Today’s watches owe their thanks to a Countess!

Updated: Jul 18

Today, watches and jewelry are often grouped together, sold together at department store counters and combined in lots at auctions. Beautiful timepieces and beautiful gemstones have a lot in common - attention to detail and superb craftsmanship. But it wasn't always that way.

Watches have a unique history, their connection to wartime and how we came to wear them on our wrists. You may think wristwatches are a thing of the past, because now you have your phone. But don't forget that Apple continues to make their watch, and lots of luxury retailers are churning out timepiece like never before. So I don’t think the watch is going away just yet. Time will tell, I guess.

Pocket watches

Before wristwatches, there were pocket watches. Men had pocket watches that they treated with great care.

Assortment of antique pocket watches
Assortment of antique pocket watches

The reason men kept watches in their pocket was because they actually depended on them to tell time, and watches back then were rather fragile. Heat, cold, moisture, and dust could all mess with the gears and springs and make them less accurate, so men fished them out of their pocket only when necessary. The heyday for American pocket watches was the from the 1860's to the early 1900's. There's still an active collector markets for them.

Before Pocket Watches

Prior to pocket watches, the timepieces in the 1500’s and 1600's were typically egg-shaped, mounted on a ribbon or chain, and worn around the neck. They were poorly designed, lost several hours in a day, and didn’t have any glass protecting the face.

Antique timepiece c. 1530
Antique timepiece c. 1530

Charles II of England changed all this when he introduced the waistcoat for men in 1675. This wardrobe change was critical since it had pockets that were perfectly sized for watches. Watches were soon made flatter, and smooth, so they could slip in and out of the pocket easily. Watches in this time period were only worn by royalty, nobility, wealthy merchants, etc. And the watches themselves were quite beautiful, with engravings, enamels, and small gemstones.

Pocket watches, c. 1600's - 1700's
Pocket watches, c. 1600's - 1