Evolution of the Pocket Watch

Early time measurement devices were pretty crude and inaccurate, yet provided a method of keeping track of time. Can you imagine today's society existing without an accurate method to tell time? Estimates for first instruments used to tell time date back as much as 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. The first known clocks were the sundial and the water clock. The sundial shows the position of the sun from the shadow cast by the center protrusion known as a gnomon. Water clocks work by measuring waterflow from the containing vessel. Later water clocks also used gears to improve their accuracy. This led to later development of weight-driven clocks sometime during the 13th century. These clocks were large and used on church towers and government buildings.

By the 16th century, advancements had been made by the use of springs instead of weights, allowing for the development of smaller clocks with greater accuracy including portable clocks or watches. Because they were still larger and bulkier than watches we know today, these watches were worn on chains around the neck. They were only owned by the wealthy and symbolized great status for the owner. It was during the 17th century that the first pocket watch was introduced marking the beginning of timepieces for all individuals and were the most often used form of portable clocks from the 16th century until the first wristwatches surpassed their popularity after World War I.

The era of the pocket watch brought great strides in the precision of the timepieces as well as new features. The portable watches worn around the neck were square and boxy. Soon after the introduction of the pocket watch, artisans began softening the look by using slimmer cases and rounding the corners. Ornate designs were engraved on the cases, jewels were used for decoration, and the bearings in the mechanism were diamonds. Pocket watches then and now were often manufactured with a hinged lid to protect the face of the watch. A hinged lid case on a pocket watch is known as a "hunter case". A chain, also called a fob, that attaches to the waistcoat, pants belt loop or jacket lapel is used to secure the watch.

In later years, a second-hand was added and the 19th century brought more manufacturers as the quality and precision continued to improve. During the second half of the 19th century, the explosion in the railroad industry demanded the need for accurate timepieces for safety. In 1887 the American Railroad Association met to define the requirements for railroad watches. Unfortunately, it took a disastrous train wreck in 1891 for these requirements to become widely accepted. However, it was not until 1893 that a set of stringent standards for railroad pocket watches was actually adopted. Pocket watches meeting these standards were known as "railroad-grade pocket watches".

Although their popularity has waned in recent history, pocket watches are still today, coveted heirlooms passed from fathers to sons and daughters and on to to grandsons and granddaughters. Antique vintage pocket watches are sought after by collectors all over the world.

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Evolution of the Pocket Watch

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