Is That A Real Pocket Watch

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“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.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Kurt N says:

    “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.”

    Huh? I don’t want to show off my timepiece. I wear a modern, inexpensive pocket watch because I find it less obtrusive than a wristwatch. I reject the idea that a wristwatch is handier.

  2. John says:

    How can you reject the notion that it is “handier”, when it is worn on the hand…. Isn’t that kind of the definition.

  3. I have a few watch as most of us have.At Christmas I always use the same pocket watch as may grandfather and may father used.I am a grandfather so will soon let some other take care of the watch after me.
    Still there are people in UK so make the finest pocket watch you can find.
    So I am proud of may English pocket
    watch,the nice chain, stamped with hallmarks on every small pices.
    Good to here some like still to where a pocket watch.

  4. Ovidiu says:

    Not to sound too harsh but unless you REALLY know what you’re doing, you’re gonna come across as a try hard. Be prepared to have ironies thrown at you :)

  5. Patrick says:

    Not sure if it really matters if you “know what you’re doing.” There’s not much to know how to do. fasten one end, put watch in pocket…

    Some people will ridicule regardless. Best bet is to avoid is to assure them it’s an heirloom that was bestowed upon you and which you wear for sentimental reasons, rather than a newly-purchased, and calculated example of dandyism.

    And then also remind them how much more stupid they looked when they sported their skater wallet-chain in the 90′s.

  6. James says:

    Who cares if you’re “ridiculed” for using a pocket watch. Any trend can be ridiculed for whatever reason. Like Patrick said before me there’s always something to be said about former trends. When you think of those a pocket watch doesn’t sound too bad. I personally enjoy pocket watches because I’m a professional musician and a wristwatch feels awkward.

  7. Fashion "style" of Leadership says:

    How about I’m happy to inform them I enjoy being able to read the damn time.
    -
    I find wristwatches too small, and some people have poor eyesight, which require larger diameter dials such as the 52mm one on mine. Silver case with a gold braided fob. I was keen to remove the gold plating but found it might ruin it, anyway, it contrasts better I feel against the navy and tapue waistcoat I have, than silver would.
    -
    It’s a ROYAL LONDON, double hunter. So what if it’s new, it keeps time flawlessly, I enjoy winding it, and most antique ones are even smaller than wristwatches and it only cost $188. A fraction what they want for vintage on ebay.
    -
    Now if only they can bring the cost of minute repeaters down.

  8. Luca L says:

    I am a musician too, and a wrist watch is often a nuisance to playing. I mostly wear a pocket watch out of the practical reason to keep my wrist free of unnecessary weight.