Cigar Aficionado

The Pocket Watch

You put on your studs, tie up your black tie, slide into your dinner jacket and reach for the accessory that will complement a holiday evening: a watch meant to reside in your waistcoat pocket. When it's time to dress up, the time to dress with is a pocket watch.

Wearing one confers occasion on any event. A pocket watch bespeaks a link with the elegance of an era when time wasn't in our faces, but subtly tucked away to be summoned with the tug of a gold chain.

The first portable timepieces—from the late fifteenth century—were large bulbous affairs with only an hour hand and were meant to hang from the neck. The appearance of vests with pockets (circa 1675) suggested a place to keep a watch and the name that it would go by. In the eighteenth century, legendary watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet made improvements that slimmed it to the familiar flat shape that we know today. While wristwatches existed, they were considered effeminate until the early twentieth century, when the military saw their practicality, and, within 30 years, only one in 50 watches was a pocket model.

Today, antique pocket watches have a huge appeal with collectors, according to Andrew J. Block, senior vice president at Tourneau, the watch retailer. "A tremendous amount of history can be found in pocket watches, including examples from the once proud American watch market." (The "railroad watch" standard was developed in the U.S. to provide accurate timepieces to trainmen after a malfunctioning watch caused an accident.) With visible reserve sides and face covers on some (the "hunter" version), pocket watches were fertile fields for elaborate engravings with many themes. Block further cites the charms of sentiments inscribed inside old watches.

Not all pocket watches are antique. Tourneau sells its own sterling Skeleton Pocket Watch ($1,695), and the 18-karat-gold Patek Philippe watch ($19,900) pictured here is also in production. Patek has shown a continued devotion to the genre, recently creating as a pocket watch the Star Caliber 2000, which has the third most complications of any watch (21). In first and second place as most complicated watches? Both from Patek, and, yes, both pocket watches.
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