Nov. 25, 2021

Pocket watches

The first pocket watches appeared in the second half of the 16th century. Their mechanisms were based on three gear trains, a fusee, and a crown wheel escapement. Before the end of the 17th century, a four-wheel steering mechanism was developed, improving watches' driving force. At that time, there was only one hand on the watch face. At the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, minute hands were introduced, allowing to read the time more precisely. 

British watch designs were very simple, sometimes decorated just with symbolic engravings. Yet, it was in Great Britain that the most technically advanced watches were created. Products from other European countries were characterized by very colorful and beautifully painted enamel cases. 

At that time, watches could only be used by representatives of the royal court and wealthy merchants. Intricately made pocket watches were an indicator of social status and luxury. From the second half of the 18th century onwards, as production methods developed, watches became more affordable. Men kept them in their pockets, and women wore them in the form of a pendant around their necks. It was then that a double case gained huge popularity. It was most often made of silver, sometimes gold. The construction of pocket watches virtually did not change until the beginning of the 19th century. At that time, more subtle models began to be produced, distinguished by decorative enameled watch faces. Commonly, they still employed the crown wheel escapement. Original watches in the form of, for example, violins, beetles, butterflies, flowers, pistols, and snuff boxes also became popular. These watches oftentimes were regarded as masterpieces of goldsmith art.

The mid-nineteenth century introduced the first watches without winding keys, using remontoires instead. Around 1870, this solution was already applied to practically all watches. The 19th century popularized watches of many different types. The most prevailing were timepieces with open cases, glass faces, and hinged lids. At that time, two types of escapements were mostly used - cylinder and anchor. 

At the end of the 19th century, standard pocket watches were enhanced with new functions, such as a repeater, which is a mechanism that chimes hours, quarters, or even minutes. They also had other added features, such as calendars, stopwatches, and designators of the lunar cycle. Pocket watches were widely used until World War I, later they were slowly replaced by wristwatches.