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Guide to Pocket Watches: Pt I

Updated: Jan 13, 2019

Friends of mine will know that while I am not a super fan of wearing wristwatches (due to the limited availability of slim dress watches in the market), I have always been intrigued by the appeal of pocket watches. Perhaps, it is even the reason why I started embracing classic menswear from the first place.

What is so special about pocket watches you may ask? Well, in this first half of the two-part guide on pocket watches; I will be addressing the history and origins of pocket watches, my personal history with pocket watches regarding how I became fond of it, and finally why it would still a great idea to get a pocket watch for yourself.

To begin with, the history of pocket watches. Dated as early as 1524, German inventor Peter Henlein created a new type of watch that do not require falling weight as the source of their power. This fascinating invention gave birth to the first wave of portable-watch wearing where people would wear it as a pendant on a chain around the neck.

This early design of mainspring powered watches, however, are often egg-like and bulky; and it was not until the 1550s when the introduction of screws enabled the flatten shape like the ones we usually see.

Yet, 1675 was the most important year as it was the year when these watches are finally small enough to be worn in the pocket and not as a pendant. This new fashion trend was most famously fore-fronted by King Charles II of England who traveled across the entire Europe and North America wearing waistcoats with pocket watches. Thereafter, when glass protection was finally introduced, pocket watches finally became the luxurious items that received many attention from fashion designers and innovators.

Nonetheless, while pocket watch was getting more popular across the Western world, it suffers from the issue of a lack of accuracy. This is because all the watch movements that were made before the 1750s had no jewels and instead used friction. This caused the pocket watches to run fast, often losing an hour a day or even more. Yet, this all would be changed with the introduction of the lever escapement which enables watches to lose at most minute or two during one day.

With the dawn of the industrialization, pocket watches would become more and more popular due to the massive decrease in price. This is especially the case in the United States, as exemplified by the American Watch Company that could manufacture more than 50 thousand reliable watches by 1865. In fact, the rapid development of the railroad industry in the United States was, to some extent, due to the involvement of pocket watches.

It was not until the Great War when pocket watches started to become out of fashion because of both the development of 'trench watches' to assist soldiers to tell the time and the widespread of the highly miniaturized wrist watches which you could see today.

An old picture of me wearing a pocket watch with my waistcoat at my high school senior year prom.

With all that said about the history of pocket watches, let's now dive into how I became fond of pocket watches and why I still think it is appropriate to get one for yourself.

As far as I remember, I started my fascination of pocket watches since my time in high school. As shown in the picture above, I was pairing a pocket watch with a black tweed waistcoat at my senior year prom which truly allowed me to stand apart from my peers. Until now, the addition of the pocket watch makes this one of my favorite outfits.

You may be wondering how I could withstand all the chastisements from wearing 'an item from the past'? To that, my answer is simply because of the fact that pocket watches are more suitable for my needs than what most wristwatches out there in the market could offer.

(Credits to owner)

Firstly, one of the biggest problem I have with most wristwatches in the market is their case being too thick. Like many rather slim men, it is often challenging to find thin dress watches that match the proportion of my wrist. This is severed by the fact that most skinny-fit or even slim-fit shirts are not designed to have their sleeve opening wide enough to wear a wristwatch underneath.

Wearing a watch that is thicker than your shirt opening would actually result in a situation where one side of your shirt would slide into the jacket thus making your them look imbalanced, as demonstrated above.

Unlike wearing wristwatches, you don't need to worry about your pocket watch being too thick or too wide. This is because regardless of the thickness or the width of the case, you would still wear it the same way.

This leads us to the second point to which pocket watches are more timeless than wristwatches. One of the issue I have with wristwatch is that although it is more capable in reflecting the individuality of the wearer (being the choice for the watch-strap, the diversity of the watch-face design etc.); it usually does not perform a very good job in being versatile, and even less so in being able to be passed on through generations.

Finally, regarding the nature of pocket watch being an accessory. In a world where people compete by wearing the most eye-catching and the most unique accessory, it is often a great idea to be distinguishable from everyone else. For this purpose, since it is rather uncommon to wear pocket watches these days, I would recommend you to own a pocket watch shall you are considering to find an accessory that could make you stand apart.

With all that said, however, it all comes to the personal-preference of each person. In fact, wearing a pocket watch would perhaps be more suitable for me than you due to the differences of our clothing style etc. Notwithstanding, it is crucial for you to look for a specific item that could distinctively represents your character as this is the key of mastering mensstyle.

Check back later for part two of the guide, where I will be addressing how to wear a pocket watch! Also let me know what you think about this article! Is it too technical? Comment down below to share your thoughts!



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