by Bourvoisier Freres. Paris, Late 19th c. Courtesy of Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation

Its diffusion grew between 1880 and 1900, with the first attempts of standardizing time due to ever increasing need of precise time measurements in many scientific experiments and public transportation systems. Born as a masculine accessory, it became a common use object, since punctuality gets marked as a morally elevated thing, and, in the first years of 1900 women used to wear the watch “Cylindre Remontoir”. However, by the time of World War I, pocket watches went out of fashion after highly miniaturized wrist watches became famous.

Discover our selection of pocket watches on theme section on Europeana Fashion!

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