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The Mechanical Pocket Watch

Updated on March 16, 2011

The Magical Mechanical Pocket Watch

It’s obvious that a mechanical pocket watch is a device to keep time. But, to collectors they are much, much more. They are capsules of history, captured in hand-sized masterworks of art and technology. They are precision, obsession and function exemplified. They are the most under appreciated devices humankind has devised and as new technology brings us into the future, this fact only becomes truer.

The First Pocket Watch

The first pocket-like watch wasn’t worn at the end of a pocket watch chain and slide into the pocket of a vest coat or a trousers. It was worn around the neck. It was invented in the 16th century, but due to its large, bulky features and clumsy style, it never caught on. The idea however, captured the imagination of people at the time and the race was quickly on to see who could create a well sized, fully functioning timepiece for the masses.

Make Way for the Middle Class

It wouldn’t be until late in the 18th century that watches would start to make the rounds among the middle class. Prior to this time, the size and function of mechanical pocket watches had become a common accoutrement to the upper class. Gold, silver adorned the wealthy and made for a great conversation piece among those who could afford them. The pocket watch had achieved such a distinction in design and fashion that it had become a sort of functional status symbol.

Types of Watches and Movements

There are two typical types of pocket watches; the open-faced pocket watch and the hunter- case watch. An open-faced watch is always visible and ready to show you the time. A hunter-case watch has a metallic, hinged lid that encases the watch to protect the viewing crystal from scratches and abrasions while traveling in your pocket.

Regardless of the kind of watch you have, they will have one of two kinds of movements. Older watches use a key to wind the spring and set the clock in motion. New models have a stem that is attached to the watch –typically at the 12 or 3 position – to wind the clock movement. Although, the stem movements are more traditional and popular – especially in this modern age – they all wind the clock in a different way and are either stem-set, lever-set or pin-set. The difference is only distinguishable on the inside.

Inside a Watch

Pocket Watch Chain

My favorite part of the mechanical pocket watch is the pocket watch chain. Finding the perfect pocket watch is difficult with so many types and designs floating about. But, what makes the selection even harder is picking out the chain that will act as your lifeline. There are just as many pocket watch chains available as there are watches. The styles and types can be staggering. Once suggestion I have is to look at vintage watch chains first. They are not as expensive as you might first think and have tons more character than modern pocket watch chains.

What's Your Style?

I hope this short Hub provided a little history, a little information and a lot of fun as you learn about mechanical pocket watches. They are really a unique item, especially in this day and age and can be a real conversation starter at parties and get together. The history these items share with nearly every part of the world is a testament to their importance and character.  


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