Sunday, September 12, 2021

Pocket Watches

Did you know that before World War I wristwatches were worn exclusively by women? They were considered feminine jewelry. Manufacturers didn't make wristwatches for men.

So how did men keep time? With pocket watches. For several hundred years (17th-20th Centuries) men carried pocket watches. Today men wear wristwatches: when and why did that change?

It was World War I. In that conflict the military realized soldiers could do their jobs better if they could keep track of time without digging into pockets. A glance at a wrist told them the time while keeping their hands free to carry and use weapons. Not insignificantly WWI was the first modern conflict to use precise timing in military operations so this change in watches offered important strategic advantage. After the War, soldiers continued wearing wristwatches and sellers saw a lucrative new market.

When I was a teenager I carried a pocket watch in homage to horological history. I'm currently acquiring a new antique pocket watch and have found a rare, unusual example. It'll be a subject for future conversation.

20 comments:

  1. As a scholar of the First World War I didn't know this fact! Obviously I am adding it to my list of random factoids about the conflict.

    Though I would love to know if you know of any articles on the subject so that I can chase down which nation first switched to wristwatches (my limited knowledge suggests that they were widespread enough in 1914 that they were used to time the BEF's shots at Mons by both British and German observers) wholesale and whether or not the gender divide was more pronounced in the USA than Europe.

    Sorry, I digress, this is genuinely fascinating and I would love to know more!

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    1. I'll check on it and get back to you. I learned this fact from a terrific new book, "About Time" by David Rooney. I reviewed it here a few posts back.

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  2. The first birthday gift I ever bought Logan was a pocket watch. He's worn it many times.

    I loved the history here, Ally, and can't wait to hear about the new-to-you watch you found!

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    1. I'm not surprised that my coolest friend -- you -- gave the coolest gift. That's just your style. I think you'll love my new watch: it's really unusual and unisex.

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  3. My mom always wore a watch. She had several nice dainty ones over the years, always waterproof though. She ruined a few that weren't!

    Me, however. My life runs on my phone. It's a phone, calendar, timer, clock, computer, book and more. I do have a pretty good internal clock, but I also have a series of alarms to keep me straight. Sadly a pocket watch or wrist watch can't do that.

    Well.. Those fitbit watches can, I think. My dad, the techie, has something like it.

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    1. I'm eager to start the book you shared! It looks really good. The one "analog" thing my phone hasn't replaced is a love of a paper book.

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    2. Interesting! I remember, from my childhood, my mom always had a watch and my dad never did.

      And now nobody does cause we just pull out our phones! Modern day pocketwatch, I suppose.

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  4. I love pocket watches, and my husband has a little collection of them, some of them family heirlooms. xxx

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    1. Wow! Lucky you. Why don't you post pictures of them on your blog?

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  5. I love to collect pocket watches. The aesthetic vibes from these watches are very good. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Love: Mariann Yip
    https://www.mariannyc.com/the-preserve-sporting-club-and-residences/

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  6. I did not realize this about wrist and pocket watches- but the history totally makes sense. :) I think the pocket watch should make a comeback!

    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

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  7. I didn't know this history! My father always carried a pocketwatch with him and I found it to be fascinating as a child. They really are such beautiful time pieces <3

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  8. I have honestly never considered why the pocket watch fell out of popular use in favour of the wrist watch- thank you for rectifying that. I love a pocket watch. I first starting loving them, yes, you've guessed it, because of Doctor Who.
    When I watched the 1996 Paul McGann Doctor Who, the Movie, the Doctor had a pocket watch which featured on all the promo- actually a clock was critical to the plot of the whole thing- there was a Beryllium Atomic Clock whose central part was needed to make the TARDIS work again- clock images featured strongly in a lot of scenes- the Doctor had redecorated the TARDIS and there was an entire shelf full of varying clocks- all ticking away merrily. I declared that I'd love a shelf full of clocks. My Godmother's daughter bought me a Pocket watch for my 16th birthday as she knew how much I wanted one after I'd been admiring the one she'd taken to wearing for the past year before that. I was so happy! I did find it hard to attach to my girlish trousers that actually had pockets as I often lacked something to attach it to.
    Later on, my Mum bought me a really cute alarm clock that was like a mini pocket watch. I still have it and wish I had a place to hang it. I should also start to wear my pocket watch again. Sorry about all the nostalgia in the comments from me here, though I suppose that is the sign of a good post- that it prompts others to their own reminiscences! Thank you for a trip down memory lane!x

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    1. I love your stories! Thanks for sharing, pal.

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  9. I didn't know that, so interesting! My husband has a beautiful vintage pocket watch he carries on the rare occasion we get dressed up. (Otherwise he just uses his phone to keep track of time, LOL.)

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