My pocket watch collection began, quite by accident, on a train journey across Russia in the 1990s. I found myself in the station at Yekaterinburg with nothing to do, nothing to read, and—seemingly—nothing to buy, when something in a display caught my eye: a stainless steel pocket watch with an ornately carved exterior case that, when opened, revealed a classic-style dial with an elaborately engraved face. It went for the then-grand post-Soviet price of $20.
It came with a simple chain and I wore it in the simplest way: in the aptly named watch pocket of my jeans or slacks, with the chain threaded through my belt loop. I liked taking the watch out and opening the cover—taking 15 seconds or so to check the time seemed to be a nice antidote to the emerging wired world. Little did I know, it was the onset of a personal fetish.
This basic belt loop chain seemed fine on the trans-Siberian railroad, but back in London it was a bit too casual. In a town known for excellent tailoring, and a place where 150 years ago a well-made pocket watch was a hallowed sign of success, tailors, jewelers and watchmakers still argue over the proper way to wear a fine pocket watch, but the clear consensus is that a watch kept in the pants' pocket is pure folly—it's too easily damaged.
A quality pocket watch is meant to be worn in a vest or the breast pocket of a suit, says Mark Hearn, managing director of Patek Philippe U.K., one of a number of prestige watchmakers including Audemars Piguet, Wempe and Breguet that still make pocket watches. (A market for used and antique watches also thrives.) Instead of a simple fob, he advocates a vest chain—some are known in England as an "Albert" chain or the more elaborate "double Albert"—like the one he wears with his Patek pocket watch, which dates back to 1909.
"I love it and I wear it often," he says. "There's definitely a move back toward pocket watches. It's not a major move but today if you talk with people, they have a greater awareness." He attributes some of this to current fashion: the three-piece suit is reemerging. This advice provides a perfect excuse to add more vests to your collection—and, inevitably, more watches from the long list of varieties: open-face, hunter (with a cover that closes), double hunter and half-hunter (with a crystal window in the cover), etc. Whichever you choose, it brings pleasant rituals: the morning winding and the taking it out several times a day just to make sure your smartphone's got it right.