A Victorian or Edwardian gentleman was never without his pocket watch. It would normally nestle in his waistcoat pocket, attached to the waistcoat by way of a chain. This is the classic image that pocket watches inspire, although in reality pocket watches were common among the working classes, too. These days pocket watches are more of a novelty, as the ubiquitous wristwatch largely supplanted them during the second half of the 20th Century. Nevertheless, fashions often move in cycles, and more people today are finding themselves fascinated by the timeless charm of these timepieces.
Because of their former association with upper-class privilege, pocket watches are imbued with a certain mystique, which can discourage the uninitiated from wearing one. This is unfortunate, as pocket watches are simple to wear, and can be both practical as timepieces and very stylish as accessories. Before deciding whether to invest in a pocket watch, it is worth taking a little time to not only understand how they should be worn, but also to research the different types of pocket watches available. Having then taken the decision to go ahead and buy a pocket watch, the question arises as to the best places to buy them. Although pocket watches can be found in the high street, a much better selection is available online. eBay offers a diverse selection of pocket watches for both men and women, and better prices than one would find on the high street.
The Essentials of Wearing a Pocket Watch
A pocket watch was historically worn by a man in the fob pocket of a waistcoat, attached to a short chain to keep it secure. This chain was often referred to as a watch fob, hence the term 'fob pocket'. The chain in turn was passed through a dedicated button hole, which would ordinarily be added by one's tailor about halfway down the front of the waistcoat. It would then be secured with either a small metal bar or a small metallic ornament. Somewhat confusingly, if an ornament was worn, that was sometimes referred to as a 'fob' too. Women did not wear pocket watches, instead carrying a smaller timepiece on a pendant chain around the neck.
The Traditional Way
As with any fashion, there were certain rituals and unwritten conventions which applied when wearing a pocket watch. Firstly, the chain had to be of a size, thickness, weight and finish that were appropriate to the watch. After being inserted through the special watch fob buttonhole, one end of the chain was then secured with a clip to the watch, and the other secured behind the buttonhole by the fob or bar. The watch was then placed in one of the bottom waistcoat pockets, leaving the chain to hang in a very satisfying arc between pocket and midline.
Albert and Double Albert
A single chain was known as an 'Albert'. Some wearers wore a 'Double Albert', which was simply two lengths of chain meeting at the midline, where they joined. As described above, they were then inserted into the buttonhole and secured by a single fob, or bar.
Instead of hanging in a single arc, a Double Albert would hang in two arcs, one on either side of the midline. In the same way that the first chain was attached to a pocket watch, the second chain would be attached to some other useful but small accessory. This might be a small penknife for cleaning and tamping one's pipe, or a cigar cutter, or just an ornament.
Modern Uses for a Pocket Watch
For anyone dressing formally, it makes sense to know how to wear a pocket watch in the traditional way as outlined above, as executed properly it can look very stylish indeed.
However, the historical ideal should not put modern wearers off pocket watches. In reality, wearing a pocket watch today is very simple. There are no hard and fast rules about who can wear them, what clothing they should be worn with, how to wear them, or what to attach them to. Pocket watches are simply timepieces, and in just the same way as people consult their mobile phone for the time, so they can also consult a pocket watch. They are worn today by men and women alike.
Convenience and Security
All that really matters is for one to know how to wear a pocket watch in such away that it easy to access, and is protected from damage. This primarily means attaching it to a chain or strap of some sort, to prevent it from being dropped, and then stowing it in a safe place. Few people today wear waistcoats, so that safe place may be an inner pocket in a jacket or coat, or even a trouser pocket, or shirt or blouse pocket. Ideally, this safe place is somewhere that allows for easy access, but where the wearer won't lose the pocket watch when he bends down or runs.
In the same way that a watch fob used to secure the chain behind a waistcoat buttonhole, these days a clip or clasp can be used to secure it to a belt loop, or a waistband, or any other convenient spot. One tip worth remembering though, is that it might look odd secured through a jacket lapel buttonhole. A good way to help protect a pocket watch, especially one without a cover, is to keep it in a leather pouch. This can slip easily into the pocket.
Types of Pocket Watch
Traditional pocket watches came in three principal styles: open faced, half-hunter, and hunter. The open-faced watch had no cover. A half-hunter had a clamshell case with a hole in the cover. This enabled the time to be read when the cover was closed. The hunter was like a half-hunter but without the hole in the cover. The clamshell case in both instances was made of metal, normally smooth, round and possibly engraved or bearing some motif. In the case of the half-hunter, the cover was often partly glazed, and with both the hunter and half-hunter, the cover snapped shut to protect the watch face.
Pocket watches were often ornate, frequently made of gold or silver, and were prized as family heirlooms. Many have survived to become antiques and are still worn today. At the same time, however, pocket watches used for engineering and railway applications were workmanlike, and more likely to be steel or some other industrial metal. Few of these have survived.
Pocket Watches Today
Today's pocket watches are as likely to be made from stainless steel as gold or silver, although there are certainly noble metal watches that are still being crafted. Some modern pocket watches imitate the traditional Victorian and Edwardian styles. Others are unashamedly modern, with quartz movements, clean lines and clear, crisp, numbers that are simple to read.
Something a Little Special
The principles of convenience and stylishness, which applied to old fashioned pocket watches, remain the same today as they have always been. And for a generation used to taking their time from a mobile phone, the idea of carrying a pocket watch is both logical and, at the same moment, just a little bit special.
Where to Buy a Pocket Watch
Pocket watches can often be found in the high street, although the majority of watches are conventional wrist watches. Modern pocket watches are usually represented in high street stores by just one or two token models, which does not give the buyer much scope for choice. For those buyers who have their heart set on an antique pocket watch, these can sometimes be tracked down by a trawl through local antique shops. However, it can take a lot of looking to find a good specimen, and not all the ones available are in good working order.
A quicker way to find an attractive pocket watch is to buy online, where Internet markets such as eBay offer far more choice than high street shops.
How to Find a Pocket Watch on eBay
If you are looking for a pocket watch, it is easy to search for one on eBay. Simply type 'pocket watch' into the search bar on the eBay homepage, and you are offered thousands of items to choose from, including new and antique pieces, and in many different styles and materials. To narrow these down to a manageable number, you can filter the results by specifying those characteristics which appeal to you. For example, you can specify the metal you would like your watch to be made from, whether the watch is for a man or a woman, or whether you are looking for an antique.
If you are thinking of making a substantial purchase and would like to see the watch first, you can specify that the local search engine only show you listings in a particular area. Alternatively, if you find a watch you like but it is too far to travel, you can contact the seller through their profile page, and ask them to send you further photographs. In this way you can examine the front and back, and see if the watch has a cover, and what the pocket watch looks like open and closed. The breadth of range and ease of searching make eBay the ideal place for finding and buying a pocket watch.
A pocket watch is a traditional accessory which have acquired a certain mystique. They used to be worn by men, primarily with a waistcoat, and in a very particular fashion. Although this can add to their allure, it should not be allowed to stand in the way of modern wearers using a pocket watch in the way which suits the wearer best. As long as the watch is protected from loss or damage, it is fine today to carry a pocket watch in any convenient place, such as a trouser or shirt pocket. Women today can and do wear pocket watches, but the pocket watch is still seen as a men's accessory.
Antique pocket watches are very popular, especially those which are ornate or have survived as heirlooms. Pocket watches are still made, both in the traditional and modern styles. A decent selection of pocket watches is generally hard to find in the high street, and this is why buyers and collectors often turn to online markets such as eBay. The range of pocket watches and simplicity of eBay's search tools make's eBay a good venue to find and buy a pocket watch.