Pocket Shot


July 1998

From the Vault

Pocket Shot

Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman, ladies' pocket watches were bejeweled and ornately engraved

by Elise Misiorowski

Jeweled pocket watches have always been prized by knowledgeable collectors. When they were invented in the 16th century, "portable clocks" were regarded as mechanical novelties devised for the exclusive amusement of Renaissance royalty. Through the centuries, however, as technology improved and more watchmakers produced them, pocket watches became a sought-after luxury item by all who could afford them. France reigned supreme in the development of watches until 1730, when Louis XIV's revocation of the Edict of Nantes caused the emigration of Protestant Huguenots to England, Holland and the Colonies. As the Huguenots were responsible for an estimated 50% of the French watch industry, their exodus caused the decline of horology in France, and Switzerland took the lead in watch production, a position it still holds.

Technical developments allowed watches to become smaller and more precise during the 18th and 19th centuries and, as the industry grew and the prosperity of the general population increased, the watch became available to a greater segment of society. Shifts in fashion and taste dictated how watches were ornamented and worn.

By the middle of the 19th century, watch cases became exquisite confections combining delicate enamels with rich engraving, further embellished with gems, as seen on the watch pictured here.

There were many ways a woman could wear her watch. These were dictated by the time of day and type of clothing she wore. Although we think of them as "pocket watches," they weren't always kept hidden. Frequently, they were worn on the lapel suspended from a "corsage" or "chatelaine" brooch. Sometimes these brooches were simple bar pins, but more often they were in bow, fleur-de-lisor more elaborate motifs fabricated to match the watch.

The term "chatelaine" more specifically refers to a style of wearing watches that persisted sporadically from the 17th through the 19th centuries. The chatelaine – worn fastened to the waist by a flat hook – consisted of a central motif suspending anywhere from three to nine chains. The chains held a watch and other useful items such as keys, a seal, sewing accessories, a penknife, a tiny notebook or a small purse. Whether the chatelaine was purely decorative or utilitarian depended on the decade and a woman's place in society.

Women also wore watches on delicate versions of men's fob chains. The top of the chain might be anchored to a buttonhole while the bottom was attached to the watch, safely tucked in a small pocket. In between decorative fobs would dangle from the chain. Long chains, also called watch guards, became an especially fashionable way to wear a watch toward the end of the 19th century. Watch guards came equipped with a swivel-hook for attaching the watch, which was then worn either hanging free or tucked into a wide belt or pocket at the waist.

During the 1920s, in the aftermath of the First World War, wrist watches became the new accessory and pocket watches faded from favor. Watch companies stopped making them as a regular part of their inventory and the pocket watch disappeared from view for several decades. Recently, women's pocket watches have been regaining the respect they deserve and, having come full circle in time, are once again considered beautiful novelties devised for the discriminating few.

Front and back view of a lady's monogrammed pocket watch in delicately engraved dark blue enameled gold generously sugared with tiny rose cut diamonds. Signed inside: Dumoret, Fseur de S.M.L'Empereur, 5 rue de la Paix, Paris, it was probably made during Napoleon III's reign, circa 1860. Courtesy of Schiffman Co., Philadelphia, PA. 

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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