“Is that a real pocket watch?” they ask, poking at the chain on my waistcoat. I am always amazed by the reaction – invariably silent surprise – when they discover that I am indeed wearing a real pocket watch. The question ‘why’ often follows the discovery and, though I am loathe to justify my attire to anyone, I am happy to inform the inquirer that I am rather keen on knowing the time.
Of course, one does not only wear a pocket watch for reasons of practicality. No one wears any decorative time piece purely for effective timekeeping. For one thing, a pocket watch is nowhere near as handy as a wristwatch. They are often heavy and, depending on the style of chain, can be rather intrusive. It has been nearly a century since the acknowledged death of the pocket watch. Through transitional models, the wristwatch defied convention to become the pre-eminent What was viewed as feminine and inappropriate for a gentleman before the 1920s became the norm soon after. Since the 17th century the pocket watch had been the only serious portable timekeeping accessory but the fashions of the twentieth century’s third decade were so forward looking, and partly due to the horror of the First World War, so rejecting of the past that it’s decline was, perhaps, unusually rapid.
Nowadays, no one wears any kind of timepiece without wanting to show it off and the modern day wearer of the pocket watch is no different. The practice is generally adopted by very old gentlemen or young gentlemen who fancy themselves very old; on the latter, it often looks like costume but on the former, despite the fact that even they are too young to have worn a pocket watch in its heyday, it fits perfectly. I imagine this has something to do with the vast array of twentieth century photographs of statesmen such as Winston Churchill, Arthur Balfour and David Lloyd George, greying Victorian relics who always wanted the jazz turned down, wearing elaborate pocket watches.
Unless you have oodles of cash to spend on such an item at Breguet, one of the best places to look for an attractive and finely made pocket watch is at auction. eBay can sometimes offer some wonderful bargains but watch out for the sellers from the Far East claiming to retail a classic British pocket watch – that is made in China. Silver and gold are the metals used most often on antique pocket watches and whether you prefer one or the other is entirely personal. I like silver myself as it is slightly fresher, more youthful and more versatile.
The key to wearing a pocket watch is nonchalance. Nonchalance and an appearance of habit. Fiddle around with your chain too much and the look will look forced and clownish. It is an ideal occasion to wear it with black tie as a black waistcoat, under a black jacket, looks utterly dead. The brightness of a pocket watch chain brings out the proportions of the waistcoat wonderfully. It is also nice to wear it in a day suit, but be careful not to ‘ham’ the look up too much – adding spats and a fedora are far too much. It will always work best with darker colours and, in order to avoid costume associations, wear with simple accessories.