It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a fine antique pocket watch is in want of a fine antique chain. Readers of my blog will note that I was very fortunate to receive the former as a Christmas present last year; a happy event that has initiated a search for the latter. I own a perfectly good chain – an eBay bought modern knock off – which is certainly functional and not entirely unsatisfactory, but is simply not in the same league of beauty as the timepiece.
What I have discovered on my search for the perfect chain – which is, after all, the most consistently visible part of the pocket watch accessory – is not only that antique watch chains are highly valuable and desirable pieces of jewellery, but also that there is an incredible variety of styles for a great range of budgets. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising considering that, at one stage, a pocket watch was an essential accessory for gentlemen of all incomes.
Before it became the eccentric bauble for formal dress that it is today, before the wristwatch became the timepiece of choice, the world was full of chains and fobs, swinging from woollen waistcoats; there were solid gold and silver chains for men of state, shipping tycoons and oil barons; plated versions for ambitious clerks, junior barristers and bond salesmen. There were round links, square links, mixed links; large fobs, small fobs and funny fobs.
As with any incident of extraordinary variety, I have found selection difficult. Not being an astute collector, my eye is drawn to what I perceive to be the most attractive, not the most unusual or most valuable; I have passed over solid silver Victorian chains of unappealing bulk but been enraptured with mid-20th century plated knock offs. The greasiest and least appealing part of any transaction for precious metal for me is the weight/cost ratio; a heavy solid silver or gold chain will always command a premium, no matter how indelicate or basic the design.
Link design is one of the most important points of consideration. The vast majority of watch chains use graduated curb links which interlock with each other when laid flat. However, I consider the most appealing design to be one described, nebulously, as a ‘fancy’ chain; long rectangular links alternating with twisted knots. Although a good number of these chains are Art Deco, some are incorrectly labelled as being of early twentieth century design; this type of chain was actually very popular in the late 19th century.
Fortunately, many of these chains are plated and therefore considerably cheaper than the standard curb chains which, when a solid silver ‘Double Albert’, can often be nearing $1000. Adding a fob to the chain is an option, although for some the chain is enough of a decoration.