BRIEF HISTORY OF THE POCKET WATCHMuch information can be found on the internet about the development of the pocket watch. Here is a brief summary.
The first reference to a portable clock was made in 1462 by an Italian clockmaker, Bartholomew Manfredi. He attempted to open a market for his "pocket clock" among the nobility. At that time clothing did not have pockets as we know them today. Rather, in the 15th century, "pockets" were small bags or pouches that hung from a person's belt and were used to carry valuables. Manfredi's idea did not catch on until the next century.
Between 1500-1510, Peter Henlein, A German locksmith from Nuremberg, invented a spring-powered mechanism which replaced the heavy drive weights of clocks. Smaller and truly portable clocks became feasible. Those "pocket clocks" were expensive and bulky compared to those of today. There were box-like in appearance, typically four or five inches wide and abut three inches thick and would take up much of a person's pocket or pouch space! By that time the use of belt pouches was also beginning to change. Pickpockets or "cut-purses" could easily snatch a pouch worn outside one's clothing. Cautious people began to hide their pocket inside their clothing. Wearing a bulky clock inside your clothing would not only be uncomfortable, but somewhat inconvenient when wanting to check the time! The problem was solved by wearing their clock suspended on a cord or chain around their neck.
By 1653 small pockets called "fobs" were being sewn in the waistband of breeches and used for carrying a watch, money, or other valuables. The fob means "to cheat, misrepresent". In a sense, use of the fob pocket was clearly meant to cheat any would-be thief of easily removing a person's valuables. Another change occurred at the end of the 17th century when on October 7, 1666, King Charles II of England issued a Royal Proclamation concerning what clothing was expected at court. No longer were men to wear the doublet, hose, and cloak of the past, but instead he decreed that men were to wear a coat, a vest (from the word "vestment" or garment which was worn under the coat and reached below the waist), and breeches (trousers gathered at the knee). This was the origin of the three-piece suit. He made the proclamation in part as a political gesture to undermine French fashion influence in England. The idea was to simplify men's clothing, make the nobles more thrifty, and take a stand against the flamboyant and effeminate styles set at the Versailles Court of Louis XIV. As part of his proclamation, King Charles personally resolved to start wearing a vest with pockets where he could place his watch rather than wearing it around his neck.
At the end of the 18th Century, improvements in watch-making resulted in watches that were much thinner and more rounded. Smaller fob pockets were being sewn into vests for the express purpose of carrying a watch which remained attached to a chain.
It was during the 19th Century that pocket watches and watch accessories reached its height. After 1810 waistcoats became shorter, tighter, and less prominent than the coat (then called a frock-coat) which lay over them. In some cases, the vest even served as a sort of foundation garment much like a lady's corset to cinch in a gentleman's waist. During Queen Victoria's reign in England, her husband, Prince Albert, was known for his slender waist which set a fashion trend.
Watch chains were made in a variety of styles and materials. Other decorations were added to the point of making some just as cluttered with charms and tools as the homes of their wearers were cluttered with furnishings.
With World War I, the era of the pocket watch came to an end. Wrist watches became popular, and the vest eventually went out of fashion. Since that time, wearing a pocket watch has gone in and out of style while collecting watches and the interesting chains and fobs has become a hobby for many.
The rest of this guide explores the basics of chains and fobs for the collector of Victorian men's accessories. Perhaps I will write another guide on women's watch accessories later.
OUTLINE OF BASIC WATCH ACCESSORIES
A pocket watch was the basis of the Victorian gentleman's jewelry wardrobe. There were two main styles: a) the lepine or open face with no cover, and b) the savonette or hunter watch with a hinged cover that protected the face and crystal of the watch. Certain accessories were needed in wearing the watch.
1. A CHAIN attached to the watch. Remember, as I have stated above, the earliest pocket clocks were worn on a chain around the neck. When gentlemen began wearing a vest with pockets, the watch was placed in the pocket and the chain was usually retained as a means of extracting the watch from the pocket. The chain was allowed to dangle outside and became known as a fob chain, since it was used to locate and extract the watch from the fob pocket.
A. Victorian watch chains came in a variety of metals. Brass, silver, gold were preferred. Mixed metals which imitated gold were in great demand. Pinchbeck was a type of imitation gold composed of an alloy of copper and zinc. Invented by Christopher Pinchbeck in the early 1700's in England, it was common by Victorian times though some considered it as rather cheap and tawdry. Other metal mixtures which used various amounts of real gold rose in popularity. Gold plate was produced by adhering a thin veneer of gold on top of another metal. It tended to wear off. Rolled gold was made by laminating sheets of gold and other metals together and rolling them out. Rose gold, a gold and copper alloy noted for its reddish color, was yet another metal mixture typical of Victorian jewelry.
