The first wristwatch was produced for Queen Elisabeth I in 1571, but they did not become popular until the late nineteenth century, with a further miniaturisation of the pocket watch, and then only for women. This practice persisted until the early twentieth century, when men in Europe began wearing wristwatches as a fashion item. These early pocket timepieces were very definitely hefty and inaccurate, and they almost certainly only had an hour hand. Many artisans, notably blacksmiths, began to build pocket watch designs in the years that followed.

How the pocket watch became a necessity

The pocket watch became a necessity in the 19th century due to the increased the pace of the industrial revolution, and the increase in population. When the industrial revolution was at its peak, the introduction of steam ships meant that vast numbers of goods and people were moving across the globe every year. This meant that you needed to have a watch to tell the time when you are thousands of miles away from the last place you had left it. In addition to needing a watch, people also began to carry other items in their pockets, including a newspaper and a calling card. They had to have this information at hand to stay in touch, and so the pocket watch became essential.

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The history of the pocket watch

The first pocket watch was made by Louis-Joseph Husson, a watchmaker of Lille, France, who patented his design on 28th June, 1818. However, it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that pocket watches took on their look we know today, as mass production of wristwatches, and thus, the manufacture of the pocket watch, began. During this period, these pocket watches consisted of simple mechanical watches without the electric escapement or other complications of later watches. They were probably more accurately described as ‘pocket clocks’, and were usually very heavy. The current style of pocket watch is the ‘Jules Henri Other’ pocket watch from Lyon, France. This was the first ever pocket watch made in the western world.

Understanding a pocket watch

The idea of a pocket watch was to offer convenience and security for its owner, and this first came to be achieved by adding a ‘seals’ compartment underneath the main plate. The main plate was an indication of time, but it could not be seen by the user. Underneath, there was space for five or six coins (or similar objects) for settling any payments or debts. The coins were kept in a compartment, which could be removed and cleaned in a morning.  Many of the early watches also incorporated a finger spring mechanism, which would act upon pressure applied to the lower dial to wind the watch. The thumb of the hand could also be moved left and right so that it could be lifted and dropped to indicate the time.

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Choosing a pocket watch

Choosing the right pocket watch for your needs involves some careful consideration. This can help you make a smart investment; there are usually a wide variety of style, size and price. In a recent BBC article, it is suggested that, with an initial outlay of around £150, you can own a quality pocket watch, with a respectable guarantee of accuracy over the next 10 years. If you are lucky enough to choose a watch that has a good history and is in a good condition, it will be highly desirable. With some buying advice, your new watch should be with you by the time you get home again, after a day’s work.  You may be tempted to buy a new or second-hand watch. This will be a great investment, as you will not need to worry about minor and often irrelevant adjustments.

How to wear a pocket watch

There are two ways in which you can wear a pocket watch: to the left, above the watch chain, and in front of your watch face, below the watch chain.  In the front position, a pocket watch is held about midway between your wrist and your palm, and in this position it gives the most comfortable fit, which is particularly important if you wear a tie. When you are travelling, or on crowded trains, or on a date, the front position of the watch provides the best balance.  The waistcoat or tuxedo jacket is often a waist-defining piece, but it can have a negative effect on the fit of your watch.


As ever with collectable or designer watches, there is no easy answer to the question, ‘what is an acceptable weight to wear?’ It is important to remember that each individual has a different frame of reference when it comes to wrist watch size.  However, many people do believe that a wrist watch should be somewhere between 5 and 10mm thick, while others say they should be no thicker than 2mm at any one point. In the context of heavy watch sales, it is probably best to err on the side of caution, although it is probably worthwhile shopping around to find out the weight of the watches that will suit your needs.  Conversely, if you are not quite sure if you can handle a watch this size, it might be best to consult your GP or a qualified watchmaker.

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