When Were Pocket Watches Invented?

when were pocket watches invented

Looking at smartwatches and hybrid smartwatches today, it is hard to believe that many years ago, there used be something called pocket watches which people adored so much. Well, pocket watches happen to be the beginning of the development of the watches we have in our world today. This article intends to take you down memory lane as we answer the question “when were pocket watches invented?” as well as other questions you might have about the pocket watch.

Before we go, if you want information on when watches, in general, were invented, click here to read When Were Watches Invented?

When Were Pocket Watches Invented? — A Brief History

Pocket watches came to be in the 16th Century when clocks were designed with springs instead of weights. It was the same time as the invention of the spring-driven clock and they were the first set of timepieces anyone could boast of having. 

When pocket watches came into fashion, they were quite boxy and big. So, many people had to wear them like necklaces. Later on, about a hundred years later, special pockets were incorporated into jackets to make room for the timepiece. 

Who Invented The Pocket Watch? / Evolution Of The Pocket Watch

Peter Henlein in 1510 in Nuremberg, Germany, invented the first pocket watch when he was finally able to create watches that did not need weights as their source of power. Peter’s invention birthed the first breakthrough of small portable watches that were initially worn as pendants around the neck. 

Later on, in 1524, Peter regularly produced pocket watches and his creative designs spread around Europe in the remaining parts of the 16th Century. The early models of these watches were initially round and bulky but with the introduction of screws in the 1550s, it was able to gain a flat shape which is the art behind the making of wristwatches today. The early models also lacked glass, they used brass lids as their surface protectors instead. 

In 1675, things began to change when pocket clocks were small enough to be worn in a pocket. Charles II of England was the brain behind the innovation and the new wave spread across England and North America. 

The innovation came with the introduction of glass protection which made pocket watches luxurious items. The shape of the pocket watch also evolved and became flattened to fit into a vest.  All its sharp edges were also removed. 

The watches were still operated by turning the key but self-winding movements came much later. The only shortcoming of the watches at the time before further improvement was the inaccuracy at telling time seeing as they had only the hour hand. Later on, the minute hand was introduced and then, watch owners only lost track of a minute or two. 

Post 1820, levers became the major tool for producing every clock mechanics and up until this day, that has not changed. 

In 1857, the first pocket watch with standardized parts was invented. It was powered by the industrial revolution and it enabled a lot of people to buy affordable and accurate watches. 

In the 19th century, pocket watches was at the peak of its popularity and in the 20th Century, watchmakers who created precise pocket watches were issued certificates. 

Into the 20th century, the benefits of a wristwatch over a pocket watch started becoming obvious especially during World War 1 when soldiers needed to access time easily and quickly. It was not convenient trying to check the time by bringing out a watch from your pocket.

The Tale Of The Pocket Watch And The Railroad

In the last half of the 19th century, railroads brought about the widespread use of pocket watches, it was relied on for accurate timekeeping. However, the inadequacy of the pocket watch struck in April 1891 on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway in Kipton, Ohio. There, a train wreck occurred because an engineer’s watch stopped for 4 minutes. 

This, therefore, led to the adoption of stringent measures for railroad pocket watches. The watches then had to meet up with the General Railroad Timepiece Standards.

Significance Of Pocket Watches 

Then, only the rich and the happening people in the society could afford to own a pocket watch. It was a symbol of a wealthy status and gentlemanliness because it was mostly worn by men. But, the social divides did not hinder poor people from owning a pocket watch. What differed was the metal a particular watch was made from. They ranged from brass, to copper and even jewelry which were used later on.  They were so highly treasured that they were passed down to generations.

Fashion And Pocket Watches

Fashion had a role to play in dictating how the watches became popular. For instance, in the 1930s and 1940s, the Zoot suits were popular. They were oversized suits with wide pants that gathered at the ankles and a long jacket accompanied with big shoulder pads. The Zoot was mostly worn for formal functions and one of its usual accessories was a long watch chain on the pants. This contributed to the demand for pocket watches. 

Also, in the 1970s and 1980s, the three-piece suit was in vogue and it led to the birth of pocket watches, pocket watches then were mostly worn in the hip pocket. So, then, it was more like your dressing wasn’t complete in a sense without a pocket watch in your hip pocket. 

Types Of Pocket Watches 

There were basically two major types of pocket watches that were reigning in those days. They are:

Open-Face Watches

They are also known as Lepine. Their cases lack a metal cover to protect the crystal and they usually have their pendant located at 12 o’clock and their sub-second dial is located at 6 o’clock. 

Hunter-Case Watches

These watches have their cases made of spring-hinged circular metal cover. It usually closes over the watch-dial and crystal. It protects the watch from dust, scratches and other forms of damage. Most of these watches usually have the hinges for their lids at 9 o’clock and the sub-seconds dial is usually at 6 o’clock position. 

Demi-Hunter Watches 

There is also an intermediate type that is referred to as demi-hunter. Its case style has its outer lead as a glass panel or hole in its center. The hours are mostly marked in blue enamel on the outer lid. So, it’s easy to tell the time without having to open the lid. 

Shortcomings Of Pocket Watches

Pocket watches were impractical when you were moving. This means if you had to drive a car, ride a horse or do something active, looking into your pocket to check the time might result in a disaster. This could not work out so well because time isn’t information people want to spend forever getting especially when in the middle of something else that requires their absolute concentration.

The Extinction of Pocket Watches

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, pocket watches were regarded as the male watch while wristwatches were seen as feminine and unmanly. However, with the advent of World War I, wristwatches began to take the space of pocket watches. This was when soldiers in the field began to observe that a watch strapped to the wrist is more easily accessible than one you have to bring out of your pocket.  

Afterward, came the advent of the Trench Watch also known as Wristlet. The Wristlet was designed to combine the features of both a pocket watch and a wristwatch. But still, pocket watches never ceased to reign. 

In 1943, the use of pocket watches in a formal setting summarily came to an end. With the more recent technological advancement that has ushered in the likes of smartphones and several other gadgets, the craving for pocket watches began to die down. 

In light of the 21st Century, pocket watches are somewhat artifacts that have regained reputation and popularity due to subcultural movements that have deemed it fit to embrace arts and fashion in the Victorian Era. 

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