B. A swivel clip / clasp was used to attach the watch to the chain.
2. FOB CHAINS At this point is is only conjecture, but a sing chain may have been too thin for grabbing purposes and was replaced by a wider chain, a ribbon, a leather strap, etc. Additionally there may have been a need to add a balancing weight to the fob chain to keep the chain from tangling up. Men began to attach the weight of a small personal wax seal used when sending letters. In time, the seal itself became known as the fob.
Fancy Links Mesh Leather Grosgrain Ribbon
3. VEST FASTENERS
The next step in the evolution of watch accessories was in finding a way to guard against the danger of dropping the watch when it was retrieved from the fob pocket. Various techniques were used. One way was to attach a clamp or clip to the the top of the fob chain which could then be attached to the fabric of the vest. Often this also led to adding a separate chain which led to the watch in the pocket. Another method was to add a button or a T-Bar to the top of the fob chain (instead of a clamp) which could be inserted into a button hole of the vest.
Clamp Button T-Bar
4. ALBERT CHAINS
Prince Albert started a new trend in wearing watches. He liked a simple chain attached to his watch, secured to hes vest through a button hole, with the excess length of the chain draping across his vest. There were two main types of Albert Chain, the single Albert and the Double Albert. Often each type also had an additional shorter chain, which I'll call a fob drop, for adding another decoration or fob.
Single Albert Double Albert
5. HAIR CHAINS
During the Victorian Age it was a popular hobby of women to develop the craft of making hair jewelry as a memento of a loved one. While much hair jewelry is associated with mourning, it was not always the case. In fact, wives often used their own hair to make a braided hair chain for their husband's cherished pocket watch. Every time he pulled out his watch, would be reminded of his wife! Here are two basic styles of hair watch chains.
OUTLINE OF FOB TOOLS, DECORATIONS, & MEMENTOS
The watch chains and fob chains were further enhanced by various decorative means, many of which had symbolic significance. The mesh and ribbon fobs often had a buckle attached and / or protective end casings.
A. USEFUL ATTACHMENTS
Many useful tools or gadgets were won on the watch or fob chain. They include: pen knives, whistles, compasses, monocles, magnifying glasses, vestas (match holders), sovereign coin cases, cigar cutters, stamp holders, watch keys, retractable pencils, and of course personal wax seals.
Cigar Cutter / Knife Whistles Stamp Box
Vesta, Coin Case, Combination Monocle Magnifying Glass
Compasses Assorted Watch Keys, Winders
B. DECORATIONS, SYMBOLS, CHARMS
The types of decorations used on Victorian watch fobs and chains is as varied as the men who wore them. You could probably tell something about the character and personality of the man by the type of decoration he wore on his fob. I will just exemplify some of the more commonly found types.
1. Objects related to traditional manly pursuits such as drinking, smoking, hunting . . .(top row in picture below are shown a Rum Casket, a Pipe, and a Hunting Horn)
2. Symbols of the wealth of the British Empire (2nd row in te picture below are Persian Slippers, and an Ivory Elephant)
3. Unusual or Entertaining Objects (bottom row in the picture below are a Spinner , Stanhope Binoculars, a Lucky Charm)
Mementos are any personal item that serves as a reminder of some event or memory in a person's life. Such mementos often included family shields, lockets with a loved one's hair or photo, a symbol of some club (men's clubs in England were quite popular in Victorian times) or social group, religious affiliation, award, or occupational symbol. In the picture below top row are shown a family crest, a locket, a Masonic Symbol. The second row contains a regimental emblem, and an award for rowing in a regatta.
FINAL WORDS ON COLLECTING CHAINS & FOBS
I have learned that due to the confusion about what to call them, it is wise to look up under both "chains" and "fob'. Often the same type of item is listed in both category. For some reason, when listed under chains, the prices seem to be less expensive.
Sellers occasionally are unaware of the parts of their chain or fob and either mis-advertise it or display it incorrectly. For example, if the item is black in color or made of hair, they inevitably label it as a "mourning" item. Therefore look under "mourning fob" or "mourning chain" as well as "hair".
Also use words like "Victorian" or "Antique" with chain or fob.
For my own collection, I tried to get a representative sample of each type of chain or fob chain and put them in a display case to hang on the wall. It was a lot of fun!
I know this is a long-winded guide, but you won't find another like it on the internet. If you have found it useful, please vote for it so I will write other guides - - perhaps one one on how Victorian women wore fobs.